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Rob Pegoraro
Friday, February 19, 2010; 12:00 PM

Rob Pegoraro discusses recent gadget reviews, blog posts and answers your technology questions.

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Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for showing up, everybody. This is the first time I've tried out our new chat interface--quite an adventure after, oh, uh... actually, I don't want to think about how many years I've been using the old system. Anyway, I see we've got a lot of questions in the queue, so let's get rolling here...

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Cellphones: I have had an AT&T cell phone for 6-7 years now. The last one I bought was the AT&T Blackberry RIM with a 2 year service plan. I love how easy it is to use the email feature but that's about all I use. While I like having all the apps available, I rarely use them but, hey, someday I might! I have a $5 a month texting fee which I may get rid of since I usually only text with one other person. The camera takes very good pictures and it's easy to send them to family or friends. I like the cell phone and I like the service. I haven't had any serious disruptions and the coverage is clear and consistent here in Milwaukee, WI!

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report. If you're happy with your service, you should certainly continue to reward the company with your business. But... I would be careful about dumping the texting add-on. At 20 cents a message, it won't take many to exceed $5. (25 messages, to be exact)

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incomming cellphone calls: On AT&T cell phone plans, does your phone get charged with minutes used on incomming calls?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, that's how all wireless-phone plans work in the U.S.

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Cellphones: Hi Rob. I split my time between Ireland and the U.S. I'm looking for a single cellphone I can use in the U.S. and Europe without incurring international roaming charges - perhaps switching SIMs depending on where I am. I would prefer to avoid a contract - i.e., just top up as needed. Is this possible?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. You could get a T-Mobile Even More Plus plan, which doesn't require a contract, and bring your own, unlocked phone. Or you could buy one at the unsubsidized price from T-Mobile; 40 days in, if I read their policy correctly, T-Mobile will unlock the SIM card slot. In Ireland, you could get a prepaid SIM.

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re: chat format: No more F5? Cool

Rob Pegoraro: Exactly. The chat itself now refreshes inside the current page, instead of you having to reload the entire page. (If you thought the old chat interface looked ugly on your screen, you should see how it looks on ours!)

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Wireless keyboard: I will soon be setting up a new PC and I've put a lot of thought into setting it up for security against internet threats, plus encryption of sensitive files. But in looking at hardware, I really like a keyboard that is only sold as wireless (2.4 GHz). Would using a wireless keyboard present a realistic threat to my computer's security, or am I getting paranoid?

Rob Pegoraro:

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Dude I'm Gettin A Dell: Ok that's a bit of an anachronism now, but Rob, I am getting a Dell Studio 17 laptop with multitouch screen and a bunch of other goodies. My question is with all the software Dell ships with it, I want to know which ones I can safely uninstall as I won't be using any of them. I'll be using the laptop mainly for the internet, watching movies, and listening to music, and maybe a small amount of video editing. It's coming with Windows 7, and a bunch of other stuff. I'll be using itunes to burn cds (if i ever really do) So I don't need Roxio. I don't burn DVDs but I suppose if I do some movies off my canon powershot, I could use Windows Media Player to burn them right? Also, will I need to install the canon powershot software for the drivers? Thanks!!

Rob Pegoraro: Order the machine without the usual software preload, as outlined in this post on Dell's corporate blog announcing this option. To answer your other questions:No, you don't need Roxio. Windows 7 burns CDs quite well on its own.You also don't need extra software to burn DVDs, although you'll want to download Microsoft's free Windows Live Movie Maker for basic editing. (Here's my review of that app.)No, you don't need to install any driver software for your Canon. Canon includes a panorama-stitching tool on the driver CD, but Microsoft's Windows Live Photo Gallery--which gets installed automatically alongside Movie Maker--can do panoramas too.

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Ubuntu: So I'm getting mighty tired of my Microsoft Vista - even though I've taken every precaution, I still have stupid viruses plaguing my computer. I've been thinking about taking it in to get it completely cleaned and then switch to Ubuntu. The main thing keeping me from doing this is that I'm a little wary of using a system I'm not familiar with at all. How different/similar is it to Windows and OS 10? What are things I should keep i mind about making such a switch? Thanks for the help!

Rob Pegoraro: First, see my review of the current version of Ubuntu. As you read there - or see in the screengrab I'm going to try to paste below - its desktop doesn't look that different from what you get in Windows or OS X.

