Computers Column

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Johnny, get your Pac-Man.

President Reagan told students at the Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla., early this month that the quarters children feed into arcade video games might be an investment in the military.

"I recently learned something quite interesting about video games," Mr. Reagan said. "Many young people have developed incredible hand, eye, and brain coordination in playing those games. The Air Force believes these kids will be our outstanding pilots should they fly jets."

A spokesman for the White House's speechwriting office said that the President's statement was based on the "intuition" of officials of the Pentagon. The Air Force's Human Resources Laboratory in San Antonio is conducting a study of the question.

Schools and other buyers of computer programs have long despaired over the absence of a uniform and comprehensive catalog of basic information about the software that has been produced.

A Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., firm called Technique Learning--which produces the annual Law Books In Print--has announced it will sell directories of software products in May and September of this year.

Carol Halstead, a consultant with the company, said that between 300 and 500 companies' products would be listed in a looseleaf directory that will be published in May.

That information, which will be updated every two months, will be published again in the fall, by subject and with cross references, in a book called Software In Print.

Both directories will list the software with a number for the company, the name of the software, the microcomputer that the software accompanies, and any hardware additions that might be required to use the program.

Experts maintain that computer manufacturers' interest in the schools is at least partly motivated by a belief that students will encourage parents to buy the same computers that they use in class.

That assumption is documented in a recent survey by Arthur D. Little Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., consulting firm.

The firm, which is planning to conduct comprehensive surveys quarterly of 35,000 households and their attitudes about computers, found in a preliminary survey a strong connection between awareness of brand names and which computers individuals buy.

That may mean that Apple Computers will lead the home market for years. A survey by Quality Education Data last summer found that 46 percent of the computers in schools were made by Apple, 20 percent by Radio Shack, 11 percent by Commodore, and 2 percent by Atari.

A Philadelphia teacher has combined computers with videotapes in a way that he says will give the humanities a chance to use technology for the first time.

Samuel F. Howe, a computer teacher at the Friends Central School, has used an $18,305 grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to set up an "interface," or adapter, to combine the two media and write lesson plans.

Mr. Howe is also developing a manual for writing programs using media equipment that is typically found in schools. He said the manual, which can be used by both teachers and students, will be completed in June.

With the system, teachers can produce videotaped lesson plans and write computer programs that quiz students. As the videotape is shown in class, Mr. Howe said, the teacher can move to whatever part of the tape desired in seconds--a significant time savings from the typical rewind or fast-forward method.

Mr. Howe--who has already developed lesson plans on the early history of Philadelphia, first aid, and principles of aerospace engineering--said that the use of the system could help schools deal with teacher shortages.

Lovers of the printed word who fret that the computer will some day replace books and periodicals are receiving mixed signals.

The latest issue of Daedalus, a journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, concludes that the "videotext" will not replace print media for years to come--mostly because so much material has yet to be transferred from the page to the chip and people are fond of print media.

But an experiment in Ridgewood, N.J., an affluent suburb of New York City, offers contrary evidence.

Since last September, cbs News and the American Bell Company have been monitoring the use of "video newspapers" in 200 homes. The families selected for the experiment read news stories on computer terminals supplied by Bell just as they would read the newspaper.

The purpose of the experiment is to determine whether consumers will accept videotext as readily as Alvin Toffler and other futurists have predicted.

The findings of the first of two survey groups of 100 homes, a cbs spokesman said, suggest that they will. "All aspects of the system were used, and the usage stabilized early--in contrast to the opinion that people would stop using it after the novelty wore off," the spokesman said.

The spokesman said cbs had not decided on what it will do when the experiment ends next month.

Notes: International Business Machines this month put on the market a new version of its personal computer, with hard disks and a greater internal memory. Industry analysts expect it to compete strongly with Apple Computers' "Lisa." ... Scholastic Inc., which has been one of the major producers of educational software, will be publishing three magazines on the subject before the year is over. Electronic Learning and Teaching and Computers will be joined in September by Family Computing, a magazine on the educational uses of computers in the home. ... William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, has written a new book entitled Writing With a Word Processer.--ce

Vol. 02, Issue 27

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