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News and Trends
September 22, 2008


Way Before Macs & PCs
Silent Soundtrack
Grease: As Good as Gold
No Frills, No Tuition
Part-time Pets
Pawns & Brawn

Way Before Macs & PCs
Even its name is mysterious: the Antikythera Mechanism. It has puzzled scientists ever since it was discovered by divers in 1901 in a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera, north of Crete. Now, researchers have found that the device, which has been called the first analog computer and was built around 80 B.C., not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Games. Using high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray technology, experts have recently deciphered inscriptions and determined the functions of the 30 bronze gears found on the device. Dials on the Mechanism include the names of all 12 months of an ancient calendar. One dial was used to record the timing of the ancient Games, a four-year cycle that researchers say was commonly used in ancient Greece.

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Silent Soundtrack
Workers were ripping up the street with jackhammers while drivers stuck in traffic leaned on car horns. But nearby, in the middle of New York City's Union Square, there seemed to be a cone of silence. More than a thousand people danced in place, listening to their iPods and prancing to their own playlists. The organizer of this "silent rave" was Jonnie Wesson, 18, a British exchange student. Silent raves are popular in Europe, especially in London where Wesson grew up. "The basic premise," he says, "is that a hundred or a thousand or a few thousand people all turn up in a public place, turn on their own headphones, and dance." One of the largest silent raves occurred in 2006, when 3,500 people turned up to dance in London's Paddington Square at the height of rush hour.

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Grease: As Good as Gold
The bandit who robbed a Northern California Burger King last spring wasn't interested in the cash register. Instead, he made off with 300 gallons of used fryer grease. As gas and diesel prices have soared, so has the value of the fat left over from cooking French fries. Known as yellow grease, it can be converted to biodiesel to fuel trucks and cars. Since 2000, its market price has gone from about 8 cents a pound to 33 cents. Nick Damianidis of Arlington, Wash., says his restaurant has been targeted by grease thieves several times in the past year. "Fryer grease has become gold," he says. "And just over a year ago, I had to pay someone to take it away."

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No Frills, No Tuition
Berea College doesn't have a football team, coed dorms, or hot tubs. Instead, it has a no-frills budget, with food from the college farm, furniture from its crafts workshops, 10-hour-a-week campus jobs for all students#151and no tuition. This liberal arts college in Berea, Kentucky, was founded in 1855 to educate freed slaves and "poor white mountaineers." Today, Berea only accepts students from low-income families, and for many it can be a haven from high schools where expensive clothes and homes determine social status. "I didn't think I wanted to come here," says junior Candice Roots. "But I visited in my senior year, and as soon as I got here, I knew this is what I wanted. Everybody was like me. You don't have to have all this money to fit in."

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Part-time Pets
Many dog lovers are deprived of canine companionship when their schedules or apartment buildings won't accommodate pets. But in some cities, they can now rent a dog. Flexpetz, based in San Diego, rents out dogs that have been rescued from shelters. The company has branches in Los Angeles, New York, and London. Customers register at Flexpetz.com and are screened before they can rent a dog. They pay a monthly membership fee of $100 plus $45 a day for a dog. Chris Hadixx, who runs the New York branch, says customers include "a lot of single people who wouldn't mind hanging out with a pal now and then." But animal-rights advocates question the ethics of pet rentals. "A dog is a lifetime friend and companion, not a two-hour piece of rental equipment," says Michael Markarian of the Humane Society of the United States. Massachusetts has recently banned pet-rental businesses.

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Pawns & Brawn
It's "the ultimate challenge for both the body and the mind," according to the World Chess Boxing Organization in Berlin. In chess-boxing, competitors alternate four-minute rounds of speed chess with three-minute rounds of boxing, and can win by a knockout, a checkmate, or a referee decision. The sport was inspired by a French comic book called the Nikopol Trilogy in which men box on a chessboard floor. The first chess-boxing match was held in Amsterdam in 2003. The sport now has more than 150 competitors (all men, though organizers say women are welcome). In the U.S., chess is being combined with martial arts and hip-hop. Participants in hip-hop chess events have included rappers RZA and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan and martial-arts fighter Ralek Gracie. The Hip-Hop Chess Federation, based in San Jose, California, says it uses "music, chess, and martial arts to promote unity, strategy, and nonviolence."

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