Cutting down the grapevine

Times are really tough when you have to use your Web site to shut down the rumor mill. But that is exactly what has happened to Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Government Efficiency and Financial Management Subcommittee.

Among the items he tells his Web visitors are not true: There is no bill to impose a 5-cent surcharge on e-mail messages, no lawmaker named Congressman Schnell who introduced the measure and no truth to an e-mail claiming that members of Congress do not contribute to Social Security.

"This rumor is false," Platts' site states. "As your representative in the [U.S.] House of Representatives, I assure you that I pay Social Security taxes."

He refers Web visitors to a site called Hoaxbusters (, which explains how to recognize an Internet hoax.

In from the cold

A revamped CIA is in the works, and it won't be a moment too soon considering all the bad publicity the spooks have been getting. Even the agency's public Web site has a friendly look, although Webmaster Michael Stepp said the site is not new and neither is the design. He spends most of his time refreshing the look of the Web site, which is outside the agency's firewall. And it's a good thing because the site is popular.

This year, the Web site has gotten more than 3 million hits. Stepp expects that number to surpass 5 million by year's end.

Stepp has his work cut out for him. "It's not as easy for me to get content because the nature of our business is that so much of what we do is classified," Stepp said. "It limits what we can do with the Web site. My philosophy is that the taxpayer funds the agency, and what we can share, we share." We say, right on!

John Hancock R.I.P.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officials issued a final rule that offers two alternatives to traditional signatures on patent documents. The regulation includes 140 pages of policy changes meant to simplify patent filing procedures.

Among other things, the rule not only permits electronic signatures for applications filed using USPTO's electronic filing system but also allows for s-signatures, in which the person's name is typed between two forward slashes.

The policy change will make filing easier for patent applicants and their attorneys and will save paper, said Bob Spar, director of the Office of Patent Legal Administration. USPTO officials receive about 350,000 initial patent filings each year, but the correspondence related to those filings generates 2 million pieces of mail during the same period.

Although only 2 percent of the 350,000 applications are filed electronically, the lack of electronic signature capability until now is probably insufficient to explain the low online filing numbers, Spar said. USPTO officials plan to hold focus groups nationwide to explore ways to increase the number of applications filed electronically, he said.

Because of the length and complexity of the new rule, agency officials expect to publish a slide presentation and a rule-by-rule summary on USPTO's Web site within a few days, Spar said.

Bringing water to the horse

It is difficult enough to pique kids' interest in science. So NASA officials are going where the kids are. In an effort to educate children on how the popcorn they are eating actually pops, NASA is showing one-minute science, technology, engineering and math commercials in the lobbies of Regal Cinemas nationwide.

Recent titles include, "Are there grocery stores in space?" and "Did you know there are remote-control cars on Mars?"

Because the commercials will be shown on 42-inch plasma screens in the lobbies, they will not add to the number of pre- feature commercials you have to endure. The commercials target kindergarteners through 5th-graders.

"They're subliminally getting information that they otherwise think would be boring," said Kimberly Land, a Langley spokeswoman.

An estimated 14.4 million patrons will see the videos each month at more than 400 Regal theaters.

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