Upfront Home
In This Issue
News and Trends
 • 
 • 
Features
Times Past
The Ethicist
Debate
Teen Voices
Upfront Topics
Contact
Magazine Info
News and Trends
December 14, 2009


Faking the Vroom
Stomachs vs. Brains
Exporting An Alphabet
200-Year-Old Tweets
Image Problems
Will The Queen Head Home?

Faking the Vroom
Hybrid and electric vehicles not only reduce air pollution and gas consumption, they also cut noise pollution with their whisper-quiet motors. Actually, they're not noisy enough, say safety experts concerned that people can't hear hybrids approaching. In a University of California study, people could hear a gas-powered car from 28 feet away, but couldn't hear a hybrid until it was 7 feet away. That's why some hybrid carmakers are working with Hollywood special-effects wizards to create digitally enhanced vroom. The Fisker Karma, an $88,000 plug-in hybrid expected to go on sale next year, will emit a sound from speakers in its bumpers; Henrik Fisker, the founder of California-based Fisker Automotive, describes the noise as "a cross between a starship and a Formula One car." Nissan and Toyota are also working on sounds for their electric vehicles. And just as you can choose the ring tone on your cellphone, customized "car tones" may soon let owners of electric vehicles choose their own noise.

Back to Top


Stomachs vs. Brains
Chain restaurants in Seattle, New York City, Los Angeles, and other places must now list calorie counts on their menus. But does it really improve people's eating habits? Two studies in New York showed mixed results. In the first, researchers at New York University and Yale tracked customers in poor New York neighborhoods with high rates of obesity and diabetes. Their orders at McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, and KFC averaged 846 calories, compared with 825 before the labeling law took effect in 2008. But a study by city health officials found that citywide, New Yorkers are ordering fewer calories at KFC, McDonald's, and Starbucks. Nutritionists say that one explanation for the seemingly contradictory findings is that in poor neighborhoods, price may count more than calories. A man buying dollar cheeseburgers in New York told researchers: "I'm looking for the cheapest meal I can."

Back to Top


Exporting An Alphabet
South Koreans are so proud of their alphabet that they celebrate it with a national holiday. Known as Hangul, it was introduced in 1446 by King Sejong. Now, Lee Ki-nam—a descendant of the king, 21 generations removed—hopes to export Hangul to places where native peoples don't have written systems to record their languages, many of which are dying out. A project launched last year is teaching Hangul to children of Indonesia's Cia-Cia tribe. Koreans' attachment to Hangul, a distinctive combination of circles and lines, reflects their national pride. During Japanese colonial rule from 1910-45, Koreans were forbidden to use or teach their language and alphabet in school or in business. While illiteracy in Korean soared, many Koreans broke the rules to teach Hangul to their children.

Back to Top


200-Year-Old Tweets
John Quincy Adams: President, statesman—and Twitterer? Adams's diaries may be 200 years old, but his brief entries so closely resemble Tweets that they're being posted on Twitter by the Massachusetts Historical Society. By November, the Twitter tag JQAdams_MHS had attracted more than 16,000 followers of entries from a diary Adams started on Aug. 5 , 1809—the day he left Boston for St. Petersburg to serve as ambassador to Russia. Adams, who was President from 1825-29, chronicles everything from seasickness to cardplaying on the 80-day transatlantic voyage. For example, on Aug. 6, 1809, Adams wrote: "Thick fog.Scanty wind. . . . Ladies are sick." His entries average 110 to 120 characters, well within Twitter's 140-character limit.

Back to Top


Image Problems
At first, Sam Keller, a former Arizona State quarterback, enjoyed seeing his virtual double in NCAA Football 2005. Now Keller, 24, and other former college athletes have filed lawsuits against Electronic Arts, which makes NCAA Football, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, arguing that they illegally profit from images of college football and basketball players. The N.C.A.A., which says the complaints are without merit, makes millions of dollars from licensed products like video games. But it forbids its athletes from cashing in on their fame. The unnamed Arizona State quarterback in the video game looked and played like Keller, and wore his number. "Why was the N.C.A.A. turning a blind eye to this and allowing EA Sports to take our likenesses and make big bucks off it?" Keller asks. Jason Kelce, an offensive guard for the University of Cincinnati, agrees. But when a new version of NCAA Football comes out, Kelce says, he and his teammates "end up playing it nonstop."

Back to Top


Will The Queen Head Home?
When a German archaeologist unearthed the limestone-and-stucco bust of Queen Nefertiti from ruins at Amarna, Egypt, in 1912, he took it back to Germany, where it has remained for nearly a century. But Egyptian officials say that Nefertiti might have been removed from Egypt illegally and may demand the return of their 3,500-year-old queen. Very little is known about Nefertiti, whose name means "the beautiful woman has arrived." With her husband—Pharaoh Akhenaten, who reigned from 1352 B.C. to 1336 B.C.—Nefertiti became co-ruler of Egypt. And the royal couple made powerful enemies because of their monotheism: They worshipped only Aten, a solar god representing the life-giving force of light. Their abandonment of polytheism, the worship of many gods, probably enraged Egypt's priests. Some experts say that it might have been Nefertiti herself who started the new religion. It is not clear whether she died naturally or was murdered: Her body has never been found. The bust of the queen, with its serene beauty, has become one of the world's most iconic images.

Back to Top