Personal Tech Live with Rob Pegoraro

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Rob Pegoraro
Friday, December 3, 2010; 12:00 PM

Rob Pegoraro answers your questions on recent gadget reviews, technology news and provides personal tech buying and fixing advice.

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Rob Pegoraro: Hey everyone--it's the first of three weekly chats about tech shopping, from now through Dec. 17 (though I won't turn away other tech-related questions). What should I start with?

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Chinese Tablets: Have you ever fooled around with the Chinese Tablets? They run $120 - $150 on Madeinchina.com. (no I am not affiliated). The post might want to test one or two. It's either a great thing or a bust.....but could be an interesting experiment.

Rob Pegoraro: I'll start with this--I spent about an hour the other night playing around with some of these no-name models at the Best Buy and HHGregg (do I have to write that in all lower-case? i think not) stores in Baileys Crossroads.I was pretty disappointed. The one in BB, Hauwei's $300 Ideos 7, had a current version of Android but felt pretty sluggish overall. The two at HHGregg, one a $180 Pandigital model and the other a $150 Linsay, were worse: One was running Android 1.6 (on the other, I couldn't tell), and neither showed any sign of the Android Market.

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Protection in Sleep mode: I read an article that said that the "Sleep" mode in Windows does not prevent hackers from breaking into a computer -- and that only shutting the PC down will do so. Is that true?

Rob Pegoraro: It could be true, since computers can be set to wake on network activity, but if you have a firewall it doesn't matter. (Firewalls stop worms--malware designed to break into a computer autonomously, without any intervention by the user.)

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IPAD: What are the minimum technical specifications to consider when purcasing an ipad.

Rob Pegoraro: What specs? Buy the $499 model--for most people at home, it's all they need.

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Washington DC (soon to be): So, I am moving into the District soon. Two questions:1. My Toshiba laptop has WiMax. Is that a suitable replacement for cable modem/DSL? I would be nice to have so that I have internet everywhere, but don't want to get it if it won't work well at home.2. Is FIOS available in COlumbia Heights? If not, Comcast or RCN? I read terrible things about both. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: WiMax can substitute for DSL, but it'll be slower than cable and Fios. See my review of Clear's WiMax service for details.And speaking of Fios, you're a few years away from getting it in Columbia Heights. You may be able to order Verizon's 15 Mbps DSL service there, though. Comcast is almost certainly available; RCN may be, especially if you're in an apartment.

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Blackberry Style: Hi Rob! Do you have any thoughts on the Blackberry Style for Sprint? I love the idea of a clamshell Blackberry (so it doesn't pocket-dial like my current phone), but is it a good phone?

Rob Pegoraro: it's awfully thick for a smartphone in general and the BlackBerry 6 OS on it is no match for the iPhone or Android.

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iPad apps: when will a flash player app be available for the iPad?

Rob Pegoraro: Never.

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Internet security: Hi Rob, Can you recommend your pick of either a security suite or the individual components of equal value?Thank you

Rob Pegoraro: As you'll see in this year's "how to set up a new computer" column--most likely in the paper 12/26--I recommend a combination of the firewall built into Windows and Microsoft's free anti-virus/anti-spyware Security Essentials app.

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Smartphones: Rob,Thanks for taking my question. I just purchased a Android based smartphone. How safe is it to use the phone to make purchases from reputable online vendors? I am not sure there is an antivirus software etc.. installed in it and I wonder if its safe. Also, a lot of links to your chat on the homepage do not work correctly. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: An Android phone is just like any other computer that can run add-on programs: If you load malware, bad things will happen. But if you only install programs that you've seen favorably reviewed by sources you trust--which doesn't mean random writeups in the Android Market--you shouldn't get burned.

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E-Books: E-Books are moving to an open format, unlike the Kindle. I only want an e-book for reading and possibly wi-fi accesss so the iPad is too much (i have an iPhone and a Mac). If I am limited flunds, do you recommend waiting for a lower priced, open format e-book.? I don't have to have one by Christmas.

Rob Pegoraro: This is something I'm going to have to address in this weekend's column, a 1.1 update of yesterday's Web-only piece on buying tablet computers. I certainly hope you're right in saying that e-books are moving in a more open direction--the world doesn't need any more proprietary, DRM-addled storage formats.

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iTouch size: Rob, is the 32GB iTouch worth the extra money over the 8GB? This will be my first iPod product. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: If you've never rented or bought a movie off iTunes, I'd say no. Prior versions of the iPod touch left some features out of the entry-level version, but that's not the case with this year's model.

