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Friday, September 30, 2005

A mom's heads-up: Teens in chat

As huge as IM is with kids and teens these days, chat has not gone away, Lauren, a mom in California, is here to tell you. Mother of two boys 13 and 10, Lauren has configured the parental controls on the computer they use so they cannot chat online, and their computer is one of two she has placed "side by side so can I watch all their online activity." Why so hands-on? Because of her own experience in online chat. Lauren recently emailed me an "open letter to all parents who have teens online" because of it. Please click to this week's issue of my newsletter for details.

New round of P2P lawsuits

The Recording Industry Association of America filed it latest round of lawsuits against file-sharers yesterday. Of the 757 sued (bringing the number to 14,800 in the US), "about 64 were filed against individuals using college networks," Reuters reports. For more on this, see "MI court rejects P2P suit [against parents]," "Anti-P2P software for parents," and "File-sharing realities for families." The 757 sued are at 17 US universities, according to Good Morning Silicon Valley's somewhat tongue-in-cheek coverage.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bold Net goal in Maine

The former governor who put laptops in the hands of 7th- and 8th-graders statewide is now working on making Net connectivity available for free to any household in Maine that can't afford it. Angus King, who left office in '02, has started a foundation, the Maine Learning Technology Foundation, to extend the laptop program to connectivity for all students," reports, in keeping with his vision for Maine to gain "an economic edge by becoming the most digitally literate state in the nation." At least where tech-enabled students are concerned, the numbers are positive. "Independent studies by researchers at the University of Southern Maine say the positive impact of the laptop program is being felt statewide." More than 80% of the teachers surveyed last year said students who are using the state-provided laptops were more engaged in their schoolwork and produced better work, and 70+% of students surveyed said the laptops "helped them to be more organized and complete higher-quality schoolwork more quickly."

From Wikipedia to wiki-textbooks

I have to admit to a little skepticism about this - how could a "textbook" written and edited by the online masses be reliably accurate? What I discovered in reading CNET's piece about Wikibooks is that mine was an old, narrow view of textbooks. Wikibooks won't necessarily replace textbooks (at least not for a while); they add something new to the equation. They're a teaching tool. They're also a catalyst, lighting a fire under very proprietary textbook publishers that take years to get new material into the pipeline. But the teaching-tool part is the really interesting one. CNET cites U. of Massachusetts biology Prof. Steven Brewer's vision of "teachers - at any level - asking students to examine existing Wikibooks entries for accuracy and relevancy and then appending their findings to those entries … teaching tool and a work in progress all at once." The Net as it should be - a tool to enhance the immediacy, richness, and empowerment of collaborative learning, teaching kids critical thinking in the process. There's much more about this in the CNET piece, including some pitfalls that will have to be worked out - do check it out. BTW, if you want to see how the Wikipedia works, with its "749,000 some articles in English alone [among its 10 languages]," see this other CNET piece. It really is the information version of the open-source Linux operating system. I wish we could make this newsletter just as open-source - send in your comments (or post just below)!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

MTV on phones

Music videos have been on the Web for some time. Now they're coming to cellphones - MTV-produced ones, anyway, USATODAY reports. "MTV will create and distribute videos with Warner artists such as Green Day, Sean Paul and Twista for cellphones and other wireless gadgets." Warner's the first of the major record labels to strike a deal with MTV for the phone platform, USATODAY adds. Pricing will depend on what the phone companies offer, whether pay-per-video or subscription. Here's another view from the San Jose Mercury News. A phone content-rating system is in the works in the US (see my 5/6/05 issue, though there are signs the cellphone services are interested in selling porn on video-enabled phones (see last week's issue).

Videogames & ADD

"Son, don't forget to do your videogaming tonight." Ever think that sentence would spill from a parent's lips?! Well, USATODAY reports that some kids who have attention deficit disorder are being prescribed videogame therapy by psychologists - aided by the S.M.A.R.T. BrainGames system currently being used in 50 US clinics (according to the psychologist who adapted it for this type of therapy). Working with a PlayStation 2 console, the "consists of a special controller, a helmet with built-in sensors for monitoring brain activity, and a Smartbox that receives the brain signals," according to the USATODAY piece. When players are calmly focused on the game, it plays normally; when their minds wander, "the Smartbox sends a signal to the controller hindering acceleration or character movement in the game." The system was among 40 projects on display at a recent "Games for Health" Conference in Baltimore, Md. - "an offshoot of The Serious Games Initiative, which seeks to push the evolution of games technology to aid in problem solving, public policy and social issues," USATODAY adds.

