Things that Smell


640px-Phytoplankton_-_the_foundation_of_the_oceanic_food_chainMy nose has been extra-sensitive lately. I can catch dog food at a hundred paces, both the kitchen and my still-diaper-wearing kids’ bedroom feel like odor minefields, and I have to walk along the lineup of barbecues at the nearby park with my shirt over my face.

It’s a good thing I’m not an astronaut. Continue reading

Abstruse Goose: Transformers v. 3


decepticons_attackI’m pretty sure that a Transformers™ movie came out a few years back, and I’m dead certain that the neighborhood kids regularly call on me to admire their transformable Transformers™ toys.  And I think a Transformers™ movie came out just recently but I don’t know anything about it.  It’s probably all explosive and apocalyptic.  I’m too old for these things, and anyway, if you’ve ever been in the middle of an east coast voltage drop, that’s apocalypse enough for anybody



Only I


smokey picSmokey Bear Celebrates 70th Birthday and Reminds Americans … “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”                                 –  Ad Council press release, August 7, 2014

Why me? Why am I the only one who can prevent wildfires?

Forest fires were burden enough. I’ve never even lived near a forest. Yet all my life, there he’s been: “Only you….Only you….Only you.” When I watched those public service commercials as a child, I remember thinking, What’s wrong with my parents, raising someone with my powers in a big city like Chicago? I was Superboy in Smallville, only in reverse. Superboy was killing time until he was old enough to move to Metropolis; I was waiting to relocate to Yosemite. I had to ask myself: What if Superboy had “forgotten” he could stop a speeding locomotive before it reached the crossing where Ma and Pa Kent’s car had stalled? Couldn’t I forget to prevent myself from leaving the stove on and tossing a match through the kitchen window?

Continue reading

The Last Word


mint leavesAugust 18 – 22

We reduxed a post by our beloved ex-LWONian, Tom Hayden, about all the shiny new multiplexing gadgets he’s bought and broken.  Turns out the old stupid crap technology? it never breaks, it always works, it stays your friend.

Helen bought an ice cream maker as a present but the recipient of the present moved out and took the ice cream maker along.  Helen does the only possible thing: first makes one last batch of mint-chocolate chip ice cream with real mint that tastes like summer.  Then she considers, Shall I just buy my own ice cream maker?

Guest Adam Ganz, a playwright, wrote a play about the Nobel chemist, Dorothy Hodgkin, and her student, the politician Margaret Thatcher.  The two remained friends; they both saw patterns but opposite ones, and Ganz sees a pattern in their patterns.

Jessa’s grandfather made oil-burning furnaces.  His granddaughter worries about peak oil, fracking, price crashes, economics, and human nature.  She’s not excessively hopeful about any of them, particularly the latter.

Cameron’s California ocean is warm this year, warm enough for unusual ocean life to come close to shore, warm enough for Cameron herself to join them, floating between the salt waves like a sunfish.



In Warm Water


Demont-Breton-la-plageRight now the ocean is glorious. In the evenings, even if the day hasn’t been too hot, you can throw yourself into the saltwater and float between the waves for a while without your teeth chattering.

This is not normal. Continue reading

Guest Post: Writing a Relationship


Model_of_the_Structure_of_Penicillin,_by_Dorothy_Hodgkin,_Oxford,_c.1945.jpegAbout a year ago I sat in the Members’ Room at the Royal Society as Professor Judith Howard FRS, once a doctoral student of Dorothy Hodgkin’s, explained how crystallographers worked in the early days. She showed me how Dorothy would begin by calibrating the black circles in an X-ray diffraction pattern by eye, to begin the long process of assembling from the shadows cast by an X-ray beam the complex three-dimensional arrangement of atoms in the molecule. Hanging on the wall  outside was a Henry Moore drawing of Dorothy’s arthritic hands , the hands she said she thought with.

What intrigued me in seeing the combination of skills she needed, not only mathematics but hand and eye co-ordination and vision to work out how the thousand atoms in say the Vitamin B12 molecule fitted together. It was somewhere between chess and Rubik cube- a giant jigsaw puzzle where she couldn’t see the picture, or even all the pieces. Continue reading

Very Aromatic Plant Chocolate Chip


mint leaves
In my freezer is the last of a batch of mint chocolate chip ice cream I made early this month. The ice cream maker had lived in my kitchen since Christmas. It had been hidden in a closet for a few months before that, so its intended recipient wouldn’t see it. Now that recipient has moved out, with his ice cream maker, his clogs, and his everything else. Before he retrieved his things, I wanted to make one last batch.

I learned how to identify plants like a pro in college, when I spent two summers doing ecology research in Colorado. Then–and maybe still today–if you wanted to know a plant, the answer was in the pages of Rocky Mountain Flora. I haven’t needed to definitively identify a plant in the Rocky Mountains since  1996, but I can’t just throw away out the worn yellow paperback that I lived by for two summers. I got it down from a high shelf yesterday to remember how it works. Continue reading

Redux: Ixnay on the iPod: In Praise of Crap Technology


Tom Hayden, an ex-LWONian whom we miss beyond measure, posted this on Nov. 2, 2011.  At the time it seemed to hit a national nerve, but knowing Tom, we bet every detail of it is still true.

I’ve been thinking about my Zune a lot since Steve Jobs passed away. You know, the revolutionary portable music device that lets users carry thousands of digitized songs around in a pocket or a purse? Oh wait, what am I saying — it’s not a Microsoft product I’ve been thinking about. I don’t have a Zune. I don’t even have an iPod. I have a Coby.

That’s right, a Coby. A cheap plastic mp3 player — basically a $19.99 flash drive with a headphone jack, a pixilated little screen, and controls that look a lot like the original iPod scroll wheel, without actually scrolling or being a wheel. It’s a piece of crap, really. And I love it. Continue reading