The Washington Post

Personal Tech Live

Mar 19, 2010

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

Hi. My name is Rob. I write about technology for the Washington Post. What can I tell you about that today?

I have skimmed the report and want to look at it further. I would like to make two comments now to make the deadline for your chat: 1. What, exactly, are we going to use these higher rates for? It seems our most essential and informative communications can be done at low rates. Streaming video is great, but I am not sure it is that important. 2. Verizon recently announced that it is not going to pursue FIOS in Alexandria VA and elsewhere for now. I heard this may be due to the government's stimulus money and regulatory initiatives. Why would the private sector pursue a buildout if, instead, they 1) can get the government to pay for it, and 2) have the regulatory uncertainty stemming from a 356-page plan? My point is that one thing the government might do is get out of the way.

1) That's one reason why I don't see the... importance, I guess, of the FCC's "100 Mbps access in 100 million homes" goal. The report itself says that for non-video services, 1 Mbps generally suffices.

2) That's some rotten news for Alexandrians, as the Washington Business Journal reported last week. But that same story doesn't say a word about government holding up the deal; it says Verizon stopped talking to the city while it conducted "an assessment," then told the city that it had met its quota for Fios deployments.

Is there a possibility that self-installing malware could be added to rental movie disks alongside the movie file(s) and then returned to the rental company for subsequent distribution to customers? Have there been any cases of this?

Anything's possible--viruses have shown up in everything from iPods to digital picture frames. But I haven't heard of any DVDs shipping this way. Are you trying to tell me you just got one in the mail?

The anecdotes from this article in PC Magazine suggest that the business community is the main reason IE6 hasn't been abandoned sooner. Apparently many firms have custom or in-house web apps that aren't compatible with the newer versions of IE. Does this jibe with your own findings or experience? Why wouldn't those companies at least attempt from the start to design web apps that are browser-agnostic?

That very much jibes with my experience--though in many cases, it's simple apathy on the part of IT departments. I suppose you can forgive a developer writing an IE 6-only app nine years ago--you know, when IE 6 was new--but there's no excuse for a company not fixing this mistake by now.

As for people using IE 6 at home of their own free will... I'm sorry, but there's no other way to put it: If you're still doing that today, you are a fool.

Can you have too many firefox add ons.


Rob, While using a local hospital's WiFi I contracted a Trojan which constantly shifts my Web page to advertising. Every night I seem to remove the Trojan with Spyware Stop,but every day it's back. How do I get rid of it for good?

Try using a different anti-spyware app, since the one you've trying obviously can't get the job done. But the other thing is--you shouldn't just randomly pick up malware by browsing the Web. Either your browser or one of its plug-ins (most likely, Adobe Flash) is at fault. So you need to update both.

My quick check of your articles does not indicate whether the Spring-of-2009 hope? vision? wish? of Win 7 maturing by this Spring -- to the level that Third-Party SECURITY programs would be unnecessary for us pedestrian users -- has reached fruition. (I use a Dell desktop, new last Spring, the conversion from Vista to Win 7 and conversion to Firefox browser were OK. Ordinary E-mail & surfing on Verizon DSL.) I am pleased with McAfee's interface & Service. Should I be interested in Win 7 TOTAL security? And how do I turn it on? - - McLean Dave

Who ever said Windows 7 wouldn't need extra security software? It couldn't be Microsoft, since that company offers the free (and quite good) Microsoft Security Essentials anti-malware tool. But if you add that or another anti-virus tool, I think you should be safe--Windows 7, like Vista and updated copies of XP, has a perfectly good firewall of its own.

I just cannot remove the so-called trial version of MS Office for Home and Student 2007 that came with my laptop. Nothing has worked to get rid of it, including deleting the program. It continues to pop up and keeps interfering with my copy of Office 2003 and even crashes my computer. Please suggest a remedy that will work..

Define "not work": When you select the trial copy in Add or Remove Programs, what happens? What does Windows say?

