Genes and Gene Expression: an Analogy and Some Speculations

Consider something purple displayed on your monitor. It looks purple, the color is vibrant and clear. However if you take that monitor apart and examine it down to the smallest components you will never find a purple pixel. The only pixels you will find will be Red, Blue, and Green. Where does that purple come from?

Now if you know anything about monitors, or color theory, or light, you already know the answer to my rhetorical question. Red light plus Blue light will create purple light. If both Red and Blue pixels light, then their combined color will be purple, that much is simple and straightforward.

Now for an analogy, think of genes as pixels. Each gene does its one thing; code for mRNA from which a protein is created. There are a lot more different genes then there are pixels. For full color you only need 3 pixels, but humans have an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 genes, so a directly analogy, like all analogies, can only go so far but stay with me here.

Like pixels genes are either on or they are off, and they are not always on to full intensity. Just as a pixel can be dim or bright a gene can express, that is produce, either a little product or a lot.

Most of the genes in your cells are actually switched off Livers cell have no need to produce proteins for muscles and the same if true for nerve cells acting like skin cell and so on. Critical to life and everything that it entails is proper gene expression. Just as there is circuitry that controls the pixels, switching them on, off, dim or bright, there is a control system doing the same for genes and that is epigenetics. It is the system outside of your inherited genes that controls when and how your genes express.

There is a growing body of evidence that epigenetic traits are inheritable and may be responsible for a wide range of things never before suspected, including sexual orientation.

This would explain the paradox of twins. Identical twins can and do vary in sexual orientation eve though they have identical genes. Some have tried to use the twins data to argue that orientation is then not inherent but somehow chosen. However your epigenetic settings are not under your control and many of them are determined during gestation. And even identical twins in the same womb do not have identical experiences in gestation. The search for a ‘homosexual gene’ is misguided both due to excessive binary thinking, people are not either simply gay or straight, and it’s a quest to find a non-existent purple pixel. All sexually reproductive species will need to have a sexual response mechanism. It is likely that the form of the response, activated by maturity, is a result of gene expression over a number of genes. I suspect the same may be true of gender identity.

Any species with sexual reproduction and sexual dimorphism is going to have some form on internal gender identity and if that is a result of gene expression that variation in expression may result in variation in internal gender identification.

Your phenotype may be male but if your pixels light up for female that may be your self-identified gender.

This gets very science-fictional when you consider that the epigenetic controls look to be hackable. In mice we have already changed the epigenetic settings and changed behavior.

What if we unlocked such keys and controls in humans? Is it ethical for parents to modify a child’s orientation or gender identity? If it is ethical for a person to under go treatments that alter the phenotype to match and internal model is it also ethical to allow that person to alter the internal model to match the phenotype?

I am not proposing answers. These are big big questions, but they are questions we may very be faced with sooner than we think.

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Very Nearly Done

So my YA SF adventure novel is nearly ready for the beta readers. My lovely sweetie-wife is proofing the final chapter and I have gone through and retitled most of the chapters.

If you know me you know titles and character names bedevil me, but I wanted the final chapter to have a particular title and that means all of them need titles. Oh well, it’s good to work where you are weak.

In other news I ran my first 5th Edition D&D games this past weekend. I have run a 3.5 games for quite a number of years but the system soured for me and I was happy to bring that campaign to a close. At first I was just going to use the free material to start a new game and experiment with the 5th edition rules, but I changed my mind, took the plunge, and bought the core rulebooks. (And That is ALL I will buy. One of the things that burned me for 3.5 was the endless splat books and the exponential complexity they introduced.)

The game we went, I think people had fun, and the ease of the new rules is better suited to my style of play.

I also have an essay in mind about genetics and epigenetics. I think I have found an analogy that makes the distinction very clear and illustrates why something can be inherent and not genetic.

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Final Thoughts on the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival

I had no idea that going to the festival would wear me out so much. I remember eight years when I met the director of the Festival Miguel and he shared with me his vision of launching a horror themes film festival. I will admit that I thought his dream was audacious but I said nothing to discourage because we need audacious dreams and dreamers.

Now the Festival is seven years old, growing in size and I have finally gotten to attend.

Wow.

My a rough estimate in my little noggin there were 45-50 hours of programing and far more hits than misses. Miguel said that he received 1300 submissions a number that staggers me.

