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Friday, December 30, 2005

Net school for Katrina victims

This is one of those Internet-as-hero stories that need to be told. Thanks to Michigan Virtual High School (MVHS), a state-funded nonprofit organization, "28 students at Pass Christian High School will still get a shot at passing chemistry," Internet News reports. Since Hurricane Katrina "took their high school down and their chemistry teacher left town, the students had to go online to finish the course, and MVHS was there for them. "Students from public or private high schools are eligible to take the online classes," according to Internet News. "Those who make use of the service include gifted or other special needs students, those who need to make up credits and kids who are home-schooled. The service also includes tools for preparing for common achievement tests, as well as career-development tools. Some schools purchase access to classes or tools on behalf of students; individuals also can pay to take courses. Except for home-schoolers, classes and credit are managed by the child's school."

Sites for family (& other) videos

It's getting very easy for anyone to put video on the Web for all to see - at no cost. Parents may want to note that, as with blogging sites, anyone can start his/her own account from anywhere there's a Net connection. The Los Angeles Times reviews three free video services: (which is also a well-established music-sharing service),, and Google Video. The first two allow a user to select a friends-only setting to restrict viewing. But Google, unlike Grouper and YouTube, reviews all videos before publishing them, according to the L.A. Times. To writer David Colker's credit, he addresses the question on many parents' minds: Doesn't video sharing on the Internet open a big Pandora's box - amateur porn?... Executives at both [Grouper and YouTube] said there had been few instances of anyone trying to slip porn onto their sites [all three have anti-porn clauses in their user agreements]. And soon after subscribers complained about such clips, the executives said, they were deleted." With no other safeguards from kids' exposure to X-rated content, one can only hope the companies stay vigilant.

Webcam kid going public: Results

Exposure is child pornographers' worst enemy. So the New York Times's milestone profile of Justin Berry, who starting selling images and video of himself online when he was 13 (see "Kids & Webcams"), has already had positive results: "Some of the most trafficked Web sites that directed potential customers to minors' online Webcams have shut down," the Times reports. The Times doesn't provide numbers but gives Michelle Collins, director of the Exploited Child Unit of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children as its source of this development. The closures, though, affected boys more than girls. "Not every portal to teenage Webcam sites has disappeared. While among the most popular, the portals that have taken down their links to adolescent sites are only those that in the past featured links to Justin's sites. As a result, each one is primarily a listing of boys' sites, or both boys' and girls' sites. However, other portals that link solely to girls' sites are still up and running. The ones that have disappeared, however, were significant parts of the Webcam infrastructure." Another result: Justin's biological father, implicated in the now-19-year-old's case against child pornographers, "has approached American officials in Mexico through his lawyer with an offer to turn himself in."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Net gender gap closing: Study

Though there's still a gender gap (men are the early adopters and women the communicators), the sexes are "more similar than different" in their use of the Internet, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found in its latest study. They both value the Net for its efficiency (where shopping's concerned), as "the gateway to limitless vaults of informaation." And where there is a gap, it's closing fast: 68% of men and 66% of women go online. Here are a few more key findings:

* Men are "slightly more intense" Net - they go online more often, spend more time online, and are morely to be broadband users than women.
* Women are more "enthusiastic online communicators, and they use email in a more robust way." They're also "more likely to feel satisfied with the role email plays in their lives, especially when it comes to nurturing their relationships."
* Men and women are "equally likely to use the Internet to buy products and take part in online banking, but men are more likely to use the Internet to pay bills, participate in auctions, trade stocks and bonds, and pay for digital content."
* Men are more avid consumers of online information, more likely to use the Net as a destination for recreation, and download and listen to music online than women, and the former are "more tech savvy."

That last item continues a theme found in research about online boys and girls nearly a decade ago, finding boys more likely to play and tinker with computers themselves and girls more likelyl to use them as a communications tool, a "means to an end." Some things change, some things seem not to.
There was lots of coverage of this, including at ABC News in the US.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Contest for phone 'filmmakers'

The prize for this "film festival" is for "best student film shot entirely with a camera cellphone," for presentation, of course, on a 1-to-2-inch screen, eSchoolNews reports. High school and university students throughout the US are eligible to enter their 30-second films for a $5,000 prize. "It might seem like an attention-grabbing gimmick, but [Ithaca College's Roy H. Park School of Communications, Dean Dianne] Lynch leaves no doubt of the contest's academic purpose. In today's media marketplace - where cell phones can take pictures, play music and games, be a personal secretary, or connect to Web sites - it's all about thinking small and mobile" at a time and in a country where it seems to be all about thinking big: "bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger portions at the local fast food joint," etc. The deadline for film submission is January 10. Winners will be announced at the end of the month. But Ithaca College isn't the first in this space, the Associated Press reports. For example, there's MTV's "Head and Body," a series of programs for phones; last year's Zoie Films festival, which dubbed itself "the world's first cell-phone film festival"; and, in Paris last fall, the Forum des Images's Pocket Film Festival.

