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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Friday, April 3, 2009; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Friday, April 3 at 12 p.m. ET to discuss his recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.

This Story

Read Rob's latest tech tips in his blog, Faster Forward.

Read today's Fast Forward column: Breaking the Cable Company's Bundles.

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon, and welcome to my Web chat's new time. I'm here to help you with your personal-tech problems, from laptops to cell phones to MP3 players to digital cameras to HDTV to Internet access.

If, on the other hand, you're trying to debug your personal life, you'll probably have better luck in Carolyn Hax's chat--she's the next door over on the left.

Let's get started...

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, I guess I'm just old and cynical but I always figured cable/satelite companies liked the converter boxes and bundles because they greatly increased their gross revenues and profits. If you figure your customers are not going to change services, why not try to maximize their monthly bill? I don't know if I would call it collusion; maybe the newer entrants (satelite and FIOS) figured that they like the existing business model of bundling lots of channels at a steep price.

Are any governments looking to require providers to offer a la carte?

Rob Pegoraro: Question number one is about today's column (on the Web now - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/03/AR2009040300817.html - in print on Sunday). The previous head of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin, was a big proponent of a la carte cable, but he couldn't get anybody to go along with him. The issue doesn't seem to be as big of a priority with the next FCC chair, Julius Genachowski.

Doesn't mean I can't rant about it myself, though!

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Annandale, Va.: Rob is Fridays at noon your new permanet chat home?

Rob Pegoraro: Yup--except for the occasional week when we might move the chat up or down... we'd shift chats from the old 2 p.m. time during weird weeks like CES. The chat will still run only every other week--remember, I have to ice down my wrists for a good hour or so after each one!

(Well, not really. But it is a lot of typing.)

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Foggy Bottom: Rob, thanks for your comment about "unbundling". I did that a couple of months ago and haven't looked back! The conversion to digital of local stations means I get a great HD picture off an indoor antenna and I use Windows Media Center as a DVR. Lousy picture was 1/2 the reason I got cable in the first place.

For the other half, you are so right, put your cable TV shows in a "favorites list" on your browser and you are set.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report! It's this kind of competitive pressure, not any government action, that's most likely to push one of the cable/satellite/fiber providers to offer a la carte as an option. It may mean less money for the provider, but that's better than collecting no money at all.

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Atlanta, Ga.: You tweeted a while back about companies that keep lower pricing plans hidden from online perusal. That drives me nuts. I was trying to lower my level of home phone service recently and could not get ANY information about any plan that was not an upgrade from my current level of service. Had to call TWICE to successfully implement any kind of change.

This is penny wise pound foolish on the part of the phone company (AT&T) considering my other option is cutting the cord completely, which I almost did out of spite. I still might.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, this was one of yesterday's gripes on Twitter (http://twitter.com/robpegoraro/status/1440575880). Two examples of that:

* Comcast now has a "Digital Economy Video" plan that offers 17 HD channels (basically, the networks plus nine cable channels but not ESPN) for $39.95/month.

* Dish Network has a "Welcome Pack," 17 channels for $9.99/month (local channels are $5 extra). I don't know what those 17 channels are; Dish's PR guy didn't get back to me with that detail.

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Antwerpen, Belgium: Hi Rob. Its your over the ocean fan again. Love your informative chats. A while back I asked the editor of the NY Times who was online why they dont have tech chats-or any chats-like the WP, he never replied. My question is,this past Sunday I heard a big bang coming from my pc. Sounded like an explosion and it smelled burnt, the screen shut off and the pc was out. I called a friend who installed a new power supply-Antec Basiq 350P-cud be that pc runs faster or smoother with a new power supply? Feels like it. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Power supplies can go bad, but they don't usually go "boom." A new one shouldn't make the PC any faster, but it can easily make it quieter (these metal boxes usually have a cooling fan in the back).

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Former Cable Guy Here: They'll never make a wholesale change away from the bundling, for a simple reason: annual bonuses are based on annual revenues and annual cash flow at the system level. Those numbers don't allow any real experimentation, especially when we all pretty much know what would happen if customers had a choice.

