Come to Fair, save the world

Youngsters do it ‘virtually’ at funhouse.

Jennie Baum, 12, just wasn’t interested in the prospect of corn dogs, cotton candy and five spins on the Zipper.

She preferred saving the world from destruction wrought by chlorofluorocarbons.

So Jennie joined hordes of other youngsters who flocked to the Multimedia Funhouse at the Marin County Fair yesterday to take a stab at the VRQuest™ virtual reality game that aims to put a lid on ozone-damaging CFCs.

The Santa Rosa seventh-grader saved the world by whizzing through a virtual cityscape and shutting down CFC-producing factories, turning off air conditioning units and removing aerosol cans from supermarket shelves.

And she did it all in a 30-second stint with a joystick and a Darth Vadar-like helmet."It felt like I was flying," she said.

The game not only is providing high-flying adventure for fair goers this week, it’s become a convincing selling point for VRQuest Founder Warren Black and the "virtual worlds" he helps youngsters create through a six-week education program.

The computer cityscape Jennie saved from CFC disaster yesterday was developed by youngsters aged 12 to 18.

The program, founded in , will be coming to Marin this fall through the PCS Center for Enriched Learning in Corte Madera.

"The kids learn solid high-tech skills they can use in the real world and they have a lot of fun," Black said.

The program gives youngsters firsthand experience on projects involving architecture, mechanical engineering, robotics and lasers.

Students begin their training by working with those ever-popular building blocks, Lego’s, to better visualize basic structural engineering, architecture and mathematics concepts.

Eventually, many students build up their skills to an adept knowledge of advanced design software and use of scanners, digital cameras, digitizers and other high-tech equipment.

Youngsters at the VRQuest™ booth yesterday seemed equally intrigued by the tactile world of Lego’s and the 3-D virtual world of computer adventure.

One cluster of determined youngsters made Lego creations that included space aliens and complicated gear works similar to those displayed at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Peter Ryan, 12, turned several heads with a Lego eagle he created in a few minutes.

The eagle was displayed at the booth all afternoon to inspire other young designers.

Marin Independent Journal, Section B Friday, July 4, 1997