Blog Profile / Achenblog

Filed Under:News / Independent News
Posts on Regator:566
Posts / Week:2.5
Archived Since:April 20, 2011

Blog Post Archive

The man who feared, rationally, that he’d just destroyed the world

I’ve been reading a lot about Los Alamos, the Manhattan Project and the Trinity Test, the 70th anniversary of which was July 16. Here’s my story from last week; please take a few minutes to read it. I wrote the story after seeing Los Alamos for the first time while on a reporting assignment for […]

The Heroes of Pluto

The words you never hear from NASA: “This is actually really hard to do.” Or: “We’re not sure this is gonna work.” There is a code among engineers: Express confidence, exude competence. But space is hard, as we keep pointing out lately. Things blow up. Computers reboot themselves at inopportune moments. Planets turn out to […]


I’m at APL, also known as the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, though I have taken to using the shorthand of “Pluto,” as in, “I’m heading up to Pluto” or “The traffic is pretty gnarly getting to Pluto today.” Check out Rachel Feltman’s Speaking of Science blog for the latest news and images. Pluto […]

This could be the last time I [fill in blank]

The main thing I don’t like about getting older is this whole business of “aging.” I’m fine with being older so long as I can feel 18 eternally, with commensurate infinitudes of aspirations and possibilities, and never a somber thought. Unfortunately, “aging” has a way of catching up with you, and one day you realize […]

What do you bet that Cary Grant’s roller bag never wobbled

The Santa Fe, N.M. airport looks like it hasn’t changed much in about 70 years, which is to say, it’s charming, everything scaled down to human dimensions, almost like a small-town bus station. The architecture is Western, with exposed beams, tile floors and a café where you can have a cup of coffee in a […]

My iPhone and I need to visit a therapist

One morning my smart phone wouldn’t charge, and although I fiddled with it and nudged it and bit it and did all the other things a technically inclined person is supposed to do, it seemed utterly indifferent to electricity, as if suddenly it was made of special non-conductive material, like a telephone pole insulator. I […]

Why Hillary should stop running as the incumbent

Jack Shafer nailed it when he wrote recently in Politico that Hillary Clinton is not running for president, but running as president. She rarely takes a question from a reporter. News organizations spend a small fortune dispatching reporters and photographers and camera crews to follow her around, but they’re treated like carry-on baggage. One can […]

I am a sailor man

I had taken a dip into the bracing water of the inlet and was drying on the dock — having achieved a rare state of existence that I had heard about and read about, and which I believe is known technically as “relaxed” — when my friend M announced that it was time to go […]

The farming life

  We all have multiple identities, and one of mine is, as you know, “farmer,” because I am an agronomist, horticulturist, man of the soil, nature freak and dirtball. This is the time of year when I am perpetually filthy from my labors in the field — what I refer to as the “back 40” […]

Andy Weir and his book “The Martian” may have saved NASA and the entire space program

Andy Weir isn’t just living a publishing dream. He may have also saved the space program in the process. I’ll try to defend that bold statement in a moment. But first, let’s look at the marvel that is “The Martian.” This book — placed on my desk by a colleague who was certain I’d find […]

Lessons from the BP oil spill on the fifth anniversary

An unhappy anniversary, this: Eleven people were killed in an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon five years ago in the Gulf of Mexico. That blowout immolated the huge offshore drilling rig, which sank two days later on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, leading to the worst oil spill in U.S. history. In some ways […]

Mystic Mountain: Is this the Hubble Space Telescope’s greatest image?

The Hubble is about to turn 25. That’s an awesome milestone for a piece of hardware that’s vastly exceeded expectations. We’re doing a story that will run between now and the anniversary of the launch next Friday. See also Rachel Feltman’s Speaking of Science blog for coverage. Here’s a verbatim email exchange I had the […]

How to write a political profile of Rand Paul when Rand Paul won’t talk to you

Today we’re publishing my “Make or Break” piece on Rand Paul, a story that identifies a key characteristic — his “libertarianish” philosophy — that can distinguish him from the pack of GOP candidates but potentially put a ceiling on his support. I hope this story gives you a better idea of where RP is coming […]

Porch Season! At last.

I know it’s supposed to be relatively chilly today in DC, and so this declaration of the official and much-delayed start of the 2015 Porch Season might be misconstrued as an April Fool’s joke. We’ve never had to wait so long for Opening Day. Porch Season usually begins around March 10. I could conceivably wait […]

4/14: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

[My story on the Lincoln assassination published in our final special section on the Civil War. This last section tells of the war's end. We spent four and a half years on this project, publishing special sections every six months. The stories have now been told and have been packaged as an eBook.] By Joel […]

Why “The Great Gatsby” is the Great American Novel

Sure, I knew that F. Scott Fitzgerald had an up and down career and a bad drinking habit and wound up dying at a young age while working as a script doctor in Hollywood. But until I read Maureen Corrigan’s terrific book “So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why […]

A year later, BICEP2 astronomer is upbeat as he hunts for elusive Big Bang signal

Exactly one year ago today came stunning news out of Cambridge, Mass., at a news conference at Harvard: Astronomers had discovered gravitational waves emanated in an inflationary spasm at the dawn of time. It’s hard to overstate the stunning nature of this announcement. This was a direct detection of quantum gravity at work in the initial […]

Uplifting thoughts about Doomsday

[Cross-posted from the Post's new Inspire blog,  edited by my former Rough Draft editor Sydney Trent. Please note that there is not a single reference to Hillary Clinton's emails. Well, now there's one, I guess.] I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the end of the world. I’m on the catastrophe beat around […]

Why there’s no Silicon Valley in outer space

Back to aliens! It’s like going home. It’s a way of checking on old friends (scientists who think about aliens) and recalibrating one’s estimate of the abundance of intelligent civilizations in the universe (I’ve gone from “no idea” to “no freakin’ idea”). My hunch has always been that, given the vastness of the cosmos, we […]

‘Turing’s Cathedral’

We’re now completely immersed, entangled and confounded by the digital revolution, a wonderful thing except to the extent that it is infernal. Alan Turing is, of course, a pioneer of this new world. My story published Friday about Turing offers some, but certainly not all, of the backstory of “The Imitation Game.” The movie focuses […]

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