Friday, October 28, 2005
Samantha's bully-proofing tips
This week in the NetFamilyNewsletter, Part 2 on bullying and cyberbullying: some practical tips for kids and teens when confronted by a bully - online and/or offline. They're from Samantha Hahn, National American Miss Teen 2005, who shares these pointers (learned from her own multi-year experience with bullying), whenever she gives talks at schools.
Virtual real estate mogul
Now, here's an example of where the line between virtual and real is getting blurry. British-born, California-based indie film director and gamer Jon Jacobs just paid $100,000 for a piece of "real estate" in the Sweden-based MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) "Project Entropia," UPI reports. Apparently, Jon considers the purchase of this "resort" (on an asteroid and still under development) an investment (or filmmaking inspiration), since the property "comes with mining and hunting taxation rights" in the "treacherous, but mineral-rich" Paradise V Asteroid Belt." As for other revenue streams, the as-yet-unnamed resort also comes with "a 1,000-unit apartment complex, a shopping mall, sports stadium and night club," a billboard marketing system and naming rights," the BBC reports. According to Sci-Tech-Today, Entropia, which has 299,359 registered players, "is known for its commercialization of virtual goods in the game. Most MMORPGs such as Everquest [which rely on subscription fees] discourage the sale of their virtual goods for real world currencies." Entropia, it adds, "sells tools and weapons that players use in the game for Project Entropia Dollars (PEDs)." The BBC says "typical items sold [in Entropia] include Repedge battle axes at 4.55 PEDs and Angelic Flakes at 1.48 PEDs" (10 PEDs = $1 US).
Amazing gamers' lives
There are gamers who make a living "leveling up" other gamers' characters. I realize this begs a question, so here's an example: Qing Xuwei in China "used to make 10,000 yuan [about $1,200] a month by power-leveling other people's game characters while they are away from the game. He wrote and runs software programs (on seven computers) that increase the strength and status of clients' game characters while they're on vacation or otherwise not playing (so they don't lose any ground in the game), the BBC reports. Another gamer earns $70,000/year creating female characters' clothing (aha! designers of virtual fashion now!). Yet another, the BBC reports, is "a 'robot tailor,' designing robot costumes" for game characters - a niche market, "but he still earns $250 a month." Back in the States, here, the Washington Post describes the more "traditional" way of making money as a gamer: just being very good and going pro. Referring to Kyle Miller in Virginia, the Post says, "He drives a Bimmer. He attracts the ladies. He's got sponsors. He trains hard. He plays harder. He's 21." And for four years he has "consistently dominated Counter-Strike, an online shooter game whose 2.8 million active players generate more monthly Internet traffic than all of Italy." And here's CNET on "getting girls in the game."
Porn on video iPod?
It's hard not to be skeptical, but Wired News reports that "the adult industry is largely staying away" from this new video venue. The article cites the view of L.R. Clinton Fayling, president of Brickhouse Mobile, "a Denver company that is licensing adult material for mobile phones," saying the adult industry's "largely staying away" out of concern about litigation and legislation (that would happen because the iPod's so popular with young people). But Wired News does name some smaller adult-content companies that are jumping right in. And Playboy and other companies are already producing for PlayStation portable handheld game device (see my 4/22 issue). [Thanks to Bob Dahlstrom, CEO of Kidsnet, for pointing this piece out.]
Remember when networking was a new concept, something we grownups were told to embrace in order to be successful? Well now, the Los Angeles Times points out, "if a typical 11-year-old heard such advice presented as innovative strategy, he or she would collapse laughing." Today's middle-schoolers are networking-proficient - online and off. And their social circles are huge compared to ours, when we were kids. "Now kids' ability to reach out to those they've just met, hold onto those they know, and bring disparate parts of their lives together with the touch of a key has changed the boundaries and definition of social life," according to the Times, and they are enabled by IM, email, cellphones, and online games - even "new kids." For example, "a 7th-grader hands the new kid in school a dozen IM screen names, and within a week, she's 'talking' to all her new classmates, even the ones she's too timid to approach in person." Check out the article for other fascinating examples. But the New York Times reports that some parents are concerned that all this online socializing might be "interfering with growing up." And the Richmond.com in Virginia zooms in on kids' preference for IM and phone texting over email.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Catholic school nixes blogging
Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, N.J., has "ordered its students … to remove personal postings about the school or themselves from Web sites like MySpace.com or Xanga.com," Newsday reports. After a blogging incident in which a student thought he was "talking" to a peer and wasn't, the school held an assembly for all 900 students to "reinforce the online rules." This rule had been on the books for years, but now it's being strictly enforced - for protection, not censorship, the school said. The Electronic Frontier Foundation told Newsday it had seen several efforts by private institutions around the US to restrict students' "Internet postings," but this was the first "overreaction" the EFF had heard of, adding that it would be better to talk with students about what is and isn't safe online. Students at this school who don't comply could be suspended. [Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this story out.] For more on this, see "Teacher to parents: Be wary of teen blogs" and "MySpace: The new MTV." And here's a local perspective (and primer) on teen blogging from the Wausau [Wisc.] Daily Herald.
UK's first Net suicide pact
Britain's Home Office is urging Internet companies to make it tougher for people to access Web sites and chatrooms about suicide, The Guardian reports. "The move comes after two strangers forged Britain's first Internet suicide pact, dying side by side two days after making contact for the first time on a chatroom dedicated to discussions about suicide." Other countries, especially Japan, have seen some tragedies like this (see this at the BBC), so UK psychiatrists are concerned this incident may be the start of a trend in their country. What happened was the deaths in a car in a southeast London shopping center parking lot of two people who had nothing in common "before making contact on one of the most frequently-visited suicide chatrooms" but an "interest in computers and their history of depression." See also a Wired News series on assisted suicide online, leading with the fact that anyone can type "suicide" into any search engine window and find "a handful of pages where suicidal strangers counsel each other on the best way to die." [Thanks to QuickLinks for pointing the UK story out.]
