May 14

I’m the “world’s top banana reporter.”



According to Knight Science Journalism/MIT’s tracker. Which is better than “Dan, Dan the Banana Man,” I think.

May 14

Update on the global banana crisis…from me, and Chiquita(!)

Stricken bananas in Mozambique. Courtesy Altus Villjoen.


Summary: the disease has spread to Africa, where attempts to control it – a difficult proposition – are underway. Coincidentally, just as the story went live at PopSci.com, Chiquita CEO Ed Lonergan – in his company’s quarterly investor’s conference call – addressed the issue of banana disease in detail for the first time.  Among other things, Lonergan said: “We know tropical race 4 has migrated to Africa. And we would be silly to think that it isn’t moving across the world over the course of the coming years.” It is absolutely a huge acknowledgement and a very good thing for Chiquita to be dealing with the reality of this. The big question: will the potentially doomed Cavendish monoculture be replaced with another potentially doomed, and absolutely damaging, monoculture, or will the commercial banana industry finally adopt a variety/diversity-based approach. A transcript of the call (PDF) can be downloaded here.

Read the whole PopSci piece here.


Aug 13

Bananas, me, and strange story of the Cavendish variety, on the BBC

They actually go to the Chatsworth Estate, where the Cavendish variety – the banana variety we eat – was developed.  Listen here




Feb 13

Photo Forensics and a Family Mystery – Solved.


This photo has been in my family for years. It depicts my grandfather, Morris Koeppel (left, in glasses), in front of the clothing store he owned in the 1930s. The picture has been around for years, but I’ve never known where the store actually was. I had always thought it was in Manhattan, but the rough consensus was that it was probably in Queens, and most likely in Kew Gardens Hills, near where my grandparents lived.

The argument against that was that the store address – we could see the number “1460” in the image – didn’t follow the somewhat odd Queens borough numbering system, which break addresses into two-part designations indicating the nearest numerical cross street.

The only real clue I had – and it didn’t pan out – were the reflections in the mirror of the store. They were faint, but I could see that a shoe store was located across the street. And that was that. A dead end. A couple of days ago, I emailed the picture to Joe DeMay, who runs the now-archived “Old Kew Gardens” website. Within a few hours, Joe replied, and the mystery was solved.

He wrote: “I love mysteries. For this one I engaged the help of a Richmond Hill historian, Carl Ballenas, who is expert at tracking down such details. We independently came to the same conclusion…The store shown in the photograph is not in Kew Gardens, or even in Queens. It was at 1460 Broadway in Brooklyn. The world Triangle in the store’s name is appropriate because the streets there form a series of triangles along Broadway. The clues are to be found in the reflections in the store’s windows which are more easily seen if you flip the picture to see a mirror image and view at full size. Across the street was a Bohack and also a Sparber Shoe Shop shown at 1461. I found that there was a Bohack at the time at 1457 Broadway. Carl found an old Sparber ad for 1461 Broadway. That building at 1461 today matches what can barely be seen in the window reflections of your photograph including the pilaster columns and the second floor wall cutting catty corner across the first floor roof. Across the street, where your grandfather’s store was, now has no buildings.”

I have attached and enhanced some of the images Joe and Carl sent (Joe graciously says that Carl deserves “most of the credit” for the discovery; I’m grateful to both of them!)

The Google Maps image of the lot where the store once stood answers another question: why was it called “Triangle Clothing Company.” The shape of the existing lot gives that away: the store is named after the shape.

What’s most interesting about all this is how neighborhoods change. From the advertising circulars – as well as the look on my grandfather’s face – this was a thriving commercial area once. It appears less so, now, but the community garden that now sits at the location of my grandfather’s store shows that there’s still something vibrant there.

Now, the final mystery: who is the other person in the picture?


Jul 12

It took over ten years to get this story published…


That’s me and my friend Morgan Beeby; we ran the Nullarbor Plain in an attempt to prove that it could be done – and, in my case, to exorcise some old demons…

I’ve been obsessed with Robert Garside – who ran around the world, only to find that nobody believed him – for over a decade. I wrote the first version of this story in 2005, but it never got published, mostly because the story drove me a little bit insane. Proving that Robert Garside ran around the world became, sometimes, the most important aspect of my existence, something that created tension in my relationships, career, and especially my own sense of self. That’s because I was one of the people who didn’t believe Garside at first, and because my disbelief – publicly expressed – did great harm to what is, in my view, the greatest running achievement in history.

As part of my ongoing attempts to redeem myself and Garside, in 2010, with my friend Morgan Beeby, I ran a portion of Australia’s Nullarbor plain. The run is the framing device used in the published version of the story, which finally appeared in the August, 2012, issue of Runner’s World. The piece isn’t online yet, but you can find it on the newsstand via the magazine’s tablet editions. I’ve posted a link to a PDF of the piece below; please don’t redistribute it.

I’ll tell a little more of the story behind the story in a bit – I’m waiting for the RW version to appear at the magazine’s website – but I wanted to get the main story posted.

Download the story here.

Jul 12


After some weird and entirely avoidable database migration issues, I’m slowly rebuilding the site. Links and pictures are mostly broken; content and text are in fairly good shape. Hopefully all will be well soon.

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