The Washington Post

Personal Tech Live with Rob Pegoraro

Apr 15, 2011

After more than 17 years, Rob Pegoraro is leaving The Washington Post. Please join him on Friday at 2 p.m. ET for his final chat.

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

It's probably fitting that I'm showing up late for my last chat. (The panel discussion I just finished moderating a few blocks away ran late, as they often do.) So anyway... what should we talk about?

Rob -- Thanks for all you've done at the WP over the past upteen years, and best of fortune in the next phase of your life! I'll miss your blog postings and tech chats, but hopefully you won't disappear completely... Occasionally when shutting down my XP Pro SP3 laptop, I'll get a notice that a program won't end properly, but if I toogle the manual button to do so Windows will get beyond the glitch and fully shut down. The weird thing is the name ("4E5A3D3C-E110-A6CF-CB537A8...") -- I've searched the root drive (with system folders enabled) and the registry on as much of the exact string reported as well as the initial character group, but nothing is ever found. I've run many AV scans with both my resident AV (avast!) and the online versions from 4-5 of the other leading vendors, but all of them return a clean bill of health. Any ideas on what the source might be that's causing such behavior? FWIW, the same string is reported each time this occurs and I run the ZoneAlarm Pro firewall with everything patched to current versions.

I'll start with a mainstay of this kind of chat--obscure computing malfunctions. I've often seen that kind of dialog when shutting down XP machines (such as the one I'm typing this on). A lot of the time, the culprit is your anti-virus software. It has to run in background all the time, and many of its component processes aren't labeled obviously.

So my 6-year old laptop is sending hints that it's getting ready to fade away (screen comes up with extremely faint picture/pattern of colors lines). Do you have recommendations for a laptop that will be used for internet, email, music, ntflix and other streaming video, lengthy word documents and small spreadsheets? I remember seeing something but can't find the link.

Unfortunately, that job description could be met by any laptop on the market. They'd all handle that work fine. Do you have any preferences in terms of screen size, weight, cost, battery life, operating system?

Not a question, just want to thank you for your years of columns, blogs, podcasts, etc. You always answered my questions, and I'm really going to miss you! Will you still be reviewing products?

You're welcome! My immediate plans were to catch up on sleep, but I also have a large backlog of e-mail just from the last week to answer. I am going to take a little time off and have a couple of personal trips--I'm going to see the space shuttle launch at the end of this month, and a couple of weeks later my my sister-in-law's getting married. But I'll be writing again before too long, one way or another.

I decided to upgrade to this version ($29.99 per year with 3 licenses) as it was recommended if you on facebook and/or purchase online frequently which I do. Good idea?

I'm a fan of not paying for AV software--Microsoft's free Microsoft Security Essentials works, has scored well in tests, and doesn't make a nuisance of itself.

We will miss your insight, wit, fairness and even-handed approach to all comers - nerds, p.r. types, the tech press, hobbyists, etc. You handled yourself with grace and intelligence and you will be sorely missed. Please know that your departure leaves a hole that no batch of wire stories will fill. It strikes an off note to send you out the door, with your track record. Newspapers are a dead format, so on to the next thing in your career. Best of luck and keep the faith.


Rob, I'm hoping you can help to calm my nerves, but I went Blu-ray over the holidays, and after some recent drama, I'm now having second thoughts. I own an LG Blu-ray player (it was given to me as a Xmas gift by someone who REALLY does their research), and up until recently, it's worked like a dream. At the end of March, however, the firmware updates began causing a lot of problems with the player. At the outset, a firmware update caused skipping problems on some DVDs and shut down the player's internet connectivity entirely (LG customer support tried to blame it on my wireless router, which was not the cause). A second firmware update corrected both problems, and I was able to rest easy. This week my anxiety returned when one of my Blu-ray discs began to freeze up and not want to be read by the player. (Please note, this only happens to ONE Blu-ray disc, so it could very well be that I have a bum disc.) But the next day, a THIRD firmware update was issued by LG, and now it looks like DVDs are having skipping problems again. To make matters worse, I also discovered that my model player has been discontinued by LG, so now I worry that support for my player will vanish with time. So with all this in mind, I have two questions for you: 1) Does it happen very often where a firmware update causes more problems than it does correct them? And if so, is there a way to remove the faulty firmware update, or just wait until LG issues new ones? 2) Does a manufacturer eventually stop sending firmware updates to discontinued players? And if so, am I out of luck if my player develops problems that only firmware updates can correct? A lot of money was spent on this player, and I've really enjoyed the device (and the overall Blu-ray experience thus far), so I want to have this thing for at least a couple years. But these recent issues have left me shaken, and I would love to know that hope isn't lost. Thanks! An anxious Blu-ray owner

Your consumer-electronics gadget seems to have adopted a lot of the bad habits of computers. Your player  should still be under warranty, right? I'd ask LG to replace it.

