What caught my attention – week of 13 April 2020

Welcome back for another edition of a curated list of articles that I found interesting. This week we cover a potential major agriculture disaster that could impact the world (locusts – how Biblical), Dyson’s ingenious engineering ideas for kids and an experienced meditator’s take on how to deal with isolation, amongst others.

1. Agriculture

Title: Gro Locust Impact Toolkit
Link: Gro Intelligence

Driven by widespread rains and near perfect breeding conditions for locusts in late March, locust swarms in East Africa have gotten larger and more destructive since they were first reported earlier this year. While much has been written about the locust, no one has quantified how much production can be lost or how many lives will be impacted by the spread globally if they are not controlled by the start of the growing season.

Gro’s latest estimates indicate that approximately 18 million hectares, or 84% of cropland in Ethiopia, is now affected by locusts. Kenya and Somalia respectively, have 33% and 85% of their cropland at risk. Locust swarms have also been reported in Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan; and they are expected to arrive in India by June. If not contained early enough, they could even find their way into the world’s largest agricultural market, China.

2. Engineering for kids (and adults too)

Title: Dyson foundation innovation cards
Links: James Dyson Foundation and Trendwatching

This month, Dyson released 44 Challenge Cards: a series of 22 engineering and 22 science experiments for kids to do at home, as schools globally have closed. Engineers and designers at the UK-based tech company came up with the activities, all of which can be done using ordinary household items. Aimed at kids seven and up, each activity includes instructions and a scientific explanation of how it works, while some also feature a video with Dyson engineers testing out the experiment. Activities include making a bridge out of spaghetti and holding balloon-powered car races.

3. Meditation and self-practice

Title: 5 Tips for Self-Isolation Success from Someone with Experience
Link Go beyond

I have some understanding of the challenges of self-isolation because I experienced a form of it in the extreme. From 2011-2014, I completed over 1,000 days of isolated meditation retreat in a cabin in the high desert of Arizona. I had no phone, no internet, no news from the outside world for three years.

Admittedly, choosing to do a long meditation retreat is a different animal than being forced to shelter in place. For me, a three-year retreat was the adventure of a lifetime—but it wasn’t all hearts and flowers. I know how difficult self-isolating can be. At times, I had to fight off urges to break quarantine—my retreat boundary—and stay on mission.

4. Zen Buddhism

Title: Return to Spring – Journeys on Mind Mountain
Link: Daily Zen

People are always performing for others, always concerned with self image. They may watch for the expected reactions of others, but not their own, so action becomes the insidious work of self-image feeding itself. Where there is self-consciousness there is no innocence. They carry their images like precious tonnage. How many have gone beyond?

Gone beyond praise and blame, no longer caught with the prism of image, but rather unconsciously manifesting beauty and freshness naturally? How many would know what it is to drop the frozen image and let it dissolve as do the glaciers? How many would walk in the mountains and participate in Spring? Even for a moment.

5. Finance

Title: Who’s lost their trunks?
Link: Economist

Booms help fraudsters paper over cracks in their accounts, from fictitious investment returns to exaggerated sales. Slowdowns rip the covering off. As Baruch Lev, an accounting professor at New York University, puts it, “In good times everyone looks good, and the market punishes you harshly for not keeping up.” Many big book-cooking scandals of the past 20 years emerged in downturns. A decade before the crisis of 2007-09 the dotcom crash exposed accounting sins at Enron and WorldCom perpetrated in the go-go late 1990s. Both firms went bust soon after. As Warren Buffett, a revered investor, once put it: “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” This time, thanks to a pandemic, the water has whooshed away at record speed.

+1 Book of the week

Author and title: Seneca on the shortness of life

There are a handful books which I enjoy re-reading yearly, this one I like to read normally at the very beginning of the year. I’m just going to leave two quotes here for you to look at.

It is not that we have a short time to live but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”

“So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it. […] when wealth however modest, if entrusted to a good custodian, increases with use, so our lifetime extends amply if you manage it properly.