Monday, December 26, 2011

Post-Christmas article linkage

As my late Christmas present to you, here are eight new articles from last week.

First up, two new Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American:

Bad News for Christmas: Frankincense Faces Uncertain Future

Caught on Video: Endangered Pygmy Hippo Seen Slipping through Nighttime Liberia

Next up, some interesting news items for Mother Nature Network:

Iowa town's pit bull ban forces veteran cop to give up his service dog

DNA of Genghis Khan's descendant sequenced in Inner Mongolia

Liquid metal capsules make self-healing electronics possible

And finally, three new "green living" blog posts for Green Hands USA:

How to Find the Greenest Restaurants in Your Area

Your Business Can Help Preserve Biodiversity

Outdoor Play Cuts ADHD Symptoms

This week will see me battling a nasty cold while writing several new features. I wonder what cold medicine will do to my prose? Stay tuned to find out!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Banning bullfrogs, breeding devils, saving money and a mystery

Last week's articles and blog posts ran the gamut from good news to bad news to the just plain weird.

First up, my latest articles about endangered species for Scientific American:

Should California Ban American Bullfrogs? [This was reprinted by the Huffington Post]

Sperm Bank and Reproductive Research Could Help Save Tasmanian Devils from Extinction [You can find all of my SciAm articles about the communicable cancer that has killed 70-90% of the world's Tasmanian devils in past 15 years here]

Mother Nature Network gave me two interesting stories this week:

'Like' this: Facebook and Greenpeace to collaborate on clean energy

Medical mystery robs voiceover artist of his voice, but finds magic pill in Ambien - [This was reprinted by Yahoo, who also put it on their front page.]

And finally, here are three new blog posts for Green Hands USA:

Hasbro Greens its Toy Packaging

Volkswagen Has World's Greenest Auto Plant

Taking Public Transportation Could Save You $816 a Month

There's lots more coming before the end of the year. What's that, time off for the holidays? Nah, not me!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hellbenders, Angry Birds, How to Develop Apps, Mobile Learners and lots more

Nine new articles saw print last week. At this rate, I'd better ask for a new keyboard for Christmas.

Here are this week's links. First up, my usual two Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American:

Endangered Ozark Hellbender Salamanders Breed in Captivity for the First Time

Do PCBs Still Threaten Humans? A Turtle Study Suggests They Might

Also, last week's article on rare Hainan gibbons was reprinted by the Huffington Post

Mother Nature Network had three new Platt bylines this week. I particularly enjoyed this first one, but all were interesting to research and write:

iSchool Initiative inspires students to go paperless and become 'mobile learners'

Should New York City ban horse-drawn carriages?

Former missile complex to become 'mock city' for training first responders

I loved conducing the interviews for my latest Today's Engineer article, which looks at a growing technology career:

Career Focus: App Development

And finally, after some time off, the folks at Green Hands USA have started up again. Here are three short new articles for them:

Does Your Tuna Contain Mercury?

Save Green While Going Green: Try Leasing Solar Power

Angry Birds Helps Fight Bird Extinctions

That's it for now. More next week!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From the archives: 4

Another ad from the archives. I'm pretty sure this came out around the same time as the awful Fantastic Four movie. Luckily, it stands on its own.

Click the image to see it full-sized.

Monday, December 5, 2011

New articles: Rarest of the rare, dogs, sex symbols and graphic novels

I have about 187 new articles to write this coming week, so let's get right to last week's links:

First up, two Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American, both about species on the razor's edge of extinction (one of which might already be gone):

Have You Seen This 'Extinct' Snake? Snapping a Photo of It Alive Could Be Worth $500

Illegal Deforestation Threatens the Last 23 Hainan Gibbons

Mother Nature Network kinda put me on the dog beat last week, with two good stories about dogs. I also got to write about actress Hedy Lamarr and her hidden history of invention. (CNN linked to that article and gave it a great push).

Military dogs suffer from PTSD

You can thank 1940s sex symbol Hedy Lamarr for today's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices

Bulldogs face health problems from reckless breeding

Finally, here are two new book reviews for Graphic Novel Reporter.

I Will Bite You! And Other Stories

Uncle Scrooge: Like a Hurricane

Next week's list will be about twice as long. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed for the links as they happen!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From the archives: Bioengineering

I just found a scan for an ad I never posted here, part of this series that I both wrote and modeled for, one of the more interesting chapters in my professional career.

Anyway, click the ad to see this full-sized. And no, that's not me in the photo.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Most Interesting Wombat in the World

Thanks to the shortened Thanksgiving week, I only had one article published last week, but it was an...interesting one. I interviewed the advertising icon "The Most Interesting Man in the World" about his efforts to save one of the world's rarest mammals from extinction.

Can the Most Interesting Man in the World Help Save This Critically Endangered Wombat? 

This was not only fun to write, it was a chance to write about a species I have hoped to cover for months now. And it's done some good. The auction mentioned in the article just closed after raising well over $1,000. That's impressive.

More next week!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

From the archives: DNA

The archives are producing a treasure trove of projects I enjoyed working on over the years. Here's an ad I wrote for IEEE about five years ago. I still like it.

(Click on the image to see it in all of its glory.)

Monday, November 21, 2011


Huh. You'd think that will all of the hours I put in last week I would have published more articles. But most of that work was interviews and research for upcoming features and other projects, so I don't feel bad. Not every article I write can come out within a day of my writing it!

Anyway, here are this week's links -- two new Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American and two news items for Mother Nature Network.

