Category Archives: Uncategorized

Let’s Talk About Money

baby money window


Money. We want it. We need it. But when it comes up in conversation, everybody bows their heads and gets quiet. How much do people make? How do you ask for more? How do you find out who pays what? How little is too little? When do you work for free? Can you even make it as a freelance science journalist?

This is the topic of our upcoming NASW panel, appropriately titled “Show Me the Money” and if you’re anything like me, you desperately want the answers to these questions. But it’s hard to have a good conversation about money because it’s awkward and nobody likes to get into their financial nitty-gritty. So we’re doing a survey! It’s anonymous, relatively quick and completely painless.

We’ll take your answers and analyze them to figure out just how much people are making and how they’re making it. At our panel, we’ll reveal the results, but afterwards we’ll post everything online for the world to see. So, what do you say, are you game?

You made it to the end! As a reward, here’s Scrooge McDuck diving into a pile of money.

Donald Duck money pile

Welcome to OMG FACTS


I’ve just renamed by blog. You probably didn’t notice because, well, why would you.

The idea of this blog when it started was to be about sounds. I love sounds. I think they’re so weird and cool. But I also realized that I just don’t have enough time to write about sounds all the time. And I also realized that they’re not the only really weird and cool thing I like.

So, inspired by this Tweet:


I redub this blog OMG FACTS. Here is where I’ll put things that I think are cool and weird and interesting, but that no one else seems to care about.  Welcome.

Me Me Meep, The Past Few Weeks of Rose


I’ve been told that I’m bad at telling people what I’m up to, so allow me to indulge in a little bit of self promotion for un momentito.

The past few weeks have been crazy. In a good way, of course. So here’s a recap.

Read More →

Podcast Pride Party – My Favorite Podcasts to Work On

Today, the podcast that Douglas Main and I made about a particularly successful tumbleweed saleswoman was posted to Boing Boing. That podcast was definitely one of the most fun to work on, and it got me looking back at some old podcasts I’ve made. So, in the spirit of blatant self promotion, here are my very favorites of my own podcasts in recent memory.

Tumbleweeds – this one has a quirky twist ending, which is what made it so fun to work on.

The Bottle Story – this is a much more recent podcast that I actually never showed to anyone, but I really like.

Girl Talk – sometimes girls, like, talk, sort of funny? But chances are that as you chastise them, you’re picking it up too. This one went along with this story in the New York Times. (LISTEN HERE)

Phantom Vibrations – you know that feeling when you think your phone is ringing, you’re SURE your phone is ringing, but it’s not? Here’s why that happens.

That’s Disgusting – but why? What makes something disgusting?


Do you have some podcasts you really like? Nominate them for Science Studio! We’re collecting the v

Being a New Journalist and Mixed Messages

I’m not going to talk about Nate Thayer, because I think that case is dumb. Olga Khazan made a mistake in her first two weeks of a job (Olga, I don’t know you, but if I ever do meet you I will buy you a drink because damn the internet sucks some times) and Nate Thayer feels the need to turn everything into an investigative take-down. Whatever. I’m over it. What I want to talk about is being a new journalist. Because I have some confessions. I am a professional journalist. I am also brand new at being one. And, most shockingly, I have worked for free.

So what I want to talk about is mixed messages. Should you ever work for free? There is obviously no single answer. Hello, this is the world, things are complicated, sorry. But let’s pretend for a second that you’re a spritely young/early career/newb journalist. Here are some of the messages you’re getting:

Message #1. Just do your thing, and if it’s good someone will notice.

Robert Krulwich probably has one of the best versions of this message. He gave a talk to the Berkeley School of Journalism in which he said:

But there are some people, who don’t wait.

I don’t know exactly what going on inside them; but they have this… hunger. It’s almost like an ache.

and then he said:

Suppose, instead of waiting for a job offer from the New Yorker, suppose next month, you go to your living room, sit down, and just do what you love to do. If you write, you write. You write a blog. If you shoot, find a friend, someone you know and like, and the two of you write a script. You make something. No one will pay you. No one will care, No one will notice, except of course you and the people you’re doing it with. But then you publish, you put it on line, which these days is totally doable, and then… you do it again.

