Thursday 30 June 2005

We Really Did Dodge a Bullet at the Ballot

As described in previous posts, I have never been a fan of Mark Latham.

Tex over at Whacking Day has a picture that shows why.

To quote Steve Edwards at the Daily Slander :
Charming fellow. Never worked a day in his life, wrecks the finances of a local council, gets kicked upstairs into a safe seat and proceeds to heap slanderous abuse on many of his erstwhile allies under parliamentary privilege, loses an unloseable election by a landslide, and now he has the gall to label Beazley a dud leader.

If not before, 47.3% of the Australian electorate must be now wondering what possessed them to preference this maniac.

Lesbian Poetry

Now that I have your attention... from the Guardian, courtesy of Cumudgeons' Corner :
A newly found poem by Sappho, acknowledged as one of the greatest poets of Greek classical antiquity and seen by some as the finest of any era, is published for the first time today.

Written more than 2,600 years ago, the 101 words of verse deal with a theme timeless in both art and soap operas; the stirrings of an ageing body towards the nimbleness, youth and love it once knew.

The poem is the rarest of discoveries. Sappho's pre-eminent reputation as an artist of lyricism and love is based on only three complete poems, 63 complete single lines and up to 264 fragments.

These are all that have survived of the writings of a woman who the Greek philosopher Plato said should be honoured not merely as a great lyric poet but as one of the Muses, the goddesses who inspire all art.

On hearing one of Sappho's poems sung, the sixth century BC Greek ruler Solon, a contemporary of hers, asked for someone to teach him the song "because I want to learn it and die".

The poem which is now her fourth to survive had a tortuous and not unromantic discovery. It was found in the cartonnage of an Egyptian mummy, the flexible layer of fibre or papyrus which was moulded while wet into a plaster-like surface around the irregular parts of a mummified wrapped body, so that motifs could be painted on.

Last year two scholars, Michael Gronewald and Robert Daniel, announced that a recovered papyrus in the archives of Cologne University had been identified as part of a roll containing poems by Sappho.

Researchers realised that parts of one poem corresponded with fragments found in 1922 in one of the great treasure troves of modern classical scholarship - the ancient rubbish tips of the Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus.

The completed jigsaw is today published in an 1,500- word article with commentary and translation in the Times Literary Supplement by Martin West, emeritus fellow of All Souls, Oxford, a renowned translator of Greek lyric poetry, described by the British Academy as "on any reckoning the most brilliant and productive Greek scholar of his generation".

Sappho - writing on the isle of Lesbos, apparently for a court of younger women - is treated as the patron saint of love between women. She has become "a litterateurs' Lorelei, a feminist icon, a scholars' maypole", writes Dr West.

Ostensibly at least, the craving in the final image of the new poem is for love from young men - with a cautionary note. Tithonus was a youth so beautiful that the dawn-goddess took him as husband. At her request Zeus granted him immortality. But she forgot to ask for eternal youth.

So Tithonus grew old and feeble, having eventually to be shut in his room "where he chatters away endlessly but barely has the strength to move", Dr West says.

Wednesday 29 June 2005

Medical Puzzlements

I got the chromosome analysis results back today, and they were absolutely astonishing.

Perfectly normal 46,xy.

Which means that the last possible medical explanation for my condition that anyone has been able to find in the literature is now exploded.

There's the possibility of a malignant hormone-secreting tumour, but if so, the primary site is currently inactive or has been zapped by my immune system, all the glands have been checked. And that still wouldn't explain more than 10% of the weirdness, by body had lots of the wrong hormone, but not *that* much. The changes that happened in 2 weeks were about what you'd expect after 3-6 months with 10 times as much. Then there's the Cholesterol level.... and various skeletal and other abnormalities I've had since childhood.

Well, it's always nice to be the first at something, "to boldly go" etc etc, but what it means to me is tests, tests, and more expensive tests, more travel to see specialists (possibly some overseas), and with no guarantee that they will find out anything before the autopsy (which, I hope, will be a long time in the future). And no treatment till they find out what's wrong.

Quelle Bummer.

