Personal Tech: Gadget News and Reviews

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Friday, May 29, 2009; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Friday, May 29 at Noon ET to discuss his recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.

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


Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon, all! I hope you're enjoying an outbreak of sunny weather--perhaps with a smartphone tuned into a Web radio station--but if you're logged into this chat, you're probably stuck indoors. Oh well.

Anyway, what can I tell you today?


Ocean, N.J.: I read your excellent articles all the time. I like to listen to Internet radio at home. We have Verizon wireless network setup at home. I love it. What is the best hardware available to listen to Internet Radio without the use of a computer? I have an XM radio in the car and listen to it also online. Keep up the good work Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks! You've got a few options for no-computer Web-radio listening... most are "wireless media receivers" that plug into a stereo and piggyback on your wireless connection. There's Logitech's Squeezebox, for instance (which also works well to put your digital music collection on the stereo).

As an aside, isn't it odd how many more stereo receivers include XM/Sirius support, but don't make any comparable accommodation for Web radio? That looks like a mistake to me.


Florida Keys: Rob--Love your column, my favorite internet radio remains fixed stations, streaming online--my understanding is these stations pay no artist royalties, except maybe for the online portion---also no news or ads, except the occasional pledge drive--two favorites are WWOZ in New Orleans & KKJZ in Long Beach CA--Both allow musically knowledgeable people to arrange selections according to whatever theme they may choose-- phone operators should allow access to such online stations--

Rob Pegoraro: WWOZ's a great station--if you don't set your rental car's station to it on your way out of MSY, you're making a big mistake!

About performance royalties: Although FM and AM broadcasts don't incur those, I believe Web simulcasts of FM and AM do. There's a bill that aims to fix that by having FM and AM pay up too, which I think is the only fair way to do things--either everybody has to compensate artists for the use of their work, or nobody does. I don't see a reasonable argument, on economic or ethical grounds, to charge one medium but not another.


Arlington, Va.: The Web radio on a Blackberry would be great. Can you get Radio Paradise? Does it add to the user costs?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes--Radio Paradise was one of the stations I tuned in from Woodstock. You just need to point the BlackBerry browser to RP's listening-options page:

... and then click on one of the smartphone/PDA links, which will open up in the BlackBerry media player. The sound quality won't be as good as the AAC+ streams Slacker and Pandora use, but it doesn't cost anything extra.


Frederick, Md.: Hi Rob,

I bought a Verizon netbook last week. I got the 250mb data monthly allowance for 39.99, because I really don't know how much I need. If I'm home I have it connected to the wi-fi. How much is 250 mb anyway? I don't plan on watching movies or anything, but could I check out YouTube without running through the 250 mb? Also it came with 60 days of Norton. I don't recall anyone saying anything good about Norton on this page, so what should I get after the 60 days run out?

Rob Pegoraro: Danger, danger! You will eat up 250 MB of data faster than you think. Check your account online *now*, before you start running up overage charges. If you're going to spend serious amounts of time away from home and other WiFi sources, you should think about switching to the 5 GB plan.


Falls Church, Va.: Rob -- This is your last chance to address this type of issue in a chat before it becomes a reality. If you maintain your normal chat schedule, you'll be in the middle of your next chat when (at least many) TV stations switch to DTV.

So, I'm a Fairfax County basic (non-digital) cable subscriber with Cox cable. As has already been noted by the POST with respect to some suburban Maryland Comcast basic cable subscribers, Cox plans to switch MPT and WHUT to a digital tier starting June 12, so I won't be receiving those stations as part of my basic cable package. I realize this decision isn't part of the over-the-air mandate, but who is responsible for the decision -- Cox or MPT and WHUT?

An insert in my current Cox bill, received on Wednesday, says, "WHUT and WMPT have elected to move from analog to digital carriage." Paul Farhi, in an April 23 POST article about the Maryland Comcast switch, said, "Comcast said it moved MPT with the station's consent and cooperation." But Farhi also called this statement into question, noting that "Access to Washington area viewers is of critical importance to MPT, . . . because local viewers are some of its largest pledge-drive contributors. Losing a portion of these viewers, and their donations, could hurt at a time when public broadcasters are under financial pressure."