(This is a generic plea to readers everywhere: I can't see what's on your computer's screen, so you have to tell me, as exactly as possible, instead of just saying something "didn't work.")

Hey Rob, Hypothetically speaking of course (and legal matters aside), what are your thoughts on the so-called Hackintoshes out in the wild? I've read that the Dell Mini converts pretty well to a Snow Leopard running almost Mac netbook -this sounds intriguing to me.

I like the idea myself--since Apple doesn't seem interested in shipping a netbook, it's the only way to get OS X's elegance and security on an ultralight machine with a physical keyboard.

I'm in the process of slowly digitizing my 650 music CDs. Lately my 3 1/2 year old iMac won't recognize some of my older (5-15 year old) CDs, but is fine with brand new ones. When you put the older CDs into the drive, the iMac makes a bunch of slow, sick noises and then rejects the CD. For awhile before this the iMac would make similar noises with older CDs but would eventually recognize the disk and download the songs into iTunes, although more slowly than usual. It doesn't make the noises with new CDs. I don't think it's because the old CDs have excess wear, because I've probably only ever played them a handful of times (one of the disadvantages of having so many CDs is that you can't play any individual one very often). Any idea what's going on?

It's quite possible for an older audio CD to play fine in a regular CD or DVD player but not to work in a computer--I've seen that happen myself, and fiddling with advanced iTunes options like using error correction didn't do a thing to solve the problem. I just don't know why. In a situation like that, I think you'd be ethically sound in ripping a friend's CD instead.

Can a Powerpoint presentation made on a Mac be run on a Windows computer? The presentation would be downloaded to a thumb drive from the Mac to be used at a remote location on a PC.

Of course. Same thing works in the other direction, although you will want to make sure that both computers have the same font--or just export the PowerPoint show as a PDF.

Rob, thanks to you and your readers, I used your tips to renegotiate a 2 year renewal my 4 line family share plan with Verizon. I got information from the competitors, checked all the perks out online, and then gave Verizon a phone call. I asked for the online pricing, which included instant rebates (rather than filling them out by mail), free overnight shipping, free phones, and I also asked if, as a good gesture to a faithful customer, they could give me 1000 free minutes to use over the next 24 months in case of overage. They agreed to do that also. They also allowed me to use the "free every two" money to apply to a different line so one family member could get a ruggedized phone. They agreed to ship phones to different addresses for me, too. All in all, it was a good experience because you all told me to feel free to negotiate, and did my homework ahead of time. I didn't get pulled into a data plan, smart phones, or anything that I didn't want, and the customer service person was very helpful. I didn't need to be confrontational, but felt I was in a good position to negotiate. Thanks again to all of you for the community help!

You're welcome! Good job negotiating. Mike Rosenwald would be proud of you.

I am a gadget guy. Should I buy an iPad? WiFi or 3G version?

Ask me when I've had a chance to test the shipping product--the last time I looked at or touched an iPad was the afternoon Apple introduced the thing in late January.

Hey Rob- Trying to figure out what to do now that Verizon-contracted phone is aging and the smart phone selection at Verizon is confusing. Go with the Droid and be happy? Thanks!!

If you like Verizon's coverage, the Droid is the best phone they have.

My MacBookPro is 2 years old now, and it seems to be sluggish. I have 65GB of free space. (Hardware Overview: Model Name: MacBook Pro Model Identifier: MacBookPro2,1 Processor Name: Intel Core 2 Duo Processor Speed: 2.33 GHz Number Of Processors: 1 Total Number Of Cores: 2 L2 Cache: 4 MB Memory: 2 GB Bus Speed: 667 MHz Boot ROM Version: MBP21.00A5.B08 SMC Version (system): 1.14f5 ) I also have to reboot (GASP) it every few days. Can you recommend a "TuneUp" software? Ness Montreal, CA.

