Now that my boys are five and (almost) seven, and are regular users of the computer and the Internet, I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about online safety. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about NetSmartz and its efforts to keep kids safe online, including a list of tips for safe surfing. This week, I’m looking at a new tool called Norton Online Family (NOF) designed to help parents monitor and modify their kids’ online behaviour.

(Disclosure: I’ll receive a $20 gift card from Amazon for being a part of the MomCentral blog tour supporting the launch of Norton Online Family.)


The latest version of the NOF mascot. Like NOF, itself, mascot is still in beta…

I wanted to be a part of this tour because I’ve been curious for some time about the ‘net nanny’ tools that are available. Symantec’s Norton Online Family lets you set up a personalized family account with information about each member of your family, and offers the following services:

  • Check a child’s activity or modify a child’s profile, preferences, or time allotment anytime and anywhere using any Internet-connected device.
  • All online activities are reported in chronological order and only show the Web sites a child intended to visit – eliminating all the extra URLs, like ads, from Web sites.
  • Easily view what words and phrases a child uses to search and where those searches lead online.
  • Control the Web content that flows into the home by prohibiting more than 40 topic categories.
  • Track, report and prevent personal information that a child may purposely or accidentally try to send via e-mail, IM or social networking site.
  • Monitor activity on social networks like Facebook and MySpace with the ability to see how kids represent themselves, when they login and how often.
  • Built-in messaging allows parents to have real-time discussions with children about activities and better understand their intentions when visiting a Web site.
  • Children are able to view the “house rules” they established with parents at any time and are notified when Norton Online Family is active, so there is no “stealth” mode.
  • Parents can customize e-mail alerts to address urgent events so they know immediately when a child has reached a time limit or visited a blocked site, etc.
  • An easy-to-use time management feature that – if parents find it necessary – gives each child a “curfew” that will limit computer usage.

I have to be totally honest here: when I first signed up for this tour, I did so because I liked the idea of having some sort of filter to keep the scariest parts of the Internet at bay. We’ve been caught off guard with searches as simple as ‘Princess Leia Star Wars Lego’. But I stopped about half way into the process of setting up an account for this service. It’s a great service if you want this kind of monitoring and control — but I don’t think it’s right for us, at least not right now. I’d much rather set the kids up with a few favourites and help them find new sites when they are looking for something. Maybe, in a few years, we’ll need this kind of scrutiny and monitoring but this seems a little bit too extensive for our needs right now.

My husband and I debated our need for this kind of software. He thinks it’s an excellent and necessary tool. I think it’s our role as parents to provide this kind of filter, especially while the kids are very young. Then, again, he also says they’ll ‘never’ be allowed to have a Facebook or MySpace page, an argument I think he’ll lose, sooner rather than later.

On other hand, and getting back on point, I was totally impressed yesterday when I stumbled across this: Kid Rex, a safe-search engine from the people at Google. From their ‘info for parents‘ page:

KidRex is a fun and safe search for kids, by kids! KidRex searches emphasize kid-related Web pages from across the entire Web and are powered by Google Custom Search and use Google SafeSearch technology.

Google’s SafeSearch screens for sites that contain explicit sexual content and deletes them from your child’s search results. Google’s filter uses advanced technology to check keywords, phrases, and URLs. No filter is 100 percent accurate but SafeSearch should eliminate most inappropriate material.

In addition to Google SafeSearch, KidRex maintains its own database of inappropriate Web sites and keywords. KidRex researchers test KidRex daily to insure that you and your child have the best Web experience possible.

This is the tool that we need right now for our family. Love the idea, love the interface. If you want to keep a closer eye on what your kids are doing online when you aren’t able to be there, the Norton Online Family service looks like an excellent choice. But if you just want a simple, fun kid-friendly search engine, I love KidRex.


Danielle Donders is the author of the popular blog Postcards from the Mothership, where a copy of this column appears today. She graces us with her take on how technology impacts the parenting (and motherhood) process each Thursday in this space.

Earlier this week, we reported that almost 70 per cent of all Canadians are using cell phones and that cell service is available to over 95 per cent of Canadians.

Well, Canada is a pretty wired country and most Canadians live in a narrow band along the U.S. border, making it relatively easy for service providers to get to them.

What’s more surprising, however, is another revelation this week, that more than 60 per cent of the world’s population is now using cell phones. That’s more than 4.1 billion cell service subscriptions worldwide.

The UN’s International Telecommunication Union, in it’s latest regular report on communications development in 154 countries worldwide, shows that the cheapest cell service is in Singapore, followed closely by the U.S. At the other end of the scale, Germany and Kuait are paying roughly twice as much per minute for their cell services.