Frankly, I blame Cox. After all, WUSA, for example, will be all-digital after June 12, but Cox isn't switching the commercial network affiliates to digital only. I'm sure Cox could keep the PBS affiliates on basic analog cable if it wanted to do so. I see this as an attempt at another money-making scheme from another money-grubbing company. But you're the expert on all things digital!

If this is too far out of your bailiwick, I'll post a similar question to Farhi on his chat next Tuesday. MPT's Digital Move Angers Cable Viewers

Rob Pegoraro: It's a Cox decision--broadcasters don't decide what part of a cable operator's bandwidth gets assigned to them.

But... if you've got a DTV tuner in the house, try tuning into MPT. They have one of the strongest signals around, and over the air you'll also get their digital-only secondary channels.


Re: Web radio: Rob, great column today. You certainly made these formats sound appealing but some questions:

--Sound quality? --Signal problems? --Functionality? Can you operate this at close to the same ease you have with normal car radio? --How realistic is this? In other words, if I don't like a channel, can I easily move around to others as I can with normal or satellite radio? How close are we to having easy access via a device to a wide range of Web radio channels, beyond the two providers you reviewed?


Rob Pegoraro: FWIW, I was a little worried when I was writing it that the piece would sound like an outbreak of irrational, "the Internet is changing everything!" exuberance. To address your points:

* Sound quality is generally fine--as good as FM if you're listening on average car speakers. The exception would be Pandora on some BlackBerries, where it can only manage mono output.

* I expected signal problems would sink this experiment, but I didn't run into any prolonged dropouts on my little road trip. The signal flickered a few times at our friends' vacation home, and it dropped for a couple of minutes on I-66 on the trip back, around the Marshall exit. That was it. (Of course, if I'd used a carrier with less coverage, I'd have a different results. Let's just say I don't recommend T-Mobile for this sort of use.)

* Functionality is the biggest issue. If you're driving, you have to accept that you don't know what's playing and can't skip past. I was lucky that my wife (when she wasn't napping in the passenger seat :) could read out song titles for me.


State of Dyspepsia: For home internet radio, nothing beats my laptop plugged into my home theater system through a $4 cable.

Not Car ready, but great for home. Terrestrial radio is dead...

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks. I wish our car stereo had a regular line-in input--we had to use the tape-deck adapter instead. (The irony of using such an obsolete piece of music hardware to listen to the future of music broadcasting is duly noted.)


Oakton, Va.: Hi Rob,

I back up my data to a small portable hard drive. It used to hold a full backup. Problem is, it uses the FAT32 file system, and I've gone over the file size for a full backup under FAT32. So I'm doing incremental backups, which will be a real pain if I ever need to do a restore.

I've tried to research this, but I'm still not sure. How can I convert the external drive to NTFS? Reformatting the drive would be OK, because I can back it up to a second external drive I have. Thank you for your help!

Rob Pegoraro: You can convert the disk from FAT32 to NTFS, but Microsoft recommends reformatting it first:


Tina in Falls Church/SP2: Ok, so SP2 for Vista is staring me in the face.....has anyone installed it yet? Any issues arise?

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't--I thought I'd blog about Microsoft's Service Pack 2 update for Vista this week but too many other things happened. (I'm going to try to make it Monday's post, though.) Anybody else take the plunge?


Madison, Wis.: Hi Rob, do you know if a DVD recorder with a built in digital tuner will continue to get an extended data service (XDS) signal for clock sync from the local PBS station's over the air digital signal? I suspect not, so why have the feature?

I'm also wondering if some PBS stations will provide an analog direct feed to their local cable systems that will have the XDS signal. I know some cable systems are going all digital, but perhaps they still can provide the signal somehow on the digital standard def version of the PBS station.

Rob Pegoraro: If they're transmitting this info over digital, then I don't know why they'd stop now? If, OTOH, it's analog-only, then that wouldn't work after June 12.


Rockville, Md.: I posted this too late last time but you had somebody writing in about changing routers and using Comcast and not being able to get it to work.

