Darren has left the country ... :)

Against seemingly improbably odds, I have finally succeeded in leaving the U.K, and
am currently enjoying the sunny life around the bay.  First things first - contact

Address:  929 Pine St #201  Nob Hill San Francisco 94108.
Phone number:  (415) 567 3605  (home)
Phone number:  (510) 488 2013  (work)
Work address:  2220 Livingston  Street Oakland 94606.
email       :  daz@exelixis.com

There is so much to tell that I don't know where to start.  Those of
you who are naturally more inquisitive have already bombarded me with
questions (for which I am more than grateful!)  and so with the
arrival of a 240 volt power supply, the purchase of a monitor and the
secret ingredient of spare time, I am finally dealing with your
curiosity enmasse :) 

Getting here wasn't a complete nonevent.  The flight was relatively
straightforward, but as you could imagine, moving four very heavy
suitcases, with an electric guitar perched on top, was not trivial.
It was quite surreal arriving at San Francisco International Airport
(after very long queuing and visa examination), to a magnificent sunny
day, the mayhem that is the American transport infrastructure, and a
whole new life ahead of me.  I took things in my stride, and sampled
the nearest vending machine :)  I should mention that Cambridge turned
on a magnificent morning to see me off.  Staying up all night packing no doubt
made the misty view over the common North of Cambridge with Swans and
cows all the more romantic.

I went straight to work that afternoon, just in time to answer e-mail
and catch the Friday afternoon gathering at a local micro-brewery with
various people at work.  After the seemingly interminable wait for the
visa, there was more than a few people who thought I was simply a
figment of the imagination of the person who arranged to hire me.  It
was kind of amusing arriving with the full entourage of luggage
joining me.  People have generally been really good helping me settle
in.  I suppose it helped that most of the people working on my site
have recently moved from Boston and endured similar experiences.  All
sorts of useful items like air-mattresses have been lent and
appreciated. I stayed for a couple of weeks in a youth hostel
downtown, although I was offerred much nicer accommodation by the
company.  It was definitely a nice way to immerse myself in life over
here.  It's amazing how unsettling it is to be between homes.  I guess
it was easier in some ways in Cambridge, although I am much more
familiar with San Francisco than I was when I first went to Cambridge.
Cambridge was more sorted out, and I had company that time.  I haven't
really felt lonely or homesick.  Apart from being way too busy for
that, it really feels like home, probably from too much time here over
the years.

Other than some quality time enjoying food and sunlight, energy was
pretty much devoted to finding accommodation from that point onwards.
I had decided that since I would probably be relocating to South San
Francisco for work within a year (long complicated story.  It's
impossible to find large accommodation for biotech companies in the
Bay area at the moment), that I would look for apartments in the San
Francisco area.  I signed up with a service that offers e-mail rental
listings from the day after I arrived. They have a great poster on the
wall at their head office.  It has a triangle with "great apartment",
"great location", "good price" at the three points.  Underneath, it simply
reads "choose any two".  I think that pretty much sums up my
experiences hunting for accommodation :)  After initially hunting for
two bedroom apartments and nearly getting a couple, (including one
which had over 50 applicants), I spat the dummy one Saturday morning,
and decided that space wasn't such a big issue.  I then took over 40
current listings for single bedroom apartments, and rang most of them.

About half way through the list people started calling back on a
mobile phone I rented through RentTech, the company I was getting the
listings from.  I finally settled on an apartment on Nob Hill which is
pretty much downtown, near Union square for those who know San
Francisco or have a map handy.  Specifically, it's near the corner of
Mason St. it's hard to convey the geography of the area, but
basically, I'm one block down from the top of a very very steep hill.
I actually hear the scrape of exhaust pipes throughout the night, as
further gouge marks are made at the corner :)  In the morning, I can
hear the clanging of the cable-cars which pass about a block from here
in each direction. I sold out really in the end.  I don't have the
stereotypical view of Alcatraz or hardwood floors.  The view is
several blocks from here and costs $300 more per month.  Here is a
typical rental listing:

SHOWING AREA:         Mission 
BEDROOMS:     1 
RENT:         1200   
DEPOSIT:      1800
COST: 3000
LEASE:        1    
ADDRESS:      550 South Van Ness  (#:A10405)    X-
STREET:     17th St
MAP GRID:     D8    
AVAILABLE:    07/01/97 
CATS:         Negot   
DOGS:         Negot 
TYPE:         Condominium
CONSTRUCTION: Contemporary
# of FLOOR(S):3 of 4
PARKING:      Off Street   
FLOORS ARE:   Carpet
WINDOWS:      Shades
KITCHEN:      Electric
OUTSIDE:      Yard  (shared)
UTILS INCL:   Garbage  Water 

