July August 1998

Cyber News and Reviews is a monthly column published for parents, teachers & business owners featuring kids educational software reviews, business software reviews (small business & home business), games and entertainment articles, a free resource since 1995.


Quest for Camelot Dragon Games, JumpStart Kindergarten Version 2.1, IBM's ViaVoice Gold Continuous Speech Recognition and Snappy Video Snapshot Deluxe Version 3.0

Quest for Camelot Dragon Games from Knowledge Adventure

The Quest for Camelot CD is based on the recent Warner Brothers animated movie with seven fun activities for kids ages 5 to 10. Kids will relive the movie while playing arcade-style games and movie-related activities.

From the Main Menu kids can access Dragon Tales to create and print storybooks using characters and scenes from the movie, play Ruber's Barricade, a breakout-style arcade game, hatch a dragon egg in Raise a Dragon, create crazy creatures with Magic Potions, sing with Singalong, create a villain with Make a Minion and finally, check out the movie clips in Ogre's Movie Cave.

If your kids liked the movie, they'll love this CD which offers great graphics and sound that will keep any kid busy for hours. Even my 3 1/2-year-old daughter Becky enjoyed played the games, but she had help from her 6-year-old sister Sarah. They especially loved dancing and singing along with the dragon songs.

Quest for Camelot Dragon Games CD has a street price of $20 and will work on any 486/66 MHz or faster multimedia PC with Windows 95 and the Apple Macintosh Power PC. Both computers require 16 megabytes RAM and a 4x or faster CD-ROM drive. For more information call Knowledge Adventure at 1-800-542-4240.

A New for 1998 JumpStart Kindergarten from Knowledge Adventure

Here's an updated version of the very popular educational CD, JumpStart Kindergarten Version 2.1, with your favorite host Mr. Hopsalot. The newest version of the software (released in 1998) offers more fun and educational activities designed for kids ages 4 to 6. It includes two new modules, new songs and more educational fun with great graphics and sound.

You start by signing your name and then clicking on the door bell to enter the classroom. Kids will find lots of activities accessed by a click of the mouse. Click on the chalkboard to help Hopsalot build a sentence, click on the bucket of blocks to unscramble blocks, try the paint set for some artistic activities, sing and dance along with music at the radio, take a train ride with dolls, find some toys in the closet, play Pattern Blaster and go out the back door for more to do in the garden and on the Jungle Gym.

Stars are earned as rewards for completing activities, and after four stars, kids are sent on a field trip to the Petting Zoo for a photo shoot and some fun with the animals. Also included is an on-disk User's Guide and an activity book to printout. This CD is even more fun than the earlier version, and Becky (who is now 3 1/2) agrees. She will definitely be more ready for Kindergarten when starting in a about a year.

JumpStart Kindergarten Version 2.1 sells for $29.95 and will work on any 486/66 MHz or faster multimedia PC with Windows 3.1/Windows 95 and the Apple Macintosh 68040/40 or faster processor. Both computers require a double-speed CD-ROM drive. For more information call Knowledge Adventure at 1-800-542-4240.

IBM's ViaVoice Gold Continuous Speech Recognition for Windows 95 and NT 4.0

ViaVoice Gold is IBM's continuous speech recognition software that allows you to dictate to your computer and have your words converted into text. I reviewed the IBM's VoiceType Simply Speaking in my August 1997 column (URL) which requires pausing between words for the voice recognition to work. ViaVoice Gold allows you to speak as you would normally for voice recognition, plus it offers many more features. The software is supplied on one CD, and it includes a high quality microphone, which is important for accurate voice recognition.

You shouldn't have to spend more than an hour for installation and voice training to start using the software. Part of the installation is detecting your sound card, and checking to see if it has what IBM needs to function for voice recognition. My first attempt at installation got me all the way to microphone setup only to find that my sound card failed, locking up the computer during the microphone test. After talking to IBM's technical support I found that some sound cards won't work, and unfortuanely, I had one of them. It's a 16-bit stereo sound card from a Reveal multimedia kit. IBM has a list of tested sound cards at their Web site, but most of the popular cards that are Sound Blaster compatible will work. I just got unlucky. So, after installing the software on another machine with a Creative Labs Sound Blaster, and a short session for voice training, I was successfully talking text into my computer.