Amazing Neptune's Cup Sponge Rediscovered in Singapore

Another Rhino Goes Extinct and Other Updates from the Brink

Family mourns pug's death on transatlantic flight

Co-founder of Facebook competitor Diaspora dies at 22

There probably won't be a huge amount coming your way this week -- it is almost Thanksgiving, after all -- but you never know, maybe I'll surprise you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From the archives: Just Right

Digging into the marketing archives again, here are two of the four pages from a large-format brochure I wrote to launch a new IEEE informational product. (As memory serves, the product didn't last, but it set up the market for several more successful services that followed behind it.)

(You can click on this image to view it in more detail.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Traumatized chimps, gay penguins, icky diseases and a poem

Looking back on it, last week was pretty wild as far as my writing was concerned. My articles were all over the map, but in a good way. That's the fun thing about being a freelance writer: you never know what the next assignment or story is going to bring.

This week's two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American covered important topics, and they both generated a fair amount of discussion:

"Save the Chimps" Sanctuary Builds a Home for Traumatized Apes

Should Gay, Endangered Penguins be Forced to Mate?

I usually do one feature a month for IEEE-USA's Today's Engineer, but I did two for the November issue. Here they are:

New Jobs Council Report Addresses Entrepreneurship, Promises 10,000 New Engineers A Year

Career Focus: Systems Engineering

Mother Nature Network continues to let me report on a wide variety of stories. Here are this week's including one of the ickiest things I've had to write about in a long while:

Christo's $50 million 'Over the River' art project approved

Steven-Johnson syndrome: HIV drug can cause life-threatening skin reaction, says FDA

Is there evidence of extraterrestrial life? Nope, says Obama administration

And finally, on a completely unrelated note, I have I have a science fiction poem called "Manscaping" in the latest issue (#15) of Illumen magazine. I sold it back when "Manscaping" was still a commonly used word.

That's it for this week! More links in seven days!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

From the archives: Passion

Here's an advertisement from several years back: a full-page ad for a technical journal that we tried to make more lively. I still like it.

(Click to view in full size.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

From the archives: The China Syndrome

(Originally published in Kyoto Planet, January 2008, and still quite topical.)

The China Syndrome:
Can the World Be Saved if China Doesn't Go Green?

By John R. Platt

There's a lot of talk these days about China's impact on the environment -- and with good reason. China is now the world's top producer of greenhouse gases, it's the home of 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities, and some of its factories have infamously shipped tainted goods to clients around the globe.

China produces 70-80% of its electricity in coal-burning plants, and its energy needs have more than doubled since the beginning of the decade, according to the Worldwatch Institute. Meanwhile, its population is moving from rural areas to cities, where they use more power and buy cars, which adds to the country's demand for fossil fuels.

China's growth has been fueled by an export-driving economy that finds it supplying goods and services to companies and countries around the globe. According to the World Trade Organization, China became the world's second-largest exporter in 2006, and the WTO predicts it will become the world's biggest exporter in 2008.

Amidst all of this, the Beijing government has started taking steps to improve China's environmental impact. Massive clean-up efforts are underway in preparation for this year's Olympic games. Meanwhile, China was expected to invest over $10 billion in new renewable energy capacity in 2007, including wind turbines and production of solar photovoltaic cells.

But even with these and other steps in the right direction, China can't do it alone. "It has to be a collaborative effort," says Elizabeth C. Economy, the C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council for Foreign Relations. "What we have to focus on is how we all can work together to solve this problem."

Part of the difficulty, says Economy, is that local officials tend to ignore the central government's environmental mandates, which lack enforcement on the local level, in favor of profits and economic growth.

"Chinese factories, institutions, the government...everyone needs to be on board," says Economy. "There has to be a local commitment. You can have a great effort from Beijing, but if you don't have the follow-through to the local level, it's essentially meaningless."

So, if a business wants to make sure that the Chinese goods it orders are being produced in an environmentally responsible way, what can it do? The first step, says Economy, is that "any company needs to know the factories from which it is sourcing. Some multinationals might not even know. It's difficult to know. Many Chinese manufacturers source their production to 10 different places."

After that, says Economy, businesses need to find out if the factories are, at the very least, adhering to Chinese environmental standards, and find ways to reward the factories that are doing a better job.

"Businesses can say, 'you're doing the right thing, Factory X, so you'll give us a greater portion of what you're selling, to the detriment of Factory Y, which isn't doing a good job.' You can reward factories which are going green, and punish those which aren't."

Some NGOs are involved in efforts to help businesses gather information on factories' environmental impact. The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, has lent its support to the Greenwatch environmental ranking system in Jiangsu Province. The NRDC plans to work with multinational retailers and manufacturers to develop what they call "preferred supplier systems" for factories with strong environmental records.

"The solution isn't going to come from multinationals or foreign governments pouring money into China or placing new technology, which has happened over the last few decades," says Economy. "If you don't have a willing and capable Chinese partner, you're not going to get very far. China needs to develop the infrastructure to support a better path."

As part of this, Economy says that China needs to examine the way it prices its utilities. "China froze the prices of its natural resources. Water is priced well below market rate in China, and energy is too. Concerns for social unrest keep the price of water and energy low. But if you want to create an incentive to conserve, you have to be willing to pay a price."

Forcing Chinese factories to go green may have another price, forcing the cost of goods and services up, but it might be a price we need to pay. "Can China go green? Yes," says Economy. "Can the world be saved if China doesn't go green? No."

Bat Week, Lions helping Lions, Cancer and more

Monday was Halloween, my favorite holiday, and I kept the spirit of the season going all week long by writing about bats over at Scientific American:

Could an Artificial Cave Help Protect Bats from Deadly Fungus?

England Tries Wire and Mesh ‘Bat Bridges’ to Save Endangered Species

(You can read all of my recent articles about bats here.)

