Personal Tech: Gadget News and Reviews
Friday, July 24, 2009; 12:00 PM
The Washington Post's Rob Pegorarowas online Friday, July 24 at Noon ET to discuss recent reviews, answer your personal tech questions and provide gadget advice.
Read this Sunday's Fast Forward column early: Barnes and Noble E-Book Store Follows Amazon's Lead -- And Repeats Its Errors.
Read Rob's latest tech tips in his blog Faster Forward.
Howarad County, Md.: Hi Rob,
Thanks for taking my question. As far as I can tell, there is currently no digital version of the WaPo, other than what we can view for free on this Web site, and what Kindle owners outside the dead-tree delivery area can obtain via subscription. Why do you think the Post has no mechanism for me to subscribe to an electronic version from within the delivery zone? A certain competitor from NY has at least two electronic products to which readers may subscribe, in addition to its Kindle offering. If it was up to me, the WaPo would release a paid iphone/touch app that would provide me with an ebook version of the print edition every day. What's with the Post's aversion to publishing a digital edition for everyone who wants to pay for it? Is this just the same old problem that newspaper publishers have had with the Intarwebs since the beginning -- that they can't figure out a way to make it a profitable venture? If so, I'm afraid that newspapers are destined to join the ranks of the dodo and the Oldsmobile.
washingtonpost.com: You can access and subscribe to The Washington Post's digital "e-replica" version at this link here. It's also listed at the bottom of The Washington Post home page.
Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon, everybody. I'll start with this question, since my review of the Kindle DX said we would have announced the terms of our subscriber-discount test program for the Kindle DX by the end of last month. It turns out that our publicist spoke too soon, and we haven't announced any details of that.
As for the e-replica version, it is there--but be honest, folks, did you know it existed until this question? That link is extremely easy to overlook. So our friend in Howard County makes an excellent point here.
Rockville, Md.: Rob, I'm considering a Kindle for my wife's 60th birthday. She loves reading and is mildly tech-savvy. Good idea? Small or large format? Thanks.
Rob Pegoraro: "Mildly" can mean many different things, so I'm not sure how I should respond. Has she expressed any sort of yearning for a Kindle? Does she routinely drag along multiple books at one time? Does she like to loan books to friends? (If the answer to the last item is yes, that would weigh against a Kindle purchase in my book.)
Rockville, Md.: Many, many years ago -- OK, about six -- I moved from my old computer to my current computer. I moved some of my data, including a number of interview outlines I wrote when I was a volunteer at a public radio station. The problem is the old computer had Lotus word processing software, and I have never been able to figure out how to convert the files so I can read them on my Microsoft office computer. I think I may at one time done something entirely boneheaded like rename the files with word file extensions which has made matters even worse.
Is there anything I can do to recover these files? It is time for a new machine, and I don't want to just move the files again. I really enjoyed that time in my life. Reading the interviews would be a fun way to relive it.
Rob Pegoraro: Try IBM's Lotus Symphony suite, a free download that can open (but not, it seems, save) files in the old Lotus formats: http:/
Bethesda, Md.: There's a lot of variation between manufacturers as to which newly-purchased Vista laptops will receive free upgrades to Windows 7. Lenovo (a brand that I like) has a pretty good policy (any laptop or desktop) purchased between June 26, 2009 and January 31, 2010: http:/
It is tempting to purchase such a machine now (one can get a nice Lenovo Core 2 Duo laptop w/2GB RAM for as little as $450), and undergo the pain of an upgrade later. I would like to have a new machine now, and guess that the prices might even rise a bit after Windows 7 comes out.
Another alternative is to pay a bit more and get a Mac Mini instead, and defer purchasing Windows 7 (for use with Boot Camp/Parallels) until it comes out. The Mac laptops are outside my price range.
What are your thoughts & results of crystal-ball-gazing?
Rob Pegoraro: There is the "pain of an upgrade," as you noted, to consider. I don't think prices will increase when 7 ships--if anything, you might see some promotions built around 7's debut--so you need to evaluate how unpleasant your current computer is to use, how much you might not like using Vista as an interim system on a new computer, and how much pain the upgrade to 7 might involve.
I suspect that for most everyday home users, the least painful solution will be to wait until 7 ships.
