Rick Katz can tell you to the hour when he got the idea for a software program that controls how much time a child spends on a computer.
It came at 3 a.m. in December 1994 when he awoke and found his then 14-year-old daughter sitting mesmerized in front of the family computer. At a later, more reasonable time that day, Katz trudged to a computer store in Coral Gables, Fla., looking for a program that placed a curfew on computer use.He couldn't find one.
So Katz invented his own. It's called "Time's Up!" and it does for the computer age what many parents wanted to do when TV ruled the roost - set limits.
After Katz, a lawyer, hit upon the need for Time's Up! he formed The Fresh Software Company and hired computer programmers to translate his parental control ideas into bits and bytes.
The first version arrived in stores in February. And now Katz has teamed up with SurfWatch to create what he calls the ultimate parental control package: Time's Up! is packaged with SurfWatch, a program that lets parents block unsuitable Internet content.
The bundled package will have a suggested street price of $29.95 and comes with a six-month subscription to Smart Kid magazine, a guide for parents.
Time's Up! is a straightforward, easy-to-use program that lets parents control computer use by program, user and/or day of the week.
A parent can give a child access to WordPerfect programs but not games during the school week, for instance. Or set a limit of hours spent playing Duke Nukem 3D or a whole group of games. It can be set to block access to games until a specified hour - say, after time set aside for homework.
Use it to set up sharing arrangements between siblings who fight over a computer. Maybe you've got a teen who spends hours chatting online, siphoning money out of your wallet with each click of the finger tips.
"We've heard some incredible horror stories about online pay-as-you-go services," Katz said. Put limits on online talk.
The program lets you set different time and access parameters for an unlimited number of users. It tracks each user's time at the computer, keeping a running total from one session to the next. A hot button lets a user pause the clock while they "take a potty break or whatever."
Katz came up with that feature after envisioning this little scenario in his own home:
Him: "Alex, go pick up your underwear."
Alex: "I can't, my time is running."
A two-minute warning referee pops up on the screen as time winds down so a computer user can gracefully exit programs he or she is using. When time's up, an exploding firecracker appears on the screen at 20-second intervals so any work in progress can be saved. If the user is still plunking away when time expires, Time's Up! takes over and shuts down the program.
"It allows parents to set parameters even when they're not home," Katz said.
Time's Up also will prints usage reports so parents can see how children use their computers.
While Katz envisioned the program giving parents more control over their children's computer time, other uses for Time's Up! are surfacing.
People with home offices find it's a great way to track computer use for tax purposes, Katz said.
"We'd never thought of that as a use of this," he said, adding that versions of Time's Up! for school and office settings are now in the works.
Time's Up! is a CD-ROM program that works with Microsoft Windows 3.1 or Windows 95. The program requires 5 megabytes of hard drive space. Contact: The Fresh Software Company, (305) 444-7745.