My latest book review is up at Graphic Novel Reporter, an excellent graphic novel by a son about his father's cancer:

Seeds by Ross Mackintosh

Sadly, cancer also came up in one of this week's stories for Mother Nature Network:

'Survivor' winner and activist Ethan Zohn announces his cancer has returned

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill loses 50 pounds with help from Twitter

Finally, my feature article on how Lions Club members helped to conserve critically endangered Asiatic (Gir) lions appears on page 40 of the November 2011 issue of Lion magazine, which you can flip through here.

I have several great stories already in the works for this week. Make sure to follow me on Twitter for links as they go live.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Your Halloween treat: nine new articles

I'm late posting this week's list of articles because our unexpected and bizarre Halloween snowstorm has left us without power, heat or Internet. Luckily, hotel rooms provide all three!

This week's two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American couldn't be more different, but they are each vitally important in their own ways:

Poachers Drive Javan Rhino to Extinction in Vietnam

Please Don’t Feed the Endangered Eagles?

I'm back at Mother Nature Network after a couple of weeks (my editor took some time off). Here are my latest stories for them:

Prince Charles claims kinship to Vlad the Impaler, helps to save Transylvania's forests 

Apple plans massive solar farm in North Carolina

College tailgate parties go green with the EPA's Game Day Challenge

GPS maker Garmin releases fitness app for iPhone and Android

Green Hands USA seems to have finished up its brief resurrection. Here are the final few posts for October:

Target Commits to Sustainable Seafood

Tips for a Eco-Friendly Halloween

Giving Jewelry? Go Green with Man-Made Diamonds

In other news, my first feature article for Lion magazine should be online tomorrow (it arrived in my mailbox Saturday) and lots more is in the works.

See you next week!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Captive Wildlife Laws, Shark Fin Alternatives, Preventing Pesticide Poisoning and a Poem

This week's two Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American were incredibly popular, in no small part because they touched upon some very important and timely topics:

Ohio Animals Tragedy Calls Attention to Loopholes in U.S. Captive Wildlife Laws

Could Farming Sustainable Tilapia Help Cut the Demand for Shark Fin Soup?

My "green living" blog posts for Green Hands USA were also more popular than usual, for which I am grateful:

An Organic Apple a Day Keeps the Pesticides at Bay

Protect Rivers and Lakes by Disposing of Drugs Properly

Rerun article: How Walkable Is Your Neighborhood?

Finally, these new book reviews for Graphic Novel Reporter also garnered lots of traffic. I'm glad, because they're both good books (although for totally different reasons):

Time Bomb

Teen Angels and New Mutants [This is my vote for best comics-related book of the year, BTW.]

On a completely different note, I received my contributors copies of Space and Time Magazine # 115, containing my poem "Necropsy." The issue should be available soon. Check it out!

I'm finishing up two new features this week (and starting a third) while also working on my next half-dozen Extinction Countdown columns, a corporate newsletter, and various other pieces. I'm also pitching some potential new publishers with some ideas I'm dying to write. Stay tuned for more!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tigers, Halloween, Salaries and a Contest Win

Monday means making links, with last week's articles and a few other tidbits.

This week's two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American not only covered important issues, they were also quite popular. The tiger article was the most popular in the last month, while the pheasant article was the only coverage of this species on this continent:

Mystery Tiger Deaths Solved: Canine Distemper Plagues Siberian Tigers

Surveys Find No Sign of Endangered Vietnamese Pheasant

My latest feature for Today's Engineer went up last week. This is a pretty useful service for engineers:

Is Your Salary Competitive? Find Out with the Latest IEEE-USA Salary Survey and Calculator

Green Hands USA continues to chug along. Here are two new blog posts, along with a rerun:

Kids, Roar for Big Cats this Halloween

Home Depot Recognized for Commitment to Saving Water

Rerun article: 7 Inexpensive Ways to Stay Warm This Autumn

Finally, this week, I won Eli Stein's Cartoon Caption Contest again! This is my fifth win, and while it's not the New Yorker caption contest, it will hold me over until I start posting my own cartoons online again in a few weeks.

More next Monday!

P.S. -- I'm taking on new writing clients to help pay for my poor pug's cancer treatments. If there's anything I can write for you, let me know!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Now live: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

For the past few months, I have been editing and rewriting the old comics-related entries for the new edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which was last published in book form in 1991. The new edition went online yesterday and can now been seen in all of its glory here:

SFE: Science Fiction Encyclopedia

My next task for the SFE is to start writing new entries, again related to comics, which will encompass some of the best writers and artists in the field, as well as the 10 or so most essential SF-related graphic novels.

There's a TON of great information and fun reading in the SFE. If you enjoy science fiction books, movies, music, magazines or comics, check it out.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hellbenders, innovators, a relaunch, and a graphic novel

It's Columbus Day, but most of the freelancers I know work holidays, and I'm no exception. I'm working on a ton of new stuff this week, which you'll hear about on this blog next week. Until then, here are all of last week's new articles.

This week's two Extinction Countdown posts for Scientific American were quite popular, and I was quite happy to be able to write about one of my favorite species for the first time in four years:

Hellbender Salamander Gets Endangered Species Designation, but No Habitat Protection -- and That May Be a Good Thing [my 2007 article about the hellbender can be found here.]

