Personal Tech: Gadget News and Reviews

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Friday, February 5, 2010; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Friday, Feb. 5 at Noon ET to discuss his recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.

Read this Sunday's Fast Forward column early: Apple iPad's rejection of Adobe Flash could signal the player's death knell.

Rob's latest tech thoughts and tips are cultivated daily on his blog Faster Forward.


Rob Pegoraro: Happy snow day, everybody! Why not take a break from hoarding milk, bread and toilet paper to talk about technology instead?


Holland, MI: What do you think, Rob will we see video and camera added to the iPod touch this spring...or will it come to the iPad first?

Hey - you were right about revisiting your digital converter and having the box look for the stations again -- although we originally had TWO stations, as of last week we have 17 and they are very nice quality! Thanks for telling us to do that again. Must be the TV stations added to their towers and/or signals! Thanks so much!

Rob Pegoraro: Let's start with a question about Topic A of the last two weeks, Apple's iPad tablet. (It's tragic how little coverage that's drawn, isn't it?)

You'll see a camera on the iPod touch first. Numerous accounts report that Apple left space in the current design for a camera, a handheld gadget is a logical device to add a camera to, and it only makes sense for this iPod to gain this feature when the iPhone and the iPod nano already have video support. I don't see the same arguments applying for the video on the iPad--it's too big and heavy to be used for picture-taking, so you're only looking at video-conferencing use. And even then, you'd need some sort of stand to hold it upright.

Glad to help with TV reception. (Remember, folks, the Super Bowl's on CBS, and in the D.C. area CBS affiliate WUSA's digital signal got a lot stronger a few weeks back. So rescan the airwaves if you haven't done so lately.)


Laurel: Rob, there was a story on Yahoo news this week about the most marked-up consumer items (example: wine in restaurants, 500%) but the far winner was text messages at 6500%.

My pre-paid carrier charges the same for a text message as one-minute voice call. Can you estimate what is the relative amount of information contained (in bytes) of the two media, and the provider's cost of carrying them?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't have the numbers in front of me, but the text will be a tiny fraction of the voice call--that's why texting works even with a signal too faint for voice calling. So, yes, per-text charges are probably the biggest ripoff in all of telecom. *Never* pay by the text; pay the $5 or whatever your carrier charges for a bucket of a few hundred messages. (In some cases, as in Sprint's "everything" plans, you get unlimited texting bundled with whatever voice option you pick.)


Arlington, Va.: I have been thinking about buying an iPhone so I went to the Apple Store to ask some admittedly basic questions because frankly I haven't used anything Apple since the early 80s. I could not have been treated any more rudely. Is that part of their M.O. if you don't already know it I can't be botherd to answer your questions? Because if that is the case I don't want the phone.

Rob Pegoraro: Not that I've heard. My mom took her iMac--seven years old at the time--to the Apple Store near her home in northern New Jersey to have its hard drive looked at, and she couldn't say enough good things about the service there.


Rockville, Md.: Rob, when we were discussing gadgets of the decade last month, you named the tablet PC as something you would have thought was a gadget of the previous decade but that didn't pan out.

What's different about the iPad that it shouldn't be another fizzle. Is it anything but one more option in the panoply of possible shapes and sizes to make a computer?

Rob Pegoraro: It's all about the interface. Microsoft's Tablet PC flopped because it had a standard Windows interface, with few adaptions for touch input (the "Slate PC" concepts it showed off at CES seem doomed for the same reason). The iPad has an interface written for touch input first.

(The NYT ran a great op-ed yesterday from a former Microsoft VP about the corporate culture behind missteps like the Tablet PC launch: )


Warrenton, VA: Hi Rob,

I resolved that 2010 would be the year I started doing automatic backups of my Mac, but here it is February and I haven't got anything yet. I just don't know what the best most cost effective solution is, so I hope you can give a suggestions.

I'm running Tiger (10.4) so I need software as well as an external disk. And my hard drive is just 150 GB with 50 currently in use so I don't need a ton of space.

Any ideas what to get?

