Feature Story

UP TO SPEED ON INFORMATION HIGHWAY

by Bob Hagin

April 3, 1998

It may be somewhat premature to say it, but I think I'm finally getting up to speed on the internet information highway. I'm not in the fast lane yet, but at least I've shifted into second gear.

A couple of years ago I told the story of my initial attempts at using the internet as a resource and the fact that after a few frustrating attempts, I gave it up as a valiant, but futile effort. I was developing a professional relationship with a computer expert who began to walk me through the trials and tribulations of developing internet acumen, but then my daughter and her family moved to Texas and took my grandson Mario along too. His departure slowed my internet education considerably.

It didn't bring it to a complete halt, however, and recently I undertook a somewhat disjointed and halting jaunt on the internet to see what kind of things automotive I could find.

Being human, the first item I looked up was me - and there I was. Somewhere along the line, a few of my clients put a bunch of my columns on the internet and some of them were so old, I'd forgotten that I had written them. Such is the curse of growing older.

But one can only indulge in narcissism for so long (fortunately no one was looking) so I then requested Auto Sales. This was something of a shock since the system found just under 4.5 million web sites on the subject and they ranged from a promotional "hit" for a car dealer who specializes in repairing Jeeps and Eagles in Kalamazoo, to a synopsis on the auto industry in South Africa. Eventually I gave up on Auto Sales after the first 1000 requests. At the rate I was going, we'd be well into the next century before I got through them all.

Being something of an auto racing buff, I next called up the name Andretti, the auto racing dynasty that has been involved in events from the Indy 500 to the 24 Hours of Le Mans to the Daytona 500. Not only were the achievements of Father Mario, his son Michael and his nephew John chronicled among the 7647 pages that my search uncovered, but it was also revealed that personal-computer owners with a competitive propensity could acquire a a CD-generated game called "Andretti Racing." Also included was a newspaper clipping that the Andretti Racing Family had gone into a joint venture with Texaco in a gas station in downtown San Francisco. Somehow I don't think that any of the three will be manning the pumps on their off-hours.

Pulling up the initials NHTSA (the unpronounceable acronym for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) brought to light some interesting tidbits on that august organization. For one, the NHTSA fudged a bit when it reported that German Autobahn no-speed-limit traffic produced six times the fatality rate as U.S. highways enforcing the 55 MPH speed limit. Turns out that the statistics were from the former eastern German Democratic Republic rather than the high speed roads of the western Federal Republic of Germany.

On the other side of the coin, the NHTSA call-up produced a site at which netsurfers can bring up various recalls, product investigations, etc., that may or may not pertain to their own automotive problems.

Americans are, for the most part, autophilic and throng to almost any kind of show that displays cars and/or trucks. When I looked into Car Shows on the internet, I found amateur events that ranged from a listing of all the local shows put on by the various chapters of the Late Great Chevys (1958 - 1964) of Long Island, New York, to a kit car show put on by the Northern California Kit Car Club in San Leandro, California. Most of the listings under Car Shows were street-rod, specialty or vintage car events put on by dedicated owners. In this lineup I found a neat service being offered by Auto Restorer Online. It invites viewers to send in photos and a brief description of their automotive restoration projects - finished or in process - to be put on the web site and enjoyed by other enthusiasts.

Pulling up the words Auto Show had different results, however. These events were, in the main, big-time operations on the magnitude of the extravaganzas in New York, Geneva, Tokyo and Frankfurt. Manufacturers from around the world show off their newest offerings in mega-buck displays and corporate big-wigs are on hand to greet the press as well as visiting dignitaries. The web sites and the events are world-class and the rank-and-file show-goers are potential car or truck buyers who find it an easy way to go shopping for a vehicle and find them all on display under one roof.

I spent two or three hours at my computer keyboard dashing through the internet looking for auto-related subjects and I couldn't begin to scratch the surface. All the auto makers have their own elaborate sites that show the netsurfer all aspects of the corporate being from financial reports to how its brand-name did in the latest NASCAR race. Amateur clubs, tire makers, aftermarket parts producers, trade organizations and hundreds of others all have their places staked out in the nether world of the internet.

When I was a kid, a common farewell expression was "See you in the funny papers." Judging by the daily proliferation of web sites, it may be close to the time when we'll all be seeing each other on the internet.

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