Web Reviews: Becominghuman, Spinner, bzzzpeek, Planet Slayer, Password Management


Becominghuman.org is an ambitious edu­cational site aimed at providing the general public with up-to-date scientific information about the study of human evolution. It was created by Arizona Sate University’s Institute of Human Origins and has managed to make a difficult and often confusing science both engaging and broadly accessible. Broadband users will get the most out of content like the interactive documentary (which requires 64MB RAM and Macromedia Flash Player 5 as well as a high-speed connection).



Radio over narrowband was always a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. Broadband users, however, will find it a genuine killer application. Spinner lets you tune in to more than 175 stations, featuring music, news, sports, and local radio. It has a favourites facility so you can bookmark up to 40 of your most listened-to stations. Spinner also offers in-depth artist information. Simply download the Radio@Netscape Plus player and you’re off.



This site is almost too cute for its own good. Who hasn’t, as a kid, learned what sounds various animals make? Dogs woof, cats miaow, and sheep bahhh — right? Well, not exactly. Around the world, different cultures make slight variations, and sometimes completely different sounds. Bzzzpeek’s easy interface — click on an animal in the border and then a flag for the way kids in that country make that sound — is a fun way to compare languages. As well as animals, there’re sounds for ambulances, police cars and trains. (You’ll need the Flash plug-in.)


Planet Slayer

This site teaches visitors about the ways our lifestyle is harming the environment. So far, so boring, I hear you say. Well, Planet Slayer tries to be a little different by poking fun at greenies through the misadventures of would-be eco-warrior Greena. It’s an interesting approach that is not wholly successful. The baddie in the pic­ture (and the Planet Slayer game on the site, where you either destroy the planet or save it) is a blonde bombshell dressed in pink called X-on, so don’t expect subtlety. However, the site is underlined by great production values and scientific information.

www.planetslayer.comeditor's choice

Manage passwords safely — and simply

We all know what we’re supposed to do with our passwords: make them cryptic, change them regularly, never share them with anyone, and so on. The problem is, strong passwords — those that contain upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and punctuation — are considerably harder to remember than, say, your best friend’s name. There are ways, however, to achieve a comfortable balance.

You probably have accounts at sites where you haven’t provided any sensitive information — at free online news services, for instance. It probably makes sense to use your cat’s name as a password at all those sites. If you want a little more security, incorporate the first initial of the site into your password.

At any site that stores your financial information or sensitive personal information, you need to create a unique password. To make your passwords cryptic to outsiders (and resistant to dictionary-lookup tech­niques) but memorable for you, try using the first letter from each word in a phrase — for example, HiMbG for “Hello, I must be going”. You can combine that technique with using numbers for sounds, such as Gr8 for “great”. Using these tips to alter your user name as well — h4d instead of hford, for instance — makes life even harder for hackers.

Reserve your strongest passwords for your most sensitive accounts. To remember your passwords, it might help to associate their format with their security level. Passwords for accounts containing financial data might include all possible kinds of characters, while those for less critical sites use only letters followed by a number.

Fortunately, dozens of good password management tools are also available. I like Roman Lab Software’s Any Password (www.romanlab.com) — a free, easy-to-use download that encrypts and stores all of your passwords and user names in a simple tree format.

Siber Systems’ AI RoboForm (www.roboform.com/index.html, free for personal use) is a handy tool that memorises passwords and fills out online forms in a single click.

Another convenient option is to have your browser remember your passwords, but you should exercise great caution with that approach. Don’t use it if anyone you don’t trust has access to your PC. And even if you live the life of a technologically savvy hermit, a hacker still might uncover the information — especially if you have a broadband connection that isn’t protected by a sturdy firewall.

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