October 31, 2005

Mitochondrial DNA

In these dark days, in which some would have some inane concept of an Intelligent Designer taught alongside the theory of evolution, it's interesting to see what genetics may accomplish. For one, it shows that we are all Africans, an unpleasant revelation to some, and that what we call our 'roots' may be in a completely other place than we thought.
Our friend in drawing these conclusions is a piece of genetic material called "mitochondrial DNA". Ordinary DNA does the genes' evolutionary job by mutating with each new generation. In contrast, mtDNA (as mitochondrial DNA is called for short) propagates through the maternal line, and never changes. This means that your mom, her mom, and any mom before that all have the same mtDNA as you. So does all the offspring of any of your maternal ancestors. This means that if you can find someone with the same mtDNA as you, the both of you must have had an ancestor in common at some time.
A television show illustrated the strange types of revelations this can produce. By assembling a database of mtDNA from all over the world, ordinary people were stupefied to learn that their ancestors came from Mongolia, France or Central Africa. I watched a black man in England, heading off to the lab to get his results, be dumbstruck when he learned that he did not stem from the royal family of Ghana (which he'd secretly confessed to hoping), but instead from a rural village in Bavaria, Germany.
That's the other surprise: skin color means close to nothing when it comes to tracing your heritage. For example, the continent of Africa, our common home, still hosts virtually all of the world's genetic variety. Meaning that if all the world except Africa were destroyed, present-day Africans could repopulate the planet, producing the same kind of racial diversity seen today.
I'm seriously considering submitting a DNA sample to see where in the world I have cousins or ancestors.

Posted by cronopio at 01:30 PM

October 28, 2005

Hope Springs

1 out of 5 snowstones

What an awful movie.
Heartbroken heartthrob Colin (Colin Firth) leaves England when his fiancée sends him a wedding invitation --she's marrying someone else. He goes to a small town called Hope in the US, merely because of the name, and hooks up with a peppy blonde (Heather Graham) who supposedly exudes all the virtues of the well-spoken, mild-mannered East Coast. Then the fiancée drops by and hilarity, cleverly disguised as an extremely boring and stretched-out hour of film, ensues.
There's no chemistry. There are no jokes. There is no plot. There is no spoon. Oh wait, that's another movie. You half expect any of the fairly decent actors to glance at the camera for a brief, panicked instance, wondering along with you what the hell they're doing in this unromantic noncomedy. But they don't. At least that would have made "Hope Springs" tolerable. As it is, it's just twenty minutes of already flat storyline rolled to fresh-pasta thinness of a tedious hour and a half. A tedious hour and a half, I might add, that I'd like to have back.

Posted by cronopio at 01:22 PM

October 27, 2005

Amores Perros

Amores Perros movie poster

3 out of 5 snowstones

Mixing different story lines in movies is being hailed as the new amazing development in screenwriting since Pulp Fiction, but truth be told, it's an old, if effective, device. The Mexican movie 'Amores Perros' causes three groups of people to meet in a violent car crash.
In part 1, Octavio doesn't understand why his sister-in-law won't leave his deadbeat brother and run away with him. It's hard to say if his descent into a vile and cruel world of dogfighting is the cause or the result of his failed attempts to convince her. This episode ends in the car crash
In part 2, a beautiful model must face the reality of mutilation and being wheelchair-bound because of that same car crash, while her boyfriend, recently divorced from his wife, tries to catch her lapdog, which disappeared under the floorboards of their new home.
In part 3, an ex-guerillero turned hitman lives on the streets like a bum, vainly attempting to reconnect with the daughter he left behind to join the revolution while renouncing his evil ways.
I'd say that while the three stories each have their own painful beauty, the stories don't connect enough to call the whole thing an elaborate mechanism. As such, the device seems a bit obvious and ineffective.