Rob Pegoraro: Could be, but what about satellite and fiber-optic?

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Arlington, Va.: As a Twitter follower and owner of an iMac I need to know: What happened with the weirdly undead iMac?

Rob Pegoraro: That was another Twitter update from yesterday; I complained that my iMac had locked up in this bizarre manner--I could click on some things with the mouse, but the keyboard didn't work and the Dock had vanished. (I didn't do that just to vent, but in the hope that somebody might reply with a remedy.)

Rebooting fixed the problem, as it usually does.

But then this happened: A few minutes later, I got a phone call from one of my Apple PR contacts, asking if I needed any help with the problem. (I said thanks, but I was fine.)

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Washington, D.C.: Any further insight on IE8 now that it's been out a couple of weeks? Do you advise that those of us who have IE7 should upgrade?

Rob Pegoraro: My e-mail's been pretty quiet on the subject--I haven't gotten much feedback either way, aside from one or two complaints early on from people who said they couldn't get it to work.

I have yet to install IE 8 on this Dell, but that's not out of any hesitation on my part--apathy is more like it. I have to make an extra effort to download and install IE 8. (I will try to do that after this chat, though.)

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Great Falls, Va.: This has me livid. Apple has the ability to make a simple program that locates a stolen iPhone and can give it to the police. They can but they won't (why help recover an iPhone when it would be better for Apple to make us buy another).

Anyone in this town full of lawyers want to start a class-action lawsuit?

Rob Pegoraro: First, can you give me a link about this?

Second, think for a moment about the privacy implications of this. It doesn't take much imagination to foresee hysterical reports along the lines of "Apple can sic the cops on iPhone users at any time!" You'd want to make sure a program like this worked and could not be hacked or otherwise turned against legit users.

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Balboa, Calif.: I've read that the life expectancy of CDs and DVDs is in the 5-10 year range. If this be true, what explains it: physical deterioration of the media? I would think that, owing to their construction, they're virtually indestructible. Your thoughts?

Dick

Rob Pegoraro: That 5-10 year story is definitely an urban legend. I've got CDs dating back to the mid-1980s that still play fine; other, much newer ones no longer work. (The fact that some of these got used as coasters in various college dorms may be relevant.)

Even recordable CDs and DVDs can be pretty durable if you take care of them.

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Great Falls, Va.: Rob, I'd appreciate your help or your audience's help here...

My mother's iPhone was stolen yesterday by one of her students. Is there a way to locate an iPhone the way a LoJack or a car's GPS can locate a car? If the "Current Location" feature in the Maps program can tell me where I am, couldn't the same feature tell the police where the iPhone is if we report it as stolen property?

Many iPhones have been stolen before. Haven't they already learned a way to get them back?

Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: Wireless carriers can locate phones for you--that's how the E-911 feature works. Call AT&T and ask them to track the phone.

Also... one of your mom's *students*? Can't she give them all detention until they rat out the thief?

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Bethesda, Md.: Rob, you've written about people defecting from IE to other browsers, with good reason. People using Opera though can't use the Post's website. What's up with that? Can you fix it?

Rob Pegoraro: What do you mean, "can't use"? I've got washingtonpost.com up in Opera 9.6 and everything looks exactly as it does in Firefox 3.

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Manassas, Va.: Rob, do you know when the next major update to Mozilla Firefox is due out? A week or so ago, I downloaded Internet Explorer 8.0, and I already have Mozilla Firefox 3.0.8 on my laptop. I find I like aspects of both browsers, but I understand the next Mozilla update will be a major one. Brad

Rob Pegoraro: Yup--it was going to be called Firefox 3.1, but they're renaming it Firefox 3.5. The big changes, as I recall, will be a private-browsing mode like what Safari, Chrome and IE 8 offer, plus a new-tab template that links to previously viewed pages and exposes other common functions (like what Chrome and IE 8 offer). Should be out in the next few months.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: FYI - for my Treo, I use a program called Warden http://lockmymobile.com/download.aspx which allows me to remotely lock (and wipe data) from my Palm. There are similar programs for Blackberrys.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Arlington, Va.: Can you explain what Boxee is? I hear it may be a way to watch internet video on your TV and a decent quality. The CBS NCAA March Madness internet quality was amazing this year. If more companies offered that level of quality, I would think we could eventually be in for a world where we didn't need cable. HBO may begin to offer itself up online, if you could then get ESPN and and maybe a news channel, what would be the reason for keeping cable.