Sunday 26 June 2005

The Biter, Bit

From Information Week :
Online vigilantes are taking matters into their own hands, and defacing some phishing sites to warn off the naive, a U.K. Web monitoring firm said Thursday.

According to Netcraft, a phishing site that posed as was recently defaced with a page created using the open-source OpenOffice application suite. The page read "WARNING -- THIS WAS A SCAM SITE" and "site killed courtesy of sickophish."
And from another article on the iNFj profile :
INFJs are champions of the oppressed and downtrodden. They often are found in the wake of an emergency, rescuing those who are in acute distress. INFJs may fantasize about getting revenge on those who victimize the defenseless. The concept of 'poetic justice' is appealing to the INFJ.
Yes, they got that right. Though not so much "revenge" as "retribution" and a not-so-subtle hint to "go thou and sin no more". Revenge as such corrodes the soul.

Personality Update

In more ways than one. With the new hormone-induced changes to my brain structure (scary, but what can you do? lie back and accept it) I thought it would be interesting to see what my new (improved?) personality traits look like.

Once a Geek, always a Geek.

So I took the Jung Typology Test.

Results :
Introverted : 56 Intuitive : 100 Feeling : 50 Judging : 11

Making me a Counselor Idealist iNFj

Compare and contrast with previous results from October 2004 INTP and March 2005 iNTj.

At the same time, friends who have known a Counselor for years may find sides emerging which come as a surprise. Not that they are inconsistent; Counselors value their integrity a great deal, but they have intricately woven, mysterious personalities which sometimes puzzle even them.
You can say that again.

How much of this is objective, and how much of it is subjective? We all tend to see what we want to see, rather than what is really there. We read into the results what we expect to see. But yes, the changes in personality are consistent with my feelings and thoughts. Objectively, I find it far more easy to read emotions than I did even a few months ago, what was once a mysterious and unknown world is now so completely obvious, I wonder how things could ever have been different. Hopefully this is just a new ability to add to my personality, and without loss of previous capabilities. But if not, not. At least now, if somone is upset, I can't help but sense it and can go and give them a much-needed physical or virtual hug. And thereby minutely decrease the world's sorrow quotient. Joys shared are doubled : Sorrows shared are halved. Such a gift would be worth giving up a lot for.

But then, feeling as I do, I would think that, wouldn't I? (Smile)

Friday 24 June 2005

Obligatory Friday Cat Post

Also yet another one on Brains, and Sex. From the Sunday Times :
They may look like lovable pets but Britain’s estimated 9m domestic cats are being blamed by scientists for infecting up to half the population with a parasite that can alter people’s personalities.

The startling figures emerge from studies into toxoplasma gondii, a parasite carried by almost all the country’s feline population. They show that half of Britain’s human population carry the parasite in their brains, and that infected people may undergo slow but crucial changes in their behaviour.

Infected men, suggests one new study, tend to become more aggressive, scruffy, antisocial and are less attractive. Women, on the other hand, appear to exhibit the “sex kitten” effect, becoming less trustworthy, more desirable, fun- loving and possibly more promiscuous.
UPDATE : I see Evil Pundit spotted this one ahead of me.

Wednesday 22 June 2005

The Brain, Genes, Gender and Sex

From :
Scientists say they may have found genes that help explain why a tiny percentage of men see themselves as women, cruelly trapped in the wrong body.

The researchers say the findings are very preliminary and should be “interpreted with the utmost caution,” due to the small sample size used in their study.

Nonetheless, they say, the results might shed some light on the rare condition, transsexualism. It is estimated to afflict about one in 30,000 men, some of whom follow through on their sense of their correct gender by getting sex-change operations.

More broadly, the research could help clarify one of the most contentious and poorly understood questions in biology: what creates “gender identity ”—the sense most people have that they are either a man or a woman.

The feeling is normally rather deep-seated; people don’t need to examine their body shapes to confirm it. It is also considered distinct from the issue of whom a person is sexually attracted to.
OK, so what is Gender? From :
From research and observation, I have developed a list of five semi-independent attributes of gender, as a map to help you to understand this complex often hotly emotional issue of gender. Consider sexual identity/behavior (gender) springing from five semi-independent attributes:

Genetic Gender — Our chromosomal inheritance.