Comcast limits their modems to only recognize one MAC address. If you are not using a router, this is the computer directly attached to it. If you get a new computer, you need to have Comcast go into their modem and recognize the new computer.

If you are setting up a router, you can have the router spoof the MAC address of your computer and then the modem thinks it's still connected to the computer - and everything works. If you get a new computer/additional computers, all still works.

So, you get a new router. You need to get the router to spoof the MAC address of the ORIGINAL computer. Sometimes, this will still be your current computer (go into router and select spoof computer). Sometimes, this will be an old computer (go into router and manually enter MAC address of old computer).

Either way, Comcast bites.

Rob Pegoraro: *Thank you.* Not being a Comcast customer, I was utterly perplexed by the query. Though, come to think of it, I'm still perplexed as to why Comcast is making extra work for itself by imposing this artificial restriction.

("MAC address," BTW, is not an abbreviation for Apple's computers. It stands for "Media Access Control":


Falls Church, Va.: Rob, it seems that as the total conversion to digital television gets closer the more my reception gets screwed up. I have cable so really shouldn't be affected by this but more and more stations are prone to being pixelated or the sound drops out or you get the "Max Headroom" effect. It really is making me long for the good old analog days. What seems to be the problem?

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't seen that myself--I've got a TV in the other room tuned to ABC's digital signal, and I'm not hearing any breakups, even as I can hear planes taking off from National Airport a few miles away from here. But what I suspect is happening is that local stations are now trying to optimize their digital broadcasts and, in the process, introducing temporary glitches.

One word you're going to hear A LOT over the next two weeks is "rescan." You're going to want to tell your DTV receiver to rescan for digital channels, so it can pick up ones that have just gone on the air or moved to different frequencies.


Washington, D.C.: Rob,

I'm planning to hook up my 1-year-old desktop (Win XP SP3, good video card with DVI outputs) to my 2-year-old 32" LCD TV (one VGA input and one available HDMI input). I'm debating whether to connect the two devices through a VGA cable (with a DVI-to-VGA adapter) or an HDMI cable (with a DVI-to-HDMI adapter). Which option would you recommend? Have you noticed a significant difference in video quality between VGA and HDMI from a computer to a TV? If it matters, the audio will go into my home stereo. Thanks for your input.

Rob Pegoraro: A digital connection should provide slightly finer picture quality and may make it easier for the TV and computer to understand each other's screen resolution, but you may not notice those differences in practice. If you had an HDMI output on the computer, you could use a single cable to carry both video and audio--but the computer doesn't have that and you're directing the audio to the stereo anyway. You might as well keep that HDMI port free, in case you add any other devices to the TV.


Alexandria, Va.: Just wanted to thank you for your item on the DTV Pal DVR. Mine arrived last week, and so far it's great -- exactly what I needed for recording over the air network digital broadcasts. I know it's not for everyone but it suits me just fine.

Rob Pegoraro: You're welcome! Glad to be of help...


broadcasters don't decide what part of a cable operator's bandwidth gets assigned to them. : Maybe it's different with OTA stations, but with the cable channels it's negotiated between the station and the cable company. The whole issue with the NFL network and Comcast was about which tier it would be on.

Rob Pegoraro: That's a fair point, although a premium channel like NFL Network--which cable has no legal obligation to carry--isn't in the same boat as a local public channel like MPT. There, the discussion is simply about whether it rides on the digital tier or the analog tier. Remember, too, that in the long run everything on cable will be digital; analog is too inefficient for the cable operators to keep it around.

(And if the cable industry had not made such a complete mess of digital-cable standards, you wouldn't have to worry about this; all sets, VCRs and DVD recorders could have been digital-cable-ready years ago.)


Charlotte, N.C.: Rob, I'm thinking of buying a Blackberry Storm (VZW). As you recall, there were a lot of firmware issues upon first release last fall that prompted a lot of mediocre reviews. Have those issues been resolved through firmware updates? Of course, VZW is slow to release updates, but I think that a few have actually been "officially" released. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I have to say that my use of a Storm to listen to these Web radio stations did not make me like the phone much better. It's still a fussy, glitchy thing that isn't all that much fun if you want to use it with any great frequency (as I do with smartphones).