Rob Pegoraro: Boxee is a simple media-viewing program that provides what techies call a "10-foot interface"--it's all large icons and buttons that you can see from a couch and navigate to with a simple remote control. It's not too different, conceptually speaking, from the Front Row app on Macs or the Media Center interface to Win XP and Vista.

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: Gmail. Five years in Beta and going strong!

Rob Pegoraro: "Beta" is the new "final."

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Decatur, Ga.: I cut of cable completely in January. Between over-the-air, online and DVD options, I don't feel like I'm missing out on too much.

But baseball season is starting up, and I'm beginning to realize fully what I've given up. I guess that's why the cable companies can treat customers so badly; they know you'll always come back, eventually.

Rob Pegoraro: A lot of Nats fans got used to hearing games called on the radio, back when nobody carried MASN. It's not too late to bring back the experience (our announcers, Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler, are pretty good).

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Rockville, Md.: I have some real player music files on my computer that I would like to migrate to iTunes. I've changed the iTunes setting so it would actually copy the files rather than just put a pointer to them, but it simply doesn't work. I've been able to do this with MP3 files, so I'm guessing that real player has some sort of proprietary format that itunes doesn't like.

Is there anything I can do? The music was from cds borrowed from a friend who moved, so I can't just download the cds again.

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: There are converter apps, but I haven't tried any of them. See this thread: http://www.askmehelpdesk.com/multimedia/how-convert-ra-mp3-3133.html

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Rockville, Md.: Are there any Websites that do a good job comparing TV (cable/sat/fiber) packages? I've gone to the major sites and spent a good deal of time trying to determine what the best deal is for me (I look at the regular prices since the special deals are limited time). But with the array of channels, DVRs, etc its very hard. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Wish I could point you to one myself (there are such things for comparing cell-phone services). Can anybody recommend a good TV-service-comparison site?

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Alexandria, Va.: Are the slight decrease in Blu-Ray prices a sign of the increasing popularity of the format or representative of the declining popularity of purchasing movies on disc?

Do you know if Blockbuster has any plans to match NetFlix's move to increase rental prices for Blu-Ray discs (currently Blu-Ray discs cost the same to rent as DVD, assuming they are in stock)?

Rob Pegoraro: Netflix and Blu-ray backers say the higher prices mean Blu-ray is more popular. Or it could be that Netflix simply isn't recovering its costs with the older surcharge.

Either way, increasing the price of most things generally reduces demand. (Google "elasticity of demand" for the basic econ. theory behind that.)

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New York, N.Y.: Hi Rob-- posting early due to a meeting.

My new employer's Web site (where I'm supposed to go, to track my paychecks, withholding, benefits etc.) apparently is non-functional with any browser but IE6. I'm a Mac/Firefox user, and am balking at the notion of installing such a reputedly primitive, security-flaw-ridden browser. My question: Is there a plausible substitute? If not, and if I were to install IE6 on my Mac (a Macbook Pro, if it matters), would that leave me vulnerable to the same security pitfalls that plague pc users of IE6?

Thanks for doing this chat, by the way!

Rob Pegoraro: Dear Whoever Runs the IT Department For the Employer Of "New York, N.Y.":

You suck.

Love,

Rob

You can't install IE 6 directly on a Mac, since it's a Windows-only app. (You can run it inside virtualization apps like VMWare Fusion and Parallels Desktop, as well as the cheaper, no-copy-of-Windows-needed CrossOver.)

First, though, try setting Safari to impersonate IE 6: http://www.macosxhints.com/article.php?story=20030110063041629

(You can do a similar thing with Firefox: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/59)

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Toronto, Canada: What's the difference between putting a computer in "power saving" mode and "hibernation"? Is doing either unsafe re virus risk - is it better to always power off a computer?