Rob Pegoraro: You can't run Time Machine, which complicates things somewhat, but you can run the donationware iBackup ( And that, unlike TM, will back up your data to flash drives, CDs and DVDs. If you're only using 50 GB, I'm going to bet that your own data makes up a small portion of the drive--and so could easily fit on a cheap, durable flash drive. If I'm guessing wrong, spend a few more dollars on an external "bus-powered" USB/Firewire hard drive and use that for your backups.


Burtonsville, Md.: I have an aging Palm PDA (Zire 71) and have waited in vain for the Palm Pre to come up with an app to import my data from the Zire.

I finally went with the HTC Hero (I have Sprint). Any suggestions on how best to import my data (eg. I store all my passwords on it going back over 10 years)?

What's a good app for storing and protecting passwords on my phone? On my desktop?


Rob Pegoraro: The Pre includes a data-export tool to get your data out of Palm Desktop (though I think you need to install the last release of Palm Desktop first). That would have been a much simpler upgrade path for you. Now you're looking at a lot of separate export and import options:

* You can export your address book as a CSV file that Google Contacts can read and then sync with the Hero;

* The simplest export for your calendar is probably the CompanionLink app:

* For notes... hmm. You could install the free Evernote app on the Hero, then copy and paste text from your Palm's memos to that app (it also has a Windows version and is accessible on the Web).

Good luck...


Virginia Beach, Va.: Facebook just"upgraded" my start page. I cannot find out how to log off. To me this is a major security flaw, especially if you share a computer. Is there anyway to log off facebook without quitting facebook. There's a drop down menu in the upper-right corner that says "Account" - click there and final option is "Logout" -- Facebook's "new, simplified homepage" not so simple (sigh).

Rob Pegoraro: There's your answer...


Alexandria VA and Outer Banks, NC: We spend half the year here in Northern Virginia, and half the year in the Outer Banks in NC. Here in VA, we watch HDTV off the air via antenna; in the OBX, we have to have cable to watch anything at all. We connect each May, and then disconnect and return equipment in October. I've been wondering if we could use a Slingbox attached to the TV in NC, keeping our cable connected all year, and then attach a computer to our TV in NoVA to watch cable TV here via Slingbox. Would that give a satisfactory TV experience? I'm not interested in watching TV on my computer, I want to watch on our TV. I'm not familiar with how well Slingbox works, other than seeing their ads hyping the idea of watching on your computer. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: It could, if you have enough bandwidth at your disposal in N.C. (you need a fair amount to stream HD, although if you're only getting SDTV there this may not be as bad of an issue).


Chicago: Stupid question I've never seen asked before: Why don't computers have a rechargeable battery to maintain the BIOS settings instead of the 3 volt lithium one? You'd never have to replace it then. The cost difference is minuscule.

Rob Pegoraro: Because that little battery (it keeps a PC's most basic system settings intact) lasts for years and years and years on its own; most people don't keep their computers long enough to have to replace the BIOS battery.

Also, remember that PC vendors are *cheap.* These are the guys who will sell off desktop shortcuts to make a buck or two extra on the machine.


Galloping hard on the Plains: Okay, this was odd: my home computer's mouse (optical kind) simply stopped. No cursor, no movement, wouldn't even bring it out of screen-saver mode. No solution worked, including re-plugging. Had to do a manual shutdown of the computer. But upon re-starting, it worked fine. What the? Do computer mice have a life span (this one is 4.5 years old)? All I was doing at the time was listening to a web radio broadcast, with 2GB memory available.

Rob Pegoraro: No, that's extremely odd. A USB mouse should work pretty much indefinitely (although moving parts like scroll wheels or the mini-trackball on an Apple "Mighty Mouse" can jam up). Do you have any extra driver software installed for it? If so, I'd dump it. Windows will support all the functions on a typical mouse--even one of Apple's--without any extra drivers.


Durham, NC: We're taking the plunge on HDTV in a few days, and my head is still spinning a bit. The starting point is that we'll be replacing two tube sets with HDTVs, probably shooting for one around 46" for the family room and one around 22" or 26" for the office. We have DirecTV and will upgrade to the HD package once we have the new TVs--that way the DirecTV upgrade visit can take care of making sure everything's connected.

