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December 12, 2005


A Lap Around the Globe
Driver's Ed Turns Pro
Keeping Fido Calm
No Dates With Ken For This Doll
An Island That Visits Its Neighbors
A Merger of Two Worlds

A Lap Around the Globe
There was no cash prize or Olympic medal at stake. Jesper Olsen of Denmark was shooting for two entries in the Guinness Book of World Records: one for running the longest distance ever, another for running a lap around the world. Olsen, a 35-year-old political scientist at the University of Copenhagen, completed his trip on October 23. It had taken him one year and 10 months, averaging 28 miles a day, for a total of more than 16,000 miles. (He crossed large bodies of water by airplane.) "The most difficult thing to do was take off the one day a month I've taken off," Olsen said during his trek. "Your body begins to shut down, to relax... The day after my rest is my hardest day on the road." The world lap, which began in London on Jan. 1, 2004, was also hard on his running shoes: Olsen wore out 26 pairs.

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Driver's Ed Turns Pro
There are some schools where a student's success depends on hitting the brakes instead of the books. Performance-driving schools—including those run by carmakers like BMW and Audi—are increasingly adding programs specifically designed for teenagers. Courses cost anywhere from $400 to $3,100 for up to three days with professional instructors, working on advanced maneuvers like quick lane changes, emergency braking at high speeds, and skid training. The schools say they're giving teen-agers the skills they need to drive more safely. "In an accident-type situation, most people don't do enough," says Matt Mullins, an instructor at the BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg, S.C. But some safe-driving advocates and instructors say performance-driving courses may send the wrong message to impressionable young drivers. "It's the wrong answer," says Kristin Backstrom, president of Safe Smart Women, a driver-safety organization in Silver Spring, Md. "We need to slow them down and spend more time in the car with them."

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Keeping Fido Calm
Dogs, cats, hamsters, and parakeets have a new way to combat anxiety and loneliness while their humans are out: DogCatRadio.com, an Internet radio station just for pets. Adrian Martinez, who owns six dogs and two cats, says his cat Snickers inspired him to create the new station. One day, the cat was pacing the floor and meowing. "I turned up the music, and she was fine," says Martínez. DogCatRadio's playlist includes hits like Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" and the Baha Men singing, "Who let the dogs out (woof, woof, woof, woof)." The station, with live broadcasts 17 hours a day, also reports on charity events like "Walk for Paws." Larry Family, a veterinarian who has a radio talk show in Albany, N.Y., has recommended DogCatRadio to people whose pets have certain phobias. "It might be helpful," he says, "with dogs with separation-anxiety issues."

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No Dates With Ken For This Doll
Barbie has all but disappeared from from toy stores in Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. In her place is Fulla, a dark-eyed doll that reflects traditional Muslim values. She steps out of her shiny pink box wearing a black abaya, or cloak, and a matching hijab, or head scarf. Fulla—introduced in 2003 by a Syrian company called NewBoy Designs—has become a best-seller throughout the Middle East. Muslim parents who would never buy Barbie dolls for their daughters seem happy to buy a doll who has her own tiny pink prayer rug. Girls are obsessed with the doll and products like Fulla breakfast cereal and clothing. In Syria, where the average per capita income is around $100 a month, the doll sells for about $16. "Parents complain about the expense," says a toy-store clerk in Damascus, "but Fulla gives girls a more Islamic character to emulate, and parents want that." Because of the values she represents, Fulla will not have a boyfriend doll like Barbie's Ken, but Doctor Fulla and Teacher Fulla are on the way. Fawaz Abidin of NewBoy Designs says: "These are two respected careers for women that we would like to encourage small girls to follow."

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An Island That Visits Its Neighbors
An island the size of a football field has been floating around Island Pond in Springfield, Mass., for as long as anyone can remember. Buoyed by moss and gases from decaying plants, it teems with birds and is said to harbor a bear-size turtle named Big Ben. But it can also be a nuisance for people who live on the pond's shoreline. The island lands in backyards, crushes fences, and ruins gardens. Its owners tied it to the shore 12 years ago, until local officials ordered its release. "Tethering it would be a type of alteration of the wetlands," says Stan Tenerowicz of the Springfield Conservation Commission. "And this is a pretty unique natural resource."

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A Merger of Two Worlds
The line between films and video games is beginning to blur as a generation of game-savvy film directors sets out to create games that allow them more control over franchises and a share in enormous video-game profits. Moviegoers thrilled by the King Kong film that opens December 14 will be able to immerse themselves in the King Kong video game released by Ubisoft in November. Both the video game and the film were directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame. Jackson wanted gamers to experience a King Kong "universe" that would otherwise be limited to a two-hour film. And Steven Spielberg, director of War of the Worlds, will help create three games for Electronic Arts that could later be turned into movies. Advanced game consoles and more lifelike graphics enable game designers to do a better job of recreating the look of a movie. Games like King Kong can cost up to $25 million to make. But they are among the most-popular and most-profitable products in the entertainment world. U.S. domestic sales of video games and consoles totaled $10 billion in 2004, compared with movie-ticket sales of $9.4 billion.

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