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Friday, December 07, 2007

Videogame 'Report Card' for 2007

Because "videogames" includes the word "games," there are still some parents who don't take videogames seriously enough, said David Walsh of the National Institute on Media and the Family this week. So parents got a "C" on the organization's 12th-annual "Video Game Report Card" (see p. 12 of the 26-page document). The videogames rating board, the ESRB, got a B- for its education efforts; the ratings themselves got a C+ (for "not being based on all of games' content and code, locked or unlocked," the latter meaning gamers' ability to modify the content); the game industry got a C; and the big national retailers got a D for not enforcing the ratings at point of purchase. "The institute conducted 58 sting operations and found almost half the time, children as young as 12, could buy games rated M for 'mature' - intended for kids 17 and older," ABC News reports. For holiday game shoppers, see p. 14 of the institute's report for lists of 10 recommended games and 10 "games to avoid for your children and teens." Other resources include the ESRB's ratings site, where you can search for a game title on somebody's wish list, the Washington Post's "Holiday Videogame Guide," a transcript of Post game columnist Mike Musgrove's
chat with readers
on this year's videogames, and's game reviews for parents. Here, too, is the Associated Press's coverage on the "Report Card."

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Facebook apologizes about ads

Facebook seems to prefer to ask for users' forgiveness rather than permission. A "humbled [Facebook] CEO Mark Zuckerberg issued a statement apologizing for the way his company rolled out the Beacon ad platform," Internet News reports. He said that now users could bow out of the program entirely, "bowing to pressure from privacy advocates and many Facebook users." More than 50,000 of them had signed a petition initiated by which demanded that Facebook not broadcast information about users' purchases on other Web sites without their permission, the Financial Times reports. Internet News added that "Facebook’s retreat marks the second time it has been forced to make changes to a new technology because of privacy concerns. Last year, users protested after it introduced 'News Feed,' which allowed users to keep track of their friends’ actions on the site." Here's the New York Times's coverage.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mobile Web: We're on the cusp

There has been a whole lot of media hype about the mobile Web. So much so that smart reporters are now writing reality checks (see the New York Times). But with the iPhone's arrival, Google's plans for the FCC's looming 700 Mhz spectrum auction, and an announcement this week from Verizon Wireless, we really do seem to be at an important crossroads. eWeek reports that "the mobile industry is shifting into Internet gear." Business Week reports that Verizon Wireless's move "to let customers use a broader range of cell phones and wireless features on its network was greeted by many observers as a stunning about-face." And the Baltimore Sun offers the big picture on what this means for all of us, including our kids - upsides and downsides, of course. For one thing, I think it means phones really will be access points to the Internet. Which means that parents and educators either will need to need to apply rules and "parental controls" to more devices and access points or will need increasingly to help young people develop their internal filters - critical thinking and content and behavior online.

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Cellphone etiquette

I think you will appreciate, as I did, these fundamentals for working with young cellphone users on the best ways and places to use those phones. They're from author and parenting specialist Jan Faull. She looks at where to talk, when to talk, and the example we grownup cellphone users are setting for them. Here are a couple more pointers I would add: 1) Know when and how much your child is using his mobile - for talking and texting (the latter being silent, so harder to get a handle on) - and establish boundaries. 2) Know what else she's using her phone for (photo-sharing? video-uploading?) and talk about the implications for her and other people in what's being shared. See also's "Cellphone Safety Tips" and this on a study about the role of cellphones in "teen dating abuse" and what parents know about it.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cellphone college class in Japan

Japan's degree-granting Cyber University, the country's only all-Internet university, just started offering a class people can take on their phones, the Associated Press reports. For classes on personal computers, the lecture appears on the screen as text and images, and a video of the lecturer appears in a smaller window in the corner. "The cellphone version, which pops up as streaming video on the handset's tiny screen," just displays the PowerPoint, and you can hear the lecturer through the phone's speaker. More than 1,800 students are enrolled in Cyber University, which says lecturer attendance is at 86%. "Whether students play the lecture downloads to the end can be monitored by the university digitally," officials told the AP. Meanwhile, "half of Japan's top-10 selling works of fiction in the first six months of the year were composed [by their authors] on the tiny handset of a mobile phone," after which they're turned into books, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

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ClubPenguin members can give to charity

Parents of penguins probably already know that gold coins are earned by playing games in the site. With them, penguins can now not only feed and care for their puffles, and buy surfboards, etc. They can give to charity, the Associated Press and the in-site Penguin Times report (I like that my 10-year-old started reading that paper unbeknownst to me). "Starting Dec. 14 and running through Dec. 24, kids can choose to donate their virtual money to support the environment, children's health or children's education. The company will then split $1 million real dollars among three charities, including the World Wildlife Fund, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and Free The Children." This started before ClubPenguin was acquired by Disney, according to the AP. "The Canadian website donated a little more than $30 million to charity after Disney agreed to pay $350 million for the company earlier this year."

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Student 'tech sherpas'

Senior Jayson in a Freeport, Me., school district "says he wants teachers to see that technology isn't as hard as they might think." He's a "tech sherpa" for his high school, a group of students that support the district IT department, help teachers with classroom tech, and earn credit in the process, the Christian Science Monitor reports. "This fall the group also launched a weekly live Web-stream show called 'The Tech Curve,' in which students field questions about various Internet teaching tools and the new Mac laptops that the state is issuing to high school teachers (see" Each year an organization in Olympia, Wash., called Generation YES helps about 200 schools to set up the curricula behind the tech-sherpa program, the Monitor adds. This is the kind of tech-training program that empowers youth as well as educators. The program in Maine is clearly a confidence builder for the "sherpas," who also learn patience and diplomacy in working with adults. "They're relating to people, not just computers," working collaboratively to solve real problems. The school's tech coordinator told the Monitor that "the most valuable assignments he can give are 'authentic' tasks – of real use to the school or the community."

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Teen 'cybercrime kingpin' arrested

The 18-year-old New Zealander's screenname is "AKILL," and he is the alleged head "of an international cyber crime network accused of infiltrating 1.3 million computers" and stealing $20+ million from victims' bank accounts, the Associated Press reports. "Working with the FBI and police in the Netherlands, New Zealand police raided" his house in Hamilton and took him and several computers in custody. His arrest was part of an international crackdown on criminal hackers who hack or social-engineer their way into large numbers of computers, install malicious software, and take control of the machines, turning them into "zombies." The zombie computers become part of large networks (or "botnets") of computers that can launch denial-of-service attacks on large Web commercial Web sites, extort, manipulate stocks, etc. "Eight people have been indicted, pleaded guilty or have been convicted since the investigation started in June."

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Toddler tech, er, 'toys'

The toy business is getting out of toys, the New York Times reports. Toy manufacturers and retailers think toddlers want tech devices, not toys, because they want to emulate Mom and Dad with the real thing, not "fake" phones, music players, and computers - of concern to some educators and pediatricians. We can see for ourselves, though: "Consider the 'hottest toys' list on, which includes the Easy Link Internet Launch Pad from Fisher-Price (to help children surf on 'preschool-appropriate Web sites') and the Smart Cycle, an exercise bike connected to a video game…. Inside the Toys 'R' Us, the shelves near the store’s front were brimming with toys with a high-tech twist." It's good news for the toy biz because toy sales have been flat, and this is a growth area.

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