I love this bit - it's a seller's market :)
NOTES:        Showing  Wed 6\11 7-8:30p Pet Must not weigh more then 15lbs  
(dog or cat). Sunny condo, aprox 775 sq.ft.  Very secure and safe building. 
Couple is O.K 
CONTACT:      Mark Christiansen   
PHONE:        415-552-0368

Things are pretty anarchic in the apartment at the moment.  My 10
boxes of possessions have arrived, but I have no furniture and
consequently most things can be found on the floor.  I had to laugh
when I got a Chinese fortune cookie which read "Happy events will take
place shortly in your home".  I take that to mean I will be able to
see more than 50% of the carpet :)  My first major furniture
acquisition arrives tomorrow.  I've gone for the non-futon solution
this time, and a very comfortable, pleasant bed is arriving.  I should
really be adjusting floor space to prepare :) 

If noise is one downside of this apartment, having no parking has to
be the other.  With statistics like 750,000 people living in the city,
250000 legal parking places and 500000 people trying to park every
day, gets pretty desperate at the best of times.  I am actually
enjoying not having a car.  Apart from the 10 minute walk down to the
BART (bay area rapid transport) station, it's been really relaxing not
having to fight traffic across the bay bridge every morning.  I take
the BART 5 stations across to the East Bay, and catch a taxi for the
last few minutes.  I will invest in a bike once I have some spare time.
It's an impressive rush downhill from where I am, to the station.  I
saw someone flash past the other morning, and by the time I had run 15
meters or so to the corner to watch, they were 1.5 blocks away :)
Coming home won't be so pretty :)  An Australian friend described the
hill as "mountain-goat territory".

The company (Exelixis http://www.exelixis.com) is a very sane place
and it's been quite happy and productive so far.   It's a big change
after the Sanger Center.  Apart from being much smaller, it's much
more fast paced in that American start-up fashion.  Everyone works
pretty hard, but it's a lot of fun still. I've certainly learned an
awful lot in the last few weeks very quickly.  For a start, I am still
doing relatively little programming (I have probably written less than
1000 lines of code since arriving, but have probably installed more
like 100000 lines :)  I feel like I have interviewed half of the
population of the West Coast.  There are days when I have interviewed
3 people. We are trying to expand so much at the moment that it's kind
of inevitable.  It also means I go out to dinner a lot with
candidates.  For the record, I haven't cooked a meal for quite a few
months now, and am almost sick of eating out :)  It's great fun being
on the other end of the interviewing process.  It's also really useful
practice for the future.  

We interviewed one very promising
candidate for a computing position.  He seemed good, and was keen to
be "close to the biology", and although I thought it was a pretty
nasty thing to do, I arranged for a small programming exercise after
talking to him.  Although he had done a nice job of the routine I asked
him to write, there was a small bug that I noticed and he missed.
Under some stress trying to find the problem, he was treated to the
experience of a pretty loud siren going off just over a small wall
from where he was sitting.  Someone had left a cold-room door open.  It was hard trying
to keep a straight face whilst the poor guy grappled with the
debugger.  He didn't want to get any closer to the biology :)  Know
anyone who wants to interview with us? 

Our major hassle is space.  Whilst our current East bay location is
adequate, we will need more space, and although the remaining people
from Boston are moving into space in South San Francisco, there will
probably not be enough room for all of us, by the time we move in 12
months time.  It makes computer support somewhat complicated as we
support machines on both sides of the bay from Oakland.  We have given
up looking for space in Berkeley.  The council makes things extremely
difficult over there.  

