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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Internet Explorer risk

It was deemed "extremely critical" by one security firm, InformationWeek reports, and it "could let nasty Web sites [linked to in an email or IM, possibly] seize control over visitors' computers," Washington Post security writer Brian Krebs reports. SO Brian suggests that - until Microsoft releases the patch it has promised - the easiest thing for online families to do is switch browsers. Use Firefox, if you have it, and download it here if you don't - the Mac's Safari users have no worries. If your family absolutely has to use Explorer for everyday surfing, Brian provides simple, step-by-step directions for disabling scripting and explains the effects of that in this piece (scroll down to the paragraph beginning: "Back to the present security threat"). Thanks, Brian. Simple, straightforward help for the average PC users is a rare commodity these days!

Then there's the "FBI" and/or "Paris Hilton" virus, the BBC reports, "a Windows virus that warns users about illegal net use" an actually "claims to come from the FBI, CIA, or German BKA police agency, and warns users they have been detected visiting illegal sites." Sometimes the email promises images of Paris Hilton too. Tell your kids: do not open any questionnaire attached - it will infect your PC with a variant of the Sober virus. All attachments should be suspect - even if they're from someone they know, tell your children to email, IM, or call the friend supposedly sending the attachment to make sure s/he sent it.

Texting: (US) adults don't get it - yet

Well, we're getting there, but a fun San Francisco Chronicle column digs into why teenagers (and everybody else in other countries) seem to have adopted phone-texting faster. "For teens, it is a chance for a private conversation in a busybody world of teachers and parents. No wonder researchers have dubbed today's youth 'GenText'." For everybody else outside North America it's just commonplace (and a lot less rude and annoying in public places). The Chronicle reports that 2.9 billion text messages get sent every day, worldwide, and "only 14% are in North America. Europe, Asia and the Philippines are far ahead." It also cites a new book about mobile communication in Japan: "Personal, Portable, Pedestrian."

'Triton': AOL AIM-ing high ;-)

AOL expects its upgrade called "AIM Triton" to increase people's use of audio, video, and computer-to-phone messaging, reports New Zealand's Geekzone. AOL fully intends to keep its lead as an IM service while becoming a full-blown online-communications hub. Triton combines instant messaging, free email, text messaging (on phones), and voice and video chat "to drive more users to ads," Red Herring reports. A few other nifty features the Geekzone mentions: It "lets users talk live with AIM buddies around the world for free, "supports live, multi-party voice chat for up to 20 buddies, and enables users to add buddies to ongoing calls." According to Internet News, 41.6 million people use AIM.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A guide to (US) student blogging

"Millions of students across the country are speaking their minds in Internet blogs, and some kids are getting punished for it despite their right to free expression," writes the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet civil liberties organization. So the EFF thought students and their parents might want answers to the question: "Just what are students allowed to publish about their school, their teachers, and their classmates?" You'll find them in the organization's just-released guide to student blogging - including the rights of students at public vs. private schools. [A public-school student in New Jersey was recently awarded a $117,000 by a federal judge saying the school district had violated his free-speech rights (see NFN last week), and the (N.J.) Daily Record looks at a different case involving students & tech at a private school.]

Dissecting (& creating) videogames

Now this is interesting: There are basically 4 types of characters in multiplayer online games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft, the New York Times reports: the Socializer, the Achiever, the Explorer, and the Killer - and guess who's at the top of the food chain? Reporter Seth Schiesel visited 30-year-old instructor Nick Fortugno's Thursday seminar for "14 undergraduate and master's-level students" at Parsons the New School for Design in Greenwich Village. These students will definitely find jobs, because "the burgeoning game industry is famished for new talent," Seth reports, and its market is probably increasingly hungry for greater sophistication in character development - but of course, part of what makes online games so interesting is players' role as co-creators and -writers, in a sense. The president of Parsons, former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey, had something really interesting to say about that in the article, which mentions a number of programs like Parsons's. Seth writes: "According to the International Game Developers Association, fewer than a dozen North American universities offered game-related programs five years ago. Now, that figure is more than 100, with dozens more overseas."

Xbox 360's big debut & more on gaming

Standing in line last night for the arrival of the 3 police-escorted trucks containing 3,000-or-so Xbox 360s, then watching them being handed out by multiple Best Buy employees was like being at "the world's most expensive soup kitchen," reported editors at gaming news site, who joined "hardcore Xbox 360 fans from all over the globe for a chance to buy the very first retail kits anywhere." The handing out happened in "a gigantic aircraft hangar" in California's Mojave Desert, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Here's GameSpot's exhaustive review of the 360 and the GMSV blog's at-a-glance review. What it and a lot of the reviews say is that - though this next-gen system is multimedia (it'll connect to iPod Video and Sony PlayStation Portable to play music and videos on a TV), it's still very much about games, only now with a strong *online* focus, which should tweak parental antennas. The 360 offers two levels of Xbox Live (the basic one free), which means voice and text communications and evenutally video messages, with players anywhere in the world. Xbox 360 reportedly also has some parental controls (e.g., restricting access to online chat and to games rated "M" for Mature), according to the gamers' blog.

