Taxes, time and a telescope: try the latest in Web wonders

Once in a blue moon, the Internal Revenue Service serves up a pleasant surprise. You can find one at http://www.irs.ustreas.gov. True, reading about changes in the tax code, perusing plain-language tax regulations and downloading tax forms won't ever qualify as pastimes of choice, but somehow the IRS has softened the blow of tax preparation with easy-to-follow guidelines and an ample dose of humor.

The spirit of the new IRS home page might be characterized as, "It's hip to be square." A slick 1950s sheen characterizes the World Wide Web page, from the campy clickable icons to the IRS' newspaper, The Digital Daily, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Clark Kent's The Daily Planet. Sometimes the site goes overboard—for example, the opening screen of the page tells users to "pour yourself a cup of coffee, open your mailbox and enjoy our premier issue"—but the enthusiasm is sure to make more than a few filers smile.

The new and improved IRS home page went up Jan. 8. Since then, the IRS Web site has become one of the most heavily used sites on the Internet, averaging about 600,000 hits a day, with the capacity to allow 600 form downloads at one time.

Tax information on 150 topics from the IRS' Teletax system now appears on the home page.

The site also makes all tax forms available for downloading.

History of Time Explained

For the pure wonder of scientific discovery, here is one site not to be missed. The National Science Foundation's National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) offers a multimedia on-line exposition that takes visitors through tours of scientific research.

Point your browser to http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Cyberia/Expo. Tour through three "pavilions": Collaboration, Computation, and Science and Industry. In the Science and Industry pavilion, tourists will find an exhibit titled Whispers From the Cosmos, which wrestles with heady questions such as "Is space really empty?" and "What determines the shapes of galaxies?" Or visitors can browse through the Spacetime Wrinkles exhibit, which describes how scientists use supercomputers "as time machines to travel to the furthest reaches of space and time."

New Looks

NASA has released six new images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Find them on the Web at http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/NewsRoom/today.html. Included in the collection is the Hubble's deepest-ever view of the universe. In addition, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey have released 200 new images of eight of the nine planets in the solar system. Access them from the same address noted above or go to the server at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, at http://www.pdsimage.JPL.NASA.GOV/PIA.

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