Poachers Wiping Out Rare Monkey in Tanzania

I love writing for Mother Nature Network, especially when they let me cover technology news. Here are two cool new articles:

Manta ray inspires Princeton researcher to create 'magic carpet'

Popular Mechanics names James Cameron most innovative leader of 2011

After a brief hiatus, Green Hands USA returned last week, with one new article and one revision to an older piece:

Try Blackle, the Search Engine that Saves Energy

How to Choose Eco-Friendly Halloween Candy

And finally this week, here's a new book review for Graphic Novel Reporter:

Approximate Continuum Comics

Last week's planned launch of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction was delayed. We're expecting it this week. So look for a link next week. Or follow me on Twitter for links as they happen.

Monday, October 3, 2011

4 new articles: DMZ, rare tigers, weird fruits, and hair loss (plus a glimpse at the future)

This week brought four new articles and laid the groundwork for many more.

First up, my usual two Extinction Countdown posts for Scientific American:

South China Tiger Conservation Program Mourns Big Cat Lost in Tragic Fight

South Korea Seeks to Protect Endangered Species in Demilitarized Zone [this got a huge boost thanks to a link from iO9.]

There was also a brief interview with me about Extinction Countdown, which you can read here.

I also wrote two new posts for Mother Nature Network, both of which were fun to research:

Pawpaw: Rare fruit inspires passion and taste buds

Alopecia: Study reveals divorce, smoking and drinking can cause baldness in women

This coming week will bring 1) more of the above, 2) the return of Green Hands USA, 3) the possible publication of any of several pending features, 4) the launch of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, where I'm the contributing editor covering comics, and 5) who knows!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Koalas, geniuses and monkey assassins

What a delightfully odd mix of articles this week...

First up, my two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American:

Tunnels and Bridges Could Help Save Koalas from Extinction

Natural Gas Company Fined $500,000 for Damaging Endangered Species Habitat

Next, two news items for Mother Nature Network (the second of which is a rework of an article from a few months ago now that the event it's talking about is "live"):

MacArthur Foundation honors 22 new 'geniuses'

The art of hand washing

(And as long as we're talking MacArthur geniuses, here is my interview with two of last year's honorees, from IEEE's The Institute.)

Finally, two new reviews for Graphic Novel Reporter: Hit Monkey and Photo Booth.

That's it for now! More soon!

Monday, September 19, 2011

This week's stories and the stories behind the stories

What a great week. I wrote about some fantastic ideas, as well as a few scary news items, and found out about a cool reprint of one of my articles.

First up, this week's news items for Mother Nature Network:

New 'jelly' batteries could provide cheap, safe power for small electronics [This was the most popular story on the for days after CNN linked to it from their home page.]

Climate change researcher, biomimicry expert among annual Heinz Award winners

Studies: Lint from synthetic fibers is polluting the ocean and coastal beaches [Eek! Especially tough since we wear so much polar fleece up here in chilly Maine.]

Are your sheets preventing you from getting a good night's sleep? [As a sleep apnea sufferer, I'm always looking for ways to improve my slumber!]

Next up, my two Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American:

Return of the Toxic Avenger: Rhino Advocate Proposes Poisoning Horns to Protect Them from Poachers [This was a sequel to one of my all-time most popular Extinction posts, which can be found here.]

Texas Wildfires Devastate Last Habitat for Endangered Houston Toad [A scary, sad story, this was very tough to report on. The full effects of these terrible wildfires won't be known for months.]

Finally this week, an oldie but goodie: one of my articles is included in this new e-book, "The Best of IEEE-USA Today's Engineer: On Consulting – Volume 2." Read more about it here.

More next week!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Big week: Species debates, bare bums, book reviews and getting into management

Monday brings my weekly round-up of the previous week's articles and publications, and this week there were a bunch of them.

First up, my usual two Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American:

Should Captive-Bred Chimpanzees Have Full Endangered Species Act Protection?

Last-of-Its-Kind Plant Could Get Federal Protection

Next, this week's news article for Mother Nature Network (which was a hoot and a half to write):

San Francisco considers protecting its benches from public nudity and bare bottoms

MNN also published my latest book review for them:

'Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind'

Speaking of book reviews, here are two new ones for Graphic Novel Reporter:

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity

Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet

And last but not least, my latest career focus feature for Today's Engineer. This was incredibly fun to pull together. I conducted about a dozen interviews with people around the country. The resulting article should be a crowd-pleaser:

Career Focus: Engineering Management

More next week!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

From the Archives: Wes Craven's New Nightmare

[Continuing my excavation of old articles and reviews written in the days before email. I think I drove a horse and buggy when I wrote this!]

A Novel by David Bergantino
Tor, Pb, $4.99
ISBN 0-812-55166-4

(Originally published in The New Jersey Graveline, December 1994)

Okay, first things first. Run out and go buy yourself a copy of this novel. I'll wait.

All right, now that you've fought off the holiday shopping crowds and made it back alive, let me tell you why you just bought this book. David Bergantino's adaptation of the movie "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" is done the way novelizations should be done. In fact, it goes even further than that, and manages to become something unique.

By now you are probably aware of the plot of the "New Nightmare" movie -- while preparing to film a new "Nightmare on Elm Street" movie, the cast and crew are stalked by a suddenly very real Freddy Krueger, who is intent on keeping his story and his character alive -- but knowing that won't quite prepare you for this novel.

Bergantino does much more than just adapt the movie - he adds to it. Scattered throughout his novelization of Wes Craven's script are excerpts from Bergantino's own journal, written over the course of the two months in which he wrote the novel. These journal entries depict Bergantino himself dealing with troubling dreams that echo the situations in the script he is adapting. Also included with the journal entries are newspaper clippings detailing events the occurred in the previous year -- real events that found their way into Craven's script -- as well as letters from someone trying to contact Bergantino regarding his book, and a "matter of life and death."

