The Last Word On Nothing

"Science says the first word on everything, and the last word on nothing" - Victor Hugo

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Alternative Realities at the NRO

We begin, as we so often do, with a tweet. Jonathan McDowell @planet4589: Interesting that the NROL-44 patch description makes explicit reference to FVEY, the ‘Five Eyes’ spy alliance of US/UK/Aus/Can/NZ. Brief explainer: Jonathan McDowell is a certified Harvard x-ray astronomer who also keeps an eye on satellites in space. NROL stands...

Shaman Balls Penspective #2

Part of a series of ‘penspective’ posts using a pen for scale The earth is a producer of oddities. Crystals curl around each other like fiber optics and groundwater stains rock like Van Gogh. Geologic byproducts come out faster than Linnaeus could name off species, lava bombs, pseudomorphs, barites that look like roses, and copper that grows...

To wayfind

Winter Sunsets Are the Best Sunsets

This post began with a question from my dear friend, the novelist and documentary filmmaker George Lerner.  Looking over two years of footage from South Texas, I noticed something striking: I have lots and lots of glorious images filmed around sunset, but scant few decent shots at sunrise. Why is this, I wondered — is there a difference from...

Stander’s block

When I first decided to become a full-time writer, I did what any red-blooded American would do: I bought stuff. I purchased a bulletin board so I could pin up my to-do lists and story leads. I ordered a new planner to mark my new beginning. And I splurged on a new standing desk so I could become my best self. Once I became my own boss, I would stand...

Redux: Places of Worship

This post originally ran in November of 2011. The universality of science – an obligation to produce identical results no matter the setting – removes a certain sense of place from science history. What does it matter where mitosis was first understood, if it could just as well be discovered anywhere in the biosphere? Furthermore, it’s...

How Snow Falling on Pines Changes the Forest

Snow falls often where I live now. I love it, mostly. I do like to work, so I don’t love when it creates snow days. But I love its crisp delicacy, falling soft and softly falling. I love its silence and its brightness. I love the way it tattles on the deer and turkeys and bobcats and coyote and mountain lions and soon, the bears that walk by and around...

Path vs. Forest

I have always liked the word “foothill.” It evokes not only the low hills at the foot of a mountain, but the pleasure of footing over them. When the hills turn soft and green, I like to imagine placing a marble at the top of a hill and watching it roll. Last weekend, I followed the imaginary marble on a long, solo walk, intending to get at least a little...

Our Best AI Transcription Bloopers

My first experience with automated transcription happened a decade ago. In 2010 I joined Google Voice and started getting transcripts of my voicemails. The results were, not surprisingly, underwhelming. Back then, most speech recognition software was underwhelming. Here’s my first transcript: Hi Cassandra, this is Anna 10 calling to run. Thank...

Plunge

            The other day I hovered over the computer as the clock counted down. Was I on the right page? Refreshing, refreshing, refreshing. Was I logged in? At 7:00 p.m., the screen changed, and I zipped around with my cursor, checking the open slots, trying to check the right box.             It wasn’t a vaccine appointment. It was a lap lane....

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