Frederick, Md.: I only use Mozilla's Firefox as my browser of choice. However, I don't feel like I'm making full use of the available add-ons and other features. Our use is basic -- very basic, no gaming, just back email, work-from-home, internet surfing, nothing exotic. Our systems are well-protected and we have no security issues. Are there basic features in Firefox that you recommend? Thanks for all the great advice on all the subjects you cover.
Rob Pegoraro: Let's see: You're saying that your browser satisfies your needs and keeps your computer safe. I wish all my readers had your problems! :)
If you haven't yet played around with Firefox's RSS support, you should check it out. That's the single biggest improvement you can make to your everyday Web use.
Clemson, S.C.: How do I connect a PC to a TV? It should be a simple problem, but any answers I've seen require a degree in computer science to understand.
Rob Pegoraro: If you've got an HD set, it is a simple answer: Run a VGA cable from the computer to the TV (almost all PCs and all HDTVs have the right port); if it's a Windows PC, you may have to press F7 to switch video to the bigger screen.
Some new laptops and desktops include HDMI outputs that will send both video and audio to an HDTV, while Macs now feature only DVI or DisplayPort video connectors, each of which will need an adapter cable to connect to most HDTVs.
No HDTV? Don't bother. The TV's picture will be too crummy to bother looking at.
Pagis files ?: I have a Mac running OS X 10.4. A friend sent me a Pagis file - something created quite a while ago by a scanner. None of the standard programs on my computer can read this. Any ideas of a (preferably free) way that I can open it?
Rob Pegoraro: If GraphicConverter ($34.95 shareware at lemkesoft.com) can't open it, nothing can.
Beltsville, Md.: Why do I still get e-mail from Circuit City and CompUSA?
Were their bankruptcies just a scam to get out of bad leases?
Rob Pegoraro: Other companies bought those defunct retailers' brand names and, I presume, their mailing lists--though why they thought would be a good idea escapes me. It would be like starting a new airline by buying the trademark of a Chapter 7 victim: "Fly PeopleExpress, new and improved!"
Flyover land: Hi Rob,
I've had a Mac for a couple years now (love it), and have yet to do any "maintenance" on it -- should I be doing the restore thing at some regular interval like an oil check? It's a pleasant change (I used to reinstall everything on my pc every 6-8 months or so), but I'm happy to spend a bit of time if it would help. I use time machine, but don't want to be too complacent. If you know of a good guide that shows you the steps to do (you haven't written one have you??), that would be great. Thanks!
Rob Pegoraro: No need. As a general rule, Macs do not require that kind of regular wipe-and-reinstall routine. But should something go wrong, you can put a clean copy of OS X--while keeping your data, settings and almost applications intact--with the "Archive and Install" installation option.
Reston, Va.: I read that the VLC media player is a good option for playing media on a stand alone (not connected to internet) personal computer. So, I'm thinking about downloading VLC onto a memory stick and walking over to the standalone to install. I use that PC for work and just don't want it on the net - but would like to watch media on a window when working.
Is the VLC player pretty much worry free - no system crashes and easy to uninstall?
Rob Pegoraro: I've never seen it crash the system, and it's always been easy to uninstall. (Most open-source Windows programs are, perhaps because so many of them began life as Linux or Unix programs and so don't hook that deeply into Windows.) The only potential issues are the possibility of it just not working with a particular DVD, and its rather wonkish interface.
Athens, Ga.: Thanks for taking our questions. Your view on the technology issues of the day is very useful. My question concerns the iPhone. I purchased one in January. I'm 63, never felt the need for any of Apple's products up to now, but I have never, ever had a purchase so exceed expectations. The ease of operation, plus the ability to use the apps to make it do so many different things has literally changed my life. I can't imagine I'm that unique, but my friends that don't have an iphone find it hard to understand my enthusiasm. I don't blame them, it is hard to believe something is this good. There are all sorts of miscellaneous electronic products that I'll never buy again because with this phone I don't need them anymore. Do you agree that it's hard to understand how good this phone is unless you actually use it, and get the chance to adapt it to your individual needs, and will it's impact only grow as more and more people discover what I've discovered?
Rob Pegoraro: The iPhone is, indeed, a remarkable device. But the flipside of its appeal is that its users will often forgive behavior they'd find unacceptable on another device--like, say, the fact that it still doesn't support picture messaging, or the inscrutable tyranny that is Apple's App Store approval process.
Washington, D.C.: Today I used, for the first time, WMATA.com's "GPS based" next bus arrival time calculator. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the information was useless: I got on a "next bus" that the web page said would not arrive for another 13 minutes.
