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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New auto devices are music to drivers’ ears

From wire reports

Leave the CDs at home.

With digital music players becoming more ubiquitous, Volkswagen AG is offering a stereo component that lets motorists plug in all manner of portable digital players — not just iPods — and manage their tunes and podcasts on a dashboard display.

Although the in-dash CD player has yet to go the way of the eight-track, digital devices with USB connections — be they fancy iPods or simple keychain drives — seem now to be portable music’s future.

Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest automaker, is thus making the USB connection an option on its Golf, Golf Plus and Touran models in December and on remaining models next year.

Just plug your device into a built-in console in the center armrest. The option comes in two varieties, one for the iPod, another for other USB-based players. Up to six of the player’s folders will be displayed on the car stereo system, and the radio buttons can be used to scan, search or shuffle your mix.

The setup will cost $240.

Games to star Chinese national heroes

An icon of Chinese communism is about to give Pac-Man, Super Mario and Pokemon a run for their money. In China, at least.

Legendary People’s Liberation Army hero Lei Feng is among 100 historical figures to be featured in new series of online video games from Shanghai-based Shanda Interactive Entertainment Ltd.

A boyish PLA driver killed in 1962, Lei was praised by Mao Zedong, communist China’s founder, for such selfless acts as secretly washing other soldiers’ socks.

Generations of Chinese have grown up on the slogan to “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng,” even as orthodox Marxism has given way to market economics.

Other historical figures to appear in the games series include Zheng Chenggong, the Ming dynasty general who defeated the Dutch garrison in Taiwan, and Bao Zheng, a famously incorruptible judge.

Dutch to create cradle-to-grave database

The Dutch government will begin tracking every citizen from cradle to grave in a single database, opening a personal electronic dossier for every child at birth with health and family data, and eventually adding school and police records. The new database will begin Jan. 1, 2007.

But organizations can raise “red flags” in the dossier to caution other agencies of potential problems with children, said ministry spokesman Jan Brouwer. Until now, schools and police have been unable to communicate with each other about truancy records and criminalit.

Currently, all Dutch births are registered with local authorities, and children receive tax ID numbers in the mail within several weeks of birth. But their health and other records are not available in a single file. Now each child will get a Citizens Service Number, making it easier to keep track of children with problems even when their families move.

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