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Friday, April 15, 2005

Tips from a tech-savvy dad, Part 2

This week's focus in my newsletter: instant-messaging. "Rachel," 11, does a lot of it with her friends. So I asked our Calif.-based tech executive and dad "Tom" (changing their names to protect Rachel's privacy) how he helps his daughter keep her IM experiences positive. He offered some precautions for fellow parents of young communicators - with a heads-up about "spim," the pesky new IM version of spam now coming to instant messenger users everywhere (this week Reuters had to shut down its whole corporate IM network because of a worm circulating via instant messages purporting to be from friends on people's buddy lists, ZDNET reported).

Number of young gamblers is up

The Internet reportedly has a role in increased gambling by young people. "For the first time, experts and treatment centers that deal with problem gamblers across the country are seeing an increasing number of adolescents who have developed serious gambling problems," the Christian Science Monitor reports. It cites the situation in Connecticut, where it was once rare for any gambling treatment center to have clients under 18. "Now, 11 youngsters are in formal programs getting help. And a youth gambling education group in Minnesota says it's seeing "a tremendous increase" in demand from schools and youth organizations "looking for tools to help kids deal with problem gambling." The Monitor points out two Web resources from the North American Institute for Training in Duluth, Minn., one for kids ( and one for parents (, with a fund of links to research on the subject).

iPods banned in Oz school

I've heard of school rules about cell phones, but this is the first case I've seen involving iPods. "The yuppie consumer gadget will not be permitted in class, because it encourages kids to be selfish and lonely, according to the school principal, UK-based The Register reports from San Francisco (a very international report!). "Principal Kerrie Murphy noticed that iPod-toting children were isolating themselves into a cocoon of solipsism." Sounds a little like what can happen on occasion at our house! Anyway, it's a thoughtful, rather irreverent piece about how technology can both enhance and limit our interaction with and openness to each other.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

'Flashy' phones kids will love

More evidence that cell phones are the new (Net-connected) PCs: Macromedia's plans for phones with its Flash software. You see it on cell phones all over Asia, with their "colorful animation, games, and menu interfaces ... unlike anything seen in this country," USATODAY reports. "Today, the cell phone is a communication device, but several new models tout features such as instant messaging [also a communication device for teenagers!], games and the ability to listen to digital music and watch video clips. Such features are expected to become standard as cell phone models get much more powerful in coming years." Such features will also make cell phones - and the mobile Internet - even more appealing to kids and teens, presenting fresh challenges to parents who want them to have good experiences with the Net.

An example: "Edmonton, Alberta, Flash developer Grant Skinner ... foresees a time soon when a camera phone with embedded Flash software snaps a picture and instantly uploads it to the Internet, allowing for comments to be posted online and sent back to the phone." And some numbers: "About 1.6 billion cell phones are in use worldwide." Some 650 million were sold last year (only 199 million in '04), with a projected 890 million by 2008. Of course, game players and IM devices like Zipit also make the Net mobile for kids.

P2P: Fueling broadband growth everywhere

First we were breathless watching the phenomenal growth of the Web itself (see my lead item back in 10/00). Then it was the number of people going online. Now the breathtaking stats are about broadband adoption (fast connections in homes). And guess what's fueling its high-speed growth? File-sharing, Wired News reports. Because of it, "demand for bandwidth grew 42% in 2004." I was amazed to discover recently that P2P traffic "significantly outweighs Web traffic," according to UK-based CacheLogic, which tracks Internet traffic worldwide. That's right: More people use the Net for file-sharing than for surfing the Web. And P2P "is continuing to grow," CacheLogic adds. Lately, the interest has shifted from music to video, Wired News reports. "Efforts by the film and recording industries to crack down on illegal trading of copyright works haven't resulted in a drop in traffic volumes." For an amazing, at-a-glance shot of what Net traffic looks like, see this slide from a CacheLogic presentation. It represents '04 Net-traffic data compiled from the largest ISPs in Europe, the US, Latin America, and East Asia (the little red stripe is Web traffic, dwarfed by the big, fat gray, fuscia, and turquoise stripes for file-sharing). One begins to see what the media companies are up against and wonder how much even 10,000 lawsuits can really stem the tide.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Flak for Grouper file-sharing

Grouper was thought to be a safe, legal alternative to P2P, but BMG Music thinks not, the Los Angeles Times reports. BMG says it doesn't see the difference between millions sharing files via, say, Kazaa, and a closed group of 30 people (Grouper's group limit) sharing files among each other. Grouper's creators say that group size isn't the only distinguishing factor; files are streamed, or played across the Net, not downloaded from friends' PCs. The LA Times cites copyright experts as saying there's no clear answer as to what's legal, here. Grouper is one of a number of services that represent a trend in online media-sharing predicted by Net pundit and New York University prof. Clay Shirky: sharing across small *private* networks. In an email, Clay also cited as examples Groovenetworks (recently acquired by Microsoft),, and Waste (I can't find a site, but it was described back in '03 by CNET and CNN).

