June 2004

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.


Music Ace Deluxe by Harmonic Vision, JumpStart Advanced Toddlers by Vivendi Universal and a critique of the Mozilla Firefox Browser

By Howard Berenbon

Music Ace Deluxe by Harmonic Vision

If you and your kids are interested in leaning music basics and a lot more, then consider Music Ace Deluxe from Harmonic Vision, on a single CD for your PC.  The program offers lessons and music-based games for beginning music students, including music theory and 36 hands-on lessons, perfect for any student, elementary through high school (and their parents).  Maestro Max, your animated music tutor, will guide you (via narration) through the lessons and games. He’s a very experienced teacher, who trained at the Musical Academy in Vienna, Austria, but is now locked in your computer.

After quick installation from a single CD, you’ll be on your way to understanding the basics of music with the help of your tutor, Maestro Max.  After you enter your name, you’ll begin in the main menu, which appears on music stand in the center of the screen.

At the main menu you’ll have access to the Doodle Pad, a great and powerful utility that allows students to compose and listen to their own music creations, a progress report, the lessons and associated games.  You can also modify the program’s preferences by clicking on the preferences button in the upper right hand corner of the screen. The preferences menu allows you to modify the clefts, the lesson rhythmic stringency, change the game difficulty and change the appearance of the display.  You can also activate a MIDI input and output driver if you have a MIDI compatible keyboard connected to your computer.

The program covers a variety of beginning music topics including note reading, ear training, notation, keyboard, scales, rhythm, melody, key signatures, time signatures, harmony, musical terms and more.  From the main menu, you’ll begin your studies with lesson 1, but you if you already know the materials, you can skip to the next lesson, or play the associated game to test your knowledge and then go on to the next lesson.  Each lesson can have several sections, with the section number displayed in the upper right-hand corner of your screen.  Completed section numbers are displayed in green.  At anytime during your lesson you can stop and play the associated game.

Of course, as a beginner, you’ll start with lesson 1, section 1, an Introduction to the Staff.  First, you’ll hear and see short tune played by animated notes with eyes and mouths that move to the sounds.  The first lesson’s section begins as a tutorial with Max narrating, but eventually you’ll be asked to interact by moving notes up and down on the staff, identifying spaces and lines, selecting notes by the pitch you hear, and their clef (treble or bass) and more basics.  The first lesion will table about 15 minutes, and then you on to the games for that lesson. The lessons are very thorough, and you’ll definitely learn the basics in no time, and you won’t be bored because Max and the notes can be very entertaining.  And the games will reinforce what you’ve learned, and help you move along. You’ll also hear some catchy tunes as you go through the sections (lesson 1 has 5 sections).  When you finish a lesson, you’ll enter the Intermission screen.  Here, you can repeat a lesson or game, or go on to the next lesion.  Maestro Max is there to evaluate your performance and recommend your next move.

After you’ve mastered the first lesson you should try your hand at composing a simple tune using Doodle Pad, which happens to be one sophisticated program with lots of flexibility.  It’s set up with the staff at the top of the screen, the notes with other options on a menu to the right, and a piano keyboard at the bottom.  To start your composition, you’ll drag a note from the menu (picking either a whole, half, quarter or eighth note) to any position on the staff.  As you move the note in position, it will sound and display its notation (A through F).  You’ll position your notes one at a time until you’ve got the sound you want.  You can even create a chord by placing notes directly above or below others.  When you’re done, you can play the song, and then save it to disk, and one format is MIDI.  At the note menu, you can select one of 6 instruments with the default a grand piano.  The other instruments are the oboe, trumpet, marimba, jazz guitar and clarinet.  When you change the instruments, the color of the notes change to correspond to that instrument.  And you can combine those various instruments in your composition.  You also have access to a jukebox where you can select from over a hundred tunes to play, and modify if you’d like.

This is an excellent program that I can recommend.  My daughter Sarah knows it well, having used it in her middle school music class to learn the basics.  As I was installing it, she said she used it in school, and really liked it. 

Music Ace Deluxe sells for $49.99 and will run on any multimedia PC, Pentium 166 MHz or faster, 32 MB RAM with Windows 98//2000/ME/NT4/XP and a CD-ROM drive. It also runs on a Power Mac G3/G4 with 32 MB RAM and a CD-ROM drive.