Physical Gender — Our primary and secondary sexual characteristics.

"Brain Gender" — Functional structure of the brain, along gender lines.

"Brain Sex" — Love/sex Patterns, How we relate to others on a social and interpersonal as well as sexual level. "Love Maps."

Gender Identity — Our subjective gender, our sexual Self-Map, how we feel ourselves to be: male or female.
Genetic gender can be rather mixed. Most people are 46,xy (male) or 46,xx (female) : but some are 47,xxy (Klinefelter male), some 45,xo (Turner Female), and then there's mosaics and chimerae.

Physical gender usually follows the pattern laid down by the genes, but mutations such as Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome can turn genetic males into phenotypical females, and Congenital Adrenal Hypreplasia the reverse.

Brain gender is reflected in behavioural differences measureable even in the earliest days of childhood :
Even a few hours after birth, significant behavioral differences are noted between morphologically "normal" boys and girls. Newborn girls are much more sensitive to touch and sound than their male counterparts. Several day old girls spend about twice as long looking back at an adult face than boys, and even longer if the adult is speaking. A girl can distinguish between the cries of another infant from other extraneous noises long before a boy. Even before they can understand language, girls do better at identifying the emotional context of speech.
These behavioural differences are because there are significant morphological differences between male and female brain structures.

Brain Sex - Chicks dig Romance, Guys dig Big er, are more concerned with physical appearance.
Female brained individuals cannot and do not separate how they feel about a person (good, bad, nice, boring, etc.) and how they see them sexually. They must feel positive about a person as an individual in order to sexually desire them. Male brained individuals have a distant disconnect between feelings about a person as an individual and as a sex object. Males can easily, sometimes preferably, have sex with a person they don't know, don't like or even actively dislike. Love and sex are two different worlds for the male brained. These two worlds can come together, and for most this is preferred, but it is not necessary, and for some, not even desired.

Gender Identity -
The last of our five attributes, Gender Identity, is the last to be identified, and the least understood and researched. Gender identity is one's subjective sense of one's own sex. Like pain, it is unambiguously felt but one is unable to prove or display it to others. One's subjective gender is just as real and immalleable as one's physical gender but unfortunately not recognized in our culture. When one's Gender Identity does not match their Physical Gender, the individual is termed Gender Dysphoric. Like minority Sexual Orientation, Gender Dysphoria is not pathological, but a natural aberration occurring within the population, like blue eyes. As with minority sexual orientation, the percentage of the population having gender dysphoria is in dispute, with estimates ranging between one in 39,000 individuals up to three percent of the general population. My experience leads me to feel that the higher figure (3%) is closer to the actual prevalence.
But how would you know? A man born into a female body, but adjusted to the situation is unlikely to tell his son and his husband "Oh by the way, mommy is actually a guy", and certainly not if he's a stunning blonde with a curvaceous figure and an acting career. It's only if the Gender Dysphoria becomes too much to be borne that this all comes out - and the individual concerned often gets Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), where their tissues are modified to more closely approximate the body they should have had.

It is this phenomenon, Gender Identity, that the research shows may in fact be genetically determined.

I'm still waiting on my chromosome analysis results - which amongst other things, should tell me what genetic sex I am. Because you never can tell just by appearances.

Monday 20 June 2005

What the Heck... An Announcement.

I had a good look in the mirror, and it's now time to face the bleedin obvious.

I'm in a situation not unlike that of Schroedinger's Cat. Until the chromosome analysis results are in, neither I nor the doctors are sure exactly what sex(es) I am.

I could either be a mildly intersexed male who's becoming more radically intersexed over time, or I could be a terribly intersexed female so badly intersexed she could and did father a child, but who is becoming less intersexed as time goes by. It's happened before, rarely.

Bear in mind that due to selection against abnormal cells during cell division, intersexed people tend to become less intersexed over time. The amount of extra oestrodiol in my system from berserk adrenals wasn't that high - 192 pMols/Liter - but I had physical effects in two weeks that male-to-female transitioners only get after months, suggesting that at least some of my cells have too many oestrogen receptors to be considered male.