Anti-P2P software for parents

The US film industry released it last February (see my coverage), and now the free software's available under a different name in six more languages at a site representing the recording industry worldwide. What Parent File Scan and Digital File Check do is 1) scan your PC and tell you what media files (video, music, photos, etc.) and file-sharing software you may have on it, and 2) let you delete any of those files and programs. The very easy-to-use app, which works only on Windows PCs, is designed to help less-than-tech-literate parents educate themselves about multimedia on the family PC, but in India suggests that, these days, "when the kids at home are smarter than their parents when it comes to using computers … we at TechWhack doubt that this application is going to make much of a difference." In other words, this software may not be able to find the more sophisticated work-arounds young digital-media fans are undoubtedly already developing as P2P services "go legit" (see this blog post). Here's Digital File Scan at the London-based International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's site. You can get Parent File Scan at the Motion Picture Association of America's site,, or through its developer's site. And coverage of its release at the BBC and the International Herald Tribune. See also "File-sharing realities for families."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New PC security tips

In addition to the basics - a firewall and anti-virus and -spyware software - there are five tips for further security, reports USATODAY's Kim Kommando. These are good and, particularly for parents, the two about 1) having the PC the kids use function as a limited user account (to keep outsiders from taking control), and 2) telling your kids to "watch out for crush sites." A real vulnerability for family PCs is kids' natural curiosity, playfulness, and tendency not to think about consequences. So when they get a message with a subject like "Someone has a crush on you" or "How does your body rate?", they'll quite likely click to the site with the "answer." In the case of the crush come-on, "a link [in the email] directs you to a site that resembles a dating service. To find out who has the crush, you must guess by entering the correct email address," Kim writes. That's one way spammers collect email address and screennames. The link in the email can also take gullible ones to nasty sites that upload malicious software code on their PCs. You get the picture - this is good fuel for a family discussion on PC security (and kids' critical thinking).

Netscape has flaws too...

…but no security patches for them as yet, the Washington Post reports, which means "the bad guys" can use it too to take control of PCs. It occurred to me I should pass this along also, since Netscape didn't come up in the discussion I linked to. Even though the browser is "driven more or less by the same 'engine' as Firefox," Netscape hasn't issued an update to fix the flaws, writes Post security writer Brian Krebs. Nobody who uses a Web browser gets to have even a false sense of security these days!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Firefox secure?

For Firefox users, the browser and questions about its security have been in the news a *lot* in the past few days. Washington Post security writer Brian Krebs points to a debate at Slashdot ("news for nerds") about it and says the nine latest security flaws in it "appear to be" plugged in the latest version, 1.0.7 (Brian links to the download page). CNET's Robert Varnosi writes that "Microsoft has only patched two-thirds of the critical vulnerabilities within Internet Explorer, while Mozilla can boast an 86% patch rate." Another Washington Post piece does the big picture on the browser battle. Part of that is market share, with Explorer having slipped from 95% to 89%, Firefox having achieved 4%, and Opera - which is now free - now at about 1%. Both their battle and all of ours with PC security are ongoing - see my recent lead feature on this for a comprehensive approach.

'GTA: San Andreas' back in stores

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas will be back on shelves Oct. 18, again compliant with the "M" (Mature) game rating and with a bit of "value add," Reuters reports. There will be a special edition for PlayStation 2 with a DVD add-on and, for Xbox, it'll be bundled with GTA 3 and GTA: Vice City. GTA: San Andreas had been pulled by retailers because of sexually explicit content that had upped its rating to "Adults Only." See my 7/22/05 issue for background and the Entertainment Software Rating Board for a description of the ratings. Unless or until there's regulation of game sales to minors, parents concerned about violent or sexually explicit content will want to pay attention to these ratings on game packaging.

Virtual epidemic

Or might it be a "pandemic"?! It's not the first time game characters have fallen prey to the spread of a virtual disease, but this time it's happening in "the most widely played massively multiplayer online (MMO) game in the world," the BBC reports. That would be World of Warcraft, which claims 4 million players worldwide. The current "deadly plague" seems to have been launched at the murder of "the fearsome Hakkar, the god of Blood," when he was killed in the Zul'Gurub dungeon, newly added to the game. But wait, there's hope in virtual reality: "Luckily the death of a character in World of Warcraft is not final so all those killed were soon resurrected," according to the BBC.