I haven’t spoken about the venue for the festival and that needs a mention. The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) hosted all five days of the festival. It is a museum that my sweetie-wife and I have passed many, many times during our Sunday walks in San Diego historic Balboa Park. The theater was a lovely space with a dome ceiling speckled by hundred of little lights creating an illusion of stars and an evening sky during the films. I understand from some who went to school in San Diego that it is a destination for school trip and the like. The theater is well maintain, in part because there are no concessions and food and drink are banned.

Perhaps the greatest emotional impact the festival had on me is rekindling my filmmaking desires. After watching so many smart, imaginative, and creative short films I want to go out rent a red camera and make one of my own.

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Day 5 (Final) Horrible Imaginings Film Festival

Today was the last day of the festival and I am knackered. I arrived just before noon and the start of the Human Killers & Psychological Terrors short film block. This is a sub-genre of horror that usually doesn’t speak that much to me, even though I have a fascination with the real life examples, and I nearly skipped the starting block because of that. However there were some of the shorts that stood out me and that I enjoyed.

Surgery – is the story of a man being tortured by an older man apparently without rhyme or reason. The film’s resolutions provides reason and context and what the story is rather used, a plot that I have seen a few times before, the execution was well-done and satisfying. This movie was a good example of the power of restrain in creating a sensation of horror, terror, and revulsion for the audience.

Little Boy Blue– another great entry from down under this movie is about a little boy being raised as a girl on a chicken ranch in the 1950. She discovers a terrible truth about the neighboring form and in the end resolves the terror. graphic and disturbing this film works on several levels and I hope to see more from these talent people.

Bunker Game – an entry from France this would play as an excellent short before the feature 10 Cloverfield Lane. The set up is simple a man keep and starves a woman in his bunker forcing her to playing endless games of Connect 4. This film turns on the woman’s performance and she delivers.

The last block I attended was the Supernatural Horrors short film block. Many of these movies did not work as well for me, though several had a lyrical quality that bordered on dreamlike. For me there was one stand out short in this section.

Leshy – from Slovenia is the story of a young girl, her forest ranger father, and the power that lives in the deep dark woods. This film rides on the back of its young actress who pulled it off beautifully. The style and story were very much like Guillermo del Toro and fans of his work would almost certainly enjoy this piece.

There was more to the festival, two more feature films and the awards, but my energy flagged and I surrendered to the inevitable returning home for the evening. I regret nothing save not taking Thursday off from my day job in addition to the Friday. The Wednesday night reception looked lovely and the food appealing but an early rise forced me home that night as well

All in all I had a wonderful time. I looked forward to next year with anticipation.

#HIFFSD

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Day 4 Horrible Imaginings Film Festival

San Diego’s Premier horror film festival continued yesterday with more short and feature films. I put in a full day at the festival and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The block of shirt films started us off with Science-Fiction and creature horror. Again the overall quality of the films was high but I am only going to speak about a few of the movies that stood out to me. This is not to say that those unmentioned were sub-par in any way. So far the ratio of hits to misses has been extremely high.

A Matter Of Trust – This is the classic dilemma seen often in SF shows and movies. There’s an imposter who is perfectly mimicking a loved one and the principle character must work out who is his real love and who is the imposter. This film is well made, well acted, and well written. I kept expecting a standard twist for the ending and the film surprised be with a novel and satisfying turn about of events.

Genghis Khan Conquers the Moon — not truly a horror film but a fun and whimsical fantasy piece they takes its concept and runs with it. Bonus points for the well turned performance from Hollywood veteran James Hong.

The Disappearance of Willie Bingham – oh, this may be the most powerful short of the festival. It come to us from the land down under, Australia and is top notch social science-fiction. The film deals with the difficult concepts of justice versus Vengeance and never flinches from its core conceit.

After a short break we continued with another block of short films this time the theme was LGBT movies.

The Black Bear – from Canada this movie featured LGBT characters but the central thrust of the film is an absurd encounter with a bear. It is comedy and works perfectly prompting plenty of laughs.

Next we watched a Feature film with LGBT theme.

Alena – from Sweden and produced by the director of a short mentioned earlier in my series, First to Like First to Die, this is psychological horror film set amid the teenager of an all girl high school. The film may or may not be a ghost story. (I love ghost stories so I will lean on the interpretation that the ghost was real not a product of a broken mind.) The script works, the movie is well made and well acted, and the real horror comes not from supernatural forces from beyond but the bullying and hazing people engage in so easily.

