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In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "Summer Books 2002," July 7, 2002

Body piercing: A sticky issue

School district officials in Florida are concerned about body piercing, and they want to make sure students get the point. Florida's Lee County School Board last month extended its school dress code to include a ban on body piercing, even in areas normally hidden under clothes. The unanimously passed ruling includes tongues, navels, and other body parts, replacing a previous rule covering only exposed areas. Principals said the policy is necessary as a safety measure. "The principals felt that the adornments were a safety issue and that adornments other than earrings did pose a potential student safety issue," according to a June 7 memo by Superintendent John Sanders. He wrote that students might try to grab the baubles dangling from piercings. "It's a point where it becomes disturbing," board chairwoman Jane Kuckel said. "It's difficult because it's a fad." Tulsa Public schools banned visible body piercings last July. Pierced ears are allowed, but sagging pants, strapless tops, and some tattoos are also forbidden. Officials late last year said only occasional infractions had been reported. Some say piercings are part of a student's right to control his own body-and the debate has crossed over into the abortion issue. In Vermont, legislators proposed requiring parental consent before minors could get holes drilled in them. But pro-abortion Democrats worried that this could set a precedent for parental notification on abortion. | Chris Stamper

Palm publishing

Wireless networks may become a new publishing tool. Newspapers could soon begin reaching cell phones and personal digital assistants, which means a new venue for news and advertising. Wireless could become the third leg of the industry, next to print and the Internet, William Dean Singleton, chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, told a conference last week. "Newspapers are in a perfect position to be the source for mobile updates, whether that's a sports score, a wreck on the Cross-Bronx Expressway, or breaking global news," the publisher said. New technology could mean new readers for newspapers. Daily newspaper circulation slipped from 58 million in 1995 to 55.7 million in 2000. Sunday circulation fell from 61.5 million in 1995 to 59.4 million in 2000. The trade group tried a test run of a wireless service and was pleased with the results. Still, wireless news is at least two to five years away from becoming mainstream, according to Melinda Gipson, director of new media business development for the association. "It's not at the point where it justifies the cost," she said, "but it's something to keep your eyes on."

Virtual commuting

The distinction between workplace and home, largely a creation of the Industrial Revolution, continues to blur for many Americans. The number of people working at home three or more days a week grew nearly 23 percent in the last decade, from 3.4 million in 1990 to 4.2 million in 2000, according to U.S. Census figures. Some rural areas find the trend even more popular; South Dakota has 6.5 percent of its residents telecommuting. Millions of others work from home once a week or so and even more will try telecommuting instead of taking a sick day. The estimated number of Americans who spend any part of their week working at home jumped more than 42 percent in two years, from 19.6 million in 1999 to 28 million in 2001, according to the International Telework Association and Council. Tim Kane, Telework's president, says that most telecommuters live in areas with dense populations and notorious traffic congestion. More than two-thirds of telecommuters surveyed by the group said they're more satisfied working at home. "They're saying, 'This is three hours I don't need to be in the car, and I could be with my kids, pick up the dry cleaning, or whatever,'" he said. The drive for telecommuting may be fueling the rise in high-speed Internet access. Roughly 24 million Americans, or 21 percent of all Web users, now have high-speed connections at home, according to a Pew survey.

Tech trouble

When will tech recover from the 2000 crash and 2001 economic slowdown? Not for a while, say experts. Intel, Apple, and Oracle have issued earnings warnings, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq index dropped over 25 percent between January and June. Meanwhile, many people aren't buying new computers now. The business world has also become much more skeptical about technology spending. Gartner analysts forecast that information-technology spending would increase a slim 1.5 percent this year. Another research firm, Giga Information Group, predicted corporate spending would stay flat. Consumers are becoming stingy too, as PC makers expect weak back-to-school sales. "There's just so much resistance to spending," said Michelle Johnson, head of solutions marketing for Volera Inc., a Novell subsidiary. "If it's a new technology the CTO (chief technology officer) or CEO hasn't seen before, it's called into question." Venture capitalists, who poured millions into untested high-tech ventures, were among those hit hardest by the tech decline. Such funds plunged by an average of 27.8 percent in 2001, a gruesome reversal of previous double-digit gains. Many analysts expect more pain to come. "The next two to four years are going to be tough sledding," said San Francisco venture capitalist Chip Adams, a principal at Rosewood Capital.


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