These extras are what make the book worth reading. As Bergantino's journal depicts his growing paranoia, and as the newspaper clippings show us that the deaths of several characters in the script actually happened in real life, the book takes on an almost surreal quality. It becomes harder and harder to distinguish the reality from the fiction, and the book becomes scarier and scarier as it progresses, because the reader just doesn't know what to believe!

Based on Bergantino's journal entries, WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE is his first book, and I really feel it could be a career maker. As a novelization of a (relatively) hot movie, the book will undoubtedly sell better than most first horror novels, and that should show publishers that his later books might sell.

On the other hand, this could be the work of an established novelist, written under a pen name, as many novelizations are, but I'd rather assume that it isn't.

Take a long look at this novel. Not only is it very good, it just might give you an idea of how to write a novelization someday yourself. After you do that, start getting your name out there. Let editors know that you are available and that you are cheap and fast, and someday it could be you writing that novelization. And maybe that will lead to something else for you, too...

[Whatever happened to David Bergantino? He wrote a few YA horror novels after this, then disappeared. Or at least his byline did. A shame.]

Update 8/17/2013: I just got an email from David Bergantino, two years after I posted this old review and nearly 20 years after I first read his New Nightmare novel. He's not only a real person, he has written several other novels and worked on a long list of video games. How nice to have this "mystery" solved after all these years!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New articles: My favorite extinct species and the world's most reviled sports mascot

Last week was a bit of a shortened work week as everyone (myself included) either spent their time recovering from Hurricane Irene or preparing for the long weekend. But the week still brought four new articles from me, including one about my favorite extinct animal of all time, the notorious Thylacine.

That article was one of this week's two pieces for Scientific American:

Newly Discovered Hawaiian Bird Could Already Be Extinct

Thylacine Hunted into Extinction for No Reason, Study Reveals

I also wrote two new articles for Mother Nature Network, the first of which is pretty scary, and the second of which is too damned funny:

Record droughts in Florida fuel spread of invasive plant Melaleuca

Meet EcoKat, the eco-enforcing Kansas State University mascot

This is already another short week, but as always, it will be full of new words and stuff. Have a good one, and stay tuned for the latest from my keyboard.

(Oh, and make sure to check this blog from time to time, as I'm starting to post some old articles that I have recovered from the Platt Archives.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

From the Archives: The Sister

[JP note: I just uncovered a treasure trove: my old copies of The New Jersey Graveline, the newsletter of the Garden State Horror Writers. I wrote a few hundred articles for this newsletter over the years, and editing it helped fast-track me to the life of professional editing and writing. Scanning the old issues is a bear (the electronic files are long-since gone), but not impossible, so I'll be posting select articles and reviews from time to time. Here's the first.]

by Elleston Trevor
Tor/Forge, HC, $20.95
ISBN 0-312-85555-9

Originally published in The New Jersey Graveline, April 1994

I wanted to like THE SISTER. Really, I did. Elleston Trevor has a gift for description that, at its best, could place him near the top of a very short list of talented suspense authors.

Unfortunately, the plot, setting and characters in THE SISTER are so bad that, ultimately, the book is almost unreadable.

THE SISTER concerns Debra and Madlen Felker, two sisters who flee uncaring parents and a dangerous school system and enter a convent, the Sisters of the Sacred Light. Once there, however, it becomes evident that Madlen, who professes to love her younger -- adopted -- sister, is actually trying to kill her.

Now, since Debra and Madlen are the central characters of THE SISTER, it is a tragedy that they are as poorly drawn as they are. Their personalities change chapter by chapter, their actions (especially Madlen's) are impossible to believe, and their dialogue is wooden and forced. In fact, when we are first introduced to the sisters at the beginning of the book, Trevor's use of the characters is so uneven, they seem to be anywhere from ten years old to eighteen, depending on what paragraph you are reading.

It is this earliest part of the book -- the first 50 pages -- that are the weakest in THE SISTER. Trevor's portrait of the Felker family is unbelievable, and the parents lack any sense of being fully-drawn characters. And when we see the high school the girls attend, it seems as if Trevor has not set foot in a high school, let alone talked to a teenager, in several decades. Since we are expected to believe that Debra and Madlen want to become nuns to escape from the violence in their school and the anger of their parents, Trevor's failure to make that world believable makes the sisters' actions forced and unreal.

The book doesn't stay this bad, though -- although throughout THE SISTER the book is flawed by serious logic problems and poor dialogue. At some points, Trevor's skill at description comes close to actually saving the book. Look at this paragraph, from the end of chapter 4, as Debra and Madlen leave the outside world and enter the convent:

"The only sound now was their footsteps, and Debra felt the urge to turn and run back into the warmth of the sunshine out there while she had the chance, but the great doors slammed shut suddenly, sending echoes thudding along the walls, and the bell in the tower Slopped ringing at last, and a deep silence fell."

That's great stuff, very evocative and moody. There's bits and pieces of that scattered throughout THE SISTER, and there is one great three-chapter section where Debra is trapped in the darkness of secret passageways underneath the convent, but it just isn't enough.

Unfortunately, the only way to recommend THE SISTER is as an example of a book that failed, but has a few moments of brilliance struggling to shine through.

Monday, August 29, 2011

3 new articles make an impact

Only three new articles last week, but they made an impact.

First, my two Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American:

Ecuadorian Hydroelectric Plant Could Cause Extinction of Rare Plant [This is the only US coverage of this rather major event.]

Endangered Species Status Sought for 'Don't Tread on Me' Rattlesnakes [Mother Jones picked this up and ran with its more ludicrous political aspects.]

And, my latest for Mother Nature Network:

Could your shoes power your cellphone? [This was reprinted by Forbes, the Miami Herald, the Sacramento Bee and several other publishers.]