I feel like I could do an infinite amount of research--or we could just go into Best Buy or HH Gregg and just grab something reasonable-looking near the bottom of the price range for each size we're after. Any ideas which is the better strategy? Is $900 for the big one and $250 for the small one a reasonable budget target?

My highest priority is not having to do this again in the forseeable future--that is, I'd like something that will last us a while and give us a decent picture during that time.

Thoughts or advice?

Rob Pegoraro: $900 for a 46-incher seems a little ambitious, but $250 for a 22-26-in. set looks doable.

The smaller set has less risk for you; the only distinguishing feature you're likely to see on any spec sheets is the presence or absence of a USB port or SD Card slot (which makes it much easier to show off digital photos) and what sort of video inputs it has (more HDMI and component ports are good, but make sure it has a VGA jack for use with older computers too).

On the big screen, you have more issues to consider:

* Screen glare: If your living room gets a lot of light, don't buy a plasma set or an LCD that, like too many, has a glossy coating. (You can look for this in a store by seeing how clear your own reflection is in the screen.)

* The same connectivity and photo-display issues noted above

* Scan modes on LCDs: A TV with "120 Hz" refresh should be free of notable blurring or jerky motion, while one with only 60 Hz scanning can display that in things like news tickers and scrolling credit.

* A small but growing number of TVs can play video and music off Web sites, if you connect them to your home network. If you either have an Ethernet port in your living room or an extra router to connect them, this can be a neat way to expand your viewing choices--though you will need to throw some serious bandwidth at the set to watch HD movies off the Web.

As with a lot of things, Consumer Reports is a good resource for this kind of shopping.


Washington, D.C.: How I spent my snowvacation: I'm bound and determined to upgrade from Vista Home Premium to Windows 7 (free upgrade with Dell) and then upgrade from what ever Dell put in my Inspiron 1545 laptop to Word 2007 ($10 through work), in that order. Anything I should look out for, be concerned about? The only thing I know about computers is how to turn it on. And a little bit about iTunes and some pictures. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I'd vote for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, but that's just me. But your upgrade should be reasonably tranquil; the Windows 7 installer will warn you about any compatibility issues, but by now most of them should have been smoothed out by updates from software developers. You're looking at what's pretty much the best-case scenario for a Windows upgrade.


new chat format: I see you didn't get the new format today. Are they worried about the tech criticisms and want to get the bugs out first? (some complaints on other chats) Rob's next chat will be in the new format. :)

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, we're switching to new chat software--and, unfortunately, we couldn't roll it out for this chat. Which is borderline tragic to me. (If you think these chats look ugly on your screen, you should see what my end of the software looks like!)


Another VA Bch, VA reader: At work we are switching to Thunderbird from Outlook. Is there any way to import any of the data in the Outlook .pst files into Thunderbird or anything readable?

Rob Pegoraro: Thunderbird will offer to import data right out of the PST file when you first run it, and it should do a decent job with mail and contacts (but, unfortunately, it doesn't support calendars on its own). To be sure, though, you should export your data out of Outlook as separate files first. That's... let's see... under Outlook's File menu, in the "Import/Export" submenu. Right?


Sterling, Va.: Hate to interrupt all the blather about Apple, but I have a question about my PC. My current emachine AMD Athlon 64 is about 6 or 7 years old WIN XP SP3 up to date. Some time during this past year, the number of files scanned by AdAware or ZoneAlarm (Kaspersky) have soared from around 100K to almost 600K and the vast majority of them seem to be accessed through the default folder in Documents and Settings. What is curious however, is these files aren't visible to me even though I'm not hiding system files. The other night I stopped a virus scan after it spent almost 50 min in that folder and showed no signs of stopping. Any idea what this is?

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm. That is odd. I was about to say "have you set Windows to show hidden/system files," but then I saw you've already done that. You could try seeing what Microsoft's free Microsoft Security Essentials sees on your computer--in my experience, ZoneAlarm is a bit of a hypochondriac.