Try doing an "archive and install" reinstall of OS X, where it puts a clean copy of the OS on the computer but keeps your files, settings and programs intact. (Except for programs that install system-level components, which are the most likely sources of your slowdown--you've got enough disk space, memory and processing power there.)

It started when they went to their 'updated' mail program. wrote them on how to delete no longer needed contacts. Told to delete from box to left of name. INVISIBLE but there was a text when mouse was moved. same with letters, have to guess which box spell check is in although text will pop up with mouse, NO ICONS. 3/4 weeks ago got 'updated' tool bar with unusable stuff and again had to guess where the INVISIBLE boxes were to delete. also no flag avail. on e-mail. went to new e-mail, same problem so switched back to classic. Help!

Whoever runs Yahoo's mail operation must want to fail. (My favorite example: If you click on some mail settings, you'll see a lame notice that they're still upgrading parts of the site to the "new" interface that asks you to switch back to the "classic" interface. Problem is, the "new" Yahoo Mail launched in 2005!)

Anyway, I would try logging in via a different browser. You're not using IE 6, are you?

Having had many nasty surprises from Microsoft over the years, it really is no wonder that the average home user will stick with IE6. It doesn't blow up, so they let sleeping dogs lie.

If you're saying that IE 6 is a dog, I can't argue with that. But I can say that canines everywhere should be offended by the comparison.

When Verizon Fios came to Rockville, it sent around a contractor to sign people up. He could answer no questions. The Verizon channel list didn't have anything new other than a few more religious channels. We don't want Fios as we want to keep our landline available during power outages. If the copper is taken out by Verizon then we'll remove our landline.

That's a misperception: Fios installers no longer remove copper connections when they connect the service. I know this because my house still has copper running from the telephone pole to the side of the house.

But while the line remains and you can also keep your old phone plan if you only get Fios Internet, your phone service itself will run over fiber. That's why they include a battery back-up that will run phone service--but not Internet--for eight hours. That's fine with me. If the power's out for longer than that, I've got my cell. If the power's out for longer than my cell will last, we've got much bigger problems to contend with.

The Vista Trojan claiming to be a spyware remover keeps popping up when my spouse uses Firefox. The latest happened when he was looking up NCAA scores. I've had to run the restore to get rid of it.

Check your Flash plug-in--and Adobe Reader, and Java. A lot of malware attacks plug-ins.

Just switched from Blockbuster Home Access to Netflix, mainly for it's streaming capabilities. Should I get a ROKU box or get a Blu Ray capable player (which means I would have to upgrade my Toshiba BDX 2000 as is it doesn't have Wi-Fi)? Thanks

The Roku box will be cheaper and connect to more video sites--including, as I noted last summer--but the Blu-ray player won't add to your accumulation of remote controls and TV-input choices.

My building provides wifi service that consistently seems to run at about 600K on my Imac. It works fine for most purposes, but videos from Youtube etc. "burp" every few seconds. That's the buffer, right? Videos are being transmitted faster than they can be displayed? Are there any settings on my computer I can change or anything else I can do to smooth the viewing experience? Often freezing the playback for a time allows longer playback between burps, but that's cumbersome and annoying. Or is this just too slow for video?

In a low-bandwidth scenario, the only thing you can do is click the "pause" button on a video, which will force it to buffer on your computer. When the progress bar to the right of the pause button fills in, click play and the thing should be stutter-free.

So my computer is still running XP and doing so quite nicely. But I probably need to update things so I can open Word's *.docx files (though I may never understand why Microsoft made that change). When I try to download the newer version, I am also being told to download Internet Explorer 8, which I am not yet ready to do. That is, I receive a message to accept both Word and IE together. What am I overlooking re: updating Word but not IE? Perhaps clicking on the wrong menu?

If you're talking about Microsoft's  "compatibility pack" converter for older Office versions, I don't know why that would require IE 8. But you should upgrade to IE 8 anyway--it's a lot more secure than IE 7, though either are worlds better than IE 6.

