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Skating-crazy Dutch defy pandemic by taking to outdoor ice

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Skating-crazy Dutch defy pandemic by taking to outdoor ice

DOORN, Netherlands — A deep winter freeze gripping the Netherlands is reawakening the national obsession with skating on frozen canals.

With subzero temperatures forecast to last more than a week, ice fever swept the nation Tuesday, offering a welcome respite from grim coronavirus news while also creating a challenge for authorities trying to uphold social distancing rules.

People around the country were rummaging through attics and dusting off long-unused skates, while businesses that sharpen skate blades reported boom times.

Ice skating is a national wintertime passion in the Netherlands, with the country’s spandex-clad elite athletes dominating Winter Olympic speedskating races in recent years. Amateurs of all ages eagerly await the Arctic conditions that allow them to take to the country’s vast network of canals and waterways.

But with the country in a strict coronavirus lockdown, the prospect of a long-distance skating race in the northern province of Friesland being staged for the first time since 1997 remains remote at best.

The association that organizes the 11 Cities Tour over frozen canals and lakes said in January that “under the current coronavirus measures, it is not possible to organize” the near mythical event. Since then, authorities have not relaxed the measures beyond allowing elementary school students back into classrooms this week.

The chairman of the association poured more cold water on people’s hopes Tuesday, noting just what a production the race normally involves.

“We’re talking about a tour with 1–1.5 million spectators, 25,000 participants, thousands of volunteers and half of the Netherlands on the road,” Wiebe Wieling told national broadcaster NOS. “Every right-thinking person will realize that something like that is not possible” amid the pandemic.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte weighed in on the debate Monday night, saying that skating authorities could consider allowing races on natural ice if the country’s top 120 racers enter a coronavirus bubble. But he, too, said that staging an event with a huge numbers of spectators was out of the question, even if it is outdoors.

Still, Rutte said the Dutch should make the most of the conditions while they last.

“Enjoy this beautiful weather and the ice,” Rutte said. “But do that within the COVID-19 rules.”

Dutch media reported a few hardy souls risking a skate on thin ice in parts of the Netherlands on Tuesday, but for the time being temporary ice tracks were the safest place to lace up one’s skates.

Local schoolchildren visited the skating club in Doorn, 65 kilometers (40 miles) southeast of Amsterdam, which created its rink by spraying water onto an outdoor inline skating track and built up an even ice surface by dragging a Persian rug around it.

Canals are expected to be frozen solid enough later in the week for people to skate on. Authorities in Amsterdam have closed locks and banned boats on parts of the city’s World Heritage-listed ring of canals to give them a better chance of freezing over.

The municipality, however, also warned skaters to stick to social distancing and other coronavirus restrictions.

“The coronavirus rules for public places also apply on the ice,” City Hall said.

It was not only ice skating fans preparing for the big chill.

A zoo in the central Netherlands moved 15 penguins indoors and out of the cold Tuesday. Unlike their Antarctic cousins, the black-footed penguins hail from South Africa and Namibia and aren’t used to such icy conditions, Burgers’ Zoo said.

The freezing conditions also created natural ice sculptures in a marina in the village of Monnikendam, just north of Amsterdam on Markermeer Lake, with boats moored there swathed in swirling sheets of ice.

Lines of wind-blown icicles hung off boat railings and ropes, and ice coated a set of children’s swings and trees near the edge of the snow-covered frozen waters of the lake.

“We’re living in the most beautiful painting of the 17th century,” Rutte said.

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How do I get back into the workforce after a long gap?

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How do I get back into the workforce after a long gap?

I’ve been out of the job market for years, caring for an elderly relative who recently passed. How do I explain this big gap, and how do I make myself relevant? I used to work in a bank, but the job I did is basically obsolete now.

I’m going to tell you what you already know. The job search is hard enough for people with jobs, so transitioning back after being away is that much more difficult. I say this not to discourage you but to prepare you. “More difficult” doesn’t mean “impossible.” You have to prepare differently so that you can overcome the challenge. Your first goal is to just get back into the workforce and not try to pick up where you left off in the same job at the same level. It’s far easier to navigate your way to the job you want over time while you are employed. Make sure your skills are up to date by taking online courses. Stay positive, be persistent, flexible and leverage your contacts. As for explaining the gap, just tell the truth. It has the benefit of being true, and people can relate.

A friend of mine was told she could work remotely full time but has to take less money. Is that lawful?