Posted by cronopio at 01:31 PM

October 26, 2005

America's Sweethearts

America's Sweethearts movie poster

2 out of 5 snowstones

In this satirical comedy about the movie biz, two estranged Hollywood megastars (played by John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones) are forced into a reunion for the purpose of promoting their new movie. However, the diva's sister and PA (played by Julia Roberts) is secretly in love with Cusack, and romantic comedy ensues.
Billy Crystal, who produces, writes and acts, settles a little score with Hollywood showbiz, but is wary of turning the whole thing into a pamphlet. Disguising the whole thing as a 'delightful comedy' shows that Hollywood doesn't need cold-blooded producers: self-censorship is apparently alive and well in Tinsel Town.
That said, Roberts acts uncommonly well and everybody seems to be enjoying themselves tremendously. It's a bit of an insider movie, perhaps less interesting if the freak community in Southern California doesn't concern you much, but still, there are good jokes and the pace is high. Lukewarmly recommended.

Posted by cronopio at 01:42 PM

October 25, 2005

The Barefoot Diva

The good weather here in Amsterdam has been stretching beyond its normal limits, giving us sunny weather even in early October. It was too good to last. Now, in the end, the dreary drizzly season is upon us, and what better cure for the autumn blues than to see and hear the incomparable Cape Verde diva Césaria Evora in a concert hall?
Backed up by a great band (including a great violinist who couldn't stand still while he played --and who could blame him), the 64-year-old's dark and sonorous voice easily rose above even the swinging upbeat tunes. Sitting down halfway through the concert to smoke a cigarette, Ms Evora didn't look like someone who could evoke the kinds of cheers and applause she received. But when she got back up and took the microphone, there was no doubt. Great stuff, I recommend checking her out.

Posted by cronopio at 01:14 PM

October 24, 2005

Chaspeare: Macbeth II.ii

Posted by cronopio at 02:01 PM

October 21, 2005

Der Untergang

4 out of 5 snowstones

I know enough German to be able to follow this movie about the last days of Adolf Hitler's life, as seen by Hitler's secretary. The movie shows the events as cold, well-documented facts, without editorializing.
All through "Der Untergang", I kept wondering if a neo-nazi could watch this movie and swell with pride over his hero's tragic ending. The answer is: not really. Hitler is hardly a martyr, but a man who is stubbornly refusing to accept a reality that no longer fits his twisted demands. He calls everyone around him a traitor and his mood swings from hysterically angry to moved to tears. That said, it is worth noting that one of the characters in the movie is actually played by a neo-nazi, who managed to get himself hired.
I'm not sure if the subplots in the movie (an army doctor wandering through the rubble that once was Berlin ends up in a hospital sawing off legs; a fanatic Hitlerjugend boy loses his parents and ends up with Hitler's secretary) have any basis in fact, but they tell a bigger story: that of a land in ruins. Some people, Germans among them, think that Germany, because of the sheer unforgivableness of its actions during World War II, has no right to point to its own tragedies. I myself disagree. Allied forces and Russians have committed acts in Germany that easily pass the litmus test of war crimes. Trading one atrocity for another is just bad moral mathematics.

Posted by cronopio at 01:04 PM

October 20, 2005

Be more productive

If you're interested in becoming more productive at your job or just in general, you could do worse than visit 43 Folders. This weblog offers simple, low-effort tips for boosting your productivity, which do not involve grievous bodily harm. I urge everyone to check out this site: I spent literally hours upon hours finding out how to be more productive.
Hmm. Wait a minute...

Posted by cronopio at 02:21 PM

October 19, 2005

Quoting out of context RULES!

My girlfriend:
"You shouldn't vacuum fish."

(After dropping a bit of macquerel spread on the kitchen floor, and me dragging out the vacuum cleaner.)

