6806930512_999f3e492b_zWe came back from vacation earlier this month to find that someone else had moved in. I didn’t realize it at first—the house seemed just as we had left it, and we were busy emptying the car and starting the laundry and repopulating the house with the things we’d taken with us.

It was later, when two of the boys were in the bathtub, that I saw piles of bird poop around the floor in the dining room. The dining room is a small space underneath a greenhouse window, and it’s always attracted birds. I froze, wondering if I’d find a bird huddled in the corner. When I didn’t hear anything, I started looking around for a dead bird. I wanted to find it before the kids did. Their toys are in this greenhouse room, too, and I imagined the unhappy surprise of finding a still, small creature when you’re reaching for a wooden train track.

I crouched down to look closer. And that’s when I saw the tiny white ball beneath the table. Continue reading

The Last Word: Inanimate Object Appreciation Week

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This week on LWON we dug into the archives and appreciated things. Things. Stuff. The material objects that surround us and give us something to look at, or use, or remember people by.

We kicked off the week with Former Person of LWoN Tom Hayden singing the praises of all sorts of not-very-impressive-technology that gets the job done.

No one grieves for a paper clip…except guest poster Nell Greenfieldboyce, who wrote with beauty and grace about finding office supplies on the sidewalk.

Helen has a lot of tea towels. A lot. Want to know why? Read on.

Guest poster Anne Sasso’s calculator keeps going…and going…and going, long beyond what one might expect to be its natural life.

Ann wrote about a wonderful, innovative, fascinating camera that people aren’t all that excited about anymore.

Photo: liz west


Redux: Ann Remembers Jim’s Camera

camopenThat’s Jim Gunn up there, concentrating on his camera.  Jim’s camera shouldn’t really qualify for a week of posts celebrating uncelebrated technology because it was famous for quite a while.  It was inventive and perfectly made and did something no camera had ever done: it digitized the sky. But like most new and wonderful technologies, the camera became just the first in a series of newer and more wonderful technologies.  Now, 30 years later, it’s been warehoused; and it might as well be a tea towel, a paperclip, a pocket calculator, or any other old crap technology. Sigh.  Click.

This post first ran on January 17, 2011.

Photo credit:  Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Redux: Anne Sasso has a stand-up calculator

PIA00766_hiresIt is Thing Appreciation Week at LWON, where we bring you the Greatest Hits of our previous posts about inanimate objects. 

Anne Sasso wrote this post in January of last year celebrating her pocket calculator, which has stood by her for 40 years while planned obsolescence ate all of her other devices — and their replacements. Presenting: The Mars Rover of Calculators.

Image: Sojourner licks a rock called Yogi. Photo by Mars Pathfinder (NASA).

Redux: Helen on Tea Towels

12680324455_b7d6599090_c (1)This week LWON reminds you of all the mundane, unimpressive, uncelebrated things that are nevertheless worth celebrating.

The advice of early mentors often has unexpected weight; we keep following it long after we’ve grown up and become mentors ourselves.  Helen’s first mentor in journalism, the excellent Joanne Silberner, gave her advice about the complex and subtle job of foreign correnspondence.  And that’s how Helen ended up with all those tea towels.

This first ran Jan. 14, 2016:  Memories in My Kitchen.


Photo: liz west

Redux: Nell on Paper Clips

This week at LWON we’re digging into the archives to celebrate the uncelebrated: inanimate objects. Many of them aren’t very impressive inanimate objects. And yet we love them.

In December 2014 Nell Greenfieldboyce explained her obsession with paper clips. If you’ve ever worried about the feelings of an inanimate object, or thought about how amazing it is that a manufactured thing in your hand started out as raw materials in the ground–or if you haven’t ever done these things, this essay is for you.

The trouble is, once you start seeing paper clips, you can’t stop seeing them. My obsession with lost paper clips started years ago, when I resolved to start gathering coins. I’d read some article that argued that only a fool would walk past free money and that taking a second to collect a coin meant that, at that moment, you’d be making more than minimum wage. I started scanning the ground for nickels, dimes, or quarters, but hardly ever found any. Instead, I saw the metallic flash of paper clips.

The Art of Losing Paperclips

Photo: JF Sebastian, Flickr

Redux: Tom Praises Crap Technology

This week at LWON we’re digging into the archives to celebrate the uncelebrated: inanimate objects. Many of them aren’t very impressive inanimate objects. And yet we love them.

I was inspired to propose this week of reruns by a piece former LWONer Tom Hayden wrote back in 2011 about the various functional, non-fancy things he has used and loved through the years–like his $20 MP3 player, which was unattractive but got the job done. He contrasted this with the shiny new iPod video that he bought, briefly owned, then lost.

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.

Read the rest: In Praise Of Crap Technology

And please use the comments to tell us what crap technology you’ve kept going way beyond its natural life.

The Last Word

shutterstock_416354974July 11 – 15, 2016

Jessa updates a post about the Berger Inquiry, the time that the Canadian government actually asked the people who were here first what they wanted to do with the land that belonged to them in the first place.

Rose’s backyard in Brooklyn is full of squirrels fighting, not just the usual squabbling but full-on Fight Club, red in tooth and claw.

Your science fair project was probably something lame, like baking-powder volcanoes.  But Jenny, Jenny did a science fair project and grew bone!  She still quite proud of herself.

Billions and billions of great white sharks out there, right?  Turns out that nobody knows how many because nobody knows how to count them — except the guys in Edinburgh who count cabs.

Jenny wanted to bring a lab rabbit home and make it a pet.  She should have paid attention to Rose’s backyard because those rabbits? not pets.