Have you/will you review the service? And (on the assumption that the GPS based data will ultimately improve), I'm wondering if WMATA will provide an API so that third party developers can develop better smart phone apps.
Rob Pegoraro: I do take the bus somewhat regularly, and my own experience with NextBus has been... iffy. It had the 38B eastbound's arrival pegged within a couple of minutes (the bus arrived after the prediction, which I'd prefer to it arriving early), but then last night the westbound 38B arrived in Rosslyn 10 or 12 minutes later than predicted. As I was starving--and I'd exited Metro only because NextBus indicated that the bus would get me home faster than waiting for the next Orange Line train--I was not amused.
Columbus, Ohio: Running XP/SP3 system. You have oft stressed that Outlook Express is woefully obsolete and insecure. My poser: Do I switch to Mozilla Thunderbird or Windows Live Mail for an email client? I currently use OE to download email from a private sbcglobal.net account, 3 Godaddy-based business accounts (all POP) and one Hotmail account. In order to maintain the status-quo of my email downloading and off-lining capability, which of the choices is my better bet? BTW, I use Firefox as my default browser, so my biases lean more toward Mozilla than MS. But I'd prefer to keep downloading Hotmail via client rather than go all-webmail for it.
Rob Pegoraro: Both WLM and Thunderbird will constitute a massive upgrade over OE. The major difference is the interfaces of each; Tbird's toolbars-and-menus look isn't that different from OE's appearance, while WLM adopts the toolbar-only style of IE 7 and IE 8 (though individual dialog boxes are unchanged from OE).
I think Tbird is better at dealing with large quantities of mail, so that might tip the balance for you.
Toronto, Canada: My wife is frustrated by how long it takes our ancient laptop to connect to the Internet, probably mainly because of the anti-virus (Avast free) scanning on start up. We plan on buying a new computer next year but, in the interim, I'm thinking an inexpensive netbook, used only for her internet access, without a virus checker, might solve the problem. Is this a good or bad idea and, which netbook would you go with?
Rob Pegoraro: Connecting any sort of Windows computer to the Internet without anti-virus is a REALLY bad idea. (It's different if you get a netbook running Linux.) But even an entry-level netbook will have enough processing power to handle one of the free anti-virus apps: AVG, Avast or Avira. (Microsoft plans to ship its own free anti-virus program sometime soon; expect a review from me when that happens.)
Talking about the W. Post eReplica: Rob, since you raise the subject, as a W. Post subscriber I should be able to get the eReplica free through PostPoints. For some reason I have not been able to log into PostPoints in almost a year. The tech support folks have been very nice, but they haven't fixed the problem. Any ideas?
Rob Pegoraro: That's something our tech people *have* to be able to solve--it's our login server that's messing up, assuming you've got the right username and password. Hey, tech people, fix this already, please!
Detroit, Mich.: I was curious what your opinion is about Windows 7. I am primarily a Mac person and have also used Windows XP in the past. I have recently been using a laptop with Windows 7 on it and have been quite impressed. Going to Windows 7 from XP seems similar to the leap from Mac OS 9 to X. Additionally, with the ability of having a PC version of Safari and iTunes on the PC, and prominent task icons on the lower part of the screen, I feel like I am on a Mac, but for a lot lower cost than a Mac laptop.
Rob Pegoraro: I do think Windows 7 is nice--certainly seemed that way when I tested the beta release of it earlier this year--but there's no way you'll still feel like you're on a Mac once you have to sit through a program install or uninstall or try to set up a home network. Windows 7 looks to be a better Windows, but it's still Windows.
Online Services, IE and Firefox: Hi Rob: I have an e-banking computer issue. I use Firefox as my browser of choice. Recently, my bank upgraded its online services. Now it reports error codes when I try to use its e-bill payer option. I contacted my bank and they advised 1) That they prefer that I use IE and 2)I should clear out my cookies and temp files. I cleared out my cookies and temp files, but the problem exists. I refuse to use IE for reasons I read in this and other forums. Surely, I should be able to use Firefox for something as simple as paying a bill? Any guidance?
Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you should. What bank is this?
Eugene, Ore.: It might be time to reinstall Windows XP (laptop is getting slower over time). What's the easiest way to collect all those Microsoft updates and patches I've already downloaded so that I don't have to download them a second time during a reinstall?
