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From Macs to MAC addresses, your questions answered

CNET to the Rescue listeners this week wonder what laptops to buy and how to make their networks, you know, work. Also, Rafe loves Chrome even more now that it's got Instant Search baked in.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
9 min read

Everyone's out but Rafe, so today you've got a one-man band answering tech questions, from the prosaic (Which laptop should I buy?) to the profound (Has my router been hacked?). Plus: Why to use an unstable version of Chrome. And more.

Got a tech question? E-mail rescue@cnet.com or leave it at our new toll-free number: 877-438-6688

Watch this: CNET to the Rescue Ep. 20: From Macs to MAC addresses, your questions answered


Episode 20: More of your questions answered

Road tests

Loving the Chrome Dev Channel Build.

Not loving Netflix on Tivo.


Joshua: I am looking to buy my first Mac and I was wondering if an iBook G4 is a good buy. I can find one on eBay for a low price. I would buy a MacBook, but right now I cannot afford one. Would an iBook serve me well as a first Mac or should I should look for something different?

Rafe: I would not recommend a G4. Apple has transitioned all its computers to Intel-powered CPUs, while the G4 is PowerPC. Most new software is written for the new Intel chips. Even the latest operating system, Snow Leopard, runs on Intel only. Any MacBook running an Intel chip should be current enough, and those can be found used, but I wouldn't go for the old architecture.


Megan: My laptop died yesterday and I'm in desperate need of a new one. I need a good one for video and photo editing (I'll be running CS5 for photos), and I want to get a good one that I'll have for a while. Recommendations? And Mac or PC?

Rafe: Avoid HP, per Molly. Budget is the key. Figure what you want before you buy. Don't get swayed at the store. Use CNET.com for product-specific advice. Don't forget to consider refurbs.


Matt Clower: I set my Time Capsule to be accessed remotely so my sister who lived in another state could share movies. I wrote an Apple script inside automator that mounts the drive over the Internet to her MacBook. Everything works perfect! Well now that she moved to Okinawa , her husband is Air Force, it won't connect. I don't see the problem, how come it connects stateside but won't overseas?

Rafe: This is a puzzler. At first I thought Matt was connecting via a VPN in the states, but that the VPN was blocking access from the airbase or an overseas ISP. But Matt says that the connection that worked was over the open Internet. So, that said, the answer may be in fact what I thought was causing the problem. In other words: Use a VPN, perhaps Hamachi from LogMeIn, to make the MacBook at the airbase appear to be on the same local network as the Time Capsule back here in the states.


Kish: Problem I'm having is that the wireless router that came with Verizon Fios (my Internet provider) doesn't seem to reach the rest of the house. I bought one of them antennas and attached it to the router. Did it work? Ehhh, sure, but very little bit. The router is located upstairs but in the basement there is still no signal at all.

My friend gave me an old router, a Linksys WRT300N Wireless N Broadband Router. I also have the router provided by Verizon, an Actiontec MI424WR. In addition, i have the entire house wired with gigabit LAN with ports in most of the rooms.

Ideally i would like to connect one of the routers to the port in the basement so it will provide a very strong signal throughout the basement. However, when i tried, It doesn't seem to connect at all.

I checked online for solutions, and basically what I read was that I should update the firmware to Tomato (or something like that) and then follow some complicated procedure on setting it up. Is that really necessary? My goal is to have a strong wireless signal throughout the house using the same SSID (if at all possible) with everything secure. Is it possible or am I asking too much?

Rafe: Darren from Hak5 told me this: The easy way to do it is using a feature called WDS, or Wireless Distribution System. Most newer routers/access points support the feature. The configuration is dead simple. You set all of the access points to the same SSID and check the box next to "enable WDS". The APs take care of the rest. Read more here and here. I use it at my house in Richmond. We have access points upstairs and downstairs and it works great.

I (Rafe) will add: Check out your Ethernet wiring, too. Make sure the signal from your upstairs room is reaching your downstairs. Are the rooms connected via a hub or switch?


Jasha M. Levi: Can you tell me how to convert my memoir for submission to Kindle? My problem is that, in addition to the printed book, I only have my publisher's PDF version of it. When Amazon application for Kindle converts it, the result is messy and it gives me no means to edit it. Amazon's advice keeps repeating that I need an HTML version. Is there a way to generate it on my Apple? And do I have to re-type the manuscript?

Rafe: Adobe has a PDF to HTML converter. You can e-mail your PDFs to it. There are also PDF to HTML and Word converters on CNET Download.com, just search for them.


Tony M: Between my children, my wife and myself, my home is teeming with computers. Off the cuff, I believe that there are 5 PCs running Windows 7 and two Snow Leopard Macs. Furthermore, we have a Playstation 3 and a Sony DLNA Wi-Fi Blu-ray player model: BDP-S570. Of course we have several iPod's and an iPad - I also ordered two Apple TVs. As you might imagine, with all this stuff, we're running several iterations of iTunes with media spread out all over the place. I have a home group setup so we can share but it's not optimum.

I have a dream...I would like to get a NAS media server with a centralized iTunes that could serve up the media on demand to any computer or device such as the Playstation 3 and the Blu-ray player. It would also be nice if the computers can be backed up to the NAS. Using the research resources at CNET I think that a Synology DS410j could fulfill my dream. What do you think? I was going to buy it with 2 one gig drives to start then expand it as I need to.

