November 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.


JumpStart Baby and Writing Blaster from Knowledge Adventure, Madeline Rainy Day Activities from The Learning Company and McAfee VirusScan 4.0 from Network Associates

JumpStart Baby from Knowledge Adventure

JumpStart Baby is Knowledge Adventure's attempt at getting the youngest member of your family involved with computer learning, directed for kids ages 9 through 24 months. You may be asking, "How can a baby benefit from computer software if his or her attention span for any activity is about 2 minutes?" Well, that's a good question, but Knowledge Adventure has the answer: babies and toddlers will benefit with a fun and educational introduction to the computer. Great graphics, sound effects, music and animation should keep your kids at the computer for more than 2 minutes.

In my experience, you should introduce your babies and toddlers to computers if you want them to compete in this new high-tech world where computers will play a very important role in many aspects of our lives. Ten years ago, not many homes had personal computers. In fact, the computer wasn't very useful for education until the early 1990s when the CD-ROM along with sound capabilities were added. Now, many families have one or more home computers and are connected to the Internet. When the first educational CDs and encyclopedias were introduced, that's when I knew my kids would benefit and I had to get them involved. I have videos of Sarah, only months old, on my lap while I surfed the Internet. Sarah, now 7-years-old, knows more about operating a computer than some corporate executives. I was amazed how quickly she learned to use Windows 95 when we upgraded from Windows 3.1, confidently clicking through the new-style menu system and finding the icon to run her favorite educational CD. I owe all her confidence in computers to her early introduction as a baby.

JumpStart Baby has 8 activities accessed by pressing any key or clicking the mouse button. The fun begins with Teddy (the bear) standing beside a mobile of objects representing games. The objects rotate one at a time, and when a key is pressed, the one that is rotating is the game selected. The activities only require that your child press keys or click the mouse to work. The Color Train lets your child learn sorting by color, Let's Make Music offers songs and nursery rhymes with words on the screen, Connect the Stars lets your child draw pictures by connecting the lines, Puzzle Time offers 15 puzzles, Where's Teddy? is a hide and go seek game, Picture Fun transforms black and while drawings into colorful animated pictures, Dress Teddy lets your child dress the bear in proper cloths for the time of day or weather conditions and in Down on the Farm your child will meet the animals and hear their sounds.

Of course, your child's response to the activities depends upon his or her age. Obviously, a 9-month-old baby will probably bang on the keyboard and spend a short time listening to the music and watching the screen, while a 2-year-old toddler may learn to match colors, build the puzzles and play the music. You as a parent, should assist your child with the activities, and it may even be a good time to introduce the mouse, which is an extremely important tool to master for future computing.

JumpStart Baby is a great product to introduce your kids to the computer. But don't have to take my word for it, try the software and if it doesn't work for your kids, don't worry, just return it. They have a no-questions-asked guarantee. The software has a street price of $30 and runs on any multimedia PC, 486DX2/66 MHz or faster with 16 megabytes of RAM and the Apple Power Macintosh with 8 megabytes of RAM. Both systems require a double-speed CD-ROM drive. For more information contact Knowledge Adventure at 1-800-545-7677.

Writing Blaster from Knowledge Adventure

Writing Blaster is a fun educational tool from Davidson and Knowledge Adventure as a new addition to their Blaster series which started it all 15 years ago with the introduction of Math Blaster. Kids ages 6 to 9 will extend their writing abilities with a series of useful and fun projects aided by their favorite Blaster pals, Blasternaut, Galactic Commander and Spot.

Kids will start at the digital desk (a combination word processor and painting program) with hundreds of projects available and lots of options to create practical works with great graphics, music and sound effects. One fun feature lets your kids hear their project read out load. The categories of projects are on the left and include My Saved Projects, Autobiography, Certificates. Everyday Greetings, Holiday Greetings, Invitations and Letters. Also, projects may be e-mailed through the Internet as an attachment.

Sarah, who is now 7-years-old, is using Writing Blaster to make up reports about her favorite characters: dinosaurs. And just yesterday she made up a Halloween card to send to a friend, and a certificate to send to the author of one of her favorite books. If you look at her work you'll see she's used many of the features available on the desk. We even used it to create and printout birthday cards for Becky's upcoming fourth birthday party. Although she's below the suggested age range for this software, Becky didn't have trouble picking an invitation template (with a Blaster pal) and I filled out the form (she can't read or write yet).

So far, Sarah, (who started reading early with the help of Reading Blaster Jr.) has written 5 short stories on the digital desk using many of the neat tools to enhance her work. She's added sound effects to the text, stickers to replace some of the words and uses painting tools, borders and stickers in her illustrations. One nice feature is Writing Blaster's online help for suggesting more descriptive words in a letter or asking if the story is written with a beginning, middle and end. Also, it's fun to hear your words read out loud, though the computerized speech sounds strange and unnatural.

I discovered compatibility between different computers when Sarah asked me to printout her T-Rex story in color, written on her Macintosh. Since we only have a black and white printer on the Mac, I tried transferring the story file to our IBM compatible which has a color inkjet printer. To my surprise, it transferred and printed. If you're computer savvy and want to transfer a project file from one machine to another, all you have to do is copy the file to a high density 3.5" floppy diskette and then load it into Writing Blaster on your other computer.

