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Friday, September 09, 2005

Home PC security in a nutshell

Well, a little bigger than a nutshell, but definitely neatly packaged. Even while thinking it'd be pretty impossible to make family PC security easy and mindless, I've been watching for some company to try it. Then Eli, Inc., contacted me. What I found was that it took one ambitious mom - more than just an ambitious computer-security expert - to want to take on the task of securing the kids, computers, and networks in today's households. Susan Lutz, mom and CEO of ELI, based in Mount Laurel, N.J., and Mainz, Germany, has traveled all over the world helping big companies secure their networks, but it took watching her 8-year-old daughter use a laptop to get her thinking very seriously about the family-PC-security problem. For the full story, please click to this week's issue of my newsletter.

Kids' phones: The downside

Cellphones in children's hands are not always a lifeline, the Detroit Free Press points out. "Law enforcement agencies have only anecdotal evidence right now that cell phones can pose a threat to young people. The issue is so new that police haven't even begun to compile data connecting cell phone use to crimes. And even if they did, they say, the numbers likely would not reflect an accurate picture because many of the unsavory situations young people could get into with a cell phone aren't crimes." For example, a case in which parents found nude photos of their daughters (13 and 14) on the girls' camera phones and then learned they had "used the phones to send the pictures to a stranger in California whom they'd met online." The stranger turned out to be a 16-year-old in California who'd shared the photos with his friends. But the article led with the case of a 15-year-old girl whose phone had turned out to be "a lethal tool for a man with a criminal history." These are extreme cases, but because of them, one Detroit-area police officer specializing in Internet crime told the Free Press he doesn't think kids need cellphones.

Home tech support

Firewall, antivirus, antispyware, pop-ups advising us to buy, worms cited in the news - how to make sure all those PC-security must-haves are in place? The New York Times ran a fun, readable account of what one computer owner did to clean up her year-old PC (it had a happy ending!). It's also about the growing unregulated cottage industry called home tech support - how to find someone who can really do what s/he or they, from mom 'n' pops to nationwide chains, claim. BTW, one option is *remote* home tech support while you watch - read about how it works at

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Help for kids, parents

Washington, D.C.-based, which keeps us posted on all manner of child-related issues, this week points out a couple of Web resources parents might find useful: "Helping young children after a disaster" from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and a general resource for parents of kids at every age level, The latter covers topics such as helping with homework, dealing with bullying, talking with kids about various tough subjects, disciplining, etc. says it has provided some 170,000,000 online visitors with "doctor-approved … accurate, up-to-date, and jargon-free [family] health information" since 1995.

Canadian 'peer power' to fight bullying

Did you know that, most of the time, bullying stops in less than 10 seconds when peers intervene on behalf of the victim? That's from a 1997 study cited in a press release from Canada's award-winning "It takes great courage for kids to get involved when bullying is happening," the site says. "Young people often don't want to be seen as selling out their peers. They worry that bullies may target them next, and these fears keep the majority silent and passive. It is that silence that gives bullies their power." The press release is announcing "Canada's first-ever national anti-bullying 'Peer Power' youth network." The idea is that kids usually hear from adult experts about bullying. Now they can hear from their peers (aged 13-18) - in presentations they'll give in their communities during National Bullying Awareness Week, 11/14-20. Teachers, administrators, coaches, scout leaders, etc. can register their "Peer Power" teams in the "I Want to Help - Join Peer Power" section of by October 1. This would be a good model for caring anti-bullying youth in any country! And how about an anti-cyberbullying campaign too? FYI, parents, the Oregon-based Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use has guidelines on this specifically for you at (in pdf format; for full disclosure, I helped with its editing).

Creative online music communities

These are so interesting, they're legal (users won't get sued by the RIAA!), and they seem to be popping up at an accelerating rate. The latest is, where digital-music fans can start their own radio stations (up to 100!) by telling Pandora their favorite tune or artist. Pandora will then consult the 300,000-song database of the Music Genome Project that fuels the service and compile a station that plays songs similar to your favorite in terms of musical attributes. Since 2000, when the Project started, it has taken 20-30 minutes per song for its 30 musician-analysts to "capture all of the little details that give each recording" its some 400 musical attributes ("melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics," etc.). Read more about the Music Genome Project here. The first 10 hours is free, a subscription is $36/year, and members can share their "stations" with friends. Here's PC World's review. Another really interesting community,, has profiles, user photos, and email like MySpace, but it's even more musically focused. Here's a CNET review of both Pandora and Then there are collective-music-rating services and iRate radio, which - after you download the software and rate some tunes - send you new songs that fit your musical taste. Clearly, the legal music options are growing. But tell me what music fans at your house think of these - I'd like to hear from the real experts (via!

In P2P legal news, the CEO of popular Korean file-sharing service Soribada was indicted yesterday "on charges of copyright infringement," the Korea Herald reports (thanks to BNA Internet Law for point this out). In the US, the RIAA last week filed "its latest round of copyright infringement lawsuits," targeting 754 people in at least eight states from coast to coast," CNET reported.