ID theft fear's impact
A new Consumer Reports WebWatch study has found that some of us are cutting back on our Web use because of concerns about identity theft, Wired News reports. Nearly a third of the some 1,500 people surveyed nationwide say they're using the Web less and "some 80% … say they're at least somewhat concerned someone could steal their identity from personal information on the Internet." Most have stopped giving out personal information on the Web and 25% have stopped shopping online.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Netherlands: Kid phones
Two Dutch phone companies have unveiled cellphones just for kids, the iKids and the Buddy Bear, the latter targeting 4-to-9-year-olds, The Register reports. The iKids has "a built in GPS receiver, which remains working even when the phone isn't activated. Parents can select three 'safety zones,' areas where their children are allowed to play. If they wander off to another area, parents receive an SMS message. They can also look up the child's whereabouts on a virtual map." Very cool, but one just hopes no one other than a parent can track the phone's young owner.
Webcams for far-flung families
At least the article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a sentence about the downside of an upbeat article about keeping in touch with Webcams. It's great that Miyako Gondo in Tokyo gets to see her 13-month-old granddaughter nearly every day because little Anika's parents have a Web camera connected to the family PC. Let's just hope the parents know to monitor Anika's use of the Webcam when she gets old enough to surf the Net herself. As the Post-Gazette puts it, "Some humans even use Web cameras to engage in voyeuristic adults-only behavior not suitable for detailed discussion in a family newspaper." Law-enforcement people have told me that sexual predators send kids Webcams as "gifts," something parents easily miss because they come in such small packages. Just another reminder that most technology also has a downside parents need to be aware of (for other concerning uses, see also "Closer look at 'camgirls' sites," 2/7/03, and "Teen 'antics'-cum-child porn"). As for the numbers, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found recently that, "on any given day, about two million internet users are checking out remote places or people by using Webcams."
Can-spam law: MI parents irked
It's great to hear parents' voices in the spam debate! Michigan's anti-porn-spam law, designed to protect kids, hasn't been enforced yet, and parents are frustrated, the Detroit Free Press reports. "Beginning Aug. 1, the Michigan Children's Protection Registry Act was supposed to stop companies from sending messages pitching products and services that are illegal for minors to use to e-mail addresses on a state-maintained list. But the law hasn't been effective because it isn't being enforced - or advertised much - while the state Legislature tidies up some of its language." Two more laws designed to do that clarifying have passed the state Senate but haven't yet made it through the House of Representatives or to the governor's desk for signing, the Free Press adds. The state government has received calls, emails, and letters from "angry parents." Some of them are joining the original critics of these and similar legislation in Utah who say it's impractical to think that porn spammers in, for example, Russia will check their email lists against the state of Michigan's do-not-email registry, as the law says they must do or be fined. [Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this news out.]
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
To learn mashing, remixing...
…go to SoundJunction.org. Targeting musicians and students 13-18, it's a new UK-based site that encourages users to explore original compositions from Hip Hop to classical to jazz to West African, "discover how the music works," and then mix and mash it up! "Three pieces were written especially for the site by musicians Jason Yard, Tunde Jegede and David Horn," the BBC reports, adding that "the site has more than 50 hours of audio and video footage which help people learn about how musical traditions have been shaped through the ages" and "hundreds of interactive articles" explaining the histories of various kinds of music and telling about the lives of musicians and how they were influenced. Just one exciting thing about this site from a young user's perspective: Its creators are thinking about allowing users to download their compositions onto phones as ringtones. SoundJunction.org is part of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, a 100+-year-old organization that provides music exams and assessments in 92 countries. For more on remixing, see "The age of mash-ups," "Come and get it," and "Net music's next step."
ID theft: Fact & fiction
Some people will be comforted to hear that they're more likely to have their identity stolen in "real life" than on the Internet. "Fraud artists can bribe employees of banks or credit card companies who have access to confidential records, or they can pose as an employer or landlord to get a copy of your credit report, or simply steal a wallet, purse or your mail. One of the most common ways that information is snatched is through lost credit cards. All of those techniques are more frequent than any methods using the Internet," CNET reports in a thorough FAQ on the subject. It goes on to say what's done with our info after it's obtained, what we can do about it, and how to protect ourselves in the first place - even what software to buy to wipe our hard drives before getting rid of old PCs (a must).
Monday, October 24, 2005
Librarians: Digital Age heroes
Anyone who thinks all we need is Google or a parent of any such person might enjoy reading a Des Moines Register article about that city's reference heroes. There's Deborah Kolb, who "has worked at the Central Library since 1972. She says that young people seem startled that everything can't be found via Google" - so she takes them, for example, to "a relic - the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature - to look up old magazine articles on Woodstock for a school report." And there's the awful but revealing (of what librarians have to deal with) account of how "35-year library veteran Dorothy Kelley" managed the rescue of a 20-month-old child whom "a convicted sex offender" grabbed and dragged to the library men's room (police later said the "the library staff conducted a 'masterful tactical response'"). The staff later received a plant and a note from grateful "Des Moines mothers." And there's "Pam Deitrick, a librarian who started working here part-time in high school in 1969. When a parent dies, she helps the grieving caller try to remember the name of the song he wants to play at the funeral." As for everyday heroism, though, the Register rightfully points out that it's because we're so awash in information these days that we need librarians more than ever.