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.
My grandfather had, in my estimation, one of the great answers to "How old are you?"
"I'm as old as my tongue," he would say, "and a little bit older than my teeth!"
Anyway, as I inch closer to geezerhood my own self, I enjoy the occasional good-natured poke at technology, especially the 'Net.
It seems that the two hecklers from The Muppet Show have discovered the Internet. Start your Tech Tuesday with a good laugh here.
Yes, But Can I Get Broadband?
Q: Some people tell me that broadband isn't available at my house. Others say that if my cell phone works at home, so will broadband. Who's right?
A: The term "broadband," as you're using it, means any kind of Internet connection with a download speed faster than that of a standard dial-up modem, which peaks at 56 kbps (Nerdspeak: kilobits per second, or how fast a thousand zeros and ones are transmitted).
The hallmarks of "broadband" are "high-speed" and "always-on" Internet, and it comes in several flavors.
For a home user, the most common flavor is DSL (digital subscriber line) which is just a complicated way of saying that your high-speed Internet service comes from the phone company over copper wires — generally the same copper wires used to deliver your plain old telephone service.
DSL is limited by distance: The further you are from the central office, the slower your DSL connection will be.
Once you hit the distance limit, you'll get no DSL at all — hence "not available" at your home.
Another popular option is cable Internet, where you get your high-speed Internet over the same wire used for your cable TV service.
This type of broadband is limited more by availability than by distance: If you can get cable TV in your home, chances are you can also get cable Internet. There's no distance issue.
Out here on the Left Coast, cable tends to be faster than DSL, but it's also a little more expensive.
A third possibility is satellite TV Internet service, where the only limitation is a clear view of the southern sky (at least in the northern hemisphere). This is the only option for people in some rural areas where cable TV isn't available.
Here, the main problem is "latency." As fast as satellite signals are, it still takes a noticeable amount of time for the signal to get from the ground to high Earth orbit and back again.
This makes this type of connection unsuitable for some applications — online gaming, for example.
Finally (and, more to your question), there's wireless broadband, where you get your high-speed Internet service using the same technology as your cell phone.
If your cell phone works at home, so will wireless broadband. The same is true if you're on the road with your laptop.
Talk to your cell-phone provider — it will fix you up with the wireless PC card and a data plan to go along with it.
Prices are getting better, but be prepared for some sticker shock. Also pay close attention to how much data you are allowed per month.
Often, cell providers define "unlimited" as "limited to 5 gigabytes" or some such. If you go over your limit, it can be more expensive than using too many minutes on your cell phone.
If you have more than one computer in your home (or just want the extra security), you can share your wireless broadband connection by using a special router such as the Kyocera KR-1. The PC card slides into the back, add power, and you're good to go.
Seeing Double, Seeing Red?
Q: I'm using a Dell Inspiron E1705 laptop (17-inch screen) running Vista with Service Pack 1. The graphics processor is the Mobile Intel GM 945 Express Chipset.
I recently connected a Viewsonic Professional Series P225f (22-inch) CRT monitor and set the displays to "Extended Desktop" with the CRT as the No. 1 display.
I do this to take advantage of the larger screen and higher resolution of the Viewsonic (currently set at 1600 x 1200) since the other option available — "Dual Display Clone" — displays the same screen dimensions and resolution on both screens and uses the native (and only) settings of the laptop (1440 x 900).
Everything works just fine except for one (well two, but related) very annoying problem.
The desktop icons won't stay put and get randomly rearranged within an area the size of the notebook's desktop. I keep quite a few shortcuts on my desktop and organize them according to function, and this makes it hard to find what I'm looking for.
I've tried every conceivable configuration including moving the icons to the notebook's screen, logging off and back on to save the settings, setting and then disabling the various display sort settings, and even keeping them within this invisible 17-inch confinement.
But after coming out of screensaver mode or hibernation, they're jumbled again.
Is there any way to save these desktop icon settings and to use the area outside of the 17-inch box area for my icons? Perhaps there's a hidden setting in Vista, or a third-party utility that could handle this.
A: There's indeed a third-party utility that may solve the problem for you: Desktop Icon Save & Restore, by Jamie O'Connell. You can download a copy from http://www.midiox.com/html/desktop.htm. Thanks and a hat tip to a fellow Nerd — Gavin Weir, New South Wales, Australia, for the reference.
We're From the Government, We're Here to Help!
Q: I've heard that I won't be able to watch broadcast TV next year. Apparently all TVs must be switched to digital by the end of February. Do I need to get a new TV? I can't afford cable TV. What's the government doing about this?
A: Feb. 17, 2009 is the date you're interested in. On that day, "the era of analog broadcast television in the United States will end as the nation's full power television stations complete their transition to an all-digital system." This is by federal mandate.
In a nutshell, if you get your TV signals via a roof antenna or the TV's own "rabbit ears," you'll need to buy a converter box.
Those are expected to cost $50 to $70, but you can download a coupon at http://www.dtv2009.gov to make up for most of the cost. It's $40 per coupon, and each household is eligible for two.
If you get your television programming via cable or satellite, you don't have anything to worry about.
On the other hand, if you've got one of those little portable TVs, or a boom-box style receiver that also gets television audio — well, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you.
One last bit of advice: Go out and get the converter now while there's still a good selection of makes and models. I expect there will be quite a run on these things during the first couple of weeks of February.
I received some feedback on last installment's Audacity/Audition problem, no pun intended.
If you're using an audio interface, you'll need to enable direct monitoring to hear what you're recording in same-time. I haven't worked with Audacity or Audition, but if they're like most audio programs, direct monitoring can be accessed directly on the audio track in the program. If not, you'll have to enable it in the interface's control panel.
Also: I had a similar problem with audio software, and if you adjust the buffer rate on the sound card until it matches, you should be ok. If you go too far, you'll get distortion.
Thanks, and a hat tip to Anthony in Winston-Salem and Matt (wherever you are), respectively. As always, feedback is appreciated here at Tech Q & A.
Guy R. Briggs is a member of the Nerds On Site international IT service team and is based in Los Angeles.
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