Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Texting is not Just for Kids

Texting is catching on with adults. In some cases parents pick it up in order to communicate with their text happy kids. In other cases, adults are realizing the value of quick non-verbal mobile communications, particularly in the case of professionals that may often be in a situation where they can’t take a phone call. One humorous note is that texting really should catch on big with adult males. We don’t particularly like to chat anyway, so this is great way to avoid another conversation.

The article provides a glossary of commonly used texting abbreviations, most of which I didn’t know. My favorite that I plan to start using immediately is MTFBWY: May the force be with you.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kid Friendly Search

This blog post from lists how to set up the major search engines to default to safe search mode. None of these will be 100%, but they do filter out most of the inappropriate search results. For market leader Google, it’s very simple.

1. Go to Google preferences.
2. Select safe search and click save.

That’s it. Google with set a text cookie in your browser that activate safe search every time you visit Google. Do this from each computer in the house and you search results will be relatively protected. The cookie is browser specific so you’ll need to do it with IE / AOL / Firefox etc if you use multiple browsers.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Phone Porn on the Rise

NetFamilyNews notes that a Juniper Research study predicts that porn delivered to mobile phones will be a $3.5 billion dollar business in 2010. North America is actually a little backwards when it comes to mobile adoption. Most of us don’t have video capable phones yet, and US mobile networks aren’t quite up to the standards of our friends in Europe. That is changing, and that also makes North America a growth market for the industry.

So now along with monitoring your kid’s computer and checking under his bed for contraband Playboy magazines, you’ll have to worry about what he can get to via his phone.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You Are Software

Russian programmers have developed chat bots that are so good, few people can tell that they are not chatting with a real live human. The 16 year old cutie that your son thinks he is chatting with may in fact be a bot program that is gathering personal data for identity theft purposes.

Actually, given that kids don’t have a whole lot of credit worth stealing, this is probably more of a concern for parents that might be frequenting online dating sites. Always practice safe surfing!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Yahoo Has All The Answers

The Yahoo Answers service has over 400 million answers to user generated queries indexed. Unfortunately, many of those answers are wrong. Schools really don’t need to spend any time worrying about 9th graders outsourcing their homework to Yahoo Answers. Odds are the kids that try that won’t do so well.

Where Wikipedia is a community edited encyclopedia, Yahoo Answers is the internet equivalent of asking 25 random strangers on the street for a restaurant recommendation, or medical advice. Even if you are getting great information, you won’t know it until after the fact. With no trust or reputation system in place, the advice is of limited value because you have no way to know if the person providing advice is qualified to do so. Your question may get 75 answers, ranging from truly insightful to just plain wrong. If you knew enough to sort the wheat from the chaff, you probably wouldn’t be asking in the first place.

If your kid is using Yahoo Answers as a research source, you may want to have a chat.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Video Games Go Vegas

Apparently, the powers that run the gambling industry in the US are concerned that the video game generation will be bored by the mindless zombie play of the traditional slot machine. So they are designing new slot machines that include an element of skill via video games. Instead of winning $100 for getting 3 cherries, you’ll play a game built into the slot machine and your performance in the game determines how much the payoff will be. Of course, with slot machines accounting for 60% of the revenue in a casino, the games will finely tuned to make sure that percentage does not take a hit.

I suspect we’ll see a lot more of this in other industries as our kids become adults. A generation used to having access to immersive and compelling virtual words from their basement is going to have very different expectations about how they interact with the entertainment industry outside of their basements.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Online Gaming May Lead To Your Early Demise

Techdirt found this ridiculous article from Fox News fear mongering the dangers of being murdered when you meet up in real life with people you know only from online games. As Techdirt points out, the article is so ridiculous that it borders on satire.

It should be common sense to anybody with access to the Internet that people may not be who they seem. This is especially true of people in online games that are playing roles or characters. Adults especially, have no excuse. Fox came up with 4 examples. There are 30 million people playing massively multi-player role playing games. That seems like pretty good odds to me. In fact, a source in the article references 20 weddings that resulted from people that met in online games. It sounds like your odds of getting lucky are better than your odds of being murdered!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Ultimate Guide To Parental Control

It’s probably fairly clear that I’m not a big fan of parental control software or tools. They don’t work well in many cases, and I think many parents use them as a crutch to avoid dealing head on with the underlying issue of lack of respect from the kids. That said, if you are interested in your options for tools to help control access to electronic media, this guide from The Progress & Freedom Foundation covers just about every commercial product or rating service that is available. It also explains that built in tools in the Xbox, Playstation, etc. that your kids may have forgot to tell you about.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Maybe You Shouldn't Go On You-Tube For Medical Advice

University of Toronto researchers found that 45% of the immunization information on YouTube contradicts the official government recommendations in Canada. Those recommendations are very similar to the standards in the US.

I’m not trying to start a debate about whether or not immunizations are a good idea. However, it does point out how easy it is for any group with an agenda to post official looking medical advice on YouTube, and then work the system to get a bunch of positive reviews on the videos, thereby adding to their apparent credibility. Teens especially, who might be hesitant to discuss a potentially embarrassing medical issue with their parents, could be more likely to believe a highly rated and professionally produced YouTube video that is dispensing questionable medical advice.

Open and honest communication with your kids is the best antidote to this. Bad information has always been out there. The Internet makes it both easier to find, and easier to debunk.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Proof That Violent Media Affects The Brain

Slashdot has a story about a new study that used MRI technology to show that areas of the brain responsible for suppressing unwanted aggressive acts are less active when the subject was exposed to several clips of movie violence.

In other words, when the brain is exposed to a stimulus, the part of the brain related to that stimulus reacts. Is this really news? Humans are predators. We have the basic fight or flight instinct hardwired in. Is it really any surprise that when exposed to violence, the brain takes a preparatory step towards being ready to experience violence? It’s a long way from this study to any conclusion that violent media causes violent behavior.

In fairness, nobody associated with the study is making that connection. However, don’t be surprised if some group tries to make that connection in the next week or so. It’ll be good press for that all important last minute tax deductible donation pitch.

Bureau of Justice statistics show that violent crime is down significantly over the last 15 years. Maybe getting out your aggressions shooting monsters in a video game makes it less likely you’ll take out your aggressions at the mall?

We may some day establish a clear link between violent media and violent behavior. However, until we do we should tread very carefully around policy decisions based on an assumption of a risk that may or may not exist.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Phones Aren't Just For Talking

The mobile phone world is so dynamic that it’s difficult for the experts to keep up, let alone us parents! However, this article from the Baltimore Sun is a good overview of the changes occurring in mobile technology.

The implication for parents is that phones are becoming less like phones and more like small mobile computers. So essentially every challenge you face limiting access via a computer is quickly becoming a parallel issue with mobile phones. For example, if Facebook access is a point of contention in your household, don’t assume you’ve won because you are blocking Facebook on your home network. You can do a lot on Facebook via a phone.