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Inside the Inaugural Technology Tent

By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 19, 1997; Page A27

It was hard to tell who was more excited about the Technology Playground on the Mall yesterday: the bug-like computer character who glibly interviewed passers-by or the dozens of people who stared at him in disbelief.

The star was named Reginald, a digitally animated character connected by dozens of wires and a swift computer to a lively British actor, who controlled the display from behind the scene like the Wizard of Oz.

For hours, Reginald entertained visitors with his unusual looks—a cross between a praying mantis and beetle—and charming patter. One moment, he was doing television-style interviews; the next, he was doing the Macarena. He practically redefined the meaning of interactive.

"He looks neat, and I like bugs, and he's a bug," said 7-year-old Christian Oldham, beaming as he watched Reginald conduct an interview with his brother.

Reginald was just one of many dazzling displays in a tent stuffed with computers, virtual reality games and other digital marvels assembled on the mall to showcase America's high technology achievements during this weekend's inaugural festivities.

In one booth, a computer-controlled television system sounded louder than National Airport. Another offered visitors the chance to "fly" a plane over enemy territory, using software that U.S. Air Force aviators practice with. NASA displayed models of the space shuttle. IBM demonstrated video-telephones.

Steve Tilley, a physician visiting from Little Rock, said he used free Internet connections to check on his stocks. "It's awesome. Just all the energy, all the people," said Tilley. "Everyone's in a festive mood."

The place was so crowded with gear that it was hard not to bump into computers or trip on the thousands of wires snaking through the Astroturf.

Kay Dotson and several friends from Lawrence County, Tenn., spent their time looking at pictures from home, using free access to the World Wide Web. First, they visited Web sites sponsored by several Tennessee high schools, cheering when they saw someone they knew. Then they admired a picture of their local telephone company, housed in a squat brick building.

"It's just great to see government, just to see it in action, the way it works," Dotson said of the event on the mall.

Mike Ewing, of Germantown, and Jon Miller, of the District, wrote an e-mail message to President Clinton and Vice President Gore that captivated many in the tent when it was projected onto a large screen.

"We're 2 deaf guys down at the Technology Playground," they wrote. "We're big fans. Keep up the great work! From our perspective, a big help would be to put some pressure on the FCC to make closed captions a regular part of our daily lives.: every new tv, every broadcast and cable show, every movie . . . It'd help deaf people everywhere."

Gore dropped by to remind everyone about his boss's "Bridge to the 21st Century" campaign theme. Surrounded by a mob of reporters and well-wishers, Gore made a loop through the tent. He shook a lot of hands but wasn't tempted by the games.

Maybe yesterday's frigid temperatures were to blame for his stiff demeanor. Maybe not.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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