Monday, 31 December 2007

It's for the Children

From News.com via Tim Blair.
EVERY Australian with an internet connection could soon have their web content automatically censored.

The restrictions are planned by the Federal Government to give greater protection to children from online pornography and violent websites.

Under the plan, all internet service providers will have to provide a "clean" feed to households and schools, free of pornography and other "inappropriate" material.

Australians who want uncensored access to the web will have to contact their internet service provider and "opt out" of the service.
...
It is unclear exactly what will be deemed inappropriate material.

The adoption of mandatory ISP filtering comes on top of the former government's offer of free internet filtering software for home computers.

Chairman of internet user group Electronic Frontiers Australia, Dale Clapperton, said mandatory filtering eroded freedom and would not improve online safety for children.

"China, Burma and Saudi Arabia and those type of oppressive countries are the only ones that have seriously looked at doing something like this," he said.

"In Australia, which is supposedly a liberal democracy, the Government is saying that the internet is so full of this material that it must protect us from it by trying to block it."
...
Family First senator Steve Fielding, who has campaigned for ISP filtering, said he would be watching the Government "like a hawk" on the issue.

"Australian families want more (internet protection) and deserve more than they are currently getting, and this is a real test for the Rudd Government," he said.
And just in case the Government makes a "minor adjustment" to its policy, or someone decides that you have no need to know what's been blocked, here is something that will protect your children. Protect them from religious or political censorship, something far more harmful to them than unfiltered Internet access under adult supervision.

I especially don't trust a "political" party that publishes policies like this one. Goodness knows the Greens - another religious party, effectively - are bad enough, but they are positively sane in comparison. The few bits of their policy I agree with as a small-l liberal are the very ones "Family First" eschews.

Censorware evasion techniques thanks to a comment at Tim Blair's by the most estimable EvilPundit.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Today's Battle

"Some came to sing, some came to pray, some came to keep the dark away..."

Ok, this little candle goes under the seat of one Naomi Scaheffer Riley, author of this piece in the prestigious Wall Street Journal.
Not all experts agree with the APA. Paul McHugh, a former director of the department of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, notes that the transgendered patients he has come to know were no happier after sex-change surgery than before. He writes in "The Mind Has Mountains": "I concluded that to provide a surgical alteration to the body of these unfortunate people was to collaborate with a mental disorder rather than to treat it."

In certain quarters, the findings of Dr. McHugh and a few like-minded professionals have been met with outrage. To question the narrative of the transgendered--all that is wrong, they say, is our society's "social construct"--is to invite a ferocious response. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University, published a book in 2003 suggesting that some men who want to change genders are living in a kind of fantasy. They are motivated by an erotic idea of themselves as women. He was met with a campaign of harassment--one critic even posted pictures of Mr. Bailey's children on the Internet with sexually explicit captions under them.
...
When officials in Port Ewen, N.Y., decided to let a school principal stay on even after a sex change, most parents didn't protest. But one resident of a neighboring town told a reporter: "God makes things perfect and people want to screw it all up." It's a passing remark but it raises an interesting question. What does it mean that, once conceived, a person was somehow given the wrong body? Should we hold God responsible? And what bathroom does he want us going into?

Etc Etc. Always with the bathrooms. Those in Australia have cubicles, by the way. No doubt it must be different in the US, she says sarcastically.

OK, get out my trusty teaspoon, and while we're at it, light a single candle against the darkness.
The following letter has been submitted via the OpinionJournal article response feature.

Article URL:
http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?110011050

Contents of response as follows:
#---

Name: Zoe Brain
E-mail: aebrain@webone.com.au
City/State: Canberra, Australia
Date: Sat, December 29th, 2007

Subject:
Re: Crossing Over

Comment:
Dr McHugh's work was conducted 30 years ago. By his own admission, he's not a specialist in the area. Also by his own admission, he became director at Johns Hopkins with the aim of shutting down the sex reassignment program. He's not seen any transgendered patients in 30 years. He's not a member of WPATH - the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, nor does he read the journals.

PubMed has some 280 peer-reviewed articles, each showing significant improvements in between 80% and 97% of post-operative Transsexual people. Those who do not improve are almost universally those whose surgical results were poor, or even dismal.

His remarks were not published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, but in a religious magazine.

All of this would have been obvious given as much as 30 minutes research by the kind of professional journalist usually employed at the Wall St Journal.

Michael Bailey - a psychologist - wrote his book after interviewing half a dozen sex workers at a bar. I won't go into the extensive critiques of his work, but even his friends deny that his book is in any way "science".

Oh yes, the "sexually explicit captions"? They were directly from Bailey's book itself. They were an .. idiotically is the word that comes to mind.. misguided attempt to show how Bailey's words, words which he had applied in lectures about transgendered children (again something some research on the subject would have found) were "beyond the pale" and deeply hurtful to any child, anywhere.

Should the author wish to do some superficial research on the subject to correct their article, may I suggest the following as a good beginning:

Zhou J.-N, Hofman M.A, Gooren L.J, Swaab D.F (1997)
A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality.
http://www.harrybenjaminsyndrome-info.org/pdf/BSTc.pdf

Kruijver F.P.M, Zhou J.-N, Pool C.W., Swaab D.F. (2000)
Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus
http://www.harrybenjaminsyndrome-info.org/pdf/brainsex1.pdf

Deakin Law Review 2004 V22 "Re Kevin in Perspective"
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/DeakinLRev/2004/22.html#Heading437

Here, I'll quote what the Full bench of the Australian Family Court found after an extensive review of the Scientific evidence, rather than articles by fringe non-specialists in pop-sci books and religious magazines :

At paragraph [247]: ‘In my view the expert evidence in this case affirms that brain development is (at least) an important determinant of a person’s sense of being a man or a woman. No contrary opinion is expressed. All the experts are very well qualified. None was required for cross-examination, nor was any contrary evidence called’.

At paragraph [248]: ‘In my view the evidence is, in essence, that the experts believe that the brain development view is likely to be true, and they explain the basis for their beliefs. In the circumstances, I see no reason why I should not accept the proposition, on the balance of probabilities, for the purpose of this case.’

At paragraph [252]: ‘The traditional analysis that they are "psychologically" transsexual does not explain how this state came about. For example, there seems to be no suggestion in the evidence that their psychological state can be explained by reference to circumstances of their upbringing. In that sense, the brain sex theory does not seem to be competing with other explanations, but rather is providing a possible explanation of what is otherwise inexplicable’.

