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Nashville Scene Safe Surfing

Protect your kids from Net porn.

By James Hanback Jr.

MARCH 2, 1998:  Once upon a time in America you could push a switch on your television, watch it come on, and be treated to a variety of relatively clean comedy, music, and drama. Once upon a time you could sit your children in front of the television, unattended, and not fear that they'd see something you'd rather they didn't see.

Once upon a time...but no more.

Perhaps as part of a natural evolution, television has gradually become more graphically violent and sexual than ever. It is still tame, however, if you compare it to the seedier corners of the Internet. The Internet is a place of research and education, a place of commerce, and a place of entertainment. But it's also a dangerous place if you want to protect your children from pornography or other dangerous material.

And, boy, is that material out there. Type the word "women" into any Internet search engine, and you're suddenly bombarded with tens of thousands of World Wide Web sites, most of which contain nude or pornographic imagery.

It doesn't matter that you happened to be researching women in history, women's health, or women's rights. What you'll see will be largely unrelated to those topics. The majority, in fact, will be downright pornographic.

And for those who believe this is a gender issue with an Internet geared toward adult male entertainment, typing "men" while looking for "men's rights" or "men's health" will give you similar results.

The First Amendment correctly protects people's rights to express themselves on the Internet. And President Bill Clinton recently announced he is no longer pursuing restrictions such as the Supreme Court-defeated Communications Decency Act.

Even so, there must be a way to protect children from unwanted material (or even from unwanted advances from other people in Internet chat rooms). However, the answer does not come from government regulation; it comes from protective software and education.

The software is easy to find. You can find it through any of the large Internet software vendors (like http://www.download.com), or you, via the Web, can visit software companies dedicated to the protection of your children. A few of those are: CyberSitter (http://www.cybersitter.com), Net Nanny (http://www.netnanny.com), and SafeSurf (http://www.safesurf.com).

But by far the best strategy is for parents to explore the Web with their children, although there will undoubtedly be times when the child surfs alone.

That's why children need to know what's out there. Explain to them the dangers of giving out lots of information about themselves to strangers in chat rooms. Teach them your own definitions of what should and should not be seen, and then tell them why.

And to prevent those accidental slips into nudie-land with Internet searches for terms like "women," teach children to be specific in their search terms. For instance, if seeking information on women's rights or women's health, be specific. Type the words "women's rights" or "women's health."

There will still probably be some unsavory sites that pop up in the search results, but the specific wording will filter out a majority of unwanted material.


Show of confidence

Apple Computer's "Think Different" ad campaign reached a new height in television visibility early this month, this time attacking Intel rather than its old rival Microsoft (which purchased a portion of Apple last year).

The advertisement is for the new Macintosh G3 computer, which features a brand-new processor, the latest version of the Mac operating system, and options for customization and purchase directly from the Apple Web site.

The ad features a close-up of a snail crawling across the screen with an Intel Pentium II processor strapped to its back.

Apple claims that recent processor tests reveal that the G3 technology is twice as fast as the Pentium II. Unfortunately, Apple does not mention that its new operating system is such a drain on system resources that it must have a faster processor to approach the user speed of Windows '95 running on a 233-megahertz Pentium machine.

In other words, Apple's processor may perform faster according to scientific testing, but when you copy a file from one place to another, it's the Windows machine that will seem faster.

Also, the Macintosh is still the most expensive personal computer out there. And for a company that still only has 5-8 percent of the computer market, that's probably not a smart move.

Nevertheless, the new ad is proof that Apple once again has the drive and ambition to be a leader in the industry. They just need the leadership to make it happen.

Trimming the fat

Apple's subsidiary company Claris, developers of the popular database software Filemaker Pro, among other products, has officially been renamed Filemaker Inc.

The company released a statement this month, at www.claris.com, explaining that its focus is now solely on the Filemaker product, which means owners of other Claris software won't be finding any upgrades for those products on the shelves in the future.

Filemaker, along with Lotus 1-2-3 and other formerly popular database applications, has taken a hit from--guess who--Microsoft's Office '97 package, which features, well, everything.

Good old Bill has once again crowded the room and pushed the rest of the good old boys right out his Windows.

Of course, Apple and Claris really have no right to complain about Office, for the latest version is being released on the Macintosh platform next month, long before it's scheduled for release in the Windows environment, a fact Apple highly publicized.

Computer patriots

According to a recent report at www.cnn.com, American computer companies are hitting trouble when attempting to find qualified computer programmers.

Programmers, they say, are hard to find on the domestic side. Most of them come from foreign countries using the "H-1B Visa," which only allows 65,000 foreign computer programmers to come into the country.

U.S. computer companies, reports indicated, are 200,000 computer programmers short, yet more people than ever are entering computer science and programming courses in America's colleges and universities.

So the question is: What's happening to all those future American programmers?

One possible answer is that they discovered HTML, the programming language used to design World Wide Web sites, and are making livings for themselves doing just that.

Also, non-computer-related industries are increasingly hiring computer scientists and programmers to handle their ever-growing computer networks and the software they use to run their businesses. There's hardly a U.S. business anymore that does not require some kind of computer guru.

As a programmer myself, some people found it amusing that I spent my college days double-majoring in English and journalism. The fact is, I love both the newspaper and the computer businesses. I wanted to find a way to combine the two. Now, with newspapers getting attention online and moving more and more away from the use of paper and printouts in their production process, I have.

James Hanback Jr. is the systems administrator at the Scene. He can be reached by e-mail at james@nashscene.com.

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