Posted by cronopio at 01:13 PM

October 18, 2005

Google Image Hotness Rank

Gossip columnists and the general public alike are obsessed with that ever-changing question. No, not 'What is the meaning of life?' or 'How are the rescue operations in Pakistan progressing?' but 'Who's hot and who's not?'
If this question is about women, I've found a quick and easy method of determining how hot a certain babe is. Here's the procedure:

  • Open a browser of your choice.
  • Go to www.google.com and click Images above the search box.
  • Make sure that SafeSearch is turned off (you can turn it off in Preferences).
  • Enter the name of the alleged babe in the search box and hit Enter.
  • Scan the thumbnails displayed for a nude picture (either photoshopped or from a sinful past).
  • The number of this picture is this babe's Hotness Rank (e.g. if the first nude picture is the twelfth one, the Hotness Rank is 12).
Here are some babes and their hotness rank:
Cameron Diaz12
Salma Hayek3
Penelope Cruz1
Charlize Theron3

Posted by cronopio at 01:33 PM

October 17, 2005

Movie night

'Close the door, will ya!' said Eric, as Peter brought in the cold wind and some of the blizzard that was raging outside.
'All right all right, keep your shirt on!' Peter shouted.
'Oh, don't worry, I will.' Eric had made this joke thousands of times.
Peter lowered the hood of his parka and held up two large discs.
'You got the movies!' Eric yelled.
'Sure do. Now let's see if we can get that crummy old projector up and running, and we'll have ourselves a good time!'
Both men cheered and they enthusiastically set up the movie projector, using a broad sheet of sail for a screen.
Eric put on the first of the two reels and they shouted like little children when the logo of a movie company appeared on the canvas. For the next two minutes, they sat transfixed as a trailer for a high-powered, fast-edited action movie dazzled their retinas.
Then came the sobering message: "Coming soon to a theater near you." Suddenly quiet, the two men began to cry, sobs that were lost in the icy wasteland of the Antarctic that surrounded their tent for hundreds of miles.

Posted by cronopio at 01:20 PM

October 14, 2005

Alarmism at dangerous heights

Dr Ruth Hentzbacher, MD
DES MOINES, IA -- A survey among random Americans conducted by the National Institute for Fear and Anxiety has revealed that a disturbingly large percentage of the population suffer from a heightened state of agitation known as 'alarmism'.
'Alarmists are easily scared, watch live car chases on television, and see a terrorist around every corner,' explains Dr Ruth Hentzbacher, who is associated with the Institute. 'Our study shows a marked increase in alarmism in this country that is very worrying indeed. These results are a wakeup call. We must act now before it is too late.'
When we confronted National Health Advisor Eric Snork with the results, he responded in a reassuring tone. 'The government is doing everything it can to combat alarmism. But private citizens must also be self-sufficient and take their initiative.'
Dr Hentzbacher disagrees. 'There is an immediate crisis going on. The US government cannot simply tell people to take care of themselves. Alarmism affects millions upon millions of Americans every year. This cannot be allowed to go on like this!'
A public opinion poll conducted last August showed that the number of people who were "worried to very worried" about the sharp spike in alarmism was itself on the rise, thereby compounding the problem.

Posted by cronopio at 01:41 PM

October 13, 2005

Chatspeare: Macbeth II.i

Posted by cronopio at 01:47 PM

October 12, 2005

Meet the Fockers

3 out of 5 snowstones

Like its predecessor, Meet The Parents, part 2 (or should I say part 39785?) of Ben Stiller getting into outrageously embarrassing situations now ups the ante by having his fiancée's stiff, conservative parents spend a weekend with his own free-love hippie liberal parents.
But strangely, the conflicts are much more about personality than about opinion. Where I expected heated exchanges about racism and Vietnam, the film shows how different people can be --and how they can work things out. Which makes Meet the Fockers, despite small animals being flushed down chemical toilets and the like, a sweet movie. Maybe a little too sweet: for those enjoy their humor black and their satire cold, the 'heart-warming' parts of the story may be a bit too much to bear.
Making up for all this are the great acting performances. De Niro is believable as a rigid but soft-hearted ex-CIA agent, and Hoffman is even better as a jubilant savorer or middle-age life, much to the embarrassment of everyone around him.

