JumpStart Baby gives infants way to control computers...

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February 28, 2000|By Knight Ridder/Tribune

JumpStart Baby gives infants way to control computers themselves

There's no doubt where Knowledge Adventure stands in the continuing debate about the merits of computing for infants: The company recently released JumpStart Baby with Baby Ball.

The Baby Ball is an oversized blue push pad and roller ball. I connected this computer peripheral, which comes with no installation instructions, to a serial port and then installed the software.

Brooke, a friend's nearly 10-month-old daughter, went to work. From her place in my lap, she turned to the monitor after seeing the bright images and hearing the animated talking bear from the JumpStart Baby learning software.

Brooke's initial reaction was to beat on the keyboard and play with the mouse, but when I placed the oversize blue ball in front of her, she was intrigued and discovered quickly that banging on the ball produced a noise or on-screen reaction. She broke into a big smile after pressing the ball caused an animated toy chest to open.

Weaker hands than Brooke's may not be able to press down hard enough to activate the software. But with practice and help, this challenge can be overcome.

JumpStart Baby reinforces the concepts of cause and effect, color and sound, and upholds Knowledge Adventure's excellent reputation for educational software.

JumpStart Baby with Baby Ball is intended for ages 9 months to 2 years old and sells for about $30.

Information: 800-542-4240 or www.knowledgeadventure.com.

-- Jean Nash Johnson

Casio GPS watch works,

but it's awkward to wear

When introduced late last year, Casio's GPS Pathfinder wristwatch was touted as the smallest Global Positioning System device ever. That's a bit like advertising "the world's smallest elephant."

Although travelers, boaters, fishermen, cyclists and wilderness hikers may find value in its basic positioning, navigational and time-keeping functions, this unit is bulky.

The 3-inch-square, 5.22-ounce Pathfinder is extremely uncomfortable for sports activities. GPS technologies will have to undergo more miniaturization before becoming useful in wearable form.

An eight-channel receiver picks up data from at least three GPS satellites to determine your location. As quickly as four seconds after you trigger a GPS operation, your latitude and longitude appear on the unit's small display. This data can be used to plot your whereabouts on a standard map, which you'll need to carry.

When you specify a destination, the watch graphically indicates the direction and the distance from your goal. This data can be updated along the way. Up to 200 individual GPS readings can be stored to help retrace your route on the return trip.

Besides its clunkiness, the Pathfinder has other shortcomings, including a 32-dot-by-31-dot screen, which is hard to read despite back lighting.

Batteries are good for only 3.4 hours of continuous reading. What's more, the device can't receive signals in a dense forest, cave or other locale with a heavy covering.

The Pathfinder, about $500, is no substitute for a map and a cell phone. But this monster can still be a lot of fun for the serious gadget freak.

Information: www.casio.com or 800-962-2746.

-- Doug Bedell

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