10 brightest ideas of the week: Nov. 1, 2009

Alex Smith gets another shot at a starting job, Obama follows through on a promise, an SF homeless program reaches a milestone, and Bay Area universities win more stem cell funding.

1. Doggone fierce

Woman scares off burglar by acting like Fido

The details: When someone is trying to break in to your house, what’s the best thing to do? For a woman in Athens, Ga., the answer was get down on the ground and act like a dog. A woman scared off an impending burglary by getting on the floor and scratching at the door like a large dog to deter a suspicious man who was turning her doorknob. The woman told police the man appeared to be homeless and ran quickly from her porch.

2. Book it

Oldest library in city celebrates 100th birthday

The details: Thursday marked a landmark day in the history of San Francisco public libraries. The oldest branch in The City — Park Branch, located at 1833 Page St. (near Cole Street) — marked its 100th birthday with a daylong celebration. The branch was originally destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but it was resurrected in 1909 thanks to Mayor James Phelan and has survived a few challenges to its relevance. It’s due for a $1.6 million revamp that will be completed next year.

3. A second chance

Alex Smith earns starting spot as 49ers quarterback

The details: After playing the best half of his career in last weekend’s 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith showed enough to take the starting job away from Shaun Hill, who had struggled mightily of late. The Niners’ offense looked stagnant under Hill and Mike Singletary was wise to give Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick, another shot to prove his worth. Smith looks like a more confident and poised player, and he will need to be in order to retain his new gig.

4. Ambassador Hamm

Former U.S. soccer star to be World Cup emissary

The details: Two-time world soccer player of the year Mia Hamm will act as an international ambassador for the U.S. in the women’s World Cup in Germany in 2011. The announcement was made Thursday, immediately before an exhibition match between the U.S. and Germany. Hamm “takes her status as a role model in society very seriously,” said Steffi Jones, president of the organizing committee. “I’m proud to have such a class act on board, and I’m sure her success and profound knowledge of the game will help us to promote the positive image of the women’s World Cup around the world.”

5. True to his word

Obama follows through on campaign promise to gays and lesbians

The details: President Barack Obama signed a bill expanding the definition of hate crimes to include violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity in addition to race, color, religion or national origin. “No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love,” the president said at a ceremony celebrating the new law. He cited statistics that in the past 10 years, more than 12,000 hate crimes have been committed based on sexual orientation.

6. Steal of a deal

Budget airlines launch sales for winter travel

The details: Southwest and AirTran airlines launched a fare sale this weekend offering tickets as low as $25 one-way on some routes in an effort to fill half-empty planes outside the peak holiday flying season. Conventional carriers, which in some cases charge more to check bags than Southwest is charging for short flights, may be hard-pressed to match the fares, given the high cost of fuel and slow demand.

7. Win-win situation

Law school grads work for nonprofits, government

The details: Large law firms faced with a slowdown in business are postponing the start dates of new recruits and instead offering them stipends at a reduced salary to spend a year working for nonprofits and government agencies. The arrangements provide cash-strapped agencies with extra help at a time when they are cutting budgets and young lawyers with both employment and greater hands-on experience with clients and in court than they would get as young associates.

8. Friendly skies

Boy born on plane; mother and child granted free flights for life

The details: When a passenger went into labor on an AirAsia flight from Penang to Kunching on Borneo Island in Malaysia, the plane made an emergency diversion but was unable to land before the baby boy was safely delivered by a doctor onboard and flight attendants. Surprised airline officials decided to celebrate by offering the boy and his mother free flights for life.

9. Funds keep flowing in

Bay Area continues to get more stem cell money

The details: Two Bay Area universities were big beneficiaries when the latest batch of stem cell funding was doled out. UC San Francisco researchers raked in $39.2 million for work on two fronts: nearly $20 million to discover how to implant insulin-producing cells in diabetes patients and $19.2 million to develop a treatment for brain tumors. Meanwhile, researchers at Stanford University received $20 million for a stroke treatment and another $20 million for a leukemia therapy.

10. Conventional wisdom?

State voters may have say on overhauling laws

The details: Folks in California are so fed up with what’s going on with our legislators in Sacramento that they want to overhaul the state constitution. A coalition of political and business groups called Repair California has submitted paperwork for two ballot measures next year. One would give voters the right to call a convention and the second would determine how the 450 delegates would be selected and what subjects would be debated. The second measure is obviously dependant on the first passing. Considering how much bad publicity the Golden State gets during its drawn-out budgetary process, this can only be a positive step.


Bright light of the week: Project Homeless Connect

What: San Francisco’s Project Homeless Connect, which offers one-day events for homeless people to connect with help and services, celebrated its fifth anniversary this month.

Why: The program, an early brainchild of Mayor Gavin Newsom, has helped move an estimated 10,000 people off the streets and out of city shelters, according to the Mayor’s Office. More than 4,000 people were given bus tickets for rides to their home cities, while 2,334 were placed in the Care Not Cash program, which provides housing in return for reduced monetary benefits. The program has been replicated in more than 200 cities across the country.

Caltrain seeks $260 million to complete electrification

State budget surplus eyed to finish transformative rail project

Future of the Castro Theatre? Depends where you sit

Historical preservation and cinephile experience up against live-event upgrades

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