CD: “Internet Safety: A Parent’s Guide”

This two-CD set is produced by Palaestra Training, and it’s the most complete and technically thorough of any of the video materials on this topic that I’ve seen anywhere. You can obtain the CD set from Palaestra Training for $39.95 or on Amazon.com for $39.99. The 10 classes occupy 370 minutes. Yes, you read that right, a little over six hours of training material. Like I said, technically thorough.

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Palaestra Training produces training materials for various technical certifications, so it’s not really surprising that they’d be the ones to nail the technical content side of Internet Safety. The instructor is Christopher Rees, who is articulate, energetic, explains things very well, and appears to be extremely knowledgeable about the relevant technical details. I would definitely hire this guy.

A couple things you need to be aware of:

1) The videos are on CD, not DVD. The software on the CDs should auto-launch in Windows and work fine, but they won’t work in an automated way on the Mac. I was able to pull the video files off the discs and play them on my Mac, but it took a modicum of technical savvy to do that. If you’re running Windows, you should be fine.

2) These presentations get technically deep. That’s a very good thing if you want to really understand the technical details of how things work. Rees does a very good job of helping the less-initiated, but I’m confident that there’s a point at which real novices will find their heads swimming in computer-speak. Still, I believe that most determined parents would benefit from simply watching the classes over and over again until the concepts begin to stick.

3) The first course is a video clip of Rees introducing the series. After that, all the videos are a sort of digital whiteboard in which you see a computer screen on which Rees draws, writes, and does live demos. It’s pretty effective, IMO. I was just fine with seeing the computer screen, rather than the instructor’s face. Not exceptionally fancy from a production perspective, but the focus here is on the details, and it delivers quite well.

Here are the classes:
1. Internet Safety
2. Computer Basics Part I
3. Computer Basics Part II
4. Worms and Trojans
5. Peer-to-Peer Networks
6. Predator Mindset
7. Identity Theft
8. Tools to Protect your Family
9. Securing your PC
10. Securing your Home Network

DVD: “Internet Safety: Hot Tips to keep cool kids safer on the Internet”

This DVD is produced by The Safe Side Company, which was founded by Julie Clark (The Baby Einstein Company) and John Walsh (America’s Most Wanted). It is definitely geared toward children. It’s a bit manic for my taste much of the time (think Pee Wee’s Playhouse meets America’s Most Wanted) but I haven’t yet test driven with my kids, so maybe they’ll eat this up. I’ll be sure and post an update when I have more testimonials from the target audience.

The DVD is available from The Safe Side for $12.99, as well as from Amazon.com for $17.99.

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The production quality is extremely high, and certainly no dull moments. Chapters include the following:
1. Introduction to the Internet
2. Always ask your Safe Side Adult
3. Hot Tip: Never go into chat rooms …
4. At the cyber post office
5. Hot Tip: Don’t open Emails …
6. Around the camp fire
7. Hot Tip: Never respond to …
8. What’s for lunch?
9. Hot Tip: Don’t post personal info …
10. John Walsh talks with Dizzie
11. Cyber headquarters Hot Tip review
12. Closing credits

You get the basic flavor. At 42 minutes it should hold the kids’ attention without providing much in the way of technical information.

For my money, one of the most valuable features on the DVD is a 9-minute parent’s section, hosted by John Walsh, detailing two specific stories involving real girls who became involved with Internet predators. Of course, this is John’s forte, and it’s extremely well done and appropriately disturbing.

DVD: “The Internet and your Kids: Healthy habits for a safe online home”

This DVD is produced by Healthy Habits Videos and is available on their site, or on amazon.com. I should note that at the time of this writing, the DVD is “currently not available” from Amazon.com, but can be purchased from the producer’s site for $24.95.

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The following is from their promotional material:
In this practical DVD, classroom teachers Brian and Julie Dixon empower parents to keep their kids safe online. Packed with screenshot tutorials, student and parent interviews, and straightforward advice, this DVD will guide your family to a safer Internet experience. The only DVD available that actually shows parents step by step how to keep their children safe.

At 60 minutes, it’s long enough to get into a bit of detail, but still glosses over some of the technical details. That’s not a criticism. There’s so much that needs to be said, and only so much you can pack into a single hour. The DVD isn’t as professional or glossy as some of the others available, but the information is good and Brian and Julie are both pleasant (garnering all-important style points for effort and sincerity).

I find the information here to be very helpful and fairly broad in reach, including “myspace, online pornography, gaming and gambling, instant messaging, filtering software, history and cookies, setting passwords, computer location, file sharing.” If that sounds like an eclectic list of topics, it is. If there’s one substantive weakness to the DVD it’s that it tries to cover so many different (albeit important) topics that it can feel a bit scattered at times.

