For Computer Whiz , 9, Instinct, Skill Come Naturally

By Shawn Cohen Poughkeepsie Journal: 2/1/99

HIGHLAND - Most kids might think of Superman, Batman or Mark McGwire as their heros. But 9-year- old Adam, says his hero is none other than ... Steve Jobs, co-founder and interim CEO of Macintosh Computers. Adam, who owns a half dozen Macintosh computers, has even e-mailed Jobs, seeking his autograph and congratulating him for making a wonderful speech last summer at the MacWorld Expo in New York City.

"He saved Apple computers," said Adam, while eating a peanut butter sandwich during lunch break at Poughkeepsie Day School recently. He's in the fourth grade.

Adam - a mature kid with a dry sense of humor - lives in Highland with parents Harry and Nava Atlas, a renowned cookbook author, and brother Evan, 7. His parents first recognized his gift for technology when he turned 4. His uncle gave him an old computer and, without instruction, he seemed to have an instinct for using it. He began reading enormous computer manuals, including the 1,200-page "Mac World Secrets." These days, he is teaching himself to program 3D graphic imagery. For him, this is fun. But Adam says he's not sure how he acquired his skill. In other subjects. he is a strong student but not a prodigy, according to school officials.

"Maybe it was something I was born with," he suggested. "My dad can hardly turn on a computer and my mom uses her computer only for work."

If Adam had his way, he'd probably spend most of his waking hours on the computer. While others went to eat during a recent lunch period, he sat in front of a computer, trying to hack the secret password for the system.

"We sometimes have to pull him away from the computers so he can work in a group." noted Kathy Corrigan, principal of the lower school. His parents make the same effort at home.

'Adam could probably hold a high-level job when he's a teenager, but I'd like him to have the opportunity to be a kid for as long as he can," said Atlas, who encourages his other hobbies such as swimming and writing humorous poetry.

The family has struggled to find an appropriate educational setting for Adam, who presents a challenge because his abilities vary from subject to subject. They withdrew him from a public school in Connecticut because all students were taught the same way and they enrolled him in the private day school last fall. They are happy that the smaller classes there provide more individualized instruction.

Adam also branches out after school into the Poughkeepsie school district. He is a member of the "Tech Scouts," a student club led by Technology Director Bram Moreinis. Moreinis ran into Adam at a coffee shop last fall and invited him to assist the scouts ' who are mostly high school Students. Moreinis recently has been teaching Adam how to play piano, recognizing a correlation between people who are gifted in computers and music.

But Adam is quite happy on computers. He dreams about becorning a computer programmer some day, or perhaps starting a technology company. "But I don't want to be a Mac competitor," he noted. "Maybe I'll make software or peripherals for Mac."