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Your photo.: Dude, they made you look like an old guy. You gotta lose the sport coat for your profile picture.

Rob Pegoraro: That photo doesn't even show most of my gray hairs! (All of which I've earned, I'd like to note.)

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OTA HD, Nook.: I (oddly, or perhaps not, given the crowd here) have 3 HDTVs. The Best Buy one I got last month to replace the 5 year old one that didn't have a tuner, the Sharp Aquos, and the EyeTV hooked up to the Mac. Using rabbit ears. The Aquos has the worst reception, the Insignia middle, but Good Enough, and the EyeTV the best. Do Consumer Reports, or other testers, ever look at reception, or do they just asume we all have cable? In other news, the latest software update for the Nook makes it look prettier, but does nothing for newspaper reading. It was nice to be able to get the Post (sans comics, sadly) when it couldn't get delivered last week, but it is tough to read on a Nook. Maybe the Jesus Tablet will do a better job? And have comics?

Rob Pegoraro: Hey wiredog! I have yet to see most TV reviews even address reception--the issue of CR that just arrived is all about HDTVs, but the charts there don't mention over-the-air reception.

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Sprint Android phones: I'm a Sprint customer and am looking at Android phones. Samsung has two, Hero and Moment. Will you please comment on Android generally and these two specifically from the POV of one wanting to purchase? Thanks. Stephen

Rob Pegoraro: The idea of a physical keyboard appeals to me as a writer, but my ability to adapt my typing to the tiny keyboards on Palm Treos and Centros has me reasonably confident than I can deal with onscreen keyboards.

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plain vanilla family share plan with dumbphones: Hi, We've got 4 phones on a 700 minute Verizon plan currently, and its renewal time. There aren't many plain cellphones out there anymore that don't make you get the data plans or the special 9.99/mo network, but I'm sticking to my guns. Is Verizon easier to deal with on the phone, online, or in the store? I had someone call me to say that they had a new thing they would offer to their 'good customers" and would cover if you went over on your phone bills some months. This sounded too good to be true. What is the catch? Has anyone else had a Verizon salesperson call them with this kind of offer? Basically we just want to talk on our phones, not even text. Does Verizon "deal" on their phones for people renewing too? Can we just stay put and cruise on our current plan for months and months? Just wondering. They really want you to get a smart phone, but I just want a dumb phone. Thanks for your help Rob!

Rob Pegoraro:

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Texting Fees: Why in the world am I charged for RECEIVING text messages? It stupid - charge more for sending if you want, but since I have no way to "refuse" the text this makes no sense.

Rob Pegoraro: That's why text-message spammers are all going straight to Hell. Unfortunately, the carriers don't offer a huge number of ways to control what texts get sent your way, as I found out when I looked into this a year and change ago.

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PalmPre?: Our contract is up with AT&T in a month, and my spouse and I are looking to get rid of our blackberries for something else. Trying to figure out if we should stick with AT&T and get the iPhone or if a PalmPre (on a new carrier) is a good option. It's more affordable, for sure, but is it going to be a good switch? Can we get fun apps wiht the Palm? Isn't Palm going out of business or something? We both hate the web browsing on our current phones, so would like something that does that well.

Rob Pegoraro: and see if that selection includes the kind of programs you'd want.(If you're upgrading from an old Palm handheld, the Pre and Pixi provide by far the simplest migration path.)

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follow up on gift for wife: I wrote in a couple of weeks ago about whether I should get an iPod or a generic mp3 player. One of the other chatters said she'd want an iPod touch if it were her. Well, I followed that advice and wanted to thank her - my wife loved it.

Rob Pegoraro:

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Security Issues: Do you handle questions which used to be submitted to Brian Kreb's Security Fix or has that been dropped?

Rob Pegoraro:

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Using Gmail: I'm using Gmail, via Firefox, with Windows XP. Every time I log in, I am then directed to the Welcome page and must click on "show my account" - I see no way to eliminate this step. When accessing Gmail on other computers using Firefox, this second step does not happen. It must be my computer, which is a TransPort T2300 laptop. Please help! Marlene, Farmington, Pa.

Rob Pegoraro: No, it can't be your computer. Web sites don't work that way. It could be part of some weird cookie breakdown with Gmail or your browser. Are you running some anti-spyware tool that tries to regulate what cookie files Web sites can save on your PC?

