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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Technology Writers
Friday, August 7, 2009; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Friday, Aug. 7 at Noon ET to discuss recent reviews, answer your personal tech questions and provide gadget advice.

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

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon, everyone! Welcome to the latest edition of our computing/electronics/telecom chat. (If you're looking to berate the Post for "Mouthpiece Theatre," Dana Milbank's chat is behind the door to the right; if you've got excruciating relationship problems to untangle, Carolyn Hax's chat is to your left.) Today's column reviews two new smartphones, T-Mobile's myTouch 3G and Verizon Wireless's BlackBerry Tour; we can talk about that or any other tech topics you have in mind.

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iPhone 3gs: I love the phone -- it is so convenient and handy and can do so much for me. What are some of the coolest/handiest apps you've heard of that I need to check out? Anything from productivity/lifestyle/games? I heard there is a new GPS App with turn by turn directions -- do you know much about it? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I'll start with a phone question -- though it's not about either model in today's column. For GPS-based apps, I'd start with the ones that help you find good restaurants/bars/entertainment/shopping near you: Yelp, OpenTable, UrbanSpoon and (of course) the Post's Going Out Guide.

TomTom is about to start selling a turn-by-turn app (along with a windshield cradle for the iPhone), though it hasn't announced the price for it yet.

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Los Angeles: Hi Rob -- Do you know of any software that will allow my partner and I to share calendars which we keep on different PCs? We both lead busy lives, and we'd like to be able to consult each others' current calendars in something close to real time.

Rob Pegoraro: Google Calendar or another Web-based service is your simplest option (you can, in turn, sync Gcal to Outlook or iCal)

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Falls Church re: cell service: It's a basic question...what is 3G? Hubby and I have AT&T service. We rarely use them, a big month for him is 10 minutes, for me, 5 minutes. We have a monthly plan that can't be beat with a union discount. We are able to upgrade if we want. Is 3G just a service name? Is it a particular cell phone? Is it only from one provider? Is it a data plan rather than voice? Is it more like a higher tier service like my FIOS iNet service speed plans? Is it only for web access from cell phones? I want to know if I am missing out on something that's better quality calls. I am feeling left out because I don't have a Blackberry or anything.

Rob Pegoraro: "3G" is a marketing term that, while made up and overused, does serve the useful purpose of distinguishing real mobile broadband -- meaning something with speeds in the range of entry-level DSL, at several hundred kilobits per second -- from the earlier generation of services that topped out at 100 kbps or so. 3G services use a couple of different technologies, depending on the provider: Verizon and Sprint use one called EVDO, while AT&T and T-Mobile employ something called HSDPA.

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Digital Camera: I have a five year digital camera. I am still happy with the quality of the pictures and would prefer not to replace the camera right now, but I am getting decreasing battery life every time I use the camera (down to about an hour or just a few pictures right now). The camera uses a removable square battery that recharges in a wall charger. Is this a problem with the battery and can I purchase a new battery? Or is this camera past its prime, and do I need to purchase a new camera? Thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: You can buy a new battery (or a gently-used one on eBay), but you should take a look at what cameras do these days. Between the vastly higher resolution, image stabilization technology and automatic mode switching (where the camera knows to activate macro focus when you try to take a picture of a close-up subject), you may rethink the quality of your current model.

Plus, a good, new camera won't cost much more than a new battery for your old one.

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Harrisburg, Penn.: I just got a Smartphone from Verizon with Windows Mobile 6.1. I have seen on the web talk about an update to 6.5, but nothing definite. What've you heard?

Rob Pegoraro: Windows Mobile 6.5 -- which Microsoft will apparently call Windows Phone, the latest in long series (Windows CE, Palm-Sized PC, Pocket PC, etc.) of name changes -- represents Microsoft's belated attempt to catch up with the iPhone, Android and the Palm Pre. It will feature a simpler, touch-driven interface, a much more capable Web browser and -- finally! -- a simple application store, so you won't need to run random installers on a Windows PC to put a program on a phone.

Odds are, though, you won't be able to upgrade your current phone to 6.5, but check with the manufacturer first.

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Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Hi Rob...

