The Last Word


Holurhaun on 4 Sept from Flickr:peterhartree

September 14-18, 2014

The week kicked off with a guest post by Alexandra Witze, who used fonts I didn’t know WordPress supported to share some Icelandic mythology and make me very excited about her new book.

Michelle introduced the complex morality of energy, caloric and otherwise, as the resurgence of an older idea.

Christie tries out one of those treadmill desks that are all the rage. She discovers her problem with it is a philosophical one.

The discovery of one of Sir John Franklin’s ships in the Arctic is not just a dramatic find, but also an indication of what would be possible if we put some serious resources into archaeology.

Jelly fish are really one of the most wondrous creatures on Earth. And it’s not like they’re rare. Helen goes to visit some in Baltimore.

The Floating World of Jellyfish


moon jelliesIn a dark gallery alongside Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a horde of glowy, gelatinous bulbs are drifting. A living lava lamp, someone calls them, and that’s what they are – jellyfish, mesmerizingly lit for the benefit of visitors to the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Aquariums have been keeping jellies for years. I first saw them at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in about 1994, when I visited a friend in the San Francisco Bay area and we took a day-long pilgrimage. I couldn’t believe the terrifying, painful creatures of childhood visits to the seashore were so shockingly, glowingly beautiful. Continue reading

All the Other Franklins




“What happened to Franklin is, in its way, a trivial question. He had a wooden ship in the Arctic and no idea what he was doing – what do you mean, what happened to him? But we still ask why. “ – Adam Gopnik, Winter (2011)

As of a week ago, we have an incrementally better idea of what happened to Sir John Franklin’s Northwest Passage search of 1845. One of the two bomber vessels, Erebus or Terror, having landed in a heap of trouble (mired in ice), ended up at a shallow depth in Victoria Strait, just off Nunavut’s King William Island, their last reported position. Against expectations, it’s in just about one piece, with its deck (and, therefore, its contents) intact, and we’ll soon know which of the ships it is when searchers determine the boiler design.

There’s already much to learn from its placement. Three-years-worth of provisions on board meant that failure was a drawn-out affair. The only written record we have states that dozens of the men died from any number of afflictions: scurvy, starvation and – as one might expect – hypothermia. The many Inuit witnesses were able to describe events quite clearly – white men dying on the ground while others trudged on, lifeboats full of sawed-off human bones. Lead poisoning from food containers is a more recent theory. After Franklin died on the Erebus, the record states, his men abandoned it and headed south on foot.

Continue reading

Stepping Off the Multi-Tasking Treadmill


Yesterday in the Washington Post, I wrote about how I wanted to love my treadmill desk, but I just don’t.

I had high hopes. I’ve been a standing desk user for more than 10 years, long before they were a “thing.” I’m an active, restless person who already spends more than 80 percent of my workday standing, so a treadmill seemed like the natural next step in my workspace evolution.

But then I tried it. Walking feels good, and my impulse is to walk fast. The more I raised the speed (the treadmill can go up to four mph), the better the walking felt, but the more distracted I became from the task at hand. Walking slowly was even more distracting, due to my impulse to up the speed.

Walking on a desk treadmill, I soon discovered, is about as satisfying as eating a gourmet meal while driving. I love walking outside. Many of my best ideas come when I’m out walking my dogs. But combining walking and working seemed to diminish both experiences. Continue reading

More Energy, Less Freedom



The writer and filmmaker Swain Wolfe spent his earliest years at a tuberculosis sanatarium near Colorado Springs, Colorado, where his father was the director. After World War II, the sanatarium closed, his parents divorced, and his mother moved Wolfe and his sister to a ranch in western Colorado and then, when Wolfe was a teenager, to Montana. Wolfe dropped out of high school and found work on timber crews, in sawmills and slaughterhouses, and finally in the underground copper mines around Butte, Montana. He recalled his mining days in a 1994 interview in the Bloomsbury Review:

When you’re underground for a while, you begin to get the feel of where the ore flows, how hard the granite is one place from another, how hot the wall temperature is from level to level, where the earth slips and messes up the tracks, and things you knew but never had words for. Then one day after work you drive over to Anaconda to see your girl and you realize something is very different. Your world is never going to be the same because you cannot be on the surface without thinking about what’s underneath.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Bárðarbunga and the Winters of Winds, of the Sword, of the World


Holurhaun on 4 Sept from Flickr:peterhartree


Snow fell on the four quarters of the world; icy winds blew from every side; the sun and the moon were hidden by storms.

— Writer and folklorist Padraic Colum, citing an Icelandic legend in Orpheus: Myths of the World


When you live in Iceland, you kind of expect a rough winter. But sometimes the winters are harsher than most, and sometimes they seem to last year after year. To anyone clinging to this chunk of hardened lava in the North Atlantic, it might feel like the end of the world is at hand. Continue reading

The Last Word


3763710-6633253739-44619September 8 – 12, 2014

The week began with a greatest hit from Cameron, a 2011 post that proved to be one of LWON’s most-visited—an ode to an astronomy professor who changed her mother’s life,

Then came a new and no less viral post from Erik questioning the professional ethics of another academic, Henry Walton Jones, Jr., a professor of archeology at Marshall College in Connecticut who goes by the nickname of “Indiana.”

Speaking of archeology: Craig visited western Nevada to investigate prehistoric tribal rituals, some of which he identified even before he got to the Burning Man festival.

Guest Elizabeth Bradfield considered the pros and cons of wind farming—and found some surprising benefits among the underseas population.

Christie commemorated the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks through her own perspective as an “army brat” who spent her childhood fearing the day her fighter-pilot father might fall from the sky.

On My Way to Burning Man


Burning Man Approach copy

I’ve just returned from Burning Man, a Mad Max bacchanalia in the desert of western Nevada. I went to see what my civilization was up to, what fiery pinnacle we’ve invented. I also wanted to see it in context, which is why my time at this 69,000-person conflagration was only part of a larger journey.

I began with a crew of six in a barren rock mountain range north of  Burning Man, and we spent six days with backpacks traveling south toward a rising glow on the horizon where at night you’d normally see only darkness. Our route took us along the shorelines of ancient Lake Lahontan, which peaked around 11,000 years ago as glaciers melted into the end of the Ice Age, leaving most of northwest Nevada underwater. Continue reading