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CD-ROM Review - Smart Kids: Discovering Life: Water, air and matter - Softkey/Science Museum


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Unusually for us, this is a CD-ROM, not a book - and a very effective one at that (with some provisos about the conversion to English, which we'll come back to).

After putting in your name (it remembers what you've seen, so different children can keep track of their own progress), you come across five children each of which provides their own, subtly linked tour through a set of topics. There's also a sixth "smart kid" that tries to match a tour to your interests given what you have looked at already.

Note the final part of the title. At first glance this is a biology CD-ROM, but in fact it covers some aspects of mechanics and material science, along with the nature of water and air. Like the companion title Touring the Planets, it's a delightful set of 100 interactive experiments that helps the participant get a better understanding of the science involved. Each experiment comes in three parts, an introduction, the experiment itself and a wrap-up, narrated in voices that are a strange mix of American and English with mild French undertones. While inevitably some of the experiments are more fun than others, they all give some interaction, something to do, that makes all the difference.

The only real criticism of the content is that, with the computer graphics technology available today, it would have been good to have real video integrated with the drawn graphics. These are pleasant and colourful, but the real thing can be even more impressive.

So far, so good, and the four star rating is based on the information you have seen so far. If we were to take into account this final remark, unfortunately we would have to chop one or even two stars off the rating. This title was originally French (there's no attempt to conceal this - Windows puts it in a sub-folder called France Telecom), and not enough work has been done in the translation. There are occasional typos that it's hard to imagine an English proof reader missing ("pass by" becomes "pass b" for example), but this is most obvious when anything goes wrong - the error messages are still in French! Worse, we managed to get the program into a loop of error messages it couldn't escape from.

From a UK English viewpoint, it is also very clearly translated for a US market. As well as inevitable differences like spelling colour without a "u", this is most glaringly obvious with the word "buoy" which is mispronounced "booey". To quote the (American) expert Bill Bryson "I cannot resist pointing out to my fellow Americans, and any who may be influenced by them, that the increasing tendency to pronounce the word boo-ee is mistaken and misguided. Unless you would say boo-ee-ant for buoyant, please return to pronouncing it boy." (Bill Bryson, Troublesome Words)

Obviously the US is a larger market, and it's sensible to have a version in US English, but if there is any serious intention of getting into the UK there similarly ought to be a UK version (especially as it carries a "Science Museum approved" sticker).

These problems don't prevent it being a good title, but it's to be hoped the manufacturer sorts them out as soon as possible.

According to the blurb, this CD-ROM works on both PCs and Macs - we have only tested it on a PC.

Reviewed by Brian Clegg


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Last update 05 June 2007