After the diner break – supplied by festival Sponsor Bread and Cie — we were treated to more short films and the final feature of the day.

Bionic Girl – from France gave us an SF musical film about a scientist and her perfect android creations.

Beyond the Gates – a feature film that paid tribute to the horror films of the 1980s, this story concern three people trapped by a demonic videocassette game that threatens their lives. Well made and acted the cast and crew were in attendance allowing for a lively and fun Q & A afterwards.

 

#HIFFSD

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Day 3 Horrible Imaginings Film Festival

This post will be brief as I am running up against commitments and a lack of time.

Yesterday was another good day at the festival. We started with a private tour for VIP members, which included me, of the Exhibit Cannibals! Myth and Reality at the San Diego Museum of Man. This was a really nice exhibit that presented the reality and cultural hammer that is the western view of Cannibalism. Biggest takaway from the curator lecture and panel discussion afterwards – the word Cannibal was coined by Christopher Columbus.

We watched short films:

Survivor Type – an adaptation of the Steven King short story. Normally I detest the ‘found footage’ genre but Billy Hanson the writer and director made the style fit perfectly. The film was carried on the shoulders of its one man cast and worked very well.

Ear Worm – A film by Tara Price and produce by Billy Hanson this film was quite short but on point about a man tormented by a fragment of a song that he cannot escape. It was well received by the audience and the original song composed as the fragment was everything that makes a good ear worm, catchy, pop, and upbeat.

The evening also saw the presentation of two feature-length films sadly neither worked very well for me.

Dark Exorcism – A film set in that sub-genre of horror film about demons and possession. This sub-genre has seen a resurgence lately. This film had very goods performances and a nearly all female cast giving it an interesting take on the subject. It did not work overall for me because the script leaned heavily on expository scenes which need more dramatic narrative elements woven into them.

Sendero (Path) — From Chile this film is part of thee young people in peril sub-genre along the lines of The Hills Have Eyes, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Five friends out for a weekend find themselves kidnapped and at the mercy of a merciless family. The movie had a strong start and good acting but by the second half of the film I had learned that the ‘professional victim’ class of character is universal cross cultural and language borders.

 

So now I have seen many films at the festival and only two have been disappointments. This is a far better average then I have seen at other smaller film festivals. I look forward to tonight.

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Day 2 Horrible Imaginings Film Festival

So last night was the second day of the five day film festival and the quality of the submissions remains quite high. I have attended film festivals at SF conventions and there the quality of the movies varies a great deal from the clearly home-made first attempts to very good productions but Horrible Imaginings has maintained a caliber of quality that should make the director of the festival proud.

I skipped out on the opening feature, a documentary about Pilipino action star Rudy Fernandez. The Last Pinoy Action King certainly in my wheelhouse for documentaries as I adore film making and genre filmmaking subjects, but others things pressed on my times and I was forced to miss this one.

I arrive in time for the short film block, Thursday’s theme being horror/comedy. I would love to go over all the films presented as they all deserve to be talked about but time and space constrict me so i will discuss just a few that stood out to me.

The Phantom Hour – had a lovely retro feel complete with a classic 30’s style of credits and paid homage to classic tropes and the venerable plot of four strangers in a dark and lonely house. I had a chance to speak with one of the members of the cast afterwards always a treat at festivals.

First Like — a nice bit of supernatural killer/monster on the loose and the use of social media ‘likes’ to tell the story works nice as commentary and for overcoming language barriers

Watchbear — The set up of this film, a child with a monster in the closest has been seen before but the strength of the title characters dialogue and performance centers this film in a very strong place making it an audience favorite.

Stained — from the U.K. this film manages to work where the subject matter normally would repel me. The humor is scatological and that usually doesn’t work for my tastes. hence why my favorite Mel brooks movie is Young Frankenstein and not Blazing Saddles, but the filmmakers here walked the line perfectly keeping the tone light enough for humor, gross enough to remain scatological, and wry enough to have that English sensibility. The film’s final shots nail the landing elevating this from simple laughs to a story drenched in psychology and darkness.

A Zombie Next Door — Zombie horror is definitely a thing. In my collection I have three zombie comedies, Return of the Living Dead, Zombieland, and Shawn of the Dead, but to successfully make a zombie horror is difficult. Last weekend a friend and I watched A Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, a comedy with the grievous sin of not being funny and looking like it was made by people with no appreciation or knowledge of the genre. This is no the case with A Zombie Next Door. Crafted in the style of a Christopher Guest ‘mockumentary’ this film was funny, wry, knew the genre and powered by wonderful improv performances.