Phone alerts for gamers

Microsoft is working on further blurring the line between game and phone communications. In about six months, it'll introduce a system that will alert Xbox 360 users on their phones when their friends are playing on the 360. "The alerts would be sent over the Internet via Xbox Live and come to a mobile over the air as an instant message," report GameSHOUT and the BBC.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Cellphones *disconnect* us?!

"Addicted" is a word being used in connection with technology a lot these days (see this item on "Net addiction"). In its report on a study in the Journal of Marriage in Family, the Christian Science Monitor quotes a woman teaching stress management as saying a lot of her clients are "addicted to staying in touch." They never turn off their cellphones, so that even when they're at home with their families, they're not really there. Sociologists are calling it "absent presence," the Monitor reports. "For employees on electronic leashes, cellphones and pagers raise questions about who draws the line between work and home, and where that line is." What the article, full of family anecdotes, seems to indicate is that the line is drawn differently at different times, and it depends on intentions and goals. Is one just being a workaholic at family members' expense, or is the phone actually helping parents be with children? The answer could be different from one hour to the next. In other words, it's complicated, and the answer isn't necessarily just to turn the phone off when at home or on vacation. One parent cited in the piece could only go on vacation because he had his phone with him. What's *your* family's experience with cellphones (both parents' and kids')? What answers have you found? I'd love to hear from you about this.

2005: Big year for movie/games

Before this year, most movie-spinoff videogames were either "abysmal" or "drably formulaic," writes New York Times "Game Theory" columnist Charles Herold. "Last month's release of the video-game adaptation of "Peter Jackson's King Kong" caps a year that proves those days are over." "Blade Runner" and "The Thing" weren't bad, Herold says, but "Charlie's Angels" and "The Crow: City of Angels" definitely went into the Abysmal category. "The Chronicles of Riddick" turned the tide, when game developers finally seemed to realize that more people would play a good game than a bad one - sales weren't necessarily tied to a film's box-office intake. "While nothing else this year has been as impressive as 'King Kong,' a healthy number of fun movie games like 'Madagascar' and 'Batman Begins' have appeared."

Monday, December 26, 2005

Songbird: Web-wide iTunes?

Playlist for the people? It sounds like a tool that would interest a lot of digital-music fans because of its flexibility (something the music industry hasn't provided a lot of yet). The idea is to allow people to make a playlist of tunes that don't just "live" on their computer harddrives, but rather one that pulls together their favorite songs from wherever they are, out on the Web or on their computer. Called "Songbird," it's software "based on much of the same underlying open-source technology as the Firefox Web browser," CNET reports, and it's the brainchild of "digital-music veteran Rob Lord" and the other five people of Pioneers of the Inevitable, the start-up developing it. Lord says iTunes is like the Internet Explorer browser if it could only access - why he's creating Songbird.

Teen blogs' pros & cons

There are more and more stories in papers US-wide about teen blogging, pointing to both pros and cons. "I see incredible value to teen blogs," writes Joyce Valenza in a commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Valneza knows a lot about blogging, not just because she has her own professional blog, but also because she's a high school librarian in the Philadelphia area and the mother of a blogger. "I know many teens who are newly motivated to write and who find themselves, for the first time, writing for a real audience. Groups of friends, remote and local, are brought closer in online communities." She also sees value in classroom blogging as "building a habit for the valuable sharing of knowledge." But she also acknowledges schools' legitimate concerns about "potential liability for personal blogging on school computers during recess and study halls. Bullying and unpleasant clique behaviors are part of teen culture." The Tuscaloosa News quotes a University of Alabama psychology professor as saying there's "ample research" showing that revealing secrets and sharing strong feelings is good for physical and psychological health - of course not when so much is revealed that an online predator can groom or stalk an unsuspecting blogger. Teen bloggers, the News reports, don't often think about the potential downside.