Unfortunately I can't tell you so much juicy
gossip about projects at work.  In some ways, the open academic
environment at the Sanger Center was a real luxury.  On the other
hand, working on real, focused projects with specific financial goals
is very stimulating.  It's not every day that you wade through some
data and find an interesting new gene with commercial potential.  I
have read and studied various aspects of evolution over the last 15
years or so, but nothing makes it quite so graphic as pulling a random
gene from a fruit fly (Drosophila), searching against the public
database of DNA sequences and discovering it's function from its
elegantly conserved structure.  Despite diverging a mind-blowing
number of years ago (which makes our brief fling with existence look so
insignificant), the same sequence of amino-acids has often been
preserved by the sheer requirement of performing some vital function
over time.
Much of the basic architecture for a multi-cellular organism was
developed very early on.  Simple patterns have often been repeated and
embellished.  We can take genes from human beings and make them
interact with Drosophila gene pathways, allowing us to study them.
For example, you can direct the growth of human neurons using the
Drosophila version of the human gene.  I could go on all day, but I
will continue in the interest of finishing this :)

  Americans :) 
 I have now fortunate enough to appreciate the subtle and not so
subtle differences between several different Western cultures.  It's
almost second nature now to "translate" expressions into the different
dialects of "English" and to switch between idioms when talking to
different people, but I often get caught out.  The family of the guy I
work for has just moved to California, and was at a company picnic
last weekend.  They found my broad Australian "Welcome to California"
quite funny.  I suppose one of the most notable aspects of the
stereotypical American is their openness and the freedom with which
they offer opinions!  Whilst this can be quite welcome and appears
quite warm and friendly, it can also get extremely irritating on the
streets some time.  Chances are, if someone approaches you on the
streets of Melbourne, they have some genuine need to interact with
you.  Chances are in San Francisco that the are either 1) begging, 2)
insane, 3) figure that they should share their opinion with you :) or
4) all of the above.
At the same time, (ok, so this is a big generalization), America is
slightly isolationist still, so this can result in some pretty amusing
discussions if you can keep a straight face.

1) Which state are you from?
2) England?  Ireland?  What other English speaking countries are
   there ?
3) What language *do* they speak in Australia, if you don't mind me
   asking ?

That last one came from someone who was otherwise apparently reasonably well
educated.  The downside of this is that many institutions could easily
convince themselves that I spontaneously came into existence in May.
It's not conceivable that anything relevant happened before that
month.  For example, despite having had 3 credit cards in several
continents now, I can't have one here until I have a six month credit
"History" in the U.S. Despite depositing a small fortune in a bank
here, I had an available balance of zero dollars for several weeks
because of my "immature" relationship with the bank.  My ability to
drive is also suspect, and I will have to take a driving test before
getting my Californian driving license.  I am surprised there is no
firearms test component.  Even people from other
states have to take the written driving test.  So far, half the people
at Exelixis have failed the written test after moving out from Boston
:)  Either that, or they drive around carefully, trying not to cause
trouble, so noone realises they are from elsewhere.  Apparently Boston
drivers aren't so friendly.  The Bay area seems to have a more relaxed
and pedestrian-friendly driving culture, despite having the third
worst traffic congestion in the country.

There are many things I enjoy about the U.S. culture on the other
hand.  They have an almost invincible belief that anything can be
done, and a very rewarding work culture.  Things are very service
oriented and generally you get an impression that progress is being
made.  Of course San Francisco and the bay area generally is also well
endowed with natural and man-made beauty.  I still stop regularly and
find myself pleasantly stunned by some majestic vista.  San Francisco
is a hive of life, food and activity.  It is also one of the most open-minded
places you will find.  There is a gay suburb called the Castro, after
an early gay activist who was murdered.  It's like walking through a
Village-People video clip (only one of them wasn't straight for the
record, by the way!).  Apart from the over abundant supply of
mustaches and excessively built bodies, there is a panoramic
display of same-gender couples of all shapes, sizes and genders.  
It's a very beautiful and
well-off area, which has many delightful places to eat and shop, but
you will find yourself wondering if you are the lone heterosexual
within 5kms in any direction.  I had to laugh the other day when a school bus drove past
and an 8 year old girl lent out the window and called out to the guy next
to me "Are you gay?", with a huge grin on her face.  He shouted back
"You bet baby!" and she laughed as the bus drove on.   There's something very healthy about people just
being themselves.  