Rob Pegoraro: Sleep or standby mode means the computer only draws a trickle of power to keep its memory active. In hibernation, it writes the contents of memory to the hard drive and shuts completely off. Stick with sleep/standby; the wakeup process is a lot faster.

No virus risk either way--the computer isn't active in these cases.

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Stormville, N.Y.: Hi Rob

I repeatedly tried to sign up for twitter (yes, I know ... finally ...). Even though I allowed scripting and cookies for twitter I keep getting : "403 Forbidden: The server understood the request, but is refusing to fulfill it". Any idea what is going on ?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope. Twitter is one of the more compatible Web sites around--you can use it on a phone (m.twitter.com) quite well.

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Rob asks: "...what about satellite and fiber-optic?" : Those losses are built into the budget. The cable MSO's have created a new metric called the "revenue generating unit" (i.e. phone, internet, tv, HDTV) to mask their overall subscriber losses. It's no more about soaking those who can't change, or won't change, for every possible penny.

Rob Pegoraro: Fine. If they don't want to change, they *will* run out of customers at some point. And then they will die, and nobody will miss them.

(Speaking as an employee of one traditional-media institution that's going through a lot of turmoil to adapt to the Web, I have NO sympathy at all for companies that act like they don't have to alter their business model at all on account of the Internet.)

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Vancouver, B.C.: The reorganization of the main tech page (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/technology/) makes it impossible to tell at a glance if you or Brian has posted anything new. Now you have to drill down into "Faster Forward", then again into "Security Fix", to see information that used to be on the main page.

washingtonpost.com: We're working on getting the Blog Headline Feeds to show up like the old page. Stay-tuned - we hope to have that back in a few days.

Rob Pegoraro: There you have it...

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, thanks for wearing out your wrists for us. I have a compatibility question. Years ago I bought a scanner which was hooked up to my old Windows 98 pc. My current pc runs on Windows XP, and I'd like to scan in some old photos. Would the old scanner work, or should I just go out and buy a new one? The printer that is hooked up to the current computer is just a printer, and does not have scanning capabilities. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You can try it, but you might need to buy a third-party driver called VueScan, at hamrick.com

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Conficker? am running Vista with Symantec Endpoint in a server environment. Last week none of my emails would open and the computer kept rebooting. I unplugged it and resarted . No problems since then. I can update Vistta and access Symamntec live update and have run full virus scans. Any theories what caused the problem? Thank you.

Ralph

Rob Pegoraro: You should be fine--if you'd been Conficker'd, a lot of sites wouldn't work now.

BTW, this "eye chart" is a pretty neat way to check for that infection: http://www.confickerworkinggroup.org/infection_test/cfeyechart.html

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Queens, N.Y.: Hi Rob, do you know of any free software to convert apple m4p to mp3?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes - iTunes. Burn your purchased tracks to audio CDs, then re-rip them as MP3s.

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob, Here's my dilemma. I'm traveling to Asia on business and want to take my camera gear as I'll have some great photo ops. I wanted to buy a multimedia storage device to store and view my photos and then thought about a netbook. They cost about the same except that with some storage devices you can replace the HD. I know netbooks are not good for photo processing but I thought I'd use it for transfering the photos from a flash card reader via the netbook to a portable hard drive and then also using the internet access to store my photos on a remote server. My question is, can a netbook handle that. It also gives the option to check my e-mail which a multimedia storage/viewer would not do. Any opinion?

Rob Pegoraro: A netbook would work quite well for that. But make sure it has enough storage; some only come with 4 GB of flash, and you can easily buy single SD cards with bigger capacities.

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Vienna, Va.: I agree. Slowes and Jaegler are good. I grew up listning to Ernie Harwell do Detroit Tiger's games on radio including when the Senators were an American League team playing in Griffiths Staduim. (I'm a "middle aged" guy) Harwell is the best. He and other good radio announcers make you feel like you are right there. Your imagination and knowledge of the game fills in the visuals.