Sometimes when I visit a Web site which uses accented characters my browser converts each accented character into a string of gobbledygook. I've tried all the various settings in several different browsers to no avail. Is there still no standard for this sort of thing?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Odds are that it's a coding screw-up at the Web page in question. In which case, you can't do much but complain to the author of that page.

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Kingstowne, Va.: I've recently started a new job in which I will be telecommuting the majority of the time. I'm interested in having two phone lines at home so that I can keep the business calls separate from the personal calls. (I do not consider using a cell phone as my only line to be a realistic option because (a) I'd have to carry the phone all over the house; (b) I find a cell phone less comfortable and practical to use than a landline, say if you're working while you're on the phone; and (c) I do not like the notion of being reachable wherever I am whenever someone wants to call me. I have a cell phone, but it's only turned on when I want it to be.)

Verizon has no information on their site on how to go about adding a line, nor (more importantly) do they provide any information on what this costs. I'm not keen on calling them up to discuss it because it's harder to take notes and then get an accurate comparison of pricing options. I presently have Verizon landline service, Verizon DSL, and DirecTV. FiOS is available in my neighborhood, but I have no interest in their TV service, plus the phone service over FiOS sounds expensive. I tried pricing out Vonage, but I'm concerned that Verizon would make it difficult to switch my DSL service to dry loop. You recently ran a column in the Sunday paper noting the availability of dry loop from Verizon, but the URL you mentioned related to the prices for new customers.

Do you have any thoughts on the best option in my situation, and do you know whether Verizon will allow dry loop DSL without a hassle if a customer wants to move to VOIP? (e.g., if I ask Vonage to port my number, will Verizon automatically switch me to dry loop, or will they vindictively cancel my DSL service?) Thanks in advance.

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm. Verizon used to be happy to sell people second phone lines back when you'd need one for your dial-up Internet connection.

You're correct that the FiOs phone service is expensive. It's a gold-plated package -- free domestic long distance and a bucket of calling features -- that only justifies its cost if you don't have a cell phone that already provides those things. In other words, it's as if the FiOs people aren't aware that Verizon itself runs a cell phone service.

One option you could look into would be to use Google Voice to provide a virtual second line for free: voice.google.com.

You could also pay to get a second line through Skype, then get a WiFi Skype handset.

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Philadelphia: Hi Rob: During the past few days, I see that when I use Google search in Firefox (PC, Windows XP), I am taken to TOSEEKA which contains sites that do no belong to the search. I need to click the search button again to access the Google search engine. Upon searching, I noticed that toseeka.com is a malware/trojan. Even though I have Norton, Windows Defender active along with Spybot, it was not picked up. www.spywareremove.com/removeToseekacom.html suggests a way to remove it but, I have to purchase their product. I was unable to locate the .dll files mentioned on their website.

Even though the redirected search appears to be only an annoyance, I would like to remove it. Any suggestions?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: At least one of the security apps you already have ought to be able to remove it -- that's the whole point of paying for those Norton updates. Are you sure you've got the latest threat definitions for each?

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Alexandria, Va.: I've recently started using Hulu and Boxee to watch streaming video on my TV via my laptop. Is there an easy, effective, and not too expensive way to add a remote control to the setup?

The best alternative I've come up with is an Xbox controller using some third party software. To go wireless I'd have to track down and buy a USB dongle for a 360 controller (but then I could use the add-on chicklet keyboard, which would be nice).

Rob Pegoraro: Not sure myself -- anybody have a suggestion for Alexandria?

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Mac-Realtor: Hi, Rob -- Running Leopard on my Mac Pro, I have to have Internet Explorer to use all the realtor tools I need. Do I have to get Windows, or is there an alternative? Will putting Windows on my Mac slow me down and make me vulnerable to bad stuff? I use a Citrix front end for the MLS, but it doesn't do everything I need. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: You could buy CrossOver for Mac ($70 or so at crossover.com), which lets you run IE without a copy of Windows at all. The free, open-source VirtualBox will let you run Windows inside OS X, though you need to BYO Windows copy.

By the way, to whoever coded up this real-estate app that still requires IE in the year 2009: You suck.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hello,

I need to replace my personal PC. What should I be looking for in the DVD/CD writer? Should I upgrade to the Blue-ray?