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Ipad Gen. II?: You've answered some questions speculating about when the next Ipad might appear. My question is what in the current Ipad is most often complained about? My impression is that many issues could be resolved with software updates (like tabbing among multiple windows). What changes do users most often want to see in the physical gadget? Bigger screen? Smaller screen? More ports? Camera? Phone functions? Lighter plastic body instead of aluminum? Etc. If I wait for the next version what am I likely to get?

Rob Pegoraro: The thing that seems to top most people's wish lists is a camera. Every other iOS mobile device Apple sells today can do FaceTime conferencing; why not this? A smaller, lighter, cheaper model--the paperback version, if you will--wouldn't be objectionable either.

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Droid Incredible memory issue: My HTC Droid Incredible keeps giving me application memory issues, even though I think there's actually plenty of memory available. The only solution seems to be deleted applications? What's the point of an app phone that can't hold apps without errors?I only have a small handful on the Droid, but probably 50 on my iPhone with tons of leftover space.Any ideas how to fix? Or do we just have to wait for Google?

Rob Pegoraro: This is an Android issue I've been running into myself: With too many apps installed on the phone's own memory, it starts to whine about not having enough storage and can run slower. The fix in your case should be pretty straightforward, assuming you've installed the free Android 2.2 update: Go to the Settings app, select Applications, sort your apps by size and move the biggest ones to your SD Card. This how-to article may help.

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Tip for receiveing 7,9,11,13: For people who have issues still with receiving WJLA, WUSA, WBAL, or WJZ over-the-air while having no trouble with other stations (all on UHF channels), an FM filter or trap may help. Very strong FM stations can overload a DTV receiver or antenna preamplifier just like very strong TV stations. When that happens, the offending signal appears in many places across the dial, especially at multiples of the orignal frequency. (Think back to the FM tuner on a cheap boom box...) Since the high-VHF TV band lines up roughly at double the frequencies of the FM band, it's not hard to end up with this problem around here.Why wasn't this more of an issue in the anaolg days? TV receiver designs were more robust.

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't tried this tip myself--7 and 9 come in fine at home, while the Baltimore stations are hopeless--but am happy to share it.

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cell phone reception: Hi, Rob! Someone told me there is a code you can key into your cell phone to maximize reception. (Sort of like what you do to update your roaming list.) It helps to locate towers, or something. Do you know what this might be? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I think it's the following sequence of button presses: Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.(Kidding! Google "Konami Code" to see what I'm talking about there.)Some phones have a command to refresh their database of preferred roaming options (here's Verizon's); that may be what you had in mind.

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Blue-Ray: We're finally ready to jump into the Blue Ray Fray. Is there any good reason to go above the low-end models? Any particular features to look for?

Rob Pegoraro: Get a Blu-ray player with a good set of Internet-media apps: Amazon and Netflix video on demand, Pandora Web radio for instance. And get one with WiFi, so you're not running network cables to the thing.

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DVD SOFTWARE UPGRADE?: Rob,The neighbor has a DVD that's a little over a year old. He tried to play one DVD and the display said "upgrade needed". Apparently the newer DVDs require more info than older versions. The salesman never told him he'd need an internet connection when he bought it. Now he's got to get a wireless thingy to plug into the back. What's up with that?

Rob Pegoraro: These things in our living room are more like computers these days. My own HDTV needs--and has substantially benefited from--software upgrades. But it also runs Internet apps, so I have it on our network already.For your DVD, you should be able to download the firmware update or whatever to a computer, burn it to a disc and install it off that.

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4G phones: Hi Rob, I want to get a smart phone. Do you think it's worth getting a 4G-capable phone? Or is 3G adequate for general usage (youtube, skype, web browsing)?

Rob Pegoraro: 3G is fine--besides which, unless you use Sprint you can't buy a regulation 4G smartphone yet.

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Tivo Premiere shenanigans: Rob, so how exactly does Tivo decide which Tivo Premieres are subject to the higher monthly 19.99 service fees? If I buy a used or open box Premiere, is that one saddled with the 19.99 fee too? Why did Tivo do this? I'm not about to increase my monthly fees for service, but I *do* want to upgrade to an HD-capable box. With all this uncertainty Tivo has just guaranteed that I will NOT make a purchase this holiday season.

Rob Pegoraro: A used or open-box model should be fine. It's new models, sold at the advertised and discounted price, that you want to watch out for. See my post on this tricky math.

