Helpdesk: Planning for the future

Q: One important part of long term storage for our digital photos is being able to find software that will open them far in the future. Will software 20 years from now be able to open the file, or will that format -- RAW, JPG or TIF, whatever -- have been abandoned? Bill Armstrong

A: It's a sensible concern, but computer formats don't disappear overnight, so you'd almost certainly have plenty of warning that the format was dyingand a chance to convert to a new one. Besides, even software that's been abandoned for years can usually be found on some obscure website. The main thing is just to keep your eyes open and realize you may need to convert at some point. I also advocate multiple storage modes for your most treasured shots -- children, family portraits and the like -- including old-fashioned prints.

Q: You wrote recently that people who need more than rabbit ears for TV reception can put an antenna in the attic. Keep in mind that if the roof material is metallic it will degrade signal. Hank Hirschfeld

A: You're right -- metallic roofing or even electrical wiring can interfere with reception. In most cases, an attic antenna can work just fine. But some homes will have attics that aren't suited for an antenna. Most home owners should use a professional installer who can do the job safely and also make sure the antenna installation will deliver a good picture.

Q: You said that software designed to protect kids online isn't the answer. But I still wonder if these programs might have value and also would like more precise recommendations on what -- other than these programs -- a parent can do. Amy Smith

A: While I'm not a big fan of these programs, they can be part of a comprehensive plan. The real danger is in believing they are a one-stopfix.

Most parents don't want their kids to drink until of legal age, or drive too fast or use drugs. But they can't lock them in their rooms to keep that from happening. It's the same when it comes to protecting kids online. You can't just lock them out of the computer world, no matter how hard you try.

So the solution is to have the sort of relationship with the kid that lets you work with them on the dangers. I know it's easier said than done, but doing that offers the best chance of success.