The report also notes that growth of fixed line (also known as ‘land line’) phone services has pretty much plateaued in the past four years while cell growth has skyrocketed.

The European community has launched a major initiative to address the growing online traffic in child pornography.

The European Financial Coalition (EFC), announced earlier this week, is composed of online transaction technology giants MasterCard, Microsoft, PayPal, VISA Europe in partnership with anti-porn organizations Missing Children Europe and Britain’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).

“It is a reality that the rapid growth of the Internet has opened up a serious criminal market for images of child sex abuse,” EU Commissioner Jacques Bardot told reporters. “The European Financial Coalition will help identify and protect victims, and, above all, confiscate the profits from these criminal activities.”

“By applying the individual lessons learnt and by coming together with our combined skills, focusing on collective objectives, we plan to eradicate the remnants of [the online child porn] industry once and for all,” CEOP chief executive Jim Gamble said in a statement on the organization’s Web site.

The European Commission remains at arm’s length, operationally, from the EFC but has committed over (US)$500,000 to back the group’s efforts.

It was only a few years ago that the president of Daimler-Benz stated that by 2010, fully 80 per cent of the value of a new car coming off the production line would be in the electronics.

Peering into the tea leaves, I see this trend continuing but with implications not obvious today. Not in the US, anyway, though all of the technology that will be common in thirty years time is already implemented in other countries.

Cars in the ‘naughties’ come with computer-controlled electronic fuel injection, computer-controlled anti-lock-brakes, computer-controlled airbag deployment, computer-controlled fuel economy and anti-pollution engine systems… They also come with increasingly sophisticated entertainment systems and GPS navigation.

Many also have electronic tags, which automatically bill users on tollways and bridges, and on trucks to record mileage for road-tax.

In Japan, many cars now come with automatic parking systems, either simple systems that use ultrasound to measure the distance to the rear and side of the car or more sophisticated models that will actually reverse-park the vehicle without human intervention.

What is still to come is the integration of these systems along with communication between cars and roads, and cars and other cars. My Mother-in-Law the Car will nag me when I’m approaching the speed limit and snitch on me if I exceed it. It will gossip with other cars, inaudibly via WiFi, selecting the best radio channels for my entertainment based on my stated preferences. It will warn me of changed traffic conditions and suggest detours to give me least-time or least-fuel consumption options, based on the ‘ladies sewing circle’ experiences of other cars in the area.

The criminal profession of auto-thief won’t become extinct. But it will require an expert hacker to break the security and Zombify the vehicle. Amateurs will have to have consultants on hand, while the existing organised gangs, the professional thieves, will have to go hi-tech.

And, if interrogated by a passing police vehicle, my Mother-in-Law the Car will happily broadcast all my sins and wickednesses, the stop light I was almost completely through before it turned red, the turn I made without adequately indicating according to the law (even though there were no other cars on the road). And, as new legislation is passed, or I cross a state border, the new set of road rules I must henceforth obey will be recorded in its electronic brain. And used against me in evidence.

Unless I hire a consultant of my own. That would void the warranty of course but I see a big future for those specialising in ‘customising’ automobile electronics so they’re not quite so annoying.


Zoe Brain is a real, live rocket scientist! She peers into the tea leaves, giving us a glimpse of our tech future, every second Wednesday in this space…

A survey last fall, just before the annual holiday spending spree, revealed strong indications that the year-end gift-buying binge would be significantly attenuated as a result of the tanking economy and uncertainty about consumers’ individual financial futures.

The survey indicated that spending would be down, overall, over the 2008 holiday season, with consumers saying they would be less likely to spend large amounts on each member of their families and more likely to pool their available gift-buying funds to acquire one or to major items the whole family could enjoy.

And the survey was, by and large, right.

Earlier this year, major big-screen television makers, in particular, began announcing unprecedented layoffs and scrambling to restructure as big-ticket gadget sales, in general, continue slow this year. Consumers are, generally, holding back on new big-ticket purchases that don’t fall into the ‘necessity’ category.

Other gadget-oriented industries report that their customer bases are cutting back on gadgets, even on those such as cell phones needed for work. In fact, many users are downgrading their phones and/or service plans to the basic levels they need to do what they have to do. No more toys. No more frills.

A new trend which follows logically on these developments is leading to a mini boom in the service sector. In short, gadget lovers are either making do with their old gear or opting to have it repaired rather than just replacing it if it breaks.

“The per cent of our business devoted to repair is definitely increasing,” Paula Baldwin, the ‘Mistress of Propaganda’ at on-site service giant Geek Squad, recently told reporters. “[People are opting] to either repair that gear or add to its functionality and what [the product] does for them.”

So… If you’ve recently been caught up in the wave of tech industry layoffs and have the requisite skills — it appears that there’s never been a better time to open a service shop!