A consultant I saw at the Gender Center in Sydney said that she'd seen this rare phenomenon before in "several other transsexual women".

My bet's a 46xx/46xy/47xxy mosaic, which means my genetic sex will depend on exactly which cell you happen to pick. But if it turns out 46xy (male), I must have some really weird stuff going on in the somatic chromosomes. The same if I'm 46xx (female), since my son is, well, a son. There must be a Y-like structure somewhere.

Most people who are intersexed aren't transsexual (that is, they don't have a body/brain mismatch), only 5-10%, though quite a few consider themselves neither Male nor Female in the conventional sense.

In my head I've always been somewhat Female, but was never fanatical about it. Boy, Girl, both roles I could play equally well, or rather, equally badly. Or so I thought. Being intersexed means you can't quite be wholly either, but you can come close enough for most purposes. Enough to lead a relatively normal life, fall in Love, and find true happiness, even if you're not fully equipped for "normal" male/female sex. For a lucky few, they can even become biological parents (usually with technical help), though this is rare. I lucked out, and Carmel was strong enough to endure the many miscarriages before we finally had Andrew.

I had the body of a Footballer, definitely not a Cheerleader, so male it was for me, despite my brain's wiring (the gender of which is set 4 weeks later in pregnancy than the rest) and a few female body features. It's not as if I was ever attracted in any way to guys, I'm still, well, I can't say homophobic any more, but if I'm female, I'm lesbian. 30 years of testosterone pumped into the system will bend any girl's gender, no matter how straight she might have started.

But "had" a body like a Footballer not a Cheerleader is the operative word, right now, I look about halfway in between, and middle-aged to boot.


Seriously, we're talking a Yuk factor off the scale here. Breasts of a 13 year old girl, an increasingly voluptous hourglass figure, a male ribcage with spread ribs from having them broken playing Rugby and not taped, a 5 O'clock shadow and middle-aged wrinkles, chest and back hair, arms thick enough for a weightlifter.... Ewwwwwwwwww.

Time to face the fact that I'm not a male slightly psychologically screwed up by a very mild degree of intersex, but something else entirely. I've already got enough testosterone in my system so that a lot is excreted, adding more will not change my situation. I already have some chest developments, but more importantly, I have a female skin tone now, and am slowly getting a female body fat distribution, despite oestrodiol levels which have settled down to high-normal for a male. In other ways, from the size and shape of my pelvis and hands, I've always been closer to female norms than male ones. To me, I still look male, but to others.... I've been told that I could pass as either, if I got the face hair removed. As long as I wore baggy clothing to conceal the curves.

It's likely that the change will continue. Unlike transsexuals who are transitioning from male to female, I can't stop the process by aborting hormone therapy, nor like transsexuals transitioning from female to male, reverse it by having my ovaries removed and taking testosterone. I don't have ovaries (yes, that has been checked recently), and the evidence is inconclusive as to whether I've ever had any (just suspicious scars and odd memories, which probably are mere coincidence).

If you think it's bad for me, (it isn't, my brain's device drivers are definitely set up for female peripherals, as I've recently found out), consider my wife and love-of-my-life, Carmel. Her husband was never terribly macho, but now he's turning into a she, or something close to it. And how to explain to Andrew, 4 next month, that Daddy is turning into a Mummy?

And now a political announcement:

I am as God made me. My condition is not man-made. Although dividing all people into categories of "Male" and "Female" is a good first approximation, there are somewhere between 8 and 17 per thousand who are hormonally, chromosomally, or physically intersexed (most of them mildly, often they don't know it). That's not counting the 0.2 per thousand who have another congenital problem, a brain-body gender mismatch. (That's a minimum : those are the ones who present for treatment, there are no reliable estimates about how many have come to terms with it, like I had).

(This post left unpublished until Jan 2007)

Brain Size, Lachs and Bagels

Courtesy of Yet Another Weird SF fan, this article from the Virginia Commonwealth University about Brain Size and Intelligence :
People with bigger brains are smarter than their smaller-brained counterparts, according to a study conducted by a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher published in the journal “Intelligence.”