Rob Pegoraro: No, don't bother with Blu-ray. Any old DVD/CD burner will be fine -- they all have the same disc-burning capabilities these days. Some can write a label on the disc, but I don't think that's worth fussing over (the labeling step takes a while, and the blank discs that support this option cost extra).

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Saint Petersburg, Fla.: Rob -- you were a bit quick to shovel dirt on CompUSA's grave in the last chat. I was in the Tampa CompUSA store two weeks ago to pick up a new power supply for an ailing PC. The place was packed with lots of back-to-school shoppers, many clutching the weekly sales circular from the Sunday paper.

There are some differences between pre- and post-bankruptcy CompUSA. The store continues to focus heavily on PCs and accessory components, HDTVs, digital cameras, MP3 players, yada, yada. Unfortunately, it no longer carries Apple computers, which is what brought me in to CompUSA in the first place years ago. What is new is a larger and more heavily promoted mix of the "wonky" stuff -- motherboards, processors, PC cases, power supplies and the like. In fact, the kid in the check-out line in front of me was building his own computer and had his cart filled with boxes large and small. Good luck with that; I had enough trouble with just the power supply.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report -- I haven't been able to check out any of these stores myself, as this reincarnation of CompUSA has yet to open a store anywhere within a few hundred miles of D.C. I just find it a little odd that any retailer would think it effective to buy the name of a company that went bust so publicly.

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Rockville, Md.: Rob:

Will you still take questions about DTV? If so, what's going on with Channel 4? Last week my husband was suddenly unable to get the channel on our kitchen DTV over the air. After a scan failed to bring up 4, I googled and found a chart showing 4 as 48.1. We tried it and got the NBC shows back. A day later the DTV was back to 4 instead of 48. What's going on with these channel numbers?

Secondly, we had WETA on last night on the DTV and found that during the fund raising portion the set in the kitchen had regular programming while the cable connected set had the fund raising stuff. What's going on?

Thirdly, is there any hope for improvement of the audio transmitted digitally, i.e., not the quality of the sound but the periodic dropping out of sound. This happens on cable as well as on the over the air DTV.

I know everything will probably be all about Twitter today, but hope you can find time to address DTV questions.

Rob Pegoraro: DTV questions are always fair game here (I'm never getting away from this topic, am I?). Oddly enough, I was watching WRC 4.1 last night over the air, and the signal was perfect. I can't remember when I last had trouble picking up that station, come to think of it.

I can only guess that they had some glitch with the labeling of their channel that caused its real frequency to show up on the screen. WRC, like most stations, labels its digital broadcast with its old analog VHF frequency, even though it now occupies a UHF slot, the 48 you saw onscreen.

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Hulu question: Is there a site that gives easy to follow (with pictures!) instructions on how to set up a TV to a laptop so that I can watch Hulu on my TV?

I keep hearing (and reading the question above) about people who do this and have no idea how. My laptop doesn't have HDMI, plus that is where the DVR connects to my TV, anyway.

Rob Pegoraro: There's really nothing complicated about it -- just match whatever video inputs and outputs the computer and the TV have in common. Almost always, that mean a VGA connection (plus some RCA patch cables for audio).

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Adams Morgan, D.C.: I need to install Office (student edition) on my new PC. I already have three computers with it on, and I need to remove the license from one of them. Do I just uninstall the programs, or can I just deactivate the license?

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I think you need to call Microsoft to get one copy deactivated and free up a slot for the new computer.

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South Riding, Va: I went on vacation and when I got home, my A/C had died. When I went to turn on my computer, I heard the fans running at full speed, but that was it. The computer wouldn't start. It was close to 90F in the room, so I was thinking it was just the heat. I moved the computer into another room where I had setup a window AC while I waited for a new AC to be installed. I opened the case, checked the connections, etc. Last night, I got the computer to boot. I couldn't get the keyboard working, but got the newer files backed up on a network drive. (I am not sure if the keyboard was plugged in when I booted, but couldn't get it to respond). After doing a backup, I tried to reboot, and couldn't get it to work.

Is it possible the problem is related to the lack of A/C? I am beginning to think that I need to take the backup of my files a little more seriously. Any recommendations?

