PORTSMOUTH-The computerization of Hampton Roads in the late 20th century has reached this point: People can schedule "NetDay," and nobody shows up thinking it's got something to do with commercial fishing.
And Jeffrey Pennington can feel like he got too old before he became Internet-savvy. He's 15. Jeffrey and U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb both act a little sheepish because they use ancient Netscape Navigator2.0-Version 3.0 came out two months ago.
So it went Saturday at NetDay East '96, when parents, teachers and military and corporate volunteers turned out to wire 10 Hampton Roads schools for Internet access.
NetDay East '96 is part of a national movement started in March in California. The goal is to equip schools with the infrastructure needed to connect to the Internet. Any school can join in as long as it recruits the volunteers and solicits the money or equipment needed to do the wiring.
During a visit to Douglass Park Earth and Science Elementary School in Portsmouth, Jeffrey-a former student of the school-gave Robb a tour of the sites on a laptop computer. Web sites, not sights. Robb asked Jeffrey to try to find Booker T. Washington High School's home page. Robb was heading over there later and wanted to be up to speed. Jeffrey characterized Robb's computer knowledge as "pretty good."
Even better was the elementary school's computer lab, its walls lined with Macintosh PowerPCs instead of the old, clunky computers they had when Jeffrey was there.
"We just played games on them," Jeffrey said of the olden days. "No Macs. Nowhere near this. It makes learning and doing research so much easier. It's just right here; you don't have to go anywhere."
"It's good that (the students) are starting early so they don't have to learn in high school like I do."
That's the idea of NetDay, participants said. Get the schools wired so the students can move ahead as quickly as technology. And get it done cheaply, thanks to volunteer labor.
The 35 to 40 volunteers at Douglass Park ran wiring to 18 classrooms on Saturday morning. Now they just have to drop wires from the ceilings to the computers, said Scott DeMasse, technical coordinator of the work.
Each of that school's students, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, is required to spend time learning computer skills.
"Most of our students would never see a computer if they didn't have it at school, because we're in an inner city," said Louise Jones, facilitator of the magnet school.
As for Robb, he's got the Internet terminology down pat. As volunteers stood on ladders stringing wire above the ceiling tiles Saturday, he urged them to recruit others.
"We can sign up a volunteer right on the Net," Robb said. "We'll put them in the base." That's tech-talk for Internet and database.
Apparently, he does more than talk. Karen Gravois, Robb's press secretary, said the senator has become a prolific user of e-mail to mobilize his staff.
Still not up to snuff on Internet etiquette, he marks every dispatch