The annoying thing is that RIM shipped a bug-fix update for it months ago, but Verizon is still doing... something that has kept it from pushing it out to Storm users:


DC: Hi, Rob. I am totally perplexed by the fact that I have downloaded the new Adobe Flash plugin 98735837 times and still cannot get it to load onto my work computer. I'm on XP on a Dell Latitude, and haven't had any problems downloading plugins previously. In fact, I get confirmation that it downloaded successfully, but it won't launch, despite multiple restarts (this seems to affect just about everything on the Internet -- for example, I can't see any of the photo galleries on the WaPo Web site). I was able to load it successfully on my personal PC (Dell with Vista). Any thoughts on how to kickstart this thing? I'm moderately technically savvy, so I'm guessing I have to find the file and run it...but I don't know how to do that.


Rob Pegoraro: You didn't say what browser you're running, but I'm going to take a wild guess and assume it's IE. In that case, try going to Adobe's site and downloading the installer instead of letting it auto-update in your browser.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi, I'd love to get advice on the best, reasonable cost way of operating my iPod through the car radio. I currently use one of those cig lighter plug adapters. The quality and inconsistency (always need to seek out a dormant frequency) gets annoying on road trips. When I last looked the alternatives (hard-wiring) were in the hundreds. Can I get a better experience for less today?

Rob Pegoraro: If you've got a tape deck in your car, the tape-deck adapters are pretty cheap and work consistently, unlike FM transmitter adapters. Adding an iPod-specific jack can, indeed, be expensive, but you should be able to get somebody to add a line-in jack (compatible with any MP3 player) for a lot less. Anybody had that work done lately?


Capitol Hill: What's your opinion of the G1 Android, and any idea when the second generation will be released?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't like the carrier much--really lousy coverage--and the phone, as a piece of hardware, is only so-so. But I like the Android software a lot, especially with the 1.5 update that's now arriving. (That's another thing I meant to blog about this week but ran out of time for.) If I can get an Android phone on another carrier--which really oughta happen sometime soon, certainly by the fall--I'd give it serious consideration.


Comcast and Modems: Rochville's response confuses me.

I have Comcast internet and own my own modem. Since it was originally set up, 8 years ago, I have added a router, added a hub, and purchased a new modem. All I ever had to do was call Comcast when I installed the new modem and give them the modem's new MAC address.

Everything always worked fine. Couldn't be simpler.

Rob Pegoraro: Could be you've got an older setup that Comcast has since "improved" in newer installs.


Madison, Wis.: Just to clarify Rockville, Md.'s post, the setup page in a router's web interface for the MAC address change is usually called MAC address change, copy or clone. Sometimes it will only clone the address of the computer hooked up to it. I've never seen it called 'spoof', although I suppose one could use that term. Most routers I've worked with have the feature.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the follow-up...


Lexington, Ky.: Is there a program that lets you see how fast different functions are taking place on your computer. My "old" 2002 Gateway 700xl running windows XP with 1 gb of ram is slowing down--taking longer to complete various processes--and I would like to find out if it is a hardware or software issue. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Task Manager: hit Shift-Ctrl-Esc and you'll see a listing of the active processes, as IDed by their .exe files. It's a good way to see if one is hogging a lot of memory. The Software Explorer feature in Windows Defender is also handy for controlling what runs at each startup.


Pump up the Volume: Is there a way to turn up the volume in my computer. When I turn everything up, and I'm watching a video on my computer, sometimes the volume is still too low.

I don't have this issue on my work computer, just my home computer. I have Windows XP and it's an eMachines unit -- hope that is enough to go on. Thanks for considering my question.

Rob Pegoraro: There are probably too many--you've got the regular volume-control applet in the system tray (bottom right hand corner of the screen), you may have a physical volume control on your speakers, you may have extra vendor-specific software to run the sound card, and of course you've got the volume control in your video program itself. Try all of the above!


san francisco, ca: I've just joined so if you answered this already, feel free to ignore.

I'm with AT&T and eligible for an upgrade. I want an Iphone. Should I get the 3G now or wait and see if they release a new one this summer? Have you heard anything? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Definitely wait. Everybody expects Apple to have a new iPhone out in the next month or so (not that I can guarantee it, but it looks like as sure a thing as any Apple rumors that I've seen lately).


