Every other week or so, FOXNews.com tries to solve your most vexing technology-related problems. Send your questions to TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we'll reply to selected ones in our next installment.

As Churchill "Churchy" la Femme (the superstitious turtle from Walt Kelly's "Pogo" comic) might have said, Friday the 13th comes on Tuesday this month.

Perhaps that's why my last two attempts at answering the question "When will Windows XP SP3 be available?" were invalidated the day after the column was published.

May 13 is also Patch Tuesday, which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the long-anticipated, on-again, off-again collection of bug fixes affectionately known as Service Pack 3.

In short: It's on again, and currently available on the Windows Update Web site. I've downloaded and installed it on Hukey Pukey, my venerable HP laptop, without incident.

However: There have been reports of problems in the wild, so I would recommend that you do a backup of all your important data before attempting to install SP3, and know how to roll back to the last good configuration if it fails.

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One item of interest: After installing SP3, you're supposed to be able to run any version of Internet Explorer you want — as long as the one you want to run is IE7.

There's no way you can go back to IE6 without hacking your system, and if you are one of those already running the IE8 beta, according to Microsoft, you still have to go back to IE7.

What I discovered, however, is if you've never installed IE7 (like me!) IE6 is still there after SP3 finishes. I was a little worried, because it took a long time to get past the step where it configured my IE6 personal preferences. But it worked just fine.

The other item of unfinished business concerns the VHS-to-DVD conversion I wrote about in the previous column.

I've always been a believer in looking at the simplest solution first, so I'm not sure why I didn't suggest that the problem might have been a failure to finalize the DVD and make it readable on other players, which would produce identical symptoms.

Thanks, and a hat tip to all of you (too numerous to mention) who wrote in with that suggestion. Feedback is always appreciated here at Tech Q and A.

I Think I'll Try the Simplest Solution First This Time!

Q: I recently purchased a Compaq Presario V6000 laptop with a built-in burner (Windows XP SP2).

I am having great problems burning DVDs. I have repeatedly attempted to download a movie and then burn a DVD of it. It seems my computer will put the movie into the hard drive storage, but when I try to take it from there to burn it, it will not go through.

I tried placing the movie on an external hard drive, so that I could pull it from there, but it still will not burn.

It all stops at the point when you hit "burn" on the process commands. An error message pops up saying that the RW disc "is not empty. Would you like to erase it?"

I say "yes," the tray pops open and an error message pops up saying the computer does not recognize the disc.

I've tried this with -R DVD discs, with three different brands of disc and with four different applications (Descriptor, DVD Shrink, Nero, BurnAware). All had the same results.

I called Compaq and spent hours on the phone, but their only suggestion was to erase and reload the entire hard drive. Please tell me this is not the only answer.

A: I downloaded the Maintenance and Service Guide for the Presario V6000. It comes in several flavors, but the one you probably got from your local big-box store came from the factory with something Apple used to call a "Combo Drive." It will read and write CDs, but it only reads DVDs.

Sorry, but it doesn't matter which program you use to write the DVD — the drive won't support it.

I'm both amused and dismayed that the technician you talked to believed that erasing and reloading the entire hard drive would solve your problem. There are times when a "wipe and reload" is the best answer, but this is not one of those times.

Here's what you should do: Get an external DVD burner with a USB interface.

I personally like the ones with Lightscribe technology, such as the HP DVD1040e. Lightscribe allows you to burn the DVD and then turn it over and burn a label on the other side. But I'm a real sucker for gizmos.

You should be able to find one online for about $60.

Are We There Yet?

Q: I have a 30-gigabyte video iPod and would like to put some movies on it for my 10-year-old to watch in the car.

I downloaded AVG software that converts DVDs to iPod video. It worked on most of the DVDs, but on some the audio is out of sync with the video.

I tried varying my settings, but the videos are still out of sync. Any thoughts on how to fix them?