Enjoy.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I'm looking to make the jump to an LCD TV, in the 40 to 46 inch range. A salesman I talked with last week said some manufacturers are planning to release new models soon with higher refresh rates making them better for movies, etc. Any idea when they may be coming, and should I wait? Also, what's your favorite brand?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't have favorite brands in consumer electronics--it's not like there's some quintessential Sharpness or Samsungaliciousness across all the TVs in each manufacturer's lineup.

There isn't any big advance coming in response times. Some higher-end LCDS will go beyond 120 Hz refreshing (in which the TV generates an extra frame and inserts that between each frame for a smoother look) to 240 Hz (where it does that twice as often). But 240 Hz isn't worth it; the difference just isn't that great.

One thing that could be worth waiting for: Web-enabled TVs that use widget software from Yahoo and elsewhere to put sites like Amazon and Netflix on the big screen. Samsung has a few of these models coming out now, and Sony, Vizio and LG should follow soon.

There's also LED-backlit LCDs, but they're painfully expensive right now (as in, $2,300 or so for a 40-incher from Samsung).

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Bethesda: Regarding scanners -- I have an HP unit that required an update for the interface to come up after IE7 was installed. Moral here: check the vendor Web site for latest drives and patches first.

Rob Pegoraro: That's a good idea too...

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Washington, D.C.: Blu-Ray Players: Any idea when prices on these gizmos will start declining. I see them mostly in the $300 range, save for a $200 Insignia unit, which is a Best Buy house brand from Samsung.

Rob Pegoraro: Nope. That format really isn't helping its cause with these continued high prices (though they have dropped from the initial $600-and-up costs).

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Newark, Del.: Don't know if you are a Stern guy or not, but he has been on a kick recently about picking a new cell phone for his staff.

He made a big deal yesterday about getting a demo for the Palm Pre (sp?).

Have you seen that yet? Any thoughts if you have?

Rob Pegoraro: I saw the Pre at CES--both during Palm's introduction and up close afterwards--and it does look really neat. But let's see when it goes on sale and how much it costs then.

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Baily's Crossroads Fairfax, Va.: Can you find out anything about Verizon's plans for FIOS in Fairfax County? I still cannot get Cox HD cable to work with Tivo!

Rob Pegoraro: Fios is available across much of Fairfax, but if you're not in those parts you have no real way of knowing when your neighborhood will be hooked up. Vz doesn't seem to think potential customers would want to know if service is coming in three or four or ten months... it's condescending and counterproductive, since some of these people will get tired of waiting and wind up signing one-year or two-year deals with companies not named "Verizon."

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re: watching baseball: The poster who worries about missing baseball without cable might want to check out the MLB.TV internet package. It's similar if not identical to the MLB Extra Innings package available for cable/dish.

Rob Pegoraro: But then you've got blackout restrictions that will prevent you from watching your home team's games live: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/subscriptions/index.jsp?affiliateId=MLBTVREDIR#blackout

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, Speaking of Verizon, have you heard of any successful negotiations that people have been able to make with them regarding their FIOS bundles. I live in Montgomery county MD, where Verizon seem to offer two basic bundles: FIOS Internet/TV/Phone for $100/month and FIOS Internet/Phone for $70 per month. I think that it would be nice if one could get a FIOS internet/phone/TV(local channels) bundle for $70 per month. Currently, this bundle would run at least $83 per month, as the subscription price for FIOS TV local channels is $13 per month.

Rob Pegoraro: My neighbors in Arlington have reported success in bargaining with both Comcast and Verizon.

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Abingdon, Md.: Hi Rob, wondering if you could offer any assistance. I have an HP laptop that's about 18 months old with Windows Vista. Recently when I close the lid, instead of going to sleep mode, the computer just shuts down. When I start it back up, it tells me that the computer was shut down improperly and asks if I want to start in Safe Mode or start Windows normally. Come to find out, it happens no matter how I put the computer to sleep. Any idea what's causing this? I have a service plan where I bought it so I took it in, and they've updated video drivers and BIOS with no improvement. They took it back to HP and HP said there's no hardware problems, so they recommended re-installing Windows. I did that too, no change. I've tried both hybrid sleep and regular, and it occasionally works right immediately after messing with power settings, but then shuts down again the next time I close the lid. Help?