On the other side of things, the most depressing
thing about San Francisco would have to be the number of people
begging on the streets.  I still don't know what to think.  On one
hand, the federal government is about to outlaw government involvement
in financial handouts for these people, and unemployment is very low
at the moment, so there is very little public sympathy.  On the other
hand, it's an incredibly insane place to be if you are looking for
accommodation and work.  I can afford a reasonable lifestyle
here, but there's very little "down-market" accommodation.  One of the
homeless organizations recently lobbied for a cost of living increase
in their homeless allowance, citing the fact that accommodation had
increased in cost by 21% over the past year or so.  From a practical
point of view though, it had gone from totally unaffordable to totally
unaffordable.  There is also a huge amount of begging simply because there
is a huge supply of tourists to beg from, and relatively clement
I walk down through this
every morning, watching the predator-prey relationship between many
well-dressed tourists and some of the worlds most professional beggars
and con artists (the latter being much more of an affront to basic
human dignity and integrity believe it or not).  It has got to the point where I would suspect
someone who walked up to me with one arm cut off, dripping with blood
as probably just doing it for money for beer and drugs.  There are
some very creative stories, and very dishonest people.  It makes me kind of sad, because
there is nothing I can realistically do, and it is undermining my
genuine desire to help people who really need and want help :(  That's one of
the two downsides to living in San Francisco unfortunately.

There are some obvious and quite visible threats to my day to day
well-being.  I could get killed in a runaway cable-car accident any
day :)  It's much harder to live with and rationalize the threat of
your entire city falling down, and burning suddenly through an
invisible and random act of nature.  Despite this invisible
nature, fault lines are numerous in the bay area, and have their own
distinct personalities.  The fault line in the East Bay for example
was quiet for some 7 years after the earthquake that hit San Francisco
in 1989.  Then in late 1995, around December or perhaps January, it
went from no movement to 18 inches per year in some places, over about
2 weeks.   It was as if it just woke up silently.  It had 20 small quakes the week I arrived, and 27 the week
before along an ominous line that gives away its position. 
If you look at the graph of movement over time, it's
impressively steady and relentless, with an extremely unsettling plateau for seven
quiet years.  There is a 45% chance of an earthquake between 7 and
8 on the Richter scale every 30 years for the Eastern Hayward fault
line that runs right past our work.  (For those who don't follow
earthquakes, that can really badly ruin your day and crockery
These statistics were published
the morning after my boss at work concluded the buying of his house,
less than a few kilometers from the fault line.  He refers to it as a
very expensive toboggan :)  That earthquake would probably kill
between 100 and 1000 people.  It's just impossible to estimate
personal risk.  For example, what is the relative safety of driving
across the bay bridge every day, through aerial structures, verses
taking the BART which travels under the bay in a small tunnel.  Our
South San Francisco site is even insured against an aircraft from the
nearby airport landing on it :)  Apart from one dream (which I lived
through :)  and having become hypersensitive to vibration, I don't
worry about it.  I figure it would be quite an experience anyway :) 
I am actually living in one of the safest parts of San Francisco, on
very solid bedrock.  Land fill is totally out as a basis for
foundations :)  We are looking at archiving data from work well and
truly outside the bay area ... 

Normal service has been resumed :)  Nothing unusual to report.
Toilets flush as expected with minimal fuss.  Of course they are
always referred to as "bathrooms" on the other hand :) 


It's strange.  Quite constant warm dry weather - I'm going to get quite burnt
if I'm not careful.  There is a steady supply of sunburnt tourists
at the moment.  It's been "unseasonably warm and fog-free" lately.
After 3 years of being told that I am experiencing atypical weather, I
don't know what to believe anymore :) SF itself is often quite windy, so you can still get cold
very easily, but in sheltered spots, it would be around 20 most days I would
guess.  The east bay is hotter, hitting high 20s and 30s quite often,
with a clear sky most days.  It often cools down in the evenings though.  SF gets quite 
amazing fog rolling in on many evenings, from the ocean.  My hill can be
completely covered in fog from early evening, on many days. The fog is
quite schizophrenic, either staying away, or enveloping the city
slowly from the West.  I still laugh when someone pronounces a day
nice or otherwise, because often the only noticeable difference is a
slight haze in the air, or a 4 or so degree difference in temperature either
way.  It's very civilized weather that gets neither too warm, or too
cool.  I could see myself getting quite used to it.  Winters are wet
on the other hand, but without the romantic touch of snow I have become used to in

Anyway, I have rambled long enough now and congratulations if you have
read this far.  Once again, moving away from friends has made me
realize how important other people are to me, and despite the ever
present pressures of life and work, I would like to stay in touch with
all of you.  Thanks for your e-mail, and if you are in the backlog of
300 + messages, I will get to you soon :)  Voice recognition
technology has just taken another great step forward and computers are
getting faster as usual, so this is getting much easier.  Had better
go now.  I promised myself some rollerblading along the bay if I get
through 50 mail messages :) 

take care,