A: Sadly, there are a great many DVD-to-iPod programs out there that simply do not work as advertised. They take forever to convert a DVD and produce poor quality audio or video (or both!). There have even been reports of some that include data-mining features — in other words, not only do they not work, but they gather private information and send it to advertisers.

People I know seem to like to use Handbrake (on Macs) or Cucusoft (on Windows). The former is free; the latter should cost $30-$40, depending on where you purchase it. Make sure you turn off your screensaver if you're going to run either of them unattended.

Where Do You Want to Go Today?

Q: I have been unable to access any Microsoft Web site or service — not update, nor help, nor MSN nor my hotmail account — for months now.

When I try to access one of them via a browser (I have Internet Explorer 6.0, Firefox and Opera, and have also tried Apple's Safari), the browser progress ball either just keeps spinning and spinning and never loading the page, or, if I'm using IE, I am told to run a network diagnostic.

If I run the diagnostic, I receive this message: "Check the firewall settings for the HTTP port (80), HTTPS port (443) and FTP port (21)."

I am not sure how to check each port, but I have disabled my firewall completely, which does no good. There are no bogies, i.e. viruses, trojans, mal- or adware, in my computer that would hinder my going to Microsoft Web sites.

I have a friend who is an IT guy who has tried to help, but he is stymied by this as well. Please help.

A: The Internet has a name-lookup service called DNS. Think of it as a giant 411 service for your computer.

Every time that you try to access a Web site by name, the DNS service is invoked in order to obtain an IP address — in the same way that the 411 operator gives you a phone number when you provide him or her with the city, state, address and name of the party you are looking for.

The dialogue might look like this:

DNS Operator: Good morning, how may I help you?

PC: I want to go to www.FoxNews.com.

DNS Operator: I'm sorry, I do not have a listing for a computer named "www" at FoxNews.com. Let me transfer you the Master DNS Operator <click>.

Master DNS Operator: Good morning, and where do you want to go today?

PC: I want to go to www.FoxNews.com.

Master DNS Operator: I'm so sorry, I have no listing for FoxNews.com, nor for a computer named "www" at that location. Allow me to transfer you to the Dot-Com Operator <click>.

Dot-Com Operator: Good Morning, how may I assist you?

PC: I want to go to www.FoxNews.com.

Dot-Com Operator: I'm sorry, I don't have a listing for a computer named "www" at FoxNews.com. I do, however, have a listing for an operator who is authoritative for all the computers there. Let me transfer you <click>.

FoxNews DNS Operator: Good morning, how may I impress you today?

PC: I want to go to www.FoxNews.com.

FoxNews DNS Operator: I have a listing for that very computer! The IP address is 01010000100110100111010100011000 (computers all speak binary, y'know). Have a nice day! <click>.

A bit whimsical, I know. But the computer version of this dialogue is invoked each and every time you go to a page that your DNS server hasn't looked up before.

Now suppose that you have an address book on your desk, which you consult in order to save the $1.95 the 411 operator charges.

Windows systems have the equivalent of that address book. It's located in a file called HOSTS in the C:Windowssystem32driversetc subdirectory. It's always consulted before the request goes out to the DNS server.

I expect that your problem is a bad entry in that HOSTS file. Some malware programs will put an entry there in order to direct you to a different place than where you think you're going.

Be thankful that Microsoft was the target of this little prank, and not your bank, for example. Imagine what could happen if you were successfully redirected to a site that contained an exact duplicate of your online banking home page. You supply your user name and password and the next thing you know, your money's vanished.

To correct the problem, use a text editor to remove every line containing "Microsoft.com" from your HOSTS file — or have your IT guy do it if you're uncomfortable editing system files.

Alternatively, there's a program that will reset your HOSTS file back to factory specs. Follow the instructions at http://forums.majorgeeks.com/showthread.php?t=138700.

Guy R. Briggs is a member of the Nerds On Site international IT service team and is based in Los Angeles.

Got questions about computers and technology? Send them to TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we'll answer selected ones in our next installment.

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