Rob Pegoraro: I tend to doubt it -- the inside of a PC gets far hotter than any room. The "iStat Nano" Dashboard widget on this iMac, for instance, says it's 44 degrees C inside the computer (111 F), and this computer runs cooler than a lot of PCs I've seen. It could be that the computer ran into some other problem on its own.

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Columbus, Ohio: What do you make of the iPhone dissatisfaction of which you wrote earlier in the week? Is this simply a natural "blip"/end of the honeymoon moment or a genuine opportunity for other players in the market (Palm has to be smiling, right)? Or, to harken back to a time where nuance was okay, a mixture of both?

Rob Pegoraro: It's a serious problem for both AT&T and Apple. AT&T's problems give Apple some good reasons to decline to renew its exclusive deal with AT&T. Apple's app-approval issues, meanwhile, give developers good reasons to turn their attention elsewhere as well.

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Los Angeles: I use Firefox 100 percent of the time, but still have IE 6 loaded on the computer. Should I remove IE6, update it, or just leave it as is?

Rob Pegoraro: Update it. You don't want somebody else to run it by mistake, plus its code gets called upon by some other programs. Besides, why would you want the stink of IE 6 lingering around your computer?

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Clueless in Mass.: So the dinosaur of a desktop has died after nine years. My husband and I are thinking of buying a Netbook for now and then probably buying a desktop after Windows 7 comes out in late October. We have DSL through a local (i.e. not Verizon) ISP, though our phone line is Verizon. We have a couple questions regarding purchasing a wireless router. First question -- will a wireless router work with DSL? Does the wireless router connect to our existing DSL router, or does it replace it? And will the wireless router also support a wired desktop if we add one later on or does that go separately through the DSL router as it does today? Also, do we need to do anything extra for wireless security if it's just in our home? Thanks so much for your help!

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you can use any wireless router you want. You'd plug it into the DSL modem with an Ethernet cable; the router, in turn, should include at least one Ethernet port that you can use to wire the new desktop. For wireless security, properly configuring the network -- use WPA encryption, not WEP -- is all you need.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the source of or reason(s) for all of the connection problems currently experienced by most AOL users, no matter the type of broadband connection (DSL, cable, etc.)? There are constant disconnects during web sessions, occasional auto-reconnects, and/or options for AOL click-fixes. We really like AOL for lots of other reasons (it has the best word-processing functions and options vis-a-vis with web content), but the frequency of the disconnects is getting ridiculous and inconvenient, because you often "lose your place" on the internet or other important functions are disrupted like printing, writing email, etc. And what's the deal with AOL's latest upgrade? What is it supposed to do or improve? We have AOL 9.1. We've been hesitant to install it, but are asked the question each time we exit or close AOL?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know -- sorry, I haven't put AOL's software on a computer in years, and I'm not going to anytime soon. (By which I really mean "ever again.") My standing advice on this subject is get the heck out of AOL's software.

There is some way, I think, to dial up to AOL without its software, but I can't find a link to that.

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Chapel Hill, N.C.: What are your thoughts on the Apple iPad rumors?

Rob Pegoraro: None. Speculating on this is pretty much a waste of time. I do think this is a very funny satir of the phenomenon, though.

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Elkader, Iowa: I would like to save certain Outlook e-mail files and folders in My Documents. Is there a way to do this other than opening each e-mail and saving it individually? I have tried selecting all of the e-mail in the file and then clicking on Save As, but only one of the e-mails is transferred to My Documents. If there is no way to use Save As in Outlook to send the entire file at once to My Documents, can it be done in Mozilla? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Nope, you can't do that. Outlook is written to store all your data in one massive .pst file, and there's nothing you can do to change that on an ongoing basis. It's what I like to call "Outlook being Outlook."

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Alexandria, Va.: I need a desktop computer for my 4th grade daughter. Should I get one with Vista, or should I look for XP? I think some stores would still have desktops with XP.

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Vista, for all its faults, is more secure than XP, and I think that's an important factor for a computer that will be employed by an inexperienced user. Plus, upgrading from XP to Windows 7 will be an enormous pain compared to a Vista-to-7 migration. And finally, it's difficult to find non-Netbook machines with XP.

Short answer: XP's dead. Let it rest.