After they wrote, they tweeted and facebooked and flogged their blogs, and because they were good, and worked hard, within a year or two, magazines asked them to affiliate (on financial terms that were insulting), but they did that, and their blogs got an audience, and then they got magazine assignments, then agents, then book deals, and now, three, four years after they began, these folks, five or six of them, are beginning to break through. They are becoming not just science writers with jobs, they are becoming THE science writers, the ones people read, and look to… they’re going places. And they’re doing it on their own terms! In their own voice, they’re free to be themselves AND they’re paid for it!

Lots and lots of other people have said this sort of thing. A lot. I can’t link to them all because I’m a newb freelance journalist and I’m kind of supposed to be working right now.

The message is that the internet is the great democratizer. On the internet, you can just publish your own work. You can tell the stories you think need to be told and you can tell them your way. And anyone in the whole world can read them. That’s how some really big names started – look at Alexis Madrigal and Ed Yong. They wrote for nothing, or peanuts and they’re now some of the most respected writers and editors around. The message is that if your work is good enough, and you put it somewhere on the internet, you will get noticed. You will get hired and become the next Jad Abumrad or something.

I was once at a talk where a New Yorker editor was a guest. An early career journalist asked him whether he had advice for breaking into the vaulted halls of the New Yorker. His answer (I’m paraphrasing): “Just go out there and report the story. If you really believe in it, just do it. And then publish it on your blog.” Her response (again, paraphrasing): “So I’m supposed to go report a 30,000 word deep dive into something, and then publish it on my blog and hope people notice?” Obviously that’s ridiculous, but that was his actual answer and I’m a reporter so I reported it. Bam.

Message #2. DEAR GOD WHATEVER YOU DO DO NOT WORK FOR FREE. If you do you are betraying every one of your colleagues, friends, coworkers and their children and their children’s children.

But the idea that anyone should work for free garners strong reactions. From one comment on an Atlantic piece: “Ask any other professional, such as a doctor, auto mechanic, plumber, accountant to do a job for free and sit back and wait for the swearing or the laughter, followed by “get out.” Why should a professional writer be expected to work for free, especially for a national publication?”

And there’s a lot of “if you work for free you’re destroying the careers of everyone around you” that happens on the internet. I have been personally told that projects I’ve done for free were directly hurting my friends.

So, you’re supposed to write for yourself because PASSION, PEOPLE but you’re not supposed to give that writing away. Even though the whole point of you writing on your dinky blog is so that some place, like, say, The Atlantic, notices it and says “hey that’s good we should put it on our website.”

So look. Like I said before, it’s complicated. Obviously you should not report at 30,000 word piece for yourself on your blog unless you have some other income stream. And obviously those who blog for free aren’t evil. What I’m saying is that young writers get mixed messages and we’re sort of confused? Nate Thayer is an amazing professional journalist. It’s easy for him to say no to doing anything for free ever. But for a lot of us, it’s not. So let’s all play nice and try to agree on a few things:

  1. Writing for money is better than writing for free. Okay, cool, glad we cleared that up.
  2. Sometimes it’s okay to write for free without being the actual worst person in the entire world.
  3. If an editor can pay for something, they should pay for it.

That’s all I’m going to say because I am actually supposed to be working for money right now and I agree with Christopher Mims that no one actually cares but I just had these THOUGHTS and the world really needed to know them.

Are journalists aware that hardly anything is less interesting to the general public than debates about journalism? Who do we serve, again?

— Christopher Mims (@mims) March 7, 2013

Top image: mikeschilli 

Welcome to Question Time With Sci4Hels – Ask Us Something!

Hello world! Wow, it’s March. How is it March? That means in just a few months, science journalists of the world will unite at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Helsinki, to face the forces of evil and figure out all of journalism’s problems in one fell swoop. Or just to hang out and try to chip away at them one by one because that’s kind of a lot to ask.

One of those sessions is the “The ‘killer’ science journalists of the future” in which three lovely panelists (Lena Groeger, Erin Podolak and Kathleen Raven) will share their thoughts on what it takes to make it as a newcomer in journalism today, and what that means for the journalism of tomorrow. Can I tell you that I’m excited? This excited:

In the run up to that panel discussion, we’re going to pose a few questions to the Twitter world and try to drum up some discussion that will be extended into the session. Why yes, I am outsourcing my work as a moderator to you, fine Twitterverse, and you are going to fall for my little plan. So here’s what we’ll do. Every so often we’ll pose a question on Twitter with the #sci4hels hashtag and hope that you’ll join our discussion. And! If you have a question you want us to ask to the world, leave it for me here in the comments. The future of our panel is in your hands, so speak up.

