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, […]

I Am Tiny Or Very Large

In the summer of 2012 I lived on a ship called the R/V Knorr for a month. I was there to document the scientists on board, and they were there to gather plankton samples from the North Sea to study a virus that attacks those plankton. I was recently organizing my office, and I found the notebook […]

Flying forest

Corvids are a wonderful genre of beast. I was reminded of this fact not long ago when, biking back home across southeast Portland from the waterfront, a veritable river of crows began streaming overhead. Thousands of them blurred and bobbed and circled each other in a stuttering current from east to west. This current eddied […]

Outmoded Diseases: An X-File for Osteomyelitis

  I won’t use her name. How she got the disease no one knows. Her leg was cut off at the knee to stop the infection from spreading, and her name is omitted because she is a respected scientist. What happened in her case verges beyond science. The disease is osteomyelitis. It means, simply, bone infection. In X-rays, […]

Redux: Is passion for science a heritable trait?

This post first ran on August 24, 2011. My dad and I share an obsession with endurance sports. We don’t just love to get outside and ride our bikes, we actually feel antsy and anxious if we go too many days without working up a sweat. As I’ve written elsewhere, our compulsion for exercise has a genetic […]

Do I Stay Or Do I Go? The Eveleth Conundrum

  Two years ago, I wrote a story for The Atlantic about my obsession with the town of Eveleth, Minnesota. I’ve never been there. But I’ve visited it often on Google Maps. Often enough to know the town really well. To know the giant hockey stick, the city hall, the big church, the tattoo shop […]