Rob, Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of people that are lamenting your departure. You, Hax, Warren Brown, and Steven Pearlstein were my must read list. That list has dwindled quite a bit. I hope that you find an opportunity that is worthy of your talents. I have always thought of you as part of the big three along with Pogue and Mossberg.

C'mon, I can't sing nearly as well as Pogue!

Rob! Don't leave all us clueless non-expert tech peeps all alone! Is your Facebook going to stay 'yours'? I'll read you anywhere! Thanks for all your wonderful advice and insight through the years!

That's the great thing about these social-media outlets: You can take it with you. The Facebook page will still be around--though I'll remove the Faster Forward RSS feed, since it won't support the page's core mission of flacking for me.

Thanks for all you've done and looking forward to reading you wherever you show up next. Any thoughts on the Thunderbolt vs. Droid X and LTE vs. regular service in general? I'm in NYC, if that matters, and iPhone is always an alternative too.

The Thunderbolt is fast, ludicrously fast. But it's also ludicrously fast at draining its battery. If you'd pay to use its tethering--you'll get much more benefit out of LTE's speed on a laptop--that could be a reasonable deal. I would go with the Droid X or the Droid 2 instead.

Hi Rob - I know you've answered this before but can't find it in searching the chat archives and Comcast website. Would you please repeat where one can find the list of acceptable cable modems for Comcast service? We just got internet at our Rehoboth beach house thru Comcast and they just jacked the monthly rental for the cable modem to $7.00 from $5.00, so it's definitely time to buy my own. I will also need one for my Bethesda house shortly since a promo I have with Comcast including the modem for free expires in a few months. Beach one is definitely a priority though. Thanks!

Here's that list. And I'll use your question to repeat my earlier advice: Don't rent your cable modem.

Rob: I learned you were leaving the Post via FT post--I never knew you were on the board! Have fun playing dad & I'll look out for your FT handle from now on. on a whim, I searched & just found an email from you from 1998! Bell Atlantic was just rolling out DSL & I guess you'd asked for more info on the product in a column. You also linked your review of the Rio mp3 player that I'd bought b/c I wasn't happy w/the mp3 module for my Handspring. Feel ancient yet?

I do :)

(FT is shorthand for FlyerTalk, a most excellent set of Web forums for frequent flyers and aviation geeks. Highly recommended if you'd like to get a better grasp of how the airlines operate.)

I don't understand why the Post is making such short-sighted changes with its talent. Chats help humanize its reporters, it makes them more interesting and gives me a little more incentive to drop a few coins just to see what you have to say. Each week or so I look forward to reading what you have to say about technology, learning more than I could have otherwise. I think what made the Post special when compared to other information sources regarding its chats is that it not only made readers more informed but as you mentioned, contributed to making the topics you tackle that much more worth reading - a symbiotic relationship. If I can ask one last time, "when will that iPhone for Verizion come out?" Again, thank you.

I knew somebody was going to give me a Verizon iPhone question on the way out!

Somehow I'd missed this news until today. You'll be missed Rob. I'm looking forward to following you elsewhere. I remain stunned about the shuttering of Flip Video. It seems very strange that it wouldn't be worth something, to someone, as a going concern.

Thanks. Now it can be told: I am, in fact, a Flip video camera.

My husband and I are expecting our first child in a few weeks and we need to upgrade our digital camera. Although I flirted with the idea of a Canon 60D, now I'm pretty sure that I want the Nikon D7000. Any thoughts on the D7000? Also, can you recommend a good full HD camcorder to complement the D7000 (which I believe only takes 20 minutes of video)?

Congratulations! As a dad of almost nine months experience (and the owner of an iPhoto library that can now be grouped into two categories, Baby and Not Baby), my advice is to focus on portability. If you've got a camera small enough to carry around, you've got a better chance of taking that cute photo of your son or daughter trying to eat the Sports section or playing with his or her feet.

In your years at WaPo, what do you think were the most game changing technologies you reviewed? Did you think they were game changing at the time?

That's a great question. We did a feature on the top 10 gadgets of the oughts (or whatever you call the first 10 years of this century), but know I can't find it. As I recall, I ranked the iPhone and Firefox high up--one redefined the phone, the other broke a monopoly on the Web, fostered a great deal of innovation in Web applications and made open source software an in-every-home thing.

Things I didn't recognize would be a big deal at the time: camera phones (they seemed a novelty), Gmail (yeah, it was only Web e-mail, but it also set the standard for interactive Web applications)... oh, and Facebook. I opened an account there mainly because a friend worked there, then took another six months to do anything useful with it.