Hi Rob, I want to buy my mother a new digital camera. She is old and un-tech-savvy, but she does have a new computer (windows) that we bought her last year, so ideally I'd like to be able to set up the software for her to easily view and share pictures. This is especially important as I am expecting her first grandchild in August and she lives across the country and will need a lot of pictures. Also, I'm hoping to only spend a couple hundred dollars or so. Any suggestions?

You can get a perfectly good digital camera for $100 and change--spending over $200 is likely to be a mistake. A model with a touchscreen menu might be simpler, but she might prefer something with real buttons--you'd have to ask her.

For software, avoid whatever comes with the camera. I'd go with something simple like Google's Picasa or Microsoft's Windows Live Photo Gallery.

I co-founded a State of Colorado rural internet cooperative ( west of Boulder, Colorado back in 2001. We run it as a not for profit using volunteers as much as possible but we have contributed a few hundred dollars by creating tech support and installation contractor jobs over the years. We first considered USDA loans to build our network but the minimum loan was $100K back then; we thought that was too much to borrow. So, we self-financed $12,000 using $300 no-interest loans to be paid back as $25/month service credits to build our initial network. Over time we grew to several hundred households covering a roughly 250 square mile (with plenty of holes due to the mountainous and forested terrain). Our biggest obstacle to growth as there are still many who cannot receive anything except satellite service is bandwidth. A few years after we started we requested a 45 Mbps DS3 as we had 6 or 9 bonded T1 lines at that point. Qwest wanted $400K to build it. More recently we signed a contract with Cogent for 150 Mbps QMOE with no buildout costs but then Cogent informed us that Qwest backed out of the agreed upon it would be $90K - $1.25M to build it. The point is that even if communities want to build their own networks there are middle mile obstacles because the incumbent fiber owners restrict access. Will the new plan force middle mile owners like Qwest to provide more competition? Or can we fund more alternative fiber connections to bypass them? Thank you for considering my question. peace, greg

Thanks for sharing your story. (Here's a direct link to your site.) The report has a lot of details about ways to simplify and strengthen existing regulations governing how carriers connect to each other, but I don't know that it covers your case.

I was depressed, but not surprised, to see that the FCC still believes in the magic spectrum fairy. To think that another 100+ MHz could be reallocated from broadcast television is is beyond rediculous! The authors need only examine other FCC documentation depicting interference problems, especially in the east, and a sampling of filings by stations to discover that too much spectrum has already been taken.

A lot of people who know more about spectrum than me think it's quite possible to harvest some from TV bands. Whether it's desirable overall is another question--for one view on that, see this post on the RabbitEars blog.

Does either Verizon FIOS or Comcast HD DVR' have the capability to add an external hard drive for more recording capacity. My current DirecTV HD DVR does, but has plenty of capacity now. Thinking about change for economic reasons and have heard cable and FIOS have smaller hard drives.

Comcast's does, as some readers pointed out in comments on a Help File I wrote a few weeks ago. (Comcast PR never mentioned that option.)

You should know that the FCC broadband plan includes measures to break open the market for pay-TV tuning and recording hardware.

Verizon is getting a lot of pressure from folks who wonder why the company is selling FIOS like mad in Baltimore County, Howard, Anne Arundel, etc. yet, for some reason, seems unable to wire Baltimore City. I have a feeling that before the government, Verizon, Comcast and others get this done, Google will do it. Baltimore is trying to make the case to be a test city for Google's ultra-high speed Internet technology. Hope in happens.

Mario Armstrong, NPR's Baltimore-based tech guy, has been talking up the city's cause. But so are a lot of other governments--Alexandria has a page on its site lobbying for Google fiber, and I met a reporter from Morgantown, WV a few days ago who said that city's been making its own case too. 

