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News and Trends
April 5, 2010


Got Names?
Other Cities 'Play' L.A.
Solar Energy on the Go
Hats Off in Afghanistan
Parlez-Vous...Chinese?
Surfing Their Way to School

Got Names?
Elsie the Cow may be more productive than Cow Number 145—and her name could account for the difference. A recent study of several hundred British dairies found that cows with names produce6 percent more milk than anonymous ones. "The naming reflects the humans' attitude toward the cows, and therefore how they behave around them," says Catherine Douglas, the Newcastle University animal behaviorist who conducted the research. How farmers choose the names varies widely: Some name their cows alphabetically or after family members; in Britain, flower names like Daisy and Buttercup are popular. Dennis Gibb, a dairy farmer in Newcastle, England, told the Daily Telegraph that it's important to treat each cow as an individual. "They're part of the family," says Gibb. "We love our cows, and every one of them has a name." But some American dairy farmers scoff at the idea. Barbara Martin, a third-generation California dairy farmer, says naming her 2,200 cows would be impractical. "Everyone," she says, "has an ear tag with a number."

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Other Cities 'Play' L.A.
It's never been a secret that most movies and TV shows have been shot in Hollywood itself or around Los Angeles—even if the story was set in, say, Miami or London. But now, as other states offer subsidies to producers and the jobs they help create, the opposite is happening: States like Louisiana, New Mexico, and Michigan, are now pretending to be California. The Starz series Crash takes place in L.A., but it's shot in New Mexico. And Battle: Los Angeles, scheduled for release next year, in which Marines fight aliens who have invaded L.A., was shot in Louisiana. Producers take care to make other states look like California, but sometimes they slip up. Last year, Michiganders watching the movie "Youth in Revolt," which is set in California, caught a glimpse of very distinctive building at the University of Michigan.

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Solar Energy on the Go
Your cellphones and iPods will soon have an endless supply of power to keep them running: A solar power cell that imitates Mother Nature's way of converting sunlight to energy will let you recharge your electronic gadgets as they travel in your backpack. The technology uses a light-sensitive dye to convert sunlight into energy, much the way plant leaves use chlorophyll for photosynthesis. The cells will be inserted in flexible panels on backpacks, sports bags, and messenger bags from various companies. They're expected to be on the market this spring, with prices starting around $150. The cells will also work with e-book readers. According to one of the developers, the cells work best outside, where it takes six to eight sunny hours to fuel the recharger, and longer indoors

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Hats Off in Afghanistan
Hamid Karzai emerged as a leader in Afghanistan following the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. When he was elected President in 2004, he became known not only for trying to rebuild his country, but also for his distinctive hat. Known as karakul hats, they're made from lamb pelts and are traditionally worn in northern Afghanistan. (Karzai is from the south, where turbans predominate.) But now, after a tainted election that returned Karzai to office, both the President and his hat are losing their luster. Young Afghans no longer wear the hats, and most of the shops that sold them (for as much as $3,000) have closed. "The costume of Karzai doesn't mean anything," says a TV commentator. "It's not a symbol anymore."

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Parlez-Vous...Chinese?
It's bad news for a nation that needs more people to conduct its global business and diplomacy: In the last decade, thousands of U.S. schools have cut back on foreign-language classes, with French taking the biggest hit. The big exception is Chinese, which is now taught in about 1,600 schools, up from 300 a decade ago. And the Chinese A.P. test, which has only been offered since 2007, is expected to pass German this year as the third most tested A.P. language, after Spanish and French.

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Surfing Their Way to School
The 70-minute bus rides to and from school have never been very productive for students at Empire High School in Vail, Arizona, outside Tucson. But things are different this year on bus No. 92, where the school installed a mobile Internet router. This high-tech experiment lets students surf the Web and actually get some homework done. (Well, it's not all homework: Video games and Facebook pages have also been spotted.) One morning last month, junior John O'Connell touched up an essay on World War I for his history class, while sophomore Kyle Letarte waited for acknowledgement that his teacher had received his electronically delivered biology homework. Such innovation isn't unusual at Empire High, a "digital school" where students are issued laptops instead of textbooks. Schools in Florida, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., may soon have Internet Buses of their own.

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