At paragraph [253]: ‘In other words (as I understand it) the brain of an individual may in some sense be male, for example, though the rest of the person’s body is female’.

At paragraph [265]: ‘In my view the argument in favour of the “brain sex" view is also based on evidence about the development and experience of transsexuals and others with atypical sex-related characteristics. There is a vast literature on this, some of which is in evidence, and I can do no more than mention briefly some of the main points’.

At paragraph [268]: ‘It seems quite wrong to think of these people as merely wishing or preferring to be of the opposite sex, or having the opinion that they are’

At paragraph [270]: ‘But I am satisfied that the evidence now is inconsistent with the distinction formerly drawn between biological factors, meaning genitals, chromosomes and gonads, and merely "psychological factors", and on this basis distinguishing between cases of inter-sex (incongruities among biological factors) and transsexualism (incongruities between biology and psychology)’.

At paragraph [272]: ‘In my view the evidence demonstrates (at least on the balance of probabilities) that the characteristics of transsexuals are as much “biological” as those of people thought of as inter-sex’.

At paragraph [136]: ‘I agree with Ms Wallbank that in the present context the word "man" should be given its ordinary contemporary meaning. In determining that meaning, it is relevant to have regard to many things that were the subject of evidence and submissions. They include the context of the legislation, the body of case law on the meaning of "man" and similar words, the purpose of the legislation, and the current legal, social and medical environment. These matters are considered in the course of the judgment. I believe that this approach is in accordance with common sense, principles of statutory interpretation, and with all or virtually all of the authorities in which the issue of sexual identity has arisen. As Professor Gooren and a colleague put it:-

“There should be no escape for medical and legal authorities that these definitions ought to be corrected and updated when new information becomes available, particularly when our outdated definitions bring suffering to some of our fellow human beings”.’

That a paper as prestigious as the Wall Street Journal should publish an article as this, an article that will be used by the equally ignorant to quite literally persecute people with a rare medical condition is regrettable. I hope that you intend doing something to ameliorate this blot on your credibility.

Zoe E Brain
(address redacted)





So raise the candles high
'Cause if you don't we could stay black against the night
Oh raise them higher again
And if you do we could stay dry against the rain.

Lyrics (c) Copyright 1970 by Kama Rippa Music, Inc. and Melanie Music, Inc.
1650 Broadway, New York, New York 10019.

But as you might have guessed, I'm not exactly taking this lying down. I have no illusions that I won't get soaking wet either. But what makes me a neo-con rather than a Kumbayah-singing feelgood Hippie is that I believe in personal responsibility, and actually doing something to keep the dark of ignorance away rather than singing or praying. Not that I can do much. Write articles, letters, talk to politicians, fight my own personal battles, give help on support sites where "we are so close we bleed in each others wounds" and try to live my life too without this dominating my blog or my life too much. I loathe being an "activist", it is so, so Not Me, but what else can I do and remain true to my principles?

And in the meantime, a nuclear-armed power is descending into anarchy, a brave woman has lost her life, in the long term there's a decreasing likelihood that the majority of denizens of the solar system will speak English or live under a Democracy in 300 years time, and I should keep my sense of proportion.

Friday, 28 December 2007

ENDA the line - Part III - The Debacle

Following on from Part I and Part II....

In our last exciting episodes , we asked the questions "Would Barney Frank really follow through, or would he find a way to make it "Gay Only"? GLB, without the T?" and "Would the Human Rights Campaign really champion rights for the Transgendered, or throw them under the bus like every time before?"

I tried writing the whole story, with cross-references, but Bob Roehr, a professional journalist at the Bay Area Reporter did it far better, and far more succinctly, in his article summarising the year's events. Here is the extract in question.

ENDA didn't get rolling in the House until after Labor Day, with a
hearing on September 5. All hell broke loose a few weeks later when
openly gay Representative Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) floated a
trial balloon to remove protection for gender identity. Transgender
advocates had fought long and hard to gain that inclusion.

Soon, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights
group, was the subject of withering criticism when the board
flip-flopped from a stated promise to support only a trans-inclusive
ENDA and voted instead not to oppose the sexual orientation-only
version.

Strong opposition from the LGBT community to Frank's proposal seemed
to catch the Democratic leadership by surprise, forcing them to
reconsider. A scheduled vote on the measure was delayed several times
as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) convened meetings with
gay rights groups and members of Congress. The trans-inclusive
coalition that came to be known as United ENDA grew to more than 300
state and national community organizations.

But in the end, Pelosi, who was the subject of a protest outside her
district office in San Francisco, decided that enough Democrats were
fearful of voting for trans-inclusive legislation. A stripped down
bill containing only sexual orientation was moved through committee
and on to the floor of the House, which passed the more limited
measure on November 7 by a vote of 235-184.

Seven northeastern liberal Democrats voted against ENDA because it did
not include trans protection; 25 conservative and Southern Democrats
voted against it because it was too pro-gay. Again, the margin for
victory was supplied by 35 Republicans.

The bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate. It is not clear
whether the sponsors will choose more limited or trans-inclusive
language.

But wait, it gets worse. here's Barney Frank again on the debacle:
"At this point three important pieces of legislation to vindicate our rights, or – there have been three votes: two in the House and on in the Senate saying, "No. It's wrong to mistreat people because of their sexual orientation and with regard to hate crimes on their gender identity."
Did he really mean that mistreatment of transgendered people is acceptable as long as it doesn't rise to the level of "hate crime" - violence that instils terror in the victim class?
That doesn't yet become law. It does mean this, and I'm confident of this: If in 2009 people who are pro-LGBT win the presidential election – I wish I wasn't partisan but right now that means the Democrats – and we have a couple more Senators who are pro-LGBT, they you're going to see, I think, by the end of 2009 the Employment Non-Discrimination Law will become law. It will be illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation anywhere in the country.
Yes that's right, there are no plans to include the Transgendered. They can still be fired. But maybe it was a mis-statement, maybe he meant to include the transgendered.
A hate crimes law including protection for people who are transgender will have passed. And we will be, at that point, well on our way to try to extend this to people who are transgender and to getting rid of the ban of gays in the military."
No, it seems not, he mentioned transgendered people as having (and by implication, deserving) a lesser degree of protection. And of course it's all conditional on his party getting more seats than the majority it already has. He's pre-emptively surrendering, just in case there might be enough votes to win this time.