Rob Pegoraro: You pretty much can't. I tried writing a Help File item explaining how to do this, but I don't remember coming up with any sort of simple explanation. The best you can do is download the standalone installer for XP Service Pack 3, which "includes all previously released updates" for that operating system:
Arlington, Va.: Hi Rob -- submitting early because I'm freaking out! I just bought my first HDTV (a Samsung LED LCD), which I have connected via HDMI to a Comcast HD DVR. The HD channels are beautiful but the standard definition channels I frequently watch (Bravo, MSNBC) look AWFUL. Heavily pixilated and just plain hard to watch. The guy who set up my TV suggested that the problem is a weak signal from Comcast, a suggestion I will pursue, but is there anything to that idea? Can anything be done with the settings on the TV to mitigate this problem? I was happier with my 15-year old analog TV connected to digital cable than I am with this new monster in my living room.
Rob Pegoraro: I hear this a lot. Part of it, I suspect, is psychological; SD television does look pretty crummy compared to HD, and it's hard to go back. Some of it may be your own TV's settings, and some of it may be the feed you're getting from Comcast (either because it's a weak signal or, perhaps more likely, that it's compressing the SD channels more heavily than the HD channels).
Fort Washington, Pa.: I've got a five-year-old Philips HDTV -- the biggest, heaviest picture-tube TV you ever saw. No digital tuner. It gets a great HD picture, but while I'm viewing through one of the HD hookups, if I switch from an HD channel to a standard-def channel, the picture goes haywire. So I've had to have two hookups, one component video for HDTV, one composite for standard-def, and make sure I change the input on the TV before I change the channel on the cable box. (I've had this problem with cable and now with FIOS, but not with Dish Network.) What causes this, and is there any way around it?
Rob Pegoraro: That's not a general problem with HD sets. But don't ask me how to fix it... seriously, I have no idea. Anybody have a suggestion for Ft. Washington?
Rockville, Md.: I want to hang a 37" LCD on the wall. I see that 37" is the break point for a lot of wall mounts. Do you get one where 37" is the highest a mount can handle or the lowest? Also, if you may not be sitting directly in front of it, is a swivel mount the better way to go or are the "flush mounts" adjustable to move left or right?
Rob Pegoraro: This is another question I have to turn over to your collective wisdom. My living room has plaster walls, so I've never been remotely tempted to try to hang a TV off them.
Arlington, Va.: Are there any e-book devices on the horizon that would warrant holding off on purchasing a Kindle?
Rob Pegoraro: There's the Sony Reader, but that requires you to download books to a computer and then transfer them to the device--there's no direct downloading like on a Kindle. The Plastic Logic device that Barnes and Noble plans to support next year might be a better competitor, since it will have its own wireless connection and a bigger screen, but until we have a ship date more specific than "2010" you have to regard it as somewhat vaporous.
Washington, D.C.: Hi, Rob. I have this recurring problem with my MacBook (current generation) -- it unexpectedly shuts down. I'll be happily puttering along in Safari or something else, and all of a sudden the "Are you sure you want to shut down?" window will pop up. I'll click cancel, and a minute later it comes back. At some point, it stops asking and just shuts down. Very frustrating. I haven't had a chance to take it to make an appointment at an Apple Store (and the problem very well might not occur while they're looking at it anyway). Any thoughts? Thanks!
Rob Pegoraro: Take it to the Genius Bar. I've never seen that happen, but this sounds like the kind of thing that could be caused by a hardware fault--and the folks there are better positioned to diagnose that possibility than you or I.
Taylor, Texas: Rob:
Thanks for all the good advice and insights you provide, and for tackling my question. For some years I've used a Panasonic DMR-E85 DVR with great satisfaction to record TV shows using its built-in TV Guide On Screen service. It's an analog machine, so since the digital transition was completed I've coupled it with a Dish DTVPal Plus converter box. These two devices were supposedly able to communicate and allow the DVR to receive the TVGOS listings while directing the converter (through the IR gizmo) to switch to the appropriate digital channel for scheduled recordings. So far, I've not been successful in that aspect, but as a workaround I've relied on recording shows with the DVR timer set for a particular block of time and set the converter box on the proper channel manually in advance.