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Dead A/C and computer: I'd be curious to know if the dead computer was protected by being plugged into a surge protector? High and low line voltages are notoriously bad for both air conditioners and non-protected electronics.

Rob Pegoraro: That would be a more likely explanation...

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Lafayette, Tenn.: Thanks for taking my question -- I apologize if the answers are obvious. My 4 year old Dell laptop is getting slower and slower. If I back up all my personal data, will re-installing Windows fix this problem? I run anti-virus software, but is it possible a virus is causing this problem? If so, will doing the re-install fix it? Finally, I have some music that I downloaded from iTunes before they changed the DRM policy. Will I be able to re-download it from them? Will it count as an additional computer? Thanks again.

Rob Pegoraro: Your computer's most likely slowing because that's what Windows installations do over time. Some people call that "bit rot," although you could say it's just Windows being Windows. A reinstall will fix that, although you should realize the time it'll take (between backing up your data, wiping the drive, installing Windows, downloading all available updates, reinstalling your software and reloading your data) will utterly wipe out whatever time you get back from having a faster computer.

For iTunes: No need to redownload anything, as you can just reactivate the new installation of iTunes so the old files, once recopied to the computer work. Or you can pay to upgrade those songs to iTunes Plus, as I've done. Or you can burn them all to audio CD and re-import them as plain old MP3s.

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Kansas City: Good morning (here), Rob. Is it still possible to get the early upgrade discounts for Windows 7? My kids computer needs to be wiped clean and I can either re-install XP (if I can find the discs) or I can install Windows 7 release candidate and have to pay when the full version comes out. It only has 384MB of RAM, but it could be upgraded to 1 GB. What say you?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope, the pre-order discount expired a few weeks ago.

Whatever you do, you should upgrade the memory on that machine. 384 MB just won't work in either XP or 7, let alone Vista.

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Re: 90F in the room: Hi Rob,

Your iMac probably wouldn't be 111F on the inside in a 90F room.

Too much heat can cause problems, and "too much" depends on such things as air flow and humidity (and the full speed fan is a bad sign). The computer design will also affect temperature tolerance. The vendors don't seem to spend a lot on cooling for cheaper systems.

Rob Pegoraro: If this question had come up a few weeks ago, before I put some window blinds in the upstairs office, I could tell you what the temperature would be -- it would get pretty close to 90 in the afternoon.

It's true that most vendors don't put much effort into cooling, but I would not place Apple in that group.

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Alexandria, Va.: Are there any security concerns I should be aware of if I would like to FreeCycle my old LinkSys router? It's the one that came with my Verizon DSL service years ago. I know it sounds like a dumb question, but I want to make sure the recipient cannot access any old passwords, files, etc. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: There should be a hard-reset option that wipes all your settings from it. (That can be a useful debugging option, too.) Check the manual for how to do that.

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New York: Hi, Rob, I'm running Vista Home Premium with 4gb of RAM. On my desktop is the widget that shows the percent of RAM being used. On boot up it shows 25 percent. Over time, it slowly rises to 65 percent; at which point something happens, the percent drops to 19 and my printer is no longer recognized. A Restart fixes that, but only for the day. What's up with this?

Rob Pegoraro: I've wondered about this, too. It could be various background maintenance tasks; it could be memory leaks in one program or another. Of course, when I see the available memory diminish, I don't lose access to a printer. (That could be the fault of a buggy/obsolete printer driver.)

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Blackberry Tour: I just read your review... it would be wonderful to get an iPhone, but for those of us who are loyal Verizon customers, it's not an option right now. I need a new BlackBerry. Why is it that you considered it so lackluster, but that reviews on Verizon's site are so high? I'm a big believer in consensus, and the rating for the Tour are among the best for all phones. Any insight would be great.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not a fan of BlackBerries in general -- you'll note that I've never had too many great things to say about them. I think that RIM has gotten a lot better at hardware design, but when it comes to software it's still fumbling along. They seem to have a hard time grasping basic user-interface concepts like simplicity and discoverability. They're like a writer who reads something by Ernest Hemingway and decides that if he only writes shorter sentences, he could crank out something just as good.

