Monday, September 17, 2007

gonzo science writing

Check out John Bohannon going all gonzo-style participatory journalism for Science. I met John in Melbourne last spring. He's a smart lad.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

moving through europe

Who doesn’t want to be a smooth traveler, nonchalantly moving between countries and customs as if doing so were as simple as paying for groceries? The thing is that when everything proceeds without much of a hitch, the time just kind of passes. You never really get to feel like Jason Bourne. Rather, it’s the Clark Griswold moments that are memorable. Yesterday it was Bourne as far as catching trains—Mainz to Frankfurt Flughafen to Koln to Brussels to Antwerp, although to be honest it’s not that difficult. It was Griswold, however, during my morning walk around Mainz. It’s not that big of a place and I had a good map. Yet all of a sudden I was lost. Not in any kind of jeopardy lost, but lost all the same. When I have to wander, I don’t really mind losing my bearings for an hour or two, but in this case I was due to check out of my hotel. Germans don’t even jaywalk, let alone blow past checkout time without notice, and so I got a little anxious. Quick-stepping it through the cobbled streets, I finally got oriented and was relieved to meet a hotel receptionist who said it was no problem and “please no hurry.”

Today it was a marvelous lunch in a centuries-old courtyard in Antwerp before dinner of a banana and a chocolate bar. Tomorrow: to Brugge.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

tour britannia

Upon arrival at the Coombe Abbey near Coventry, I was surprised to run into a crew of cigar-smoking rich guys and their vintage race cars. They do this three-day tour around the country that, although I'm not much interested in classic cars or cigars, provides me with a promising potential title for this section of the book: Tour Britannia.

What a deluge of interesting things to discuss and read this week—about autism, spelling, handedness, the carbon economy, songbird-killing cats, and more—that jetlag recovery will have to wait while I catch up a little. Thanks to Paul Collins for promptly forwarding the New York Times piece about left-clawed crabs. Coincidentally, I’m currently two-thirds of the way through Collins’ book about autism, Not Even Wrong. It’s an easy read and Collins does a terrific job weaving personal discussion and history. It’s also been a helpful primer for a feature assignment to write about autism that I’ve recently taken on.

In other news, my Wired piece about environmental markets has not, thus far, generated nearly the amount of reader interest that the essay about high-speed trains did. Some of that may be a function of the readership, as well as the more theoretical nature of the enviro-themed article. To the end, take a look at the comments on the Wired website (below the story itself). There’s an interesting and rather scathing indictment of carbon trading. Similarly, this recent International Herald Tribune story begins with news that the Vatican hopes to go carbon neutral, thanks to a planned forest on an island in Hungary. The piece then widens to address this aspect of the green economy more generally. Some familiar verbiage re: the bad and the good. The essential good, I think, is that cap-and-trade at least makes companies pay, or even just consider having to pay, for polluting in ways they never have in the past. Efficacy of the offsets themselves and the legitimacy of the offset market are much thornier issues.

On my flight from Chicago to Heathrow, I read a Wall Street Journal piece about feral cats that kill birds. Talk about a difficult issue! At the risk of turning millions and millions of cat lovers into David Wolman haters, I must confess that my sympathies are with the birds on this one. In fact, I have a very environmentally mindful friend who, after witnessing his cat kill some birds, decided to have it put down. He called someone at the humane society and asked how to go about this process as humanely as possible. Thinking the animal was sick or injured, the humane society staffer told him to bring the cat in. But when he showed up with a healthy animal, he was met by dirty looks and a refusal to help. What do you think he should have done? Should do? And no, this isn’t one of those tales in which the speaker speaks of a so-called friend because the speaker’s too embarrassed to admit that the problem is his. I’ve never had a cat.