Lovell, Maine: My PC was attacked by some sort of virus which got by Webroot, Zone Alarm, and Norton--and has not even been found by Secuna.

Here is what it did: I changed ONE of the fonts in the Windows XP operating system to a symbol-only font - I think Marlatt or something like that. That makes the information and instructions posted on the screen just so much garbage. I have tried and tried to find out how to reset Windows XP to its default font settings with NO success--this included calls to Dell and Microsoft.

Do you have any suggestions? (I am writing on a new computer because the screwed up one is just sitting there--and I am holding off because I really would like to move some of the files. I tried PC Mover, but that did not work. Can you help???


Rob Pegoraro: Try a System Restore: reboot, hold down F8 and then try running one of your anti-virus programs.

BTW, can I make a general request to everybody here? Please don't say "my PC got hit by a virus" if you have any idea, any at all, of how it happened. Because these things shouldn't just happen by themselves; you have to hit a malicious Web site or run the wrong file that arrives in e-mail, via a "scareware" pop-up ad or some other download.


Alexandria/Outer Banks again: How much bandwidth do I need exactly to make Slingbox work? The cable company has different options. I do get HDTV down there, not just SD. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The Slingbox Pro HD ( needs 3 Mbps of upstream bandwidth for HD streaming. SD only needs 600 kbps.


Rhode Island: Hi Rob,

Maybe it's just me, but I think the iPad's odd size and weight might constrain it somewhat. You mentioned a stand earlier; I think there will definitely be a market for those. I just don't see students and doctors, for example, hauling around something that's too big for a pocket and too heavy to hold on to for any length of time (such as for watching TV shows, or carrying it around for college lectures/doctor's rounds).

I'm sure Steve knows what he's doing, but my first reaction is that it's a weird kind of in-between device - I'm not seeing a huge market for it among people who already have a smart phone and laptop.

Rob Pegoraro: You have to think about what sort of software--meaning, in the two populations you mentioned, textbooks and medical apps--might be available for the iPad, and what sort of other software the iPad could replace. If the iPad's e-bookstore supports textbook rentals or purchases, I could see it being extremely popular with students (not least because it would probably be the Bank of Mom and Dad paying for the iPad itself).


Apple and Flash: The reason Apple didn't include Flash support in its devices is because they need security patches? Do they not support Adobe's Acrobat Reader either?

I figured lack of Flash support was because they wanted to promote their QuickTime player.

Rob Pegoraro: In fact, Apple doesn't ship Adobe Reader on any of its computers--it has its own PDF-display software. And yes, not having to deal with Adobe Reader is a non-trivial benefit of using a Mac.


Fairfax, Va.: I need to upgrade my P4 desktop. Aready have a core 2 duo laptop but need a quad core to handle AVCHD video. Do I go for i5 or i7 or doesn't it matter as long as I have a good dedicated video card. Any brand recs on reliability (I have all PC software). Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: What does your video-editing software of choice require/recommend? That's the important consideration (they don't all have the same hardware specs). I would think that you don't need to go with the top-of-the-line Intel chip for this, though... realistic consumer AVCHD editing predates both the i5 and i7 processors.


iPhone Flash Alternative: Hi, Rob -- so, is there a workaround for this? There's an out-of-town radio station I'd like to tune in and they only have Flash available. Thanks, and stay warm!

Rob Pegoraro: There is none. But maybe there's an iPhone app for this... check on its Web site to see if they've got any advice. (Some iPhone apps let you tune into multiple Web radio stations.)

Here, FWIW, is a good example of how I think Apple's stance can force a Web site to drop Flash. The site isn't getting any special advantage from using Flash (see for an example of one that gets by fine with Web standards) and it is cutting off its audience by a significant margin.


Fairfax, Va.: Rob, Short but difficult question. Palm Pre plus or Droid. My wife needs it to access her emails and the web and is not as comfortable with technology as me. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: If she uses Palm Desktop now, get the Pre Plus or the cheaper, thinner, Pixi Plus. If she uses Gmail, get a Droid--or a Droid Eris, Verizon's other Android phone. (Others are on the way; Vz just announced a Motorola phone with the curious name of "Devour.")

