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SCIENCE

Predicting solar bursts BOZEMAN, MONT. - Predicting solar explosions several days in advance may now be possible, according to physicists in Montana and Japan. Scientists found a strong correlation between an S-shaped pattern on the sun, called a sigmoid, and the likelihood of ejection. The bursts, which are as powerful as billions of nuclear explosions, can destroy satellites and solar-sensitive machinery. Predictions could save companies millions of dollars.

Web agents, at your service Imagine using "intelligent agents" that roam the Internet, collecting and customizing information for you, saving you time. An article this week on Nature's Web site (www.nature.com) unfolds a vision of how they would work. James Hendler of the University of Maryland explains that technology already exists to build software agents that are communicative, autonomous, and adaptive - key behaviors needed to make Internet journeys more fruitful. Agent-based technology is about three to five years away, Mr. Hendler predicts.

RELIGION

Fan says rebate is unfair play HAGERSTOWN, Md. - For five years, a minor-league baseball team has rewarded church-going fans with a discount on park admission. But an agnostic man who didn't get the rebate says his civil rights were violated. The Maryland Commission on Human Relations agreed, charging the Hagerstown Suns with religious discrimination. A conference is scheduled for next month to try to settle the dispute.

JUSTICE

Couch potatoes unite ATHENS, Ohio - A professor and two Ohio University students who were upset about a ban on porch couches said last week they have enough signatures to put a couch referendum on the November ballot. Couches on porches are part of student culture, and not allowing them is elitist, Prof. Scott Hooper said. The local election board must decide whether to put the initiative on the ballot.

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