News In Brief

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MAKE MINE CAFFEINE-FREE

OK, you're in Sydney, Australia, it's hot, and you'd love a thirst-quencher. There's a soda machine in front of you, but you lack the change to extract a cold Coca-Cola from it. No need for frustration, though. Under a new service offered by the bottler and Telstra, Australia's largest telephone utility, you simply whip out your cellphone and call a number posted on the machine. This allows the flavor of your choice to be selected. The cost of the drink, 97 cents, is billed to your account.

SO YOU PLAYED HOOKY, HUH?

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Speaking of innovative ways to use cellphones, administrators at Yishun Town Secondary School in Singapore have activated a new Short Message Service system that automatically alerts parents when their offspring fail to show up for class. Mom or dad can, if applicable, choose one of four preset replies to explain why - that is, if the reason is known. If not, "unaware of child's whereabouts" is the only other option.

Welfare rolls growing again in almost half the states

Overall, the number of public welfare cases in the US continues to drop, but according to the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) there are signs the decline is slowing and, in 20 states, rolls are creeping back up. Caseloads peaked in 1994 at about 14.3 million people, but fell almost 60 percent by last September due to tough new laws and a strong economy. States with the highest percentages of rises and declines in welfare caseloads between June and September 2000 as measured by HHS:

Decreases

Illinois - 12.70%

Alaska - 11.07%

Wyoming - 9.43%

Oregon - 8.75%

Iowa - 6.66%

Increases

Indiana 8.54%

West Virginia 6.95%

Arizona 6.79%

Massachusetts 4.95%

Tennessee 4.40%

- Associated Press

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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