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This article by Jamie Saxon was prepared for the March 31, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
When Greg Harris’ nine-year-old daughter got her first laptop, she also wanted E-mail, instant messaging, and the ability to surf the net. As visions of unsolicited spam with all manner of questionable content danced in his head, Harris, pictured at right, did what any normal parent would do: he put the decision off for a year.
Then he invented KidZmail.com. “If even one objectionable E-mail got through to my daughter, that’s one too many,” says Harris, a native of Long Island who left SUNY Albany in 1987 to jump on the computer bandwagon, quickly working his way up from computer support person for the United Way in New York to IT management for a company that developed software for law firms. He then started his own web-hosting company, which he sold in May, 2003 to start Internet Venture Group, at 212 Carnegie Center, under whose auspices KidZmail.com debuted on February 15.
Unhappy with spam filters, none of which are perfect, Harris’ big light bulb went on, he says, the day he realized “the parent is the 100 percent guaranteed spam filter.” KidZmail.com lets parents set the level of protection they want for all incoming and outgoing E-mails. For example, a message sent from someone in the “highly trusted” category is sent right through to the child without a copy to the parent. (Children can pick their own catchy domain names like firstname.lastname@example.org.) An E-mail from someone in the “trusted” category is sent to the child with a copy to the parent.
There are seven levels in all, which let parents do everything from preview E-mails to alert senders that their messages have been blocked. All messages from unknown senders are put in the general category — to be approved by the parent. Parents can choose to have their E-mail alerts sent to their work E-mail address — or E-mail can be accessed from any desktop via the kidZmail.com website.
Parents also see their child’s outgoing E-mails if they wish (outgoing E-mail addresses are similarly categorized). KidsZmail.com is already being used by parents across the country and in Canada. It costs $7.99 per month or $69 per year for the whole family (log onto the website for information about the company’s free 14-day trial).
“My biggest fear,” says Harris, “is exposure to the child before she’s ready. When I found my father’s Penthouses at age 16, that’s one thing. A nine-year-old shouldn’t have to see E-mails about” — he stops and gives the “you know what I’m talking about” look.
On the horizon: KidZconnect.com to let parents choose a list of websites they approve their children visiting but with a lock on any links to other websites, and Kidzconnect for instant messaging in which parents approve a list of E-mail addresses their child can IM, but parents also receives a transcript. What about surfing? “I can never, ever, ever, ever, allow my daughter to surf,” says Harris, who also has twin sons, age 7. Spoken like a true father.
When it comes to children and culture, one of the best-kept secrets in Princeton is the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University. Open to the public, the Cotsen’s Children’s Library is housed in Firestone Library (enter on Washington Road, in between the University Chapel and Firestone).
In the library’s “Bookscape,” children can find a topiary cat and kangaroo, synchronize their watch to Cinderella time, and curl up with a good book inside the trunk of a giant bonsai tree. The unique space, reminiscent of a children’s pop-up book, includes a succession of cut-away views and whimsically-furnished reading nooks such as the “Hearth of Darkness” loft and a wishing well, as well as the Cotsen Storytelling Radio.
The Cotsen is home to an important historical collection of more tha 60,000 illustrated children’s books and related items dating back to the 15th century — including early editions of Perrault’s fairy tales. While the collection is housed in glass cases open to researchers by appointment only, the Cotsen itself is a terrific source for interactive exhibits, workshops, and plays for kids — all designed to get kids jazzed about literature.
Now through June, the Cotsen is hosting a number of workshops and programs tied in with the Princeton Art Museum’s special exhibition, The Book of Kings: Art, War, and the Morgan Library’s Medival Picture Bible.
Last weekend, we recruited two eight-year-olds as a disguise so we could attend “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” based on a 14th century literary tale about a knight in the court of King Arthur, performed by the Cotsen Players, many of them seniors at Princeton.
Saturday, April 17. children ages 9 to 14 can participate in “Leaves of Gold,” two workshops (10 a.m. and noon) on medieval manuscripts and the art of illumination led by scribe Lady Margaret and Father Patrick, a storytelling monk. Participants will illuminate their own initials. Pre-registration is required.
Saturday, May 1. Children aged 7 to 12 can make their own “faux stained glass” window designs based on those in medieval churches, using special translucent wax papers. Pre-registration is required.
Through June 6. Families can go on a Medieval Art Quest at the Art Museum to hunt for interesting cultural details in medieval artworks — there’s a prize for all who compete.
In the Cotsen Library, children and their parents can enjoy books, games, and manuscripts related to the Middle Ages; see and touch knight’s armor, invent medieval stories on a magnetic board, and dress up as young squires and ladies in medieval costumes.
To check programming throughout the year, visit www.princeton.edu/~cotsen. Hours: weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekends noon to 5 p.m.
Last month I took my son to see Rennie Harris PureMovement, a hip-hop dance company at McCarter. At intermission, he made a beeline to McCarter’s Company Store — and glommed right onto the puppet display — a veritable carnival of bright colors, shiny fabrics, soft fur coats, and whimsical details. My son went bonkers over a blue three-headed dragon. “Can I? Can I?” Every fiber in my body said no, but my mouth said, “Yes.” Who could resist?
Then I looked around some more. Wait a minute, this place looks like a toy store, I thought. Color, color, everywhere. A sweet little enamel tea set ($46). Dover coloring books with funky titles like “Erte Fashion Designs” ($3.95). A memory game featuring the faces of young children from different cultures ($13).
“It’s all about color, eye candy. Everything’s about texture and visual appeal,” says manager Hannah Schussel and former owner of Toys…the Store on Palmer Square. Schussel closed Toys in 1999 for personal reasons. Then David Newton, president of Palmer Square Management and a member of McCarter’s Associates Board, hooked Schussel up with Emily Mann, who, says Schussel, had wanted to open up a “real” store at the theater.
Schussel, who earned her B.S. in social sciences and her M.A. in special education from Hofstra, comes from a family of retailers . Her father ran a textile shop in pre-war Germany and her mother’s family ran hardware stores on Long Island where Schussel grew up, so she knows a thing or two about what makes people buy. That comes in handy when your peak selling time is 15 minutes during intermission.
“It’s total impulse buying,” says Schussel. In addition to toys, the store also carries jewelry, cards, and CDs of presenting artists, such as Oliver Mtukudzi & Black Spirits, who are coming from Zimbabwe to McCarter on April 16.
Schussel knows that customer service is the name of the game, and it’s not atypical for her to open the store “by appointment” outside of normal business hours. “That’s the Nordstrom’s way,” she say, referring to the department store that’s known for great customer service. “That’s the way my father did business.”
McCarter Company Store, 91 University Place. 609-258-1298. Open one hour prior to curtain, at intermission, and sometimes after the show;Saturdays and Sundays with matinee and evening shows, open from one hour before curtain to end of last performance; and by appointment.
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