Mystery on 39th Street

Maybe we were delirious. It was after two in the morning and I had my kids out on the street in Manhattan. With how hot August was, we tried to stay out late, taking advantage of cooler nighttime temperatures. This was our eighth night knocking around the city, urban exploration I called it, an extracurricular crash course […]

River time, river tongue

It was a bird of confluences. Nameless, to us. Gray as cloud belly, large as raptor, with eyes streaked over black as if with a stick of charcoal. The first time I saw it, I stood shin deep in the narrow, clear Pitman River, steps away from the line of opaque jade water marking its […]

Sliding Baselines

Most days we here at the Last Word on Nothing write engaging non-fiction about the scientific questions of our age that vex us and inspire us. Most days we blend excellent reporting with excellent writing told with heart, guts, and a dash of humanity. Most days, you the reader get to the end of one of […]

Preppers and Pets

I’ve recently added a bit to my awkward beginning-of-interview spiel. I do the standard “here’s what my story is about, here’s why I wanted to talk to you” thing. But I also now usually say something like “oh, and if you hear any weird sounds, there are squirrels fighting in my back yard and my […]

Redux: Where the Wind Has No Name

Of all the evocative place words humans have come up with, the words for local winds may be the most varied and most charming. There’s the Albrohos of Portugal, the Gilavar and the Khazri of Azerbaijan, and the Shamal of Iraq. There’s the Cape Doctor of South Africa, the Hawk of Chicago, and the Wreckhouse winds of Newfoundland. […]

The Map Box

I keep a wooden box on my bedside table. It’s cheap – an old Yalumba Wine case that I found on a curb somewhere, with a hinged lid and a shred of price tag still attached. Usually, it’s stacked high with magazines half read, a thing seldom opened and often dusty. But in all of […]

In Defense of Bad Robots

The robots are coming. You know this. You’ve read the headlines, you’ve seen the movies. Her, Ex Machina, Terminator. You’ve seen the sleek, lithe, brilliant bots of the future. They’re sexy, even the ones that aren’t explicitly meant to be. We fear them, we’re drawn to them. Look at that smooth glass, that chrome, that unparalleled intellect, […]