- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2001

Turning on the television, driving to a store and flicking on a reading lamp are acts many in the United States take for granted. The combination of deregulation, a failure to build new power plants, a cold winter and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' price controlling, however, may be threatening what keeps America well-lit and moving.

The most populous state in the union, California, has been having a colossal problem keeping the energy flowing. Ironically enough, the California Energy Commission has developed one of the best cyber-stops for children to learn about energy and practical ways to conserve it. Maybe some of the state's government officials need to take a look.

ENERGY QUEST

Site address: www.energy.ca.gov/education

Creator:

The California Energy Commission's Media & Public Communications Office, located in Sacramento, Calif.

Creator quotable:

"Children are the most important part of planning for our energy future," says California Energy Commission Executive Director Steve Larson. "With the electricity challenges we are currently facing in California and possible future electricity problems, the Web site is helping educate our students in what energy is and what they can do to use it wisely. There is never enough energy to waste."

Word from the Webwise:

A visitor's Energy Quest begins by traveling down a long "road" filled with colorful icons on the opening page. Twenty-one sections can be accessed, and each teaches through text, illustrations, photographs and printable games the importance of energy.

I suggest beginning at "The Energy Story," which thoroughly explains how power is one of the most fundamental parts of the universe. Within this section's 15 chapters, students get a quick education on geothermal energy; fossil fuels; hydro power; and ocean, nuclear, solar and wind energy sources.

Each chapter contains numerous examples to reinforce its theme. For instance, "Defining Electricity" explains the parts of a battery and includes a balloon experiment demonstrating negatively charged electrons. It also contains an illustration of an atom. Each chapter also concludes with a numbered summary of what was taught.

Another section I enjoyed, "Super Scientists," provides concise biographies of some of the legends in the field of energy. Fifteen pioneers are presented, including Edwin Laurentin Drake, a petroleum pioneer of the oil industry, and Lewis Howard Latimer. This 19th-century inventor not only created a device for efficiently mass-producing the carbon filaments used in electric lamps, but watched over the installation of electric street lights in New York City, Philadelphia, Montreal and London.

If time is limited, visitors also should try "Poor Richard's Energy Almanac," which highlights the inventions and wisdom of Benjamin Franklin. The section slyly incorporates conservation ideas in some of Franklin's pearls "snug as a bug in a rug," for example, can be used to remind folks to wear warm sweaters around the house instead of turning up the heat.

Considering the magnitude of the site, other sections that might require a return visit include "Ask Dr. Questor," which answers a wide range of energy-related questions students might have; "Percy's Puzzles," which features crosswords, cryptograms, word scrambles and energy IQ tests from the U.S. Department of Energy; and "Alternative Fuel Vehicles," which looks at safety issues to consider when using motor fuels.

Ease of use:

The 5-year-old site's age has begun to show some fundamental navigation problems aren't being addressed. Not having a search engine or easily accessible site map or menus on each page makes getting lost within Energy Quest pretty easy. I could return to the opening screen from any page on the site, but I would like to see an easier hierarchy. With so much incredible information available, it would be a shame to miss something.

Don't miss:

I am a sucker for Jeopardy-type challenges, and Energy Quest offers "Watt's That." This quiz-show knockoff, hosted by Flip Switch, allows two players to select from five questions with different dollar amounts in six categories. Although scores must be kept with a pencil and paper, children will learn that magma hot liquid rock makes geothermal energy possible and that a well-insulated house uses 50 percent less energy than one not so well insulated.

Family activity:

Besides an entire area devoted to setting up an energy conservation patrol in schools, Energy Quest offers a "Science Projects" section that lists 15 projects that can keep the entire clan busy. The obligatory "turn a lemon into a battery" project is available, but I thought creating a lightning bolt held the most promise for a jolting experience. Mad scientists will need a large iron or steel pot with a plastic handle, rubber gloves, an iron or steel fork, a plastic sheet and a dark room to perform the experiment. Complete instructions are found on the site.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Everyone from a student looking for help with a report to a child trying to understand the current power crisis will enjoy Energy Quest. The site provides a balance of on-line and off-line activities and easy-to-enact conservation ideas to make it worth an extended look. Parents should be aware that the site often links to the vast World Wide Web, which could lead young visitors into less-than-educational areas.

Overall grade: B+

Remember: The information on the Internet is changing constantly Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (joseph @twtmail.com).

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