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Friday, July 23, 2004

Free iPods for students

Every single one of the 1,650 freshmen arriving at Duke University for the new school year next month will receive a brand-new 20GB iPod. "The North Carolina university said the iPods will be pre-loaded with information for new students, as well as a copy of the academic calendar," the BBC reports. "They will also hold course material such as lecture notes and audio books." Then there's music. Quite possibly to draw student interest away from all the music file-sharing that plagues university network administrators, Apple has also set up a special version of its iTunes online music store for Duke (and presumably other schools that follow suit). Duke says the iPods will be great for courses that have audio elements. Here's coverage at Wired News too.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

For families seeking safer surfing

Mozilla's Firefox is great, but there are other very viable options if you're disenchanted with Internet Explorer, Wired News reports. The article reviews iRider ($30), Deepnet Explorer (free), and Opera (free with ads or $39 ad-free). On the Mac side, there's also a quick mention of Apple's admirable Safari, "lest [Wired News] gets pelted with emails from disgruntled Mac fans." For more on this, see our "New family PC risks: Web sites," 7/2.

BT's scary child-porn data

British Telecom's new Net-filtering tool is blocking more than 20,000 attempts to access child pornography a day, Reuters reports. BT said there is no way to tell how many users are going to such sites by accident. The filtering technology, which only blocks illegal child porn sites (not adult content in general), is called "Cleanfeed." BT uses it for its 2.5 million retail (non-business) customers. Cleanfeed automatically checks requests against a database of thousands of child-porn sites identified by the UK nonprofit Internet Watch Foundation. The IWF's real-time database is updated every time an illegal (under the UK's 1978 Child Protection Act) site is found. BT says it doesn't attempt to identify the people making the requests or pass such info along to police. Here's further coverage in ZDNet UK and The Telegraph.

Kid Net-safety tools reviewed

Reviews of online-kid-protection software and services are few and far between these days, so hats off to PC Magazine for keeping online families up to date on what's available. Echoing what all online-kids advocates are saying, its intro says porn isn't parents' only worry. Besides the relatively rare sexual-predator danger (see "Rethinking 'stranger danger'," 6/11), there's the infinitely more commonplace teen online social scene. "Computers have become a hub for social activity. And for the most part, it is an unsupervised environment. Many parents go to sleep every night convinced that their kids are sleeping too, while some of the kids are actually chatting online with friends and strangers." As great as the Net is, for the most part, for everything from research to keeping in touch, some parents could use a little help from technology itself on the tech part of parenting. "The good news," says PC Mag, "is that the products on the market offer a variety of approaches, so finding the right solution shouldn't be too difficult." They looked at all kinds of solutions. The categories are: Filtering Software, Kids' Browsers and Services (e.g., AOL's "KOL" and "RED"), Router-Based Parental Controls, and Monitoring Software. The page layout for this resource could be a little confusing because the pages are long and have all kinds of unrelated content; so all you need is linked to from the little green-bordered Table of Contents box on the right-hand side of each page.

Kids' own digital DJ

He calls us parents "the wrinklies," but that's ok - it's all in fun. He's Rick Adams, DJ for AOL's live (3-7pm Eastern) Internet radio show for kids at Radio KOL (for AOL members only), and 1 million 6-to-14-year-olds listen to him every weekday, the Washington Post reports. "They email and instant-message him, they badger him for giveaways, they send their shout-outs to friends and family, and they ask for songs, some of which are way inappropriate and which he can't play, but most of which he can and does." He also puts a lot of kids on the air when they call in. Then there are all the IMs (as many as 400 IMs knocking at his computer screen at any given time during the show) and emails (he gets about 5,000 a day!). Rick's only direct competitor is Radio Disney, with 3.5 million listeners (only on satellite radio, digital cable TV, or - as with KOL - online, not conventional radio).

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Broadband: Family-life essential?

To some families, having high-speed Internet access is like having electricity and running water. In her readable way, the New York Times's Katie Hafner shows what life is like in households that have had broadband connections for years. She talked to families in Scripps Ranch, "a sprawling development of about 12,000 homes at the northeast corner of San Diego" and one of Time Warner's first test locations for its high-speed Road Runner service. For example, in the Gibb home, "the large, airy upstairs den ... is the electronics hub, filled with computers, printers, a cable modem and a router. Downstairs are another two computers and a printer. Everything is on a network. Each of their 13-year-old twin sons, Morgan and Cayman, has his own computer, and neither can remember life without broadband," Katie writes. The boys could do without TV, but - like many teenagers these days - not without the Net, which makes grounding from cyberspace a much more effective disciplinary tool than the kind we baby boomers had to deal with when teenagers. When Morgan lost IM privileges for a month, he "went nuts," his mother told Katie.

