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Multimedia thrills mind and senses

The gigabytes are coming! The gigabytes are coming!

If you don't know whether that means work for the exterminator or the Marines, you're not alone. A gigabyte (pronounced with hard gees) is a billion characters of information, and it hasn't been something for most PC owners to worry about. It's just too big.

A gigabyte of information would require roughly 700 high-density 3.5-inch floppy disks, twice that for low-density. But today it would require just two CD-ROM disks for either MS-DOS or Macintosh personal computers.

CD-ROM (Compact Disk-Read Only Memory) technology first got to the consumer level with music disks, but when it's digitized, data is data, whether it's text, audio, video or all three. Now CD-ROM drives for computers are widely available and comparatively inexpensive (under $400).

Mix CD-ROMs with inexpensive and widely available high-speed computers, stereo sound cards and high-resolution color monitors, and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It has been dubbed "multimedia," and cynics would say the hype has been greater than the sum of its parts, but something new is being created.

Consider Nautilus, by Metatec of Dublin, Ohio. Nautilus _ a program? a magazine? recording? _ is a SOMETHING that arrives every four weeks for a year's subscription of $119.40 plus $18 shipping and handling. You plug it into either a Mac or IBM-compatible CD-ROM and you get an experience.

The September issue, for example, offers photos, a multimedia report of a NASA shuttle flight and two full-length cuts from folk artist John Gorka. It also offers Beethoven and Schumann piano music, shareware, commercial software demonstrations and weeks of computer industry news. And that's just a dip below the surface of a very deep sea.

Will you be interested in all of it? No. But there is so much information available on Nautilus that anyone not interested in some of it should consider an autopsy to determine cause of death.

Nautilus runs on an IBM PC with Windows 3.0, although it's best on a machine with multimedia extensions and hardware. For a Mac, the requirements are a Mac Plus or higher with two megabytes of RAM and system software 6.0.5 or higher. Naturally, a CD-ROM drive is required in either case.

The user interface is very simple: point-and-click, no manual required. Nautilus bills itself as "the first multimedia information service available on CD-ROM" and is clearly exploring pathways.

Just one of the ways Nautilus is different from a traditional computing magazine is the way it is put together. Magazines are edited, a process mostly of exclusion because space is limited. Nautilus seems built by inclusion, literally the more the merrier. And the difference is the amount of information that can be stored.

For information on Nautilus, call (800) 637-3472. Or write Metatec at 7001 Discovery Blvd., Dublin, OH 43017. The business phone is (614) 761-2000.

Teaching a child computing

By L.R. SHANNON

New York Times

It is never too early to teach the children the facts of life about computers, unless you want them to learn from their friends, in the digital gutter, the way we did. Fortunately, help is available, and it can spare adults some embarrassment.

A conscientious parent could hardly do better than buy Tic Tac Type: A Child's Computer Writing Kit, by Marta Partington, a $19.95 book-disk combination published by Sams of Carmel, Ind.

The book is a clear and colorful introduction to computers in general and word processing in particular; the accompanying disk contains a simple but quite respectable word-processing program, as well as files to use for practice as the child works through the book. Tic Tac Type is intended for children at least 8 years old.

The program should work with just about any MS-DOS computer, with or without a hard disk.

After a short section on the machine, its principles and parts, the book gets right to the heart of the matter: operating the keyboard. In a way, Tic Tac Type is a typing course adapted to the computer age.

The book is full of exercises, quizzes and other activities. Little boxes define "buzz words," the essential vocabulary. ("Cursor: The flashing bar of light on the screen that tells you where the next character will be placed.")

And there are tips throughout. ("Q: The computer shuts off because the power goes off, like from a storm? A: Tough luck, kid. It's gone to that unsaved document heaven in the sky.")

Come to think of it, there are plenty of adults who could benefit from Tic Tac Type. You could always wrap the book in a less-incriminating dust jacket, say Advanced Unix Programing."

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