DVD: “Internet Safety: Protecting Our Children Online”

This DVD is a very digestable and well-produced resource for parents and educators. It runs about 30 minutes, so it’s not full of specific technical information. But it provides an excellent overview of the subject matter, focusing particularly on the dangers of Internet pornography and online predators.

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The DVD is produced by Citizens for Community Values, an organization based in Cincinnati, Ohio, that has done a tremendous amount of good in the state of Ohio and across the nation. You can obtain the DVD from their website for a recommended donation of $15.

DVD highlights include:
- Estalishing rules and guidelines
- Installing appropriate technology
- Building honest relationships and open lines of communication

I strongly recommend this DVD as a starting point for parents. I also encourage helping out Citizens for Community Values at whatever level you feel comfortable or able.

Internet Safety resources… Coming soon to this blog

In late August I’m slated to teach a series of classes on Internet Safety at the Campus Education Week program at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Education Week is sponsored by the Church Educational System of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it draws tens of thousands of people every August to the BYU campus. It’s a very cool event, and I’m excited to be able to teach about something that I think is absolutely critical to parents and children everywhere.

While I’m prepping for those presentations, I’m wading through a considerable amount of material. I’m limited in the amount of handouts I’m permitted to distribute in the classes, so I’m beginning to put reviews of materials, books, DVDs, or other resources here on the blog under the category “Internet Safety.” That doesn’t mean I won’t toss in other things of interest as they come up, but I’m hoping to build a sizeable repository of information on the subject. Hope it provides some value.

At some point I will probably organize the material into a wiki when I have a bit more critical mass. That may make things a bit more accessible and structured.

Experts: Video games not an addiction

Experts: Video games not an addiction, Reuters

This is a follow-on to the previous post…

Doctors backed away on Sunday from a controversial proposal to designate video game addiction as a mental disorder akin to alcoholism, saying psychiatrists should study the issue more.

So the headline is a little misleading. The real punch line is that they tabled discussion and agreed to revisit the issue after further study.

Even before debate on the subject began, the committee that made the proposal backed away from its position, and instead recommended that the American Psychiatric Association consider the change when it revises its next diagnostic manual in 5 years.

The Entertainment Software Association, which represents the $30 billion global video game industry, said more research is needed before video game addiction should be categorized as a mental disorder.

Okay, so the headline is entirely off-base. There were some experts cited who believed that video games were not addictive, but that just reinforces that there’s still debate on the issue, since there are clearly individuals who believe that gaming is addictive and others who believe it is not.

My opinion hasn’t changed (see last post). I suspect there are some complex dynamics at play, not the least of which is lobbying by both the health insurance industry and the Entertainment Software Association. The psychological issues are complex, but I’m sure that the political and financial issues are just as tricky…

Video game addiction: A new diagnosis?

Video game addiction: A new diagnosis? by Lindsey Tanner

Video game addiction as the latest psychiatric disorder? That’s what the American Medical Association is debating this week, with a vote as early as next week.

Video game makers scoff at the notion that their products can cause a psychiatric disorder.

And tobacco makers scoff at the notion that cigarettes are addictive and/or cause cancer. No information in this statement, pro or con.

Even some mental health experts say labeling the habit a formal addiction is going too far.

There’s slightly more information in this statement. “There exists a set E of mental health experts such that two or more elements of set E assert that calling a ‘habit’ a ‘formal addiction” is ‘going too far.’” It still isn’t really saying much, other than “there is debate.”

But there certainly is a debate when you begin to try and identify the point at which any habit becomes an addiction.

Joyce Protopapas of Frisco, Texas, said her 17-year-old son, Michael, was a video addict. Over nearly two years, video and Internet games transformed him from an outgoing, academically gifted teen into a reclusive manipulator who flunked two 10th grade classes and spent several hours day and night playing a popular online video game called World of Warcraft.

Read the rest of the behaviors that her son descended into, and ask yourself if it sounds addictive or simply “a habit.” Brushing my teeth twice a day is a habit. Threatening your parents with physical violence when they try to pull the plug to the Internet seems a bit more extreme.

Dr. Michael Brody, head of a TV and media committee at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry … praised the AMA council for bringing attention to the problem, but said excessive video-game playing could be a symptom for other things, such as depression or social anxieties that already have their own diagnoses.

It is tough to separate these things out, and there certainly is a complex interplay of factors when someone tosses their life out the window for any reason. Clearly many drug and alcohol addicts are predisposed to those addictions due to other conditions, such as depression or social anxieties. And yet we don’t suggest that a meth addict isn’t actually addicted to meth because they were already depressed before they used for the first time.

