Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Articles and Gerbils

My latest article is up online. It's a Q&A with Craig Venter, who decoded the human genome and is now trying to create biofuels, and it accompanies this week's cover story on synthetic biology. Both are good reads, but don't take my word for it, I'm biased.

Also, I have a new favorite picture for you:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hops and Barley

My beer recommendation of the week: Blue Point Blueberry Ale. It is brewed with over a hundred pounds of blueberries, and it tastes accordingly: a rich, fruity taste that, unlike a lot of fruity beers, doesn't overpower. Very smooth. Now available in the New York area (try the Westside Market on 14th St. and 7th Ave. for a bottle of your own).

Thursday, May 17, 2007

From the Wax Poetic! Dept.

Latest gem from the New Yorker, in a Talk of the Town piece on the French elections:
The first round of the election had been a free-for-all, with a roster of candidates that included the leader of the Fishing, Hunting, Nature, and Traditions Party; a Communist postman of undisputed charm; and an anti-globalizing farmer whose mustache alone appeared to be the product of an agricultural subsidy.
Oh, to write like that!

Also, did anyone else notice Google's subtle switch to a new layout today?

Revolutionary method for predicting final Sopranos episodes

The Sopranos has defied expectations since its inception almost ten years ago, so my method for predicting what's to come hinges on the following:

Step 1. Predict the obvious.
Step 2. Invert the obvious.


Obvious: A.J., heartbroken and brooding over the evil of man, kills himself.
Inversion: A.J. kills Tony! Perhaps his depression causes him to dwell on the ugly brutality of his world, and when he discovers one of Tony's evil deeds (killing Chris, killing Adriana, etc.) he takes it upon himself to rid the world of his father's violence.

That would be rad.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hallelujah! Falwell's dead!

Joyous news: Jerry Falwell shuffled off the mortal coil today! The old bigot supported segregation, apartheid, homophobia, Republicans, etc. After 9/11, he had this to say:
"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

Rest in extreme disquiet, Falwell!

This is why I love New York

Because someone took the time to create a fully interactive map with every bar in New York City. Drag a neighborhood into the center of the map, and a sidebar tells you the most popular haunts and highest rated joints. Hover over a bar and you get a picture, address, stats, and review. And you can find out how far it is from the nearest subway stop. This is the best reason yet to get a Blackberry.

Monday, May 14, 2007

I Am Cattle

The world continues conspiring to make us cattle. Whole Foods at lunchtime has always felt like stockyards. In Union Square, shoppers with a handful items stand in one of five express lines. As cashiers become available, a clerk gives you a register number and points you in the right direction.

Now the whole process is automated. Available register numbers appear on an enormous, colorful LCD screen and drop into a row corresponding to the lane whose turn is next. Shoppers blithely follow the dictates of an automaton.

The Matrix and Arthur Clarke envisioned a future controlled by robots. I think they were a little optimistic. As services become more and more streamlined and electronic, wealth will be increasingly concentrated, until the whole world is ruled by one man sitting at an enormous switchboard, controlling every facet of our consumerist lives.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

In a day here I see more than in an entire life in suburbia

I woke up in upper-class Manhattan, took the train to the Brooklyn ghetto. Saw a robbery, met the police (who protected and served), who drove me through Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, where out of a thousand faces, one was white. I ended the day at a LCD Soundsystem concert, where out of a hundred faces, one was black.

We humans are too disparate to ever be integrated.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Observe the Footwear

A crime has no soundtrack. There is no crescendo of strings to announce the bad guy, no blare of horns as the strike comes. It happens much slower than expected. Time becomes viscous. But so do our reactions.

I boarded the Brooklyn-bound L train and sat next to the perpetrator, although at the time he had not yet become one. (At least in my frame of reference.) At one point, he eyed me intently, as I sat in a headphone bubble. I was being careless with my bag, letting it sit next to me, instead of around my neck like usual, and I got a little paranoid. But my liberal gut-reaction told me: Don't judge a book by its cover. Be tolerant, and all that.