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Where to buy HDTV: We're going to head out tonight in the hopes of purchasing a couple of HDTVs for the house--probably a 46" and a 26"/30". If my primary goal is to reduce my hassle without getting too badly ripped off on the price or limited by the store's inventory, what's the best kind of store to go to? Best Buy, HH Gregg, or something else? (We're in North Carolina, so specific independent DC-area stores are not an option.)

Rob Pegoraro:

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Smartphones: Is there some reason that many of the Smartphones that take micro-SD cards only use the cards for media storage? In other words, why can't you use the extra memory for apps? Thinking of upgrading to a Droid or something and continue to be annoyed by the limited space for apps.

Rob Pegoraro: That's an issue with the Android operating system in particular. I would be surprised if Google didn't fix that in a future release.

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Comcast going all digital: I currently have non-digital (expanded basic) cable from Comcast. Do you know if it's going away? I don't really want the box and it would complicate using my TiVo, but I don't want to give up the extra channels either. Any ideas about what's coming from Comcast?

Rob Pegoraro: At some point--I can't say when, not knowing where you're chatting from--you will need a digital adapter for anything beyond the most basic broadcast and public/educational/government channels. See this column I wrote last year for more on this problem.

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Blackberry: My Blackberry Storm (with Verizon), justly maligned when it made its debut, is now quite satisfactory after the software updates. Will RIM continue to be competitive in the smartphone market?

Rob Pegoraro:

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Prepaid mobile: Which prepaid wireless carriers are available in the D.C. area besides Cricket and Virgin? I'd like to keep using a phone that can sync with my MS Exchange account for mail and appointments, but it doesn't look like that's an option with any of the phones either of those guys offer.

Rob Pegoraro:

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FIOS router security: We have had FIOS Internet for a couple years at home. Do we need to reconfigure the router, which I suspect is WEP, to WPA for home use? If so, how do we do it? Are there any downside risks to reconfiguring the router to WPA? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you should--WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) is worthless in practice, between its compromised security and the stupid 26-character hexadecimal keys it often requires. But the Verizon router's interface hides WPA security behind an "advanced security settings" link

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Running Older (16-bit) Software on XP: Rob: Many thanks once again for all your efforts, and I hope you can solve this issue for me. I need to run the installation executable for an official Ford Service Manual CD that covers 1993-1994 trucks (all of the CD files seem to date from 1999, but I think that was just when it was burned) onto a computer running Windows XP Pro SP3. When I attempt to run it directly from the CD by selecting its highest-level "install.exe" file (as Autorun is disabled on all of my computer hardware), I get the error message "INSTALL.EXE is not a valid Win32 application" and it aborts. I thought it was maybe due to its 16-bit structure, but if I drill down in the CD's folder and find what I think is a 32-bit version of the installation program (WINST32.EXE), the same error message pops up. I've tried to right-click and "Run as administrator" (despite the fact the main user account has all of the Administrator priveleges and permissions already) with no success, and also tried to run it under compatibility mode for Windows 95 with an equal lack of success. What can I do to get this program installed successfully on an XP machine, since all of the internal files are in some proprietary format that are otherwise unreadable? It was previously installed and ran without problems on a Win2k SP4 machine, but I've gotten rid of both the older OS disks and the hardware as well (after thoroughly wiping the drive clean, of course). Thanks again -- Jim from Texas

Rob Pegoraro:

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TV or Monitor?: Rob, Upgrading the P4 desktop to an i7 windows 7 64 bit desktop. Someone suggested I buy a 1080 TV as a monitor instead of a dedicated monitor. What are the pluses and minuses, and caveats of doing this and what do you recommend? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro:

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Downloading Internet Explorer 8: OS: Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit, Service Packs 1 and 2 installed. In my Windows Update, I have "Internet Explorer 8 for Windows Vista for x64-based Systems" waiting to be downloaded and installed. I haven't given much thought to doing so, but there are some things about Firefox that I don't like (another subject for another day). One of my concerns about IE8 is that the version to be downloaded is a 64-bit only version. When I first bought this PC, it had a 64-bit IE7, and when I used it, I found that it did not use Adobe Flash, leaving me to use the 32-bit version of IE7. I want to know if the version in the Windows Update works in 32-bit, as a browser without Flash is pretty much useless. Today, I called MSFT's customer support line and the person at the other end was less than helpful, telling me I should call Adobe instead about a MSFT product. In short, I would like to know if there will be a 32-bit version of IE8 in the download AND if I will have to download a new version of Flash?