P2P: The next generation

Napster came first and Kazaa represented the 2nd generation. Notice the past tense. Parents of file-sharers may want to know that next-generation BitTorrent has surpassed former file-sharing leader Kazaa, CNET reports. Citing a detailed worldwide survey by UK network management company CacheLogic, CNET says BitTorrent now accounts for 53% of all peer-to-peer traffic, which is "skyrocketing," contrary to some reports. BitTorrent is the next generation because of its technology as much as its traffic. One of its attractions - in the face of anti-piracy lawsuits by record, software, and film companies - is that it's harder to track. That's because, unlike Kazaa and eDonkey, it doesn't represent a single network of file-sharers. Rather, it "works by creating smaller networks based on a single piece of content - say, the latest episode of 'The Sopranos.' Because each file has its own network, it is much harder to estimate how widespread use of the software has been." Meanwhile, popular Israel-based iMesh soon will no longer be a free file-sharing service. It agreed to block "unauthorized file-sharing" on its service and to pay the RIAA $4.1 million in a legal settlement this week, The Register reports. The service, whose software had been downloaded more than 76 million times, later this year will be a pay-per-tune one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Web: Teen source for sex ed

The beauty of the Web for teens is that it helps them avoid asking embarrassing questions. Its anonymity eliminates "the awkwardness factor," when they have questions about things like emergency contraception or sexually transmitted diseases, reports (in Lakeland, Fla.). "Research has shown the Internet is rapidly becoming a primary source of information about sex and personal health for teens," according to The Ledger, which adds that health officials are concerned about the credibility of the Web sources they're turning to and the teens' own critical judgment about them. Here are some state the article cites from various studies:

-76% of 15-to-17-year-olds online had looked up information on diet, health and fitness in 2002; 33% of those teens had researched HIV and AIDS, 25% sexually transmitted diseases, and 20% pregnancy or birth control (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2002).
- Half of 10th-graders had used the Internet to get health information - most frequently sexually transmitted diseases, followed by diet, fitness and exercise, then sexual behaviors (Mount Sinai Hospital Adolescent Health Center, NY, 2001).
- About 66% of US teens 12-17 use the Internet - Pew Internet & American Life project (no date given).

Monday, July 19, 2004

Spammer started at 14

Michigander Ryan Pitylak was 14 when he started his career as an "online marketer" in 1997. Now he's a 22-year-old student at University of Texas, living in his own $450,000 house in "one of Austin's nicest neighborhoods" and driving a "late-model Jaguar," the Chicago Tribune reports. One of his companies spams people with "5 Free Health Insurance Quotes" or "Incredible 3.51% Mortgage Rates" or "Home Invasion Protection." The Trib says that people do click on the links in these emails and fill out the forms they lead to, which earns Ryan $3-7 per referral. The insurance agents who pay for these referrals told the Trib they don't ask questions about how Ryan gets them. Ryan, this article indicates, is a typical spammer, and the typical spammer sends out millions of emails a month - in a very automated way, of course, so he still has time for his university studies. What will be interesting, though, is whether the Federal Trade Commission enforces the CAN-SPAM Act (with which some of Ryan's messages do not comply) and prosecutes. That might interfere with the studies.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Video game camp

Hmmm. The campers are "all guys ages 15 to 20," USAToday reports. Though this all sounds a bit sexist, the good news is, they're using New York University's Center for Advanced Digital Application's "cutting-edge facilities to learn the techniques behind best-selling digital masterpieces such as Doom, Quake, and Madden NFL Football." Typical day at camp? "Campers will arrive each day for a 9 a.m. warm-up of playing time-tested analog games like chess or cards, followed by a discussion of the elements that explain the games' persistent popular appeal. Lights-out could happen more than 14 hours later, if they choose to work in the computer lab from 9 to 11 p.m." Campers can choose from three majors: art, design, or programming. We hope there are camperships for this elite-sounding program that costs more than $5,000.