Any bets that transgendered rights will wait until after Gays and Lesbians (but not the Transgendered) will be accepted into the US Military? And then after the repeal of the "Defence of Marriage Act" which attacks legal gay marriages in those states that allow them? Then maybe more important business, like naming post offices, or increasing subsidies for "friendly companies", or any of the thousand and one things deemed more important than transgendered rights in his home state of Massachussets.

As for the HRC - they seem genuinely bemused by the reaction. They backstabbed the transgendered many times before, and no one said a word. What's so different now?
Transgender people have always been part of our community. We have marched together, been brutalized together and embraced each other in the hardest of times. Usually, it is transgender people both transitioning individuals and gender nonconforming gay and lesbian folks who are on the front lines. They are the first to be fired, the first to be rolled into a ditch for kicks, the first to be humiliated in ways large and small each day.

For years, transgender leaders have been adamant that protection based on "gender identity and expression" be incorporated into the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
...
Two years ago, our board voted to include transgender Americans in our mission. In December 2002, the HRC board of directors voted to support inclusion of protection based on gender identity and expression in ENDA. They reaffirmed that vote unequivocally just two weeks ago.

Since December, our team of professional lobbyists has done yeoman's work, advocating with everything they've got to make this specific change to ENDA. This work has been done passionately, using every imaginable moral and legal argument that was developed by a working group of transgender leaders, community litigators and HRC staff.

Make no mistake, in our hearts and minds, the boards and staff of HRC are committed to including and protecting the transgender community. We will leave no one behind. As we continue on this odyssey, we are searching for a pragmatic, just and timely key that will unlock the door for transgender civil rights and protections.
That was HRC. In June, 2003.

HRC - like many foodstuffs - is now 100% Trans-free. Their only Trans director, Donna Rose, resigned when presented with incontravertible evidence that she was being systematically frozen out of the decision-making. Their other "token tranny" soon followed, when the evidence came in that he was being systematically ignored too, his requests for information met with silence.

Now they have issued a plan to restore their credibility, one of whose items calls on HRC Human resources to at least consider the possibility of hiring transgendered applicants - thereby admitting that currently they don't. There's no hint about "making amends" or having any change to the substance, just the PR image.

They genuinely don't see the problem. Fortunately, over 300 GLBT groups do. So maybe we won't have to wait till long after 2009 before the issue gets re-visited. The first step in that is to withdraw funding from the incompetent and/or mendacious HRC (pick any two), and the next step is to get the quiche-eating surrender-monkey (who suffers from premature capitulation) Barney Frank to retire at the point of a ballot-box. Neither task will be easy.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

...but This is.

Funny, I mean. Funny-peculiar of Funny-Ha-ha? Well, yes.

Crossposted over at TransAdvocate, in response to the lines
Just a bitter old lesbian trying to make the man look bad!? That’s an easy way to smear anyone that wears the label feminist. To someone that’s been told that they are “supporting a patriarchal society ” by transitioning, the irony is almost more than I can stand.


Ironic? Yes. But also utterly hilarious.

Let’s see… we’re gay men to some, even the lesbians. Except for the guys (some of whom really are gay, therefore perceived as straight rather than lesbian). We’re insane, which is why we need certificates to show we’re not insane before we can get treatment for our insanity. We’re attention-seekers, which is why so many of us are stealth. And depending on the jurisdictions of residence and birth, two transpeople could be deemed both men, both women, one man and one women, or one woman and one man (respectively) for the purposes of marriage. Regardless of whether they’re trans-men, trans-women, or one of each.

I’m married and have dual citizenship. If we get divorced, we couldn’t re-marry, because the Family Court where we live goes by medical reality, regardless of documentation, and same-sex marriage or civil unions are absolutely forbidden. In Australia, I could only marry a man. But in the UK, where I was born, I could only marry a woman, because my BC (Birth Certificate) says "boy" (as same-sex marriage is absolutely forbidden there too). In the UK, non-ops can have their BCs changed, but post-ops like me who are married cannot - and we can’t convert to a Civil Union to allow it because UK courts don’t have jurisdiction on overseas marriages (where both partners live overseas).

You have to laugh.

Oh, but it gets better in my case. The 1985 diagnosis at a fertility clinic after a physical examination was "undervirilised male". The 2005 diagnosis, after goodness knows how many MRI scans, ultrasounds, blood and chromosome tests was "severely androgenised woman". I transitioned shortly thereafter, the natural changes (the reason for the testing) pretty much made that mandatory. Had I not been TS it would have had to be FtoM rather than "going with the flow", but as it was it was a wonderful relief, a “get out of hell free” card.

Now under those circumstances, the whole gasbagging by the Raymondites, the Concerned Women of America (and their male spokesman), Barney Frank’s bathroom obsession, they’re all so terribly, terribly funny. Accent on the "terrible" too of course, but still something out of Monty Python.



"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever" - George Orwell, 1984.

Only without the boot.... as I said, you have to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all. I find it very difficult to remember how serious the situation is, how much the bigots and the ignorant are hurting me, when they so beclown themselves.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

This isn't Funny

From the BBC :
Men are naturally more comedic than women because of the male hormone testosterone, an expert claims.

Men make more gags than women and their jokes tend to be more aggressive, Professor Sam Shuster, of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, says.

The unicycling doctor observed how the genders reacted to his "amusing" hobby.

Women tended to make encouraging, praising comments, while men jeered. The most aggressive were young men, he told the British Medical Journal.

Previous findings have suggested women and men differ in how they use and appreciate humour.

Women tend to tell fewer jokes than men and male comedians outnumber female ones.
...
Dr Nick Neave is a psychologist at the University of Northumbria who has been studying the physical, behavioural, and psychological effects of testosterone.

He suggested men might respond aggressively because they see the other unicycling man as a threat, attracting female attention away from themselves.

"This would be particularly challenging for young males entering the breeding market and thus it does not surprise me that their responses were the more threatening."
Actually, he's partly right. There's something about a man on a Unicycle that drives women wild. It's part of our neolithic heritage, viz:

BC's Quest For Tyres

It does lead to one speculation though. The old joke is that security personnel have their sense-of-humour surgically removed. Now we know which part of the body was involved...

