■ `Does my bum look big in this?'
It is one of the most fundamental and potentially hazardous questions of modern life, for which academics now hope to provide the definitive answer: "Does my bum look big in this?" The School of Textiles and Design at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have begun what is believed to be the world's first-ever study on how women's clothing affects the bottom. Models with variously sized posteriors will wear different types of clothing as part of the research, which will examine how designs, colors, patterns and fabric types affect perception. Others will be asked to assess how big or small each model's backside appears to look in the outfits. "This study will provide for the first time detailed and usable information that would enable designers to make the clothes that help women make the most of their natural assets," said Dr Lisa Macintyre, who is leading the study.
■ Harry Potter to the rescue
Harry Potter may not yet be able to mend broken bones with a wave of his wand, but the pint-size wizard of book sales apparently has the power to reduce playground injuries, British scientists reported in a study published this week. Working on a hunch, a group of trauma surgeons from Oxford's John Radcliff Hospital ran a statistical study on the correlation between the incidence of "musculoskelatal injuries" among seven to 15 year olds and the release of new volumes in the popular Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Lo and behold, on the weekends when two of the titles -- The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince -- were released, emergency-room attendance rates for the designated segment dropped by nearly half compared to "normal" weekends, 36 and 37 kids respectively in need of mending rather than an average of 67.
■ Kenyans chill at the ice rink
Eager for a dose of winter, Kenyans are stepping out of blazing equatorial heat into the chill of east Africa's first ice rink for halting forays into sports normally associated with colder climes. In a land where the only snow most people will ever see is at the peak of the country's highest mountain, would-be Kenyan hockey stars and figure skaters have been flocking to the Solar Ice Rink here since it opened this month. The 1,393m2 facility is billed as the largest of Africa's three ice rinks -- the others are in Cairo and Johannesburg -- and can accommodate up to 200 skaters at once.
■ Online preferences revealed
The old cliche that men are loath to ask for directions is borne out by facts -- on the Internet, at least. A new study published this week found that while US men probe deeper into the Web's hidden depths and use it for entertainment, women are more likely to go online for practical purposes and to talk to friends. The latest snapshot of the Internet's growing role in the modern world, from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, also found women closing the gap on total online time. The survey found that men are more likely than women to check adult Web sites, weather forecasts, read news, find do-it-yourself information, track sports scores and look for financial information or job research. Women however, use the Internet more to talk to other people, through e-mail or news groups for instance, and are more likely to seek health and medical support, and look for religious consolation.