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News and Trends
May 9, 2011


The Doggie Will See You Now
College Gold Diggers
They're Dying For Your Business
The Earliest Fire Starters
Keeping His Eye on the Strike Zone
Spilling Coke's Secrets?

The Doggie Will See You Now
Stressed-out students at super-competitive Yale Law School now have a new way to relax: They can borrow Monty, a Jack Russell-border terrier mix "therapy dog," from Yale's law library for 30-minute sessions. "It is well-documented that visits from therapy dogs have resulted in increased happiness, calmness, and overall emotional well-being," a librarian said in an e-mail to students in March. (Several universities, like the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, have similar programs.) Yale Law School's reputation for rigorousness is well earned: It has turned out seven Supreme Court Justices, including three of the nine currently on the Court—Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor. Yale Law student Sebastian Swett, 26, signed up for a Monty session. He's not sure the dog will cure his school-related stress, but, he says, "it's certainly nice to play with a dog for half an hour."

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College Gold Diggers
Call it more March Madness. The International Intercollegiate Mining Competition, held this year at the University of Nevada, Reno, in March, combined the passion of sports with the grit of hard-core mineral mining. This year's contestants—mining-engineering students from 15 colleges around the world—reenacted 18th- and 19th-century backbreaking mining techniques, including those used during California's Gold Rush in the 1840s and 50s. The jackleg event, for example, tests who can bore deepest into rock using a six-foot hydraulic drill. Though outdated, such methods are good to know, say industry experts who judged the event—and even made some job offers on the spot. Mining engineering is a growing field, thanks to surging gold prices and increasing demand for metals and minerals used in high-tech gadgets.

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They're Dying For Your Business
Body bags go for $20. Yellow crime scene tape is $6. Toe tags cost $5. The merchandise gets carried out in a shopping bag marked "The Los Angeles County Department of Coroner." Tucked in a corner of the coroner's office—whose official business is to investigate cases of death that are deemed suspicious—is the strangest of gift shops. Aptly called Skeletons in the Closet, the store sells a variety of death-themed items, like "undertaker" boxer shorts, business card holders shaped like skulls, and its best-seller: a $30 beach towel with a life-size body outline. Patrons include the occasional celebrity as well as busloads of European and Asian tourists. "Everyone who comes in here is kind of weird," says the shop's keeper. "Why else would you come here?" Yet for all the macabre fun to be had in the shop, a sign above the entrance reminds visitors of the real purpose of a coroner and asks overeager shoppers to "Please be considerate of our families here on business."

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The Earliest Fire Starters
Scientists agree that learning to use fire—which offered protection from the cold and heat for cooking—was a huge leap forward for the human species. But the question of when humans started to use it is still a subject of intense debate. Some believe that the controlled use of fire occurred more than a million years ago, when humans made their way to Europe from Africa. But a new study, based on excavation reports from 141 sites in Europe, argues that humans didn't master fire until much later, about 400,000 years ago. What that suggests is that humans roaming areas of Europe as far back as a million years ago found a way to survive Europe's very cold winters without the warmth of fire. "It means that early hominids were very adaptable," says Paola Villa, an archaeologist with the study. "Try to go to England now without warm clothes."

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Keeping His Eye on the Strike Zone
No Division I coach thought Jordan Underwood's pitching career could survive the line drive that destroyed his left eye in April 2009. But two years after being fitted with an acrylic eye, Underwood has emerged as the ace pitcher at Southeast Missouri State University, a Division I program. Experts say that two human eyes are needed to help the brain process depth to about 20 feet; beyond that, one eye can do the job. So given that the strike zone, 60 feet 6 inches away, is basically a static rectangle with no depth, doctors aren't surprised that Underwood is able to pitch—and better than he ever did. Eye expert Joan Vickers says Underwood provides an important example for young athletes with similar injuries. "There are people who lost their eye yesterday, and they're devastated," she says. "But they can get busy carrying on with their life."

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Spilling Coke's Secrets?
The recipe for Coca-Cola is one of the most coveted secrets in American business. So when a radio show host in February stumbled upon a long-forgotten 1979 newspaper article that claimed to list the ingredients in Coke's prized formula, it caused a sensation that spread virally around the globe. Pretty soon, people everywhere were swapping tips on the best sources for citric acid and coriander oil to see if they could replicate the taste that has earned Coke billions of dollars since the company was founded in 1886. Food historian Laura Shapiro says Americans have long been fascinated with food secrets—from KFC's "11 herbs and spices" and McDonald's "secret sauce" to wanting to know "how does that little blob of cream get inside the Hostess CupCake?" As for Coca-Cola, the company says the recipe currently circulating is a fake and that the real one has been sitting safely in an Atlanta bank vault for the past 125 years.

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