That said, I think that with memorization and practice, a BlackBerry can be a very efficient, productive phone. I think that's what drives those high ratings on Verizon's site. But even then -- from a consumer, not IT-department perspective -- it won't measure up to an iPhone, a Pre or an Android device (none available on Verizon, inconveniently enough.)

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Smartphone Newbie: Rob, any questions on Today's Topic yet? LOL I don't have a smartphone, just a regular cell phone. We have T-Mobile, so the MyTouch 3G would be my phone. Why would I want one? Is it basically Internet on a phone? A pocket-size PC? I'm guessing I could do anything I do on a PC (email,surfing,etc.) on a smartphone. Am I close? Thanks a bunch.

Rob Pegoraro: Not anything, but you would be able to stop worrying about being limited to mobile-optimized sites in most cases. You'd also have a good little multimedia (MP3, photo, video) player.

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Re: Saving Outlook Email: I've found OneNote to be a very useful tool to save emails outside a .pst. The OneNote icon displays in Outlook and with one click it automatically saves to the OneNote "Notebook" of your choosing in an easy to read and find again format.

Rob Pegoraro: Good tip -- if you have OneNote. (Not all Outlook versions do.)

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Washington, D.C.: Re the AOL questioner: The person was asking about problems using a broadband connection, so why don't they just get on AOL via aol.com? I still have an e-mail account that's nearly 20 years old, and that's how I get to it via dsl.

Rob Pegoraro: You're right... so this person definitely needs to get rid of the AOL software. Escape while you can!

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Fairfax Station, Va.: Rob, I'm struggling with finding a way to connect a DVR onto my Cox cable. I bought a Sony DVR (model RDR-VX535), as the box advertised that both VCR and DVD recording. Even with multiple changes to the hook-ups, I still was not able to record Cox media to DVD, and I returned the Sony device. Cox supports porting recorded shows off onto VCR, but who wants to build out a VCR tape shelf when DVDs are far more flexible? Any ideas you may have would be appreciated!

Rob Pegoraro: Define "not able"; what happened? It should be a basic matter of connecting the video and audio outputs on the Cox box to the corresponding inputs on the Sony; the box doesn't know whether it's a VCR, DVD recorder or some other thing on the other end of a composite or S-Video cable.

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Remote control for laptop watching movies: Buy the Hillcrest Loop Pointer or a Sony Bluetooth presentation controller if you want full mouse control. There are other slightly cheaper presentation controllers with mouse capability, too -- and they don't need a surface to roll on.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Going overseas: I'm not sure if this is within your realm, but I'm traveling overseas to the UK, and I was wondering what travel plug adapter to buy. I'm assuming I'll need something for the plugs as well as a converter. We're not bringing along a hairdryer, just chargers for the camera, iPods, and laptop.

Rob Pegoraro: You might not need anything; hotel bathrooms typically have US-standard plugs, and your chargers should be able to handle any voltage differences. I know I haven't needed to bring any plug adapters on trips on my last few overseas trips (Italy, Ireland, China).

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I have two high-definition TVs. I already rent one DVR box from Verizon, to get a second will be another $15 a month. It seems like a bit of a rip-off since I'd end up paying the price for the box after a year or so, but I expect to use it indefinitely. I looked into buying my own DVR, but they said I would have to subscribe to TiVo to be able to use it, and the net result would be I'd pay almost as much as I would to Verizon. Is there any way to avoid paying a monthly rental or service charge (above my normal cable bill) for a box I buy myself?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, the Verizon HD DVR fee is a rip-off. But you don't really have any great alternatives. TiVo charges its own service fee (which I also think is a rip-off), as you note. There's a company called Moxi that sells a no-fee, CableCard-compatible (therefore FiOs-ready) DVR, but that costs $700 or $800, so it's no savings compared to a TiVo HD with a lifetime subscription.

You'd think somebody would try to fill this hole in the market at some point.

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, it's time to replace my desktop PC, and I've decided to get my first laptop. Your articles and reviews make it sound so simple. But then I go to a website (like Dell's) to start shopping, and I'm overwhelmed with choices and decisions on customizing. How do I wade through all this without going insane? Thanks for all your help.

Rob Pegoraro: As a general rule, you're unlikely to go wrong picking the cheapest or second-cheapest option on those configuration screens.

