In the biological world, invasive species are bad news. They typically involve a new plant or organism that is not natural to a location, but begins to thrive because it has a significant advantage over the other flora or fauna in the same environment. The result, if the invasive species is not removed, can completely change the balance of the given environment as the invasive species begins to take over and wipe out the natural, domestic competitors. However, the fact that an eight-year-old identified a new invasive species in Washington was more of a surprise to the experts than the invader plant itself.
Maggie Corosino likes plants enough that she enjoys studying them and the science of botany. The gradeschooler, like many children, was locked up at home with distance learning due to COVID. As a result, the eight-year-old had a lot of time on her hands, which she put to good use learning more about plants. It also gave her a sharp eye for plant-related objects that looked out of place.
On one particular outing just to get out of the house, her mother took Maggie to a local lake for some exercise, nature and look at plants. Lake Rasmussen was home to a variety of plant life, which gave Maggie plenty to study. However, as it turned out, there was an extra addition that was not like the others. As the young girl was poking around and examining plants near the lake, she spotted one plant in the lake water that immediately set off red flags. As it turned out, Maggie had correctly identified an invasive species in the noxious week category, Egeria. King County scientists and biologists had been fussing about the plant for a while, but they were not expecting to find it in Lake Rasmussen.
Maggie’s find was a first. Egeria had never previously been able to get a foothold anywhere in the Snoqualmie water network and watershed. As it turned out, Lake Rasmussen was a feeder source connected to Cherry Creek, and that stream eventually drained into Snoqualmie River. In short, Egeria was going to make its way through the entire watershed network had Maggie’s alert eyes not caught it at the Lake.
How the weed got into the water and established itself is not really known, but the likelihood was that someone brought it with equipment or similar, and the plant seeded and started growing. The most common scenario could be people dumping fishtank pets into the lake and not wanting to take care of them anymore. That Maggie saw a large goldfish-type fish near the plant was a probable sign that scenario had occurred. Egeria is a common fishtank flora because it grows so fast, but it’s really native to South America, not Washington.
Egeria is a serious problem for freshwater life. The weed grows prolifically, and blankets the water so that anything below essentially loses access to sunlight and dies off. That in turn causes fish die-offs as the level of oxygen in the water drops. The damage potential of Egeria is significant; it has the potential to damage or even destroy the salmon runs in the Snoqualmie River.
Finding Egeria early at Lake Rasmussen may have nipped the problem in the bud thanks to Maggie’s quick eyes. No other signs of Egeria were located elsewhere in the lake or in the connected drainage.
41 Million British Pounds Left to a Lancashire Town
Someone leaving money or assets to another person after their death is very normal and typical. However, when a person leaves a massive inheritance of millions to an entire town, that’s another matter entirely. Dorren Lofthouse did just that, passing at the age of 91 in 2021, and leaving a sizable fortune of an inheritance to benefit her hometown in Lancashire, England.
Lofthouse is well known for being associated with the success of Fisherman’s Friend, a cough suppressant and candy that became quite popular as an edible product. And Lofthouse’s charity was not unknown; her family had been involved with charity in Lancashire since the 1990s. That said, nobody expected her to leave a total of 41 million British pounds for the benefit of Fleetwood, her hometown. Saying that the Town Council was at least flabbergasted was an understatement. “Unbelievable,” was their official statement on the matter.
The money doesn’t go directly into the town’s general fund either. It has been dedicated to a specific charity, the Lofthouse Foundation, which is dedicated to boosting and revitalizing Fleetwood to an earlier grandeur and vibrancy. The idea was put into play back in 1994, and Dorren Lofthouse’s last gift really puts the project into high gear now.
The Lofthouse relationship with Fleetwood is an old one, going back to as early as 1865. James Lofthouse gathered the means to produce the lozenges from some of the cases he had with fisherman who couldn’t speak after being on the water all day long. Those first sore throat cases turned into a lozenge business that manufactured 5 billion of the sweet throat relief tablets annually. By the 1960s, the lozenge was going international. It was also making the Lofthouse family an incredible amount of income and fortune, which they did not keep to themselves. The Lofthouse efforts to help support their Fleetwood community as well as the greater part of Lancashire became general lore in the area over the decades.
That the town council had hoped the funds had been directly allocated to the town itself was no surprise, but it’s clear the Lofthouse Foundation will be the primary decision-maker on how the inheritance goes to benefit Fleetwood in total. In this regard, the town council will have to put its thinking cap on to come up with good proposals versus running off and just spending an unplanned pot of cash. Doreen Lofthouse obviously anticipated the scenario and prepared for it competently, just like the businesswoman she was all her life.
