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ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast

hosts: Randy Kindig, Kay Savetz, Brad Arnold
twitter: @AtariPodcast
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Mar 13, 2021

Atari at the Science Fair: Michael Fripp: Silent E

An article was published in the Daily Press newspaper of Newport News, Virginia on February 13 1985, titled "Best in Show at Science Fair: Computer program helps young readers conquer the 'silent e' challenge'.

Two years ago Michael Fripp wanted to make sure his younger brother didn't face a hard time learning how to deal with the "silent e" principle in reading lessons. Putting his own Atari computer to work, Michael developed a fun, educational computer program designed to teach then 6-year-old Daniel how to successfully pronounce words like "cap," "tub" and "man" when an "e" is added to each.

"I remember the trouble I had with 'silent e' and didn't want him to have that trouble," says 13-year-old Michael, an eighth grader at Queens Lake Intermediate School. "There are lots of math but few English programs for computers. I hope to bridge that gap."

Michael went on to expand the "silent e" program, complete with more detailed instruction and graphics, through his computer science class at school and entered it as an exhibit in the York County Science Fair. Michael's educational reading program — "Silent E: A Program for K-3" — was judged best in show.

"We were pleased and surprised a computer program was picked because usually the judges pick pure science," says Carolyn Gaertner, who teaches math and computer science at the intermediate school.

Michael's computer program involves a simple story outline about an earthling named Tim and his spaceship landing on the planet EOP which is ruled by the Silent E's. There, Tim learns how the Silent E's simply and quickly turn words such as "pan" into "pane" with the addition of their favorite letter...

He has copyrighted the program and hopes to market it commercially. More than 100 hours of work have gone into the project...

"Computers are like a fever; they grow on you," says the young man. "I try to do a lot of programming at home but homework really limits me."

The large photograph accompanying the article shows young Michael, replete with calculator watch, in front of an Apple II computer, not an Atari.

I talked with Dr. Fripp to hear all about his program.

This interview took place on February 28, 2021.

Intro song: Silent E by Tom Lehrer