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Friday, August 05, 2005

For 'beautiful people' only

Heard of Teenagers you know probably have. It's a cross between (people rating) and (social networking) or maybe (online dating). As USATODAY puts it, it's "the electronic equivalent of the junior high cafeteria, with the popular kids - i.e., members - voting on whether to offer seats to the hopeful hordes." As the site itself describes the process, "Once you have uploaded your profile, you will be rated by existing members of the opposite sex over a three day period. They will judge whether your picture and profile are deemed attractive enough to grant you coveted access." What a marketing ploy! According to USATODAY, the service started in Denmark, moved on to the UK, and has just launched in the US. To look into this scene a little further, there's,, and; or just look up "rating sites" in a search engine.

Kids 'n' phones

The good news is they have parental controls, the bad news is they're not easy to program. USATODAY's Ed Baig looks at Firefly and TicTalk, cellphones targeting tweens (9-to-12-year-olds) but maybe best for the lower end of that spectrum. Control is more about who kids can call than the amount of talking, but TicTalk can be programmed to limit time spent talking with people at specific phone numbers. Check out the article for further detail.

Then there are the big kids - the ones leaving for distant schools in the fall. Net phoning, or VoIP (for voice-over Internet protocol), would certainly be the cheapest way to go, but before you go that route, read "Talk is Cheap, But Not That Cheap" on the realities of VoIP in the New York Times. If you're thinking cellular's the way to go, check out "Tough Course: The Calculus of Cellphones." Writer David Pogue is such a card: "When your child heads off to college for the first time, be prepared for some intense emotional displays: prolonged farewell speeches, physical clinging, hysterical weeping. Your child may show some emotion, too." But he gets serious and wades through the complexities of picking a plan, saying at least there are more family-plan options now.

A mom writes: Yaoi not for kids!

Like so many kids, when she was 12, Susanna (her mother asked me not to use her real name or current age) wanted to design and build her own Web site about her No. 1 interest in life: in Susanna's case, YuYu Hakusho. Her mother thought that was fine, until she found out what Susanna's research into Web-based anime and manga led her to: the X-rated subset of anime fan-art and fan-fiction online. It adds a new dimension to the chanslash phenomenon another mom emailed me about last spring, because yaoi is images as well as text (images are tougher to filter). For the complete story, please click to my feature this week.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Streaming: Legal listening online

Here's a new-old approach, at least for digital music fans who spend a lot of time at their computers for school or work. I say "new-old" because music streaming over the Web has been around for quite a while, but now it's really taking off, according to Slate. Why? It's free and it's legal. Entire albums are being streamed by record labels because they're finally getting it that piracy isn't really an issue with streaming - people will sample, enjoy, then go buy the CD. But Slate has some "tips for beginners" like "don't pony up for a subscription site … paying for streams is for suckers … [and] Google is a good first stop. Try typing in 'full album streaming'." Check out the piece for more tips. Meanwhile, file-sharing is not dead after the Supreme Court's decision against Grokster, it's just going underground. The New York Times describes the "darknet" - for anonymous file-sharing - that's been in the works. Today Agence France Press reported that "a test version … has been made available for download at the Freenet Web site, Ian Clarke of the project said." In other P2P news, the San Jose Mercury News reports on BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen's plans to commercialize the technology; TheLocal in Sweden reports that Internet service providers in that country say Sweden's month-old law banning file-sharing has had "no effect"; and the Grokster decision certainly isn't the end of headaches for the P2P services, US lawmakers have warned them, Wired News reports.

Tech opps for students

Aspiring game designers can now get some training (and degree credits, too!) at US colleges and universities, reports Washington Post columnist Robert MacMillan in what's turned out to be a kind of series on the subject. Yesterday he pointed to a story about Michigan State in the Detroit Free Press, saying that MSU's program "comprises 15 credit hours gained over a sequence of four classes on the history and social aspects of video games as well as a primer on game design" (sounds like a student will have to intern at a gamemaking company to learn advanced design, but it's a start). Then Robert heard from readers around the country about game design programs at University of Louisiana, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Southern California, Case Western Reserve University, and Montgomery College in Maryland, and wrote about it today. As for the technology students take to school with them, the New York Times helpfully points out that different schools have different policies. For example, the Citadel in South Carolina doesn't support Macs, and Carleton College in Minnesota requires computers "new enough to work on our network." Here are some students' own views on tech at school, courtesy of the Times.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Search engine update

When announced this week that it had added MSN Search to its collection, it also announced something any Web researcher should know: The top search engines turn up very different results. Dogpile cited the results of a University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University study "showing a surprising lack of duplication in the top results of the major search engines," Internet News reports.
"When the researchers ran 12,570 different queries through search engines at Yahoo, Google, MSN and Ask Jeeves, they found that only 1.1% of the results appeared on all four engines, while 84.9% of the top results were unique to one engine." Dogpile is what's called a "meta-search service," meaning that the search results you get come from several regular search engines - in this case Google, Yahoo, AskJeeves, and now MSN Search. Parents will want to note that does offer filtered searching (what I'd call a fundamental online-safety measure for connected households with kids), but it's a little harder to find than, say, MSN's or Google's SafeSearch (under "Settings" and "Preferences," respectively). When you're at the home page, click on "Advanced," then scroll down to the bottom of that page to find "Adult Filter," then click on "Preferences" to turn the filter on and keep it on (unless/until someone changes the setting). To make this online-safety measure work, of course, it usually needs to go with a rule about how kids use only designated (filtered) search engines and may not turn filtering off (or they lose Internet privileges or some such consequence).