This is an exciting product. The ability to talk to your computer and have it copy what you've said into a text file ready for printing is just amazing. For me, dictating to the computer seems to add more creativity to my writing. Now, don't expect perfect documents even after adding your own words to its vocabulary. It's not perfect, but you should get about 90 to 95 percent accuracy. Correcting a small number of errors isn't a problem because your first draft won't go to the publisher, you have to re-read your work for sentence structure. And if you miss any errors on re-read, you'll find the rest when you spell check your document. You can increase recognition with additional training, and it is important to correct errors while using ViaVoice Gold. Initial training (called enrollment) requires reading 50 sentences, but if you have an accent, you may have to continue enrollment through all 265 sentences provided. It's important to use good microphone with ViaVoice Gold, and that's why they include one.

With ViaVoice Gold you can get up 100 words per minute recognition (but half that is good enough for me), dictate directly into your word processor or other applications, teach it key words to retreive commonly used text (paragraphs or pages ), use voice commands instead of your mouse, have it read documents aloud and expand its vocabulary to 64,000 words from the 22,000 word base.

The software has a street price of around $130 and requires a Pentium 150 MHz or faster multimedia PC with 32 megabytes RAM running Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT 4.0 (requires 48 megabytes RAM), a CD-ROM drive and a Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 or 100% compatible sound card. For more information call IBM at 1-800-426-7235.

I can't wait to start dictating my next science fiction novel with this software.

Snappy Video Snapshot Deluxe Version 3.0

Play Incorporated, makers of the Snappy Video Snapshot Deluxe, a device for capturing still images and videos from any video source (camera, video recorder or video output), is right when they state, "Snappy Version 3.0 is the coolest PC gizmo ever!" And I have to agree after recently upgrading my Snappy Version 2.0 to Version 3.0. This is a fun product that I originally reviewed and recommended in my September 1997 column . If you have any need to capture stills or videos and incorporate them into any projects (advertising, Web pages, real-estate listings, birthday invitations or whatever), you can't beat its price and quality.

Here's what you can expect from version 3.0 with its latest and greatest software: 1. First, it has improved resolution with their high definition mode

2. You can now create videos with sound including time lapse movies, and you can attach them to your e-mail messages

3. Add sound to your photos

4. Use it for videoconferencing (with sound)

5. They've added a color preview mode

6. You can load a picture saved in Snappy file format and make setting adjustments

Snappy easily connects to your PC's parallel printer port and then to the video out of your camera, video recorder or other video source ready to catch that video or just a single frame. It's powered by a 9-volt battery, or use a 9-volt battery eliminator so you don't have to worry about running out of juice in the middle of an important shoot. Although he battery will give you about 1000 shots before it needs replacement, I found that it isn't that easy to replace since the Snappy is directly connected to the back of your computer and must be removed to replace the battery. A quick fix would be to connect the Snappy to a printer port switch box. Not only would you have easier access, but you could share the port with your printer.

The Snappy Video Snapshot Deluxe Version 3.0 sells for $130 and the upgrade software is $39.95, which includes video and audio cables (if you have an earlier Snappy, you only need the software since the hardware hasn't changed). It includes Adobe PhotoDeluxe 2.0, Kai's PowerGoo SE, Gryphon Morph 2.5 and the Snappy Deluxe software, all on three CDs. It requires a 486 or faster PC with Windows 95 or NT 4.0 multimedia computer with 8 megabytes of RAM and 16 megabytes of hard disk space plus an available parallel port. Sorry Macintosh owners, there's no Snappy for you. You'll just have to buy yourself a PC if you want the versatility of this inexpensive video capture device.

Howard Berenbon