Monday, 24 December 2007

A Christmas Gift

This one is for everyone who has ever hit my tip jar. I thought you should know what's happened to the money.

There is a TS woman whose wife is now in a psychiatric clinic. Their daughter is 5, and she needed some money to ensure she had the court fees required to gain custody.

She's a forklift driver, and although she's been saving, suddenly she had to come up with $2500 within a few weeks to pay the legal costs. A daunting task, since she just moved into a larger home, one the courts required her to have so she could bring up her daughter properly. She was saving, and had she been given more time, she could have done it alone. But time was something she didn't have.

She'd raised $1000, but was faced with a Christmas with little hope, and her daughter at the tender mercies of state care.

Now thanks to you, my readers, she has hope. And the money.

My Christmas gift to you, my readers, is that you have made a difference. Your generosity has led to a woman regaining her faith in the milk of human kindness, yes, even miracles, and her daughter's re-union with her.

This isn't the first time I've helped someone, but I normally keep it quiet. This time though, it was too good not to share with you all, and you deserve the credit anyway. Thank you for what you've done for her. Thank you for what you've done for her daughter. You have made not just a very Merry Christmas, but an exceedingly happy New Year. And that makes you very happy in turn, no?

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Paper T(r)ail

As I blogged about in Save Em All and let God sort them out, some 3 years ago I was involved in making a simulation of air-delivered relief efforts - the TAIL model. Annette Vincent and I wrote a paper on the subject, for SimTect 2004, the Simulations Technology conference. She was the xtUML guru, I was the domain expert, and we worked fabulously together.

The paper itself is now available online as a PDF.

Now there were one or two changes in my personal circumstances in 2005. You could say I went from A to Z. In any event, I've been asked when talking about xtUML if I was any relative to the guy who co-authored the paper.

I usually say we have the same father. There's no getting away from the paper trail left behind.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Be Careful Out There

It's a dangerous universe. To the right is a picture of one of the more worrying phenomena. The 3C321 system.

(Parapharased from Yahoo News):

"The telescope images show a massive black hole in the "perp" galaxy (lower left pink blob) shooting a stream of deadly radiation particles into the lower section of the other galaxy (smaller pink blob slightly right and above, still in lower left quadrant). They're about 1.4 billion ly from here, orbiting around each other at a distance of 24,000 ly. The jet gets deflected after passing through, and dissipates (shown in blue on the image).

Any Earthlike planet in the third of the target galaxy that's affected would have the ozone layer removed, and the magnetosphere that protects the surface from charged particle bombardment severely compromised. The result? Sterilisation."

One hopes it's a natural phenomenon. I'm sure it is. Any civilisation that could manipulate supermassive galactic black holes like that no doubt has far more subtle means of dealing with problems. Unless they're trying to make a point. Anyway, it all happened 1.4 billion years ago.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The Festival of the New Spaghetti

That was the background to a "Ron Hodgson Motors" advert from the late 60's and early 70's in Sydney.

Here is the original news item that inspired it, the BBC Panorama world current affairs program from 1957.



Another Ad:
When I was a lad, I served a term
Winding back the clocks at a used car firm
I covered up the rust with a coat of clay,
And I fiddled with the steering of a Chevrolet
(He fiddled with the steering of a Chevolet)

I fiddled with the steering so very hard
That I became the owner of a used-car yard

(He fiddled with the steering so very hard
That he became the owner of a used-car yard)


But now my yard is empty all day,
People come /almost inaudible panting/ but they all go away
They go where used cars are the best
With seven days to prove and test
(With seven days to prove and test)

Ron Hodgson's deals there's no use fighting
'Cause Ron Hodgson puts his guarantees in writing

(Ron Hodgson's deals he cannot fight
For Ron Hodgson puts his deals on black and white)

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

PhD Matters

While talking with another PhD candidate (as you do) about my proposed work in genetic algorithms and evolutionary programming, I gave a guess about how my method would be likely to converge. That is, how long it would take for evolution to get a "good answer" assuming all prejudices we had about how to make it get better, quicker were removed.

I thought it would take a long time frommaging around, not really improving a lot, until a truly advanced mutation happened, and then it would take off, at least until the definition of "good result" changed.

Then it struck me. If my intuition is right - and it may not be, only the experiments will show that - I think I'm predicting that punctuated equilibrium is not just possible, but inevitable in this kind of evolutionary programming.

Now that doesn't mean that biological evolution necessarily follows that model. But as I'm attempting to make a general technique, inefficiently applicable to every kind of problem, it's an exciting insight. That if we remove all a priori knowledge, allowing full scope for "emergent behaviour", surprising and unintended solutions, then it's an inevitable consequence.

More to the point, my intuitive conjecture can be tested. We can get hard data to support or refute it. Either is good.

For the first time for ages, I think I'll really be enjoying this research, and will be good at it too. The unfortunate circumstances that have forced me to re-start from scratch could be a blessing in disguise. A very effective disguise, true.

I better explain. I was (past tense) involved in the "software complexity" project, under the auspices of the Cooperative Research Centre for Advanced Automotive Technology (AutoCRC). Research directed by, and to the benefit of, a particular industrial partner. Then that partner disappeared from the scene, leaving us high and dry, our research of no interest to other CRC members. So it had to be abandoned, and the PhD students working on it had to come up with another research area, one that excited the interest of the AutoCRC, get it approved, and re-start from scratch.

I put in my proposal two weeks ago, over a video conference and accompanied with much hand-waving, and got it accepted immediately. I may not be as bright as some of the other PhD candidates I'm working with, but I give Good Presentation. :)

And during this period, I was parenting a 6 year old boy, travelling to Thailand and recovering from major surgery, recovering from the necessary operation to revise that surgery, battling the bureaucracy to get a passport, blogging, taking a side-trip to Israel to do some work at Haifa Naval Base, and of course still learning how to be me.

It's been said that those women and men who transition, while they have more problems than before, become far more capable of dealing with them. That they blossom, in personality and capability. Now I hadn't noticed that, but looking at the list of what I've managed to do, maybe it's true. Gosh!

Monday, 17 December 2007

No Great Loss

One of the most trenchant, not to say well-founded criticisms of the Bush Administration in the US is that their PR was really, really terrible.