The study, published on line June 16, could settle a long-standing scientific debate about the relationship between brain size and intelligence. Ever since German anatomist and physiologist Frederick Tiedmann wrote in 1836 that there exists “an indisputable connection between the size of the brain and the mental energy displayed by the individual man,” scientists have been searching for biological evidence to prove his claim.

“For all age and sex groups, it is now very clear that brain volume and intelligence are related,” said lead researcher Michael A. McDaniel, Ph.D., an industrial and organizational psychologist who specializes in the study of intelligence and other predictors of job performance.
The trouble is, that much of the human brain is devoted to motor control, rather than thought or perception. The bigger you are, the more processing power you need to keep the same degree of co-ordination and intellect, so direct comparisons of brain volume without taking into account musculature will be erroneous. But all other things being equal - a rare state that - yes, the larger the brain, the higher the intellect.

In another related post, it's provide conclusively that lachs and cream cheese are perfect foods for increasing brainpower. The role of bagels (toasted or otherwise) is not mentioned, but you have to get the calories from somewhere.

Sunday 19 June 2005

Quiet Heroes

I've recently been all wrapped up in my own little narcissistic world, considering my own medical problems, and reaching out for help to others.

You may have noticed from recent entries on this blog.

But three people who I contacted recently have their own, rather more serious problems. One has prostate cancer, another is still awaiting an emergency ultrasound after an abnormal mammogram, and the third recently lost her husband to Lung Cancer.

None have paraded their own problems in public, nor made a big deal of them, they're just doing whatever they can, and living life to the fullest.

Just walk down the street, odds are of the hundreds of people you walk past, some will have recently lost a daughter, or a husband, or been diagnosed with Cancer, or had some other tragedy befall them. But they carry on regardless, not making a fuss.

Here's to them, the Quiet Heroes, I wish them Joy in the Future, and the strength to carry on until then.

Saturday 18 June 2005

A 2-ton Wind-Powered Walking-Machine

Every home should have at least one. The Animaris Rhinoceros Transport - though there doesn't appear to be any room in it for many rhinos.

Animaris Rhinoceros Transport

Wednesday 15 June 2005

Another Blog worth visiting

Opinion Dominion.

For example, the post on the Popular Mechanics article on Robert Heinlein's House. 1950's functional architecture at its finest.

All it needs are some Douglas-Martin power screens.

Hostage Rescued

Updating a previous post, from the BBC :
Dalek ReleasedLast Thursday, staff found a Dalek plunger arm and a ransom note on a doorstep.

The note read: "We are holding the Dalek captive. We demand further instructions from the Doctor."

But in Tuesday's phone call, the thieves said it had become "too hot to handle" and had been placed on Glastonbury Tor.
An operation to re-attach the victim's severed, er, limb is expected shortly.

Oh yes, and from the ABC :
Australian hostage Douglas Wood has been rescued in a military operation in Iraq, Prime Minister John Howard says.

"I am delighted to inform the House that the Australian hostage in Iraq, Mr Douglas Wood, is safe," Mr Howard told Parliament.

"Mr Wood was recovered a short while ago in Baghdad in a military operation that I am told was conducted by Iraqi forces in cooperation in a general way with force elements of the United States."
It's unlikely that anyone connected to the Iraqi allies who rescued him will read this: nonetheless, Ta, Mates. Thanks also to the Usual Suspects who gave a helping hand.

The Age of Aquarius

From :
Arlington, Va.. Taking a major step forward in the search for Earth-like planets beyond our own solar system, a team of astronomers has announced the discovery of the smallest extrasolar planet yet detected. About seven-and-a-half times as massive as Earth, with about twice the radius, it may be the first rocky planet ever found orbiting a normal star not much different from our Sun.

All of the nearly 150 other extrasolar planets discovered to date around normal stars have been larger than Uranus, an ice-giant about 15 times the mass of the Earth.