Unfortunately, Panasonic doesn't sell an updated version of this DVR with a digital tuner that records to a hard drive and can also burn that content to DVDs in this country (though they do in Asia), just ones which must record directly in realtime to DVD. As I periodically go overseas for project assignments that sometimes extend for several months, I've relied on the DVD burning capability to offload the hard drive in between trips, and then take those DVDs along on the next trip to catch up with shows I would have otherwise missed (or had to try and watch online from places in Asia or Africa that often have limited Internet bandwidth). So, I'm considering replacement options before the next overseas assignment comes up.
The Dish DVR has a digital tuner and its gotten decent reviews from you and others -- it will record to a hard drive, but has no built-in capability to burn DVDs. That step would have to be accomplished through an external DVD recorder (a somewhat more cumbersome and expensive process, at best).
From your vantage, is there any likelihood of Panasonic or anyone else selling a digital DVR in the US with both HDD storage and DVD burning capability anytime soon?
Rob Pegoraro: You can buy a handful of Philips and Magnavox HDD/DVD-recorder units (same manufacturer, just different brand names), but these lack the TV Guide program grid of the DTVPal.
Some DVD recorders offer a "chasing playback" feature that approximates one great feature of a DVR; once you're recording, you can jump back to the start of the program and then start watching while it finished recording the program.
Chicago, Illinois: Are you aware of how many android phones may be coming to market by the end of the year? Will any of them be able to be good competitor to the iPhone?
Rob Pegoraro: I don't know the answer to your first question, but I can tell you that Android already represents good competition to the iPhone. It's got great Web and good e-mail software, and its app store (the Android Market) already hosts more phone programs than anything outside the iPhone's App Store. One possible factor: developers have told me that it's a lot easier to write for Android than the iPhone.
Tina re: Phillips TV: Has the poster tried to call Phillips? There may be an upgrade/patch that needs to be applied. The TVs are getting like computers. When I bought my Tosh the dealer told me to call him first if I have problems. Sometimes the manufacturer has patches that go to the dealers...gotta take it to them, but my TV is easy to take to the shop.
Rob Pegoraro: Yup, there are firmware upgrades to consider. Some newer sets have USB ports that are there, in part, to allow you to load these updates.
Rockville, Md.: Hi. I use Google chrome at work and have a problem. On a lot of websites (including the Post's) I get a message telling me I need to install an Adobe Flash movie plug-in. But when I go to do it, I can't because I'm not the administrator on my computer. Is there anyway around this? Thanks. (And nope, no chance of me becoming the admin nor finding out the password.)
Rob Pegoraro: I don't think there's any way around that. Sorry...
For Athens, Ga: At the risk of sounding like an Apple company plant, I completely and totally agree with their assessment about the iPhone. A co-worker asked me how I liked mine, and with all seriousness, I told him that it changed my life. Previous to the iPhone, I was an avowed PC lover/Mac basher who regularly used only 30 minutes a month on their cellphone (not an exaggeration), and thought texting and mobile phone browsing were ridiculously excessive. The scope of what the iPhone can do, and for the most part, how much better it does it, is truly mind-altering. In fact, the iPhone caused such a shift in my mind, I bought a MacBook two months later.
Rob Pegoraro: Ah, the zeal of the newly converted...
Boston: Hi, Rob. I read that starting next year most cell phones will have universal mini-USB chargers. My question is does that really mean interchangeable chargers? My Motorola phone already has such a charger, but I have to used a "Motorola" cord. My work Blackberry charger (also mini-USB) will not charge the Motorola -- the phone tells me I'm using an "unauthorized" charger. (I get the same message with a generic car charger.) If changing to a mini-USB universal standard still means each company can insert these proprietary "blocks" on other chargers, I can't see how we're making any progress. Thanks!
Rob Pegoraro: The whole point of adopting these standards is to, y'know, have standards, so I can't see how that company could continue to do something that stupid when its conduct would be so easily exposed. And yes, Moto has signed onto this initiative, at least as adopted in the EU:
Newburgh, Ind.: About the time of Safari 4.0.1, but not with the public beta, on your competitor, the NYTimes, when I try the back button, instead of going to the page I came from, it first goes to the top of the current page, then only after several more "presses", three to twenty, it finally goes to the original page. I haven't experienced this with the Post, since most everything just comes off my daily e-mail of news and editorial headlines. I have also not noticed it with other sites I visit, like Google news. Of course I can use the drop down and click on the page I came from, but it's a hassle. Any thoughts? Is it Safari or the NYTimes.
Rob Pegoraro: Hmm. Seems that I need to click the Back button twice myself. (I hadn't noticed as I'm too used to hitting the Delete or Backspace key for that function.) I would guess it's some nytimes.com-specific issue.