'Generation On'

That's what is calling today's teenagers, for whom the distinction between online and offline is fading rapidly. Or at least it's becoming less of a conscious thing, the way we unthinkingly turn on lights as evening approaches. In its study (which costs around $700, so I'm linking to the press material), eMarketer is comparing 2008 to now, showing that 87.3% of teens will be online then, compared to 73.4% now. Some parents will find it comforting that the percentage of 3-to-11-year-olds online is not growing quite as fast - from 39.4% now to 43.7% in 2008.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Instant 'fandom' for iPod nano

Watch out, there's a new item that will probably appear on holiday wish lists at your house. The iPod nano, just unveiled today, already has a large and growing fandom (fan community). Apple's much-anticipated announcement was actually about two new products: the 100-song-capacity ROKR phone by Motorola (for Cingular customers), about which there has already been plenty of media speculation, and the nano. (Apple doesn't seem to want to capitalize it.) The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg couldn't have been gushier about the Nano, which replaces the Mini, comes in two versions ($199 and $249) holding 500 and 1,000 songs respectively, has a color screen, and is about 5 credit cards thick with the appx. dimensions of a business card. Google News had more than 600 stories on this; here's PC Magazine's.

Diaster relief from/for gamers

Community is a powerful thing, and global gaming communities no less so. Everquest II and Halo 2 are leading the charge in gaming to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, the BBC reports. Sony Online Entertainment has created a special "/donate" command line for Everquest II players so that, when they type the command in, "they're automatically taken to the American Red Cross's Hurricane 2005 relief page to make a donation. Sony also said that, for Everquest II's 13,000+ players in areas where the hurricane hit, it'll be "suspending billing until such time as they are able to play again" and preserving game artifacts that normally would decay when not used by players.

Indian tutor, US kid

"Homework outsourcing" is distance learning that is distant indeed! The New York Times describes the experience of Daniela Marinaro, 13, in Malibu, Calif., working with English tutor Greeshma Salin, 22, in Cochin, southern India - at a third the cost of a tutor who came to the Marinaro home. Critics say there's no regulation of this "industry," but the Times describes the requirements at least Greeshma's company makes of its tutors: "Mostly with recent postgraduate and teaching degrees, [they] already have deep subject knowledge. They must go through two weeks of technical, accent and cultural training," which includes learning the differences between British English and that spoken in Canada, the US, and Australia. Plus, this company is licensed in California (the Times also mentions distance-tutoring firms in the US). Of course, it wouldn't hurt for US parents to monitor their kids' sessions for a while, to make sure they're going well. Go to p. 2 of the article to find out what Daniela's dad thinks.

Closer look at 'cheap broadband'

If online families wonder if they're getting the full story on "budget" high-speed Internet access, they're smart to wonder. ZDNET columnist Matt Lake explains why people are cynical about the new cheap-broadband services being marketed - but that it's more a labeling problem than a pricing one. Of course, the $14.95/mo. price doesn't factor in taxes, USF fees, and the up-front $19.95 activation fee, but that only jacks up the price to an actual $19-or-so. And of course, customers are locked into a year's service or they pay a bail-out fee of $79. And then, after a year, the price goes up. But you're still saving money if you stick it out (and it's a pain to switch services anyway). And the real issue is the definition of "broadband," and that depends partly on the location of your home. Check out the article for helpful details.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Phones for tots...

…keeps popping up in tech news. Probably because of the amazement of journalist/parents that cellphones have replaced "Barbie Dream House" on 9-year-olds' wish lists. But maybe Barbie's just moved down to the 5-to-8-year-old category not yet being targeted by cellphone makers. USATODAY singled Barbie out in this latest report. USATODAY cites numbers in NOP World Technology showing that 40% of US 12-to-14-year-olds had their own phones last December (up from 13% about three years before). The figure is 14% for 10-to-11-year-olds now (maybe the next study will account for younger kids now being targeted). What I didn't cover in my 7/29 item, "Critics of kid phones," is Mattel's brand for preteens, "My Scene."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Kazaa ordered to stop piracy

An Australian federal court decided that the company that runs the Kazaa P2P Web site encouraged its users to infringe copyright, the BBC reports. The court ordered Kazaa's owners, Sharman Networks, to modify the software within two months to stop the sharing of copyrighted material. "A fresh round of hearings will now be held to determine the level of damages, which could run into the millions of dollars," the BBC added. The Fastrack network Kazaa uses makes up only about 10% of all file-sharing traffic. A new study by UK P2P traffic measurers CacheLogic also found that music is now the "little guy" on the file-sharing networks, making up just 11% of all file-sharing traffic. Video, reports, now constitutes "almost 62% of all traffic on the four largest P2P networks (BitTorrent, eDonkey, Gnutella and Fastrack, the network used by Kazaa." The remaining 27% is mostly games and software.

Filters tested in the UK

Computing Which magazine tested six brands of what's called "nanny software" over there and found the filters wanting. Part of the reason for their low scores was that "most of them were beyond the comprehension of parents, thereby preventing them from fully utilizing the [product]," reported "The magazine said that Apple's Tiger operating system was the only one which exercised some degree of control over unsafe content." Tiger got "top marks" for ease of use, but none of the products did terribly well. Norton Internet Security 2005 was at the bottom of the list with an overall rating of 31%, The Telegraph reported. CyberPatrol 7 got 61%, but nothing should replace parental involvement, Computing Which's editor was quoted as saying in all the coverage. Here's The Guardian and News Factor. Which, like the US's Consumer Reports, only allows subscribers to view its product tests. Which, like the US's Consumer Reports, only allows subscribers to view its product reviews - though CR did make its latest report on Web filters available to the general public last June.