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Dear Subscribers:

We're back, and hoping you, too, have had great summers - or winters, for you Southern Hemisphere folk! Now that N. Hemisphere kids are (almost?) back to school and back on the Net, this issue features this subject so much on all our minds. Don't forget: Send in any fun (or even scary) remarks your kids make about the Internet - via! Here's our lineup for this final week of August:

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Family Tech: Families need a system for sharing the PC

Very few households have a computer for each family member. So, as the school year begins and homework increasingly incorporates the Internet, more and more of us are having to develop PC-sharing strategies. In his latest Family Tech column for the San Jose Mercury News,'s Larry Magid offers some tech aids for computer-related household harmony.

On kids' online safety, CNN's Greta Van Susteren interviewed Larry on the subject earlier this month on "The Point" program. Here is a transcript. The interview starts about eight screens down from the top.

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Online Kid Quote of the Week

"Mommy, Mommy ... 'You've Got Mail!' "
- 3-year-old Ryan, USA (in the exact same voice inflection as the AOL mailbox greeter!)

Readers, send in things you hear online kids say about the Net and digital media! Please include only first name, age, and country of residence. Of course, their quotes can certainly come from emails as well as spoken words. The address:

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Back-to-school tech news

  1. Students polled

    A majority of US teenagers say they "can find on the Internet very nearly all of what they need for school projects," an Associated Press poll found. US adults, on the other hand, have a "mixed view" of the Internet's value in children's schoolwork. The AP piece gives individual views of both students and educators, including some teachers' research policies - e.g., the one that requires three books and one Internet source for research projects.

  2. Tech in school

    School (and critics) are beginning to evaluate lessons learned from having computers on every classroom desk, the New York Times reports. The piece links to companion articles on little computers - pocket PCs and Palms - at every desk (see our June 15 feature on this).

    With more anecdotes and a lighter touch, Wired News did an interesting trend piece on "Tech in their backpacks" across the US. (Wired News annually archives an impressive number of back-to-school articles on every aspect of the subject - software to hardware to Web sites.)

    The Times also published an article recently on how Malaysia's students are getting introduced to the Internet on a bus! Under a UN Development Program, the 4-foot "Mobile Internet Unit," loaded with 20 PCs, is "an experiment in hastening the spread of the Internet to young minds in areas where infrastructure is scarce and suspicions run high."

  3. School supplies online

    Many of us have already finished buying 100 No. 2 lead pencils, notebooks, and all the other items on Teacher's list. So now there's some data on parents who shop online. According to, 74% parents who do school shopping online are allowing their children to participate. "Children can pick and choose as they please," The Standard reports, "but when it comes time to 'proceed to the checkout,' parents step up to foot the bill. Only a third of the respondents plan to let their children participate in part or all of the check-out process, including typing in the credit card number." The favorite e-commerce sites are (No. 1),,,,,,,,,, and

    For anyone who hasn't finished the annual ritual, the New York Times's own "Online Shopper" devoted her very readable, personal-experience column to the subject. We have to share her scissors experience with you: "," she writes, "sold 50 kinds of scissors. Staring at the list - blunt tips for $1.25, seven-inch student size for $4.95, Acme Tagit stainless steel antibacterial blades for $8.74 - I realized that scissors can be an awfully personal choice.... Did I have any business choosing Ella's scissors for her online? I phoned a child psychologist who has studied how children react to the approach of a new school year [read the column for Dr. Jill Goldberg-Arnold's answer]."

  4. The other part of school prep

    Our thanks to for dealing with the internal side of getting ready for school. It recently reprinted "Get Ready, Get Set, School!" about how parents can help kids make the transition from summer to school. The article came from, a child and adolescent mental health and parenting resource from New York University's Child Study Center. CFK also put together a number of "Resources to Nurture Readers."

  5. Net music at school

    Napster's virtual demise is actually proving to be a boon to music swappers at colleges and universities. Hundreds of Napster alternatives have sprung up (for examples and links, see "The scoop on Morpheus and other file-sharing services" in our 7/13 issue), making it impossible for colleges and universities to configure their firewalls to block all those software programs, Wired News reports. "To address the problem, universities have crafted general Internet guidelines addressing bandwidth issues, but have left file-trading issues alone," writes Wired, adding that some schools have created separate student networks and left it to Student Government to develop policies for and manage those networks.

  6. Back-to-school links

    • Homework help - Free and free of ads, the High School Hub is a "non-commercial portal" to free online academic resources for high school students. Features include a reference collection; directories of links to educational sites by subject categories (English, math, science, social studies, languages, arts, etc.) and hot topics in the news; college information; learning activities [matching games, quizzes, puzzles, etc.]; and a continuous teen poetry contest.

      Atomica, formerly GuruNet - Our thanks to ZDNet for pointing out this software, free for the downloading. It helps with research, providing "contextual information for any word you choose" with a thesaurus, dictionary, encyclopedia, and other reference material, ZDNet says.