The Obama administration has released documents from the Bush Whitehouse, written following 9/11, that approved (or expressed legal justification for) virtually unlimited government tapping of phones and the Internet, restrictions on free speech and the use of the U.S. military at home against suspected terrorists.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) this week released two previously undisclosed Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memoranda and seven previously undisclosed ‘opinions’.

Among the other measures Bush’s lawyers considered legal: Giving the President the power to unilaterally suspend some provisions of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia; affirming the President’s right to have U.S. citizens detailed by the military as ‘enemy combatants’; and confirming the President’s power to ‘transfer captured terrorists to the control and custody of foreign nations’.

Many of those legal opinions were subsequently rendered into policy and ad hoc law by Presidential executive orders.

A full list of the Bush-era legal memoranda released this week is available at the DoJ Web site.

Apple today announced updates to its desktop computer family, including a whole new slate of iMacs with faster processors and twice the memory than their predecessors plus a new Mac Mini with powerful new integrated graphics. There’s also a new Mac Pro line featuring your choice of four- or eight-core system architecture.


The new Mac Pro: Redesigned interior for easier customization and upgrades…

As the official announcement details…

The entire iMac line comes with faster Intel Core 2 Duo processors up to 3.06 GHz, the latest graphics technology, double the [onboard] memory and up to one terabyte of storage. … The updated Mac Mini now features the same NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics introduced with the aluminum unibody MacBook family last year.

The new iMacs start with the ‘entry-level’ 20 in. model the 20-inch iMac at (C)$1,399 featuring a 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of 1066 MHz DDR3 memory, a 320 GB Serial ATA hard drive and NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics. The 24-in. iMac features a beautiful 1920×1200 resolution widescreen display and starts at (C)$1,799. The 24 in. iMac offers a choice of processors up to a 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB of 1066 MHz DDR3 memory, a 640 GB or 1TB Serial ATA hard drive and a choice of graphics technology from NVIDIA.

The new Mac Mini still measures only 6.5 by 6.5 by 2 in. Available in two models, Mac mini features a 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, up to 4 GB of DDR3 1066 MHz memory, up to 320 GB Serial ATA hard drive and NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics for ‘up to five times faster graphics performance’ than the previous model.

The new multi core Mac Pro features Intel ‘Nehalem’ Xeon processors and a new system architecture that Apple says delivers up to twice the performance of the previous generation of Mac Pros. Starting at (C)$2,899, the new Mac Pro includes Intel Xeon processors running at speeds up to 2.93 GHz. Every Mac Pro comes standard with the NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 graphics card with 512MB of GDDR3 memory. You can opt for up to 4TB of internal storage when using 1TB 7200-rpm Serial ATA drives.

There are two Mac Pro base models: A quad core platform starting at (C)$2,899 and an eight-core (2 x quad processor) model starting at (C)3.799.

For all the details visit the Apple Web site.

No, really!

Today’s date, expressed in purely mathematical terms, is ‘3/3/09’. And, as most of us will recall, three is the square root of nine. That makes it Square Root Day!

“[Square Root] days are like calendar comets. You wait and wait and wait for them, then they brighten up your day and — poof — they’re gone,” Ron Gordon, the Redwood City, CA, teacher who started it all, told reporters.

Gordon says his daughter’s ‘official’ Square Root Day MySpace page has attracted hundreds of visitors who have reported their plans to celebrate Square Root Day in a variety of ways, many of which involve food. Some were planning to carve root vegetables into squares. Others were planning to serve cakes and other dishes made in the shape of the square root sign.

Square Root Day is not an annual event, or even a regular occurrence. In fact, the last one happened on Ground Hog Day in 2004 (2/2/04), and the next one won’t come around until April 4, 2016 (4/4/16).

So party hearty today, square root fans! It’s going to be a long wait for the next one…

Facebook reported late last week that it had detected and removed yet another rogue application that was sending people fake messages designed to get them to reveal personal information.


Users were told they had violated the Facebook Terms of Use and were given a link to click on which would supposedly tell them exactly how they had sinned. But clicking on the link actually provided access for cyber criminals to the user’s profile and personal information as well as sending the original fake message to everyone on their friends list.

Facebook says this was just the latest in a serious of such rogue apps which I has detected and removed. The organization has now mounted a standing watch to detect further such threats to its users’ privacy.

Sophos security blogger Graham Cluely observed, “One of the problems is that Facebook allows anybody to write an application, and third-party applications are not vetted before they are made available to the public. So, even as Facebook stamps out one malignant application, it can pop up in another place like a poisoned mushroom with a different name.”

