This long lost article was finally recovered on 05/24/1999:

The entire article:
Computer companies hoping to program parents
by Marialisa Calta (Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer)

A TOW-HEADER toddler sits on daddy's lap in front of a computer terminal, his tiny fingers hovering over the keyboard. "He's only three," the voice on the TV commercial intones, "but already he's reaching out." Daddy, the narrator says, is giving his son "a real head start" in life.

Ah, The old Parental Guilt Advertising Ploy. You remember it from your hang-a-mobile-over-the-crib, buy-a-Britannica days. Once again you, the middle-class parents, are the target. And the computer companies have taken aim right at your earnest, anxiety-ridden heart.

Alan E. Farstrup, an associate professor of education at the University of Rhode Island, says such ads "border on the indecent."

Harvey Silverman, director of the Laboratory for Engineering Man/Machine Systems at Brown University and the president of Sphere Technology, a computer company in Providence, calls them "pure salesmanship."

"There is nothing that says that if you don't get a computer by the time you're 6, you're going to fail college," says Silverman. "It's just awful. It's absolutely and totally misleading. It's all just hype."

Donald R. Gardner Jr., state coordinator of the Governor's Technology in Education Initiative, says there is "no way" that buying your child a computer insures his or her success in life.

"And I speak as someone in charge of a $4-million program to put computers in the classroom," Gardner says. "An awful lot of people are being sent on a great big guilt trip to buy a computer for their kids. It's a bad-news trip."

THE ISSUE of "computer literacy" for the Pablum-and-Playdoh set is a timely one, as debate rages in both the fields of education and computer science.

The cover of a recent issue of InfoWorld, a magazine for the computer industry, shows a toddler asleep at his terminal, a teddy-beat and pocket-calculator stuffed in a briefcase by his side.

"Yes, the technological revolution is here," reads the magazine's editorial. "But if you're a parent or friend or teacher of a preschooler, remember that building blocks and storybooks are as important in a child's life as computers. You don't have to buy a computer right away ... the technological revolution isn't going to sweep past your child before he reaches kindergarten."

These words may be music to the ears of perplexed parents, adrift in an unfamiliar sea of ROMs and RAMS and easy prey to the Siren-like song of "Mommy! Daddy! Buy me a computer."

"FIRST OF ALL, we have to realize that it's okay for a person not to be a computer whiz," Farstrup says.

Some people will learn how to program computers and will use them for science and math or to create music or graphics. But most people, he says, will use computers "like they use chalk, or a typewriter, or an appliance."

"There are going to be many, many opportunities in your child's life to become familiar with a computer," he said. "It doesn't have to happen at home. Parents can and should expect schools to take the leadership role in this area."

Trouble starts, says Farstrup, when parents shell out $1,000 for a home computer only to find that their child isn't interested in it.

"The parents may pressure the child inappropriately," Farstrup says. "Or the kid may get a guilt complex, thinking 'my parents spent so much money on this so I better use it.'"

Such pressure on a child, Farstrup reasons, could short-circuit a healthy interest in computer later in life.

Farstrup is no computer-phobe. He believes that microcomputers have "enormous potential for communicating with the world."

He thinks computers are "intrinsically interesting," and can also be fun and useful. But he agrees with the Infoworld editorial that "it's a mistake to purchase a computer just for a preschooler."

A little more than a year ago, he bought an Atari home computer, and found his son, Adam - then 6 years old - parked over his shoulder as he worked. Adam, now 8, plays video games on the Atari and works out simple programs using LOGO, a special program for children.

Farstrup is not fond of so-called "electronic flashcard" software. These are programs that, at a cost of about $25, have cute graphics and zippy tunes and teach the same lessons (vocabulary, simple math, etc.) as a 99-cent pack of flashcards.

One program that purports to teach the alphabet, for example, has animated figures for each letter. Push the letter "J" on the keyboard and juggling bear appears on the screen while a tinkly circus tune is played.

"To my mind, the movement and the songs kind of detract from the letter that is supposed to be learned," Farstup says. "I'm not convinced that this program teaches anything."

HE DISLIKES programs that offer flashier "rewards" for failure than for success. The object of one word game, for example, is to keep the little man on the screen from falling off the cliff by correctly filling in the missing letters of a word. If the user fills in the blanks correctly, the man is saved. If the user fails, the man plummets, accompanied by a loud "splat."

"It's more fun for a kid to hear the squashing sound than to get the game right," Farstrup said. "I don't like that. And I don't like the violence, either."

Farstrup does like some of the adventure and mystery programs that have few graphics and require thought and imagination to develop and solve. He said his son, Adam, prefers a game called Lemonade - a computer program requiring the user to make business decisions while running a lemonade stand. Adam has access to the game on the URI computers, and he plays with his friends.

"To the extent that computers bring families and people together, then I think they can be very good in the home," he says. "But if I were to give a parent advice, I'd say there would be no harm in waiting awhile."

He says prices will be lower, software will be better and besides - "there's no rush. There's no sense stampeding parents into thinking their children all have to become computer nerds," he says.

HARVEY SILVERMAN successfully resisted the stampede for the home computer. As a computer engineer and the president of a computer company, Silverman said the last thing he needed was a computer awaiting him at home at the end of a long day.

But the Silverman boys - Alan, 11, and Kenneth, 8 - wanted one. So last year, when Texas Instruments began "giving away" computers for about $50, the boys got their wish. Silverman and his wife, Judy - a mathematician who works with her husband - made the boys spend gift and chore money on the computer, and helped them hook it up to an old black-and-white TV.

The parents refused to buy software, so the boys began programming the computer themselves. So far they have a Pac-Man-type game and a game called Sea Worm (copyright, Alan Silverman Computers, Jan. 7, 1984) and they are working on several others.

"There's a difference between pounding away on a joystick, and thinking and programming," Silverman says.

His advice to parents is that "kids will learn what they need as they need it. We have students who come to Brown who know nothing about computers. We teach them. They learn."

Ken Silverman's errata and comments (1999):

My dad says: "...if you don't get a computer by the time you're 6, you're going to fail college..."
Hmmm... I got my first computer at the age of 8... I failed half my classes during my first semester at college... But it was because I programmed TOO much!

My dad, Harvey Silverman was not the "president" of Sphere Technology - he was merely one of the founders and a chief technical advisor. : ) (Sadly, the company didn't make it...)

We never had to spend "gift and chore money" on the computer.

We originally hooked up the TI to an old COLOR TV. Perhaps the reporter thought it was black and white because we didn't have color in our programs yet.

My dad says: " will learn what they need as they need it..."

I couldn't agree more - after all: "Necessity is the mother of invention." It's so cool that the reporter gave my dad's quote the "last word". (Have no TV in the house and your kids will grow up to be geniuses. It's true! BTW, I'm not talking about myself - I've always watched plenty of TV : P)

04/19/2005: Somebody asked for the original PACMAN source code as it existed on the TI-99/4A, so here it is:
Pac-Man-type game source code (1,839 bytes)
This game is special to me because it's my earliest program ever saved in magnetic form.
Note: This code will require emulation of some kind. It will not run in QBASIC as is.