Redux: Something About Sharks

Despite the occasional tragic outcome of such encounters—and they truly are occasional relative to attacks by other wild animals—I love meeting sharks in the wild. So, dive in with me as I recall this experience with Emma the tiger shark in the Bahamas. I don’t know that she was as intrigued with me as I was with her, but I’m happy to report that she left me totally intact.

Here’s the link to my May 2015 post.


[photo from]

I Have So Many Ideas, I Have No Ideas At All

Whenever I talk to students or aspiring journalists there is one question I dread. It’s also a question I can almost guarantee someone will ask. And it’s this: “Where do you get your ideas?”

I usually answer first, with a performative groan. I hate this question, I say. It’s a good one of course. It’s one I asked guest speakers too. Then I give some kind of answer that usually consists of a combination of things. I recount when a former editor once told me “anything can be a story.” I give the cliche answer that they should “always be curious about everything.” I tell them that when I’m really stuck, I go to a random word generator, and then plug the words it gives me into Google Scholar (this is true, and has resulted in many stories for me). I tell them to always ask sources “what’s the coolest thing happening in your field right now?” or “is there anything else you want to talk about?” I tell them to always keep a notebook or a phone handy. I tell them to read, read, read, write down questions, and talk to people who might not seem useful, because you never know.

The students nod and take notes when I say these things. And then, more often than not, I go home, and I stare at a blank document and think to myself: “How do I come up with ideas?”

Today is one of those days. And so, in the spirit of my former editor, who told me that anything could be a story, here is a post about ideas. Or, more specifically, not having them. This is an ode to all the ideas that have escaped my grasp. Or, that I could never quite catch in the first place.

Continue reading

The Common Language of Conservation

When marine biologist Julia Lowndes started graduate school in California in 2006, she expected to spend the next several years learning about the behavior of the Humboldt squid, which had recently—and dramatically—expanded its range north along the California coast.

But before she learned anything about the squid, she discovered, she had to learn to code.

Continue reading

Redux: Falling

Back in 2012, I wrote about falling and gravity’s terrible vengeance when we don’t perfectly obey and how, if we’d just learned our physics, all this wouldn’t be so surprising.  Re-reading the post now, it seems also to be a nice science metaphor.

That is, physics says the best way to not let gravity hurt you is to make the fall last as long as possible, drag it out, fall as long as you can.  Just keep falling, see if you can outlast it, maybe if you fall long enough you won’t ever be felled, the splat might never happen. I’m not sure that I’m saying anything coherent here, but the idea is comforting.  Anyway, here’s the post.


Photo:  Quinn Dombrowski

Redux: When is it time to revise our story?

This post first ran on January 26, 2012. We now have three years in a row that have set records for the hottest year on record, and it comes after a string of previous records

Today’s post began with a social media status update by my friend Paolo Bacigalupi. Paolo wrote:

At what point does a “drought” become an “arid climate?”

Paolo posed his question months ago, and at first glance, it seemed like nothing more than a jab at Texan politicians like Rick Perry, who deny climate change even as evidence for it accumulates in their own backyards.

But my mind has circled back to Paolo’s question because it touches on so much more than just rainfall in the Southwest. It’s also about the scientific process, the line between data and interpretation and the role of story in science. Continue reading

The Last Word

Drawing of four people in chairs, now with colorWhat a diverse week of posts! Seriously, take a peek at these:
You’ll love Helen’s artistic take on a scientific meeting about immunity. She sketched her experience rather than jotting notes, and it’s pretty great.
Emma introduced us to a field you’ve never heard of, taphonomy, the study of the gritty transition of a human corpse, especially the bones, from biologic to geologic.
Ann wrote about a guy in retirement who digs up the stories behind those old lonely family photos that stack up at junk stores. Some relatives are excited by his discoveries; others not so much.
A redux from Christie celebrates the ink-on-your-fingers experience of reading a real newspaper, like we did in the olden days.
And Jessa finished off the week with a redux on ravens, illustrated with beautifully textured hot-wax paintings by Yukon artist Nicole Bauberger.

Redux: Ravens among us

My son and I have been reading Neil Gaiman’s new novelization of Norse Mythology, which includes glancing reference to Odin’s raven informants Huginn and Muninn. It reminded me of this post from March 2011, which featured the artwork of raven-obsessed Yukon artist Nicole Bauberger. Ten years ago I asked Bauberger why she spent years on painstaking encaustic (hot wax) paintings of ravens–at least forty raven paintings in all–some of which now hang on my wall.

Why did this particular avian subject grab her? To the best of my decade-old memory, she told me the following:

“Looking at each other, the raven and I feel like equals. I can’t fly, but he can’t drive stick. And when I paint a raven, I don’t have to worry that I’m stealing his image, because I know it’s nothing he wouldn’t steal from me.”

Here’s the original story.

Redux: Newsprint is dead. Long live newsprint!

This post first ran in walk on moon

I died a little inside when I heard about the recent Today Show interview in which Jeff Bezos said, “I think printed newspapers on actual paper may be a luxury item. It’s sort of like, you know, people still have horses, but it’s not their primary way of commuting to the office.” As founder of and the new owner of The Washington Post, Bezos’s opinion on this matters. (Disclosure: I write a health column for the Post.)

I’m no luddite. I read Bezos’s comment on Twitter. I own two Kindles, and more than once, I’ve pulled up an electronic book on my iPhone while standing in line at the grocery store. I understand the convenience of reading news electronically — the news arrives instantly, snow or shine, it fits in your pocket, and there are no recyclables piling up on the kitchen table.

Like most of my peers, I read news online, but I still have three newspapers delivered to my house — the local daily, the weekly paper covering my rural county, and the Sunday Denver Post, which I read daily until they stopped delivery in my part of the state a few years ago.

Reading the newspaper has been my morning ritual since I could read, and online news has yet to replicate the experience in a satisfying way. I know what all you 20-somethings are thinking — oh, another curmudgeonly rant about new technology —  tl;dr. And it’s true that I’m nostalgic for a way of delivering news that’s probably hopelessly impractical in the digital age.

A story in newsprint has a genuine quality to it — a paper’s signature columns and font make the words seem weighty and bona fide. It exists in the physical world, not just the cloud. Continue reading