Hi, Rob, Sorry if this question is really dumb, but can a cable drop be installed pretty much anywhere? I'm moving into a 2001 townhouse that doesn't seem to have cable drops in the rooms where I want them, although it does have a few in some weird places. Will the cable company be able to add drops? Will it be expensive? If they can't do it, what are my options? Thanks so much.

The cable company installer probably can add a new outlet, but ask first to see what it will cost you. If there's a charge attached, and if you're reasonably handy, think about doing it yourself. You'd cut a hole in the drywall, add the switchplate, then run the coax down the wall to, presumably, the basement or wherever else the cable comes into the house.

Just how bad is the situation over at Palm? I'll be looking for a new phone in the coming months and probably wouldn't have looked at their offerings in the first place, but now... well, there's really no chance. Is it really that bad?

The company had some crummy quarterly earnings, though it did actually make money. What it needs to do is get more developers writing webOS software, do a better job of selling its existing hardware, and ship some upgraded models.

I am reasonably confident in management there, but they've certainly lost some momentum.

Even with all that, though, I think a webOS phone is a fairly safe purchase. The supply of apps for it is still growing, the Pre and Pixi are a lot cheaper than any Android phones out there, and even if Palm vanishes off the map you'll be well placed to switch to Android, since the Pre and Pixi already sync to Google's calendar and contacts services. 

After their Nov fire, I do not receive NBC4 signal. Will writing to FCC help. And who should we write to? Thanks

Wouldn't it be simpler to write to WRC directly? FWIW, although its signal has been flakey at times, it generally comes in fine at my home.

I'm assisting with a migration tonight of data (including iTunes library) from an XP Laptop to a brand new Win 7 laptop, using the Microsoft migration tool. Question: do you install iTunes before or after moving the data (which includes existing music library?)

I believe you're best off installing iTunes afterwards, but it's been a little while since I tested Win 7 migrations. Anybody with advice on this?

Rob, have you had the opportunity to test the GPS-voice navigation directions app in the Google Nexus? I'm interested in comparing its capability to that of a dedicated GPS voice navigation system like Garmin, which I find to be unimpressive.

I haven't tested the Nexus One's voice-guided GPS. (BTW, that phone will soon work on every carrier: Google shipped a GSM model compatible with AT&T's 3G, Verizon has a version on the way and Sprint just announced it will carry the Nexus One as well.)

But I did test the voice navigation on the Droid, and I was extremely impressed. I told the phone "directions to Washington National Airport," and it heard me clearly and almost instantly served up directions.

Thing is, I did this test in a crowded bar.

Rob, I picked up an inexpensive GSM Phone to use while traveling overseas. I would like to test it out. Any idea where I can get an inexpensive US SIM for a generic phone? Thanx!

To test it, all you need to do is borrow a friend's GSM phone. Pop out the SIM from his/her phone and throw it into yours; you should be able to make a call as him/her.

The add/remove of the Vista control panel does nothing at all to remove the trial Office 2007. When I delete the Office 12 files in Windows Explorer, Office 2002 works for a while, but when a doc message arrives as an attachment in email, Office 2007 starts to install itself again. And then I find Office 12 again as program on my computer and my Office 2002 no longer works because the computer keeps searching for 2007.. I want to get rid of this nuisance for good. Both the laptop manufacturer (Sony) and MS want money to speak to you about the problem THEY caused..

Hmm. I've got a new Sony review laptop I have yet to power on; I will try uninstalling the trial version myself and see what happens. Could be a good Help File item in this!

Rob, it looked to me more that the person asked if an already finalized DVD rented to a bad person could have the virus added. I say this due to the phrasing in, "...and then returned to the rental company for subsequent distribution to customers."

Ah. Well, that wouldn't work. Once you finalize the disc in a burner, or once it's pressed at the factory, you're done adding stuff to it.