"We keep pushing the limits of what we can detect, and we're getting closer and closer to finding Earths," said team member Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Today's results are an important step toward answering one of the most profound questions that mankind can ask: Are we alone in the universe? said Michael Turner, head of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate at the National Science Foundation, which provided partial funding for the research.

The newly-discovered super-Earth orbits the star Gliese 876, located just 15 light years away in the direction of the constellation Aquarius. This star also possesses two larger, Jupiter-size planets. The new planet whips around the star in a mere two days, and is so close to the star's surface that its temperature probably tops 400 to 750 degrees Fahrenheit (200 to 400 degrees Celsius) oven-like temperatures far too hot for life as we know it.

Nevertheless, the ability to detect the tiny wobble that the planet induces in the star gives astronomers confidence that they will be able to detect even smaller rocky planets in orbits more hospitable to life.
Heavy, man. A high-g place, anyway. And too hot for it to be terraformed until we have rather better technology than is required just for getting there in a reasonable time. But it bodes well.

You Might be a Redneck Jedi if...

1. Your Jedi robe is a camouflage color.

2. You have used your light saber to open and cook a can of pork and

3. You think the best use of your light saber is picking your teeth.

4. At least one wing of your X-Wing fighter is primer-colored.

5. There is a blaster rack in the back of your landspeeder.

6. You have bantha horns on the front of your landspeeder.

7. You can easily describe the taste of Ewok.

8. You can find no grammatical errors in the way Yoda talks.

9. You think that the Stormtrooper Elite Guards are just KKK members
with really good sheets.

10. A peaceful meditation session is one without gas.

11. You can levitate yourself using a force from within, but not The

12. Your master has said, ''My finger you will pull..hmmm?''

13. You have had an X-wing up on blocks in your yard.

14. You have lost a hand during a light-saber fight because you had
to spit.

15. The worst part of spending time on Dagoba is the dad-gum

16. Wookies are offended by your B.O.

17. You have used The Force to get yourself another beer so you
didn't have to wait for a commercial.

18. You have used The Force in conjunction with fishing/bowling.

19. You have used a light saber to clean fish or open a non-twist-
off , bottle of beer.

20. Your father told you, ''Shoot, son come on over t' the dark'll be a hoot.''

21. You've had your R-2 unit use its self-defense electro-shock
thingy to light a bar-b-que.

Monday 13 June 2005

One False Move

...and the Pepperpot gets it. From the BBC, via reader Sean :

Dalek Ransom Note

Saturday 11 June 2005

Book Meme

From Hak Mao, I've been Book Memed.

Number of books I own Judging from the volume they're taking up, approximately 1.5 tonnes, perhaps 5000. Not including the collections of SF magazines in book format, another thousand or so.

Last book I bought Just blew $185 at Galaxy Bookshop, last one on the receipt was "Darwin's Watch (The Science of Discworld III)" by Pratchett Et Al. in hardcover.

Last book I re-read Herodotus : the Histories

Five books that mean a lot to me
  1. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
  2. Earth by David Brin
  3. The History of the Second World War by Sir Winston Churchill
  4. The Screwtape Letters by C.S.Lewis
  5. I Will Fear No Evil by Robert Heinlein again

Now *this* is funny

I'll quote this verbatim. First, the Intro:
I'm a geeky girl and my social circle is geeky boys and girls, as a result the 'being cute' kind of flirting dosn't work with these boys. THEY'RE NERDS. Of course the stereo type of 'Oh my god! Girls! What do we do?" "Somebody role for initiative!" isn't true, they arn't likely to initiate contact with a girl. They arn't likely to just walk up and say 'Hey.' They'll at best, use any excuse to be at the same event as the girl they're interested and become her friend but not beyond that, untill he can get a clear and definate signal from her as to weather or not she's interested in him. Basicly, most of the guys in my peer group are quite afraid of rejection. So I just ask them out but I make it look like it's their idea. :D

So I act all inniocent and ask him to guide me to the down town comic shop, wound up spending about four hours with him that afternoon and a date with him to the new war musuem next week. (He thought it was cute when I got my arm stuck in a 105mm tank gun.)
Now for the bit that's hilarious.
It's worked fine in other instances. I once literally walked up to a boy and said "I'm a moderatly attractive geeky female and you're a 21 year old beta male who would be happy as a clam to have anything with breasts that's of legal age talk to you. Want to go to the commons and get something to eat?" He said YES. Granted, the way I said it was half-way a joke in itself... Even if it was a realistic analysis of the situation.
Any Unattached Geek Beta Male who didn't fall for that one, coming from a bright-eyed, moderately attractive and definitely fun Geek Girl has to be Gay. And even Gay Geeks would probably fall for it.

