Technology

Balance Sheet

|

Assets

Flatland

Russia's flat tax experiment succeeds. A 13 percent flat rate produced a 28 percent revenue gain in 2001, spurring a cut in corporate levies from 35 percent to 24 percent. The government also plans to simplify the rate for small businesses.

Private Replay

SonicBlue, the maker of ReplayTV digital video recorders, wins a reprieve from a court order to collect information on users' viewing choices pursuant to a copyright lawsuit by big media companies. An appeals court says the order to gather "all available information" on what consumers do with the units was nuts.

Herbal Infusion

A Rastafarian in Guam forces the feds to defend pot laws. A federal appeals court in San Francisco, citing the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, suggests that possession of marijuana for religious use may be immune from prosecution in "the federal realm," including territories, national parks, and even the District of Columbia.

Sweet Identity

A cryptography expert in Japan fools fingerprint readers with Gummi Bears. Tsutomu Matsumoto uses candy gelatin to make a fake finger, which he finds passes fingerprint detectors four times out of five.

Gun Horseplay

The principal of a Colorado elementary school can no longer quiz students who play cops and robbers about their families' firearms. The Cherry Creek School District says disciplining fourth-graders' make-believe shootouts is OK, but asking if they have real guns at home is not.

Helping Hand

Using a design inspired by the exoskeletons from Aliens, off-the-shelf voice recognition software, and a battery for model airplanes, engineering undergrads at Johns Hopkins University build a robotic helper arm for a disabled man.

Liabilities

Professional Help

All those FBI agents who couldn't be troubled to canvass flight schools for men who didn't want to learn how to take off or land have been found. They were in New Orleans, wiretapping an upscale brothel. The city is on edge as the madam prepares to name the johns who contracted her $300-an-hour employees.

Jumping Beans

Add caffeine to the sin tax list. Seattle mulls slapping a 10-cent levy on its lattés to help fund education. The tax would raise $7 million to $10 million a year, backers say.

Funny Money

The U.S. Treasury considers printing U.S. currency in different colors to thwart counterfeiters. Canada, meanwhile, has had multihued money for 66 years and reports no shortage of bad bills.

PETA Sandwich

The National Collegiate Athletic Association caves to a single letter from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals demanding that the NCAA eliminate leather basketballs from its tournaments. PETA claims one cow makes only four basketballs.

Candid Camera

The Missouri House of Representatives passes a measure making it a crime to take pictures of animals in barns without the owners' consent. The bill is intended to stymie investigative reporters or activists looking to document animal abuse.

Chug TV

The fX network's "World Beer Games" draw the ire of anti-alcohol zealots. They fear events like the "pint curl" will glamorize drinking in the eyes of teens.

Shots Down

Researchers in Maryland find evidence that those vaccinated against smallpox before the mid-1970s are no longer immune to the disease. Out of 621 microbiologists who checked their immunity in recent years, 94 percent needed fresh shots.