20 News Stories from Around the World That Will Brighten Your Day
We’ve rounded up the most heartwarming and inspirational stories from across the globe.
Breaking an Addiction
Smartphones have become such a part of modern life that for many of us living without one feels impossible—and their power to distract has been shown to make people less productive.
Now three entrepreneurs who met at Copenhagen Business School—Maths Mathisen, Florian Winder and Vinoth Vinaya—have launched an app to combat smartphone addiction, particularly among students.
Called Hold, the free app tracks the continuous minutes during the day that a person doesn’t use their smartphone. It then awards the user points for showing restraint. The longer they resist checking their device, the more points they get. Those points can then be used to purchase products and services—such as cinema tickets—or enter competitions or donate to charity via the app’s marketplace.
“We want to reward users for not using their phone, rather than punish them,” says co-founder Maths Mathisen.
Trials at universities in Scandinavia and the UK have seen students report greater concentration levels as they hold off checking their phones for notifications.
Boost for Africa Tunnel
Long-held hopes of building a tunnel connecting Spain with Morocco have been raised with a new study concluding that the major technical challenges can be overcome.
The idea of a tunnel between Europe and Africa goes back to the 19th century, but previous projects have hit the buffers over difficult tunneling terrain and funding. Supporters say the 38km-long tunnel could be used to transfer solar energy from the Sahara to Europe and would slash journey times for freight traffic between Madrid and Marrakesh.
The scheme would require eight specialist boring machines to be built and could cost up to 8 billion euros. “All institutions involved have to be willing to do it,” notes Rafael García-Monge Fernández, head of the Spanish government committee considering the tunnel’s viability.
Green Parking Spaces
A pilot scheme in the Amsterdam suburb of Segbroek is offering residents the chance to turn their parking space into a bit of greenery—such as a sun terrace or play space for kids. In return, participating residents’ vehicles are stored for free in a car park. The long-term aim is to encourage people to use car-sharing schemes.
Smart Thinking Averts Emergency Landing
Engineering student Karttikeya Mangalam was on a flight from Geneva via Moscow to New Delhi when a fellow passenger with type 1 diabetes was taken ill. The 30-year-old Dutchman had lost his insulin pump at airport security and was developing dangerously high blood sugar levels: he had cartridges of fast-acting insulin with him but no way to inject them.
A doctor on board tried to use a pen-style insulin injector, but the device malfunctioned. Mangalam took over and went into action.
Using the plane’s wi-fi, he studied diagrams of the injector online, and used a spring extracted from a fellow passenger’s ballpoint pen to fix the device. The doctor then injected the Dutchman, who recovered, and an emergency landing was averted. “It made me realize the importance of the basic skills we are taught in our freshman year,” Mangalam says.
A Smarter Wheelchair
The design of the wheelchair has changed little since it was invented in the late 18th century. But now a group of young Swiss innovators has designed a revolutionary new mobility device for the disabled.
Their “wheelchair of the future”, named Scewo, can climb stairs thanks to a set of retractable rubber tracks, allowing users to reach places that would otherwise have been inaccessible.
“Stairs are climbed sitting backward and driven down in the forward position,” says Thomas Gemperle, one of 10 students who developed the Scewo in partnership with Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology and University of the Arts.
The chair has many other novel features, too. For example, a user can steer it simply by shifting body weight, and cannot tip it over. Gemperle says he hopes the Scewo’s unique qualities will make people look at users “with admiration instead of pity.”
A commercial launch is planned for the mddle of next year.
Help for the Bees
Bees and other insects are vital to our food chain, as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. But their numbers have plummeted in recent years, and this has been partly blamed on pesticides.
Five years ago, the EU banned the use of neonicotinoids, a widely used group of insecticides, on flowering crops that attract bees. And from the end of this year their use will now be banned completely, following an investigation that found the chemicals contaminate soil and water, and can then appear in wild flowers and succeeding crops.
“Banning these toxic pesticides is a beacon of hope for bees,” says Antonia Staats of campaign group Avaaz. “Finally governments are listening to their citizens, to the scientific evidence and to farmers.”
