QOn my old (1999-vintage) notebook computer, a password has somehow been inserted to protect the BIOS, and now I can't change the machine's boot sequence.

AThere is a remote possibility that a virus has attached itself to the laptop's BIOS (basic input/output system). This small piece of software, stored on a small chip on the motherboard, stores basic parameters about the computer, such as which drives it will boot from first.

Around the time in the late 1990s when manufacturers were scrambling to fix year-2000 glitches with BIOS updates, some virus authors distributed phony BIOS patches. One of these viruses could have buried itself there and changed the BIOS password long ago. And a user wouldn't have known about it until he or she tried to switch boot devices -- not an everyday task.

The best cure is to get some new antivirus software and run it. Or scan the laptop using the free cleanups that some antivirus vendors offer; try housecall.trendmicro.com.

I am going on a 12-day backpacking trip and expect to take 1,000 digital pictures. Are there any simple, inexpensive ways to transfer photos from a CompactFlash card to some larger storage device, like a USB drive?

Assuming you have a 3-megapixel camera, its pictures will run about 1.5 megabytes each. A 512MB CF card (about $80) can hold 340 pictures; it would take three of those cards, for $240 total, to hold 1,000 shots.

So-called picture wallets -- external hard drives with memory-card slots -- cost $200 or more, memory cards not included (see, for instance, Kanguru's Media X-change 2.0, at www.kanguru.com). These wallets store 20 gigabytes or more. But if you need to store only 1.5 megabytes, think if you'd rather carry three tiny memory cards or one heftier hard drive with a battery that will need regular recharging.

-- John Gilroy

John Gilroy of Item Inc. is heard on WAMU's "The Computer Guys" at noon on the first Tuesday of the month. Send your questions to him in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or via e-mail to jgilroy@iteminc.com.