Watercooler Stories

By United Press International  |  April 11, 2006 at 6:30 AM
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Parks across country restrict smoking

CHICAGO, April 11 (UPI) -- Tobacco users in the United States are seeing another of their ever-shrinking habitat -- parks and other great outdoors -- go smokeless.

In Illinois, reports the Chicago Tribune, Buffalo Grove, Hoffman Estates and Park Ridge recently have limited or prohibited smoking in parks and outside community centers, swimming pools and skating rinks.

Nationally, nearly 400 communities from West Virginia to California currently ban smoking in parks and on beaches, Cynthia Hallett with Americans for Non-smokers' Rights in Berkeley, Calif., told the Tribune.

"Much like we have laws that protect us from asbestos or other toxic chemicals, there is no right to expose anybody to a known carcinogen," Hallett said.

Some park districts, however, say it would be difficult to enforce the ban because of limited resources. In Chicago, the park district considered a smoking ban proposal but took no action, the report said.

A spokesperson for one pro-smokers group said: "It's not a health issue. It's a matter of persecuting what is currently a popularly demonized activity."

One-third of Russians have space dreams

MOSCOW, April 11 (UPI) -- A poll finds that one-third of Russians have dreams of being a cosmonaut, venturing into space and seeing the world from the sky.

Bashkirova and Partners, an independent polling company, did the survey of 500 people to mark Cosmonautics Day, April 12, the anniversary of the date space pioneer Yuri Gagarin became the first person space in 1961.

Young people are the most likely to say they would like to go into space, Itar-Tass reports, with about half answering yes to the question. That is down from the glory days of the Soviet space program when most children wanted to follow Gagarin.

Seventeen percent of those aged 50 to 59, who were children in 1961, still have cosmonaut dreams. The percentage is a little higher, 24 percent, among those over 60.

The poll also found a high interest in news of space among Russians, with men aged 18 to 39 the biggest fans.

New gadgets delight shoppers

TOKYO, April 11 (UPI) -- From the Meowlingual, which translates a cat's purrs into Japanese, to a portable dispenser of oxygen-rich air, Japan's Akihabara has all the high-tech items.

Akihabara, or Electric Town, is a little piece of Tokyo that's a high-tech shopper's paradise, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

This is the place where one can find any gadget from the latest and most advanced to the old and antique, says the report. One can't miss them in the narrow neighborhood where the stores are crammed into narrow streets, stacked one floor above the other.

"I'm fascinated by all of it," said Arne Fleisher with a U.S. networking and security company while examining cell phones in Akihabara. "I've been thinking about how to move here."

Megan Trevethan, visiting from Ohio with fellow students, was thrilled to find a store selling the Nintendo DS Lite, a portable gaming device that isn't yet available in the United States, the report said. "We got there just as they were cutting the boxes open," she said.

In the old and antique sections, one can find such things as vintage games and consoles dating back to the 1980s.

Hybrids make HOV motorists mad

LOS ANGELES, April 11 (UPI) -- Solo drivers of fuel-efficient hybrids in California may be regretting their right to drive in carpool lanes because of "Prius backlash" from carpoolers.

The hybrid drivers are being accused by carpoolers of going too slow to maximize fuel efficiency, thereby clogging their diamond lanes, reports The Los Angeles Times.

"There's a mentality out there that we're a bunch of liberal hippies or we're trying to make some statement on the environment," Travis Ruff, a real estate agent who drives a Toyota Prius, told the newspaper. "People are a lot less friendly than when I drove a Mercedes."

The state, which has issued carpool-lane stickers to about 50,000 hybrid cars, now plans to study the impact, says the report.

A similar debate over carpool-lane congestion also is taking place in Virginia, where hybrid drivers using the lanes in peak hours must have three or more people in their vehicles.

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