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News and Trends
November 23, 2009


Waste Watchers
How Do You Say 'Cupcake' in Arabic?
Read Any Good 'Vooks' Lately?
Treasure Island
The Party Line
Where Grads Gravitate

Waste Watchers
What happens to that plastic soda bottle or paper cup once you toss it? That's what researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would like to know. M.I.T.'s Senseable City Laboratory is following 3,000 pieces of trash—mostly from Seattle, Washington—through the waste-disposal system. It will take researchers months to analyze all the data generated by the electronic tags glued to aluminum cans, milk cartons, and other trash. But they've already found that some garbage reaches its destination in two days, while other items take four or five weeks to reach landfills or recycling plants. (Click here for the routes.) One purpose of the project, says Carlo Ratti, director of the M.I.T. lab, is to make people more aware of the impact their trash has on the environment. "If you see where a plastic bottle ends up, a few miles down the road in a dump," says Ratti, "you may want to get tap water or some other container for the water."

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How Do You Say 'Cupcake' in Arabic?
When Fadi Jaber, a Palestinian who attended high school in Saudi Arabia, tasted a cupcake from a New York bakery, it changed his life. He quit his marketing job and enrolled in culinary school. Now, Jaber has brought the cupcake craze to the Middle East with his Sugar Daddy's shops in Amman, Jordan; Beirut, Lebanon; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Jaber, 31, says 95 percent of his customers are women, many of them familiar with cupcakes from watching Sex in the City on satellite TV. Sugar Daddy's sells American favorites like carrot and red velvet, and caters to local tastes with the Blind Date, a sticky date cupcake with cream-cheese frosting, and Ramadan cupcakes with orange-blossom frosting. Jaber says his products are immune from anti-Americanism in the region because they have universal appeal. Besides, he adds, "Walking into a party with a box of cupcakes is trendy."

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Read Any Good 'Vooks' Lately?
In the age of the iPhone, Kindle, and YouTube, the definition of "book" is becoming more flexible as publishers blend text, video, and Web features together. For example, Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Ernest Hemingway and Steven King, is releasing four digital titles in which videos are interspersed with text. These "vooks" can be viewed online or on an iPhone, with the videos used to demonstrate things like exercises or to advance the plot in fiction. But some experts have mixed feelings about tampering with traditional reading. "There is no question that these new media are going to be superb at engaging and interesting the reader," says Maryanne Wolf, a professor at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. But, she adds, "Can you any longer read Henry James or George Eliot? Do you have the patience?"

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Treasure Island
After spending 18 years trolling fields and vacant lots with a metal detector, Terry Herbert finally hit pay dirt in July. He discovered a hoard of 1,400-year-old buried treasure, including more than 1,500 items made of gold and silver. Experts have described the discovery in a farmer's field in Staffordshire, England, as one of the most important in British archaeological history. They have tentatively identified the items, which include pieces of swords and other weapons, as bounty seized during one of the wars that racked Middle England in the seventh and eighth centuries. Herbert, 55, is unemployed and living on welfare. Now, under British law, he and the farmer who owns the field are each entitled to half the value of the treasure, which is estimated to be worth at least $2 million.

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The Party Line
Just in case residents of China's capital, Beijing, weren't feeling sufficiently patriotic around National Day on October 1, the state-controlled cellphone company changed customers' ring-back tones to a patriotic song. "It's a gift," said a China Mobile representative when asked about the change. On September 28, customers found that the standard ring-back tone had been changed to the song "Guojia" ("Country"), sung by actor Jackie Chan. The lyrics include: "A country stands up in the world" and "Only when we have a strong country can we have a prosperous family." This year, National Day marked 60 years of Communist rule: On Oct. 1, 1949, Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People's Republic of China following the Communist victory in China's civil war. But Hu Xingdou, a professor at Beijing Institute of Technology, says China Mobile went too far. "The current efforts to instill ideology make me feel that the authorities consider ordinary Chinese people to be unpatriotic or even mentally challenged," he says. "So they enforce this patriotic education on people."

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Where Grads Gravitate
When The Wall Street Journal recently polled a panel of six experts on which American cities are likely to emerge as "youth magnets" once the recession ends, there was a tie for first place: Washington, D.C., and Seattle, Washington. Many recent college grads are flocking to Washington, D.C., hoping to land a job in the Obama administration or in fields like aerospace, defense contracting, and lobbying. They're also drawn to the capital because of its museums and live-music venues. Seattle is known for its rich cultural life and jobs in music, interactive media, and high tech—both Microsoft and Nintendo are based in nearby Redmond. New York City placedthird on the list, followed by Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; San Jose, California; Denver, Colorado; the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina; and Dallas, Texas. Chicago and Boston tied for 10th place. Whereas smaller, trendy cities might have attracted young adults in the past, according to one of the panelists, the recession has made today's college grads more practical and more likely to gravitate to larger cities with better job opportunities.

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