I was forced to leave the festival before the final feature documentary finished, and again a subject I am interested in Hail to the King: 60 Years of Destruction looked to be a fun Godzilla doc, but exhaustion commanded I return home while it was still safe to drive.

I look forward to the films playing tonight.

#HIFFSD

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Day 1 Horrible Imaginings Film Festival

Yesterday was the first day of San Diego Horror Film festival, Horrible Imaginings, and the first year I was able to attend.

This year the festival is five days, which is great. My friend Miguel started the festival seven years ago and it’s been growing each year. Last night we started with a block of short animated films. The animation spanned a number of styles, subjects, and tones from the horror that humans perform upon each other with Dad’s Fragile Doll set in pre-revolution Iran to my favorite of the block the twisted comedy mixing puppet and live action The Detectives of Noir Town. (If you were a fan of the Angel episode with muppets then this short is for you.)

Before the feature presentation of the evening local horror author David Agranoff read his short story Stud. A piece not for the weak of stomach but he was kind enough to warn the audience before starting. (I will note no one left and perhaps slightly more surprising no one vomited. lol)

The feature film of the evening was Tag, a Japanese suspense/horror film about a group if teenage school girls chased and killed by mysterious forces. Let me tell you that one sentence description does the film no justice, but it is very difficult to talk about this movie without spoiling it. It is very violent, it is very bloody, the victims of this carnage are the stereotypical young pretty women seen in sub-par slasher films throughout the genre, yet Tag is about misogyny  and the role of the spectator in such spectacles. This is a not a movie for everyone but I enjoyed it.

There was an opening night reception following the film with what looked like lovely cakes, cookies, and treats, but as I need to get up at 5:30 am I could not stay.

I am looking forward to night two tonight.

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A General Update

 

So life has been – interesting of late and it has kept me away from my blog.

The principle issue is that ‘minor’ sprain I suffered at World Con in Kansas City. Well I had it x-rayed and while there are no broken bones the doctor pronounced it a serious sprain. I am wearing a brace on my dominant hand and that makes everything a challenge. I can type – poorly and slowly – so I am not out of work at my day job. I am working on my novel — nearly finished — but beyond those items I have little endurance at the keyboard.

However the convention was wonderful. There were events every hour and often more then one that I wanted to attend. I met old friends and new ones. I had a great time and came away from new idea and new energy.

Soon, next week, I will loose the brace and get back to my usual self.

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Quick WorldCon 2016 report

Hello Everyone:

Well I have unusually returned to my hotel early – it is now 9:25 pm – and I can make at least a brief report on MidAmericon 2 here ins Kansas City MO.

The programming has been very good. From the time it starts – and the Academic Track starts at the unheard of hour of fandom of 9 am – until it ends there is nearly always something I want to attend. To make room for lunch or dinner usually requires me to jettison some programming I wanted to see. This is not me complaining, it is far better to have too much to see than too little.

The last minute change to a hotel more than a mile away has been mildly annoying. There is a free streetcar/trolley two blocks from the hotel and then two blocks from the convention center so that works out most of the time. (It was walking from the streetcar to the convention center at night where I stumbled over a but of uneven sidewalk and tumbled, spraining my wrist.) Tonight as we came out of BRGR where we have had dinner twice rain started and the trip to the hotel turned quite wet. (Thunder and lightening — yup we’re in the midwest in summer.)

I’ve seen good friends, had good times with people I primarily knew on-line, and in general I have been more social than most conventions. A good thing.

The first night here I even had a very — unique — encounter. My sweetie-wife had turned in, tired from our day of travels – and I had gone down to the hotel’s lobby to edit and work. After a while I took a brake from the editing to play a little Pokemon Go — the lobby has two Poke-Stops –. I was engrossed in play when I heard a female voice to my right say ‘Sir?’

I looked up and to my right, as I did she darted to my left side, kissed me fast on the cheek, and hurried away to her friends. She was maybe 17 or so and said ‘thank you’ as she retreated. I have no idea what was up. I assume the entire thing had been some sort of dare from her gaggle of friends. I went back to my game and eventually back to my editing.

Time to start sorting out what I want to do and attend tomorrow, I do know I will get to met an editor who bought my last story and that I am looking forward too.

 

 

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