First, best wishes for the future. Rob, you wrote that "the Post is taking its tech coverage in another direction" and I have to agree that backward is a direction--as is downward. This is no reflection on the staffers who remain, but your willingness to engage with readers through comments and email over the years definitely set you apart. You've been a very valuable resource to me, and I'll miss reading your informative writing in the Post. However, I'll find you at your new location(s). I was always impressed when you used the comments section yourself: who else does that? How appropriate that your last blog was about your unusual partnership with readers! You might be amused to know that my Inbox contains correspondence with you from 2007 (about some hardware/software incompatibility). Yes, I should definitely clean out my old email. But I have followed your advice on other matters, always to my advantage. Thanks.

You're welcome! Tip: If you're into country music of any sort, please check out my old colleague Eric Brace, who relocated to East Nashville and plays with his band Last Train Home and, on other times, Peter Cooper, who is or used to be a writer at the Tennessean. Good stuff.

What will we do without you? I have been following you since forever. If you are leaving the Post, will you be doing another gig around town? Kojo? Tina in Falls Church

Watch this space! Or, not this space exactly, but you know what I mean.

So how long until we have a white iPhone 5???? Just kidding. I don't have a question; I'm just offering a sad farewell that my other favorite technology writer for the Post is following Brian Krebs to new, and hopefully just-as-green, pastures.

It also wouldn't be a chat without an iPhone 5 question! Thanks. Yes, Brian and I may form our own support group of former Post tech writers.

I like the "possibly related" other links. A little honesty that puts you way ahead of other sites.

That's a WordPress feature. They're right to label them as "possibly related"--some of them have nothing in common with my own post. (FWIW, I picked to host my own the advice of Ezra Klein and a few other people. I'm pretty happy with it so far; it is... somewhat easier than the blogging setup in-house.)

Hi Rob, I'm curious how much risk there is of a fire by leaving a laptop on all the time? The reason I ask is that I have a Logitech webcam set up I use as a DIY security system, and I used to have it hooked up to a desktop PC. I recently got rid of the desktop for a laptop, but unlike the old desktop, it seems when I close the lid, or the laptop hard drive goes into hibernate mode even with the lid open, it kills the camera connection, which didn't happen with the desktop (this isn't a camera attached to the cpu; it's in another room and uses the house's wiring as a network). I was thinking I could just set the laptop hardrive to always stay on when plugged in and not hibernate, but then I was worried if there's any kind of fire risk associated with leaving a loptop running 24/7. Any thoughts/advice?

You should be fine, unless this is an exceptionally badly-designed laptop. (I had an old Dell that ran so hot, the paint looked bubbled around the cooling vent. But even that never caught on fire... notwithstanding my frequent wish to set fire to it.) You can also set the laptop's drive to spin down but have the rest of it stay awake.

Please pass on my complaint that the new webmaster has damaged the RSS feeds and turned them in spammers. In particular the new opinion feeds don't tell you who wrote what and lump in blogs. The books RSS feeds now has an average of 100 posts a week. That’s way too many.

FYI to management...

Rob, thanks for all the articles, blog posts and chats over the years. No farewell chat would be complete without a Comcast issue! Anyway, so here goes - In the past few weeks, Comcast's broadcast constantly freezes up and pixelates every 4-5 seconds on HGTV, Bravo, E! and MASN. It's only on these channels and no others. Turns out it's a known problem with the cablecard, but so far no known fix. Comcast is "working" on it. It's pretty frustrating and basically makes those channels completely unwatchable. Just thought I'd put it out there in case anyone else was having the same problem and didn't know why.

Anybody else subscribe to Comcast and use a CableCard to tune in? (There may not be. That's a fairly small universe of viewers.)

If one needed to subdue two full grown men, how many feet of HDMI cable should you have? And would you recommend "Monster" over other brands?

For sheer durability--and the ability to bludgeon somebody with the plug end--you can't beat good old-fashioned SCSI cables. Parallel-port cables could work too, but you might have a hard time finding one now.

We didn't land on Plymouth Rock! Plymouth Rock landed on us!

I like the direction this chat is taking... is currently out of the Diamond Rio 500 digital music player. Are there any similar music devices that you would recommend?

There's this thing from Apple called an "i-Pod," but it's never going anywhere. No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

We were on the verge of buying a Flip camera to record our wedding ceremony and some other stuff. Does it make sense to still do so now, or is there a different cheap, user-friendly, easy-upload model we should be looking at? I have a Mac so we will be doing all editing etc on that, not with their software. Thanks and best of luck!