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Falls Church, Va.: So 3G is "faster" (so to speak) than my AT&T service? FYI: Verizon offers free Wifi to FIOS customers that have certain packages. They have hotspot maps to find spots.

Rob Pegoraro: Abstract comparisons are useless -- your speed will depend more than anything on signal strength.

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Baltimore: Virgin Mobile broadband: Rob, have you tested this pay as you go plan where you pay $150 bucks or so, then pay $10, $20 etc. a month for access, depending on need? It sounds intriguing, but I am worried about coverage. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Not yet, but I'm working on a look at that (and other prepaid broadband options).

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Central Mass.: Hi Rob,

Two of us share an iMac. When it went down with a bad power supply recently, I realized we could really use a backup device (no way to check email, headlines, check in with work, etc. while we waited for the part).

I'm reluctant to spend the money on a full-fledged laptop or desktop, and I don't want to take on the contract required with an iPhone.

What would you suggest? Netbook/notebook? iPod touch? I think I heard something about an Apple notebook coming out?

I'm looking to spend under $500 (well under, if possible) with basic connectivity. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: An iPod touch would be the best option if you're also in the market for a new iPod. Otherwise, get a Netbook with a keyboard that doesn't drive you crazy.

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Austin: There was a rumor that another price cut on the iMacs was coming from Apple in the fall. Have you heard this, and if so, how much do you think they will cut the price? I am thinking of buying the 24" iMac with the 2.93 MHz processor, and I was wondering if it was worth waiting the extra month or two. I have been waiting for some time to pull the trigger on an Apple.

Rob Pegoraro: See this page -- as it notes, the desktop Macs were last updated in March. That probably means new versions arriving sometime this fall; if they follow the example of Apple's new laptops, they'll come with SD Card slots, which would be a useful and overdue upgrade.

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Catonsville, Md.: Hello,

Do you have an article on what to look for in purchasing a new desktop? My desktop is on its last legs, and there are so many options out there that I am confused. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You can pretty much take my laptop advice and ignore the parts about screen size, weight and battery life.

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Apple laptop advice: You've given us great advice in the past, so here we go again. My teenager (still years away from college) is getting a MacBook as a very special gift. As it will be used almost exclusively in the house, I can't see spending the extra money for a MacBook Pro. It looks like it doesn't come with a mouse. Is there anything else I need to buy at the time? Also, we're a PC family, and she uses Microsoft Word at school. Should we use Bootcamp, or is it worth it to buy Office for Mac? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: This goes for anybody buying a new computer: Get an external hard drive for backup. Repeat, get an external hard drive for backup. (I gave that exact advice to a family member who was buying a MacBook; she did not follow it, had a hard drive crash, and lost all her data.)

You don't need to run Windows in Boot Camp, and you might not need Office for Mac either--the free OpenOffice reads and writes Office files very well, and Apple's $70-ish iWork does a pretty good job with them too.

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Re: 90F in the room: Hi Rob,

As the very happy owner of a Mac Pro and a Macbook Pro, I know that Apple does a great job of cooling, but it wasn't your computer which has a problem. My point is that yes, overheating can cause problems, and the fact that the fan was running at full speed suggests that the computer might have been overheated. In days of old this would cause marginal components to fail, and chips and boards to work loose due to thermal expansion.

If you subject your iMac to 90F without adequate air flow around it, even an iMac will fry. I think Apple says something about that in the documentation.

Rob Pegoraro: I'll have to have a look at this computer's manual... which is... uh, somewhere around this desk.

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New York: Hi, my iPod Touch has been working great; it's approximately 6 months old. All of a sudden, its battery life dropping to nothing, even though I have plenty of space on it and haven't added any new draining apps. Any ideas? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Could be the battery has failed. It's under warranty; take it to an Apple Store and have them check it out.

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Virginia Beach, Va.: Rob,

I thought you couldn't remove IE from your computer?

Rob Pegoraro: You can't. But you can upgrade it, and you can stop using it in favor of another browser.

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Rob Pegoraro: Gotta sign off, folks--I've got a meeting or two coming up. If I didn't get to your question, you can e-mail me (robp@washpost.com) or save it for the next chat, which should be in two weeks. Thanks!

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