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Friday, November 12, 2004

Net music's next step

To file-sharing kids, a CD that tells you to go ahead, "rip, sample, mash, and store" these tunes to your heart's content, should be no big deal. In fact, the new, "100% legal" Wired CD, bundled into Wired magazine's November issue, is an anomaly - and an important next step for the online music scene. You can copy, share, remix, build on, do anything noncommercial that you want with the music on this CD of 16 songs, with the up-front permission of their creators - e.g., David Byrne, Chuck D, Gilberto Gil, Matmos, Spoon, Beastie Boys.

"It's the boldest experiment yet in trying to catalyze support for copyrights compatible with the digital reality of the 21st century," according to the San Jose Mercury News - an experiment by and with the Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization founded by Stanford law professor and copyright innovator Lawrence Lessig. For more on this milestone, please see the latest issue of my newsletter this week.

Canada's anti-bullying week

Bullying stops in less than 10 seconds more than half the time (57%), when peers intervene on behalf of the victim. That statistic from a York University study may be why Canada's National Bullying Awareness Week (11/15-21) this year focuses on "Rise Above the Rest - Don't Be a Bystander." The awareness campaign, sponsored by and the Family Channel, challenges kids to "Take the Pledge" against bullying. Some 55,000 young Canadians took the pledge last year, the campaign's first year. Information on all aspect of the program ("Canada's Caring Kid" awards, guidelines on how kids can intervene without escalating the incident, a workshop timetable, discussion topics, etc.) can be found in the Bullying Awareness Week Toolkit and at (under "What's New" in the left-hand column). Help with online versions of bullying - on cell phones and in instant-messaging, chat, and email - is at (also by dad, educator, and creator of Bill Belsey) and, more for parents and educators, at the US-based Our recent series on "The IM life of middle-schoolers" may also be useful; it starts here.

Beware Bofra virus!

I've gotten a lot of emails trying to get my PC infected with it - to no avail, I'm happy to report. They all purport to be from PayPal, saying my account had successfully been credited for $175, and I would soon be receiving the item I'd ordered. I have to admit this concerned me a bit the first time I saw it, and I was tempted to click on the link, but instead went to PayPal, logged on to my account, and checked to see if there was any reference to $175 in it. There was not. After I'd gotten several of these, I realized it was yet another email hoax.

The key is not to click on the link provided. That's what leads to PC infection, the BBC reports, taking you to the Web site that turns your computer into a zombie the operators can manipulate remotely. "Essentially, Bofra turns infected machines into small web servers that happily dole out copies of the virus." Besides PayPal, the virus email also poses as a porn provider, saying its links are to a porn site, the BBC adds. This virus is tricky, too, because it doesn't carry infected code with it and thus can get past a lot of anti-virus software. Tell your kids: Don't click on any links in emails unless you're absolutely sure they're from people you know; if you're not sure, ask tech-savvy family members or friends!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

MSN's cool search tool

Microsoft's sleek new search tool - meant to rival Google, as well as A9, Clusty, the new Jeeves, and all the other next-generation ones (see "Speaking of search engines," 10/22) - launched today. "It shows all the signs of becoming a very serious challenger," writes the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg. Like Google, it will soon include the option to search your own PC (the whole thing's still in beta, so not all on line as yet). There are a lot of things it does like Google (tho' the former just upped the number of Web pages it crawls to a staggering 8 billion, compared to the 5+ billion MSN claims). Unique to MSN is real answers (from Microsoft's Encarta) to fact-type questions, results "near me" (like local restaurants), and a fascinating new tool called "search builder" that I checked out. Search builder lets you search with in a single Web site you put in the search box; find sites that link to a site of your choice (bloggers will love this); search sites in a language or based in a country or region you specify; adjust your search parameters (say whether you want only very popular sites returned, or sites updated recently, or if you want an exact match to your search query or only an approximate one). As with Google, you can also search just news coverage and images, but Mossberg says MSN's music search is better (maybe because MSN has a music store?): "I typed in 'Rolling Stones' and was able to click on, and hear, previews of several Stones songs right from the search result. I was also able to go directly to a page in the MSN music store where I could buy the songs."

Parents will also want to note that MSN search can be filtered. Its default setting is " Moderate - Filter sexually explicit images only," so if you want most sexually explicit text filtered too, from the main page, click on "Settings" under the search box, then on "Strict" under "SafeSearch." You'll need to click "Save" at the bottom to save this setting for whenever MSN search is used on this computer (it stays that way, even if the PC's turned off, till someone changes the setting). Of course, this measure works best when accompanied with a house rule about not changing search-engine and other parent-imposed settings. Here are the New York Times, the BBC, and CNET's spotlight on this.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

'Mobile [phone] clubbing'

Most surprising is that it's silent, but also seemingly spontaneous and every bit as energetic as the dancing that occurs in nightclubs. In this case (at London's Waterloo Station), 20 or 30 people are dancing in a Conga line at 6:45 pm, all to the sound of their own iPods. "Other commuter look on dumbfounded," The Register reports. "It is unclear where the concept of Mobile Clubbing originates but one thing is clear, that in the world of spontaneous mass public gatherings, it has replaced Flash Mobbing." All kinds of people participate, tipped off via chatrooms, phone texting, and sometimes on the spot via their own eyes - whole families, youth, older people, all colors, all just having fun. Sounds infectious. Will it cross The Pond to the States? I'll let you know if I hear of anything, but do I sound old if I say what an amazing age we live in?

