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News briefs, part 2

Three-Way Venture Will Develop Decoder Box for Digital TV

Los Angeles Times

Two computer industry powerhouses and a major supplier of cable television equipment have agreed to cooperate in developing a computerized TV converter that will give viewers access to forthcoming digital services such as "interactive" TV.

Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp. and General Instruments are expected to announce this week that they are working together to design such a device. They thus join a race that eventually will include most of the big names in computers and consumer electronics.

Cable television companies and others are planning a new generation of digital TV that will offer hundreds of channels and advanced "interactive" services such as home shopping, instant movie selections from an electronic "library" and on-line electronic games.

Tele-Communications Inc., the nation's largest cable operator, has said it will begin offering digital services. Time Warner and other major cable companies are moving aggressively, and telephone companies and several start-up firms that use over-the-air signals also plan to offer "interactive" TV.

A critical component of any such service will be a set-top box that decodes the signals and allows the viewer to choose among the various services. The decoder boxes will likely cost between $300 and $350 each. They might be purchased directly or or leased from cable operators in the way that conventional cable boxes are today.

Space Station Redesign Leader Says Cost Goal May Be Impossible

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

A leader of the NASA team in charge of redesigning the planned space station said Monday the job is tough and may be impossible.

Last month, the Clinton administration directed NASA to cut the program's costs approximately in half while maintaining its scientific research mission, and to do it by June 1. That deadline has now been extended to June 7.

Whether it is possible to cut costs that much and still provide for meaningful research "is a real question for me," Bryan O'Connor told reporters at a briefing Monday. A former astronaut, he is deputy director of the redesign team and deputy associate administrator of the office of space flight at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The redesign team will not shrink from dropping or curtailing existing contracts with the aerospace industry, chopping management of the space station program at some NASA facilities around the country, working closely with the Russian space station Mir, and using unmanned Titan rockets to supplement the manned space shuttle fleet -- if they help meet the goals.

At the high end is a design derived from the current plan for Space Station Freedom, he said, while the other two are "significant departures." Of the latter two, one features modules that could gradually be fitted together in orbit, similar to the Russian Mir. The other is a core facility that could be deposited in orbit in a single launch, like the first U.S. station Skylab, which was launched in the 1970s. That option would use existing hardware from the space shuttle -- the fuselage, for example -- in its basic structure.

Perot Casting a Giant Shadow

The Washington Post

AUSTIN, Texas

Scratch a political candidate here these days and you'll sniff Ross Perot.

Bill Clinton won the White House and George Bush carried this state in November. But it's the Texas billionare who looms over the Senate special election campaign that is starting to heat up here. Texas is filled with self-proclaimed "outsiders" preaching perkless politics and with born-again budget-cutters sharpening their knives.

Sen. Bob Krueger (D), who was appointed on an interim basis to the seat vacated by Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, cut his pay and staff budget and has voted against Clinton's program as often as necessary (with the blessing of the White House). He spends most of his time -- and television money -- promoting his audit of the federal government (which was originated by Texas comptroller John Sharp) and bashing the tobacco lobby to show taxpayers he's not business-as-usual.

The three major Republican candidates who hope to drive Krueger out of office also have appropriated heavily from Perot's message, promising to be tougher on spending than the Democrats and hostile to all that may be holy inside the Washington Beltway -- even though two of them are incumbent House members and the third was a political appointee in the Ford administration.

The first round of voting comes May 1. Under Texas rules, everybody runs on the same ballot and, unless someone wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers, regardless of party, meet in a runoff. The winner will get to finish Bentsen's unexpired term -- and then face running again next year.

Sharon Stone Is Homewrecker, Fiance's Estranged Wife Says

Newsday

If it were up to Naomi MacDonald, actress Sharon Stone would be stoned.

The "Basic Instinct" femme fatale is engaged to MacDonald's estranged husband, movie producer Bill MacDonald. And on the television tabloid show "A Current Affair" Tuesday night, she accuses Stone of being a homewrecker.

Naomi MacDonald claims to have been pregnant at the time her husband left to be with Stone, although he was unaware of the pregnancy. MacDonald says she has since had a miscarriage.

"Sharon gets what Sharon wants," Naomi MacDonald says. "I think she's heartless. ... Welcome to my nightmare."

A spokeswoman for Stone says the actress would not see Bill MacDonald until after he had filed for divorce. Naomi MacDonald acknowledges that Stone told Bill MacDonald she would not sleep with him until he left his wife.