In other gaming news, "the US has been declared the top gaming nation at the World Cyber Games" held in Singapore last week, the BBC reports. "America's 16 players won two gold medals and one silver to top the national rankings"; South Korea and Brazil came in second and third, respectively. Here's the Washington Post's list of videogames that "have gamers abuzz" this holiday season. And Common Sense Media looks at the question, "Is your kid ready for a gaming system?"

Mac OS & other vulnerabilities

Heads up, Mac users! This CNET report about how malicious hackers are branching out says the Mac OS X is increasingly vulnerable. "Online criminals shifted their attacks in 2005 from operating systems such as Windows to media players and software programs," CNET reports, citing the latest "Top 20" computer vulnerabilities from the nonprofit SANS research group. Here's the Top 20 list, which - besides the UNIX-based OS X, MP3 players, and Microsoft's Explorer Web browser - includes software very popular with kids: file-sharing, instant-messaging. Apple did plug 10 critical security holes in OS X, CNET reported in September, but it may be time for Mac users to start thinking about what a Mac technician told me in September: that "sooner or later" he'll have to fix a virus-infected Mac "because a lot of hackers use Linux and Unix [code in writing viruses], and the Mac OS is based on Unix. That makes it more stable and better but also open to the possibility of infection. We recommend that our customers buy anti-virus protection now for when it could happen. You just never know when it's going to start."

Monday, November 21, 2005

'Paradise Lost' in a nutshell

...or on cellphones, anyway. We're talking about text-messaging as a learning tool for students of English literature. Here's John Milton's "Paradise Lost," as pointed out by the San Jose Mercury News:
"devl kikd outa hevn coz jelus of jesus&strts war. pd'off wiv god so corupts man(md by god) wiv apel. devl stays serpnt 4hole life&man ruind. Woe un2mnkind." Just one of a number of "condensed masterpieces" that a service called dot mobile will be offering students starting in January. It's an "aide memoir," says Prof. John Sutherland, Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of English Literature at University College London, who co-developed the service with dot mobile and his students. Of course there's also "2B? NT2B? =???" and the rest of Hamlet. Dot mobile's press release says they'll launch with "precis versions" of Romeo & Juliet, Paradise Lost, Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Lord Of The Flies. By April: all of Shakespeare and the Caterbury Tales. Consider Cliff Notes replaced. Well, sorta. Parents, you have heard of and, right? What's really notable, here, is that everything's moving onto mobiles in interesting ways.

Web search: No. 2

Though IM is No. 1 with teens, email is still the top Internet activity among Internet users as a whole, with Web searching now No. 2. "Of the 94 million American adults who went online on a given autumn day this year, 63% used a search engine," the Associated Press reports. The email figure is 77%, according to the latest data from the Pew Internet & American Life project. Search engines used to be neck and neck with news,"but search had a dramatic jump over the past year to widen the gap over news." See the AP piece for an interesting note on changing email use, though. Here's the latest on teen use of IM vs. email.

Insights into e-dating

More and more people are meeting their future spouses online - in social-networking sites, matchmaking sites, and even online games such as (with nearly 80,000 players worldwide). Some of us baby-boomers and Gen X-ers are among them, so of course more of our children will be. The Indianapolis Star cites Pew Internet & American Life figures showing that one-sixth of Internet users 18-29 using online dating sites (only 1 in 20 older Net users do). In kind of an online chat format (a little more wordy), the Star article lets Tammy Paolino (formerly njbarefootpoet) and Jeffrey Taylor (formerly jtay999) tell the story of how they met and got to know each other at in late 2001 - offering insights into why it worked so much better for them than, say, nightclubs and parties - and how males and females navigate the online-dating scene differently (using Jeff's Frank Zappa T-shirt as an example). "They married in October 2002 and recently celebrated the first birthday of their son, Jonah." The Star piece has a sidebar linking to a number of online dating sites, though teenagers are more likely to socialize at sites like,,, or blogging spots like MySpace or Xanga. For more on the Second Life and Teen Second Life games, including the romantic parts, see "Lively alternative lives." There's also recent news of online-dating site users, in separate cases, suing and Yahoo Personals for fraud - see CNET.

Death to DRM?

"DRM" is digital-rights management, or anti-piracy tech, on CDs, DVDs, etc., and Sony's use of it so far may not spell death to DRM but has seriously damaged whatever good name the technology had. In fact, from now on digital-media companies will probably go to great lengths not to set off a similar p.r. disaster. Washington Post security writer Brian Krebs reports that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is suing Sony BMG for its anti-piracy practices, the first the first lawsuit filed under Texas's new spyware law" (lawyers in California and New York have filed class-action suits against Sony, he adds). On Friday Brian pointed to yet another harmful type of DRM Sony used on *another* set of CDs. Brian links to the site of the security researcher who found the problem and to a partial fix (see also Gartner Group's scotch-tape fix, reported by Here's Sony's list of 52 CDs that have the offending DRM technology on them. The good news is, Sony is offering replacement CDs (without DRM on them) for all 52, CNET reports . Writer Charlie Demerjian at UK tech news site finally got through to a Sony spokesperson. His takeaway: "Based on this brief chat, I get the feeling that Sony is trying to clean things up, but doesn't really understand the problem. Things seem to be pretty chaotic, and internal communications are not all that hot. At this point, I almost feel sorry for Sony. Almost."