Rob Pegoraro: You should have downloaded a 32-bit version of IE 8 in the first place--that's the standard release of the browser. See my discussion of this in Help File from several months ago.(Have I mentioned how much I despise Microsoft's implementation of 64-bit support?)

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Home Internet: Just heard that my current Internet service will cease to exist next month, and wondering what I should get. I do currently have home phone service (via Verizon) and non-digital cable (via Comcast) so can bundle with either...or change something. Don't need blazing fast speed, but nothing too pokey either. I'm also worried about getting locked into a contract that's too long (what happens if I move?) or being enticed by an intro rate that goes away after only a few months. What should I look for?

Rob Pegoraro:

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Blu-ray with 3-D...will this help??: Rob, Love your Tech Live feature! I'm one of those who still have not embraced Blu-ray players because I just haven't thought it was worth the extra dollars for the disc. Do you think this latest push to make Blu-ray the medium for 3-D will help improve BD PQ and make Blu-ray worth while or will it just be today's "Lazer Vision", fading away in time?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think that 3D movies by themselves will do anything to boost Blu-ray's broader viability in the market - you'll need a 3D TV first, and those won't be cheap. What might help, though, is if more studios followed Universal's lead in selling hybrid Blu-ray/DVD titles--you could buy it to watch on a DVD player now, then flip it over to play on a Blu-ray machine later on.

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Georgetown: My question is about advice on how to get a legible display on the newere high resolution laptop screens. I'm trying to move from a 6 year old laptop with a 1280 x 800 WXGA screen to a close to top of the line Dell XPS 16 with a 1600 x 900 WLED screen. My problem is that when on the internet, the display is teensy. Even while typing this message, I have to keep my nose close to the screen just to read it. I'm playing with text sizing withn screen settings, added NoSquint to Firefox, and am intimate with ctrl + to zoom, but it shouldn't be this much work. Is there something I'm missing? I've been googling this issue, but no one else seems to be complaining about this. I shouldn't have to get reading glasses just to surf the Internet, right?

Rob Pegoraro:

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iPhone envy: What percent chance do you give that the iPhone will end up on Verizon within 2010? 2011?

Rob Pegoraro:

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Krebs on security: http://www.krebsonsecurity.com

Rob Pegoraro: You can, and I can also make that link clickable: Krebs on Security.

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Windows Update killed my computer: Last Saturday, my PC popped up a message "Updates are ready for your computer." I set a Restore point before I clicked on it. After that, my PC (Compaq Presario, Win XP Home Edition) would not boot. I could not boot into Safe Mode, nor into System Recovery, nor boot off the Win XP disk. Fortunately my family has other computers, and I found in a MS Windows Forum that this was happening to a LOT of people beginning Feb. 10th. My son was able to boot up my computer with a Vista CD, but I am really angry. I lost most of my music in iTunes. How the heck are we supposed to know ahead of time if an update will kill the computer?

Rob Pegoraro:

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Dell Laptop : I have a Dell Inspiron laptop. I recently installed Windows 7 (but it didn't help with the problem). When I either sleep or hibernate the laptop it frequently (every other day) "locks up" and I get the not responsing message. It did it with Vista too. Sometimes I am not even able to manually close the open applications and must manually reboot. Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro:

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Wash DC: To the HD TV buyer -- do your research before you leave the house. Cnet, Consurmer Reports online, etc. If you can narrow down your choices to 3 or 4 models and know what they're selling for online, the brick & mortar stores will usually get close to matching that. You'll likely still pay $100 more, but if there's a problem, you have a human being to talk to rather than dealing with return authorizations and the like.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestions...

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OS 9 program for newer Mac: Aside from Sheepsaver, is there any other way to make a OS 9 program work on a Mac with OS 10.5 or 10.6? I have a scientific program costing hundreds of dollars that does everything I want it to do, but do not want to keep hanging onto an Emac to be able to use it.

Rob Pegoraro:

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Ubuntu: Somehow I missed that you had reviewed it (probably a holiday-confusion type of thing.) My question about Linux is that they use a format called Ogg Vorbis as their default audio format, because there's some sort of rights issue with MP3. Have you ever seen a portable player for that format, that you can wear on your arm like an iPod.

Rob Pegoraro:

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Who cares if there are 100,000 iPhone apps?: I would love to see how many are USEFUL. If there are 50 fart noise apps and 900 Twitter apps etc. This app count they keep putting forward seems totally useless to me.