The Crazy Successful Idea of a 4-day Workweek
For years many traditional company owners scoffed at the idea of a workweek less than five days. That was something socialist countries did like in France, and then the same folks would point at how messed up those economies were. However, thanks to the COVID pandemic, people were really forced to think outside of the box in 2020, and that caused many businesses to try new ways of operating to deal with the restrictions everyone was forced to deal with. That also opened up folks to new perspectives about the work week.
One Ontario company decided to experiment with a four-day workweek. Now, having been through the initial pains and getting it to work properly, the owner, Jamie Savage, won’t go back to the traditional five days again. Since October 2020 her company, The Leadership Agency, has been operating on a truncated workweek, and it’s been thumbs up since.
The most immediate positive benefit was a big reduction in staff feeling burned out by the end of the week. Instead, they began to have a quality of life again during their time off versus the workday itself. Savages notes the same amount of work still has to get done, but the whole operation had to rethink how it functioned and achieved goals. Productivity went up, morale improved, and the company started performing better, not worse.
Savage also noted the employees were taking better care of themselves as well. The additional day off gave folks the chance to start hitting the gym, relaxing and de-stressing. All three produced people who came back to the office the next week able to perform better and produce more. They were also more efficient with less time, so the loss of the day was offset by the increased rapidity in task completion.
The fear is real, however, in the management world that changing the traditional workweek will lead to some kind of organizational chaos. There’s no actual statistical research behind the sentiment; it’s more of a, “I didn’t get it as a staff person, why should they?” sentiment in a lot of cases. For Savage, 2020’s induced changed forced serious, creative thinking how to keep her business going while not losing people and still being productive. The alternative was worsening work situation which was clearly going to hurt the bottom line. So, they took the jump, and it worked. However, Savage is the first to admit a specific four-day workweek isn’t for every business and industry.
Companies have to be creative to stay alive and keep moving now in what is a new normal. That doesn’t automatically mean a four-day workweek per se, but managers and owners do need to be willing to think out of the box. Happier workers exponentially produce a better business and better results. So it makes sense to try where possible new methods of working.
The Search for the Perfect Pasta Results In A New Pasta Shape
Most people accept the shape of pasta when it’s put in front of them on a warm plate. However, one fellow wasn’t so accepting. In fact, he was so agitated by not finding the exact perfect shape of pasta for eating, he created it instead.
If one thinks of it long enough, there might be a number of factors that could go into the ideal past shape. Maybe it should be bite size. Maybe it should be scooped to hold sauce better instead of spraying off the plate when picked up, like spaghetti. Maybe it should be in large cut pieces like ravioli instead of small bits like rotini. Whatever the case, Dan Pashman decided he could do better than the age-old tradition, and he could invent a pasta shape that made more sense and had practicality.
The first part, of course, was figuring out the best qualities of the ideal pasta shape. That meant identifying such attributes and defining them clearly to translate into specifications. Some of the more interesting terms that came up included forkability for actual control with a utensil, sauceability for compatibility with pasta sauces, and, a self-describing one, tooth-sinkability. As it turned out, Pashman wanted to rate pasta on whether it could be chewed properly as well.
Interestingly, Pashman did not assume he could figure out pasta perfection blindly. Instead, he did his due diligence and actual research, sitting down and interviewing the pasta experts at the North Dakota State University Pasta Lab. The team there educated Pashman on both the history of pasta as well as what refines it to be a given shape worldwide. Then, Pashman packed his bags and headed to New York City, to learn at the Sfolgini factories how pasta is packed, dried out and stored. The whole adventure ended up being a podcast set of shows that documented Pashman’s efforts to create an ideal pasta based on past lessons.
Key factors stood out that needed to be included. Wavey edges versus clean up were better for sauce to build up on, and forkability was also a big demand to make sure the pasta wasn’t soggy or would fall apart when picked up for eating. Finally, the pasta needed to have the right shape so that it comfortably fits a person’s mouth instead of being too small and wanting or too big and falling off into a red saucy mess.
As it turned out, Pashman was indeed able to create the “perfect” pasta, cascatelli, which met all the criteria of food perfection defined above. However, for Sfoglini, it gave the pasta company a new product that quickly went into high demand. Now the pasta factory is backlogged with orders. And, it turns out to be healthier, being a wheat-based noodle versus standard pasta mix.
