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It wasn't the usual form of teenage rebellion, but Fred Gitelman's parents were nonetheless concerned when he took up bridge in high school. "They were afraid I was going to become a cardsharp," recalls Gitelman, now 32. "They didn't see how anything good could possibly, come of it."
But Gitelman's obsession paid off. After dropping out of the University of Toronto (where he often cut computer classes to compete in local bridge tourneys), he created Bridge Master, software that offers instruction to players as they face off against the computer. Since its 1991 release, Bridge Master has sold over 10,000 copies—and' earned glowing reviews for Gitelman and girlfriend-partner Sheri Winestock, who market the $60 disk from their Toronto home.
He also made fans of two of the world's richest men. When investment guru Warren Buffett placed an order, Gitelman hit him up for an endorsement. ("A terrific program for all skill levels," says the billionaire.) Buffett also passed the software along to frequent bridge partner Bill Gates Sr., who shared it with his son. In 1995, Bill Jr., CEO of Microsoft and a bridge aficionado, gave Gitelman a gig tuning up his company's online bridge games.
Gitelman, who won a silver medal at the 1995 bridge world championships as a member of the Canadian national team, is still enthralled. "It's something to try and master the game," he says, "even though you know you never really can."
To those who suspect either Microsoft or Barney, the purple PBS dinosaur beloved by preschoolers, of secret plans for world domination: Be very afraid. The two have teamed up to create a toy for the 21st century—ActiMates' Barney, a talking doll that interacts with both the TV and the PC.
The cuddly dino is plenty high-tech all by himself, singing songs when his limbs are squeezed and playing peekaboo when his eyes are covered. But in tandem with a radio transmitter and a specially encoded CD-ROM or videotape, Barney is (to use his phrase) stu-u-u-pendous. Following kids' progress in solving the CD-ROM's simple puzzles, he offers hints and praise. The video is less snazzy: The doll's interjections ("Wasn't that fun?") often make him seem like a fifth wheel. The Purple One costs a pretty penny: The doll is $109.95; the TV Pack (a video and transmitter) and PC Pack (CD-ROM and transmitter) each are $64.95. On Nov. 3 the daily TV broadcasts of Barney & Friends will also include signals for ActiMates' Barney. Today, PBS; tomorrow, the world.