'Did you hear...'

What burns rubber and laughing gas? A trucker with a toothache? A bad comedy troupe fleeing killer tomatoes? Nope, it's the SpaceDev rocket propulsion system invented by Burt Rutan, president of Scaled Composites LLC of Mojave, Calif. According to his press release, which was a real gas in itself, the fiery propellant of nitrous oxide and butadiene rubber will hurl Rutan's SpaceShipOne 62 miles to the edge of space, back to Earth and then back to space again over a two-week period. Rutan is competing for the $10 million X-Prize, which will go to the first private group to succeed in flying a suborbital three-person spaceship over that route. Don't believe it? See www.spacedev.com.

Who says you can't buy votes? Taco Bell Corp. last month released its own laughing gas: the Gubernatorial Taco Debate, conducted online at www.tacobell.com to help California's reality-challenged voters settle on a governor. The Taco Poll, based on items sold, accurately put Arnold Schwarzenegger (crunchy beef taco) in first place, trailed way back by Gov. Gray Davis (chicken soft taco) and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (chalupa).

Self-regulating man? Mark Forman, the Office of Management and Budget's former chief of e-buzzwords, now has a whole new buzzword career as an executive veep at Cassatt Corp. of San Francisco. The company's definition of autonomic computing sounds a bit like IBM Corp.'s 1990s-era 'self-healing systems.' According to www.cassatt.com, 'an autonomic computing system understands its own configuration, operation and role' and can 'maintain itself in an optimal mode.' Don't you wish people could do that? Tell [email protected].

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