Oh, the old “asking for a friend” routine. No worries, your secret is safe with me, and it’s not like your question is so unique that your “friends” will know it’s you. Basically, unless your employment is governed by some contract or collective-bargaining agreement, the terms of employment are between you and your employer and subject to change at the discretion of your employer, including compensation, responsibilities and work arrangements. Many employers and employees are considering the trade-offs for working remotely and the savings in the form of reduced office space and commuting expenses, respectively. For many employees, it includes more flexibility, too. You can choose to accept the new arrangements, or decline and continue with your current ones. If your employer isn’t offering you an option and you decline, you should be eligible for whatever layoff benefits the company provides, as well as unemployment benefits. I hope this works out for your “friend.”

Gregory Giangrande has over 25 years of experience as a chief human resources executive and is dedicated to helping New Yorkers get back to work. E-mail your questions to [email protected] Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggiangrande and at GoToGreg.com.

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald’s fries

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald's fries

Next time you savor a McDonald’s french fry, remember to thank Bill Gates for the tasty spud.

As reported in The Post, the soon-to-be single computer magnate happens to own more farmland than anyone else in the United States. Known for loving fast food — although his burger of choice comes from the Washington-based chainlet Burgermaster — Gates, according to NBC News, grows potatoes for McDonald’s in fields so vast they can be scoped from outer space.

Although Gates has focused his energies on saving our climate, he has made clear that the tater patches are strictly money-making operations.

“My investment group chose to do this,” stated Farmer Bill during an AMA on Reddit. “It is not connected to climate.”

Considering that Gates is said to own 269,000 acres of fertile land in 18 states, it’s easy to imagine him keeping track of it all on some souped-up series of spreadsheets. If so, gangs of divorce lawyers — including some who worked on the Jeff Bezos bust-up — have surely been scrutinizing the potato haul. Gates, the fourth-richest person in the world, married his impending ex, Melinda, without a prenuptial agreement, so they will be splitting property via a so-called “separation contract.”

No word on whether or not she will soon reign as McDonald’s potato queen.

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Honeybee worker can produce millions of identical clones, study shows

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Honeybee worker can produce millions of identical clones, study shows

A South African subspecies of the honeybee is reportedly able to produce millions of clones of itself. 

According to new research published in the journal Current Biology and Proceedings of the Royal Society B, one such insect – known as the Cape honeybee or Apis mellifera capensis– has managed to do so many times over the past 30 years. 

It’s a process called thelytokous parthenogenesis, which a group of international scientists said is akin to the “virgin birth of a female.” 

While asexual reproduction is fairly common, genetically identical offspring is not. 

The exchange of genetic material between different organisms, or “recombination,” normally leads to the production of offspring with combinations of different traits.

If there even is only one parent, New Scientist noted, offspring born from thelytokous parthenogenesis will still be born with a slightly different genetic makeup.

And yet, the worker Cape honeybee has reportedly found a way to reduce recombination and remain genetically healthy, whereas asexual reproduction has been lethal in honeybees before, resulting in inbred larvae that don’t survive. 

“For workers, it is important to reduce the frequency of recombination so as to not produce offspring that are homozygous.”

In order to learn more, the paper’s authors “experimentally manipulated” Cape workers and Cape queens to reproduce thelytokously.

“The two female castes of the Cape honeybee, Apis mellifera capensis, differ in their mode of reproduction. While workers always reproduce thelytokously, queens always mate and reproduce sexually,” the researchers explained in the paper’s abstract.

Performing fieldwork at South Africa’s Plant Protection Research Institute in Stellenbosch, the team instrumentally inseminated a queen with the semen of a single male and then introduced a brood comb holding several hundred eggs laid by the queen into a colony to be reared. 

Queens were made to reproduce asexually using what researchers said amounted to a “chastity belt.”

“When the queens were 5 days post eclosion we constrained them in an artificial insemination apparatus [37] without narcosis. We then glued a 5 mm piece of surgical tape (Micropore, 3M, Minnesota) over the sting chamber using nail varnish,” the paper explained. 

The researchers monitored the queens, confirming the chastity belts were intact after each flight around the colony and, eventually, compared asexually reproduced larvae of the queen to those of the workers.

“We monitored the queens closely for the next two weeks, to determine if and when oviposition had commenced. We collected larvae as soon as they appeared into ethanol,” the researchers wrote.

“Not all queens flew, not all returned from mating flights, and not all laid. In the end, we were able to harvest one queen and 25 of her larval progeny into ethanol.”

The group also genotyped four workers and 63 of their larvae.

Ultimately, the authors found that the queen showed levels of genetic recombination 100 times more than seen in the cloned offspring of the worker bees.

“Using a combination of microsatellite genotyping and whole-genome sequencing we find that a reduction in recombination is confined to workers only,” the abstract concluded.

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