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iPad Operating System Upgrade: I tried last weekend to upgrade my IPad Operating System but 6 hours into the "backup", I finally gave up. How long is it supposed to take to upgrade the system, including the backup?

Rob Pegoraro: On the review iPad I've got, it took maybe half an hour; I spent more time waiting for this half-a-gigabyte updater file to download than it took to run the actual thing.

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Google Chrome: I saw Chrome ver 8 came out yesterday? I check "about" my Google Chrome and it says my version is up to date but it is ver 7.0.517.44. I opened the program fresh this morning. Why would I not be updated automatically? I have not manually adjusted settings. Firefox used to always promp and update as soon as updates were available.

Rob Pegoraro: Open the "About Chrome" window from the gear menu (or the Chrome-named menu on a Mac; you should see an update prompt there.

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Google Chrome: Rob, when will the Chrome OS based smartbooks start appearing?

Rob Pegoraro: Not this year, contrary to what Google suggested earlier.

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What to start with?: I'd start with getting the links to this chat fixed on the front page... The first two links I tried lead me to two different chats.

Rob Pegoraro: Posted so the management can see it.

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Ssmartphone OS: Hi Rob; I will be upgrading my smarfphone next month. Currently have a BB Bold 9000 (os 4.6). Looking at Samsung Captivate. Good move? Or iPhone or Windows 7?

Rob Pegoraro: Among those AT&T phones, I'd go with the iPhone 4. Alone among carriers, AT&T has the irritating habit of handcuffing its Android devices--you can't install apps from outside the Android Market. And while Win Phone 7 is good, surprisingly so, at the basics of organizing your life on the go, it's a weak app phone. It's also an awkward fit if you use Outlook to manage your contacts and calendars (which I suspect you, as a BB user, do).

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Uh, webmaster . . . : The "Ask Now" on the Post home page by your picture takes me to a Q&A on the Cancun climate talks. I wondered why you were so interested in the Kyoto Protocols.

Rob Pegoraro: There's a lot of hot air in high-tech marketing?(Please don't ask questions about Cancun. I can handle Puerto Vallarta queries, but that trip was a few years ago.)

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Security Essentials : Rob,The new AVG free version makes you uninstall SE before it'll install.

Rob Pegoraro: That's a sensible precaution. Installing two AV apps at once is asking for trouble.

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BLUE RAY PLAYER: Rob,Why does it need wi-fi?

Rob Pegoraro: So you don't have to run an Ethernet cable to the thing. (My TV doesn't have WiFi, for instance. I wound up putting the Fios router on the shelf underneath it... which in turn required adding an Ethernet jack to the wall behind it... which in turn required stringing network cable from there to the spot on the basement wall where the Fios ONT attaches. Fun! On the upside, I now know how to wire and crimp an RJ-45 jack to bulk cable.)

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firewire to USB?: I have a Sony digital video camera that uses a firewire cable to download the video to a computer. I replaced my computer few months ago with an Apple which does not have a firewire port. It only has USB ports. Are there adapter cables that would permit me to download video from the camera into the USB port of my laptop?

Rob Pegoraro: Not that I know of. Any workarounds to recommend?

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iPad features: "What changes do users most often want to see in the physical gadget? Bigger screen? Smaller screen? More ports? Camera? Phone functions? Lighter plastic body instead of aluminum? Etc. If I wait for the next version what am I likely to get?"I know what I want in the iPad...I would like to be able to network with other computers/hard drives and be able to connect peripherals (like a digital camera/video camera/card reader) to the device to I can dump files to a hard drive. That's the only reason I bought a regular computer instead of an iPad this year. Unfrotunately, that's not the kind of thing that can be updated with a software patch.

Rob Pegoraro: Good point--it's gotta be easier to move files on and off the thing. iTunes doesn't cut it as a general-purpose data-transfer tool, and Internet syncing doesn't work all the time either.

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Wi fi on cell phone: I just upgraded to my first smart phone, which has wi fi capabilities. I signed up for a very limited data plan and want to preserve my allowance as much as possible. If I read e-mail, surf the web, etc. with my phone in wi fi mode, does it count against my data plan? I'm hoping not. Seems like a simple question, but I haven't been able to find a question anywhere in my phone's tech support documentation.

Rob Pegoraro: You're fine. WiFi is off the books as far as bandwidth quotas go. You can track this with the right software--on the iPhone, you can monitor WiFi and 3G bandwidth usage in the Settings app, I think. In Android, I recommend a free app called NetCounter.

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7:30 PM AMC Loews Georgetown: You wrote about two tuner HDTV s recently. Who makes those? What should we look for?

