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News and Trends
April 18, 2011


How to Get a Date in Mumbai
Snooki and the S.A.T.
The Kilogram Loses Weight
Letting Sharks Keep Their Fins
High School Memory Champs
J.D.'s College Dorm

How to Get a Date in Mumbai
In 2008, a trio of 20-somethings in New York started Ignighter.com, a dating site that organizes group rather than one-on-one dates. The idea flopped in the U.S., but the founders noticed that they were attracting a lot of users in India, though they had no idea why. So—as businesses often do to survive—the founders tweaked their model to focus solely on the Indian scene, which now has 2 million Ignighter users. As it turns out, dating is a relatively new concept in less-urban parts of India, where it's still taboo for unmarried men and women to be seen alone together. Many Indian couples still meet through arranged marriages, as they have for centuries, and on matrimonial websites, where relatives fill out profiles for young people. But Ignighter appeals to modern Indians looking for a mix of social networking and offline "friending"—and the idea of group dating is an easier sell to traditional parents.

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Snooki and the S.A.T.
If you're a junior or senior gearing up to take the S.A.T. or A.C.T., vocabulary and math drills are useful, but watching a little Jersey Shore could also help. An essay question on the S.A.T. last month about reality TV—"How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?"—caught some students off guard and generated a lot of post-test discussion. "This is one of those times when I wish I actually watched reality television," wrote one test taker on CollegeConfidential.com, echoing dozens of other postings. The director of the S.A.T. program says she doesn't think the question was unfair since it came with a primer on reality TV and the question was "really about pop culture as a reference point that [students] would certainly have an opinion on."

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The Kilogram Loses Weight
So how much does a kilogram weigh? For 112 years, a hunk of platinum and iridium kept in an underground vault near Paris has served as the "actual" kilogram—the standard to which all others in the world are compared. Only three people have a key, and the kilogram has been removed from its safe just three times—to be measured against 100 official copies around the world. Recently, though, scientists discovered that the lump of metal had shrunk by 50 micrograms (about the mass of a small grain of sand). No one knows why, but scientists say the kilogram's current definition—"a unit of mass equal to the mass of the international prototype of the kilogram"—no longer works; they're trying to develop one that's based on a physical constant rather than an object whose weight can change.

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Letting Sharks Keep Their Fins
Last year, Hawaii passed a ban on the sale and possession of imported shark fins, and Oregon, Washington, and California—Pacific Coast states with sizable Chinese communities—are now considering similar bans. The goal is to curtail shark finning, a cruel practice in which the fins are hacked off a live shark, which is then left to die. (The practice is already illegal in the U.S.) But the ban on imported fins is upsetting some older Chinese. For centuries, the Chinese have marked special occasions with steamy bowls of shark fin soup. In recent years, the expensive delicacy has become more accessible to China's booming middle class, and more than 70 million sharks are killed each year to meet growing demand; scientists say that killing off the ocean's top-level predator would affect the ocean's entire food chain. The ban makes sense to a younger generation of Chinese-Americans who grew up more environmentally conscious. Jennifer Chuang, 27, of San Francisco refused the soup at her family New Year's dinner, trying to explain the ecosystem to her elderly uncle. "It was, 'Oh, Jennifer's being a hippie,' " she says.

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High School Memory Champs
Remember this name: Hershey High School. The Hershey, Pennsylvania, school's memory team was just crowned the winner for the fourth time at the USA Memory Championships, an annual competition for recall wizards of words, photos, and numbers. The team's secret: intense training. The 15 people on the squad—who admit they're the butt of a lot of jokes—meet weekly with coach Colette Silvestri, memorize all they can in 15-minute stretches, then spill it out, trying, for example, to match dozens of names to photos of strangers. Sophia Hu, 16, who pole-vaults for the track team and is deaf, just set a national record. She can recall 120 random words—in order—connecting each to a picture-story in her mind. Coach Silvestri finds such feats admirable in the digital age. "We're losing human skills," she says. "I'd rather put memory in a child than a computer."

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J.D.'s College Dorm
Holden Caulfield, the hero of J.D. Salinger's 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, may be the most notorious 17-year-old in American literature. For years, Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania—which Salinger attended for one semester, in the fall of 1938—has tried to cash in on that connection, despite resistance from the very private author. (Salinger lived in the woods of New Hampshire from the 1960s until his death in 2010.) In 2006, when Ursinus announced a $30,000-a-year "J.D. Salinger Scholarship" in creative writing for an incoming freshman, plus a year of free lodging in Salinger's old room, the author protested. So now, high school seniors can apply to what Ursinus jokingly refers to as the "Not the J.D. Salinger Scholarship" and the recipient still gets Salinger's old room. Judges say they look for a writer with a unique voice, not a Salinger clone. Though this generation may be inspired by authors like Jonathan Franzen and Nick Hornby, The Catcher in the Rye still sells 250,000 copies a year.

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