It's notorious that they didn't make use of the blogosphere, and still don't. There are hundreds of reports every week, facts favourable to Bush that, with just a little more publicity to them, would be amazingly helpful.

Instead, most of the "good news" gets buried, most of the "bad news" is unchallenged, even by those who can prove it's false, and are hurt most by it.

Now we might have a clue why this is so. An interview with Dan Bartlett, former Communications Director at the White House.
How much attention did you pay to the programs on cable?

I never worried about a certain cable show. What I was looking for were trends that were shaping the narrative and the conventional wisdom and whether we had to be in front of or behind those things.

What about the blogs?

We had to set up a whole new apparatus to deal with the challenges they pose. Are they real journalists? The Washington Post, for example, has journalists who are now bloggers. Do you treat them as bloggers? Do they get credentials?

Let’s think of it as a practical matter. If one of those journalists-turned-bloggers, Chris Cillizza, e-mails you to say he needs an interview, and at the same time one of the Post’s print reporters—say, Dan Balz—e-mails you and says he needs an interview, and you can do only one . . .


Balz.

Because the print edition of the Post has more of an impact?

Because Balz is on multiple platforms. He’s booked more easily on television. He’s read by more people. He influences people a bit more. Now, the question might not be as much Chris versus Dan as maybe, “Is it Dan Balz or one of the guys at [the conservative blog] Power Line?”

Yeah, or what if [conservative blogger] Hugh Hewitt called?

That’s when you start going, “Hmm . . .” Because they do reach people who are influential.

Well, they reach the president’s base.

That’s what I mean by influential. I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on.
Sure they do, Dan.

If you're so out of touch as to believe that, no wonder you're losing your base, and everything else. Bouquets for setting up a "whole new apparatus", except the apparatus doesn't appear to have done anything. If you think that the only use of the blogosphere is to feed trusted sources the "official party line", then no wonder you're the EX-Communications Director. If you think that the popular bloggers could ever get away with being trained parrots and performing seals, if you haven't been aware of their strident criticism of the incompetence in White House communications, then you're one of the best assets the DNC ever had. Jeez!

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz

File this under "Interesting URLs". A set of reviews on Amazon.com, about, well, Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately dairy-house decree:
Where Alf, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man,
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
the sacred cows wandered and fed,
And there were gardens bright with soft young grass,
Where blossomed many a pound of fresh-churned butter;
And casein scents filled the air,
Engorging the nostrils of naughty milk-maids.

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian milk-maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Cottage Cheese.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dairy in air,
That sunny dome! those cows of wonder!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Moo! Moooo!
Her flashing eyes, her swinging udder!
Weave a circle round her thrice,
And squeeze the teats with care,
For she on sweet grass hath fed,
And produced the Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon,
128 fl oz, of Paradise.

And another
He always brought home milk on Friday.

After a long hard week full of days he would burst through the door, his fatigue hidden behind a smile. There was an icy jug of Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz in his right hand. With his left hand he would grip my waist - I was always cooking dinner - and press the cold frostiness of the jug against my arm as he kissed my cheek. I would jump, mostly to gratify him after a time, and smile lovingly at him. He was a good man, a wonderful husband who always brought the milk on Friday, Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz.

Then there was that Friday, the terrible Friday that would ruin every Friday for the rest of my life. The door opened, but there was no bouyant greeting - no cold jug against the back of my arm. There was no Tuscan Whole Milk in his right hand, nor his left. There came no kiss. I watched as he sat down in a kitchen chair to remove his shoes. He wore no fatigue, but also no smile. I didn't speak, but turned back to the beans I had been stirring. I stirred until most of their little shrivelled skins floated to the surface of the cloudy water. Something was wrong, but it was vague wrongness that no amount of hard thought could give shape to.

Over dinner that night I casually inserted,"What happened to the milk?"
"Oh,"he smiled sheepishly, glancing aside,"I guess I forgot today."

That was when I knew. He was tired of this life with me, tired of bringing home the Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz. He was probably shoveling funds into a secret bank account, looking at apartments in town, casting furtive glances at cashiers and secretaries and waitresses. That's when I knew it was over. Some time later he moved in with a cashier from the Food Mart down the street. And me? Well, I've gone soy.

The Internet has led to an outpouring of human creativity such as the world has never seen before. Poetry, prose, works both deep and meaningful and shallow and meaningless (yet amusing and witty). This has been just two of them. Truly, amongst all the horror and injustice, the mountains of difficulty, it restores the human spirit to sometimes stop and smell the roses. Or drink deep of Tuscan Whole Milk, perchance.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Suffer the little Children

I was thinking about the "Concerned Women of America" and other highly profitable religious ventures. I was thinking about the many transsexual kids who are assaulted and driven out of their homes, usually in their early teens.

And then I read this. There's a pattern here.
Mary Sudnad, 10, grimaces as her hair is pulled into corn rows by Agnes, 11, but the scalp just above her forehead is bald and blistered. Mary tells her story fast, in staccato, staring fixedly at the ground.

'My youngest brother died. The pastor told my mother it was because I was a witch. Three men came to my house. I didn't know these men. My mother left the house. Left these men. They beat me.' She pushes her fists under her chin to show how her father lay, stretched out on his stomach on the floor of their hut, watching. After the beating there was a trip to the church for 'a deliverance'.

A day later there was a walk in the bush with her mother. They picked poisonous 'asiri' berries that were made into a draught and forced down Mary's throat. If that didn't kill her, her mother warned her, then it would be a barbed-wire hanging. Finally her mother threw boiling water and caustic soda over her head and body, and her father dumped his screaming daughter in a field. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she stayed near the house for a long time before finally slinking off into the bush.Mary was seven. She says she still doesn't feel safe. She says: 'My mother doesn't love me.' And, finally, a tear streaks down her beautiful face.
I've heard of, and even corresponded with, victims of abuse just as unspeakable. Not in "deepest darkest Africa", but in places like Kansas, and Ohio, Mississippi and Buckinghamshire.
Pastor Joe Ita is the preacher at Liberty Gospel Church in nearby Eket. 'We base our faith on the Bible, we are led by the holy spirit and we have a programme of exposing false religion and sorcery.' Soft of voice and in his smart suit and tie, his church is being painted and he apologises for having to sit outside near his shiny new Audi to talk. There are nearly 60 branches of Liberty Gospel across the Niger Delta. It was started by a local woman, mother-of-two Helen Ukpabio, whose luxurious house and expensive white Humvee are much admired in the city of Calabar where she now lives. Many people in this area credit the popular evangelical DVDs she produces and stars in with helping to spread the child witch belief.

