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, […]

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 […]