Watching the World

Keep Learning as You Age

Learning new workplace technologies, such as computers and communication systems, can be stressful for some older workers, reports the Toronto Star newspaper. Job trends specialist Ann Eby says that the problem is more often a matter of how they are learning rather than what they are learning. “As we age,” explains Julia Kennedy, president of Axiom Training and Development, “our neural processes slow down, but the brain remains healthy.” Kennedy observes that unlike children, who are adept at learning by repetition without paying attention to meaning, “adults need to draw connections between what they already know (life experiences) and what they have just learned.” While it may take longer for senior workers to learn complex tasks, they still have the ability to learn. Kennedy offers the following suggestions for older workers attempting to learn new and difficult tasks: If possible, schedule your training periods in the morning, try to master concepts rather than every detail, and avoid comparing yourself with others.

World’s Oil Supply Updated

“After a five-year study, the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] raised its previous estimate of the world’s crude oil reserves by 20 percent, to a total of 649 billion barrels,” reports the magazine Scientific American. “What we did is look into the future and predict how much [oil] will be discovered in the next 30 years,” says Suzanne Weedman, coordinator of USGS World Petroleum Assessment 2000. In addition to newfound reserves, advances in drilling technology add to the world’s oil supply by enabling petroleum companies to “squeeze more oil out of existing fields,” says the magazine.

Casual Clothes—Casual Work?

A nationwide survey in Australia found that some office workers believe that dressing casually for work leads to laziness, reports The Sunday Telegraph. Nearly 42 percent of those working at Australia’s information technology companies now dress casually all the time, and 40 percent of Australian companies have “casual Fridays,” when employees may dress casually for the day if they wish. Although the casual-dress approach to work is gaining popularity with workers, 17 percent of the bosses surveyed thought that casual dress affected the performance of employees. This figure closely matches the opinion of workers themselves, with 21 percent of the women and 18 percent of the men stating that casual dress has a negative impact on production.

Mozambique Flood Damage

One year ago this month, floodwaters in Mozambique left more than half a million people homeless, destroyed about a third of the country’s corn crop, and drowned more than 20,000 head of cattle. While the nation was recovering from this flood, which has been called the worst flood since before 1948, many asked how and why it happened. The journal African Wildlife said that urban development, tilling of grasslands, and overgrazing in neighboring countries upriver from Mozambique have destroyed the natural ability of the country’s grasslands and wetlands to absorb floodwaters. The runoff of heavy rain, therefore, eventually becomes a raging torrent. David Lindley, coordinator of a South African wetlands project, says: “What humans have done, in our infinite arrogance and lack of foresight, is to upset the integrity of our wetlands and mess with the dynamics of our rivers.”

Cows and Greenhouse Gas

Methane gas is said to be 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in causing global warming. It is estimated that worldwide, 100 million tons of methane are produced every year by some two billion cattle, sheep, and goats. According to The Canberra Times, livestock produce 13 percent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions,  while in New Zealand the figure is about 46 percent. Microorganisms in a ruminant’s stomach break down fodder and produce methane, which is released through the animal’s mouth. In an effort to reduce the animals’ contribution to global warming, scientists are now experimenting with ways to increase milk production per head while reducing the methane produced by the animals.

Smoking Myth Debunked

“The economic argument that people who smoke are less of a burden on the health-care system than others because they die early is false,” reports the Globe and Mail newspaper of Canada. Dutch researchers who studied the health status of some 13,000 Dutch and American citizens found that nonsmokers spend less time disabled than do smokers. Dr. Wilma Nusselder of the department of public health at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University writes: “Eliminating smoking will not only extend life and result in an increase in the number of years lived without disability, but will also compress disability into a shorter period.” According to the Globe, “there are about 1.15 billion smokers worldwide, one-third of the planet’s adult population. Approximately 943 million of those smokers live in developing countries.”

Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Children

“Children as young as 11 are being treated for sexually transmitted diseases,” reports The Times of London. One English city has twice the national average of gonorrhea, and 1 in 8 of its teenage girls carries chlamydia. Chlamydia infection in England has almost doubled since 1995 and has increased by one fifth among teenagers in the past year alone. Gonorrhea’s 56-percent rise countrywide in five years has mainly affected teenagers.

Using Its Head

Queen ants of the Blepharidatta conops species, a native of Brazil’s savanna, have a large flat, round head. According to the Brazilian edition of National Geographic, the ants use this unusual appendage to block the entrance to a chamber where eggs, larvae, and pupae are stored, protecting these from potential predators. The walls of the queen’s chamber are made up of parts of insect bodies collected by worker ants. After extracting the body fluids from these bodies and carefully eliminating their muscles, worker ants build an enclosure around the queen ant, leaving an opening exactly the size of her head. Worker ants gain access to this special chamber by tapping out a kind of password on the royal head.

Power Thieves

Utility companies throughout the United States are starting to clamp down on a growing problem—electricity theft. Years ago electricity seemed too cheap to steal, observed The Wall Street Journal, but the cost of electricity has soared in recent years, making power theft more common. For example, Detroit Edison Company estimates that in 1999 it lost $40 million to power thieves. Thieves, often unaware of the dangers, have been known to use the crudest of tools, such as automobile jumper cables, household extension cords, and copper pipe. Others have burrowed underground in order to tap into a power company’s buried feeders.

Not Even Missed?

Recently the mummified remains of a male were found in an apartment in Helsinki, Finland. A maintenance man who entered to install a fire-alarm device noticed a huge pile of mail and a foul odor. The police who responded to his call found that the 55-year-old pensioner, who had lived alone there, had been dead for over six years. As reported in the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, all that time the Social Insurance Institution had paid his pension and the welfare office had paid his rent, yet no one had met with him. Neither was he missed by his adult children living in the capital area. “For six years a man lives in the midst of a human community—that is, not on a desert island, but in a city community—and nobody misses him enough to wonder where this person has gone or what has happened to him,” noted Mrs. Aulikki Kananoja, director of the Department of Social Services in Helsinki.