POSTSCRIPT / March 21, 1999 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Give your kid a PC, give him a headstart

THE summer school break is usually the time when parents send their kids to take lessons in music, painting, voice, swimming, taekwondo and similar activities that cannot be taken with much concentration during the regular school year.

The long school break can also be the time for summer camp, for bringing in a tutor to enable the child to catch up on his math and reading. This may also be the time to learn how to bike or fly a kite.

Another area that parents may want to consider is the fast-expanding world of computers. They usually have computer subjects in school, but these often consist of mainly learning the parts of the machine, how to switch it on and off, type and save, and such routine elementary procedures.

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TO help banish fear of the computer and further familiarize them with the use of input devices like the keyboard, mouse and the joystick (yeah, such joy!) they are allowed to play computer games in school.

Don’t worry. These are usually games with instructional value or games that are in support of academic subjects such as math, language and the arts.

Most schools, however, include computer rooms just so they can boast of giving computer classes or claim that their students are computer-literate. Many of them just herd students once a week to the computer room to tinker with the PCs and prompt the kids to tell Mommy that they are “learning computer.”

Most kids are precocious and can learn computer fast— if only they had the chance to stay longer with the PCs and get expert guidance. Many of them are not afforded this opportunity.

Those who have computers at home and are taught by their elders and get the chance to really use them have the edge over their classmates who are able to touch a PC for a few minutes once a week in school.

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MANY parents ask if their kids are not being left behind in the computerized environment that is drastically and rapidly changing the face of the earth.

My opinion is that children who do not have as much access to computers as their classmates are at a disadvantage.

To catch up, this summer break is their chance to learn. But how?

There are at least two options. One is for them to be sent to basic computer courses, some of them in the malls.

The other is for the parents to finally get that computer they had long been debating about and let the children learn computer at home.

This observer prefers the second option, that of getting your own computer and giving members of the family a chance to learn. The only problem here, it seems, is if none of the elders in the house knows enough to teach the young ones.

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THERE is a debate on whether one should start the kids early on computers. One school says early exposure is bad. Actually, it depends on the parents.

The computer is a neutral object. Its effects on an individual, bad or good, will depend on how he uses it. In the case of children, it depends on how their parents allow them to use it.

The strongest argument for getting a computer for the kids is that they are missing out on something very important. The earlier they catch up, the better.

Let’s face it. This is now a highly computerized world. Whatever profession one gets into, he cannot escape the omnipresence of computers.

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IN our world of newspapers, for instance, the entire process is heavily dependent on computers. Knowing how to use one is a necessary skill.

A computer illiterate will be like a music lover who wants to join a band but cannot play any musical instrument. Of course, he can always join as manager, but that’s not the idea.

These days, you see reporters carrying laptops or “notebooks” which are what portable computers are sometimes called. (Microsoft boss Bill Gates gifted then President Ramos with a palm-size computer when they met. We wonder what ever happened to that collector’s item.)

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ON coverage, reporters repair to a comfortable spot and type their stories right where it happens, occasionally dipping into the data base or reference materials stored in the hard drive of their laptop.

When the story is finished, the reporter looks for a telephone, sticks the line into his modem and the computer transfers the story to the reporter’s newsroom in the other side of town or sometimes across the sea.

Photographs of distant events, which can be similarly saved in the computer’s storage disc, are transmitted through the same telephone wire at the same incredible speed.

Photographers are equipped with odd-looking cameras that do not have films but discs where pictures are stored. They need not go to the office to submit their shots.

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DOCTORS in the States looking after patients no longer write their remarks and instructions on clipboards. They talk to a gadget and give instructions on the treatment of a patient.

Some of these recordings are transmitted by computers to the Philippines via satellite, where they are transcribed by Filipinos using computers, and sent back by computers back to the States.

Some animation companies in the States accept big orders (such as for Walt Disney cartoon films), transmit everything to animation outfits in the Philippines employing gifted Filipino computer artists, and receive back the finished job in time for the deadline. The customer may not even be aware that Filipino animators cross the Pacific did his order.

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EVERYWHERE you turn, it’s like that. That is the direction. There is a worldwide communication revolution raging and we better hustle to catch on. We march with it or we are left behind.

If our children are not given the chance to start early on in this direction, let’s pray that their native intelligence can still salvage their predicament and push them despite their early handicap.

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EVEN if you want your kid to go to one of those computer prep schools, it will still be desirable to have a computer in the house that he can use to follow on and get ahead.

The computer has become a regular appliance much like the refrigerator or the television. You use it at home for personal, business and entertainment purposes. You type letters and documents on it, publish some flyers or small publications, reproduce your favorite color pictures, communicate with the office and associates, send email to relatives abroad and chat with friends. You view X-rated films, porno shots of high-profile beauty queens and actresses, and update yourself on the flesh trade. You do research using search engines of the Internet, and sometimes locate long-lost friends without leaving home. You keep track of your appointments, projects and finances, even place orders and pay your bills from the comfort of home using nothing but your trusted computer.

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ASSUMING you want to get your own computer, not only for the kids, but also for your own use, how much will it entail?

It depends on what you want to use the computer for. If it’s just for the kids, it need not be one of those fancy powerful models. For less than P20,000, you can have a model running at 300 MHz (actually faster than what some of your friends may have).

For less than P30,000, you can have a Pentium II at 333 MHz. When you reach the range of P50,000 and above, you will be competing with the best of them.

The cost will even go down if you decide to assemble your own computer. As we’ve said in an earlier column, it’s easy to learn if you are computer literate, intelligent enough and adept at using a screwdriver.

About the price and model, our advice is not to seek out the cheapest. You should have a computer to grow into, not something you will leave behind as you grow up in the world of computers.

* * *

BTW, we just got Office 2000, the update of Microsoft’s Office 97. What an update!

Office 2000 comes in seven gleaming CDs, compared to Office 97’s lone CD.

Why that many? It seems Bill Gates poured the whole works on it to swamp whatever competition is still left. While Office 97 consists only of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, the 2000 version improved on those four popular programs and threw in updated versions of Access, PhotoDraw, Publisher and FrontPage – plus many dazzling refinements.

Office 2000 integrates those programs on a worldwide business platform aimed at simplifying processes, lowering total costs and maximizing results. You no longer have to buy and install various software to do your usual chores. Everything you need is in Office 2000.

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YOU create a Word document, put in photos processed in PhotoDraw, insert some financial reports from Excel, then decide to mail the file to an associate in Brussels. Office 2000 will do it for you without your having to leave your desk and your opening another software.

Your complicated file that mixes elements from various Office 2000 programs can be saved in HTML (the hypertext language used in Internet websites) and launched directly as email or as a webpage.

Webpages that you receive from the Internet, in turn, can be saved as is, without your losing the pictures or the format. Using FrontPage, you can design your own website or homepage.

You move back and forth smoothly through all the programs in Office 2000, editing and saving along the way without losing your formatting. Even the peculiar accentuations of foreign words, in case you are communicating with foreigners, are retained.

It is clear that Bill Gates’ direction is cyberspace. This prophet knows that that is where the war of the next millennium will be waged.

Is your kid ready for that? Help him prepare for it. Take advantage of this summer.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 21, 1999)

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