National | Technology

Issue: "Remaking the family," March 6, 2004

The new day-trade parade

For better or for worse, day trading is making a comeback. This practice of constantly buying and selling the same stock repeatedly was considered near-dead after the 2000 tech crash.

Now brokerages report new business, as more risk-takers fill their computer screens with stock data, watching for the right moment to buy or sell. Charles Schwab reported its active-trader business has jumped 80 percent from a year ago. E-Trade's unit that specializes in professional buyers and sellers saw revenue-producing trades double last year.

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Day traders survive by riding upward ticks of the market-and rising stocks mean rising bank accounts. Day traders are notorious for borrowing large amounts of money to buy stock. They hope to make enough money off their winners to cover the loan; if the stock tanks, that's trouble. Small-margin losses multiplied by hundreds of trades can cause financial ruin. Although federal regulators recently tightened the rules on margin borrowing, day traders still run heavy risks.

Cable cutting

Want to prevent your kids from seeing OutKast on MTV or Queer Eye on Bravo? Many cable boxes let customers lock out unwanted channels, but FCC chairman Michael Powell says many don't know the feature exists.

Chairman Powell sent a letter to cable-industry officials, giving them until mid-month [March] to suggest better ways to inform customers of tools "to better control the programming that enters their homes." This comes as part of the FCC's renewed emphasis on indecency following the Super Bowl halftime debacle.

Cable-blocking technology differs from the much-touted V-Chip in that it stops entire channels instead of individual shows. The option is no more difficult than programming a VCR, but may be lost among complex menus and remote buttons.

Federal law requires cable companies to offer subscribers equipment to block channels they don't want. Often this means replacing old analog cable boxes with new digital converters, which carry a higher service charge. Some devices can also remove a channel's listing from on-screen programming guides without blocking the channel itself.

Even if customers block channels, they may still pay a royalty on them. Many large cable channels charge user fees (usually less than a dollar per home) that are hidden in monthly statements. (Kevin Martin, another FCC commissioner, has said he wants providers to allow subscribers to pick and choose cable channels, with the option of family-friendly programming packages.)

Earthlink is suing the Alabama Gang, a group alleged to be the most sophisticated spammer in America, for $5 million. The complaint claims that the group, which frequently used phone lines in the Birmingham area, established e-mail accounts with stolen credit-card numbers to send millions of unsolicited ads.

Many people switching to new, low-rate internet phone companies face a potentially dangerous problem: no 911 service. Top carrier Vonage offers an optional emergency service-and advises customers who want normal 911 access to keep a line with their regular phone company or cellular provider.

A new program called Buddylinks bombards America Online users with links to a humorous game about Osama bin Laden, then puts ads on users' screens and sends text messages to their Buddy List members. This nuisance is self-propagating, yet is technically neither a virus nor a worm because it displays a tiny legal disclaimer. AOL is looking for ways to block this "adware" without violating its policy against scanning private messages.

The FBI gave the software, film, and music industries permission to use its official logo on DVDs and CDs as a warning against piracy and counterfeiting. As with the familiar "FBI Warning" on VHS tapes, it threatens punishments of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. It's up to each company to decide whether to affix the warning to their products' packaging.


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