Mac to PC powerpoint conversion: There are two things for you to watch out for when trying to display a Mac ppt file on a PC. The first is that there may be some formating errors when you look at the presentation on the PC (I have had issues with pictures that the mac reads as tiff files and a PC cannot read and then also font issues that either change the size of a text box or inexplicably move it). I have the same issues going from Mac to Mac if one has Office 2004(or earlier) and the other 2008. So always check the presentation before you give it. The pdf idea is a very good one too. Secondly using a netbook as a hackintosh. I can say that it is possible, but do not buy the Dell Mini 10 to do it!!!. You want the Mini 10v (the cheaper of the two). Most of the features on the Mini 10 are not compatible with OS X and you will find yourself with a basically useless little computer with no wi-fi, Ethernet, or a usable VGA port. If you are interested in doing this do a google search about it. There are many good resources on the web that will tell you the best netbooks to use (If you are willing to buy a used one the Dell Mini 9, which they do not sell anymore is the absolute best to hack; there is also an HP that is quite good as well). Also be forewarned that hacking OS X is not easy and can become frustrating very quickly if you do not have an extensive programing background (Sometimes an install will work perfectly, but sometimes it won't and it will take a lot of trouble shooting to fix). I will say that I have given up on my mini 10v recently however, because fully functioning Macbook is a much easier option. The full size keyboard and everything working out of the box, and inot feeling cheap or flimsy is just worth it.

Thanks! The difficulty factor in a Hackintosh install is one reason I haven't bothered trying it myself.

"Apple doesn't seem interested in shipping a netbook" Isn't that the Macbook Air?

The Air is heavy for a netbook. And expensive. But it is as close to the concept as Apple gets (Steve Jobs would say the iPad is its real netbook answer; I don't think it will work as a productivity machine, but I could be persuaded by experience).

Q. Bored at work John, what are your favorite apps for your iphone/itouch? If you don't have either, ignore.

A. John Kelly writes: Don't have an iPhone, but our contract with Verizon is up. They're eager to get us to re-up for another two years. I told them I was thinking about an iPhone and they said, "We have the Droid! It's even better!" Is it?

If only there were a way to cross-post replies! Most of my favorites run on both the iPhone and Android: Yelp and OpenTable for restaurant finding, Layar for augmented reality, Foursquare for check-ins, Shazam for IDing songs playing in the background (that app is so full of win), Slacker and Pandora Web radio, ShopSavvy for looking up prices by scanning bar codes.

I'd also suggest some Android-only apps from Google: Google Sky Map, Google Voice, Shopper.

Hi, as a representative for your IT department, please allow me to explain why we can't upgrade from IE6. Money. You'll be surprised how expensive it can be to upgrade an application. And even more surprised on how much it will cost to test the upgrade. Unless you like untest application running in production.

It's a good thing that running an obsolete and insecure browser--or the likely malware infections--costs nothing.

I'm running latest version of Mozilla Firefox on my 6 yr old Toshiba Satellite laptop. What is driving me crazy is McAfee protection software checking for updates every time I boot up. It slows down everything, including the Verizon FIOS connection. Any suggestions? I've looked online but didn't find any solutions I could understand well enough to implement. Thanks

Again, try Microsoft Security Essentials. It's a lot less resource-intensive than many third-party virus scanners.

I'm somewhat at a loss about which iPod is newer than others, version this, generation that, newer versions having smaller capacity than older versions, etc. Can't Apple simply say iPod Touch Release or Generation 1, iPod Shuffle release 4, and within each name it can be X number of gigbbytes? I simply can't tell or have any frame of reference about which is which or what I'm supposed to know when I ask for help or manuals or if I want to buy a used one.

Apple uses terms like "fourth generation" or "fifth generation," but not even I can remember which one is which half the time. The Apple History site is your best resource for telling them, and identically-named Mac desktops and laptops, apart.