Rob Pegoraro: Yeesh. You did everything I would have suggested. I have no idea.

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Brookland - Washington, DC: Now all of my favorite WaPo chats are on Friday! Are you all trying to collude to ensure that I don't get any work done on a Friday afternoon?

Rob Pegoraro: Think of it as our contribution to the long-awaited four-day workweek.

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Follow-up from Great Falls: My mother doesn't want to punish all of the students for an act the only one of the students did. She is also involved in a program for teenage mothers whom she doesn't want them to attend (so she doesn't want to do the two wrongs make a right behavior).

As for where they say that Apple/AT&T won't do this, their websites give instructions for de-activating an iPhone. But there is no comment on how to recover one. If you do Google searce on stolen iPhones, you will see people speculating on how to find one. But these speculative suggestions won't work.

I understand the Orwellian concerns. Ten years ago, I chose a work-issued Nextel phone over an AT&T phone because AT&T allowed my boss to see where my phone was (If it was tuned into a Reston tower, I was probably at work. If it was elsewhere, I must be playing hookey).

But there must be a way I can legally authorize the police to do this search while having the law prevent these searches without a warrant?

Rob Pegoraro: There are options out there; see these links:

http://blogote.com/2008/apple/apple-support/a-guide-to-recover-your-stolenlost-iphone.html

http://www.macsimumnews.com/index.php/archive/how_to_recover_lost_or_stolen_apple_products_video

This story requires that the victim change an e-mail setting before the theft, but it's pretty cool anyway:

http://gizmodo.com/5153690/internet-detectives-recover-stolen-iphone-in-world-record-time

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Rockville, Md.: In your column you suggest that we consider ditching our TV service and watch shows on Hulu or whatever. But once you ditch TV, the cost of Internet-only service rises to the point that it almost makes no sense to ditch the TV.

Rob Pegoraro: You must be subscribing to cable Internet--they charge $15 or so extra for non-TV subscribers. But even then, you'll still have a ton of money. Plus, DSL and Fios don't have that issue.

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Columbia, S.C.: Hi Rob- I recently switched from time warner cable/roadrunner to ATT Uverse for Internet service. Uverse works fine, but two web pages just won't load for me- one is the library, the other is state archives. I had friends check, and they loaded for them no problem. I'm sure it must be a router problem, because they won't load on my laptop either. Any ideas? thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: None. But U-Verse isn't available anywhere near me--AT&T's landline services don't come anywhere near the D.C. area, so they're all foreign to me.

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Kansas City, Mo.: Hi Rob,

I have a 15" Apple Powerbook G4 (1.67 GHz)

It's about four years old. The battery has been holding less and less of a charge, which I always plug it in so who cares. But several weeks ago, it would not power up at all. I reset the Power Manager and it started, but now every time I start it I have to reset the Power Manager (take out battery, unplug, hold power button, put back together) It makes a sad noise, but then it starts.

Do you think a new battery will solve my problem? Or what about upgrading the OS?

Thanks for all your help, love your chat!

Rob Pegoraro: A new battery could--but not the primary battery, but the one on the motherboard that stores the system time. Any Apple retailer should be able to check for that, but a non-Apple, independently-owned store should be a lot cheaper.

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Frederick, Md.: I found a Web site with some info on it (list of songs) that I'd like to copy and add to a list I am creating but the site does not allow me to highlight the text. Is there any way short of re-typing that would allow this? I'm only looking for text here - nothing else.

Rob Pegoraro: Use the "View Source" command, usually in the browser's View menu. You'll get the raw HTML, but the text you're looking for should be easy enough to find.

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Decatur, Ga.: I am VERY aware of the MLB.com blackout rules. I am not a big fan of blackout rules generally, nor the MLB rules in particular. Just give me the tv feed! I'll watch the ads! But I'm NOT going to pay $70 a month or whatever when (as you note) radio broadcast are almost as good.

Rob Pegoraro: My thoughts exactly.

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Alexandria: Hi Rob, I really appreciate your chats I gain so much knowledge.

