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September 3, 2004
Here's the lineup for these first few days of September:
- Over-the-transom resources for families: "Sleepy" software, image filtering, college apartment-hunting, online character ed...
- Web News Briefs: IM - grownups catching up; Youth covering the convention; Freshest Apple Kids 'n' cell phones; Uncle Sam's PCs hijacked; How to phone online; Whole city wi-fi'd?!; Even kids can be 'phishers'....
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Over-the-transom resources for families
We get lots of email from makers and publishers of resources for parents. We can't endorse products and software because we don't have the resources to test them properly, but we do these occasional roundups in case there's something you've been looking for among these. As for Web sites, we do check out every one - and only pass along the ones we feel are worth parents' attention.
- Putting PCs to bed - Here's one way to control late-night instant messaging. "Sleepy" lets parents schedule the times the family PC can be used, or not. With it, (Windows) computers turn themselves off automatically at a set time, powering themselves down "gracefully" (automatically saving changes) "so that unsupervised and unauthorized people won't use your PCs during off hours." There's a 15-minute warning. The controls are password-protected. It's $21.95 for home users and can also control several computers on a network.
- Image filtering - "Photo No-No!" claims to use artificial intelligence to filter images in emails and on Web pages. The press release says the product blocks "hundreds of thousands of known adult Web sites," the only potential problem being that Photo No-No needs to keep up with new ones every day. The product is $29.95 and there's a free trial version.
- New e-playground - We haven't written about kids' e-playgrounds (or online "walled gardens," as they say in the UK) since 2002, before the dot-com meltdown, when new online-safety resources became scarcer. So we were surprised to hear about Razzul City for Windows XP from Kid Innovation. For $29.95/year, the product provides two kids (accounts) access only to "pre-approved websites" (using the Yahooligans! search engine), as well as a profanity filter and filtered email.
- Character education online - Parents' Choice Award-winning GoodCharacter.com has free "K-12 lesson plans, a how-to guide to service learning, essays on using the Socratic method in the classroom, and topics for productive ethical discussions with children." The links (to key character education organizations alone are a great resource. Speaking of character ed, here's are two pages about the Golden Rule's universality in TeachingValues.com and ReligiousTolerance.org (I feel this most basic principle of reciprocity is the key to a better Internet for everybody as we together begin to address problems like cyberbullying).
- For teachers and students - The World & I is a Washington, D.C.-based monthly magazine and Web archive of articles in politics, science, the arts, cultures, books, and "Modern Thought." It includes "1,000 Teacher's Guide activities that meet the national standards, a Book Review Archive with a search capability of its own, and a series of Special Collections."
- College-bound? - 2 resources you might appreciate: 1) The Princeton Review's "Best 357 College Rankings" might be useful. It's based on student surveys asking about everything from academics to the Greek scene to sports and parties. The Top 5 of each category is available to all at the link above; register to get the full Top 20 (looks to be free). The book is $21.95. 2) Rent.com's new search for university housing around "3,600 colleges and universities nationwide." Rent.com says it will award students $100 when a lease is completed.
- Edu-tainment - 2 child literacy-promoting resources that have found their way to us are ClickN'READ, a new "online beginning reading program ... designed to bring the child to a 3rd grade reading level" (by University of Nebraska education Prof. Ron Nelson) and Verizon-sponsored SuperThinkers, a site designed to "encourage even reluctant readers" to read and solve problems "using sound, animation, words, images, and interactivity." These services are always marketed as fun and engaging, but Mom or Dad usually has to do some coaxing, of course.
- Parenting from Oz - Parentbytes.com is refreshingly un-American :-), providing tips, products, book reviews, kid-friendly recipes, and parents' forum apparently mostly for parents of babies and toddlers. You'll like the warmth expressed in this site.
- Head games - ItsYourTurn.com takes care to distinguish itself from "twitch" video games. It's a site of "turn-based games" - basically good ol' board games - backgammon, checkers, chess, Scrabble, etc. - played online. The site claims 100,000 players a month. This is interesting: Players schedule their moves (once a day/week/month), and can attach chat messages to each move (there could be a downside to this, if strangers contact or groom kids this way). The site's free for up to 20 simultaneous games, $30/month for up to 200 simultaneous games (whew!).
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Web News Briefs
- IM: Grownups catching up?
Well, the numbers are growing - more than 40% of online Americans 18+ now instant message (53 million), according to just-released figures from the Pew Internet & American Life project. But look at the breakdown from AOL's survey that included teens (in 20 large cities, as opposed to Pew's rural and urban sample): a whopping 90% of 13-to-21-year-olds IM, 71% of people 22-34, 55% 35-54, and 48% 55 and up, the Washington Post reports. Something important that parents might want to remember: Adults use IM differently from kids, and it behooves parents to get a handle on how their kids are using this popular tool of the teen social scene. Here's the online safety piece: expression vs. protection in IM. "Instant messagers use the expressive tools of IM [buddy icons, online profiles, avatars] more frequently than the protective tools that allow them to block unwanted communications. Buddy list management also occurs relatively infrequently, with users reporting adding or deleting buddies from their list no more than a few times a month." For more on this, have a look at "IM risks & tips," based on an interview with Tim LaFazia, PC security expert and father of six.
