(Thinkstock)MICHAEL KESTERTON

Chess in the classroom?

“In September, 2011, Armenia made chess a required subject for all children over the age of six,” writes Alex Berezow in Pacific Standard magazine. “Indeed, the Armenians may be onto something. One recent psychology study found that chess was associated with greater ‘cognitive abilities, coping and problem-solving capacity, and even socio-affective development of children.’ Of course, because it was a cohort (observational) study, the link could be due to some third factor or the possibility that smart, mature children are more inclined to play chess in the first place.”

Military spending slows

Global military spending dipped last year for the first time since 1998 as defence outlays shrank in the West but rose in Russia, China and the Middle East, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The Swedish-based arms watchdog said the world spent $1.75-trillion (U.S.) on its armed forces in 2012, down 0.5 per cent from the year before. The United States remains way ahead of all other countries, accounting for 39 per cent of global spending, but 2012 was the first time the U.S. share dropped below 40 per cent since the Cold War.

Really green living

“A new apartment building in Hamburg uses algae walls to produce all its own energy,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Algae don’t cover the building like, say, ivy. Instead, the sun-facing walls sport bioreactors that use sunlight to grow the tiny plants, which will receive continuously circulating liquid nutrients and carbon dioxide. Periodically the algae will be harvested for fermentation, forming a gas-emitting biomass meant to produce all the building’s heat, hot water and electricity. The algae-growing façade panels also harvest solar energy, which can be stored in brine holes dug more than 75 metres into the ground.”

Judge holds self in contempt

A Michigan judge whose smartphone disrupted a hearing in his own courtroom in Iona county has held himself in contempt and paid $25 for the infraction, reports Associated Press. On Friday afternoon, during a prosecutor’s closing argument as part of a jury trial, Judge Raymond Voet’s new smartphone began to emit sounds requesting phone voice commands. Voet says he thinks he bumped the phone, and the embarrassment likely left his face red.

Room aplenty for thoughts

“The original 160-character size limit for text messages is credited to German engineer Friedhelm Hillebrand,” says The Guardian. “He arrived at the number by typing a random series of random questions and thoughts into his typewriter (such as ‘What am I doing with my life?’) and counting the characters involved. He found 160 to be ‘perfectly sufficient’ for expressing almost any thought or question. Later studies of the length of postcards and business telegrams confirmed his theory and the limit became industry standard in 1986. Though the limit no longer applies to texts, its influence can still be seen in Twitter’s even more stringent 140-character cap.”

Socrates in kindergarten

“Philosophy lessons at a London primary school have been credited for the school recording the best SAT scores in England for the second year running,” reports Philosophy Now magazine. “Headmistress Rekha Bhakoo of Newton Farm School explained that philosophy lessons start as soon as the children begin [kindergarten] and believes that they help children to improve their listening and speaking skills. The children choose the topic to talk about, perhaps from a recently read book. ‘Engaging them in Socratic dialogue has been a real lift,’ says Bhakoo. ‘You have got to have memorable experiences in the curriculum, because that’s how children learn.’ ”

Thought du jour

“People will buy anything that’s one to a customer.”

Sinclair Lewis, American author (1885-1951)

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