MySpace, meanwhile, plugged a hole that could allow intruders to view users’ private comments. However, MySpace officials were quick to point out that intruders would have to know the exact URL and user ID to view any specific private comment.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN) report for 2008 reveals some interesting trends in fraud — specifically, identity theft.

The CSN received over 1.2 million complaints during calendar year 2008: 52 per cent fraud complaints; 26 per cent identity theft complaints; and 22 per cent other types of complaints.

Identity theft was the number one complaint category in the CSN Report for calendar year 2008 with 26 per cent of the overall complaints.

  • Credit card fraud (20 per cent) was the most common form of reported identity theft followed by government documents/benefits fraud (15 per cent), employment fraud (15 per cent), and phone or utilities fraud (13 per cent). Other significant categories of identity theft reported by victims were bank fraud (11 per cent) and loan fraud (4 per cent).
  • Government documents/benefits fraud is now the second most common reported type of identity theft after credit card fraud. Fraudulent tax return-related identity theft, a subtype of government documents/benefits fraud, has increased nearly six percentage points since calendar year 2006.
  • Electronic fund transfer-related identity theft continues to be the most frequently reported type of identity theft bank fraud during calendar year 2008, despite declining since calendar year 2006.

Almost half (47 per cent) of those filing ID theft complaints were in the 20-39 age bracket.

The full CSN 2008 Report is available at the FTC Web site. Note: It’s in .PDF format, so you’ll need a recent version of the Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it.

The Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN) archives complaints filed with the FTC, the CSN also includes complaints filed with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, Better Business Bureaus, Canada’s Phone Busters, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Identity Theft Assistance Center and the National Fraud Information Center, among others.

Nikon D90

I’ll level with you: I’ve had a tough time finishing this review.  I’m a strong proponent of fair, balanced and unbiased reviews.  I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to test a lot of great camera gear.  When people ask me about digital SLRs, I’m usually quick to point out that Canon, Nikon and Olympus all make great SLRs that I’d be pleased to have in my bag.  I suggest that they read the reviews, visit a local camera store, try a few out and decide for themselves.

To a photographer, a camera is a tool and there are undoubtedly other great tools that I haven’t had the opportunity to try. But it’s only fair, especially given what I have to say about this camera, to disclose the fact that my digital SLR and lenses are Nikon.

I expect to take a lot of heat over this review, but, as the saying goes, I call it as I see it:  The Nikon D90 is simply an awesome camera.  If you’re a beginner or advanced amateur looking for a digital SLR, buy the D90 and Nikon’s 18-200 VR lens and you won’t be disappointed.

The D90 offers a 12.9 megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor, a 3 in. LCD display, Live View, 720p video recording and a host of other features.  The CMOS sensor is from the same family as the D3 and D300 and in my tests produced great images.  Live View – real-time viewing on the LCD display – is a pleasant alternative to the viewfinder for some types of photography.  But what really elevates the D90 to the top of the pile is its video capability.


It’s important to keep in mind that the D90 is a consumer camera.  It is not built to withstand the rigors of professional use.  And it’s unlikely that pros are looking for video capability from their SLR.  But, for those of us who take our SLR when we head out with family and friends, the ability to flick a switch and go from shooting excellent quality stills to 1280 x 720 video at 24 fps is awesome.  I did find it a bit weird at first – holding my SLR and shooting video – but I quickly got used to being able to shoot video through my favourite Nikon lenses.

The D90 offers all the features we’re used to seeing from Nikon.  There’s a fully automatic mode for those new to photography as well as Nikon’s Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual modes.  The LCD display is as good as it gets on SLRs and, of course, it supports both RAW and JPEG modes.

Overall, the D90 is a winner.  Whether you’re looking for your first digital SLR or you’re looking to upgrade, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

A new Harris Decima survey commissioned by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) reveals that more than 98 per cent of Canadians have access to wireless (cell phone) service and more than 21.5 Canadians (67 per cent) actually use cell phones. In urban areas, the percentage of actual users exceeds 70 per cent.

According to the Survey report, one reason that Canadians are so blessed with respect to cell service access is that the vast majority of our population is ranged in the south, close to the U.S. border, a relatively compact area compared to the entire land mass of the country.

The report also notes that Canadians pay less for cell phone service than users in many other developed countries…

Customers in Canada continue to enjoy prices that are below or close to the average wireless prices across the 30-member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). According to the OECD’s recently published biennial Communications Outlook 2007, Canadian customers fare significantly better than their neighbours in the US and Mexico in almost all usage categories.

Among other key findings of the CWTA survey:

  • Canadians send more than 77 million text messages each day.
  • Canadians paid more than (C)$12.5 billion, in total, for their cell phone service subscriptions last year.
  • Half of all Canadian phone connections are now made on wireless networks.

The entire Harris Decima report is available at the CWTA Web site.