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Apparently, American Idol finalist Vonzell Solomon has something in her favor as a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier. USPS is making it easy for fans to send Solomon a message through its new customized card creator, NetPost CardStore. Last week, a post office box at the Beverly Hills Post Office in California was opened to collect notes of congratulations to Solomon, a rural carrier from Fort Myers, Fla.

Fans can go to www.usps.com/cardstore and complete a registration process. Fans have the option of sending a folded greeting card or a postcard for the price of first-class postage. You can personalize the card with a selection of colors, fonts and sizes.

The address is Vonzell Solomon c/o Postmaster, P.O. Box V, Beverly Hills, CA 90210-9998.

Slow speed ahead

Members of Congress are moving slowly and deliberately toward the Digital Age. The latest example of their progress occurred last week at the House Government Reform Committee's hearing on the Merck drug Vioxx.

Not content to provide paper copies of a critical report about the drug and its effect on thousands of users, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee's ranking Democrat, made sure reporters received copies of a disc that carried the full report. They had only to hit the download button when they got to their computers. (It's the first time that Waxman has distributed information on a disc, according to his spokeswoman.)

Once lawmakers decide how to send instant messages to constituents who want to talk to them, we will see real progress.

Big Brother is back

The Education Department is the latest federal agency seeking to monitor nationwide news coverage of the department and its policies. Officials recently advertised their intention to award a contract to a company that would regularly monitor news broadcasts and transcript summaries. The service, according to the notice, helps the public affairs office measure "the results of its work done to earn media attention and helps the office understand if the general public has an understanding of its policies and programs."

Education officials want to monitor the news in the top 50 news markets and get summaries delivered every morning by 9 a.m. Excuse us, have we missed something here? What about all those kids who cannot read or those falling behind? What about spending more money on No Child Left Behind? What about ...?

Online all the time

It seems that everyone is finding new ways to use online tools to help do their jobs. For example, the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 600,000 government workers, introduced CaseTrack to its members. CaseTrack is the latest tool aimed at getting rid of paper files and keeping records online.

CaseTrack is a Web-based grievance-tracking application that will allow presidents of local union chapters to get up-to-the-minute reports and case information at any time. Union leaders say the tool will make it possible to keep all grievance data in one place, eliminate redundancies and help local stewards manage and respond to cases. And more importantly, officials said, CaseTrack will make it impossible to overlook anyone's grievance. And it's a good thing, too, because paper can always be lost, misfiled, misplaced or destroyed.

Gore gets credit

Al Gore took many hits before and during his 2000 presidential campaign after he took credit for inventing the Internet. But organizers of the Webby Awards for online achievements took his contributions seriously. And they intend to give Gore a lifetime achievement award June 6 for three decades of contributions to the Internet's development.

"He is indeed due some thanks and consideration for his early contributions," said Vint Cerf, a major contributor to inventing the Internet.

Officials at the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, which presents the awards, said Gore promoted high-speed telecommunications for economic growth and funding increases for the fledgling network. He is also credited with coining the phrase "information superhighway." Remember that, Webster.

E-stamps, take 2

You will be able to once again print customized stamps — but not everything will appear on stamps.

Last week, the U.S. Postal Service launched the second incarnation of a project that allows customers to print personalized postage from their computers using their own photos. Earlier this year, USPS pulled the plug on the program after people started submitting objectionable images such as photos of Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber.

The vendor, Stamps.com, has now tightened its screening process. And it will also bar black-and-white images in an effort to make it easier for screeners to weed out offensive images.

Got a tip? Send it to jhasson@fcw.com.

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