Moms are gamers too!

Online gaming is not just child's play. Look at the success of Club Pogo. Its card, board, puzzle, and word games "attracted an astonishing 500,000 subscribers" in its first year as a paid service ($4.99/month), and 75% of its members are women whose average age is 35 (spending an average of 50 hours a month playing games), reports. The article cites Pew Internet & American Life figures showing that nearly half (48%) of all broadband Internet users play games online. They're the new online porn, though a bit more respectable, eContent says, explaining that "just as cable TV and satellite companies understood long ago that soft-core porn is the content that brings many people into a distribution network, ISPs like Comcast and RCN are already partnering with games providers in order to add value and differentiation to their high-speed offerings."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Halo 2: Redmond blockbuster?!

Halo 2 is huge news in the tech media this week, and all the hype may add to kid pressure on parents to buy it. The $49.99 video game is the sequel to "the most successful title ever released for Microsoft's Xbox," CNET reports, and big kids around the country stayed up all night just to wait in line for hours to buy this shooter game. Parents, note the "M" rating. According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board (, games rated "M" for "Mature" "have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain mature sexual themes, more intense violence and/or strong language." The game's release rivals Hollywood's blockbuster movie releases. CNN said today that Halo 2 could make $75 million in its first 24 hours of availability in stores (1.5 million copies were pre-ordered). That compared to "The Incredibles," which grossed $70.7 million over the weekend.

"How big is 'Halo 2'?" CNN asks. "When the clock struck midnight, some 7,000 toy, video game and electronics stores around the country opened their doors and welcomed thousands of eager players. In New York's Times Square, the Toys R Us flagship store hosted a massive launch party, complete with celebrity guests," while 1,500 customers wrapped themselves around the block waiting for the store to open this morning. Microsoft's not resting on these laurels, though - there are "only" 18 million of its Xbox consoles in US homes, compared to 75 million Sony PlayStation 2s (and the mere 16 million GameCubes), USATODAY reported.

So what's the draw? "Stunning, colorful, cinematic visuals," "a story arc," "evocative, monk-like music," and "fast, violent action," according to the Washington Post, which tells of dads getting together with their consoles as in the old poker days and playing Halo over cigars, peanuts, and beer, with the Virginia Tech-North Carolina football game going in the background. "The main character is Master Chief, clad in armor and a visored helmet, a human super-soldier whose goal is to discover the secrets of Halo and save it from the Covenant, the enemy aliens," the Post explains. Halo 2 brings the battle to Earth, where Master Chief is all that stands between the aliens and mass destruction, the Post adds. Wow, isn't that what the election was about? (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

Missing school PCs?

Check eBay. That's what a teacher in Los Angeles did - and that's where he found 10 Macintosh G5 computers (worth about $5,000 each) that had gone missing from his digital animation classroom, the Los Angeles Times reports. They were being auctioned off at eBay by two seniors (who were not in animation teacher Alan Evans's class) at the Palos Verdes high school. Evans told the Times he checked eBay because he didn't know of any way the computers could be unloaded quickly on the street. "With a few keystrokes, a listing popped up for the 10 computers at starting bids of $800 each and two addresses that investigators used" to arrest the suspects, both 18. Police found the Macs in a storage facility. None had been sold." Evans was kind of amazed the kids thought they had anonymity on eBay.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Baby bloggers...

...are no longer the brainchildren of only tech-literate parents. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, they're the new "mommy (and daddy) must-have," read not just by doting grandparents, but also by complete strangers. Of course, baby pix and milestones and parenting advice are still the mainstay of baby blogs. "The sites, with names such a 'Daddyzine' and "Bloggingmommies' "are this generation's baby books, although many bloggers also scrupulously record every burp, giggle and bottle in book form as well - which makes you wonder when they have time to actually care for the baby," the Inquirer reports, citing one expert as saying the baby variety has taken off faster than other types of blogs (well, maybe after US-based political ones in the past six months). What is clear is that, with the advent of blogs, or Web blogs, teenagers aren't the only age group making their private lives public. The $64,000 question(s) is: Is this a shift of thinking and behavior or, basically, a mistake? Do people mean to make the intimate details of their lives so public? Certainly, Anne Lear does (the mom whose blog leads the Inquirer piece). On the other hand, Martin Kelly, whose baby was threatened by someone who visited his baby page, would lean toward the mistake side of the question.

Part 2 of that question is: If people generally do want anyone to be able to access their psyches and lives, why? What is causing this trend? Maybe we always wanted to be this public but were only recently able to be because of the arrival of the Web and blogging tools that make it a cinch to put up a Web site? Any ideas, readers? Email me your thoughts at I'd especially like to hear from parents of teen bloggers!