Friday, June 30, 2006

Gone Until July 12

We'll be on vacation in Maine, so I probably won't be posting anything...unless Kelly gets eaten by a moose or something.

It's All About the Abrahams


As you know from my post in May, $5 is an important unit of currency in the Tenderloin.

So maybe this story (about a guy last year who was shot for not giving up a $5 bill) should come as no surprise.

(It also gets me thinking: If any social service is needed in the Tenderloin, it would be something to help people better plan their robberies. There's clearly a pattern of incompetence here.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Worst...Muggers...Ever

Here's a great "stupid crooks" story coming out of the Tenderloin...

At 3:30 a.m. or so Tuesday, these three guys decide they're going to go on a robbing spree (one of them has a shotgun).

But their first would-be victim manages to fend them off with a flashlight (?) and runs away.

Their second victim draws his own gun and shoots all three of them (mainly in the buttocks and groin areas). And to add insult to injury, one of them has to run into a police station for help. All three were ultimately apprehended. D'oh!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Poor word choice?

OK, it's terrible to make light of this...but in the Chronicle story today on the UCSC chancellor who plunged to her death off the 42nd floor of the Paramount building, the headline reads: "UC chancellor remembered as 'unstoppable.'"

Shouldn't the subhead read: "Pavement says otherwise."



(In a side note: Kelly and I once tried to make an appointment to see a Paramount apartment. It was pretty much like that scene in "Pretty Woman," where the sales clerk asks if she's lost.)

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Transforming Power of 'In Da Club'





While out running tonight, I passed a fake cable car. As is usually the case with fake cable cars, it was filled with drunk white people. But even from a distance, something seemed odd. People were going *ballistic* (jumping up and down, swinging off the rails, etc.). Sure, they were drunk, but this behavior went beyond drunk.

As I got closer, I realized the reason: They were playing 50 Cent's "In Da Club."

What is it about that song? Even, what, four years after its release, "In Da Club" never ceases to drive crowds insane. No matter how often it gets played, no one seems to grow tired of it.

I was once at a packed Reno night club when "In Da Club" came on. We were nearly trampled to death as literally everyone rushed to the dance floor. And at weddings? Forget about it. Nothing incites a lethargic group like "In Da Club." We recently went to a Jamaican-Chinese-American wedding. The only thing everyone could agree on (as evidenced by their parquet-floor enthusiasm)? That "In Da Club" is awesome.

It gets me thinking. Perhaps the U.N. could launch some kind of "In Da Club" initiative. I'm fairly certain Hamas or Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could not resist "In Da Club." While the song might not bring about world peace, it would at least get world leaders to shake their asses and possibly spray one another with Cristal.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Holy Microclimates, Batman!

The Yae Area always offers a wide range of temperatures, but this is possibly the most dramatic I've ever seen.

The highs tomorrow (just the highs -- not the highs and lows) are expected to range from 66 degrees at the coast to 108 degrees far inland. That's a difference of 42 degrees!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Play Dates

I just got word on the dates for my play's Chicago run. It will open Friday, July 28 and then run through August.

Now I get to start working with a director to make the play not suck as much.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Sporting Caulk


Last weekend Kelly announced that we had to recaulk the bath tub. At first this seemed like it would be a pain, but that was before I realized what hilarity would ensue (and also that Kelly would be the one doing most of the work).

Some giggle-worthy moments:
Kelly (at home): "We need to go buy some caulk."
Kelly (to the guy at the hardware store): "Excuse me, do you sell caulk here? What kind of caulk do you recommend?"
Kelly (as we're walking home): "Could you hold the caulk while I adjust my purse?"

Remarkably, it wasn't until this last line that I burst out laughing. (Even Kelly had to admit that I showed restraint until that point.)

Hmm... I'm wondering if this post would be funnier in audio podcast form.

Monday, June 19, 2006

'How to Get the Guy'

Last week Kelly made me watch this new reality show called "How to Get the Guy" [just like how she makes you watch "The Gilmore Girls." -ed.].

It's pretty cheesy, but the big selling point is it's set in San Francisco, and, boy, do they ever pimp the city! Every establishing shot shows some glamorous view of the Golden Gate bridge, vintage street cars passing the Ferry Building, or a bird's-eye view of the financial district.

Anyway, if you missed the first episode, SFist has a great recap.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Chuman Time!

Whoa! Check out today's New York Times Web site. You'll find one of the most in-depth discussions about chimp-human hybrids to appear in a major newspaper.

I definitely learned some things. He doesn't get into detail about the chromosome problems (chimps and humans have a different number of chromosomes, which some people think would make cross-breeding impossible). But he does say that you'd be better off having a chimp be the mother and a human as a father, because there would probably be fewer complications with the pregnancy. (All this time, I thought it would be easier the other way around.)

The story is in the Times' "Select" area (which costs money), so I've pasted it here:
Experiments I'd Like to See Done, and Why Mad Science: Crossing Human With Chimp

It's the last day of Mad Scientist Week, and I'd like to discuss the ultimate mad scientist's experiment: what would happen if we crossed humans with chimpanzees?