Student software

The 2005 crop of back-to-school tech products was much in the news this week. Microsoft's just-released Student 2006 - a $100 DVD "packed with organization tools, templates and content to help middle and high school students in a variety of subjects," USATODAY reports - got both top billing and mixed reviews. Well-known tech educator Kathy Shrock told USATODAY that having all those tools in one place means kids can focus more on the content of their reports, graphs, etc., where the focus needs to be. But the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg wrote that, though "a sound idea," Student is "really a thin veneer thrown over several existing Microsoft products [Encarta, Office, and Internet Explorer], rather than an integrated program designed from the ground up" (see the article for his conclusion). The Washington Post says Microsoft really did its homework in putting Student together but "could have gone deeper in many areas." Basically, the depth is in technology (that's complicated to learn). For content depth, check out two other products USATODAY mentions: Destination Math: Mastering Algebra ($59.99) and Instant Immersion: Spanish ($29.99). Another USATODAY piece looks at the question of computers for the preschool set.

A blog a second

That's blogging's rate of growth, the BBC reports: Somewhere in the world, a new blog is created every second, according to blog tracker and search engine's fairly conservative figures. Last summer, the rate was every 5.8 seconds, as reported back then. That's 14.2 million blogs right now, up from 7.8 million in March. So the "blogosphere" (or blogging world) has doubled in five months. The Wall Street Journal's "Numbers Guy" looked at blog-measuring last May. For parents new to the concept, the New York Times has "Blogs 101." Other links that you might find helpful: "Bloggers vulnerable to hacks" and "A dad on kids' blogs: How father and daughter worked through the issues."

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

GTA game basically banned in Oz

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was effectively banned in Australia when the country's Office of Film and Literature Classification revoked its MA15+ rating after discovery of its hidden sexually explicit content, the BBC reports. MA15+ meant the game could only be sold to gamers over 15, and revoking the rating means San Andreas "can no longer be sold, hired, or advertised in Australia." Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this news out.

National child porn filter in Denmark

Denmark is joining Sweden in implementing nationwide filtering of online child pornography, DR NYHEDER reports in its English-language news. The filter "will block access to most child porn sites while at the same time informing people who try to enter these sites that they are breaking the law." Sweden introduced nationwide filtering in May "with great success," according to DR, adding that "some 10,000 attempts to access child porn on the Internet are currently blocked every day" in Sweden.

25% tax on Net porn?

That's what a group of US senators is proposing, but First Amendment experts say the legislation is unlikely to pass constitutional muster, CNET reports. For example, CNET cites the view of Prof. Jamin Raskin, who specializes in constitutional law at American University. The basic principle, Professor Raskin says, is that if you can't ban a certain category of expression, you can't tax it, and anti-Net porn laws so far haven't held up in the courts (e.g., the Communications Decency Act, struck down by the Supreme Court in '97, and the Child Online Protection Act, blocked by a federal court in '99). The new legislation in question is the Internet Safety and Child Protection Act of 2005, whose principal sponsor is Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas. The bill "would apply only to adult sites subject to controversial record-keeping requirements regarding the identities of people participating in sex acts displayed on Web sites," according to CNET. The sites would have to pay the 25% tax on their revenue and use verification before displaying any pornographic content. The Washington Post fills the picture in a little more: Among the bill's sponsors are Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan, Sen. Tom Carper (D) of Delaware, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut, Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, Sen. Ken Salazar (D) of Colorado, and Sen. Mark Pryor (D) of Arkansas. Reps. Jim Matheson (D) of Utah and Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives. The Post also turned up a little more information on The Third Way, of which Senator Lincoln is an adviser. The think tank had pulled together some data on kids' exposure to porn which she used in introducing the Internet Safety bill last week (see my item on this.

As for violence in games, a commentary in the Christian Science Monitor by two professors cautions against lawmaking that challenges the Constitution without clear evidence that violence in games causes violence in real life. "Correlation does not equal causation," write Profs. Robert Richards and Clay Calvert, co-directors of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Laptops for students

If you're thinking of buying a laptop for a student at your house, there's some great advice in tech news this week. Laptops are cheaper and more mainstream now, Washington Post tech writer Rob Pegoraro points out, but they're no easier to purchase. "Manufacturers routinely skimp on features and capabilities - to save themselves a few dollars or so they can 'upsell' you other products and services - and it's up to you to spot what got left out." Worry less about processor speed and more about memory, pay attention to weight and battery life (of the one that comes installed, not the battery they want you to buy in addition), and think about a DVD-recordable drive, if only for backing up that hard drive, Rob suggests, among other valuable, practical tips. USATODAY's Kim Komando recommends laptops for college-bound people and tells why, but she fails to mention one important consideration. Yes, they're conveniently mobile, but they're also easier to steal. Make sure this is a consideration, and type "laptop security" into any search engine's window to find solutions.