Posted by cronopio at 12:54 PM

October 11, 2005


I'm a Podling.
The Podlings are the cutesy creatures from Jim Henson's sadly overlooked masterpiece, "The Dark Crystal", who speak a strange language (actually Serbo-Croat if you listen carefully) and like music.
OK, so maybe I'm not a Podling in that sense. But I am hooked on the National Public Radio podcasts, exposing content usually not available to us Old Worlders. I download the interesting programs during the day with iPodder (free software), stick my MP3 Player in the back at the end of the day, and listen to insightful commentary and book and music reviews during my evening commute. Life doesn't get much more convenient than this.

Posted by cronopio at 05:37 PM

October 10, 2005

Oysters, anyone?

The best aphrodisiac is the delusion that a presumed aphrodisiac actually work.

(Including this one.)

Posted by cronopio at 04:27 PM

October 06, 2005

Alternative Trailers

It's been on BoingBoing. It's been on all kinds of weblogs. It's even been in the friggin' New York Times. So now, it's time for me to blog it. Talk about blogging a dead horse.
The Shining - alternative movie trailer
It's pure perfection, and one of the funniest things on the internet in ages.

Posted by cronopio at 01:26 PM

October 05, 2005

Culinary adventures: homemade tofu

Recently I stumbled upon a Japanese supermarket in my fair city, and apart from a couple of cans of tea (that's right, regular green tea... in a can, cold --truly disgusting) and some Japanese soda pop that I was happy to be unable to identify, I also bought a package of tofu.
Mind you, this wasn't the block of tofu-under-water that you might find at your local supermarket, it was two bags of white powder for making your own. I had the presence of mind to scribble down the instructions in my native tongue, which were displayed next to the product in the store. Had I not, I would be utterly clueless about what to do with this package (I'm sure it would have been spoiled before I mastered Japanese enough to read the instructions).
Like so many people who are easily bored, I have always wondered whether tofu already has that eerily mathematical cube shape when the tofu farmers pick it off the tofu tree. Or was it the tofu herders, chopping the limbs and heads of wild blocks of tofu roaming the Japanese foothills? But now I learned that tofu is actually a mix of two powders which are found inside the buds of the beautiful off-white tofu flowers (tofua asiatica), that grow all over South-East Asia.
That mystery solved, I boiled 650 ml of water (roughly 22 fl oz) mixed with the contents of the biggest package. As it started to boil, a skin formed on the top, reminding me of all those boxes of soy milk I'd seen at my local natural health store. It wasn't until I took the milk off the fire a few minutes later, added the tiny package and poured it into a bowl that I realized that I was simply making a pudding. Over the next 20 minutes, the pudding became solid... or so I thought. The recipe then called for the tofu to sit under water for 20 minutes. I made the fatal mistake of trying to transfer the tofu into another container, causing it to fall apart, just like a real pudding would. I added half of the sizable amount to my stir-fry, and I must confess that it was much more like the silky tofu served in Japanese restaurants than like the rubbery Borg cube found in the supermarket.
My plan is to make it again, but put it into all sorts of weirdly-shaped containers. It's a bad omen that after all these years of desperately trying to sell a healthy meat replacement, no marketing exec has come up with the idea of making more interesting tofu shapes than a block or a suspicious-looking burger.

Posted by cronopio at 01:31 PM

October 04, 2005

Tell-tale signs #2

Any thoughts on what this might mean?

  • "Wherever you run, all roads lead to... the FAMILY!"
  • Mothers, beware of strange men grafting your oldest daughter's head to your body
  • Interracial family mocking area

More fun with signs

Posted by cronopio at 03:32 PM

October 03, 2005

Your task this week

How accurately could you guess someone's age, based merely on their taking offense at being asked what their age is?
My guess is that you could score quite high.

Posted by cronopio at 01:47 PM