Writing Blaster has a street price of $30 and runs on any multimedia PC, 486/66 MHz or faster and the Apple Power Macintosh. Both systems require a double-speed CD-ROM drive and 16 megabytes RAM. For more information contact Knowledge Adventure at 1-800-545-7677.

Madeline Rainy Day Activities from The Learning Company

Madeline Rainy Day Activities has arrived direct from Paris, France with all twelve little girls in two straight lines. Based on the wonderfully written and illustrated books by Ludwig Bemlmans it will help you and your kids pass the time during rain or shine. If you're not familiar with the story line then it's time for you to learn about Madeline, her trusty dog Genevieve, her teacher Miss Clavel and the boy-next-door, Pepito, with this software CD made for kids ages five and more.

This is a fun CD with over 100 educational activities guided by Madeline. The activities include a French and Spanish concentration game, dress up Genevieve, Madeline and friends, trivia games, creating stories, post cards, masks, signs and stickers.

With Madeline as your guide, you'll start in her room, the main menu to all activities for a rainy day at the computer. Look around on her desk, on the walls and on her toy chest to find objects to click on for the fun to begin. Click on the mask for 5 different masks you can color and decorate and then print. Clicking on the hat on what looks like a toy chest will take you to the dress-up activity. There you can dress up the faces of Madeline, Pepito, Ms. Clavel and friends with jewelry and more. Click on the star on the wall and you'll find a connect-the-dots activity (Becky, my 4 year old, loves that). Although, Sarah, my 7 year old, enjoys the painting and drawing activities, I often find her at the Printable Projects menu looking for neat projects to print out. Just recently, she printed a sheet on how to build a bug, and another on making a fan. Another attraction of this CD is the charming French-sounding tunes you'll hear while spending your rainy, or sunny, days on fun projects with Madeline and friends.

Madeline Rainy Day Activities sells for $19.95 and works on any multimedia PC, 486/66 or faster machine and the Apple Macintosh, 68040 processor or better. Both computers require a double-speed CD-ROM drive and 8 megabytes RAM. And they have a money back guaranty if you're not completely satisfied with any of their products. For more information contact The Learning Company at 1-800-716-8506.

McAfee VirusScan 4.0 from Network Associates

When I think of a computer virus, it reminds me of the flu I used to catch every year until I got smart and started taking the flu shots offered in October or November just before the flu season begins. Like the influenza virus, a computer virus (also known as malicious software) can make your life miserable. Now, with McAfee VirusScan, you won't have to worry about losing data and control of your computer for all aspects of computing (online and off). Unlike the flu shot, which is a prevention for some of the dangerous types of viruses, VirusScan can stop you from getting caught with your data down, and find and destroy those nasty little viruses before they multiply.

VirusScan 4.0 is the latest version of the popular McAfee virus protection program now offering several new features to help keep your computer healthy. You are susceptible to viruses if you download software on the Internet, share a floppy disk with a friend or even read e-mail attachments. The standard features include automatic scanning when you boot your computer and run continuously in the background, manual scanning and data updates over the Internet 24 hours a day (To date, they have over 19,500 known viruses in their database). If a virus is detected you can eliminate it before any damage results. The new additions include macro scanning for Microsoft Word and Excel, e-mail scanning inside your mailbox in cc:Mail, Eudora, Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, AOL trojan detection, scheduled scanning and automatic updates over the Internet. If you're caught with a virus before or after installing VirusScan, don't worry because it includes an emergency boot disk to get you and your computer out of trouble.

Standard installation includes VirusScan Central which integrates the components of VirusScan, the Command-Line scanner, On-Demand scanner, Scheduler, VShield On-Access scanner, Lotus cc:Mail scanner and Microsoft Exchange client scanner. Once installed, you should scan all internal and external storage devices including floppy diskettes you use, and don't forget your game diskettes and CDs (commercial software can contain viruses, though it's highly unlikely). Always scan any diskettes you take from friends. If a friend's computer has a virus, it's highly likely that the diskette you borrowed is infected. Also, if you download software from the Internet, it's extremely important to scan those files before they're uncompressed or installed. E-mail attachments can also harbor viruses, and should be scanned as well. When and if a virus is detected, you'll get a Virus Found message along with suggested actions. First, you'll attempt to remove the virus code using the Clean command. If that doesn't work, you'll have to delete the file and then restore it from your backup diskettes, if possible (you do backup, don't you?).

McAfee VirusScan 4.0 on CD has a street price of $49 and runs on any multimedia PC, 386 or better (an Intel Pentium-class or compatible processor is recommended) with Windows 98, Windows 95, Windows 3.1, NT 3.51 workstations, DOS and OS2, a double-speed CD-ROM drive and 8 megabytes RAM. For more information contact Network Associates at 1-408-988-3832.

Howard Berenbon

Software Companies Mentioned

Knowledge Adventure, Inc.
19840 Pioneer Avenue
Torrance, CA 90503
Phone: 1-800-545-7677

Network Associates
3965 Freedom Circle
Santa Clara, CA 95054
Phone: 408-988-3832