What I’m working on:
These days I’m mostly editing. Top priority for me is China, where we now have a three-person team—Dennis Normile and two top-shelf freelancers, Christina Larson and Kathleen McLaughlin—contributing stories. I’m also working closely these days with Lizzie Wade in Mexico City on Latin America coverage, Rhitu Chatterjee in New Delhi, and Erik Stokstad in our Cambridge, U.K., office.
I still get psyched about ambitious writing projects. My beat is science in the Axis of Evil (including countries in rehab like Burma and Iraq). In February, I made it to Cuba for the first time and relished the chance to sip mojitos and try a Cuban cigar outside the Hotel National, which sits on a bluff overlooking Havana Harbor. Then in August, I visited Iran for the first time in 10 years. Both trips yielded unique stories.
And purely for fun, my brother Rob and I wrote a screenplay that features time-traveling, ghost hunting, string theory, and a Victorian murder mystery. He lives in Denver, and I live in Falls Church, Virginia, so we worked on it together mostly over the Internet over the course of several months. We finished it in early October. We don’t have any illusions about becoming screenwriters (at least I don’t!), but it was a lot of fun working on that side project.
Where I work:
After more than 12 years overseas, I returned to the Science mother ship in downtown Washington, D.C., in early 2013. I haven’t done much to decorate my office since moving back. I put up a few posters from North Korea and have a shelf full of various Chinese teas. I feel like I’m still in transition. I have great neighbors—Leslie Roberts and Liz Pennisi—on either side of my office.
On mornings when it’s dry and not too chilly, I drive my Chinese sidecar motorcycle (a 1961 Changjiang 750) to the East Falls Church Metro and cross fingers that the trains are running on a normal schedule. I try to get out of the office for lunch with sources, or with friends and colleagues, at least a couple times a week. My afternoon schedule is variable—sometimes I head home early to chauffeur my sons to and from extracurricular activities, then in the evening put in another hour or two of writing/editing. If a few months have passed since my last reporting trip to some exotic location, I start to feel like one of those ships rusting out in the Aral Sea desert. As I write, it’s been more than two months since my Iran trip. Desiccation and wanderlust are setting in. But I’m running out of Axis of Evil countries to report from.
Most productive part of my day:
I’m a morning person. Most of my creative work is done before 10:00 a.m.
Most essential ritual or habit:
I steep tea at my desk. It’s a soothing ritual that helps me get in a groove.
iPhone 6. Always with me. Haven’t worn a watch or packed an alarm clock in years.
Our computers at AAAS are antiquated Dell desktops. I bring my MacBook Air to work and use that when my Dell freezes and needs to be rebooted—a frequent occurrence. Sometimes I don’t bother with the Dell and just use my Mac.
Essential software/apps/productivity tools:
Pleco, my Chinese-language app, is invaluable. So is Final Draft, the software I use for screenwriting.
Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:
I don’t have any time to waste. I have to be as efficient as possible to get my work and emails done to allow time for family life and hobbies like screenwriting and squash, which I play three or four times a week.
My reading habits:
Sorry to all my colleagues who write books, but I haven’t read a nonfiction science book in ages. I read almost exclusively novels and screenplays. Download the screenplay for the Breaking Bad pilot, by Vince Gilligan. It’s awesome.
With school-age kids you get to bed as early as you can—our middle-schooler needs to catch a 6:45 a.m. bus. I’m usually unconscious by 11:00.