If neither condition applies... I think Palm's webOS phones throw around a little less jargon than Android, but if she's expressed any interest at all in smartphone apps you've got to go with an Android phone.


Bowie: Rob Pegoraro: BTW, can I make a general request to everybody here? Please don't say "my PC got hit by a virus" if you have any idea, any at all, of how it happened.

Ok, Rob, I got a virus from view porn. The site advertised "Live ..."

Rob Pegoraro: Honesty is always the best policy...


Manassas, VA: The guy with iffy mouse. If its wireless, replace the battery. BTW, buy yourself rechargeable batteries and a charger. Otherwise you'll go thru batteries like they are going out of style.

Rob, I have cable and still own "regular" TVs. When Fios finally is available in my area, which should I upgrade to first?

A new flat screen HDTV? or the Service?

Kind of like a which came first the chicken or the egg type question.

Need an HDTV to take advantage of HDTV viewing.

Need the service to see HDTV?.


A Newbie!

Rob Pegoraro: No, Mouse Guy specifically mentioned plugging the mouse in.

About Fios: Unlike Comcast, DirecTV and Dish Network, Fios includes HD service in its default package--it's not a $10/month extra. So I'd upgrade the TV first, assuming you're not looking at a very-large-screen model. (There's more air left in the prices of the higher-end models.)

Also: The HDTV should have a QAM tuner, which should let you watch at least the local networks in HD for free by plugging the cable right into set and bypassing the cable box. (But you probably won't be able to watch premium channels that way.)


Arlington,VA: Recently when I click on a link in outlook it takes about 30 seconds for Firefox to load and display the page. I've dumped cookies but it persists. Happened both before and after I updated to the most recent version of Firefox. Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: The "DDE" fix suggested in this thread might be worth a try:

(It's an old posting, but a lot of people use older versions of Outlook--for that matter, there's been only one release shipped since that thread.)


Hudsonville, MI: Thanks for your reminder, Rob, that we cannot keep saying "my computer got hit by a virus...." when people are clicking on all those stupid ad-ware messages and promises. I wish there were settings I could put on my parents' machines so they were unable to click on the dumb ads -- so I don't have to constantly "fix" the computer when I'm over at their house.

One quick question - is there anyone out there having an issue with a 2Wire wireless gateway cutting out its wireless at least 5-8 times a day? No red lights come on, but the wireless drops. No microwave, burglar alarm, or satellite tv within 30+ fee of the unit. Any ideas?? Should I buy something new? I bought this unit from AT&T 4 years ago, and it has done me well.

Rob Pegoraro: I trust you've got them on a current release of a non-IE browser (if you're not, upgrade them anyway and just tell them it's a minor update). One other thing you could try is the "DropMyRights" fix Brian Krebs wrote about years ago, which will lower their ability to get into any mischief on the Web:

Not familiar with the 2Wire issue, but AT&T doesn't provide Internet service anywhere closer than 300 miles from the Post's circulation area--I don't usually get much insight into how their setup.


Va Bch, va: I watched the ENTIRE Apple press conference for the iPad. Steve did show a keyboard and stand for it. It would be available soon

Rob Pegoraro: That's the optional keyboard dock. We don't know how much it will cost or when it will ship, though I imagine it can't be far behind the iPad itself.

Note, also, that the iPad--unlike the iPhone-will support Bluetooth keyboards.


Atlanta, Ga.: Why is Adobe Acrobat such a resource hog? What's it DOING in there?

Rob Pegoraro: That's an excellent question--but if you're fed up with Acrobat in Windows, you have two other options:

* Foxit Reader, at This will run in your browser as a plug-in, but isn't all that much quicker than Adobe.

* Sumatra PDF, at This is really fast and simple, but doesn't work as a plug-in.


Rob Pegoraro: We're out of time and pretty much out of questions--the weather seems to have scared a few people off. More important, though, the snow is starting to stick. Which means it's time to SAVE YOURSELF WHILE YOU STILL CAN!!1!

Thanks, and I'll see you all on the other side.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company