Category: navelgazing

On the whole, 2014 was at best unremarkable and at worst unpleasant (speaking personally – on the global scale, it was rather a shit year all around). But there was one most excellent thing that came out of it.


This was improbable for a number of reasons.

» Continue Reading…

On bended knee

I’m very selective (on the verge of Luddite) in my embrace of online tools and technology – somewhat unfortunate, given my line of work, as the road to freelancer success can be somewhat more smoothly paved for those of us who hurl ourselves vigorously into the blogosphere or Twitterverse whatever hackneyed ‘social media’ + ‘topographic delineation’ construct you may prefer. There are many reasons I fundamentally dislike Facebook and Twitter, but it’s often hard for me to express them lucidly without descending into visceral “you’re a big doody-head” level arguments.

I am, in fact, on Facebook. Furthermore, I go on every single morning, primarily because I’ve learned the hard way that it’s the only way to find out whether people I know are getting hired, fired, married, divorced, pregnant, exiled, executed or canonized. And it has that little birthday box on the right. But I would say that only a vanishingly small percentage of my friends know how to use Facebook the way I would want to use it – posting interesting, thoughtful articles and provoking stimulating discussion with people I wish I knew. Otherwise, it’s like a cross between the world’s longest no-cover open-mic night and the comments section of YouTube. Likewise with Twitter – I am not personally on Twitter, but I do use it to, for example, get ‘behind the scenes’ information from scientific meetings or product launch events. But then I have to roam through endless repetitive retweets and sad, sad attempts at “wit”. And god save us all from #hashtaghumor.

This is why the idea of ‘social search’ scares me – even though tech pundits seem to love the concept so. So few people are looking for exactly what I want, and almost none of my friends does exactly what I do, and everybody’s idea of what’s ‘important’ and ‘interesting’ is miles apart from everbody else’s, with the convergence of this messy Venn diagram unfortunately landing squarely on lolcats and the Harlem Shake. If this kind of ‘digital democracy’ determines what comes up on top of my list, it’s going to take me ten times as long to find anything I need – if I ever find it at all.

And this, in turn, is why I love, love, love Google Reader. Love it.

I’m a Google partisan anyway – Android phone, Chrome browser, Google as homepage – but there is no single page I spend more time on. In the last five years, I have put together a magnificently manicured collection of feeds for both business and pleasure. For my work as a journalist, it’s critical – I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve started my day stumbling across a story or two that is directly relevant to an assignment I’m working on. My other option is to go to each journal homepage, science blog and science news website every day and try to figure out what’s been updated. Open about three or six dozen browser tabs, because otherwise I can’t keep track of what I haven’t read yet, and hope I remember to ever look at them again. Then, when it’s time to take a break and goof off, let’s just slap a few dozen more tabs up there, because I can’t be spending all day goofing off, but there’s so much new stuff on Cracked and AV Club… Google Reader is my salvation; an hour or two every morning, and maybe a half hour in the afternoon, and I can economically blast through information that would take me eight hours or more to find otherwise. And of course, I have it on my Android phone, so I can never be far from my precious, precious feeds.

But now that’s done. As the nerds among you – and who else is visiting my website, anyway? – know, Google has decided that I should instead find my information by stumbling across whatever articles the five people I know on Google + are reading. Oh, or I suppose I could let Facebook and Twitter show me what to read. Probably something about cats. Cats are funny.

I think this headline from The Guardian puts it better than anybody else I’ve seen so far: “Killing Google Reader is like killing the bees.” This is a tool for primary productivity. It’s like when you hear all the wonderful shiny news about how the new media will kill off the dinosaur tree-killing old media. Yes, there’s lots and lots of room for complaint about newspapers and magazines, and there’s a lot to be said for the fast upload, fast update means of information dissemination… except that probably 75% of all of the news being dissected and re-analyzed online was first broken by reporters and editors working at ‘old media’ institutions. You know – the bees.

Maybe it’s a touch melodramatic – the RSS format isn’t dead, after all. But without the momentum of a unified Google Reader community behind it, who knows how long that will last. This will almost certainly be the last time I ever write these words, but perhaps Hitler put it best:

UPDATED: Oh, and if you’d also like to join in the quixotic battle against a massive global corporation dizzy with its own power, please sign this petition at “Keep Google Reader Running.” It’s almost up to 150,000 signatures…

Just over a week ago, I lost my very dear friend Kern to a truly evil case of liver cancer. 


