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.

Snark Week: Evil Has a New Name – and Buck Teeth

The sun hangs low over the bayou, wavering in the humid evening horizon. Sweat pours off your face as you struggle see into the underbrush. And suddenly you hear it. A rustling in the bushes that turns your veins to ice. “Please, sweet Jesus,” you whisper, “be something else. Please, not here. Not now.” But […]

Giving History the Finger

The middle finger of Galileo’s right hand is a satisfying sight. Not because the resemblance to an obscene gesture is unmistakable (though that’s pretty amusing). And not because such a gesture might suggest that in the end a scientist who suffered persecution for the sin of being correct had gotten the last word—well, two words (though that would be amusing, […]

Anti-Copernican Shock

[NOW WITH NEW VISUALIZATION:  see below] Planets around other stars, exoplanets, have given me a long-running case of boredom – how long can you sustain OMG LOOKIT THAT PLANET HAS TWO SUNS? not long.  I keep writing about them anyway.  I do it because 1) sometimes somebody pays me to; and 2) the planets may […]

The Secret Lives of Animals

A bear broke into my wife’s old teardrop trailer in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado. It must have been yearling by the bite marks in bean cans, and the smallness of its hips where it busted out the door-window and dragged itself inside. The bear didn’t find much, leaving […]

Freezeproof a Fairy—With Science!

Tom Painter, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, studies snow hydrology in mountains around the world. He’s also a leading expert on the thermodynamics of fairies and princesses. Painter started his fairy-princess sideline a few years ago, when he was asked to lend his expertise to Tinkerbell: Secret of the Wings. In the movie—bear with […]

Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods

Allow me to introduce you to the hugag, a moose-like creature native to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and eastern Canada. “Its head and neck are leathery and hairless; its strangely corrugated ears flop downward,” wrote William Cox, the first state forester of Minnesota. “Its four-toed feet, long bushy tail, shaggy coat and general make-up give the beast […]