You might get that Flip for less now. But you should also consider your options--you might find that the camera you already own (if it records in stereo) or your smartphone can do the job. Many of each type of gadget record in HD.

After our baby ruined our first Sony point-n-shoot (a simple bat of the hand knocked the camera out of my wife's hand), we decided that getting a shock-proof and water-proof model was a good idea. Something to think about...

Good tip...

I took my son to Disney World and we went to the Hall of Presidents and my kid asked me if the Robot Presidents could hurt us and I realized I didn't know the answer to that question. Can they? Can the Robot Presidents hurt us?

If they were properly coded to comply with the Three Laws of Robotics, you should be okay. But I'm a little worried about Robot Nixon myself.

As a parent of a toddler, I wasn't aware that my camera or that iPhoto could accomodate these "non baby" photos of which you speak.


Got a new computer the other day and after setting it up, I ran all the windows updates. Then I installed McAfee (firewall, antivirus, etc). The next day, the computer was SLOW - painfully slow. After spending 60 minutes on the phone with Dell, they determined it was a software issue and the resolution would require a fee. I said no and then decided to uninstall McAfee, reboot, and reinstall. The computer was fast. Looks like the install didn't work right and it was gumming up the works. So, for everybody out there. If you install new software and the computer is slow, try uninstalling and then reinstalling before wasting your time.

That uninstall-then-reinstall thing never gets old, let me tell you...

Downsizing by the Post?

I'll direct you to the post on my personal blog; to summarize, management doesn't think the paper or the site needs the sort of longer-form, review and analysis coverage that I've been doing of technology. I think they recognize that tech is an important story, but it seems we have different ideas about how it should be covered. And, you know, I'm not the guy with the printing press. 

I enjoy talking with my daughter by computer on skype, so the possibility of (free) video calls on a verizon phone interests me -- am I just dreaming, or is this a possibility now or in the near future?

Skype says video support is "coming soon" for Android on Verizon, but you can use their iPhone app to place video calls now.

Rob, sometimes I have problems streaming video at home, sometimes not. Trying to figure out what element is causing the problem is difficult, but it happens with multiple devices and after a move (though I'm still with Comcast and own my modem), so it seems likely that it's the router, a Linksys (wrt54g, I believe). Some advice online seems to be to change the DNS. I don't know what this is or how to do it. If this sounds like a good idea, could you point me toward some directions? I've been reading you forever. I followed Brian Krebs to his new site even though much of it is over my head, and I'll likely do the same with you. Thanks for all the great service @ WaPo.

Check out a site called OpenDNS, which provides free, alternate domain name service (this is how computers translate domain names like to the numerical Internet Protocol addresses that identify specific machines). Might help you out.

I was walking through Best Buy (don't hate) the other day and saw these new silver laptops from some company named Apple? Never heard of them, though I thought I was familiar with all the fruity computers companies. What are your thoughts: Should I take the chance on this "company" or should I wait to see how they do in the marketplace? Will they even make any headway into beating MicroSoft?

One word for you: Osborne. They have the portable-computing market locked up!

Is the white iphone a sign of the coming apocalypse? It's co-incident timing with your departure is scary. We will miss you...I do hope you stay in journalism, but understand if life (and opportunity) take you elsewhere. But we've been very lucky to have all these years of fantastic columns. Thank you and good luck (and watch out for white iphones, of course).

I'm actually leaving because I refuse to review the white iPhone on principle. I do not recognize its right to exist.

I have a Dell Win7 desktop computer with MS Office Professional (mostly use Word) at home shared by my wife and me, and would like to purchase a laptop computer that would have most of the functionality of the desktop, so that both computers could be in use at the same time. If I opted for a MacBook Pro rather than a PC, could the MacBook Pro be configured such that there would be little or no learning curve to become productive on the Mac, and with Word file compatibility?

You can buy Office for Mac--it's as compatible as you're going to get--but there are different ways to do many things in Mac OS X. You'll learn, but at first you may be puzzled why something is not where you expect it. (The difference has narrowed a bit with recent releases; Windows 7's taskbar looks and works much more like OS X's Dock.)

I didn't think you'd take my question first, but guess it was my lucky day! I'm running MSE as the AV on this laptop, but the same sort of thing (can't remember the exact string) would occasionally happen when I was using the avast! free (probably v5-somthing). Would that indicate the shutdown hang was triggered by ZAP instead of the AV?

That seems more likely--sometimes you have to go all scientific-method on this, ruling out on factor at a time.

I'd like to stick around longer (and usually do), but there's a caking to be had. And you really don't want to get between a reporter and free cake.

Thanks for all the questions. It's been fun. See you around.

In This Chat
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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