      Merriam-Webster Online - with both Collegiate Dictionary and Collegiate Thesaurus, as well as M-W's for kids, winner of the 2000 Webby Award for best educational Web site. WordCentral includes lesson plans for teachers, an explanation of how a word gets into the dictionary, the answer to "Who was Noah Webster?", and the "Daily Buzzword." - The Learning Network's kid version (ages 6-12) of, with an online atlas, almanac, dictionary, and encyclopedia.

    • Extracurricular learning for kids 2-12 - subscription-based "lifelong learning for kids," offering multimedia, self-paced learning activities via a Web site (instead of the educational CD-ROMs we're all familiar with). The material still appears to be free, but the company says it intends soon to start applying a $34.95/year subscription fee soon (those who pre-register get the first month free). - free, advertising-supported (we hope they can stay that way) "interactive lessons and exercises, open-ended questions, print worksheets, challenging problems and more" for grades K-12. - online learning for kids in three levels: pre-K-K, grades 1-2, and grades 3-4. The subscription service ($7.95/month or $59.95/year) includes more than 150 games, stories, and activities for those levels and a rewards program for young participants. And for supporting grownups, there's,, and

      Editor's Note: Teachers and parents, we need your expertise. Do email us if you've found any of these sites useful - or if you have better alternatives for supplemental learning to share with everybody.

    • CNET's '5 fabulous tools for school'

      CNET has published its top picks for high school and college student-supporting technology, both software and Web sites - homework help and supplemental ed. Their Top 5 software picks - each with a review, rating, and screen shot - are all under $40. The four top Web sites are on this page.

    • Multimedia yearbooks

      Salt Lake City, Utah-based Yearbook Interactive provides middle and high schools with tools and training to create multimedia, CD-ROM-based yearbooks (its "Yearbook Builder" software is distributed free to high schools US-wide). Yearbook Interactive also holds the annual "MYBE Awards" ("Multimedia Year Book Excellence"). This year's winners were schools in 13 states. Even though the company is wisely working toward adding Web-site development to the yearbook-building mix, we wonder if students will miss the good ol' print version, with that age-old rite of passage called yearbook-signing!

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Teens & tech multitasking

A friend and mother of an online teen recently sent us her thoughts about this growing phenomenon: e.g., teenagers carrying on multiple instant-messaging "conversations" while doing homework research in a Web search site, downloading MP3 music files, burning a CD, and writing a college application essay. Here's what she wrote:

"I see it as an issue of focus - a serious one in this day of infinite distractions - and I think even more important to teach than ever. Multitasking is great if none of the activities requires any serious level of thought or mental digestion, but if you've lost the skill to muster all your mental might at once on something particularly challenging because all you ever do is multi-task (music on while doing homework while also being online, etc.), then you've actually lost the part of yourself that may be the most important. So, according to [my daughter], I've become the Nazi mom. If she's doing serious homework, she may not have any other distraction available - radio, CD, etc. As far as I'm concerned, I'm just making sure that that all-important skill of total focus doesn't atrophy."

A recent study seems to bear out her concern about focus (and definitely adds fuel to an important discussion). According to, just-published research by the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the Federal Aviation Administration shows that "when students are switching back and forth rather than concentrating on one task at a time, they will be less efficient, learn the material more slowly, and be more likely to make errors." The study was about work efficiency rather than the psychological implications of multitasking, eSchool News points out, adding that some educators argue that multitasking is becoming an essential skill in an increasingly digital society.

Tell us what you think about multitasking teens.

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Web News Briefs

  1. Web surfing more focused

    This news was not surprising to us (is it to you?), because we see it manifest among our own online family members and friends. According to the New York Times, Web users are whiling away the hours randomly surfing the Web less and less. Rather, they're spending more time on fewer sites, going right to the information (or entertainment) they want. In other words, users have gotten a lot more sophisticated and focused in their Web use. What we did find interesting - and affirming - about this report was toward the end of it, where writer Amy Harmon points to what may be emerging as the Web's best use: connecting people with similar needs and interests. This might sound fairly familiar to our newsletter readers (at least we hope so)! Amy cites the experience of a pregnant woman who was put on bed rest. To find out more about her condition, she and her husband searched the Web. Just as useful to them as the information from doctors they found in health sites were the "accounts of ordinary individuals who had been through the same experience." The very reason why we keep pestering our readers for your own experiences with online kids (send thoughts and stories any time)!

  2. Microsoft's Passport under fire

    The online privacy picture keeps getting dimmer, it seems. In the past few weeks a number of consumer watchdog groups - including children's advocacy organization, the Center for Media Education (CME) - have asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into whether Microsoft's Kids Passport violates children's privacy. Kids Passport is the service that MS bills as the most convenient way for parents to protect their children's online privacy (by letting them manage how multiple Web sites use their kids' personal data). Here's on the kids story, as well as CME's press release. Passport in general, which has been called the centerpiece of Microsoft's ".Net Initiative" into the Net-distributed software business, is under fire too. Here's on the grownup part of the story.