There’s good news for art lovers, with the announcement by Florence’s Bargello Museum that the public may finally be allowed to see sketches by Michelangelo on the walls of a secret room that has remained private since its discovery 40 years ago. The room, beneath the Medici Chapels in the city’s Basilico di San Lorenzo, could be opened to visitors before the end of next year.
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Defying Terror with Music
When a car packed with explosives detonated in the busy Mansour district of Baghdad, Karim Wasfi, the conductor of Iraq’s National Symphony Orchestra, did something unusual. As police secured the area, he took out his cello, sat on a chair and began to play amidst the debris. “It was an attempt to overcome grotesque acts of terror by an act of beauty,” he says.
Wasfi has since founded the Centre for Creativity-Peace through Arts, which brings young people from different ethnic backgrounds together to play music on Baghdad’s streets.
His approach has had some success. “One positive experience was when around 14 militiamen decided to give up their commitment to their weapons and to become musicians,” he reports.
Going Back to School
“I can’t explain to children who have come to Germany as refugees why it is that they are suddenly here,” says Basel Alsayed (pictured). “But I think I know how they feel.”
Formerly a teacher in Damascus, Alsayed left Syria to avoid being conscripted into the war, and ended up in Zehdenick, near Berlin. Having taken an 18-month refugee teacher-training course at Potsdam University, he now teaches at a primary school, where a third of the pupils are similarly displaced, hailing from countries such as Bosnia, Ghana and Syria.
“I was thrown in at the deep end,” says Alsayed, who had to master the German language during his course. “Suddenly, I was having to do my own homework instead of handing it out.”
“Basel is a firefighter,” says head teacher Gerald Schneider. “He translates when there are language problems with parents and steps in when other teachers are ill.”
And Germany needs more like him. A forecast by the Bertelsmann Foundation predicts a shortfall of around 35,000 primary school teachers in Germany by 2025.
Norway to Fly Electric Planes
Two years ago Norway saw the launch of the world’s first electric ferry, and now it has its sights set on the skies, as companies and regulators look towards a future of battery-powered air travel.
According to Dag Falk-Petersen, head of airport operator Avinor, by 2040 all of Norway’s short-haul flights will be electric. “When we have reached our goal, air travel will no longer be a problem for the climate,” he says.
Avinor is set to buy its first electric plane this summer, and plans to launch a tender offer to test a commercial route with a 19-seat electric plane from 2025.
Last year European aerospace company Airbus announced plans to develop a hybrid-electric airliner, with a demonstration model scheduled for completion by 2020. And low-cost airline easyJet has announced that it is working on plans for all-electric short-haul planes, to be launched within a decade.
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How to Talk to Dogs
You know that slightly ridiculous high-pitched voice we use when we’re speaking to dogs? It turns out that they actually love it. Researchers at York University in England say “dog-speak” not only helps improve attention from our canine friends but also strengthens the bond between owner and pet.
A Haircut with a Difference
Lenny White had been a successful marketing consultant in Northern Ireland for 17 years, but he missed the job satisfaction he’d got working as a kitchen porter in nursing homes when he was a teenager. “I never forgot how it made me feel and the interaction with residents,” says White.
And that was his inspiration to give up marketing and retrain as a barber for dementia patients, travelling all around the country. To help his clients relax, he sets up a “pop-up” 1950s barber’s salon, complete with illuminated barber’s pole and a jukebox playing music from the era.
“I have so much compassion for them,” he says. “I understand their struggles and can feel their frustration at times. My job is to give these men good feelings and one-on-one time.”
Homes for the Homeless
A village providing housing for homeless people has been established on vacant land in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. Its principal sponsor is the social enterprise Social Bite, a café chain that employs homeless people and provides free food to rough sleepers.
Made up of 11 two-bed houses, the village provides a community approach to homelessness. It aims to rehabilitate residents in a safe, supported environment, with full-time support staff to help with training and work placements.
“People living in the village would otherwise be in a B&B, hostel or on the street—very isolated environments,” says Social Bite co-founder Josh Littlejohn.
The village has a centre where residents can socialise, as well as a communal eating area and kitchen. Social Bite team member Sonny Murray, himself once homeless, says, “It’s going to be amazing because people will have support and work opportunities and a wee bit of life.”
The intention is that residents will stay for around 12-16 months before moving into permanent housing.
