LOSERS: "Smart" robots. Trying to crate artificial intelligence in robots isn't working well - the computerized brains are just too literal. So researchers are working on helping robot eyes "see" in technicolor because that leads to fewer mistakes. However, early efforts still have a few wrinkles to be ironed out. A robot at the University of Rochester recently mistook breakfast cereal for laundry bleach, could not tell the difference between varieties of Campbell's soup and got mixed up over a T-shirt and Mickey Mouse children's underwear. Obviously, the robot is not yet ready to send shopping at the grocery store.
* WINNERS: Young Americans. Although often criticized by adults as self-centered and frivolous, a poll shows that adolescents may be more generous than grownups in helping the poor, elderly and needy. Some 58 percent of teenagers report doing volunteer work, compared to 54 percent of adults. Young adults in their 20s also contribute more time than those over 30. Most of the youths get involved through school and religious organizations. Maybe older adults could learn a few things from the younger generation.LOSER: Dial-a-porn telephone services. A federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld federal regulations aimed at denying minors access to sexually explicit telephone programs. The court said the 1989 law requiring customers who want the service to sign up in advance was reasonable. When Bell Atlantic adopted such a rule in 1988, the dial-a-porn companies in its area went out of business almost immediately. One can hope the same thing will happen nationwide now that a similar federal law has been upheld.
* WINNER: Egyptian soldier back from the dead. An Egyptian soldier who fought in the Persian Gulf war was mistakenly reported killed in action. When he came home to his village unannounced, a friend ran away screaming, thinking he was seeing a ghost. The soldier's mother slammed the door in his face because she thought he was somebody pulling a joke. His father fainted when he saw his son. Eventually, it was all straightened out. But the lesson seems to be: If you're going to return from the dead, call ahead first.
LOSERS: The homeless in some Texas cities. In Houston, police are interviewing street people, compiling a dossier on each, including a photograph. As part of the interview, they ask the people what crimes they are most likely to commit. Critics say it is a way of lining up handy suspects in advance. In Dallas, city officials have ordered people caught rummaging in trash bins to be ticketed. The ticket carries a $240 fine. Officials say it is a way to keep the city clean. Sounds more like a cleanup campaign to rid the community of the homeless.
* WINNER: David Keenan, an Amherst, Mass., contractor. Keenan once gathered some volunteers and built a public restroom for $15,000 after learning the city had budgeted $125,000 for the job. Now, he is volunteering to put together a group to clean pigeon droppings from the attic of a town hall and school building for free. Officials had assigned $125,000 for the project. Officials refused the offer, saying there were liability concerns. But the publicity did cause them to reopen the bidding and award the contract for $66,000. That still seems like expensive pigeon droppings.