Still, when he stood up at the Grand Ave. stop, and lingered by the doors, I took notice. But mine is a self-centered paranoia (as, I imagine, most are): I fleetingly worried that he would re-board, wait to observe my stop, mug or beat me on a darkened street.

Momentary pause for a description, as I later told the police: light-skinned black or Hispanic, older, in his forties, with a gut, maybe 200 pounds, and beady eyes overshadowed by a thick brow. A mouth full of jagged, askew teeth, although that came later. A bum or user, I figured. Brown striped shirt, jeans, some sort of cap on.

Now this is where time slows down, and where the menacing string section would usually make its debut. The doors are about to close. He grabs the purse of the Asian girl next to the exit. He pauses, because the doors are taking longer to close than expected. She starts to get up, to scream and cry out, and he bats at her once with the purse. This is when the reality of what's happening hits you. Before that, it could have been an exchange, a transaction - the ease with which he lifted her purse, her languid reaction, the mind's reluctance to believe in extraordinary events - all that makes a fog of confusion. But when he bats her, and slips through the doors, then it's real.

But not over. The doors shudder for a second, pause, and in that instance the girl grasps for her purse, from the inside of the train. With a flat palm, he strikes her in her face, and she falls back in the train. The doors close and he's on the platform, safe.

I hit the intercom, talked to the conductor for her, because her English was splotchy, and the train's only other passengers spoke mostly Spanish. At DeKalb, we exited, gave a report to the police. They drove us back to Grand, and we canvased the projects for a while, looking for the perp.

At the detectives' station in Crown Heights, which, remarkably, is responsible for all of Brooklyn, I looked through suspects in a computer program, re-told the story. It took hours. The detectives were amazingly nice, fetched me water, treated me with respect. Not that I didn't appreciate big-city police before, but I certainly do now.

After we finished up, two detectives drove me back. "Next time," - God forbid - "always look at the shoes. He'll change his upper wear, cut his hair, but nine times out of ten, he'll be wearing the same shoes."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Last Night, Or How to Derail a Bedtime

If your friend is bartending, you obviously go to her bar, even if it's past 11 on a school night - oops, work night - and even if your bed, inflatable mattress thought it may be, is looking mighty cozy. You obviously go to this bar, especially if has a name like The Duck, and especially if it's in an up-and-coming if slightly scary neighborhood dotted by low-income projects and recent crime scenes. And you obviously bring your roommates, plus the friend of theirs that they picked up from a Sean John modeling audition, who are all a little bleary-eyed from drinking all day.

So this is how you find yourself at a hipster bar in Bushwick with three male models. And after you introduce everyone to your bartender friend and her roommate, who's playing it coy in front of shag-worthy specimens, you obviously play board games. Connect Four to start, followed by a little Trivial Pursuit, which, when you think about the context, has a pretty accurate title. And, as the slim acute angle formed by the hands of the clock grows wider, you shimmy out of the bar, toward home. You also, of course, decide to spare your readers the continued use of the second person.

This is where it gets interesting. Since Sterling told Brad about the mugging he saw at 4am last Saturday/Sunday, an acute paranoia has affixed itself to Brad's psyche. You might think there'd be no one safer than a six-foot-five-inch former NCAA Division I water polo player. You might think that, I might think that, but Brad just can't convince himself. Which is why, after Brad agrees to walk his friend to the subway, and Sterling and I drop Shira at her front door, we decide to call Brad and, in as frightened tones as possible, warn him about the menacing group of scary young black kids we just saw headed his way.