Along with cloning, this is one of those ideas that has exercised many a science-fiction writer, and fascinated their readers - perhaps because it raises so many questions about what exactly makes us human. I am not proposing it; on the contrary, I think it should never be done. It would be grossly unethical. But could it even work? It is interesting to consider what would happen, and whether, as a purely scientific exercise, it would have any merit.

First things first: has anyone done it already? Annie Gray, in her definitive 1972 book, "Mammalian Hybrids," includes Homo sapiens (that's us), but tersely remarks that there are no reliable reports of H.
sapiens forming hybrids with any other species. Unless there's a remote laboratory somewhere working on the project in secret, this is still the case.

The next question is: what is a hybrid? I touched on this briefly the other day, but as it's important to the argument, I'll go through it in detail here. A hybrid is the child of a mating between individuals from different species. At first, this seems paradoxical. After all, the usual definition of "a different species" is something you can't breed with.

In fact, it's a matter of desire, opportunity and possibility.
Individuals are considered members of different species if they can't interbreed, but also if they can but usually don't, or if they do but the children are sterile or sickly.

Lots of factors stop animals from mating successfully. They may not find each other sexually attractive. They may not physically be able to mate (many spiders have evolved elaborate genitalia, and members of different species often don't fit together). They might be perfectly well able to mate - but never have the chance because they breed in different seasons or live in different places. Deer of species that would never normally mate with each other can form healthy fawns if you bring them together on a farm, for example. Egg and sperm might not recognize each other.
Fertilization may be possible but the embryo might quickly die.
Mismatched chromosomes might misbehave (though the extent to which chromosomes make trouble varies). And so on.

In general, the longer the two populations have been apart, the less likely they are to form a viable hybrid. How long is too long? This differs from one group to another. Species of bird that have been separated for as long as 40 million years can often form viable hybrids if given the chance. Ditto, frogs. Mammals, however, are much trickier.
Among mammals, it's typically difficult to form a hybrid once the populations have been separated for more than 6 million years - though again, there is quite a bit of variation.

The reasons for the greater mammalian fussiness aren't clear. One idea is that the genes involved in regulating other genes have been diverging faster in mammals than in birds or frogs. Another - and this one seems especially plausible to me - is that it has something to do with the fact that mammals have pregnancy whereas the others lay eggs. Why might this make a difference? One simple possibility is that the mother's immune system might treat a hybrid fetus as an alien object, and cause an abortion. (If the fetus is enclosed in an egg, the mother's immune system won't have direct contact with it.)

A more complex reason why pregnancy might make a difference has to do with the fact that, because the fetus develops inside the mother, the fetus can attempt to get more resources than the mother wants to give.
It's like when babies resist being weaned. (Young spotted hyenas are especially prone to vicious weaning tantrums.) But during pregnancy, a baby can get more resources if the placenta, the organ that transfers nutrients from mother to embryo, pumps more hormones into the mother's bloodstream.

In species where females are promiscuous, there is a big conflict of interest between males and females over the amount of resources each child should get. The father of one child probably won't be the father of the next (or even of others in the same litter), so his genes - which he passes on to the child - should evolve to try to get more resources for his offspring. Genes that come from the mother, meanwhile, evolve to suppress this effect, so that all her offspring aren't fighting each other for resources. In species where females are monogamous, in contrast, male and female interests are more or less the same, since the same male is likely to sire many litters with the same female.

In humans, mice and other mammals of our sort, the activities of the placenta are - ready for this? - largely controlled by the father's genes. Now consider what happens when certain close species try to mate.
Female deer mice are much more promiscuous than female oldfield mice, so a male deer mouse's genes are predicted to fight for resources much more than a male oldfield mouse's genes would. Consistent with this, when a male deer mouse mates with a female oldfield mouse, both placenta and fetus become huge, and the mother often dies. Any fetus that manages to be born is one third bigger than babies from either species usually are.
When the oldfield mouse is the father, on the other hand, the pregnancy is much less risky for the mother - but the baby is a runt.

And so to humans and chimps. What would happen? Obviously, without doing the experiment we can't know for sure. But we can make an educated guess.

Humans and chimpanzees have been evolving independently for 4 to 6 million years. This suggests that some sort of hybrid child might be possible. Even if sex couldn't produce one (it doesn't in a lot of human couples, after all), in vitro fertilization might work.

However, female chimpanzees are much, much more promiscuous than human females. So, assuming you could get fertilization, here's my prediction:
if the chimpanzee were the father, the pregnancy would be extremely dangerous for the mother. Probably, few pregnancies could be carried to term. Any children that did result would be huge. In contrast, if the human were the father, the children would be small, and both mother and child would be more likely to survive.

So far, so grotesque. But would doing this experiment tell us anything useful? Actually, yes. Experiments with hybrids are a quick way to survey an entire genome and work out which genes do what. The idea is, you generate hybrids, then (if they are fertile) you mate them to members of each of the original species. You then see, for example, which of the resulting children can talk. This allows you to work out which genes they have - and therefore, which genes are involved in talking. But for the experiment to be useful, you'd need thousands of children.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fudgie Packing

Though I'm now "West Coast 'til the casket drop," I lived in Massachusetts until I was 12. So I'm always excited to encounter nostalgic treats from New England (like maple-sugar candy, which is pretty hard to find around here).

