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News and Trends
December 11, 2006


Watch People Watching
Don't Call Them 'Flipper'
The Married Minority
Scouts Honor—Online
Treats for the Troops
Mississippi Gets the Word Out

Watch People Watching
Shaw Kaake thinks that people entranced by hand-held games and video players tend to ignore the world around them. His response was to develop the Egokast, a palm-size video player that doubles as a belt buckle. Instead of watching the Egokast screen, the wearer watches other people's reactions to it. "This is the first media device that you don't watch, but everybody else does," says Kaake, an American designer living in Shanghai. "Instead of staring into your BlackBerry, you're looking at the reactions of people to the content." The Egokast, which sells for $289, includes a memory card and a disc with hundreds of prefabricated video loops. Users can also make their own content. Kaake does see one issue: "Some people might be a little uncomfortable with everyone looking at their belt."

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Don't Call Them 'Flipper'
Researchers have discovered that dolphins have "names"—not words, but distinctive whistles that contain identifying information. Scientists have known since the 1960s that dolphins make whistles or calls. "It's always been suggested that they are important for staying in touch with each other," says Vincent M. Janik of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The question was whether the whistles had unique identifying information or whether the dolphins were simply responding to the tone or some other feature of the sound. Janik found that when dolphins in a group were exposed to an artificial whistle modeled after that of a related group member, they turned toward the sound. The sound pattern was the "language," and the dolphins recognized it despite the artificial nature of the "voice."

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The Married Minority
For the first time in history, married couples constitute a minority of U.S. households, according to an analysis of census figures by The New York Times. The American Community Survey, released in October by the Census Bureau, found that 49.7 percent, or 55.2 million, of the nation's 111.1 million households in 2005 were made up of married couples. This is just shy of a majority and down from more than 52 percent in 2000. These numbers do not mean that marriage is dead. The total number of married couples is higher than ever. But more adults are staying single longer or living unmarried with partners. Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College in New York, who conducted the analysis for The Times, says, "It's partially fueled by women in the workforce; they don't necessarily have to get married to be economically secure."

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Scouts Honor—Online
In addition to chopping firewood and cooking over campfires, the 52,000 Boy Scouts in Los Angeles can now learn to "be prepared" to protect intellectual property. A new activity patch called Respect Copyrights has been developed by the Scouts organization and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The program will teach participants about copyright theft and various forms of music and film piracy. According to the MPAA, the worldwide movie industry—including foreign and domestic producers, distributors, theaters, video stores, and pay-per-view operators—lost more than $18 billion from piracy in 2005. Scouts who participate in the program will learn about basic copyright law and why copyrights are important. To complete the program, they can choose from a list of activities that includes researching peer-to-peer Web sites to find out which ones offer illegal downloads, creating a public-service announcement on copyright protection, and visiting a movie studio to learn about the different jobs involved and the people whose livelihoods are affected by piracy.

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Treats for the Troops
When it comes to sending gifts to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gail Van Vranken of Wheeling, W. Va., is an expert. This season, her charity—Boatsie's Boxes for Baghdad—will ship hundreds of boxes of Christmas stockings stuffed with items like razors, puzzles, socks, and chocolates. Van Vranken says even the smallest show of support, like a letter or a box of snacks, can make a difference. "Everybody can do something," she says. But often, people don't know what soldiers need. High on the list are phone cards, toiletries, DVDs, and snacks. For a list of 225 charities that benefit the troops, check out the America Supports You Web site at
americasupportsyou.mil.

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Mississippi Gets the Word Out
For decades, one state has always seemed to get the worst score in every category: Mississippi. At various times, it has been cited as the nation's poorest, least educated, and most corrupt state. Mississippi has long chafed at these perceptions—which in some cases spring more from stereotypes than statistics—and it has now introduced an ad campaign called "Mississippi, Believe It!" A series of posters and T-shirts addresses old clichés and seeks to turn them into a more positive image. One poster features notable Mississippi writers like William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. "It's kind of a way of fighting back, because we do get hammered," says best-selling author John Grisham, whose picture also appears on the poster. "But things aren't all hopeless down here. There is some life and culture and education and football and stuff like that."

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