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Friday, October 14, 2005

Parents (in 2 countries) on games

Julie in Florida writes about her 14-year-old son's experience with Halo 2 and how kids view game chat with Xbox Live (the online version of Halo 2, connecting players worldwide). Tito in Portugal tells of what it's like to deal with the video and online game interests of sons aged 8, 14, and 24! Tito's experience shows how universal many tech-parenting issues are. Please see this week's issue of my newsletter for their stories.

Laptops for Third World kids

"A rugged $100 laptop specifically for primary and secondary school students in the Third World." It's the brainchild of MIT Media Lab's Nicholas Negroponte, the San Jose Mercury News reports, and it's becoming a reality, with the help of Mary Lou Jepson, who was poised to become one of those serial Silicon Valley start-up founders. But before starting her second company, she decided to take her idea for a low-cost laptop screen to the non-profit association Negroponte formed, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). Jepsen told the Mercury News she wanted to do something more meaningful. OLPC's idea is that "inexpensive laptops could connect children to the Internet and give them access to textbooks that would be too expensive to distribute in print." Also the world's education ministries are more likely to listen to and adopt the technology of a nonprofit organization than a commercial entity, the thinking goes.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Yahoo shutting down pedo chat

In an agreement with the attorneys general of New York and Nebraska, Yahoo said it will "institute systemwide controls over chat rooms likely to be frequented by child predators," Reuters reports. After barring the creation of any new chatrooms by users in June, according to the Associated Press, Yahoo shut down some 70,000 existing chatrooms with names that suggested the chatrooms were about or supported illegal adult-child sex (11.4% of the 614,000 chatroom names Yahoo reviewed, according to Reuters). The Internet company apparently will reinstitute user-created chatrooms for people 18+, but said yesterday it will "prescreen the names of all user-created chat rooms if it restores the ability to create them…. Should any slip through, Yahoo must purge such chat rooms within 24 hours from when it becomes aware of them," according to its agreement with the attorneys general. "It was not clear how the company would prevent children from signing up as adults," the AP added (if Yahoo has a tech tool for this, it would benefit from licensing it to a lot of blogging sites and other online businesses!). Yahoo has also eliminated the "Teen" chat category, the AP reports. Earlier this year, "an undercover investigator, posing as a 14-year-old while visiting one of those chat rooms, received 35 personal messages of a sexual nature over a single 25-minute period, the attorneys general said. Here's my coverage of this in June.

Video iPod: Mom's-eye-view

A couple of misc. things come to mind as I think about the *family tech* implications of this big development in digital media. We all knew music videos had moved into cyberspace, but now they're on iTunes; now they're *really* mainstream and easy to find. I went there yesterday, when the iPod Video was announced, and noticed some of the videos had little "Explicit" labels next to them (I couldn't find them today). I clicked on one, and the video was sexually suggestive, though didn't display full-frontal nudity. You get where I'm going with this - will Apple and other digital-music providers to come need to start wrestling with ratings and get into age verification, as the cellphone industry is beginning to do (because it wants to make money on porn)? The 2nd thought that occurred is the $1.99 price for music videos and single TV shows, which - as the New York Times's David Pogue pointed out in his email newsletter today - is a brilliant impulse-buy price ("How on earth did Apple persuade ABC/Disney to sell its shows for $2 an episode?" David wondered). I'm thinking, now here's another serious challenge for a young digital-music fan's monthly allowance (along with cellphone minutes and text messages). These little impulse buys are *really* going to add up, a bit like the impact of Starbucks lattes on grownups' wallets. Just stuff to think of that - never enough of that!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Early look at Xbox 360

A handful of journalists got a peek at the next-generation Xbox 360 in San Francisco the other day, and CNET's writer raved. "This is one impressive machine," Dan Terdlman reports. He and the rest of the privileged few got to play with the 13 consoles on display. They spoke with a wizard in the world of "Kameo" (the "stunning graphics … brought even the blades of grass to life") and raced Ferraris ("the things I did to that poor Ferrari were a shame"). The New York Times's preview zoomed in on Microsoft's effort to broaden its market with this console: "Note to hard-core video game players: Microsoft says it is aiming for your mothers and wives." Game consoles' "traditional" market is males 17-24.

Buddies: MSN & Yahoo Messengers

They're now on each other's buddy lists. Microsoft and Yahoo announced they'll have their IM services interoperable (meaning MSN Messenger folk will actually be able to IM with friends using Yahoo Messenger) by June 2006, Good Morning Silicon Valley reports. AIM has dominated instant-messaging to date, with 51.5 million US users. This development puts the combined MSN and Yahoo services, with a total of about 50 million users, right in the running.

iPod goes video!

Apple set the price for digital tunes, now it has set the price for music videos: $1.99. Two thousand of them are available at iTunes so far (some labeled as "explicit," at least in iTunes 5, which I haven't yet upgraded). But Apple's really big news today is the iPod Video on which to play these, as well as TV shows, which are also now on offer for $1.99. Examples the Wall Street Journal provides are "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost," through its deal with Disney/ABC. The much-anticipated iPod Video "boasts a 2.5-inch wide color screen that is larger than those on standard iPods, though the device is 30% thinner than its predecessor. Apple said the new device, which will begin shipping next week, can hold up to 150 hours of video or 15,000 songs." There's a 30-gigabyte version for $299 and a 60-gigabyte one for $399." Still, the Journal suggests, video's a "risky bet for Apple," because of the film and TV industries' concerns about piracy. CNET adds that Apple "also rolled out a new iMac" and of course the new, video-rich version of iTunes, launched just five weeks after the debut of iTunes 5. The new iMac G5 is like the current one, only thinner. Prices are $1,200 for the 17-inch and $1,600 for the 20-inch, and it comes with a remote so that it can be watched like a TV. This just in: USATODAY's how-to on how iPod Video works.

