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Danger in the kitchen

"Environmental hazards sicken or kill millions of people – soot or smog in the air, for example, or pollutants in drinking water. But the most dangerous stuff happens where the food is made – in people's kitchens," says National Public Radio. "That's according to the World Health Organization, which says that the smoke and gases from cooking fires in the world's poorest countries contribute to nearly two million deaths a year – that's more than malaria. Burning wood, crop waste, charcoal or dung does the damage, filling homes with smoke and blackening walls. It's women and children who suffer the most, because they are the ones tending the fires."

Winning at washing

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A British design student has put a new spin on doing chores – by combining a washing machine with a video-game console, says Orange News U.K. "Lee Wei Chen, 27, of Kingston University in London, came up with the idea after realizing he was wasting too much time playing games. 'I realized that skills I had developed in the virtual world were useless in the real world. I wanted to make them useful,' he told Design Week. Mr. Lee's invention looks like an arcade-style video console – but the bottom half of the unit is a washing machine with the components' circuitry linked together. The washing cycle is dependent on the success of the person playing the game, so, if they struggle, extra coins are needed to complete the cycle."

Smiling? You must be happy

"You can learn all sorts of information by perusing a person's Facebook page," says. "But newly published research suggests you can ascertain a key fact about that individual – how satisfied they are with their life – without reading a word. Just check out their profile picture and gauge the intensity of their smile. True, the profile pic may be a few years old. But a paper just published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests the visual information remains not only valid, but predictive of the future. In two studies, university students who displayed a more intense smile in their first-semester Facebook profile picture reported higher levels of life satisfaction – both when the picture was posted, and again as they approached graduation three-and-a-half years later. 'The expression of positive affect captured in a photograph can convey surprisingly rich information about people's long-term well being,' write University of Virginia psychologists J. Patrick Seder and Shigehiro Oishi, the paper's co-authors."

Your hood, your health

"People who move from a poor neighbourhood to a better-off one could end up thinner and healthier than those who stay behind, according to [a U.S.] urban housing experiment that tracked low-income residents in five major cities for 10 to 15 years," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The research, set up by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, shows that health is closely linked to the environments people live in – and that social policies to change those environments or move people away from blighted areas could be a key tactic in fighting the 'diabesity' epidemic." The study was published this week by the New England Journal of Medicine. "This is one of the first studies to show that where you live – the circumstances of your neighbourhood, the social characteristics of the people around you – all these things may play a role in your own health," said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at the Yale School of Medicine who was not involved in the study. "Your health is not just what happens to you, but is influenced by all of those around you and the environment. … Some environments are toxic to health."

Bring back the hiss?

Cassette-tape connoisseurs, a small fringe group among audiophiles, "find the tape's flat tones and fuzzy hiss to be a comforting throwback," reports The Wall Street Journal. Although most music lovers have abandoned cassettes, "cassette devotees say that tapes are underappreciated. They see cassettes following in the shadows of their analogue brethren, vinyl records, which are currently enjoying a renaissance."

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Thought du jour

"We confess our bad qualities to others out of fear of appearing naive or ridiculous by not being aware of them."

- Gerald Brenan (1894-1987), British writer

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