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Autonomous Robotic Vehicle Earns Student IEEE Scholarship

One more recent feature, for IEEE's The Institute, which should have been linked in last week's update, but the publisher's site was down for a few days, so here 'tis:

Autonomous Robotic Vehicle Earns Student IEEE Scholarship - The Institute

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chimpanzees, riding for trees, and Obama's bus

Oh, how I wanted to make that headline all rhyme. Oh well...

Anyway, while I work on several new feature articles, regular article work continues.

First up, two new posts for my Extinction Countdown blog over at Scientific American:

Rediscoveries, Recovery and Other Good News for Endangered Species

Should Rwanda Relocate Humans to Make Room for Chimpanzees?

And next, two new articles for Mother Nature Network:

20th annual Tour des Trees to raise money for tree research and education

Obama's $1.1 million bus draws criticism

More next week!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dugongs, Dr Pepper and Cyber Security

A couple of long-gestating articles finally saw print this week! There's lots more in the hopper, and new articles always in the works, so the next few weeks should be equally interesting.

First up, my usual two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American:

Dugong Deaths Way up Down Under

Baby Mountain Gorilla Rescued from Poachers

Next, a couple of articles for Mother Nature Network:

Dr Pepper feud brewing in Texas

Book review: 'The New Normal: An Agenda for Responsible Living'

Should Nik Wallenda be allowed to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope?

And finally, my latest career profile article for Today's Engineer:

Career Focus: Cyber Security — A Growing Threat, a Growing Career

Keep watch on my Twitter feed for the latest and greatest as they are published!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

Extinctions, a tree crisis, and graphic novels

This week brought three published environmental articles and two graphic novel reviews.

First up, my two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American:

Kenyans Reportedly Chewing "Potency" Herb into Extinction

How Eating Frog Legs Is Causing Frog Extinctions

Only one article for Mother Nature Network this week, but it's an interesting one:

Atlanta's tree crisis: Heavy storms, drought and invasive species take their toll

And after taking some time off to move, I'm back at Graphic Novel Reporter. Here are two new book reviews for them:

Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators

Phoenix Without Ashes

I've been working on several new features, which should be popping up this week and next. I can't wait to see what gets published when!

Back to the keyboard...

Friday, July 29, 2011

New Links to Tech Articles

One of the tech/engineering pubs I frequently write for, IEEE's The Institute, just got a major redesign/relaunch. You can find all of my articles for them here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

This week's article links

What the? Only three articles published last week? Shocking! But I have so many in the hopper coming up over the next few weeks that you should have plenty of reading to do all through August.

So what were the three? Well, two were my usual Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American:

Want to Conserve Bats? There's an App for That

Whitebark Pine Turned Down for Endangered Species List

The third was a news piece for Mother Nature Network:

Dangerous drug 'bath salts' still legal in many states

Stay tuned for lots, lots more!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Consulting, Carmageddon, Talking Canines and Countdowns

I love my job. Where else could you write about Hitler and Justin Bieber in the same week?

Before we get to either of those people, here are my latest two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American:

Good News for 2 Rare Leopard Species

Deadly Rabbit Disease May Have Doomed Iberian Lynx

This careers article for IEEE's The Institute has already proven quite popular. I had a lot of fun interviewing these folks:

Everything You Wanted to Know About Consulting but Were Afraid to Ask

Finally, this week's batch of (mostly weird but also inspiring) articles for Mother Nature Network:

Google's altruism after Japanese earthquake was boon to company

Hitler tried to teach dogs to speak German?

As Carmageddon approaches, Justin Bieber says don't text and drive

Solar Sister uses the power of the sun to empower women in the developing world

7-Eleven wants to give you a free Slurpee today [oops, you missed it.]

That's it for this past week. Lots more links in seven days!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dangerous plants, rare camels, a new editorial gig and the grossest story I ever wrote

Last week brought a bunch of new articles, an announcement or two, a contest win and other goodies.

First up, Scientific American launched their big new blog network, which Extinction Countdown will be a part of. Here are this week's two articles for them:

Enormous, Endangered, Epileptic Loggerhead Turtle Gets MRI Brain Scan [Definitely check out the video in this one. Very cool.]

Last Wild Camels in China Could be Saved with Embryonic Transfer Technique Perfected in U.A.E.

Next up, a new batch of articles for Mother Nature Network, where my editor recently joked that they should just go ahead and make their reporter for weird and odd stories. Hey, works for me.

Deadly Mexican drug cartels expanding into illegal logging

Hogweed: Blindness-causing plant spreading across New York

Mantria Corporation: The biggest green Ponzi scheme ever?

What's in your navel? Hundreds and hundreds of types of bacteria [I gotta tell you, I just about puked writing this story. Have fun reading it!]

This next bit isn't an article, but it's words, so it counts. Once again, I was the winner in cartoonist Eli Stein's cartoon caption contest. This was my fourth win, and possibly my favorite.

Finally this week, it was announced that I'll be a contributing editor, covering comics, to the new version of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the first new volume of this massive tome in many years and the first to be done completely online. We launch next year. Should be fun.

Monday, June 27, 2011

4 new Extinction Countdown columns

What have I been up to the last two weeks? Mostly it's been moving. Packing, driving back and forth, cleaning, waiting around for movers and other helpers, unpacking, etc. That didn't leave much time for writing.