I was thrilled a few years ago to discover that there was a lone Dunkin' Donuts in Northern California -- somewhere in South San Jose. You see, California-based doughnut chains are not as good. It's hard, for instance, to find a powdered jelly, and forget about a Boston Creme. I went to this Dunkin' Donuts a number of times, though not recently -- and unfortunately, it appears to have closed.

But now I have something new to look forward to: Apparently Carvel is opening up locations in the Bay Area (in Los Altos and Berkeley). I hope to be chowing down on a Fudgie the Whale cake in short order!

Is D'Angelo's next??

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Don't Blame the Play-a

Good news out of Chicago: My play advanced through the final round of that competition. It will now get a five-week run beginning in July. Kelly and I hope to get to at least one performance, though we're not sure when yet.

And the same play will be performed at the Fritz Blitz festival at the Lyceum Theatre in San Diego in late August-early September. I've just gotten word on the dates:

Thursday, Aug. 31, 8 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 1, 8 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 2, 8 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 3, 3 p.m.

I also learned an interesting factoid: the guy who runs the Fritz Blitz festival, Duane Daniels, plays Van Clemmons on "Veronica Mars."

Anyway, we're planning on making it to the Saturday performance and maybe the Sunday matinee as well. We'll see.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Parkmerced's Seamy Underbelly

Today's Chron has a story about an odd shooting at Parkmerced, my old apartment complex (now called Villas Parkmerced). Reading this story, you get the sense that Parkmerced has turned into some lawless enclave — with all-night parties, people squatting in apartments, cats and dogs living together, etc. Why wasn't that happening while I lived there??

I also like how the first cop started the shootout by shooting his own partner ("grazing the female officer's head"). SFPD's Finest, right there.

And what's with a Parkmerced apartment having an attic? We were never told of anyone there having an attic.

Tangential Note: Our friends Tim and Elizabeth (who live in Parkmerced) just had their first child, a boy — two weeks early — on 6/6/6. Creepy. I predict this child will spend a lot of time lurking in their attic.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Is She Doing 'The Robot'?

At a 1980s-themed party on Friday...

Our Nationwide Tour of Cities That Have Burned to the Ground

Kelly and I spent nearly two weeks traveling between San Francisco (burned in 1906), Chicago (1871) and Atlanta (1864), and I have much to report:

CHICAGO

I hadn't been to Chicago in a few years (and Kelly never had), so there was a lot of new stuff to see. First of all, Millennium Park is totally kick-ass. It has an amphitheater designed by Frank Gehry, a fountain that projects people's faces on giant LED screens and a massive bean-shaped metal sculpture that creates a crazy prism of reflections.

The amphitheater.



The "bean" (outside).



...and inside.



So as to better blend with Chicago locals, I made an attempt to refer to the city as "The Chi" at all times (a la Kanye West). Shockingly, few local residents appeared to be using the term themselves. Perhaps I was hanging out with the wrong crowd.

We stayed with our friends Mike and Amy, who had a baby boy last year (Jack). The good news: Jack is a delightful baby (note the sweatshirt).



The bad news: Josie, Mike and Amy's old "baby," gets less attention these days.



Mike showed us around Chicago, taking us to the Billy Goat Tavern -- the inspiration for that Saturday Night Live "cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger" skit (Mike made Kelly try to order fries, just so the guy behind the counter could yell at her: "Cheeps, no fries!" Ah, good times.)

And we had a drink atop the John Hancock building. Here's the view.



Mike and me.



And Kelly (the only picture here that I took).



We also did an architecture river tour, which I would strongly recommend. The weird thing about the Chicago skyline, as impressive as it is, is it's hard to take it in from land. The river tour really gives you a better view of the buildings.

All this skyscraper talk made me long to see more of that in my home city. So I was delighted to see that they're considering building some awesome towers over the Transbay Terminal (not too tall by Chicago standards, but at least some of the tallest building on the West Coast).

ATLANTA

This was my first trip to Atlanta in the summer (or late spring), and all my worst fears were pretty much confirmed. It was 97 degrees one day, and while the humidity wasn't off the charts, it was pretty bad.

But I showed restraint and not once did I say, "I'm burning alive!" or "How can you live like this -- YOU'RE A BUNCH OF ANIMALS!!" Kudos to me.

We finally got to see Atlanta's always-sold-out aquarium (the largest in the world). It was pretty neat, though not that much cooler than the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There were a lot of people crowded around the California sea lions. "Ha, where I come from, we treat these like stray dogs," I thought.

Kelly took some cool pictures. Here's a gigantic crab.



A beluga whale.



And I think this is a piranha.



Afterwards, it's feeding time for Nick.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Atlanta Gas


I've had a busy week and haven't had a chance to blog about my trip. But this photo might amuse you -- especially those of us in Cali. (It was taken in Atlanta.)