Rob Pegoraro: There's been some confusion on that point, so I guess I was being too metaphorical with that description. One tuner is your standard, over-the-air, digital-TV tuner. The other is Web software to play music and video from sites like Yahoo, Amazon, Pandora and whatnot--what's often advertised as "connected TV" functionality.

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More on Blu-Ray?: Your answer to the Blu-Ray question tells me that I am far behind the tech curve. I didn't know that DVD players now have to be internet-connected. If you buy a player with an internet connection, does that take the place of Roku, Apple TV etc.? Or do they really fulfill two different purposes?

Rob Pegoraro: Connected Blu-ray players and HDTVs provide a subset of the functions of an Apple TV or Roku box. Which, if your needs match up with their capabilities, is just fine.

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upgrading cell phone: I'm finally eligible for an upgrade on my verizon cellphone. Was looking at the LG Vortex. When given the option for a data paln, I can go "light" for up 150mb per month or unlimited. I don't know how much I'll sure the phone besides some texting (which is separate), checking email and bank balances. Should I start w/the light usage? I really don't know how much I'll be using it. My current phone is a flip phone with keypad so I never use it to access the web...

Rob Pegoraro: Last I checked, all the carriers let people switch plans at will--worst case, that simply restarts the countdown clock on your contract. So go with the light usage plan, but track your usage carefully so you don't get dinged with overage fees.

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Cable/Internet/Phone: Now I have RCN, for the last 10 years, actually. Service is good, but it seems expensive--$250/mo. Any thoughts on Fios? Comcast? Unbundling? I have a hard time telling long term costs, what with all the "for the first six months" deals, but I don't want to have to think about it again for the next ten years.

Rob Pegoraro: Two hundred and fifty dollars a month? That doesn't seem expensive--that's a ripoff. How can anybody watch that much TV? You shouldn't be paying more than $100 and change, considering that competing firms will gladly sell you a "triple play" bundle of TV/Internet/phone discounted to that rate or less for the first year.But even in the long term, there is no reason on Earth to pay that much for telecom service at home.

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Saving FiOS DVR'd programs : Hi Rob. I really enjoy your columns and discussions. Is there any way to save or copy recorded DVR programs onto a thumb drive or alternate storage device?

Rob Pegoraro: TiVo models will send a recording to your computer, and if you use your computer as a DVR you can do what you want with the files.

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Re: Wired ethernet to the TV, Blu Ray etc...: I'ved used the 200mbps Power-line Ethernet adapters with great success.

Rob Pegoraro: Good suggestion--haven't tried powerline networking in a while. But it did work as advertised when I last tested it.

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FourSquare: What is the benefit of using FourSquare? Is there a business benefit?

Rob Pegoraro: Some businesses give away freebies to Foursquare users, either to the "mayor" who checks in most often or to frequent customers. For example, there's a cupcake shop near my phone with a Foursquare offer of a free cupcake and coffee on the fifth visit.There's also the meaningless and shallow psychic reward of becoming mayor of someplace.Finally, if friends are on Foursquare, it can help you learn when they're near you. And the tips listed on Foursquare can be helpful when you're deciding what to get at a restaurant/bar/shop/etc.

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TV or Monitor?: Seem like the line is blurring between TVs and Monitors. I am looking for a monitor or TV for a home office. I would primarily use the device as a TV. It would mostly be used to display movies/tv etc from my laptop. I would also use it to watch cable tv on rare occasions. I've been looking at Samsung LCD monitors, specifically a 24" model with tv tuner included. Am I looking in the right direction?

Rob Pegoraro: If you'll use it as a TV first, buy from Samsung's TV lineup, not its monitor lineup. One benefit: a TV will (duh) include a TV tuner. A monitor won't. The monitor may have higher resolution, but that won't matter for the uses you describe.

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HDMI inputs: No question, just a comment/thank you. I wrote in recently with a question about adding HD components to a set-up where my TV had only 2 HDMI inputs (and, as it turned out, my receiver had only 2 optical cable inputs). You suggested running everything through a receiver with more HDMI inputs, then to the TV -- which hadn't even occurred to me -- and now I have a spiffy new (low-end-ish) Pioneer receiver and Apple TV -- problem solved! (Wish they could all be so easy.)

Rob Pegoraro: Glad to help!

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Cricket vs. the Big Boys: How is it that Cricket can offer unlimited voice, e-mail, web for so much less ($55/mo) than AT&T, Sprint or Verizon. I'm guessing there's something I could figure out in the fine print if I looked for it. But I also figure that you probably could answer this off the top of your head.