Following instructions at, I installed OS X 10.6.2 onto a Dell Mini 10v. You'll devote 4-5 hours of your life to the process the first time you do it, but a lot of that is just waiting. From a compatibility standpoint, it's nearly perfect. Sounds, peripherals, everything seems to work fine. I have a fully functioning OS X netbook. Tiny, light, and with the large battery pack, an unreal 6.5 hours of battery life. I do *not* however, have an Apple netbook, and that's where you risk disappointment. Generally it's okay - the fit and finish is really nice for a $350 machine - but the trackpad is squirrelly, can't be redeemed by software fixes, and is a constant source of frustration. (On the plus side life is good with a bluetooth mouse, which works fine.) Also. It is *not* a fast machine by any stretch - the slowest Apple runs circles around this one - and it's only available in a 1GB RAM configuration. It is possible to upgrade to 2GB but it's a real hardware chore, and one beyond my capability or nerve. Bottom line - spend $350, enjoy some tinkering and a fun experiment, and at the end have a machine that performs okay so long as your needs are very, very basic! Keep your expectations modest in any case.

Thanks for the detailed report!

Hi Rob, I'm trying to decide between a Mac and a Mac Book Pro. What's the difference? Is the Pro worth the extra money?

The 13.3-in. MacBook Pro is, the 15-incher is not (to me, at least).

Rob, lately my browser is very slow to start up. I'm running XP Home (updated) and Firefox 3.6. After some time-out time, a warning box appears that says: "Warning:Unresponsive script A script on this page may be busy, or it may have stopped responding. You can stop the script now, or you can continue to see if the script will complete. Script: chrome://noscript/content/HTTPS.js:80" I click to tell it to not continue. Sometimes I get it several times. As far as I know, I do not have Chrome loaded or running. I'm baffled as to how to get this to stop happening.

What's your home page? Try switching it to different site, or to a blank page.

Gateway bought in 10/08 w/Vista. have already signed on w/G-mail if I couldn't get a reasonable answer from you

Sorry, but it's difficult for me or anybody else to debug problems with poorly maintained Web sites. Fundamentally, the only thing you can do is try a different browser--if Yahoo screws up, there's nothing you can do to fix things short of breaking into its data center.

Last weekend I was updating my Harmony 670. Partway through the firmware reflashing the process stopped and an error message was displayed in the Logitech Mac software. Since there isn't a hard reset method, the soft reset didn't work, and it was several years old, I went out and bought a new 700. Nice little remote. Controls everything properly. No software comes with it, you have to download the control software from Logitech. Never thought I would one day face the possibility of bricking a remote control. Also, I went through the "stuff" closet Saturday in preparation for a move (I wonder if I can pick up Ch4 and Ch22 in Falls Church?) I found 2 VCR's and a turntable. Since I no longer have tapes or records, out they went.

This is the first time I've heard of anybody bricking a remote either. Isn't technology wonderful?

Good luck with the move...

Rob, the headphone jack on my two year old iPod just died the other day and I need to get a replacement. I'm not interested at all in an iPod touch (my wife has one and I hate it), but I'm also not sold on the new iPod nanos either. Are there any other MP3 players out there that can be easily used with iTunes (where we have all of our music)? I really only use my iPod for music, podcasts, and audiobooks in my car and when working out. I don't need video, radio, or wi-fi, etc. Thanks.

"Easily" used with iTunes? No. You can drag and drop files from the iTunes window to any device that shows up as an external drive, but for syncing you need to use some other program. This post summarizes a few options to do that (yes, I will turn that into a real Help File item someday).

As a Windoze developer, I can tell you that it is difficult to impress upon management (who controls what projects are green-lighted) that there is a benefit to upgrading applications so that they work on supported platforms. We have in-house apps that were written in languages that Microsoft no longer supports, and development has been pushing management to let us convert them for YEARS. It isn't a matter of lazy's a matter of PHBs not understanding the risks associated with not converting.

That's not the only thing PHBs can impede. (Note: My bosses don't have pointy hair. Well, at least not the ones I see in the newsroom.)