Given the (astonishingly low) frequency with which I update my website, and the (astonishingly high) proportion of dog-oriented content that those updates comprise, I want to take a moment to eulogize this sweet, odd creature who had been my buddy, my henchman and, in some ways, my alter ego for almost 12 years.

For those of you who don’t feel like reading on as I wax sentimental, the rest is below the jump – as an alternative, perhaps you’d prefer Matt Inman’s very sweet ruminations on dog ownership over at The Oatmeal? The rest of you – follow me.

» Continue Reading…

Requiem for a brown dog

Like most other Americans, I always plan to kick off each new year with a vigorous storm of self-improvement – grabbing every day by the lapels, smacking it in the face a few times and then striding down the street to celebrate with a cold beer. But more realistically, my year tends to begin like this:

"2012, huh? Wake me when it's 2013."

So I’ll spare you my roster of ‘resolutions’, which will in all likelihood be as far from binding as anything posted on the internet can be. But I will say that even though things look exactly the same in January 2012 as they did in December 2011, I’m hopeful that this is just the launching point for some fun and exciting projects and adventures. I’ve got a mountain of pictures to post, story ideas to develop and – most importantly – trips to take.

So happy new year to all, and let’s see if this can’t all be the start of something good!

Building steam in 2012

OK, I’ve given up on pretending that I’m gonna be regularly blogging away over here… I’m finally enjoying a little break in the action, with a couple of pieces slated for publication over the next few weeks, and additional ‘spare time’ writing is not on the agenda just now.

HOWEVER. It is a good time for a spot of Winter Cleaning around here, most notably on my Writing Portfolio page. The old one was bland and ugly and it made my soul bleed to look at it, so I’ve cleaned it up quite a bit and added some pretty pictures. I won’t pretend that my aesthetic sensibility is matched by my web-design acumen, but hopefully the improvement will be clear even to the casual visitor (the only kind I get around here, I’d imagine).

I’ll hopefully be doing some more touch-up in the days ahead, especially if the weather around here turns out as nasty as everybody seems to expect it will…


By which I mean, I finally got rid of my old phone – the HTC Touch Pro, a device that was surely forged in the fires of Hell by Lucifer himself. I remember how excited I was when I brought that phone home, so full of promise and potential – and it was lies, all lies. How can I count the ways the Touch Pro betrayed me? Turning on in my pocket, and running down its already-meager battery while I remained blissfully unaware? Starting up countless apps as my (admittedly handsomely-chiseled) cheekbone pressed up against the touchscreen during phone calls? Missing and dropping calls, and not bothering to inform me of the resulting voicemails? Oh, this phone had at all.

Oh yes, we know who your true master is.

» Continue Reading…

Although I’d hoped to maintain at least a weekly rhythm of posting after I got back from vacation, I’ve instead been completely swamped by work – I’ve just finished three articles for an upcoming issue of Nature, which should be out in print next month. But now I’m in the middle of three entirely new articles that promise to more or less knock me out of commission for another week or two.

Once things settle down a bit, I’ll get back into the blogging thing a bit more routinely. Since my Nature articles were mercilessly cut and compressed for space, I may include some ‘deleted scenes’ here, just because I talked to some pretty interesting people about some really cool stuff. Vague enough for you? Well, that’s all you’re getting for now.

Before I go any further, I should point out that blogging and I have a spotty history. I’ve managed at least four different kinda blogs with mixed results, mostly arising from my inability to stay focused and my tendency to disappear for the span of entire seasons.

However, as part of this whole internet self-promotion business, it probably makes sense to set aside a bit of real estate to talk about what I’m doing these days. And since much of what I’m doing on any given day consists of reading more research article abstracts than a busload of graduate students, I’ll probably use this as a platform to talk about cool stuff I’ve read that I may or may not be writing about in a “professional” capacity.  I’m not going to pretend that I’ll suddenly turn into Carl Zimmer or Ed Yong and churn out award-winning insightful prose on a daily basis – this ain’t that kinda website. Not yet, anyway – let’s see what happens in 6 months, and whether I’ve gotten distracted by something shiny.

Oooh! Shiny!

I’ll also occasionally put up old and new pics that I think are neat, and talk about any random projects I happen to embark on.

Of course, I also think about a lot of stupid, random stuff which probably doesn’t have much business living the same place where I’m promoting my work. If you’re more interested in the silly dreck, please visit my other blog!

That’s it for now…