Free toasters, ballpoint pens, wallet-size plastic calendars: All these and more have at one time or another been offered by banks as premiums for new customers. Now comes the Kazakh National Bank with yet another variation on the theme. If folks in the ex-Soviet republic would help push the institution's deposits to $1 billion, its chairman would shave his beard. Grigory Marchenko took the pledge to try to help pump up the floundering economy. Well, the ploy worked, so last week off came the whiskers. But only for a month, because "I feel extremely uncomfortable" without them.


Perhaps it was inevitable: The artist who draws the popular white-collar-wasteland cartoon series "Dilbert" is out with a new contribution. With help from a Silicon Valley design studio, Scott Adams has unveiled the "ultimate cubicle" for oppressed office workers. It features a cooler, hammock, optional aquarium, and Persian rug or other "floor modules."

For homes with Web access, e-mail is the No. 1 activity

About 42 percent of US households could log onto the Internet in 2000, up from 18 percent in 1997, the Census Bureau reported. The primary driver: demand for fast communication, from shopping to e-mail and instant messaging, say analysts. In addition, the average price for a personal computer fell to $950 from $1,450 in 1997. The census poll found that more children than ever (66 percent) have access to computers at home. One-fifth of them use e-mail regularly, compared with a third of adults. How children and adults with home Web access spend their time online:


E-mail 88%

Information searches 64%

News, weather, sports 53%

Shop or pay bills 40%


E-mail 73%

Research for school 68%

Information searches 33%

News, weather, sports 20%

- Associated Press

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