Rob Pegoraro: Check their data-coverage map and compare it to those of the big four nationwide carriers.

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Is an iPad worth the $?: I already have a Macbook, a powerful PC, a Kindle, several iPods, and an iTouch. I'm happy with all of them. Is there anything that I can do with an iPad that isn't already doable with what I already have? This is a serious question, BTW, I would be willing to spend the cash, but I'd need a good reason to spend over $400. THanks for any help you can provide.

Rob Pegoraro: It sounds like you've already done your part to prop up the computing industry :)

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Verizon Android phone: I love the look and feel of my Droid Eris but HATE how slow it is. Is the Incredible my best upgrade option? The major downside seems to be how much bigger it is than the Eris. Any hope for good, small Android phones in the near future?Or should I just wait for Verizon to get the iPhone?

Rob Pegoraro: Clearing out memory can help a little, but from what I've heard the surest speed up for older, no-longer-supported Android phones like the Eris is to root the thing and install a third-party OS bundle, or ROM. It's good that you can do this fairly easily... not good that you may have to.

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PC processors: What differences are there among the various processors i.e. AMD vs INTEL , ATHLON DUAL vs QUAD, i-3,vs i-5 vs i-7. I'm confused and not very savvy.

Rob Pegoraro: Nothing you need to worry about if you're not doing any sort of processor-intensive activity like video editing.

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Security for a Blackberry: Do I need to load any kind of security/firewall/antivirus type of software on a Blackberry? Bold 9700 on AT&T if that matters. Where does one get it and load it?

Rob Pegoraro: No.

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Chips: I'm in the market for a new desktop. We're not gamers at our house. How lured should I be by dual-core, triple-core, and quad-core chips? Obviously there's a price concern, but the competing concern is that in a year or two, even basic antivirus and word processing programs will demand huge amounts of CPU time, RAM cache, etc etc etc. How much of a difference does dual-core make, and do triple and quad-core chips improve processing geometrically or just by a factor of 50% or 100%?

Rob Pegoraro: Save your money. Triple- or quad-core chips won't help the uses you describe.

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Camera for Mom and Dad: I was thinking about getting my parents the new Samsung DualView ST600, thoughts on this camera? They mainly want a camera that can fit in a pocket and takes good pictures. It will be used when they travel together, which is why I think the front facing camera may help when taking pictures together.

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't tried that model myself. My general advice about cameras--especially for people used to film models--is to avoid gadgety features. Stick to simple point-and-shoot units with physical controls that film veterans will recognize: a dial that selects automatic or manual picture-taking modes instead of an onscreen interface.Also, make sure the camera has optical image stabilization and an automatic mode-selection (i.e., it'll be smart enough to activate macro-focus mode when you point it at something six inches away).

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Public DNS: Google DNS or Open DNS?

Rob Pegoraro: I've gone with Open DNS myself, mainly because that's been around longer than Google and I already use enough Google services. (This topic came up in coverage of Sunday's Comcast outage.)

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Web and OS lag: Do you feel that you are too often doing a double-take on a PC? Say a Web page includes a rollover with drop down text - at times, if there is a response lag (temporarily no drop down) I am fooled into clicking on the drop down which seemed to cause drop downs to then roll up and disappear, a peek-a-boo effect. Also disorienting to me is when a page appears, I will start to read text, then the page re-forms with graphics or something else, causing the text to shift position. I lose my place/lose my thought. Again, the double-take. I have the impression that others - young people - have adapted and for them there is no problem (it's normal). Am I overly sensitive? (Using Windows XP/Firefox browser.)

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds to me like it's more of a case of un-optimized Web design.

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Using Apple keyboard with Windows 7 PC: RobI bought an aluminium Apple keyboard because I liked the feel of the keys for typing text. It works fine with Windows 7 via USB, the only problem is when I reboot (usually after a power cut or a Windows update) the keyboard is not recognised and the sequence hangs until I plug the old keyboard back in. Its not a huge problem but it is annoying. Any tips?

Rob Pegoraro: May have to research this for Help File--I've used Mac USB keyboards with Windows PCs and haven't had an issue before, besides remembering which Mac key translates to a Windows equivalent (Opt = Alt, right?).

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Rob Pegoraro: On some Fridays, I have time to linger during the chat. Unfortunately, this isn't one of those Fridays--but maybe next Friday will. I'll be here from noon to 1 then; please stop by if you can.Thanks!


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