Oh yes, the bittersweet punch line :
Just gotta stop them from dumping me after I tell them I'm trans. :/
Of course, to a true Geek, that would make her even more interesting... and besides which, if she's fun, vivacious, and moderately attractive, why should that make any difference?

Love and the Brain

From the New York Times :
New love can look for all the world like mental illness, a blend of mania, dementia and obsession that cuts people off from friends and family and prompts out-of-character behavior - compulsive phone calling, serenades, yelling from rooftops - that could almost be mistaken for psychosis.

Now for the first time, neuroscientists have produced brain scan images of this fevered activity, before it settles into the wine and roses phase of romance or the joint holiday card routines of long-term commitment.

In an analysis of the images appearing today in The Journal of Neurophysiology, researchers in New York and New Jersey argue that romantic love is a biological urge distinct from sexual arousal.

It is closer in its neural profile to drives like hunger, thirst or drug craving, the researchers assert, than to emotional states like excitement or affection. As a relationship deepens, the brain scans suggest, the neural activity associated with romantic love alters slightly, and in some cases primes areas deep in the primitive brain that are involved in long-term attachment.

The research helps explain why love produces such disparate emotions, from euphoria to anger to anxiety, and why it seems to become even more intense when it is withdrawn. In a separate, continuing experiment, the researchers are analyzing brain images from people who have been rejected by their lovers.
caudate in brainIn the study, Dr. Fisher, Dr. Lucy Brown of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx and Dr. Arthur Aron, a psychologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, led a team that analyzed about 2,500 brain images from 17 college students who were in the first weeks or months of new love. The students looked at a picture of their beloved while an M.R.I. machine scanned their brains. The researchers then compared the images with others taken while the students looked at picture of an acquaintance.

Functional M.R.I. technology detects increases or decreases of blood flow in the brain, which reflect changes in neural activity.

In the study, a computer-generated map of particularly active areas showed hot spots deep in the brain, below conscious awareness, in areas called the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area, which communicate with each other as part of a circuit.

These areas are dense with cells that produce or receive a brain chemical called dopamine, which circulates actively when people desire or anticipate a reward. In studies of gamblers, cocaine users and even people playing computer games for small amounts of money, these dopamine sites become extremely active as people score or win, neuroscientists say.

Yet falling in love is among the most irrational of human behaviors, not merely a matter of satisfying a simple pleasure, or winning a reward. And the researchers found that one particular spot in the M.R.I. images, in the caudate nucleus, was especially active in people who scored highly on a questionnaire measuring passionate love.
OK, so some people might think that's taking all the romance out of it. But I disagree. It illustrates once more that things happening "inside our head" are not just "in the mind", they often have definite physical causes, and physical effects. Falling in love can alter your brain structure, permanently. So what happens when you love, and lose?
In a series of studies, researchers have found that, among other processes, new love involves psychologically internalizing a lover, absorbing elements of the other person's opinions, hobbies, expressions, character, as well as sharing one's own. "The expansion of the self happens very rapidly, it's one of the most exhilarating experiences there is, and short of threatening our survival it is one thing that most motivates us," said Dr. Aron, of SUNY, a co-author of the study.

To lose all that, all at once, while still in love, plays havoc with the emotional, cognitive and deeper reward-driven areas of the brain. But the heightened activity in these areas inevitably settles down. And the circuits in the brain related to passion remain intact, the researchers say - intact and capable in time of flaring to life with someone new.
You don't burn out. Everyone is capable of finding love, even after heartbreak. You want romance? That is romance.