Dumfries, Va.: Microsoft has issued Vista Service Pack 2. Since this update is 344MB and I still have dial-up, it will take about 19 hours to download. I'm sure this SP contains updates to programs I no longer have, like Office, and many others I do not use. Is this SP necessary?

Rob Pegoraro: As a general rule, yes. But what you can do is download the standalone installer for SP2 on some other machine with a broadband connection, then burn the installer to CD.


SP2 and Flash: Installed Vista SP2 on Wednesday on a HP laptop. No problems at all, took about 30-40 minutes. Seems like shutdown is a -bit- faster now, and it freed up about 30G of space on the hard drive.

For the poster with the Flash problem, if you're using IE8, Flash doesn't want to update using the web for some reason. Go into Programs/Macromedia/Flash and look for a file called FlashUpdate10b.exe. Run it, let it restart the PC, and you should be fine. Just had to do this on my parent's PC.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks! Y'all are the best...


Philadelphia, Pa.: I was an early VOIP adopter (about 6 years ago) kicked off my Verizon VoiceWing when that service was disbanded a few months ago. I moved over to Vonage, sitting on top of Verizon DSL. The experience is not good -- not as good as we had before. I've taken a few steps to optimize, unsuccessfully.

I'm considering a few routes here and would love feedback on them:

1. Give into the darkside, get Comcast broadband and phone (we don't have or want cable).

2. Go backward, get a landline and keep Verizon DSL (we are still years away from FIOS in my 'hood).

3. Go forward still to some combination of higher bandwidth (Comcast) and newer phone technology (a la T-Mobile hot spot for home or something that rides the broadband for free). Anything bleeding edge will be a tough sell on the skeptical wife...


Rob Pegoraro: You don't need that much bandwidth to run VoIP. Try switching to a different VoIP provider. Recommendations, anyone?


Brooklyn, NY: I've also noticed the decreasing quality of digital OTA signals as Falls Church, Va. I hooked up my great aunt's TV to a digital box and she's getting fewer and fewer strong channels as time goes by. I may have to look at a powered antenna for her.

Rob Pegoraro: I'd give it a couple of weeks--let stations switch off their analog signals and fine-tune their digital transmitters.


Wash DC: I can't have a camera on my cell phone - paranoid employer.

Is there ANY web-enabled phone that doesn't have a camera?

Rob Pegoraro: There aren't many out there; can anybody suggest one?

My thought: Unless your employer is a government agency with a three-letter abbreviation for a name--or some other really good reasons for banning cameras at the workplace--I think they're going to have to accept reality at some point.


Microsoft Support for IE6: Do you have any idea how long MS will continue to support IE6? It is so awful but that's what I'm stuck with at work. Is there any chance they'll stop supporting or fixing it so that my company will FINALLY have to upgrade? It's my only hope since they'll never let us switch to something like FireFox or Chrome.

Rob Pegoraro: Realistically, Microsoft doesn't support IE 6 (and I don't either). I suggest you download Portable Firefox (, put that on a USB drive, and run that on your computer. Your brain-dead IT department can't stop you from doing that.


Annandale, Va.: Any suggestions on getting video off a DVR and onto a laptop computer? Obviously, a new video card is out of the question.

Rob Pegoraro: You can get an analog-to-digital adapter from companies like Pinnacle (warning, I really don't like their software).


B'bug, Va: I read that the Jitterbug phones failing to connect to emergency in "no service" areas were being recalled... and it kinda confuses me.

My house is beside a mountain ridge, and I get a "no service" display when I try to use a non-Jitterbug phone. So I just use the cell phone when traveling.

I thought no service indicated that no signal whatsoever would be recognized... how can a 911 signal even get thru when the phone cannot see the cell tower?

Rob Pegoraro: I didn't quite grasp that either--how is any phone supposed to call 911 when it has no service?--but maybe that story just wasn't written clearly.


Madison, Wis.: Re: Adobe Flash plug in install - if it's a Mozilla based browser, like Firefox, Seamonkey or old Netscape, then you can download the executable file and run it manually from the folder you downloaded it to.

