October 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.


The Magic School Bus Explores in the Age of Dinosaurs from Microsoft , French and Spanish for the Real World from Knowledge Adventure and SETI@home in the Search for Extra-Terrestrials

The Magic School Bus Explores in the Age of Dinosaurs from Microsoft

Are you ready to travel back in time to the age of dinosaurs with that wacky, yet cool, elementary school teacher, Ms. Frizzle (played by Lily Tomlin) and her gang of extremely smart students for an interactive learning adventure about those "terrible lizards" that once roamed the Earth? Well, then, hop on The Magic School Bus, from Microsoft, for a wild CD ride of fun and facts based on books and animated videos from Scholastic Inc., a well known children's book publisher (we buy all their books and videos).

The Magic School Bus Explores in the Age of Dinosaurs is one of several outstanding interactive CDs teaching science with a little science fiction and lots of facts for kids and adults ages 6 and up. My daughters (Sarah is 7 years old and Becky is 3 1/2) have grown up on The Magic School Bus series of books and videos, and these CDs add an interactive touch that they love. Because of Microsoft, they can become part of the adventure and interact with their favorite Scholastic characters. As with all the other Magic School Bus CDs, the graphics, animation, music and sound effects are excellent but that's just part of their charm. You'll find learning games and puzzles, jokes (which is one of Sarah's favorite features), photos, multimedia reports and narrated facts on everything you wanted to know about dinosaurs. And it really works. Now Sarah is a walking encyclopedia on dinosaurs, including a few jokes she's learned, thrown in for fun. Even Becky, at 3 1/2, spends some quality learning time on this CD, though she's below the recommended age range (ages 6 to 10).

With the help of that amazing Magic School Bus (and Ms. Frizzle) you'll transcend time and space to experience what no one has ever experienced: dinosaurs and their habitats. The adventure offers expeditions to seven different areas around the world in three different prehistoric periods. Explore for dinosaurs in Argentina and Arizona in the Triassic period, visit Colorado, Tanzania and the Tethys Sea during the Jurassic period and travel to Alberta and Mongolia during the Cretaceous period.

The Magic School Bus Explores in the Age of Dinosaurs sells for $29.95 and works on any multimedia PC, 486SX/33 MHz or faster machine running Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT version 3.51 or later with a double-speed CD-ROM drive and 8 megabytes RAM. For more information contact Microsoft Corporation at 1-800-426-9400.

This is a must-have product for kids (or adults) interested in dinosaurs. It's educational, entertaining and even amusing. My kids love anything Magic School Bus and we owe it all to Scholastic Inc. ( and author Joanna Cole and illustrator Bruce Degen (they happen to be Sarah's favorite author and illustrator team, as listed on her second grade Star of the Week poster) for a wonderful series of science books. We'd also like to give a big T-Rex thanks to Microsoft for transforming this series into a fun-filled interactive educational CD.

French and Spanish for the Real World from Knowledge Adventure

They say the best way to learn a language is to spend time in a foreign country. Well, now you and your kids, ages 11 and up, can learn first-year French and Spanish with two new and unique educational language CDs from Knowledge Adventure: both offering real-world situations as a teaching aid. French for the Real World takes you on a road trip through France to learn French and Spanish for the Real World takes you on a Spanish language course through Mexico.

Both CDs have the same format. You're on a road rally race through the countryside where the goal is to overtake your opponents to win the race. This is done by participating in language learning activities against your opponents as you go from city to city. Before you begin you'll sign up for your drivers license, pick your a car and you're off on a race to learn French or Spanish. In the French version, your travel partner will be Stephane while in the Spanish version your companion will be Guillermo.

You'll find several language building activities along the way. The first will be a concentration type picture matching game with pictures of fruit and the foreign meaning below. Each time you click to match a pair, the word is pronounced. After a few of these match games, you should catch on because in the second half of the competition you'll earn points for matching the correct word to the picture. Activities are accessed from the dashboard which includes a dictionary of words and phrases to help you along the way plus an A-Z section listing every word in the game. You'll learn the language in real-world situations while shopping, on the telephone, with a fortune teller, in a restaurant and more. And there's even a practice mode so you can get a head start on your opponents.

In my first attempt using the French CD, I managed to learn fruits and then colors in two different challenges, in less then a half hour after installation. With pictures, spoken words and interactive lessons on the road, these CDs offer a fun way to learn a language that just might keep your kids glued to the computer. When they get unstuck you'll be surprised to hear them speaking in a foreign language. So, if you really want to help your kids get a jump-start on French or Spanish, I highly recommend these CDs. And, as with all Knowledge Adventure educational products, if you're not completely satisfied, they can be returned, no questions asked, for a full refund or exchange.

French for the Real World and Spanish for the Real World have a street price of $29.95 each and run on any multimedia PC, 486/66 MHz or faster and the Apple Power Macintosh. Both systems require a quad-speed CD-ROM drive and 16 megabytes RAM. For more information contact Knowledge Adventure at 1-800-545-7677.

Internet News: SETI@home in the Search for Extra-Terrestrials

I just ran across some exciting news on the Internet that should be of interest to astronomy and space science enthusiasts. It's the SETI@home page. If you've been following SETI in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) with their radio telescopes pointed to the sky in search of intelligent life beyond our solar system, you'll know that they lost their government funding because of a failure to find anything. Since their funding was canceled, they were forced to look to the private sector to continue their search. Recently, they devised a novel and affordable approach to scanning the skies for intelligent life, and you can participate. They intend to enlist thousands of people with computers connected to the Internet to individually analyze radio telescope data taken from small sections of the sky.

Sign up and you'll receive software, in the form of a screen saver, for analyzing radio telescope data while your computer is unattended, downloaded from the SETI@home Web site. Of course, you'll leave your computer on when you're not using it, and the SETI screen saver will search the data for patterns of intelligence from space. If you're the lucky space enthusiast who hits the jackpot and your section of the cosmos has something that looks like it's from an intelligent being on another small blue planet far, far away, you won't get paid (you're a volunteer), but you'll surely get world recognition and credit for the discovery.

If searching the skies for intelligent life sounds as exciting to you as it does to me, then you can sign up to help. To date, over 100,000 people have enlisted to help. Just visit the SETI@home Web site at setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/ and enter your e-mail address. The software is now being developed and they plan to begin the project this year. They're also looking for more corporate sponsors and donations, large or small, but your participation doesn't require a donation, just some of your personal computer time.

Howard Berenbon

Software Companies Mentioned

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

Microsoft Corporation
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052
Phone: 1-800-426-9400