For my money, I’m absolutely convinced that there is a point at which certain individuals can become as addicted to gaming (especially online gaming) as someone can be to pornography or drugs. It can become so consuming that they can’t let go of it, and they may sacrifice significant successes in their real life in exchange for imaginary successes in a virtual world.

I won’t suggest for a minute that the simple act of playing online too much constitutes addiction. But i do believe that there exists a threshold beyond which the behavior clearly becomes an addiction.

What do you think?

Steve Yegge: Rich Programmer Food

Rich Programmer Food by Steve Yegge

Lengthy but brilliant rant by Steve Yegge on the educational, personal, spiritual, moral, intellectual, and engineering value of compilers (knowing how they work, writing them… that sort of thing).

Several of my favorite quotes follow:

Gentle, yet insistent executive summary: If you don’t know how compilers work, then you don’t know how computers work. If you’re not 100% sure whether you know how compilers work, then you don’t know how they work.

Designing an effective undergrad CS degree is hard. It’s no wonder so many ivy-league schools have more or less given up and turned into Java Certification shops.

I’d call compiler optimization an endless chasm of eternal darkness, except that it’s pretty fun. So it’s an endless chasm of fun eternal darkness, I guess.

You get the idea. It is a *lengthy* rant, so be prepared. But it’s worth the ride, whether you agree or not.

Bluetooth: The happy pulse says I’m ready… ready… ready…

I’m a big fan of Bluetooth. Especially when it works properly, which is happening more and more these days.

But I have one really significant nit: The *bright* flashing blue light.

I get the fact that some sort of feedback is helpful when you’re trying to establish a connection between your cell phone and your headset. I get the part where the light is always blue (clever… blue… I get it). But it almost seems like certain design engineers are so excited about the fact that they’re using Bluetooth, that they have gotten a little carried away with the little blue light, to the point that it’s obnoxious and intrusive, particularly in the dark.

Case in point: My home printer is an old Laserjet 4P, from back in the days when HP printers were Cadillacs. (Yeah, way back, like when Cadillacs were Cadillacs.) Back when HP printers used to last forever. I retrofitted this printer with a Bluetooth adapter, and it works really well. My wife and I both print to it from our Bluetooth-enabled Mac laptops in our communal home office. Problem: At night this thing pulsates in a surreal blue that makes the home office look like something out of the twilight zone. It’s as if the Bluetooth adapter is pleading, “I’m still here!! I’m relevant! I’m ready WHENEVER you’re ready to print. Still ready… Even now… Still ready… Still ready… Ready… Still… Really I am…”

Bluetooth is cable replacement technology, and I believe it should act like it. My parallel cable never drew attention to itself, it just carried bits when I needed it to. Back when the home office was downstairs, near some of the kids’ bedrooms, it became a huge issue because the kids were afraid of the flashing blue light they could see under their doors, at the end of the hall, across the family room, eminating from somewhere beyond the open door of my home office. I am not making this up. So I dug into the adapter and violated the warranty in order to try and gouge out the stupid LED, or at least cover it with electrical tape. I was somewhat successful, so now the adapter blinks throughout the night in a much more subdued, emotionally controlled manner. I can see it from my bed, but it’s more soothing now, and less manic.

Same issue with every Bluetooth headset I’ve owned. You’re driving down the freeway at night with your headset on your head (where else?), and you’re suddenly distracted by an explosive blue flash to one side of your head (for me, the left side). What was that?! A cop car with his lights on?! Wait… it’s gone. Huh… That was strange. I wonder… FLASH! It happened again… What was that?! I actually spent about 10 minutes during one late commute wondering what in the heck that scary blue periodic pulse was until I realized that it was originating from near my left ear. OK, so I’m slower than most at this sort of analysis. But ultimately, I removed the headset rather than endure the tortuous and continuous blue pulse for the rest of my drive.

Is that what you want in a product? A visual cue so distracting that you have to attack a printer adapter with a sharp knife to subdue it? Or stow a headset in your pocket to silence its visual barking? Enough with the flashing blue lights. If I want that I’ll go to Kmart.

The last URL I’ll ever need?

Just a heads up to my loyal readership. The blog has moved for the very last time (I hope)!

I’ve acquired a suite of domain names remarkably well-suited to myself: charlesknutson.net/.org/.com. The default plan is for www.charlesknutson.net to be the permanent home of the blog from now until I either retire or die (whichever comes first). If I am again splogged with corruption, or in any other way compromised, I will clean off and press forward, but at least I won’t drag the good name of my university through the muck and mire next time.

If you have bookmarked either of the two former URLs, please redirect those to the new address. I’ll still have those former URLs redirect traffic over here just in case.