Guess you'll have to get all your news from here instead!
For Arlington: I had a slightly different problem when I got an HDTV and HD DVR (also Comcast) -- my "lesser" channels were okay (they'll never be beautiful, of course, but they're not pixelated), but my HD channels and On Demand had problems. Comcast wasn't much help, because I have the line split a few times (for other TVs,) and they always blame that. I picked up a cable amplifier for about $30 at Radio Shack, and that solved the problem. (By the way, some of the basic cable channels have had some jumping/pixelation problems lately, regardless whether I get them through the HD cable box or directly from the wall coax hookup -- I think Comcast has been fiddling with its various signals since the digital transition, but most of the time everything's fine.)
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report...
Rockville, Md.: Comcast guy with poor reception on MSNBC, etc. should be certain he is set to digital. Guides to Cable box, DVR, etc. are available online. Most HDTVs have TV setting plus cable settings. Check that the remote to the set and the one for cable are working correctly. HDTV is much more complicated than older TVs and requires education on the part of the viewer.
Rob Pegoraro: More tips (although I'm not clear myself on to check for... is this a cable-box setting?)
Falls Church, Va.: Re: Channels 7 and 9: Any news on the digital transmission problems with these two channels? Are other folks still having problems receiving the signal? I've surrendered...nothing I have done has pulled in a watchable signal with an interior UHF/VHF antenna and converter box. I will not spend any more money having a rooftop installed. I had one back in the day, and it came down in a storm, so I'm not going there again. WUSA and WJLA have lost me as a viewer.
Rob Pegoraro: Positioning the antenna closer to a window seem to help a lot. The DVD recorder I set up last night (with the antenna maybe two feet from the window) pulled in 7 and 9 without any problems on the first try. But WUSA and WJLA need to keep working on this--they had an eminently watchable DTV signal before June 12, and they ought to be able to deliver the same now.
Minneapolis, Minn.: I have a newish printer, that was designed to work with Vista x64. Will Vista printer drivers work with Windows 7, or will HP have to rewrite their drivers specifically for Windows 7?
Rob Pegoraro: If it's got 64-bit drivers, you should be fine. (That's a general sign that the printer vendor is on the ball in terms of writing proper drivers; the standards are a lot stricter in x64.)
Bellevue, Wash.: Why do you pretend to offer information with your technology section rubric when it is really a solicitation? Is this the only way you get hits?
Rob Pegoraro: Hey, have you read my blog? It's at voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward!
Rob Pegoraro: Haven't seen that myself. Did the 3.5.1 update fix things? You might want to try nuking your existing Firefox user profile (export your bookmarks, then delete the Firefox folder in your Library's Application Support folder).
South Riding, Va.: I have two computers at home, a desktop that I use daily and a laptop that I use less often. The laptop is getting old and has limited amount of disk space. I let Microsoft update my desktop to Internet Explorer and didn't see any problems, but wasn't sure that would be the best for the older laptop. Is there any real reason to avoid updating it, too?
Rob Pegoraro: No. IE updates bring some fairly important security fixes; even if you use another browser by default, you want to make sure IE is current, since other parts of Windows can use part of its code.
Baltimore, Md.: This isn't a question but a request. I get the RSS link to the page where you request questions for this feature as part of the daily list from the post, But after the feature is assembled could you tell the person who posts the links to remember to RSS the link to the finished article. For some reason the finished article is never listed. Thanks
Rob Pegoraro: Duly posted...
London, UK: Hi Rob, last week Brian advised me to wait buying a new PC until Windows 7 is out. My local store has a great deal on a Fujitso Siemens, 640 HD, 4 gig RAM, Intel Quadcore Q8300, Gforce 9500, the works. Price 600euro, 850$. Its Vista home prem. I'm afraid I'll lose out til 7 comes out. Should I wait? I'm going in October to the US, should I buy one there? Thanks,have nice weekend
Rob Pegoraro: Are you going to the States as in migrating here, or just on vacation? Because a U.S.-model laptop won't have the right region encoding for any DVDs from the EU, requiring you to run the VLC player to view them (if it can at all, which is not assured).
If your current machine works adequately, then I'd concur with Brian's advice.
Houston: I know you favor Thunderbird mail over OE, and I also know that OE is on its way out.
