Bugged by Year 2000 talk? Dig the Panama Canal site

All the hullabaloo about the Year 2000 date problem has obscured other major occurrences around Dec. 31, 1999— one of which is the ownership and management rollover of the Panama Canal.

For a primer on the "Path Between the Seas," check out the Panama Canal Commission's World Wide Web site at www.pananet.com/

pancanal/pcc.htm. PCC, an executive branch agency, offers a quick historical lesson how the United States and other countries surmounted epic physical challenges that make tinkering with computer code seem like child's play.

The PCC site presents the physical scale of the canal on its opening page. A photo shows an almost-too-wide tanker inching its way through a narrow lock pulled by "mechanical mules," which by comparison look like toys. Probe a little deeper into the site, and you can dig out the facts on all the digging that was required for that modern-day tanker to journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans in a day rather than the week it would take to round South America.

Click on "General Information" on the main page, then click on "Other Information" and again on the "Did You Know..." link. Up pops enough canal facts to fill conversational voids for at least a month. An example: Because of the reclining "S" shape of the isthmus of Panama, the sun rises over the Pacific and sets in the Atlantic.

The site offers a concise history of the canal's treaties and legislation, starting with the 1903 agreement between the United States and Panama and concluding with the Sept. 7, 1977, treaty under which the United States agreed to cede operational control of the canal to Panama at noon Dec. 31, 1999.

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