Strange New World: Picks of the Week

This week, as clouds on the economic horizon continue to grow, innovation is finding a home in the auto industry. It looks as though General Motors is finally stepping out of its whack-the-new-idea past and moving toward a "green" future.

Also, the FBI just released a report on Internet crime. Maybe the Web is not quite as dangerous as you think. The real world may be of more concern. And finally, before you book you air travel this summer with sites like Orbitz and Expedia, why not check out this year's crop of new travel services?

Here are our picks for the top tech stories of the week:

1) GM "Volts" ahead. From a strictly technological perspective, terms like "Advanced Automotive Technology" and "New Car" are stone cold oxymorons. Compared to things that really do change, like computers and the Web, cars today are essentially the same internally combusted, rubber-tire rolling, innovation-free idiot boxes they were 10, 20, 30 — heck, even 130 years ago. Yet, change may finally be coming.

GM, of all companies, had a press tour this week for its new all-electric car, Volt. And we have to say, we were impressed. First of all, there is no "American Revolution" marketing drivel here. Instead, GM is letting the story of creating a new car — dare we say the truth — be the message. There is a decent Web site about the Volt where — shock of shocks — there are facts, pictures and honest discussions about the problems the company is facing in developing the car. And sit down for this: There's even a section for customer input!

For our money, not only does GM deserve credit for a legitimate attempt to develop a truly new car, but the company is showing it may be maturing from the "pay no attention to reality" mentality that has crippled innovation in cars for decades. GM still might find a way to pull defeat from the jaws of innovation victory here. But as of now, we are loving the notion of not only being intrigued by a car company, but by an American car company.

Way to go, GM.

2) The not-so-dangerous Web.

The FBI released its latest Internet crime report this week, and it says cyber fraud cost Americans nearly $240 million in 2007. We whipped out our calculators and did some tinkering and realized that the report actually just might show how safe the Web is, not how dangerous.

Why? Just compare Web fraud figures with total fraud figures — the number of people getting ripped off here in the real world. The Web turns out to not really be that much scarier a place. Total complaints about Web fraud actually dropped by roughly three-tenths of a percent, between January 2006 and January 2007. Compare that with total complaints for all consumer fraud for basically the same period. We used data from the Federal Trade Commission. That agency said it received almost 140,000 more complaints in 2007 than it did in 2006.

So while the amount of Web fraud remained essentially flat, instances of overall fraud were up.

But wait, there's more. Compare the number of complaints to total Internet usage and the picture improves again. There are roughly 220 million Internet users in the U.S., according to Nielsen NetRatings. That group generated those 200,000 some-odd complaints of Web fraud. Aside from being a pretty darn small number in percentage terms, that ratio is actually lower — by about half — than the ratio of the 600,000 cases reported by the FTC for all fraud perpetrated against the roughly 300 million folks who live in the United States.

So, sure, there is the argument that the Web can be dangerous. But is it more dangerous than life in general? Maybe not.

3) Great sites for better flights.

It's April and we're willing to bet that many of you are starting to plan your summer vacations. Before you book your flights through the traditional Web sites like Orbitz or Expedia, we found some other options you might want to check out. Some air travel sites are "flying under the radar," so to speak. Rather than use a meta-travel search site like, why not use a meta-meta search site? searches the sites that search all the other travel sites. Simply put in your travel info, tell it what sites you want it to search and it will scour Hotwire, Expedia, Kayak and other Web pages for you.

Another great travel site is Before you select your seat on a flight, check out this site for seating layouts of most aircraft on several airlines. Learn which seats have power ports and leg room, where the closest bathrooms are and more.

If you are going to fly, you might as well fly in the best possible style.