JumpStart Advanced Toddlers by Vivendi Universal

Get ready for the newest toddler-specific educational software from Knowledge Adventure and Vivendi Universal.  JumpStart Advanced Toddlers is an all-new 3-CD title packed with activities that will captivate any 1 ½ to 3-year old for hours of educational fun.  Kids familiar with Knowledge Adventure products, will recognize their favorite cartoon characters, like Frankie the dog and Eleanor the elephant who will guide them through their early learning experience with great graphics, realistic sound effects and some catchy tunes playing while they play and learn.

Each CD must be installed individually, but it’s a quick installation. And they’re not interlinked, so you’ll just change them when you want to change the activities.  The CDs are entitled School Time, Sing-Along Time and Art Time covering pre-reading, math, art, music and science.  For toddlers who haven’t mastered the mouse, typing any of the keyboard keys will get a response.  But the mouse is available for those advanced toddlers who know their way around the personal computer.  In fact, my daughter Sarah (now 12) learned to use the mouse when she was just 2 ½ years old, and started reading at 3.  We also contribute her early reading skills to Davidson’s Reading Blaster Jr., now part of Knowledge Adventure and Vivendi Universal, and one of the best early reading programs around.

CD 1: School Time

From the main menu, the activities include counting in the ABC Toadstools (letter recognition) Lily Pond, Chippy’s Teahouse (shape making and matching), Picture Playtime (coloring), Musical Waterfall, Grandma’s Flower Garden (color identification) and more.

CD 2: Sing-Along Time

Toddlers will learn while they sing and interact with the JumpStart characters. They’ll select songs from the main menu screen to activate the video.  These are not animations, but actual videos with real kids singing along with real walking and talking JumpStart characters (people in animal costumes).  The songs include Four Little Monkeys (counting), Listen Everybody (learning the musical scale), ABC Song (letters, reading and writing), If You’re Happy and You Know It (feelings), Head and Shoulder, Knees and Toes (about our bodies), Look Around You (shapes and colors) and Old MacDonald (names and sounds of animals).

 CD 3: Art Time

The Art Time CD is packed with arts and crafts.  Toddlers can write a story, design and print greeting cards for mom and dad, make birthday favors, like hats and pinwheels and create banners.  Parents may need to help their kids with these activities.

This is an action packed set of software CDs for toddlers at a bargain price. If you’re thinking about buying any of the JumpStart educational programs, I wouldn’t hesitate, because if you’re not satisfied, you can get your money back, no questions asked, within 90 days of your purchase.

JumpStart Advanced Toddlers sells for $24.99 and will run on any multimedia PC, Pentium II 266 MHz or faster, 64 MB RAM with Windows 98//2000/ME /XP and a 12x CD-ROM drive.  It also runs on a PowerMac G3 266 MHz or faster with 64 MB RAM and a 16x CD-ROM drive.

A Critique of the Mozilla Firefox Browser by Sarah Berenbon

Doesn’t it feel like Internet Explorer is getting hijacked every 5 seconds?  Every second, it seems like a new piece of spying software is made that edits IE’s settings.  And it’s a big tax on RAM, too.  Add that to the lack of security, and it makes me wonder how Microsoft dominates the browser market with IE.  Now I use Firefox, the Holy Grail of Web browsing—it’s multi-platform, has many features and is easy on the RAM.

Firefox’s best feature is built-in popup blocking.  Finally, the number 1 annoyance of the Internet is rendered useless!  You can add a white list too, if you visit Neopets or similar sites.  Tabbed Web browsing is a nice added feature—nothing new, but extremely convenient if you have many pages open but don’t want to slow down your computer too much.  You can block images from certain servers if you want (i.e. advertising and porn sites), with a few clicks.  You’ll love the newfound speed.

If you want to edit the security settings, Firefox has a smooth interface and plain English options.  It has simple ways to enable and disable Java (script), and a way to have more than one homepage.  You can even have themes and plugins for Firefox—most user created.

Mozilla Firefox can be found at www.mozilla.org, and it’s free, in both ways.  You can download the source code if you want.  Go on, and free yourself!

Software Companies Mentioned

Harmonic Vision
68 E. Wacker Place, 8th Floor
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: 312-332-9200

Mozilla Firefox

Vivendi Universal Games
4247 S. Minnewana Ave.
Fresno, CA 93725
Phone:  310-649-8004