- Young reporters at the convention
Young reporters with Children's PressLine covered the Republican National Convention just as they did the Democratic one (see "Kids & politics" in my blog). One reporter asked a delegate from Texas about how Republicans will address children's issues, and was told that "providing social services is the job of 'churches and Christians. If it's done through the churches ... children will be taken care of properly.... All [the federal government] has done is take care of the outside of children, and we haven't provided them with what they need inside to be better people and grow up to be productive adults." Don't miss other comments these smart young reports, as posted at ConnectforKids.org. See also answers from both presidential candidates to Connect for Kids questions on kids' issues. For info on teaching kids about the democratic process, see KidsVotingUSA and TakeYourKidstoVote.org.
- Freshest Apple
How appropriate that Apple should unveil its slim, chic G5 iMac in Paris. Apple's calling it "the world's thinnest desktop computer," because it "tucks all of its components, including its hard drive, processor and DVD drive, behind a wide-screen [17- or 20-inch] liquid-crystal [LCD] display," CNET reports. The $1,299 (base price) computer is about 2 inches thick (see photo at CNET). It was designed by Apple's iPod folk. Here's the Washington Post's roundup of G5 coverage and Apple's own page about it. For the techies among us, this skinny little computer has a G5, 1.6GHz processor (IBM's PowerPC 970); Mac OSX v. 10.3; 256MB of RAM; an 80GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; a combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM drive; Nvidia's GeForce FX 5200 Ultra graphics chip; and 64MB of dedicated graphics memory (don't ask me to explain all of that). The $1,499 and $1,899 models have more, of course (the priciest one a 20" screen).
- Kids 'n' cell phones
Fifty-six percent of US kids 13+ have cell phones, according to Common Sense Media, which suggests that parents are dealing with some phone issues. The kids' media literacy organization offers some good advice to head off some of the harsher of these - suggestions such as forging a family contract that establishes who pays for extra minutes each month, deals with protecting young phone-users' privacy, alerts kids to behavior that becomes cell-phone cyberbullying, and promotes good mobile manners. See also our feature last spring on the prospect of cell-phone parental controls, with thoughts from Lynn Hayes, a mother of three teenagers.
- Uncle Sam's PCs hijacked too
Families who've had their computers infected by some worm and then hijacked by spammers needn't feel embarrassed. So has the US government. "Hundreds of powerful computers at the Defense Department and US Senate were hijacked by hackers who used them to send spam e-mail," USAToday reports, referring to hackers' practice of turning unprotected PCs into "zombies" and zombie networks for the purposes of spamming (to make money) or mounting denial-of-service attacks (to shut down important Web sites and services). The government's problem was uncovered during the Justice Department's recent crackdown on cybercrime, as reported by many media outlets, including the Washington Post (see also "Anti-P2P momentum" in last week's issue). For more on PC hijacking and what to do about it, see "What if our PC's a zombie?!", "1 very illegal summer job," and "How spammers distributed porn."
- VoIP: How to phone online
Have relatives overseas? Want your college kid to call home freely? Now, using the Net for long-distance phoning is easy on the family budget as well as easy to do. It starts at $29.95/month for unlimited calls anywhere in the US and Canada and 4 cents/minute for international calls. The Washington Post lays it all out very clearly - the two types of Net telephony (using your regular phone or special equipment); the cost; the providers; the how-to-plug-in; and two important caveats (911 service and electrical outages, which suggest that we not eliminate land lines entirely). As for Mac users, CNET reports that Skype launched its service for them (in beta-testing) this week.
- A whole US city wi-fi'd?!
Yes. It's in the works in Philadelphia - all 135 square miles of it, the Associated Press reports. For what city officials estimate will cost about $10 million, that would turn Philly into "the world's largest wireless Internet hot spot." The AP says the plan involves having hundreds, maybe thousands of small transmitters placed around the city, probably on top of lampposts. "Once complete, the network would deliver broadband Internet almost anywhere radio waves can travel - including poor neighborhoods where high-speed Internet access is now rare." The AP adds that the city is likely to provide this wi-fi access for free "or at costs far lower than the $35 to $60 a month charged by commercial providers." This could be a precedent for other cities, which - if they jump on this potential bandwagon - could help close the digital divide in US urban areas. Families who can't afford high-speed access will now just have to be able to acquire a router, hub, and wi-fi card, not to mention a computer in which to install that card.
- Even kids can be 'phishers'
Parents might want to know that it's so easy to become an online scam artist now that some of our tech-literate kids could be tempted to try it just for fun. CNET reports that these kits contain "all the graphics, Web code, and text required to construct the kind of bogus Web sites used in Internet phishing scams." The sites will have "the same look and feel as legitimate online banking sites," so people can be tricked into revealing personal financial information to someone posing as their bank. [It's happening to a lot of people. The US Justice Department last week announced more than 100 arrests of online scammers who've affected more than 150,000 victims, PC World reported.] Many of the "phishing" kits also contain software that turns computers into spamming machines. So, if not a scammer, your kid can also become a spammer!
Here are tips from the Anti-Phishing Working Group on "How to Avoid Phishing Scams" and "What to Do If You've Given Out Your Personal Financial Information."
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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