A historical theme park in France has enlisted some unlikely help in clearing up litter left by visitors: six rooks.
The Puy du Fou park in the Vendée region has trained the birds to pick up litter by installing a small box that delivers a nugget of food each time one of the birds deposits a cigarette butt or small piece of rubbish.
“The goal is not just to clear up, but also to show that nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment”, says Nicolas de Villiers, president of the park, which receives two million visitors a year.
De Villiers says the birds are “very fast” and can fill a box in less than 45 minutes. “We want to educate people not to throw their garbage on the ground,” he says. “Sometimes it’s good to make people feel a little bit guilty.”
A Holiday Prescription
Holidays can help us to live longer, according to a 40-year study by Helsinki University researchers.
They followed 1,200 businessmen considered at risk of heart disease due to weight, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Those who took less than three weeks off work a year were 37% more likely to die young than those who gave greater priority to their holiday time.
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Cafe Owner Feeds Hungry Migrants
The former war-torn Bosnia has become the latest thoroughfare on the European migration route and has struggled to cope with the arrival of thousands of migrants and refugees en route to Croatia.
Not all the locals are happy about their uninvited guests, but Asim Latić, a café owner in the border town of Velika Kladua, responded straight from the heart. “I saw a man standing in the street. I asked if he was hungry and he said he didn’t have any money. I said it didn’t matter and fed him.”
The next day more people came and before long Latić’s café had become a kitchen for migrants. He and three friends served thousands of free meals, funding them from their own pockets for two months. “We are all war veterans. We know what it means to be hungry,” says Latić.
Repair Café Inspires the World
“In Europe, we throw out so many things,” says Martine Postma, long frustrated by our throwaway culture. “I wanted to do something about it.”
What she did was to open the first Repair Café in Amsterdam, a social space where people could learn to fix anything from vacuum cleaners and toys to jewellery and clothes—rather than dump them in the trash.
The idea quickly spread. This year, the Amsterdam café marks its 10th anniversary—and has now inspired more than 1,500 other repair cafés around the world.
For a small fee, Postma’s Repair Café Foundation helps people in other cities open their own cafés. It provides a step-by-step manual along with other support and the basic approach is the same.
Volunteer repair experts show café-goers how to fix their broken items. “They like sharing the knowledge and helping other people,” says Postma. “It’s about doing something together, in the here and now.”
Slashing Water Use
A Swedish startup has invented a nozzle for taps that could dramatically cut household water use. Altered’s Dual Flow gadget fits on to existing taps to atomise water into a mist of millions of droplets, reducing the flow of water by 98 per cent.
“From an ordinary tap, as much as 10 to 12 litres of water run out every minute,” says Kaj Mickos, who developed the device with his son-in-law, Johan Nihlén. “But only a small part of that touches your hands or rinses off the plate.”
Altered’s nozzle can also be adjusted to create a steady stream, though still at a reduced flow rate of 85 per cent compared to standard taps.
“The most important thing to us is to make a difference to the serious water situation in the world today,” says Johan Nihlén.
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Tram That Drives Itself
Europe’s first self-driving tram has been successfully trialled on a six kilometre route in Potsdam, Germany. The autonomous Combino tram, looks like any other tram but uses radar, laser technology and camera sensors as multiple virtual eyes to view oncoming traffic.
Travelling at up to the track maximum of 50km per hour, it can respond to hazards up to 100 metres ahead faster than a human.
Irene Saves the Day
The car was nose down in the canal and rapidly filling with water and mud. “Mum, are we dying?“ eight-year-old Irene asked her mother.
Moments before, Giorgia Maron had strapped her eight-year-old daughter into her car’s child seat preparing to drive her to school. She left the car briefly when, to her horror, it began rolling towards the canal that runs by their home in a village near Legnago, Italy.
Desperately, she jumped back into the car as it entered the water to unfasten her daughter’s seat belt to help her escape. But by then water pressure meant that she was unable to open the door. She tried to smash a window using her feet, without success.
Quick as a flash, Irene had a better idea. She saw the car’s electric window button and fell upon it. It still worked and both mother and daughter were able to escape the sinking car through the open window. “I wasn’t afraid, just a bit frightened,” said Irene later.
Next, check out how a complete stranger saved a dying girl’s life!