Ita denies charging for exorcisms but acknowledges his congregation is poor and has to work hard to scrape up the donations the church expects. 'To give more than you can afford is blessed. We are the only ones who really know the secrets of witches. Parents don't come here with the intention of abandoning their children, but when a child is a witch then you have to say "what is that there? Not your child." The parents come to us when they see manifestations. But the secret is that, even if you abandon your child, the curse is still upon you, even if you kill your child the curse stays. So you have to come here to be delivered afterwards as well,' he explains patiently.

And much as our need is great, these children's is greater. So, what can we do? Start by letting the world know, I guess.

Oh Lord, why did you give me not just one mountain, but a whole range?

Better get out my teaspoon, I guess, and start digging.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Hate, Life, the Universe, and Everything

So we got to talking.... on a support site for Transsexual people. Initially the talk was about the Matthew Shepard Act, the one that would give some protection in the USA to such as I from being tortured, raped, and murdered without bigoted local law enforcement ignoring it. As happens.

The Matthew Shepard Act would have made such things "hate crimes" under Federal Jurisdiction, not only subject to the prejudices of sheriffs who might think they have better things to do than investigate just another piece of informal garbage collection of human trash.

Would have. It's recently been dropped from consideration, the Senate and House versions were too disparate. They had more important things to consider this year.

Our discussions evolved to talking about hate. We know a lot about that, from the receiving end. So we got to wondering why? Why is Hate?

And that led to thoughts about life in the Universe, as you will see below.

M wrote:
Hatred is not a software mistake. It's an intrinsic property of the hardware.

We're screwed, and perhaps (if it's a logical development in the evolution of thinking hardware) life in the whole universe is screwed too.

I've come to think of hate as necessary, an inevitable by-product in the evolution of intelligence (selection and competition are the only way to produce intelligence we know of).

If intelligence is also an inevitable result in the evolution of life, and intelligence = hatred = self-destruction, it means no life forms survive a certain stage and, for all intents and purposes, the universe is a giant, dumb desert.

Z (guess who that is) replied
The frightening thought is that we may be the exception - that we as a species are atypically hate-free in comparison with others.

Getting OT for a second.. I believe that prokaryotic life is probably fairly common. I believe that eukaryotic life is very, very rare indeed. It may require a double planet in the Goldilocks zone (for tides and speciation from continental drift), with a Gas Supergiant or failed star outside to make sure the reset button doesn't get pressed too often.

But back on topic...

But the reason I'm comparatively optimistic is that I deal with safety-critical systems. The hardware will fail, there will be everything from SEUs (errant beta particles flipping bits) to cosmic rays frying chips and latching memory bits high or low. But it's possible to get things to work anyway, despite this. Hate is probably inevitable, but actual persecution rather than dirty looks is not.

So what to do when everything seems so hard? Move the mountain one teaspoonful at a time. It's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. Personally, I do both simultaneously, it makes me feel better.

K then said
Zoe, please speak blue collar english in the second paragraph. I don't understand a couple of the critical words.


E said
I pretty much got it all bar the goldilocks reference.

I am inclined to agree that how people deal with hate is probably easier to adjust than hate itself, however moving a mountain with a teaspoon and only the light of a single candle would require either a very very big teaspoon or a extra extra long burning candle, no?

M answered
That is a very old theory popularized by Sagan in the 70s. The idea is that life like ours can only appear in a planet with similar conditions to ours: in the Goldilocks belt (a belt around the central star where the radiation is not so high to kill life, but the radiant energy received is enough to produce warm temperatures needed for life), with a double-planet (like the Moon-Terra system, we only see one face of the moon because we are a double planet) and with a giant gas planet close enough to catch marauding asteroids and comets (Jupiter, for us).

Now, exobiologists toy with larger vistas: life that is not exactly like ours, but with many significant differences. The discovery and analysis of archaebacteria in the 90s opened us more possibilities. There can be life which is much sturdier to radiation and heat than thought before, much more sturdier to high salt concentration, to low pHs, to the presence of sulfur, methane and ammonia.

But we're limited in our thinking. We think that life can only evolve through direct competition, that it requires independent beings struggling with each other so that they improve with the passing of generations, because that's all we know.

However, I think there are many more alternatives. I'd consider a gradation of life not so much based on the environmental conditions or the building blocks used, but only on the frequency with which the larger molecules form.

Type A planet: one where the formation of self-replicating chains is scarce. Competition is mostly indirect, evolution takes much longer due to less pressure (fewer organisms). The result could be collaborative intelligence, since violence was seldom necessary and collaboration had a higher value. The beings would need to be very large creatures, to obtain all the resources they need, which are likely to cover a vast area. The resulting intelligence will be very alien to us. Intelligence's chances of survival are high.

Type B planet: the formation of self-replicating chains is more common, but not too common. Collaboration is a must within a group, the conditions would not favour individuals. Sentience and later intelligence would be communal enterprises, same with warfare. Creatures will be of a reduced size, to perform according to the need of the colonies. Larger creatures, due to the relative scarcity of resources, would be exterminated. Intelligence developed in such an environment would be extremely aggressive in the out-group, but collaboration would be strong in the in-group. Intelligence's chances of survival would be low.

Type C planet: even more common self-replicating chains. Creatures can be independent organisms thanks to the abundance of resources. The competition will happen at two levels: in-group and out-group, with the balance of one or the other changing according to the region and external events. Smaller life forms, due to the possibility of individual selection, would become secondary and often parasitic or co-dependent with the larger species. Intelligence's chances of survival would be low.

Type D planet: literally full of life, to the point that the self-replicating chains are all part of the same organism. They join and instead of evolution through external competition, evolution is an internal affair. The entire planet could develop into a sentient, self-aware being. Selection would be against the environment, with diverse internal structures of the mega-creature adapting to diverse challenges. Needless to say, intelligence evolved in such a way would be extremely foreign to us as well. Intelligence's chances of survival: high.

