Politics, pigeons and pygmy mammoths in San Diego

Ahhh technology. Thanks to the Internet and the World Wide Web political conventions now have moved from smoke-filled rooms to cyberspace. When the Republican National Convention (RNC) starts today in San Diego Internet users around the world can tap into a sophisticated Web site that for starters matches C-SPAN in offering gavel-to-gavel coverage and raw unedited politics. But the RNC page offers a lot more than just talking heads.

The convention's Web page at www.convention96.rnc.org/ was developed by AT&T Corp. and provides a dazzling array of Net bells and whistles for what the RNC calls "cyberdelegates."

The average cyber Joe or Jane can click on the Forum Room icon and use Internet Relay Chat - software used by other Web pages to discuss topics that would cause Republicans to blush - to "talk live with news makers exchange ideas [and] ask the politicos!"

Click on the '96 Live icon on the brightly designed red white and blue convention home page (replete with cyberballoons) and you can watch and listen to a live video or audio track. If you don't have the software another click will take you to a site to download what you need. The '96 Live section also offers a Floor Phone button which marries cellular phones with the Net. Access this site and you have an ear on the floor with Republican "spotters " who rove the convention floor find a news maker and dispatch a Web sound bite on the spot.

Other icons lead cyberdelegates to files containing Republican history profiles of corporeal delegates and a roster of past Republican presidents.

What the site sorely lacks however are links to other relevant spots in cyberspace. Users can find a link to the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.sandiego.org) but a check last week showed most of the relevant files on that page such as a city guide were empty.

Gateway Guide suggests these links:* Planet Earth San Diego (www.planetearth/SanDiego.html) which offers many links to the city's environs news weather and a traffic map that shows real-time freeway speeds (or the lack of them) in the area. This site is operated by the Naval Command Control & Ocean Surveillance Center's Research Development Testing and Evaluation Division in partnership with Bien Logic Inc. a commercial Web developer.* Republicans and cyberdelegates probably would like to see where all those Defense bucks go and a quick jump to the Navy Surface Force-Pacific site (www.surfpac.navy.mil) will deliver lots of photos and information on everything from Aegis cruisers to 'gator freighters docked just south of the convention center in National City.* Visit the Marine Corps Communications-Electronics School a few hours up the road in Twentynine Palms. This site at 138.156.33/MCCES/index.html is worth visiting if for no other reason than to find out that MCCES started out in 1932 as the Pigeon and Flag Handler Platoon in San Diego.

When it's time to take a break far away from civilization just point your Web browser to the Channel Islands National Park (www.nps.gov/chis/) for a trip out to sea. Each of the five islands that make up the unique park has its own Web page complete with map photo access and camping information. Check out the Channel Island pygmy mammoth an oxymoron that probably makes about as much sense as anything that will happen at either the Republican or Democratic conventions.

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