Hi, my husband and I desperately need to upgrade. His phone is at least 5 years old and mine is 2+ years old. We are basically undecided between getting Droids or Blackberries with Verizon (our current carrier) or iPhones with AT&T. We are far from tech-y and will probably be keeping these for quite a while. We definitely want smart phones, and we have no idea about whether we like touch screen or keyboards, as both of our phones are about as non-smart as you can get. We have to pick this weekend as his phone is dead.

The iPhone is easier to get started with--especially if you have a Mac, but not if you already use Gmail and Google Calendar. Some Android phones include sync software to work with Outlook, but all BlackBerries include sync tools (even if they're not very good). But BlackBerries are far behind Android devices and iPhones when it comes to Web access and app support.

Short version: it depends.

There are a number of web browsers available. Is there one that has more security features than another? If security is one's main concern, which browser would you recommend?

Firefox (longer track record) or Chrome (slightly better core design). In any browser, though, you need to make sure plug-ins like Flash are current too.

Hi Rob, is there anything to the rumors of the Droid-based HTC Incredible showing up in Verizon Wireless stores within the next two weeks? Thanks.

Seems plausible to me. A lot of these ship-schedule mysteries should clear up next week, when the wireless industry's annual CTIA trade show takes place in Vegas. (Am not going myself; not sure that was a good call.)

Hello Mr. Pegoraro: Several months ago I voluntarily set up my Hotmail program to receive email from another address. I now wish to cancel that arrangement and am unable to find a way. Thank you.

Log in, click the "Options" link, then click "More Options" in the drop-down menu that will open up. On the next page, click the "Send and receive mail from other e-mail accounts" link.


Hi Rob, I have an almost 4 year old MacBook (first gen with Intel, still using Tiger). It is my only computer and I love it and use it constantly. I also use the Airport Extreme router. If I haven't used the computer in hours it connects to the internet without a problem and my speeds are decent. However if I use the computer shut it down to do something and come back soon thereafter I have a terrible time picking up the signal. It won't connect automatically at all and often takes me 5-10 tries to manually connect (I get the there was a problem connecting the network message). I'm trying figure out if this is a problem with the router or the laptop. My guess is its the laptop (and/or its wireless card but I'm not sure that its fixable (or worth fixing). Is this something that is easily fixed or should I start saving up for a new laptop. I know the life cycle of a laptop is much shorter than a desktop. Thanks for your help!

You can't rule out the router in that case. Have you tried resetting it or tweaking its settings? (I.e., using WPA encryption instead of WEP, which is a good idea anyway.) Are there any firmware updates for it?

Hi, Rob: Thanks for taking my question and for all of your efforts. I had an unexpected power outage last weekend (no storms around) that lasted about an hour. Within a minute or two into the outage, one of my older (~6 years) Toshiba laptops shut down abruptly even though the LiOn battery supposedly had a 100 percent charge that should have lasted 3+ hours. The power settings for a normal shutdown shouldn't have initiated such an action until power levels dropped below 10% of capacity, so I'm not sure whether it intervened to trigger the shutdown -- either way, the battery seems to have a problem. Can you recommend any software program to diagnose and/or test battery performance and possibly "exercise" the battery's charging cycle to eliminate any memory effect? Do you have a suggested process for recovering the maximum function of an older battery? What's your position on aftermarket batteries and eBay sources of such items, in case the original is unsalvageable? Jim in TX

A six-year-old battery could easily have lost its ability to hold a charge. That's just old age, in battery terms. (I'm assuming it was a real, low-battery-driven shutdown, not some other malfunction.)

Time's up... I have to find a Help File topic to write about and do something about lunch. Thanks for all the questions; see you here again soon.

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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post's Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro, writes about computers, the Internet and consumerconsumer electronics. His latest tech thoughts and tips are cultivated daily on his blog Faster Forward.
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