Letter 15 Hi! It's been too long, and I have found a few hours at the end of a long week for a quick update on my life. I think my last update was a very brief note before taking off for Europe at the end of last year. For those of you in a hurry, the most important information is that my address has changed, 308 Scott Street, San Francisco 94117 phone number: 415-505-9354 (my mobile) Map I am experimentally changing my e-mail address to try and separate work and play e-mail so you might want to try using: XXXXXXXXXX http://www.feb17.org (pictures and stuff) Europe I had quite an amazingly and relaxing time at the end of last year. I went travelling with a good friend Amanda and managed to squeeze in London, Amsterdam, Berlin (Amanda then went to Prague), Salzburg, Innsbruck and Munich. I think one of the definite highlights of the trip was seeing NY eve in Berlin and then waking up the next morning to see the new euro introduced. Those crazy Germans. It was quite cold at that time of year but still very fun, I've decided I love train travel, especially since there are no two-hour waits to get on a train and to get through security checks. Hunting for a home in SF, It was on a train to Brussels late last year that I sketched out everything going on in my life, and I started my big project for 2002 would be looking at (emphasis on looking not buying) real estate in San Francisco. I've always assumed it would be kind of unrealistic to contemplate actually owning a place (I think the median price is over $400,000 in the Bay Area), but started looking in January and was pleasantly surprised at what was available around $500,000. I was pretty sick in February with some nasty virus, so it wasn't until March that I really started looking seriously. It's common in this market for there to be a real estate agent acting for the buyer in addition to the regular sellers agent, and I was very lucky to get in touch with a lovely gay couple of real estate agents who were very professional and who made what was about to become a very complex process relatively straightforward. I looked at a large number of places over a relatively short period of time and managed to eliminate romantic ideals I had about living in a loft south of market. I looked in various places but decided the triangle between church, market and Hayes Valley (up around Duboce triangle) was a good area based on neighbourhood and public transport. I ended up falling in love with a beautiful Edwardian unit in the Hayes Valley, Lower Haight area. There is a lot of debate at the moment about whether it's easier to buy, and whether the market has "bottomed". It certainly seemed a lot less insane than a year ago, but once I had decided on this place, that's where the fun began. Buying real estate in San Francisco.. The price was very reasonable (about $400,000), but it was rather complicated. For a start the building is organised as a Tenancy in common, meaning that I officially bought 23 percent of the building not my unit, so it is jointly owned and the mortgage is a joint responsibility. I've been getting to know my neighbours very well. There are rules under which you can convert to a condominium (separate ownership joint management of common areas), but for very complex reasons mainly to do with City rental politics, this is a very complex process currently involving changing City laws, legal challenges and a lottery. I hope in about five years that it will be possible to do the conversion and it should significantly increase the value of the place. The second problem also involves City rental politics. At some stage tenants had been evicted from the building, under something known as the Ellis act, meaning that to re rent you need to first to re offer the place to the original tenant that was evicted at the same rate. It turns out my unit has been Ellis acted but the tenant left voluntarily so there hasn't been an eviction, but that person has been re offered and they refused so I'm free to rent, after spending two hours with an attorney at $275 per hour. He did mention one other interesting point, which was that the seller had only participated in 8 percent of the loan on the building, which had subsequently risen in value, and this explained why the seller is actually advancing most of the loan since I cannot take out a mortgage on a fraction of the building. This is all fine once the condominium conversion happens but the loan from the seller was originally for five years (that was rewritten somewhat in subsequent legal negotiation) etc. etc. etc. that was March and April pretty much every evening reading researching and signing waivers that in true Californian fashion explained that I understood no one takes responsibility for anything anymore. The earthquake documentation was certainly sobering. On the bright side, this house has survived two of the largest earthquakes in inhabited history, so that seemed like less of a concern. We did have a good earthquake that seemed to be widely reported recently (although it was small) and it was certainly felt (I was over and Kathy's place), so I still haven't felt one in the new place. My new home! May first I took possession of the house. It was quite an experience really. It's a grand old building (1897 probably, the precise records were destroyed in the fires of 1906, but they have the water connection dates), and it's still strange some mornings waking up in this huge space (it has very high ceilings, ornate wooden doors, a huge clawfoot bathtub, lovely stained glass in several places) and thinking this is mine. I promptly took off to New York for a week, and then set about the slow process of moving. You can see a lot of the pictures on the website. It was actually sad leaving my tiny apartment in Nob Hill, it has a lot of associations and I really loved the neighbourhood. I have a lot more space now. I think the total area is about 1000 square feet, I had the carpet removed and hardwood floors put down before I moved in. There is one bedroom, a front living area with computer and fireplace etc. it has a long hallway heading down the back to a dining room, bathroom, kitchen and small laundry area. One of the things that has taken a little adjusting to is that I need to walk to other places in the house - my living space isn't all on top of itself (if you ever saw my last place you can understand why I mention this). It's one of four units in the building and my unit is on the ground floor. There is a picture online of the front doorway which has these impressive gates and four amazing front doors. It's in a pretty cool neighbourhood, a little more eventful than my previous place with a higher than average percentage of body piercings, interesting bars, goth girls, dive bars, actual last century, vinyl analog media retailers and neat restaurants. There is great public transport and I can easily walk over to the Castro. I'm still riding down town to the train station. It's about the same distance but no intense hill at the beginning. I am pretty much moved in, there was a housewarming a few weeks ago. I'm still splitting time between my place and Kathy's over in the Mission. The place is relatively well set up for guests, so I'm expecting you all to drop by at some stage. Oh, I have a garage space (shared tandem parking), so Kathy has brought her car up from Orange County but it mostly stays in the garage. I'm still resisting having a television but I do have a 23" Apple flat screen display and a TV card in the computer, so I'm dangerously close to joining mainstream pop culture again if I just by cable. Cartoon ;) Work I guess the big