Get the new patches!

Microsoft just released eight new security patches for Windows computers, five of them critical, VNUNET reports. The critical ones help keep malicious hackers from taking control of our PCs. To make sure you have them (some Windows XP systems are set to download patches automatically), go to Windows Update, where Microsoft will scan your system for patch needs, tell you what it needs, and let you download patches.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

More P2P 'pirates' to walk plank

The litigation part of the music industry's anti-file-sharing fight hasn't let up. This time, the RIAA is focusing on university students who have been using the next-generation, high-speed Internet2 research network to do their media-sharing, CNET reports (via Internet2, full-length movies can be downloaded in a few minutes). The Web site enabling P2P at that level is, which was thought to be a safe haven for P2P. Students at 18 universities will receive notice tomorrow. According to the Washington Post, the MPAA (film industry association) plans to go after file-sharers on Internet2 as well, and the RIAA has now passed the 10,000 lawsuits mark. For some students' views on all this, see the Washington Post's Random Access column. Across the oceans, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) in London, announced that it would be suing 963 file-sharers in Japan, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland and Iceland, Reuters reports, among them its first lawsuits in Asia. For a musician's pro-P2P perspective, see "Exploring the Right to Share, Mix and Burn" at the New York Times.

Microsoft helps cops catch predators

Canadian police and Microsoft have just increased the odds against online pedophiles. They've launched the "Child Exploitation Tracking System," a secure database housed at Ottawa's National Child Exploitation Coordination Center and "designed to help officers link and share huge amounts of information," the Associated Press reports. The database "contains information gathered from international sources as well as from investigating Canadian officers, allowing investigators to plug in an email address, credit-card number or even an Internet alias and see what related information may be known," the AP adds. The so far $3.7 million project is "a bit of a miracle," its originator said. It all started with a January '03 email to Bill Gates from Sgt. Paul Gillespie of the Toronto police sex-crimes unit, "asking for help in battling child pornography."

Parental controls on Apple's 'Tiger'

Parents will be able to tame the "Tiger" operating system. To be "unleashed" April 29, Apple's Tiger (OS X Version 10.4) will have significant parental controls for email, Web browsing, chat/instant-messaging, etc., and what software can be downloaded from the Web. This is news in our biz: an OS with parental controls bundled in. Parents will be able to give each family member his/her own account on the Mac, each account having "its own file storage location and personal settings," Apple says. "So when you log in with your password, you'll see your Desktop picture and you'll have access to your documents, pictures, bookmarks," software, etc., apparently right where you left off in your last session on the computer. Parents will be able to enable/disable CD or DVD burning; block IMs or emails from people not on a child's buddy list; limit a small child's surfing only to sites the parents bookmark; monitor and record a child's online activities; and decide which software applications kids can use. "A T-rated video game such as 'World of Warcraft' may be great for your teenage daughter, but you may not want your six-year-old to play along," says Apple about that last feature. Privacy is upgraded too: Under "Surf Securely" on this page, Apple says that by "using Safari's new Private Browsing feature, no information about where you visit on the Web, personal information you enter, or pages you visit are saved or cached." Here's early coverage from MacWorld and Techworld UK, but they don't say much about parental controls beyond Safari's child-bookmarks feature, which is really more for little kids because it'd be absurd to try bookmarking all the sites a teenager would need to visit even for a single school project or product research session.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Misleading Web sites: The upside

The Web is a tricky place for uncritical thinkers to gather information. But it can also be a wonderful tool for developing critical thinking. ran a helpful article recently showing how parents, teachers, and children can use that learning tool. A good example the piece points out is, run by a white supremacist group. "What better way for a hate group to get out their message than to disguise their agenda and masquerade their hate in a well designed, albeit historically inaccurate, Web site?" writer Frank Westcott asks. He offers tips and things to look out for in critical surfing, such as tildes (~) in URLs, checking whois to find out who's behind a site, and Google's links-to feature (showing all the hate groups that link to For more on this subject, see "Critical thinking: Kids' best tool for research."

You don't want this 'patch'!

Tell your kids *not* to download this "patch"! Malicious hackers are sending around an email that looks like it's from Microsoft Windows Update and that tells people to click on a link to what appears to be a Microsoft security-update page, ZDNET reports. The page is a fake, and if they click on the "patch" in it, they'll download a trojan virus that takes control of your PC. The email's subject looks like "Update your windows machine," "Urgent Windows Update," or "Important Windows Update," the San Jose Mercury News reports. What's extra tricky about this email is that it's circulating at the same time Microsoft does its monthly security update. Microsoft doesn't notify us about security patches via email. Everyone in your family should know to go only to the Windows Update page to see if a patch is needed (using the Internet Explorer browser - the page's system scanner doesn't work in Firefox). Here's the real Microsoft security notification page.