If there's more than one Mozilla based browser on the machine, then copy the updated files from the plugins directory for the browser the install was done for to the plugins directory for the second browser being updated. Usually, the plugins folder in c:-program files-firefox or similar.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Madison.


Cody, Wyo.: Hi Rob,

I have the McAfee SiteAdvisor add-on for my Firefox browser, and I love it. But lately SitAdvisor has been simply stopping "dead in the water." Nothing I do gets it working again.

So I reinstall it, and it works fine for a while. Then the whole thing starts all over again.

Any ideas on what causes this?

Thanks, Rob! Love your chats.


Rob Pegoraro: Get rid of it. You don't need it--Firefox 3 has its own constantly-updated blacklist of dangerous sites. It's not quite as comprehensive as Site Advisor, but if you're not actively looking for trouble you should be fine.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Hi Rob, I've been using a VCR with an A/B switch to record one show while watching another (on Comcast). After the digital transition, what kind of DVD recorder should I buy that will give me the same watching option?


Rob Pegoraro: One with a QAM tuner--you'll be able to run cable right into the DVD recorder. You can then watch one show through the Comcast box while recording the other on the DVD.


Frederick, Md.: I don't know what was so wrong with the name Live Search, either, but this is a Zune question: If I was, say, a sorta tech-savvy alien that just landed who had no preconceived notions of market share, reputation, online stores or what the cool people were buying, would I like/buy the Zune? Is it not a nice device that just can't seem to get traction? And while I'm here, if you were advising MS, give me one recommendation you would give the Zune crew to help them gain some traction? And please, no dodging the question with "I'm just a tech writer" or "build a better product".

Off subject: Just how DO you pronounce Pegoraro??

Rob Pegoraro: If you consider the Zune just as a music player--you set aside the silly Zune Marketplace and its requirement that you buy music with Microsoft Points--it's actually pretty good. But that's not how Microsoft is selling it.

If you're in Italy, you pronounce Pegoraro as "peg-oh-rah-ro" (soft a, roll the r's a little)

That part of my family settled in the Midwest, though, so the "a" got sharpened: "peg-oh-rare-oh."

Either one's fine with me.


wiredog: For the guy who can't have a cell phone camera at work: Will the employer allow it if the camera is disabled? Try a piece of tape over the lens, or painting over the lens with the paint used on plastic models. That's how we coped when I was on a contract for a multi-letter agency developing mobile phone software.

Rob Pegoraro: You'd think paint would suffice...


Madison, Wisc.: I've installed Vista SP2 on a Dell laptop with no visible problems...but it's only been a couple days.

Rob Pegoraro: Appreciate the report... though you all do know that once I write a post relating how SP2 didn't cause any problems, I'm going to have readers getting on my case for endorsing the update that just hosed their own PCs, right?


iPod adapter: To run a cable under the dash and around to the back of my Passat's stereo, I got a quote of $65 from one of those aftermarket stereo-hubcap-window tinting-etc. shops.

Their business is down a little recently, since you don't need 20" rims on your car to live in it...

Rob Pegoraro: Did that price include putting neon lights on the undercarriage of your car?


iPod adapter: I installed a line-in to FM adapter. You tune in the radio to use it, but instead of actually transmitting an over-the-air FM signal, a wire is connected to the antenna at the back of the head unit. This avoids the fading and almost all of the static problems normally associated with FM transmitters.

It's a pretty easy project - took me about an hour (mostly figuring out how to remove my head unit from my dash). And, the part is cheap, about $30.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Greenbelt, Md.: I've had Verizon DSL for a couple of years now. However, I have never figured out to actually set up a "" e-mail account -- i.e., "" My boyfriend was home for the initial installation and he set up a username, but I have no idea what the password is, and he doesn't remember it either. And I've never used Outlook Express or any of those other non-browser-based clients for personal e-mail. Is there a Web site that could help me?