Type B planets are close to what to us is ant life: they form colonies that are like one organism, collaboration in-group is strong but war out-group is merciless. Selection favours specialization into some basic types (warriors, workers, queens) and deviations from the basic types is equivalent to destruction. Type C planets are like our own, with intelligence existing in us larger animals (mammals). In a true Type B planet, their "insects" would be able to reason as a colony. Individual-based intelligence would be unknown.

Z then replied
Sorry Kara, my bad. Communication is mostly the responsibility of the sender, to make sure the message is decipherable by the receiver.

Prokaryotes - simple life.

Prokaryotes are a group of organisms that lack a cell nucleus and some other stuff to do with the internal structure. Most are unicellular, but some prokaryotes are multicellular organisms. They have a single chunk of unoganised DNA.

Prokaryotes consist of the bacteria and the archaea. Archaea were originally thought to live only in inhospitable conditions such as extremes of temperature, pH, and radiation, but have since been found in all types of habitats.

Prokaryotes are hardy beasts, quite capable of surviving eons in interstellar vacuum, hitching rides when the planet they're on has a meteorite impact that throws some debis out into space. My personal opinion is that anywhere there is water, you'll find them. Comets, Europa, deep in the Martian rock, you name it. If they evolve anywhere in a galaxy, they'll spread everywhere, before the heat death of the Universe occurs. I think they appear just after Population II stars do. Population II stars have twice-cooked elements, stuff made in the supernovas of Population I stars, things like phosphorus rather than iron and carbon.

Eukaryotes are a different kettle of fish. Far more complex, and can evolve in special circumstances only. Eukaryotes have cellular nuclei, and are often multicellular - ants, fish, plants, fungi, people. Their DNA is organised in chromosomes. Often the cells have prokaryotic structures in them that they have absorbed over the years, and which reproduce when they do.

Less hardy than prokaryotes, but with far more developmental potential. It may require on average over one universe lifetime for them to evolve. That is, unless their home is an Intergalactic Hellhole, subject to volcanoes, floods, fire, drought, continents dancing around, splitting and colliding to cause speciation (and THAT means a rare double planet system), a slightly variable star to bake and freeze them, but not too many large meteorite or comet impacts, just enough to (literally) make Life Interesting. Oh, and lots of liquid water helps too. A Torture Chamber where complex and adaptive life has an immediate advantage over mere stubborn survivors that reproduce well.

I believe that Prokaryotes are basically everywhere, but Eukaryotes are really, really, really rare and precious. They're also the only way I can imagine that intelligent life can form: it's easier to evolve eukaryotes than come up with a scenario where a planetary mass of bacteria can "wake up to itself". That would take far longer than one Universe lifetime.

Eukaryotes may even construct interstellar colonisation vessels, or silicate or hybrid organo-silicate lifeforms to succeed them before they die out. They may thus be able to cause advanced life to survive after their local neighbourhood becomes untenable for any life - such as when the star they depend on goes Red Giant.

But until then, in terms of biomass, the prokaryotes will always dominate. Earth's life is basically prokaryotic, contaminated by primitive unicellular eukaryotes, and a tiny trace, the merest hint, of multicellular eukaryotic life.

I'd recommend getting a game called "SimEarth" - it puts this all into perspective. You realise just how trivial we are in the scheme of things, yet how terribly precious too.

M answered
There is a game coming out at some point in the next 20 years called Spore. It promises to be a fun, cerebral ride.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spore_game

Prokaryotic intelligence is deemed impossible. But Nature has surprised us before, She can do it again.

A peek into the world of TS support groups. And into the thoughts of some TS women. Yes, I know according to many "experts" such as McHugh we're only supposed to be talking about fashion, makeup, how we love the feel of frilly panties (and certainly not about children or science), but there you are. Obviously we're lying, and this post doesn't exist.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Old Blue Eyes

Except there aren't any. Old Blue Eyes. Not older than 10,000 years, at any rate.

Let me explain... as I blogged earlier, the human species is mutating rapidly. Now comes an article in Scientific American on the subject which explains a bit of the detail, and contained at least one thing I found surprising.
Homo sapiens sapiens has spread across the globe and increased vastly in numbers over the past 50,000 years or so—from an estimated five million in 9000 B.C. to roughly 6.5 billion today. More people means more opportunity for mutations to creep into the basic human genome and new research confirms that in the past 10,000 years a host of changes to everything from digestion to bones has been taking place.

"We found very many human genes undergoing selection," says anthropologist Gregory Cochran of the University of Utah, a member of the team that analyzed the 3.9 million genes showing the most variation. "Most are very recent, so much so that the rate of human evolution over the past few thousand years is far greater than it has been over the past few million years."
Some things that used to be fatal are now mere disadvantages. Other things which were merely "nice to have" are now all but essential. A case in point: in Northern Europe and Africa, most adults can digest milk. That's not necessarily true in North-East Asia, where many are lactose intolerant. But they worked around that by inventing yoghurt, which can be digested after fermentation, even by people to whom milk is an effective laxative.
Roughly 10,000 years ago, humanity made the transition from living off the land to actively raising crops and domesticated animals. Because this concentrated populations, diseases such as malaria, smallpox and tuberculosis, among others, became more virulent. At the same time, the new agriculturally based diet offered its own challenges—including iron deficiency from lack of meat, cavities and, ultimately, shorter stature due to poor nutrition, says anthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, another team member.

"Their bodies and teeth shrank. Their brains shrank, too," he adds. "But they started to get new alleles [alternative gene forms] that helped them digest the food more efficiently. New protective alleles allowed a fraction of people to survive the dread illnesses better."
...
"Ten thousand years ago, no one on planet Earth had blue eyes," Hawks notes, because that gene—OCA2—had not yet developed. "We are different from people who lived only 400 generations ago in ways that are very obvious; that you can see with your eyes."

I'm interested in this kind of thing for reasons that should be obvious.


Evolution of the Female Brain
(Click to enlarge)

Monday, 10 December 2007

Passports - The Last Battle

I've just received a phonecall from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Today, they are issuing me with a passport. At no charge. And, just as importantly, an apology for the inconvenience.

It's cost me about $500 in application fees (rather than less than $200 of the original application), hundreds of hours of writing letters, going to interviews, communications with Ministers and Department Heads, being ordered to divorce, innumerable blog entries recording it all...