I use Thunderbird here at the office, and find it remarkably clunky and slow compared to OE. (EXTREMELY slow by comparison.) It's also not as easy to set up, but that could be attributable to long OE experience on my part.
What, exactly, are the major selling points of Thunderbird over OE? (You've mentioned security, but I don't know in what context.)
Rob Pegoraro: First, I find Tbird pretty fast, and I deal with huge volumes of mail. My work account has... wow, something like 2 GB worth of messages.
Second, OE does not have:
* a usable spam filter
* phishing filtering
* a useful find function
* any RSS support.
* an open file format that you can count on other programs opening.
Look, you don't have to like Tbird. But you do need get out of OE. It is an awful program that Microsoft itself abandoned long ago.
Burke, Va.: For the person wanting to know about wall mounting a TV. We have a 37" LCD TV mounted in the living room. We purchased a swivel/tilt mount, and I installed it myself. The instructions were pretty straightforward. The important things to remember is that you really need to have at least one stud to mount into, preferably two, so getting the TV "centered" on a wall is not always possible even with the highly adjustable mounts. Also note that any mount and swivels or tilts will pull the TV away from the wall a few extra inches (the back of our TV is almost 6" off the wall). If you don't need to swivel or tilt, just buy a flat mount, and your TV will be snug to the wall. Finally, an extra pair of hands is probably a must with a 37" because of the size and weight of the TV. With a little bit of knowhow and a studfinder and level, you can save the ridiculous $100 most places charge for "installation."
Rob Pegoraro: Thanks! Very helpful information....
For the new HDTV'er: We had the same problem, and after many many many interactions with Comcast, we escalated it to comcastmustdie.com. The problem turned to to be a lack of signal strength, because we also have their modem, and they fixed it by installing a second line into the house.
Rob Pegoraro: Heh. That's the site that Advertising Age columnist and NPR host Bob Garfield set up to chronicle his own cable-TV misadventures.
Houston: (OE/Thunderbird guy again)
Re: Newburgh, Ind's question about the back button at the NY Times site. I've encountered this problem numerous times, always at the same few sites. I believe this is due to "back-button protection" being coded into these sites to keep viewers parked in front of them. At my previous employer, we utilized such code as a means of preventing HR users from backing out of any management processes they'd initiated.
The easiest way to get out of this hassle is to locate the "down arrow" marker connected to the back button, which will pull down a brief history of sites visited during your current session. You can then select the site you visited just prior to the one that's locking you in place.
Rob Pegoraro: Hmm. Hadn't thought about that. Thanks for the info.
Minneapolis: I have a question about DSL modems. I have an older modem -- I'm not sure how old, but I inherited it from my brother about 4 years ago -- that I have successfully used for DSL service from my provider, even though its not one of their specifically supported models. (I had to do some manual configuration).
However, this time around, it appears to not even recognize a DSL signal coming over the phone line. In calling tech support, they suggested that the difficult may come from the fact that I am receiving 7 Mbps service, rather than the 1.5 Mbps I had previously received.
Does this make sense? Is there such a limitation on older models of modems?
Rob Pegoraro: Quite possible. These things aren't really standardized in the way that cable modems are. (I'd love to see an explanation of how the cable industry can easily come up with an open, documented standard for cable modems but can't do the same for cable boxes or DVRs.)
Rockville, Md.: Any thoughts on the Windows Media Extenders? I have the one from Samsung and like it, but think there ought to be more -- perhaps because the instructions were just about zero in printed materials. Where does one learn these things?
Rob Pegoraro: These products--wireless boxes that you connect to a TV to play the music/movies/photos stored on your computer--seem to have been somewhat forgotten lately. None of the products listed on Microsoft's site (http:/
I'd try looking for help in some of the online forums set up by other Media Center users--try thegreenbutton.com
Re: U.S.-model laptop won't have the right region encoding for any DVDs from the EU: Hi Rob,
Unless things have changed recently, this isn't correct. What I've always seen in the past is that after playing maybe 5 DVDs, the DVD drive will lock to the zone of the last DVD played. Some systems will let you switch zones a couple of times before locking. If you ONLY play DVDs from the US or the EU, then it doesn't matter where you buy the laptop, and with one euro buying $1.42 these days the US is a good place to get one.
Rob Pegoraro: Y'know, you're right. That's a good point.
Rob Pegoraro: That's gotta do it for today, folks--I've got copy I owe to various folks here. Thanks for all the great questions... I should be back here in a couple of weeks.
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