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News and Trends
February 19, 2007


Library Louts
A Hamburger War
Equal Cheers Draw Some Jeers
Billboards Get Personal
Towns Vanish, Then Reappear
Psychic Squirrels

Library Louts
With no place to hang out after school, some students are going to the public library—and many aren't there to study. Instead, they socialize, fight, and write on the walls. One Ohio library has banned children under 14 during after-school hours; other libraries are hiring security guards. An onslaught of rowdy middle school students prompted the library in Maplewood, N.J., to summon the police 18 times in 2006. In January, the library announced that it would close between 2:45 and 5 p.m. When Maplewood residents complained, local officials agreed to expand after-school programs for middle school students. For now, the library will stay open in the afternoon.

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A Hamburger War
Which American town was the birthplace of the hamburger? Folks in New Haven, Conn., will tell you that the burger was invented there in the early 1900s, at a local eatery called Louis' Lunch. But Athens, Texas, now claims to be "the original home of the hamburger"—and there's a bill before the Texas House of Representatives to make it official. Connecticut officials say they will do whatever it takes to defend Louis' Lunch's claim to the "first burger" title. Jeff Lassen, the fourth-generation owner of Louis' (pronounced "Louie's"), says his great-grandfather invented the hamburger when he sandwiched steak trimmings between two slices of bread. But people in Athens say their own Fletcher Davis introduced hamburgers at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Last year, at the National Hamburger Festival in Akron, Ohio, a panel of five judges called the Burger Commission was asked to decide who invented the burger. Unable to reach a consensus, they put it to an online vote. The winner was neither Louis' nor Davis. It was one Charles Nagreen, who reportedly served the first burger at the 1885 Seymour Fair in Wisconsin.

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Equal Cheers Draw Some Jeers
Cheerleaders at Whitney Point High School in upstate New York are adjusting their routines: Sometimes, it's "Hands up, you girls" instead of "Hands up, you guys." They're complying with a new federal ruling on Title IX, the law intended to guarantee gender equity in sports. The ruling requires cheerleaders to show up for boys' and girls' games in equal numbers. Not everyone is happy. Amanda Cummings, a Whitney Point cheerleader, says it "feels funny" to cheer for the girls. Boys' teams feel cheated when the cheering squad is at a girls' game, and some girls' teams find the cheerleaders distracting.

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Billboards Get Personal
Would those long trips on the Interstate be a little less dreary if the road signs knew your name? In January, Mini USA began delivering custom messages on "talking" digital billboards to drivers of Mini Coopers who supplied the company with personal tidbits. The digital signs, which usually carry standard advertising messages, are programmed to get personal after identifying approaching Mini drivers from radio chips embedded in their key fobs: "Mary, moving at the speed of justice," if Mary's a lawyer, or "Mike, the special of the day is speed," if Mike is a chef. Personalization adds a new wrinkle to the debate over whether drivers might be dangerously distracted by advertising flashed on some 400 digital billboards nationwide. They've already been banned in several states.

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Towns Vanish, Then Reappear
When Georgia issued its new state map in December, many of its residents felt slighted—especially those living in places like Poetry Tulip, Between, and Centralhatchee. Those towns and more than 500 others had been omitted. Georgia's Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) said the goal was to "unclutter" the map. But small-town residents saw it as an insult to rural America. Dennis Holt led a campaign to have his town, Hickory Level, reinstated. And a flood of complaints to Georgia's Governor, Sonny Perdue, prompted him to write a letter asking the D.O.T. to restore the small towns. In January, the D.O.T. relented: Georgia's small towns will be back on the map.

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Psychic Squirrels
Red squirrels living in the Canadian Yukon and Europe seem to be psychic when it comes to food. Researchers report that the animals are able to predict when spruce trees will produce an overabundance of seed cones, their main food source. The squirrels then produce two consecutive litters just in time to take advantage of the bounty. Many trees produce relatively little seed in most years. But in some years, the trees produce an unusually large amount. This helps assure that some seed will remain uneaten and have a chance to grow. How the squirrels manage to predict a bumper crop of seed cones remains a mystery. Stan Boutin, a scientist at the University of Alberta in Canada, says they could be getting cues from the buds on the trees. They may be able to tell visually which buds will become cones, or get chemical cues from plant hormones in the buds.

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