What is your take on a whole house surge protector? I live in a small condo, so it seems one central surge protector would be better then trying to fit one everywhere (how do you put one on your LCD hanging on the wall?). Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I have heard of the concept, but I've never had one installed myself.

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Vienna, Va.: Rob, Thx for discussing the cable systems' "bundling" juggernaut. Reminds me:

I have Cox digital bundle TV/'net/phone service. Mostly satisfied w/all except the phone. Cox did come out and replace the phone "box" that had croaked, but there is still intermittent trouble which makes it sound like a bad cell phone transmission. I have to frequently 'reset' it to temporarilly restore it for a day or two, using the button on the back of the box. Others I've talked to have been dissatisfied with their digital landlines, too. What is your take on this? I'm considering going back to Verizon (FIOS is not yet available in my area) or another company for a landline. Any recommendations for another company?

Rob Pegoraro: You might do better to cancel landline phone service entirely. Or get the cheapest copper-wire service Verizon offers (where you only get 50 outgoing calls before paying 10 cents each, or where you pay 10 cents for every outgoing calls--incoming's still free in that case).

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Springfield, Va.: We're moving to Germany for three years this summer. If I buy an iPhone now, will we be able to suspend or end our ATT contract and hook up with T-Mobile, the iPhone service-provider in Germany? I want to be able to use it while in Germany AND while traveling back in the U.S. on vacation. Possible? Graham T.

Rob Pegoraro: No. Sorry.

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Naperville, Ill.: I currently have Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9.5 running on a 3.2 Gig machine with 2gigs of ram. I am not really happy with the performance. Currently they are asking to upgrade to version 10. Is it worth it, should I do a hardware upgrade and what are thoughts on voice recognition products? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Here's my review of Dragon 10 (and a Mac-only dictation app built on the same speech-recognition engine): http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/05/AR2008110504204.html

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Arlington, Va.: If HD is important to you remember FIOS is the only one that offers uncompressed 1920x1080 and best sound. Cox is awful and so is Comcast. Directv isn't too bad. The DISH is okay. If you paying for a movie you should see it full 1080 not some compressed rendering!

Rob Pegoraro: A lot of folks have complained about the way Comcast, Cox and other cable providers compress HD signals. That's another argument in favor of over-the-air HD reception: You get the complete signal, without any intermediate compression.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you know if there are any plans to require captions on TV viewed on a computer, just like the captions that are required for broadcast TV? As a hard-of-hearing person, I'm missing out on a lot of stuff I might otherwise use my computer for, because I can't hear it clearly.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know of requirements, but it's not a difficult thing to do (you can see, for instance, that the president's weekly video addresses include captions).

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Washington, D.C: Rob -

Can you explain why miniDV files when downloaded to a computer are so large as compared to a full Hollywood movie downloaded from iTunes? I understand that the movie must use compression but even though its smaller it looks better than my miniDV movies which take up so much space on the hard drive. I don't get it.

Thanks for the chats!

Rob Pegoraro: Your camcorder doesn't have the processing power needed to squish down video to a small size. (I saw that demonstrated at CES, when a one-minute clip weighed in at 100 megabytes; Picasa compressed that down to 15 MB, but needed about five minutes to get the job done.)

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Silver Spring, Md.: I can imagine a cable executive saying "Our customers won't be gone for long. Come baseball (football, hockey, Sopranos) season they WILL come back. They can't get this stuff anywhere else."

Which is pretty much the mindset of GM, Ford and AOL for many years. FYI, the gravy train DOES end eventually in ways that we cannot project today.

My prediction is that the TV world may look more like the NHL where the industry finally figured out that they don't need to reach every TV in the land; identify your audience, give them what they want, and make a nice living.

Rob Pegoraro: Precisely. As a general rule, when your customer wants to give you their money, it's a good idea to take it. (Isn't that one of the Rules of Acquisition?)

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Rob Pegoraro: That's going to have to do it for today, folks--I've got an action-packed meeting coming up. (Also, I'd like to have lunch.)

Thanks! See you here in a couple of weeks.

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