Rafe: My pal Jeremy Toeman at Stage Two has a home setup that I particularly admire. I asked him what he uses. He writes:

I use a ReadyNAS NV+, which I believe can handle every feature he's listed. That said, performance is not always what I want - as an example, Xbox photo slideshows perform terribly (not sure if it's xbox vs. readynas), though video playback is generally smooth. The spec does include DLNA support, Though that's obviously no guarantee of true compatibility. Works great with my Sonos, and perfect with Time Machine - which are my 2 top criteria.


Bob from Portage, MI: Is it possible to stream media across my home network from my Windows 7 PC to my wife's Roku box?

Rafe: Roku says, "At this point it is not possible however you are able to playback media from a USB Drive."

You might also check out Apple TV or another media extender.


Lincoln Banry: I have a real conundrum. I have a PC running Windows Vista with Softzilla & Free AVG. I also have a new iMAC running Snow Leopard and my son has an iTouch. They are all experiencing the same problem...random redirects. On my Mac & PC I have had them connected directly to my cable modem at different times and they still get redirected, I have also tried running either my Mac or PC with the other turned off and the problem persists. And finally two days ago my son got the same error on his iTouch when surfing the Internet wirelessly from this same network.

After some research it looked like my PC might be infected by the Win32 worm, I found the javacpl.exe file. But I am not sure how a virus on my PC would affect my Mac and iTouch.

Rafe: It is possible that your ISP or router is the cause of the problem. This is highly unusual, but if your iPod Touch and Macs all have the same problem, it is the simplest explanation.


Keith the tech-savvy fireman: I am a firefighter in Maryland and in desperate need of open Internet access at our Firehouse. We are planning on using the local ISP (Comcast) to provide service to the station, but in order to pay for it, we are going to split the cost amongst the people that are willing to pay for it. I am trying to find a system that I can manage (remotely as I live over 100 miles away from my station) to provide access to this upcoming wireless Internet. I know that using MAC address filters is not the best (or easiest) way as we will have people using phones, laptops, iPods, and iPads on the network. What can you guys recommend? Thanks from a longtime listener and first time e-mailer.

Rafe (with thanks to Josh): If you want to keep it open, then yes, MAC address filtering is terrific, you just have to be willing to help people find that information and get it to you, which can be a pain if you've got a lot of people. Also, MAC addresses can be hacked. Otherwise, just lock it down with a password, and dole out that password to the people who are paying. Since they're firepeople, I'm guessing they'll be honest about it. Most routers offer remote access to change settings from a computer that's not on that network.


Brandon: I recently purchased TiVo Premier and it opened my eyes to new DVR world. I've been using generic DVR from my cable company for years and despite its somewhat sluggish interface I am loving it so far. Because TiVo's fantastic availability to find movies and shows I am typing more using D-Pad and it is not very convenient. I heard I can use generic USB keyboard w/ TiVo Premier but I want to use my existing MS 3000 keyboard / mouse combo already installed on my HTPC (Win 7) on my big-screen TV. Can I use KVM switch to use my keyboard on both my HTPC and Tivo Premier? If yes, which kind do you recommend and if NOT what is my next feasible solution? Thanks.

P.S.: I don't want to buy TiVo remote w/ keyboard because I already own Harmony One to control my TV and AV system.

Rafe: I don't see why not. I've had good luck with IOGear KVMs. But I have not tried it, so get a KVM with a return policy. Obviously software-only solutions, like Synergy, won't work


Comments and advice from listeners

Greg in California: While I agree with your assessment that the girls from the September 29 show need to get their own Wi-Fi Router, the big reason for this was not among your comments. The big risk is not so much the snooping on their traffic (which IS a risk, don't get me wrong), but rather the fact that all the girls' computers are on the same side of the router's firewall as the boys. That means that the boys will have direct access to the girls' computers, plus or minus whatever firewall software their computers have installed. Any vulnerabilities in their computers or services they have installed (e.g. printers) will be directly accessible by anyone on that network, and because the boys aren't in the same room, there would be no way see what they are up to.


Brian Burwell: I recently had a similar problem (as Rafe did with the Sprint Overdrive) with my run of the mill Linksys LAN router. I have the Linksys WRT610N and periodically my laptop would just disconnect and would refuse to even see the router. The solution that I found was to turn off automatic channel switching. Since I picked a channel and stuck with it, I haven't had devices drop their connection other than them moving out of range. I'm certain the problem was cordless phones wreaking havoc on the router and causing it to constantly want to change channels which is something my laptop doesn't have the ability to handle.


Justin: My wife and I recently decided to drop our AT&T TV service. After the promo period ended and they added on fees for HD and DVR, we were paying $80/mo for the second lowest package with no premium add-ons.

We tried a converter box and antenna which lasted about 15 minutes. We've been using Hulu to catch some shows and it's working quite well. We just got our invite for Hulu Plus and with our Netflix subscription, we're now paying $22 for pretty much the same thing. It may not be exactly the same, but the $60 difference is enough to sway me. There are plenty of places to go watch Packers games live. Love the show.



Next time, more of your questions answered.

Send any tech questions our way: rescue@cnet.com. Or call 877-438-6688.