But although I took these two weeks off from most of my freelance work (does this count as a vacation?), I did continue my Extinction Countdown column for Scientific American. Here are the four latest articles:

Farming Rats and Bees Could Solve Bushmeat Crisis in Africa, Experts Say

Arabian Oryx Makes History as First Species to Be Upgraded from "Extinct in the Wild" to "Vulnerable"

Platypus Threatened by Climate Change

Polly Wanna a Date? Rare Parrot Needs a Mate

There will be lots of new stuff this week. Make sure to follow me on Twitter for the links as they happen.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Shocking news about solar, a rhino eulogy, and a Roling Stone

Another week has gone by, bringing with it a bounty of new articles. First up, my latest feature for Today's Engineer, which offers shocking perspective for those of us waiting for sustainable energy like solar and wind power:

Career Focus: Power Engineering

Next up, my two weekly Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American, including one of the most difficult pieces I have ever had to write:

China's Yangtze Finless Porpoise Faces 80 Percent Decrease in 30 Years

Rare Northern White Rhino Dies of Old Age—and Then There Were 7...

Finally, here are a few new articles for Mother Nature Network, including an interview with MNN co-founder and Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell:

Book by farmer and rocker Chuck Leavell advocates smart, green growth

Visit the Tree That Owns Itself

Follow a truck full of pet food as it makes deliveries to animal shelters across the U.S.

There won't be as many articles this week or next as we pack up our house and move (to a much bigger house), but stay tuned, because there's plenty more in the hopper.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Two weeks of article links!

Boy, holiday weekends complicate things! We take time off to relax and celebrate and the work week falls to pieces. (Actually, I'm not so sure that's a bad thing.)

But anyway, now that last week's post-Memorial Day four-day week is over, here are a bunch of links to my articles from the last 14 days:

First up, a batch of endangered species news for my Extinction Countdown column over at Scientific American:

Algal Neurotoxins Found in Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals

Hundreds of Rare Saiga Antelopes Die in Kazakhstan (Again)

Citizen Scientists and Social Media Aim to Help Prevent Frog Extinctions

Rare All-White Kiwi Born in New Zealand Breeding Program

Next up, a variety of eco-flavored news for Mother Nature Network:

State legislatures cracking down on hookah smoking

Facebook challenge grant aims to donate 100 service dogs to vets with PTSD

Would you hunt wild boar with a handmade spear?

Next, my final (for now) batch of stories for Green Hands USA. They're restructuring. I expect to be creating new stories for them in a month or two:

5 Ways to Green Your Memorial Day

iPad App Teaches Kids to Save the Rainforest

Which American Cities Have the Cleanest Air?

Would You Pay Extra for a Stamp that Helps Endangered Species?

And last but not least, here's a graphic novel review for Graphic Novel Reporter:

Ivy by Sarah Oleksyk

Some new features will hit your screens this week. Stay tuned to my Twitter feed for the latest links.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Killer chimps, greener goods, cheaper gas and big art

Are you ready for this week's article links?

First up, the latest two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American:

Updates from the Brink: A Plan for Bats, Oil-Spill Penguins and Branson's Lemurs

Ugandan Chimpanzees May Be Hunting Red Colobus Monkeys into Extinction

Next, three new "green living" blogs for Green Hands USA:

California & New Jersey Are Tops in Solar

Are You Still Willing to Pay More for Greener Goods?

Got an Attic? Save on Cooling Costs with a Solar-Powered Attic Fan

Next up, two new pieces for Mother Nature Network...

Christo's big art vs. bighorn sheep

Swarms of parakeets invade London

... and a Yahoo! Green reprint of an earlier MNN story:

When's the best time to buy gas?

That's it for this week, but I've been working my fingers to the bone on several new features that will appear throughout June. Until then, see you next week!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Women in engineering, bear bile, and cute baby aardvarks

Another week, another wide range of article topics!

There was only one Extinction Countdown article for Scientific American this week, because last week had three. But this one really got people talking:

Illegal Trade in Bear Bile Flourishes throughout Asia

Two new feature articles appeared over at Today's Engineer. These were great fun to research and pull together:

Stemming the Tide: New Study Examines Why Women Leave Engineering

Career Focus: Biomedical Engineering

I'm working on a few big pieces for Mother Nature Network. Here are two short ones that appeared last week:

Abandoned baby aardvark pulls through with zookeepers' help

Bone-grafting product Augment receives positive recommendation from FDA

And finally, here are this week's blog posts from Green Hands USA:

An Incandescent Bulb that Saves Energy?

5 Tips to Reduce Asthma

Seattle Named Most Walkable City

This week will bring a lot more new stuff, plus a rare in-person appearance for me as I sign my books and comics at the Maine Comics Arts Festival in Portland. I hope to see some of you there!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Wolves, Cicadas & Angry Birds

I feel pretty lucky right now. All of last week's articles were extremely popular, and all were fun (or at least challenging) to write. You can't go wrong there.

This week had three Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American, instead of the usual two, but there was some breaking news (the wolf story) that needed covering:

Extinction Likely for World's Rarest Bear Subspecies

Wolves Lose Out to Politics, Removed from Endangered Species List

Possum-killing poison helps protect New Zealand parrot

Both of my stories for Mother Nature Network last week stayed on their top ten most-read list for several days:
The dog that helped take down Osama bin Laden

13-year cicadas wake up, prepare to swarm in Georgia and 11 other states

Green Hands USA has had to cut back a bit while they work on closing some necessary sponsorship deals, but if the readership counts on last week's blogs are any indication, that shouldn't be a problem for long:

6 Simple Ways to Green Your Dinner

Save Energy (and Money) this Summer with these Tips from the EPA

Angry Birds Game to Help Endangered Birds

Macy's: No More Unsustainable Hangers!

