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THE GOODS : Programs Take Flight Into Yesteryear


LAS VEGAS — This year's Comdex--the gargantuan computer trade show--is brought to you by the letter P. PENTIUM! is the cry heard from many venues in the 2.5 million square feet of exhibition space. POWER PC! is shouted from others as the two big computer systems battle it out.

Also present are lots of Peripherals! PDAs! Pen computers! And, of course, as night falls here at the spiritual home of the pocket protector set, parties!

But in a lonely corner of the Las Vegas Convention Center, one of three centers used for the weeklong show, there is a computer set up to show a "P" program that is not attracting much attention. That's a shame, because for all the high-tech wonders being touted at Comdex, this is the one that has the ability to transport its users back to a quieter, more idyllic time.

This P stands for Paper airplane.

"Paper Planes," a new CD-ROM for both Macintosh and Windows from WordPerfect (list price is $29.95), shows you how to make a variety of gliders and stunt planes out of ordinary sheets of paper.

You might be wondering why a computer program would be needed to make one of the most low-tech of all playthings, but if, like me, you have problems folding a cloth napkin in a decorative fashion let alone a paper airplane, this type of program is a delight.

To use "Paper Planes," you choose which of the planes you want to make and then the program demonstrates on the screen, step by step, how to do each fold. I pick something called the "Extended Nakamura," described as a "great indoor-outdoor glider" that can be made with 25 folds.

I'm doing fine until about Step 17, when I am supposed to make a rather complex fold that seems easy when shown on the animated diagram.

My Comdex buddy Peter also tries the fold repeatedly without success. Finally, we follow the rest of the steps as well as we can and then Peter walks about 10 feet away to gently launch our "Nakamura" toward me.

A lead weight could not drop faster.

The idea, if not my execution, of "Paper Planes" is wonderful, though, and luckily there are two similar programs to be seen at Comdex.

The Knowledge Adventure booth is showing, among other educational titles, "Aviation Adventure." This brand new CD-ROM for Windows teaches kids the principles of flight through animation, documentary footage, graphics and games. It includes a 12-model paper-airplane section.

Its folding animations are far easier to use than the WordPerfect version, and after a few moments, I'm ready to launch an odd-looking glider that looks more like a sugar scoop than an aircraft. Upward it flies, making a graceful little loop and then smoothly landing on a large model of an aircraft carrier set up inside the booth.

Elation is too mild an adjective.

But the best is yet to come. At a small party that night, I see a demonstration of "The Greatest Paper Airplanes," the first product from Tucson-based KittyHawk Software. This floppy-disk, $29.95 program now available in Windows (the Mac version is to be released shortly) can be ordered by calling (800) 777-5745.

It comes with 25 paper-airplane models categorized as darts, gliders, jets, supersonic transports and star ships.

The demonstration sequences are nothing less than elegant in design and are completely controllable, allowing you to watch a fold not only from different angles, but at different speeds and in close-up or long shot.

The next morning, in the convention pressroom, I load the program into an IBM to make a rather complicated model called the "Albatross," described as an "all-purpose glider (that can) float or be made to do acrobatics." Several fellow members of the press, all of whom seem far more versed in high-tech wizardry than I, gather around my screen to play with the program and ensure my folds are carefully rendered.

We head out to a hallway to try out our creation.

I launch it gently and the Albatross sails upward to the "aahs" of the small crowd. Then it banks slightly to the left, goes over a partition and heads downward out of sight into a meeting room. We quickly push open the door to find the Albatross face up in the middle of a bowl of fruit.

Luckily, whatever meeting was in the room was over and no one was there. We quickly retrieve the plane and head back to the press room to make more.

We now had more reason than ever to be excited about Pentiums and Power PCs. They can give us back a bit of our childhoods.

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