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Originally published March 14, 2014 at 3:35 PM | Page modified March 14, 2014 at 7:07 PM

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Radiation risk? More uncertainty about cellphones than Wi-Fi

Radio frequency exposure from Wi-Fi networks seems to be safe, writes Patrick Marshall, but he personally takes steps to reduce any possible effects from cellphone emissions. Other topics: replacing an outdated desktop computer, and use of Windows Media Player to play DVDs.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Q: I’m a 65-year-old who’s dealt with cancer, and now I’m concerned about exposure to EMF (electromagnetic field) and radiation from our various devices. I understand that living in this high-tech world is convenient, but it does come with a downside.

I’m especially concerned about exposing my granddaughter to Wi-Fi, as European studies have linked the uptick of brain tumors in children to this exposure.

I don’t want to be like a crazy person who runs around with tinfoil on her head, but there must be some way of minimizing exposure. We have, as well as our own, a minimum of four neighboring Wi-Fi networks coming into our home. Does router placement help? Or should we discontinued our service?

— Gail Jahn, Seattle

A: From my survey of the literature, I wouldn’t be concerned about exposure to Wi-Fi networks.

According to a Princeton University report, “It is the general consensus of the scientific community that the level of RF (radio frequency) exposure due to wireless networks is so low compared to the many other RF sources in the modern environment that health concerns from Wi-Fi exposure are not an issue.”

Some researchers, however, are concerned about emissions from cellphones, primarily since people often have them positioned very close to their heads. While the results of research on this are not definitive, I personally use a wired, non-Bluetooth earpiece when I can, and I don’t leave the cellphone on my nightstand (next to my head) overnight.

Q: I currently have a Dell PC that I use to work from home, and it holds all of my photos, videos and music. The PC is slowly dying (it’s Windows XP) and I’m looking to replace it.

I’ve read some articles that suggest PCs and laptops are going the way of the dodo bird, so I’m unsure if I should get another desktop. I need something that will hold all of these files but will also allow me to work using Office products.

There are just too many choices out there right now! Any suggestions?

— Michelle Baker

A: Well, I can tell you what I now use.

Yes, I still have a desktop computer, two actually. I also have a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 for traveling. It has enough system memory and storage that I can take the applications and data I need with me. And I sync the data files I use through the cloud.

What’s more, I carry my iTunes music on a 64-gigabyte microSD card that resides in the Surface Pro. (By the way, SanDisk just released the first 128-gigabyte microSD card.)

In fact, Microsoft offers a docking station for the Surface Pro, so I could just connect it to a large monitor and keyboard when I want. But for work I do with photographs and videos I need more than the maximum 8 gigabytes of system memory that the Surface Pro offers. The Surface Pro also maxes out at 512 gigabytes of storage, which isn’t enough for handling many large images and videos.

So what kind of device is right for you depends on just what you want to do. You can run Office and other productivity applications on ultrabooks or the Surface Pro, so start there.

Is there a reason that’s not enough for you? Do you need more memory, more drive space, a DVD drive, a faster graphics adapter or more capability to add devices?

Q: Thanks for your response to the query about playing DVDs using Windows Media Player. I went to the site you recommended —— to purchase the $10 add-on, but all Microsoft offered was Windows 8.1 Pro upgrade for $99. Any suggestions?

— Greg Goodell

A: My mistake. The $10 upgrade works only if you already have the Pro version of Windows 8.1.

If you don’t want to upgrade to the Pro version, you can download any of a number of free video players. I use VLC media player, which you can find at

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to or, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at

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