Teen blogger charged with murder is a perfectly respectable blogging service for punk rock fans that last summer reached the million-visitors-a-month mark, but now its creator, Jerome Gaynor finds himself saying about posts in the site: "I'm completely shocked and depressed about where things have gone…. There are certain things - threats, excessive obscenity, advocating racial violence, disgusting insults against dead children - that simply cannot be tolerated. I am going to make it easier to report and remove things like this. I now need to figure out how to … make some time to restructure the juggernaut of teen mayhem that this corny little website has become." One reason why Jerome posted that on his service's home page is because of a 17-year-old St. Louis boy "whose blog on came to light last week after he was charged with the murder of classmate Erin Mace, 16, of Fenton [Mo.]," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Erin also had a blog at, which linked to that of the boy charged with her murder, as did his to hers. "His entries painted a picture of loneliness and despair." The writer of this thoughtful, very thorough article talked with psychologists, police, and educators about how they view and handle this digital-age phenomenon - as a tool for teen venting, role-playing, self-validating, experimenting, threatening, soul-baring, and socializing, as well as for police work, counseling, and parenting. Articles like this are fuel for a very important discussion that needs to be going on wherever in the world teenagers are blogging. [Here's our latest feature on this, "A mom writes: Teen solicited in MySpace."]

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

CA game law's future not assured

The event didn't get a lot of fanfare, but Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law last week legislation that bans sales of violent videogames to minors. The gamemakers' trade association announced shortly afterwards that it would file a lawsuit to strike the law down, Reuters reports. It'll be interesting to see if this particular state law survives. "Federal courts have ruled against similar legislation in Washington state, the city of Indianapolis and St. Louis County in Missouri, finding the laws violated free speech guarantees in the U.S. Constitution," according to Reuters. But Illinois and Michigan have passed similar laws (the Entertainment Software Assoc. is fighting these too), and US Sen. Hillary Clinton is working on federal-level legislation. Here's earlier coverage of the California move.

'Videogame addiction' in Korea

The addiction question is a perennial, most recently raised again by the Associated Press in Seoul. There appear to be downsides to being "the world's most wired country," in which 70% of the population has broadband Net access. Korea is where a 28-year-old cybercafe gamer died after nearly 50 straight hours of playing the multiplayer online game Starcraft (see our coverage) and where 27-year-old Jun, who led the article, kicked his gaming habit after getting head and shoulder aches from playing for 15 hours at a stretch. South Korea has 17 million gamers, the AP reports, "some 35% of the population, principally males in their teens and twenties." It adds that, "at the 1,000 won-per-hour ($1) Internet cafes popular among young South Koreans, they'll sit eyes glued to monitors for hours on end." One wonders where the parents are, at least for the gamers in their teens. Excess, not the games themselves, seem to be more causative, but environment seems to be a factor too - time spent in a space that's very supportive of excessive gaming, where a gamer's budget seems to be the only restriction. Korean psychologists are getting concerned, according to the AP. "The number of counseling sessions for game addiction quadrupled last year," reports the AP, citing government figures.

PC security: The big Q

PC owners know they've got to have security software, but why does it have to be so complicated? That's the question on a lot of minds, Washington Post tech writer Rob Pegoraro knows. Rob says both McAfee and Symantec's security suites really only excel in the antivirus area. But fortunately the situation's improving, he adds. With Microsoft's Service Pack 2 package of security updates, everybody got an effective firewall (another leg of the 3-legged security school, the 1st and 2nd being antivirus protection and keeping up with patches, which is now automated for most Windows PC owners). Plus, Microsoft "has since released a surprisingly good (though still in beta test) anti-spyware tool" (which is becoming the 4th leg on the morphing security stool). For anyone not getting automatic patches, here are Microsoft's instructions on how to turn on this important security feature.

Get the new patches!

The October security patches for Windows PCs - nine of them - are now available, Microsoft announced today. The page has instructions for hand-installing the updates or for using Automatic Updates - as well as general instructions on how to protect your PC. Here's the Washington Post on what the patches are for. More on this at ZDNET.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Google's big picture

In case students and other Web researchers were holding their breath till Google's spider bots had crawled all the Net's information, we now know that would not be good for their health. Even though a contributor takes a visual guess (on today's New York Times opinion page) as to how much info the search engine will cover in 2084 (including what's in "Your Brain"), Google has just released its "300-year plan." Its CEO Eric Schmidt "estimates that Google won't manage to index all the world's information until around the 24th century," ZDNET UK reports. How are they doing right now? "Of the approximately 5 million terabytes of information out in the world, only about 170 terabytes have been indexed," ZDNET says Schmidt told his audience at an Association of National Advertisers conference in Phoenix.