Our first question will be revealed on Monday of next week, so get ready.

If you’re asking yourself “what the heck are you talking about you crazy woman?” here are some background links.

Here’s a blog about our panel at Scientific American, introducing everyone.

Here’s the Sci4Hels blog. 

Get it now? Good.

 (Top photograph by Russ Creech, other photographs by the internet)




On the origin of “meep”

Twitter has recently pointed out that I say “meep” a lot.


I don’t really remember where I got it from, and I don’t really remember when I started saying it, but for those unfamiliar with its usage it generally conveys a sense of fear or embarrassment.

So, I googled it. Turns out, kids in Massachusetts were threatened with suspension for saying it too much. ABC News:

But the nonsense word — which apparently started with the 1980s Muppet character Beaker — is causing a lot of teeth-gnashing for adults at one Massachusetts high school. They have gone so far as to threaten suspension for students caught meeping.

So in that article, they attribute the meep to Beaker. Here’s the musical version:

But another famous children’s character said meep: the Roadrunner. (Well, I think the Road Runner technically says beep beep, but let’s go with it)

And, another set of characters uses the word: The Smurfs. According to Wikipedia, “The Smurfs frequently replace both nouns and verbs in everyday speech with the word Smurf.”

Urban dictionary says:

The most versatile word in the English language, or in fact any language!

Can mean whatever you want it to mean, but the most popular uses are:
1. An exclamation akin to ‘ouch’ or ‘uh oh..’
2. Filling in the blanks where other (rude) words would go.
3. A greeting! I personally say meep instead of Hello…
4. A random expression of happiness used to fill gaps in conversation.

At Wired, they fought back against the Massachusset school’s anti-meep policies:

While we at GeekDad would certainly never advocate disrupting a school, we nonetheless think the principal’s warning sounds awfully like a challenge. We would like to suggest a few possible substitutes, as “meep” tenderizers if you will: “Ni!” is a fine and wonderful classic, and considerably easier to remember than “Ekke Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptang Zoo Boing Zow Zing”; “Spoooon!” might work nicely, or perhaps “Zoinks!“; or, if you want to stick with Muppet-related cries, you can’t go wrong with “Bork bork bork!”

And for me, I’ll probably keep using it, even if it puts me in the same league as a couple of middle schoolers and a muppet. Because that’s basically where I’ve been my whole life. Meep.

Since you’ve been gone … okay actually I’ve been gone.

Self imposed time-out for not blogging.

Oh, hey, this is awkward, um, so yeah, blogging.

The good news: I have been blogging! And working! Just elsewhere.
The bad news: I’m going to try to start blogging for real. I even put a reminder in my Google Calendar. Watch out world!

In case you can’t wait, here’s a radio show I did with Colm recently.

The Mystery of the Missing Skull by ColmKelleher

The case of the mysterious sound in the woods

As many of you (and, perhaps your heads and stomachs) know, yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day. A good friend of mine, Colm Kelleher, is Irish. You might think that would make him the perfect person to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with – and you’d be right, except we celebrated by escaping the celebration and taking the train up to Breakneck Ridge for a hike.

The weather was perfect and the trails were relatively empty. But as we walked along we started hearing this weird sound. Colm guessed it was someone rolling something along the rocks. I guessed it was a generator of some sort. When we got close to it, it was this:

Frogs. Lots and lots of frogs. Making lots and lots of noise. The whole little pond was trembling with male frogs looking for ladies, their singing sending ripples all across the water. Here’s one of them ribbiting:

If anyone knows what kind of frog these are, let me know!

Do I make your heart beat like an 808 drum?

The other day, I was running on the treadmill, and Ke$ha asked me: “do I make your heart beat like an 808 drum?”

And I didn’t know how to answer! Because I had no idea what an 808 drum even was. Turns out, it shows up in a lot of pop songs.

It’s in the Far East Movement’s song “Like a G6,” when they they say: “808 bump, make you put your hands up.” Beyonce mentions it in the song Deja Vu, saying “Bass… hi-hat… 808.” And T.I. brags about his “24 blades glistening, an my 808 kikin’.”

In fact, Wikipedia has an entire section devoted to lyrics that mention the drum. So far, there are 34 entries.

So… what is it? Read More →