San Jose Mercury News (CA)


February 12, 1998
Section: Local
Edition: Peninsula
Page: 6B
MICHELLE LEVANDER, Mercury News Staff Writer

LAYA is at

Illustration: Photos (2)

Los Altos High School freshman Chris Lin offers some suggestions for articles in the online newspaper published by four students.
[Also ran P. 1B]
[980212 LO 6B PE 1]
Teenage computer experts, from left, Chris Lin, Serena Chang and Daniel Cheng give some ideas to Robert Chin, seated, as he builds a Web page published by the Los Altos High School students.
[980212 LO 6B PE 2]

Robert Chin, 15, is the kind of teenager who makes the word ''super-achiever'' look like an understatement. The same could be said for his pals at Los Altos High School.

So it's not too surprising that in their spare time away from ballet, playing in a premier youth orchestra and learning programming languages and college-level calculus, they would design and produce their own electronic newsletter especially for teens.
It's a project Chin launched in junior high school, without any adult assistance. Today, LAYA (eLetter for American Young Adults), in its 15th Internet edition, gets 700 hits a month at its Web site and has subscribers as far away as the Middle East.

Chin and his three collaborators hope to bring a unique take on life to their readers. After all, they say, not just anyone can write about or see the world from the perspective of a teenager.

''When you are a teen, you think about things differently,'' says Chin.

''You aren't adults and you are not kids,'' chimes in Serena Chang, 14, one of the main newsletter writers. ''Everyone is suspicious of you. Teens go to stores and they think you are major shoplifters and follow you.''

All of the kids have parents with high-technology backgrounds or careers. Being in Silicon Valley has made it easier for them to see the possibilities of what they can do with technology. It also provides them with positive images of what their peers might see as nerdy, said one parent, Linda Chin, a speech therapist.

She and her husband, Raymond, a high-tech CEO, see their son's project as a healthy way to be creative in the high-pressure environment of a typical high school where being a jock or a fashion plate are the paths to popularity.

Her son, Robert, for instance, first started learning about computers when he was 5. He knows many programming languages, has already interned with a high-tech company, and is a regular beta tester for upcoming Microsoft products.

''These kids all have strengths that are different from the usual high school students and they've tried to expand on those strengths,'' said Linda Chin.

''In high school, it may be important to be a jock. That's not them (the four editors) and yet they've managed to somehow find each other and do something they feel is important outside of what everyone else thinks.''

The teens hope to offer readers something more thought-provoking than the light fare on romance and fashion tips offered in most teen magazines. And they want to appeal to both young men and young women, unlike commercial magazines.

Letter of support
It's working, if one teen's e-mail fan letter to LAYA from South Carolina is any measure.

''It is very interesting,'' the reader wrote. ''It will be eons before anyone at my backward high school does anything like that.''

The newsletter has jokes, opinion pieces, music reviews and articles. A recent issue includes an article on the Vietnam War Memorial and its designer by Chang, a story on teen slang by a guest writer, and a tongue-in-cheek piece on the virtues of ''the Book,'' hailed as the ''new Built-in Orderly Organized Knowledge device'' and ''a revolutionary breakthrough in technology.''

Subject matter
In other issues, Chris Lin, 15, opines on why computer games filled with violence have little appeal for girls and on his enjoyment of a record by deceased rap artist Tupac Shakur.

''I try to get people to give things a second thought,'' he says.

As is fitting for an Internet newsletter, the process of putting it together happens online, with each co-editor hunched over his or her own Pentium computer at home in Los Altos. It's easier that way, they say. All of them are too young to drive to each other's homes.

Chin does the heavy lifting on the computer. Daniel Cheng, 14, does layout. The four editors send out messages to each other over the Internet and respond the next day.

''It's like telecommuting but on a delayed basis,'' said Chin.

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