This week should bring a few new features, as well as more of the same. Stay tuned for more!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Audubon, Frogs, and stuff you missed

Another fun week was topped off by appearing on TV several times on Saturday, not to promote my articles but the work of my local Lions Club. Those brief interviews don't appear to have been archived online, but all of my writing was, so here are this week's article links.

First up, my usual two endangered species columns for Scientific American:

Low genetic diversity, local resentment threaten great Indian bustard

Central American crocodile recovers and crawls off endangered species

Next, a fun piece for Mother Nature Network, based on the 226th birthday of naturalist John James Audubon (a day that also happened to have been my own birthday):

5 things you didn't know about John James Audubon

This week also saw the usual six "green tips" blogs for Green Hands USA. Some of these are for events that have already passed, but I tried to make them timeless:

It's Arbor Day: Let's Celebrate Trees [this was very popular]

Frogs Need Your Help Today [my third year in a row covering the annual Save the Frogs Day]

Kajeet: Go Green with Refurbished Phones

Blue Book Picks Greenest Cars of 2011

Which Supermarket Sells the Most Sustainable Seafood?

Five Things to do AFTER Earth Day

Finally, here's a bit of humor I did for my own blog. This got re-tweeted a number of times. I think you'll get a kick out of it:

10 new names for 'Global Warming'

Monday, April 25, 2011

Richard Branson, Earth Day, immortality and... green oil?

Wow. For a week when I was so busy, how did I publish so few articles? "Only" nine new articles this week -- shocking!

Oh well, that just means you have a ton to look forward to in the coming weeks, because quite a few goodies are in progress.

But enough teasing about the future. Here are this week's links, starting with my two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American:

Richard Branson wants to release endangered lemurs in the Caribbean

Deadly forest fire leads to resurrection of endangered tree

Next, an article for Mother Nature Network, updating a story I've been covering for the past six weeks:

Man connected to Auburn tree-poisoning case assaulted, goes on radio show

Now we come to the usual batch of blogs for Green Hands USA. Half of these are for events that are now past, but what the heck, read them anyway, you might learn something:

Which Oil Companies Are Greenest?

Newest HP Products Use 50% Less Energy

What Are You Doing for Earth Day This Year?

The Best Way to Cut BPA from Your Diet? Eat Fresh Foods

Have an Eco-Friendly Easter

41 Unusually Green Things to do for the 41st Earth Day

Finally, here's one from the archives (re-posted last week on this very blog), an essay for writers called Immortality Guaranteed.


Friday, April 22, 2011

From the archives: Immortality Guaranteed

(Here's an essay I wrote several years ago for a writers' newsletter or magazine. I'm sorry to say I lost track of exactly when and where it was originally published, but the advice it contains is still pretty solid, so here it goes, represented now for posterity.)


By John R. Platt

Once you hit adulthood, the powers that be start telling you that no matter how little you might own, it’s time to draw up at least a simple will. But for writers, artists and other copyright holders, a simple will just isn’t enough.

The copyrights on our works extend for 75 years after we die, but if we don’t take care of things properly, those copyrights could end up languishing in the hands of the state, or the state could end up deciding who our stories belong to after we die. I think that just about every author out there has some illusion of their works creating an immortality for them, and that won’t happen if you don’t plan ahead for the future distribution of your work.

First things first. Go see a lawyer. The following is not official legal advice, and you can’t do all of this on your own.

What you want to do is appoint a Literary Executor to handle your copyrighted properties in the case of your death. This could be a relative, a friend, an agent, or even a library or university (though they’ll mostly only want the works of “notable” authors, and they’ll want to control all future rights). This person or institution will then have both rights and responsibilities over your intellectual property. You can assign whatever rights you want, and also certain responsibilities. You can even assign multiple executors if you see the need.

Establishing an executor helps to answer several important questions regarding how your works are handled after you die. Do you want a specific relative to own your stories? Do your relatives even want control of your works? Do you want someone to work constantly to keep your works in print? To whom do you want royalties to go? If your executor becomes unable to handle their duties, do you have an alternate?

If you worry that you might approach a time when you would still be alive but unable to properly manage your copyrights, you can also set up a living trust, someone who has the right to take care of your properties until you die, at which time, an executor might take over.

These rights can not be assigned fully in a will, and really, should not be sprung upon the recipient when you die. Make arrangements before-hand if you can. If you want immortality, or at least a few years of being read after you die, you need someone who will look out for you as much when you are gone as when you did when you were alive.

Go do this while you are able. You can always change things every few years as your copyrights change and your associates and family change or die off. But once you die, it’s too late. You might want your stories to live forever, but sorry to say, you won’t.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Climate change, UFOs, the rare mountain bongo and...nannies

This week brought a wild mix of articles, mostly about environmental topics, but a few touching on other oddities of life.

First, let's look at this week's three Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American:

Wolves lose, tigers gain, penguins in peril and other updates from the brink

Australian mathematicians say some endangered species "not worth saving"

Mountain bongo faces extinction after more than a century of decline

Next, we have our usual big batch of posts for Green Hands USA:

Five Ways to Cut Your Junk Mail

How Walkable Is Your Neighborhood?

Which Airlines Fly the Greenest Skies?

Locavores: Find Free Fruit in Your Neighborhood

Fight Global Warming by Blocking Spam

How to Plan A Carbon-Neutral Wedding

Now, a mix of articles for Mother Nature Network:

Climate change arguments explained

FBI opens online vault, revealing UFO, Roswell files [Nearly a week later, this is still the most popular story on]

10 things childcare providers won't tell you [This was actually a rewrite/expansion of another author's MNN article that was then published at Yahoo! Green]

Finally, on a different note, one of my MNN articles inspired artist Ian Bunn to create this: "Of everything that I do this most rewarding" -- Pretty cool.