Rob Pegoraro: I believe you'd do that by logging into your account-management page on Verizon's site. There should be a password-recovery option for the e-mail (assuming you know your account password), though you may have to call Vz for help with that. Verizon's site also has info on setting up mail clients for a Verizon account:


D.C.: Off the wall question here, but it's pretty well established that nobody reads those lengthy documents that we agree to when we download software. Are there limits to what is enforceable? Suppose somebody sneaks in a clause that you will never install a competitor's software? And that you will owe 10 million dollars if you do? Suppose you agree that the vendor has unlimited access to your files and can do anything it wants with them? Suppose you agree to ship your first-born child to Bill Gates within ten days? Is there maybe some organization that actually does scrutinize these agreements for time-bombs?

Rob Pegoraro: Some of these agreements have, in fact, been found unenforceable. Judge Sotomayor, the new Supreme Court nominee, wrote one of those rulings:

There's a site called MousePrint ( that spotlights some of the worse gotchas in these agreements.


Anonymous: But... if you've got a DTV tuner in the house, try tuning into MPT. They have one of the strongest signals around, and over the air you'll also get their digital-only secondary channels.

I DISAGREE!!!! I have digital tuner and have been thru 4 antennas (now using the flat antenna...I only get channel 26 and its four stations from 2am until about 6am. I get nothing during the day and the signal at night goes if its raining or very windy. So you're very lucky. The rest of us poor non-cable saps will be out of luck come 6/12. And FWIW to PBS, I've stopped my donations, if the signal gets stronger 6/12, you'll start seeing my checks again.

Rob Pegoraro: First, MPT is channel 22. WETA is channel 26.

Second, where do you live? Unless every other "poor non-cable sap" lives on your block, I don't think you can make that generalization.


NoVA: I've got a TV that's over 10 years old and has developed a green "burn spot" in the corner. I also have an original DirectTV Tivo that they will have to pry from my cold, dead hands.

Here's my dilemma: do I get a new, flat screen TV and hook it up to the old Tivo? Do I just wait it Direct TV Tivos are supposed to finally show up in "late 2009". Or is it just vaporware?

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like you need a new TV no matter what. You can keep using the new TiVo, but then you'll be stuck with standard-def recordings.

Unfortunately, DirecTV apparently won't be getting a new HD TiVo out until sometime in 2010:

I wouldn't call that vaporware, but I would call it a serious product-deployment FAIL.


Gaithersburg - VCR owner again: I don't have a Comcast box. One cable line from the A/B switch goes into my tv and the other goes into the VCR. So how would the QAM tuner work with that?

I apologize for my not understanding, but I'm not a tech wiz! (Even though I could always program VCRs with no problem.)

Thanks again!

Rob Pegoraro: QAM = digital cable tuner. You don't need a cable box to get the signal into the DVD recorder (or the TV, if it has a QAM tuner). Most DVD recorders with over-the-air tuners have these, but a few (e.g., some Panasonics) don't.


Macbook: Hi -- you probably have a column or something out there about this, but we have a college-bound child who really wants a Macbook (although he just bought a Dell laptop last year around the holidays). He hates Vista so he thinks the $999 Macbook offer is a great deal. Is it? Is it sufficient do what he wants -- use it for school, play some WoW, download a lot of music? 'Course it comes with a free Ipod which is nice too. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The $999 MacBook would do a good job with all those things. That design has been around for a while, though; the odds are that Apple would update it before back-to-school season.

OTOH, I said that a year ago, and then Apple didn't ship the new aluminum MacBook until fall.


Anonymous: I'm not the earlier poster, but I have wondered about wireless web-access too. So how much is 5GB? How much do you use in say, two hours of web-surfing with several open windows? How much to download a two-hour movie? Is 5GB a month enough for most users?

Rob Pegoraro: It's not enough if you're going to start downloading movies. See this recent column:


Canada: Dear Rob,

In the market for an Apple laptop for our daughter, who will be starting University in the fall. She would work mostly with MS Office, e-mail and web surfing. Should we get the newest MacBook White, or one of aluminum ones? I would appreciate your suggestions.

Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: Get the white MacBook. The aluminum one costs another $300 but is less expandable (no FireWire output). Also, I just can't seem to get myself to like its no-mouse-button trackpad.