change in my life was my former boss deciding to resign at the end of October to work out what he wanted to do next. Four of us ended up in charge of the informatics department in the interim and we interviewed a number of vice president type people, which was pretty interesting. It's a very young field and no one has much idea of what's going to happen next, so it's hard to find that type of person. In the interim I learnt a lot very quickly. I think it was the first time in my career where I went from expecting my boss to set the basic parameters of what I'm doing, to having a boss (the chief scientific officer) who really wants to hear what we should be doing. They ended up putting myself and one other person in charge of the department, which has been pretty challenging but certainly helping me grow up. The entire department is about 40 people. Exelixis itself continues to do well. Probably easiest to read the full story on Yahoo EXEL The stock price has been pretty depressed over the last six months since September 11. A combination of some pretty poor clinical results in the industry in general, a major financial scandal at a New York biotech company and general investor pessimism with the economy, the Middle East, terrorism, simian President, etc. have been main influences. We have largely continued to deliver what we promised but of course an actual product is years away after clinical trials. We are still expecting to have an actual drug ready for clinical trials by early next year (according to our investor conference calls, of course I can't give you any real information), and we have been focused on cancer. It has been very exciting working for a company growing up, and learning about the whole drug discovery process in addition to all of the exotic biology and more recently the regulatory process. I still actually manage to get programming done, and occasionally get to work on an interesting project or find a gene. It's clear there is going to be some very interesting work done over the next few decades in health and agriculture. Romance. I think I mentioned the love of my life in my last e-mail. Kathy and I have been dating now for about eight months and still haven't killed each other, so it must be a good relationship right? She is currently studying (taking classes to prepare for going back and studying computer science, I promise I didn't have any influence) and doing some photo editing for a website along with a bit of contract programming. We spend a fair bit of time together living out of each others houses (I have gotten to know her cats pretty well). We have plans to come out to Australia early next year (January 9th at this stage). Kathy and I met through a mutual friend Rachael last October properly (although we had met before). She had just returned from a well earnt post dot-com vacation on a beach in Costa Rica. Her family lives down in Orange County. I'm sure she would appreciate more visits to her website http://www.kathyahn.com or find her (on the left) in this picture Kathy pic 9/11 Yes that's American date format. A lot of you have asked what it's like over here at the moment. It's hard to summarise succinctly but it's definitely changed. Airline travel is much more of a pain than it used to be. There is a much stronger police presence on public transport, and in buildings etc. people are a lot more paranoid about strange packages. Every now and then there is a warning about a threat to the bay bridge. My building is very close to the airport so when you see a plane on a strange trajectory it's always a little disconcerting. A couple of military helicopters flew by my office the other day. I think what has been most stunning has been the reaction overseas. After a brief period of (to quote the French President) "we are all Americans today", it seems to be back to the usual low-grade anti-Americanism, "they deserved it", "it's a result of American policy". It's strange being a foreigner here. On the one hand, I was raised in the country distrustful of American culture but on the other hand it was a lot more personal realising that someone wants to attack the place you call home. There has also been an enormous amount of analysis of what comes next with some pretty plausible scenarios around some pretty unpleasant events, and as you read daily saturation coverage of all of the material recovered from Afghanistan from people plotting chemical attacks, biological attacks, even investigating nuclear material, suddenly "just give peace a chance" seems pretty naive. I think that's the general sentiment in the US. Enter San Francisco which has a very traditional left-wing liberal slant relative to the rest of the country and of course you have a proportional swing the other way. As one editorial noted, there is a segment of the population overrepresented in San Francisco that seems to think Osama just needs a big hug and some therapy. I suspect not everything can be solved with the carrot approach. What is probably more alarming is the pretty sharp reaction against privacy. The government pretty quickly gave itself a lot of new powers and no one dares question them lest they look unpatriotic (there was a near riot in congress the other day as everyone rushed to condemn the 9th circuit appeals court which had ruled that "under god" was not constitutional in the pledge of allegience for a country with separation of church and state). It is a really tough question how you stop a bunch of people prepared to die in the name of God who are living in the middle of an open democratic society without monitoring anything. It's had an interesting spillover effect into other areas too - eco terrorism is lying low, even the infamous militias (e.g Mitchigan militia) in the US are showing declining memberships. People haven't destroyed any genetically engineered crops lately for fear of being labelled terrorists. Crime in New York even decined. It's been a very odd year. Play I'm still having a lot of fun in San Francisco. I have a good collection of Australian and American friends, there still seems to be a regular stream of visitors, we spend a lot of time it seems hanging out at restaurants (think "Friends" with slightly less lighting and more fog). I still like recreational bike riding up big hills, or curling up in the sun in a park with a good book or the New York Times. There are less conventional forms of recreation around here too, it seems everyone is building a website still in their spare time, there are lots of events on in the city (gay pride parade tomorrow) etc. I spend a lot of time reading nonfiction, I think I'm trying to work out partly what I want to do with the rest of my life and it seems like there are so many interesting options, and there is going to be so much happening in the next few decades that it's hard to sit still sometimes and it's fun just reading about all of the possibilities. I guess I'm still very optimistic about what our lives will bring, the current ills in the world notwithstanding. Travel and staying in touch I need to go back to Australia at short notice for my INS interview, probably sometime in the next two or three months (Yes Toto they do schedule the interview in Australia so I can stay here in SF). I will be back in Australia early new year when my sister is expecting to add a new tier to the family tree, and probably Germany late August England early September, so it would be good to see you! I hope you are all doing well, thanks for all of the e-mail updates and bugging me when I'm slow to reply, I only have 2000 pieces of e-mail at the moment which is not too bad ;) Love, Darren.