Rob Pegoraro:

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HDTV Purchase: Myer Emco is going out of business. You might check them out for HDTVs.

Rob Pegoraro:

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RE: plain vanilla family share plan with dumbphones: You can stay with Verizon as is - your plan goes to a "month to month" deal.

Rob Pegoraro: Should have mentioned that, along with one non-monetary upside to that option: For once, you have all the bargaining power in the relationship!

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Tethering: Rob: Any insight on whether and to what extent tethering will be an option with the iPhone here in the ol' USA? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: That's one campaign promise that AT&T has broken. When Apple introduced the capacity for tethering (that is, the ability to use the phone as a modem for a computer via USB or Bluetooth) last June, AT&T said it would enable tethering on iPhones by the end of the year. We're now most of the way to March, and there's still no sign of it. My AT&T PR contact's reply to a query about this: "No update."

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DTV OTA reception: Over the air broadcast DTV: Like Wiredog - I have three TV receivers but with all three I'm using three RCA DTA8ooB1 converter boxes and a roof antenna. The first box purchased I liked enough to get two more RCA boxes. Even though they are all the same model the later two - manufactured July 2009 - will drop audio/mute audio at times for more than one minute when the reception is poor (windy or rainy). I have to turn off the power to the box and turn it back on in order to start listening to DTV audio. I am wondering if HDTV sets (not DTV converters) have an annoying pixelated effect during scene change dissolves - as my boxes do?

Rob Pegoraro: That's just how DTV reception works--if the signal's strong enough, it's perfect, but if it drops it's hugely annoying. There's no middle ground of snowy reception like you had with analog.

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Ogg: Rockbox adds Ogg support to a lot of older mp3 players. Check their site for compatibility before buying though if that's what you're after.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the tip...

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Win7 security & System Restore: This question is about Win7 Professional security. I've used ZoneAlarm for years but finally had to oust it from my Win7 64-bit machine when I tracked it down as the cause of regular BSOD. I've not seen so many of those since Win 3.1. (I'm now using the free PCTools firewall, which is rather good, so far.) ZoneAlarm also blocked System Restore from executing/completing properly. After an attempt to restore in Win7, there'd be a failure notice and a suggestion that it was probably caused by anti-virus software. (I use Avira, and it was not the cause.)Question: Why does Win7 allow _any_ application to block System Restore? If ZA can block it, then presumably malware can do the same. At least I could uninstall ZA (disabling it was not enough to allow a proper restore).

Rob Pegoraro:

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Ford Manuals Install -- possible workaround: Use the built-in compatability mode.

Rob Pegoraro:

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OTA reception report: Looks like the chat software removes paragraphs :-(Living in a third floor apartment in McLean, off Magarity.All 3 receivers pickup all stations except 9, 22, and 4 without any problems.The Sharp Aquos only picks up 9 if I rotate the antenna 90 degrees. Which is odd, since it's on roughly the same bearing as the others. Possibly it's because 9 is VHF and the others UHF? 22 comes in sometimes. 4 comes in if I don't stand east of the antenna. Swapping antennas doesn't seem to have much effect.The Insignia (Best Buy house brand) Picks up 9 with no problem, 4 if it isn't snowing too heavily or the wind is light. Heavy snow+wind means no ch 4. 22 comes in better at night, or in good weather.The EyeTV Hybrid hooked up to the Mac picks up all the stations without any problem.Note to Sharp: You may have a better picture than Insignia, but if they tune the channel the Olympics are on and you don't guess which TV my friends are watching the Olympics on?

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the details!

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ctl+alt+del: So I use apple computers, but at work it's PCs. I've always wondered why I have to hit ctl+alt+del when I want to login. I get why I need a password, but why the heck do I have to hit this complicated series of keys just to enter my password? When logging into a mac, you just enter the password. Is this a sop to the keyboard lobby?

Rob Pegoraro:

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Wireless plans: Rob, Do you think Sprint will ever overcome its past sins. I've been with them for more than 2.5 years and have never had a billing or customer service issue. Their Everything plans are better priced than VZW and ATT because they include unlimited data and text. Also, where do you see Palm in a year? Web OS is having a hard time gaining market share.

Rob Pegoraro: - and you're absolutely right about the pricing advantages of the Everything plans. (But don't get the unlimited-calling Simply Everything; a Data Everything plan with a fixed bucket of minutes is a better deal.)

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Rob Pegoraro:


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