Going to the Grocery Store to Chat – A New Concept
In terms of psychology, it’s been well understood that humans a social animals. However, thanks to the COVID pandemic in 2020, the entire world has realized just how much it depends on social interaction. And the older one gets, the more important that community connection is. That’s the reason why near 200 different Jumbo grocery store locations in the Netherlands will be engaging in a chat zone versus just expecting people to buy goods, pay and leave.
The idea, referred to as a “Kletskassa,” which translates to a checkout for chatting, started in a single store back in 2019 before the need became so apparent to everyone. Folks in Vlijmen in Brabant liked the idea so much, it became an instant success. That got the Jumbo store folks thinking, and the idea came to fruition to do a similar store model and chat checkout system for another 200 stores by 2022. And, the program has a key purpose as well. Loneliness has been a common, chronic issue, particularly among older citizens. To combat the mental health issues associated with the disconnection problem, the country has been trying to find ways to reconnect people again. The Kletskassa idea was such a proven tool, it quickly gained support from multiple corners and perspectives.
Loneliness is pervasive at every level of society, but teenagers and the elderly tend to feel it the most. Much of that trend has to do with societal pressure and role expectations. If people don’t fit in, they feel left out and go insular, often a problem with teenagers uncomfortable with how they are changing. If people don’t feel they have utility, they also disconnect and feel ostracized. This is common with the elderly who begin to feel they are a burden on the younger ages. No surprise loneliness can lead to more serious issues like depression and anxiety, and key pathway to serious mental health problems and serious consequences.
The Jumbo store approach specifically aims to provide people someone to talk to in the store who is there to talk to them on a regular basis, i.e. chat. It seems like such a simple thing, but the Kletskassa model works and has proven itself successful with significant acceptance by the shoppers and communities where it is applied. And for the Netherlands health ministry, it is exactly the kind of dynamic that needs to occur to help bring back folks who are suffering from loneliness and its effects.
Jumbo’s executive management is extremely proud to have created the program and its support of communities and plans to continue finding unique ways to positively improve the markets they operate in, beyond just selling product.
The Ancient Persian Method of Keeping Cool
The desert tends to push the creativity of both nature and people. It can be an unforgiving place, the aridity sucking the moisture out of everything and making it hard to even scratch a living. However, for the resourceful, the desert simply ends up being another environment that requires a certain mindset to adjust.
In Iran, the modern territory of the ancient Persian empire, underground irrigation and water systems were used for thousands of years, long before anyone had air conditioning, much less refrigerators. However, a more interesting invention was the architectural concept of the wind catcher. Known locally as a bâdgir, the building type was regularly installed above the rooftops of ancient buildings in the area of Yazd. From a distance, they looked like squarish or rectangular in shape, and often protruded upward as a thin tower. The shape was intentional, however, as it fundamentally helped catch and funnel local winds down into the rest of the structure below.
The concept of the windcatcher is no longer used today. Electricity and modern appliances have made ancient architecture obsolete. Yet, at the time, these towers were very commonplace in ancient Persia, with openings intentionally crafted towards the direction of wherever the local winds would come from the most. Today, interestingly enough, the idea is starting to have a renaissance again, especially as electricity prices continue to rise and people are again becoming creative about seeking alternatives to expensive A/C.
The mechanism of aircatcher tower works with two key principles. First, it needs to be positioned in the right direction of the prevailing wind. This provides the pressure to push the air into and down the tower into the house when the winds are moving outside. Second, warm air rises. So, the hotter air inside the home seeks the highest point where to get out, and naturally replaces and moves upward and new air comes in and creates a lower, cooler level in the same rooms.
Of course, wind isn’t just wind alone. It can carry a lot of stuff with it. That’s how ancient cities have been buried over time. The tower design anticipates this problem as well, creating a catch basin for matter carried by the wind to drop at the foot of the tower as the wind comes in. The beneficial air moves throughout the home, but the dust and sand stay put, ready to be swept and dumped outside later on. Even more ingenious, some homes had the air move over internal water pools, which cooled the air down even further. Water is an exceptional heat sink, absorbing temperature and lowering heat considerably.
Of course, the building had to be constructed with a fine balance to make the air system work. Too many openings, and the pressure is lost. Too few openings, and not enough hot air escapes. The science of the tower architecture took a number of years to finesse, but it worked as early as 3,300 years ago. While the ancient Persian cities themselves are gone, with a few big relics left for history, the technology may still be relevant today. And, some are thinking why not try a good thing all over again? Especially given how limited resources are, an alternative to temperature control in the desert makes a lot of sense.
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