But I've won. Some 20 months after I first walked into a post office and put in my application, as is the right of every Australian citizen.

This should never have happened. Yes, unusual circumstances, well outside the norm, but had there been a modicum of rationality, goodwill, or simple decency at the highest levels, this would have been resolved long ago.

I dared to hope even before the election. You see, I'm not the only one in an equally unusual situation, involving foreign birth, marriage, change of legal sex, children... and DFAT had started helping, serving the Public, in some other cases, rather than being bloody-minded. There were signs and portents of a change of culture.

Now I have a lot to do: informing the various mailing lists and support sites, and individuals too, of the new precedent that's been set. Helping others, as I have been helped. The greatest gift I've received is the network of support from others who, like me, can only rely on each other, as we certainly can't rely on others. Well, that's not quite true, not for me. Unlike so many, the readers of my blog have been a pillar of strength for me. Any victory is really theirs, more than anyone else's. They had no dog in this fight, no self-interest as I did, they just helped out of a sense of justice, of doing the right thing no matter what.

Had this schlemazzle not happened, I never would have known the friends I had. Thank you all.

Now to do some e-mailing. But first, a cup of tea, and a good, long cry. I'm not superhuman, after all.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Today's Battle

Sometimes it's not confrontational, merely an attempt to educate. Sometimes people of goodwill are merely asking good questions, as at the Lesbian site After Ellen. It makes a pleasant change talking with other women. Compared to, say, this. I'd weigh in there too, but they won't let me. They're too afraid, and of a girl too, poor petals.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Chastising with Scorpions



From National Geographic :
A fearsome fossil claw discovered in Germany belonged to the biggest bug ever known, scientists announced Tuesday.

The size of a large crocodile, the 390-million-year-old sea scorpion was the top predator of its day, slicing up fish and cannibalizing its own kind in coastal swamp waters, fossil experts say.

Jaekelopterus rhenaniae measured some 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) long, scientists estimate, based on the length of its 18-inch (46-centimeter), spiked claw.

The find shows that arthropods—animals such as insects, spiders, and crabs, which have hard external skeletons, jointed limbs, and segmented bodies—once grew much larger than previously thought, said paleobiologist Simon Braddy of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.
In those days, the oxygen content was much higher, removing present-day limits. Their prey was also larger, heavily armoured fish. From the Los Angeles Times :
One of its claws might feed an entire family, but this sea creature would be more likely to eat the family.
...
And what does an 8-foot sea scorpion eat? Pretty much anything it wants to, Braddy said. The creature would have been the dominant predator in its environment, feasting on armored fish, early vertebrates, other varieties of arthropods and even on smaller sea scorpions.
Quite.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Cyborg Moths

It was back in 2003 that I first wrote a piece about Cyborgs and Hybrots. I've written a few more posts since then, the latest last year.

The latest :
A scientist who successfully connected a moth's brain to a robot predicts that in 10 to 15 years we'll be using "hybrid" computers running a combination of technology and living organic tissue.

Charles Higgins, an associate professor at the University of Arizona, has built a robot that is guided by the brain and eyes of a moth. Higgins told Computerworld that he basically straps a hawk moth to the robot and then puts electrodes in neurons that deal with sight in the moth's brain. Then the robot responds to what the moth is seeing -- when something approaches the moth, the robot moves out of the way.

Higgins explained that he had been trying to build a computer chip that would do what brains do when processing visual images. He found that a chip that can function nearly like the human brain would cost about $60,000.

"At that price, I thought I was getting lower quality than if I was just accessing the brain of an insect which costs, well, considerably less," he said. "If you have a living system, it has sensory systems that are far beyond what we can build. It's doable, but we're having to push the limits of current technology to do it."
...
"In future decades, this will be not surprising," he said. "Most computers will have some kind of living component to them. In time, our knowledge of biology will get to a point where if your heart is failing, we won't wait for a donor. We'll just grow you one. We'll be able to do that with brains, too. If I could grow brains, I could really make computing efficient."

While the moth is physically attached to the robot at this point, Higgins said he expects that one day only the brain itself will be needed. "Can we grow a brain that does what we want it to do? Can I grow an eye with a brain connected to it and have it do what I need it to do? Can I engineer an organism and hook it into my artificial system?" he asked. "Yes, I really think this is coming. There are things biology can do so much better. Think of a computer that can be both living and nonliving. We'd be growing tissue that has no more intelligence than a liver or a heart. I don't see ethical issues here."

I've already thought a lot about the ethical issues involved.
The problem of Animal Rights becomes acute and immediate when we consider the experimentation currently underway with Hybots. It can be persuasively argued that experimentation with primitive organisms like lampreys (Gugliotta 2001) and spiny lobsters(Aguilera 1999) do not involve "thinking creatures" as such. The fact that some of the neural processing can be replaced by an absurdly simple inorganic equivalent is strong evidence of this. A lamprey or a spiny lobster, despite being organic, may in fact be no more than a self-directing robot. The situation described by Graham-Rowe 2001 is less clear : only a few thousand neurons are used, and from Rat foetuses rather than the fully-developed animal, yet it is this very plasticity and higher level of development that leads one to suspect that the result may "think" in an animal fashion rather than merely be a robot with organic parts. Should such a Hybot be able to navigate a maze, then very troubling ethical issues arise regarding cruelty. We can plausibly avoid the issue when dealing with a non-organic artificial intelligence with the same external behaviour, but we know Rats think. And the situation regarding fully inorganic artificial intelligence is not as clear-cut as it once was, given the experimentation with Cyborgs and prosthetic brain parts....

Guess I'll have to make do with Chocolate

And cold meat and fish for breakfast.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Meccano with a Difference (Engine)



Charles Babbage's "Difference Engine", the first analogue computer, in Meccano.

It would have been possible to make Meccano, a standard construction system of interchangeable parts, from about 1860 - when the first interchangeable part guns were made at Springfield Armory in the USA. It's no stretch to say that it would have been possible to perform codebreaking and ballistics computations at least 75 years before they were in reality, and resource allocation and business computation likewise.

This would have led to advances in both shipbuilding and aeronautics 25 years earlier, and even regular space travel by 1950.

UPDATE: I missed it, but the excellent Melbourne blog Tramtown had an article on this a few weeks ago, and an even earlier post from 2004 with lots more videos. Worth a visit!