Tenleytown, DC: Hi Rob

I was on my parents computer the other day and noticed they have an unsecured local network. I would like to make it secured with a password and don't know how. They warned me that I better not screw up their system.

They are using a Linksys Wireless G 2.4ghz router -- model WRT54G. That is wired into their desktop windows xp computer. It creates the network in their house that they use for their laptops. They are also running Norton Internet Security 2008 on the desktop, and all the laptops have similar Norton software.

Should we be concerned about security and if so, how do I secure the network for them -- keeping in my that my computer skills are very limited. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: It's all done through a Web browser; here are Netgear's instructions:


Alexandria, Va.: Just a point of clarification about the radio performance rights act. Radio stations do currently pay royalty fees, but they are paid to the owners of the composition (i.e., songwriters and publishers via BMI, ASCAP, etc.) and not the performers. The proposed legislation would add a second royalty fee for performers.

Rob Pegoraro: Exactly. That's why it's good to be a singer-songwriter, economically speaking.


Tina again: Anyone use that Magic Jack thing?

Rob Pegoraro: Me. And I wasn't too impressed:


Gainesville, Va.: Your tips on Sunday about moving files from a Mac to a PC reminded me of a dilemma that I have been putting off for far too long. I still have my personal finance info in Quicken 98 on an ancient Mac Performa, and want to upgrade to a newer version on a new computer, preferably a PC. This raises issues of both hardware and software compatibility, since the Mac is from the pre-USB days and uses a Zip drive for backing up or transferring larger files like this. Is there any hope for me, or have I simply waited too long to make the switch at this point?

Incidentally, one of the main reasons that I'd like to keep my historical financial data if possible is that it's the closest thing I have to a journal. In the comment field, I've always noted what city it was in for expenditures out of town, so it kind of provides a record of most of the high points (trips, special occasions, etc.) of my life.

Rob Pegoraro: I think you'd have to e-mail the files or upload them to a Web site you control (after first password-protecting them in some sort of archive file).

File-format compatibility is an extra problem. Here's Intuit's prescription:


Chicago: My husband signed up with Netflix two weeks ago, and I love it! I can't believe I resisted for so long. I had no idea we could watch the online instant movies through our Xbox on our TV. Now I'm plotting what it would take for us to become cable free. A lot of my favorite shows are up on Hulu or the channel's Web site - what would it take to get them streamed onto our TV? We have a LCD TV, Olevia I believe, and I have a Toshiba lap top. I've heard your TV has to have some component to hook the two up. Also, do we need a special antenna to get the HD version of the public stations?

The biggest problem I see is what to do about ESPN. It's the main channel my husband watches, but do they offer Sports Center and some of their other shows online at all? I know they have the 360 deal, which we get, but that seems to be just games.

Am I missing anything? Any idea on if Netflix is going to expand it's online offering any time soon? Thanks so much!

Rob Pegoraro: You'd need to run a VGA cable from an Internet-connnected computer to the TV, plus an audio cable from the computer to the nearest speakers. FYI, Hulu just shipped a Hulu Desktop program (Windows and Mac) designed for this kind of use case:

Sports programming is the toughest nut to crack if you want to ditch cable. ESPN 360 is one option, but I don't know if ESPN has all of SportsCenter available (you can watch snippets of it at ).

Your LCD should have a digital tuner, and in that case any old antenna should suffice. All the TV transmitters in Chicagoland are on top of the Sears Tower, right? I'd think that would make for decent reception anywhere nearby.


Silver Spring, Md.: Why does Annandale need an analog to digital video converter when his recordings are already digital (DVR)? What am I missing?

Rob Pegoraro: Because the DVR doesn't have a digital output that a computer could use.


Silver spring - white MacBook: Um, Rob, the JUST YESTERDAY updated specs on the white Macbook so it is very very close to the base aluminum Macbook.

Sure, they might update the aluminum Macbook soon. But the white Macbook is a great deal right now. AND it has a firewire port.

Rob Pegoraro: Good point... faster processor, faster memory and a bigger hard drive, IIRC.


Rob Pegoraro: OK, folks, I've gotta give this keyboard a rest. Thanks for keeping me busy, as ever! I'll be back in two weeks for a special, all-DTV edition of this chat.


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