Do you speak English?

“The problem with France is that there’s no French word for entrepreneur.” It’s tragic that George W. Bush didn’t actually say this, because it perfectly illuminates the stealth with which languages insinuate themselves into each other. If you speak English, you probably know that when you say sans and en vogue you’re using import words. […]

Picking Your Brains

Dear LWON readers, I’d like to ask you a question. Twice recently I’ve written about properties of black holes that blow my mind. In each instance, my inspiration was a detail from a movie. First was Interstellar. The great gravitational grip of the black hole in that movie, as is the case for all black holes, distorts […]

A Few Good Maps

I’ve probably said this before, but I really like maps. In college, I bought a huge collection of used maps at a geography department sale to use as wrapping paper. When we lived in Oregon, we got a gigantic one of the state to put on the living room wall. (We also got an even […]

Holiday Redux: The Ceremonial Stone

LWON is celebrating the holidays by re-running some of our favorite posts. This post originally appeared in slightly different form in July 2014. Sarah dipped her fingers in a red mineral paint and lifted them to her face. She put streaks above her cheekbones and up her chin, her design standing out against a backdrop […]

Hiding in Plain Out-of-Sight

If you haven’t seen the movie Interstellar, you might not recognize the image above. It’s the black hole that figures prominently in the climax. But even if you have seen the movie, chances are excellent you still don’t know what you’re looking at. I didn’t, anyway, at least the first few days I spent staring at […]

Rainbow Connection

The other day, as our kids played around a big, messy tree–one with patchy bark and drooping sickle-shaped leaves–a friend told me she was going to show me a picture of a eucalyptus she knew I would love. A eucalyptus? Not one of these troublesome trees, I thought. But then she held up her phone. I peered in […]

On My Way to Burning Man

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. […]

Things that Smell

My 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.