So this is where 6'5" Brad, I shit you not, actually refuses to let his Brazilian model friend take the subway home to the Upper West Side, and makes him walk Brad home. We're still on the phone with him and tell Brad not to take a certain street - that's the street the youths are on! - and divert him to another street, one with many hiding places. When he catches a glimpse of us, crouched behind a car, he finally starts to suspect something, but is still unsure enough that he crosses the street. He calls out hopefully: "Come oooooon, guuuyys." His voice quivers a little. By the time we've all reached the apartment, Brad has convinced his friend to sleep over, primarily so that there's no chance of him going back out into the night.

Strangely, the story isn't over. Background: Sterling is impetuous; Brad and I collected a free Craigslist couch on Wednesday, but couldn't manage it up the stairs; the only other way of ingress is through our third-floor balcony sliding-glass window. Sterling proposes an idea: with four sets of muscles and a sadly unused coil of rope lying about, why not give it a shot now, at 2 in the morning and two or three drinks deep?

Five minutes later, we have the couch standing on one end, a shabby fiber rope slung around the other, and, best of all, an audience, Craig, jingle-writer for a pharmaceutical company and next-door neighbor, who's come out to his own third-floor balcony to cheer us on. The three male models hoist the rope, defying all stereotypes by showing complete lack of concern for bodily injury or chafed hands. I scramble over the railing to guide the couch around the ledges below us. Craig hollers at me: "Spider-Man!"

Later, inside, with cups of Colt 45 in hand and Craig over for a visit, we pose - no, model - for a celebratory photo.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Today's Thoughts

Whoever designs Haruki Murakami's book covers, especially the newest one, ought to be given a promotion.

The New Yorker has arrived a little late at the Banksy party, but Lauren Collins' article is decent (I'm halfway through) and has renewed my urge to be a subversive guerrilla artist.

Google getting into television ads = impending world domination?

Asked for a yes/no answer on whether they believe in evolution, three Republican candidates gave a hearty "Nein!"

By the way, I live in the ghetto. Sterling saw someone get mugged a block from our apartment last Saturday night at 4am. Welcome to pre-Giuliani New York!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A morning of great woe and gnashing of teeth

I moved this morning. Yesterday afternoon I booked a van to arrive at 9am, one of those man-with-a-van ads regularly posted to and on coffee shop bulletin boards around town. I got up at 8am, did my thing, called the van guy at a quarter till 9 to make sure everything was on track. No answer. No sweat, I thought.

Roughly 8 calls and 45 minutes later, still no van. I finally get a callback from van-man Joseph, who says he's running late, it's gonna take another 45 minutes at least. No apology even. Normally I'm a pretty understanding guy, but now I'm pissed.

So I call a car service, get an SUV to come. They're not really in the moving business, but the driver is an amiable Ecuadorean who agrees to help me out for a big tip. He helps me load, and we chat in Spanish on the way over to Scholes St., which he pronounced "Skoles."

After he drops me off, I take the first load up to the apartment. The place is still kind of a mess, with plaster on the floor and some spots that need to be re-painted, but that was to be expected -- the cleaning crew isn't arriving until this afternoon. Still, not a sight for sore eyes.

I drop my bags and head back out, only to find that the door had shut. And the knob was loose. I turned and turned, but the knob didn't engaged the latch. I was locked in my own fucking apartment.

I take a card out of my wallet, not a credit card, something that won't be missed if tragedy strikes again: my Stanford ID card. I tried to slip it through the gap between door and wall, to hook the latch and free myself. No dice. I realized no matter how long I kept trying to slide a piece of plastic through a door jamb from the wrong side, it wasn't going to work.

I look around the kitchen for a screwdriver, something, anything to pry open the lock mechanism. Nada. I have my cell phone, but everyone I know in the area is hours away, at school or work or on a plane. I go out to my third-floor balcony to see if I can climb down, throw myself into a garbage dumpster, or, barring any other ideas, hang myself from electrical wires.

Down below is the Super, Moses, who lived up to both his title and his name. After a little hollering, he delivered me unto the promised land of New York urban grit and grime, freed again from my insidious apartment.