    So who do Web users trust with their personal information? According to CNET, the same institutions they tend to trust offline: banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions. The only problem is, online banking is reportedly coming up short on privacy as well, CNET reports. And privacy protection is an even greater challenge with wireless connections, according to

  3. 'Web bugs' from innocent users

    Invasions of online privacy also now come from the likes of you and me - at least, those of us who have our personal Web sites at those no-html-knowledge-needed hosting services. According to the New York Times, "many people who have personal Web pages are unknowingly tracking people who visit and sending the information to third parties" via monitoring technology called "Web bugs." The technology is added unannounced to people's Web pages by the easy-to-use Web development tools that hosting services like Geocities and AOL provide people to build their pages. The Times cites a new study showing that Web bugs now reside on 18% of personal Web pages. The piece explains how this usually fairly innocuous technology works.

  4. Houston's digital-divide initiative

    Even when one reads that it'll happen via public libraries, Houston Mayor Lee Brown's pledge this week to provide "every citizen of Houston" free access to the Net is fairly impressive. For one thing, it means that a mayor and a city understand the digital-divide problem enough to do something about it! Even if it is good politics, the mayor may be setting a precedent for other cities. According to the Associated Press, pending City Council approval, Houstonians will be given library card access to email, word processing, and spreadsheet capabilities at computers in libraries and police and fire stations citywide. "The city is negotiating a contract with Internet Access Technologies, a Houston company that hopes to start making the service available within the next 30 days," the AP reports.

  5. Making the e-rate pay

    Some schools apparently have figured out how to make the e-rate actually pay for filtering and thus CIPA compliance. According to, e-rate monies (federal subsidies for schools' Internet connectivity) are used to pay for filtered Internet services. Federal authorities say the filtering is only eligible if it comes bundled into the standard price of "eligible equipment and services." CIPA, the Children's Internet Protection Act, is the law requiring schools and libraries that receive e-rate funds to use filtering or blocking technology on their Net-connected computers. Here's Wired News on the subject of CIPA compliance this week.

  6. Teen tech teacher

    He's a 15-year-old high school graduate who surfs (at beaches), is studying philosophy and computer programming, and teaches 3-D animation and video production to both gifted and at-risk peers, Wired News reports. Donovan Keith's story is getting less unusual (it's quite likely there are more tech teachers in their teens than there are in their 40s) but that makes it no less interesting to read by us 40-somethings!

  7. Relief from pop-up Web ads

    ZDNet writer C.C. Holland was beginning to think her computer was possessed, what with all the pop-up ads that kept showing up on her screen. She decided to find a remedy, and this piece of hers includes links to page where you can download pop-up ad-blocking software. Worse, though - from a Web advertiser's perspective - is Gator. According to ZDNet, it's new technology that replaces a Web page advertiser's ad (pop-up or banner) with another ad supposedly more appealing to the user (it "knows" this by tracking our surfing activities). Here's what advertisers think of it, according to And CNET reports (via Yahoo News) that Gator's chorus of critics is growing.

  8. Fast IM growth in Asia

    Instant-messaging use is decidedly up in Asia - especially among under-24-year-olds. According to fresh numbers from NetValue (cited by Nua Internet Surveys), the number of IM users grew from 4.9 million in January to 7.7 million in June. The top four IM countries are Hong Kong (where 65% of Net users are sending IMs), Singapore (50%), Korea, and Taiwan. More than half of all IM users in all four countries are under 24. As for where Asia as a whole falls in worldwide Net use: Internet News cites new Nielsen/NetRatings data showing that Asians represent 20% of all Internet users. The same research firm found that South Koreans are the most avid Net users in the world. They were No. 1 in time spent online last month - to the tune of an average of 19 hours and 20 minutes online that month. That report's from Reuters (via Wired News).

  9. Viruses via IMs

    Tell the instant-messaging (IM) fans at your house and school that viruses can now spread through IMs. According to CNET, "infected files, for example, have been burrowing their way slowly through Microsoft's MSN Messenger network over the past few months. And that's not all. CNET adds that "virus writers in search of the biggest bang for their bugs have targeted various types of networks, including peer-to-peer file exchanges and wireless Web systems. "Peer-to-peer" means music, image, and other file-swapping as enabled by Napster-like software programs like Morpheus, BearShare, and Aimster.

  10. Upstart search engines

    They keep on trying to best Google. Wired News reports on the "new generation of scrappy search engines" that's emerging. This is an update even from our July 27 item on next-generation searching (Wired mentions five additional ones, including one from Cuba).

  11. Video games & brains

    Japanese researchers have found that video games hurt brain development. According to CNET, the scientists - at Tohoku University - are particularly concerned about kids who spend many hours playing. They say it's the frontal lobes that will miss out on development - the part of the brain that plays "a crucial role in controlling behavior and in developing memory, emotion, and learning," CNET reports. The antidote, this article suggests, is lots of basic arithmetic, reading, and writing, which definitely stimulate the frontal lobes.

  12. Teen debit card

    Visa and are teaming up to offer a parent-controlled debit card for teens. According to, parents can load money onto the Visa Buxx card and then track their children's spending. Visa says it helps parents teach financial responsibility.

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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