Now would be a good time for me to say that my marriage with the love of my life has been going strong for nearly 25 years. I have no idea how she's put up with me, but I'm looking forward to the next 25 years, as I'm still head-over-heels in love with her. And wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, she still feels the same about me.

Friday 10 June 2005

Yet More Portents of the Singularity

From New Scientist :
An effort to create the first computer simulation of the entire human brain, right down to the molecular level, was launched on Monday.

The “Blue Brain” project, a collaboration between IBM and a Swiss university team, will involve building a custom-made supercomputer based on IBM’s Blue Gene design.

The hope is that the virtual brain will help shed light on some aspects of human cognition, such as perception, memory and perhaps even consciousness.

It will be the first time humans will be able to observe the electrical code our brains use to represent the world, and to do so in real time, says Henry Markram, director of Brain and Mind Institute at the Ecole Polytecnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland.

It may also help in understanding how certain malfunctions of the brain’s “microcircuits” could cause psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and depression, he says.

Until now this sort of undertaking would not be possible because the processing power and the scientific knowledge of how the brain is wired simply was not there, says Charles Peck, IBM’s lead researcher on the project.

“But there has been a convergence of the biological data and the computational resources,” he says. Efforts to map the brain’s circuits and the development of the Blue Gene supercomputer, which has a peak processing power of at least 22.8 teraflops, now make this possible.
Teaching it to think is going to be a problem though, one possibly not solvable. But even if not, that will each us a lot too.

There's also an ethical problem. This thing will never be human, absent some massive change in our understanding of how our minds work, so we can superimpose a human template on it. But it may just be intelligent. It may feel.

Hat Tip : Fred Kiesche of The Eternal Golden Braid.

Thursday 9 June 2005


Courtesy of reader Mags:

Why do white bears dissolve in water? Because they're polar.

Did you hear about the industrialist who had a huge chloroform spill at his factory? His business went insolvent.

What kind of ghosts haunt chemistry faculties? Methylated Spirits

Q: What do chemists use to make guacomole?
A: Avogadros.

Q: How many atoms in a guacamole?
A: Avocado's number.

Q. What do you do when you find a dead chemist?
A. Barium.

Q. What is the purpose of a doctor?
A. Helium.

Organic chemistry is the study of carbon compounds; biochemistry is the
study of carbon compounds that wriggle.

There once was a girl named Irene,
who lived on distilled kerosene.
But she started absorbin'
A new hydrocarbon,
And since then has never benzene!

Though that one had a familiar ring to it....

Tuesday 7 June 2005

A Pot Pourri

Cooking combines the art and science of programming, along with sensuous pleasure.

Too bad I'm on a diet. Oh well, when I get off it, I'll try some of the recipes over at Chef's Secrets.

From Orange Quark :
The BBC is carrying a nice little story about the "Millenium Run", a supercomputer simulation of cosmological structure formation, in which the dynamics of 10 billion dark matter particles were tracked over 13 billion years of cosmological evolution. Numerical simulations are a crucial part of modern cosmology, allowing us (where by "us" I mean people like me, but who know how to write huge, complicated N-body codes) to understand how well-defined interaction rules between dark matter particles, acting in an expanding cosmos, lead to the wonderfully rich, complex, and structured universe we see today.
Carlos Frenk, who is one of the world's leaders in this area, is quoted in the BBC story, saying
"We have learned more about the Universe in the last 10 or 20 years than in the whole of human civilisation"
This is a big bold claim, but I think it is entirely fair. The tremendous progress in cosmology in the last couple of decades has given us a coherent picture of the universe; more detailed than many cosmologists had thought would ever be possible. This data is going to continue to flood in over the next few decades, further focusing attention on the fascinating question of how the observed cosmos connects to our theories of fundamental physics. It's a daunting task, but oh so much fun to be faced with.
And for every Quark, there's an Antiquark, a blog so good I'm adding it to my blogroll forthwith.

Monday 6 June 2005

Brain Structure

In the course of doing research on hormonal changes to the body, I've come across a lot of data about a relatively minor change, but one with the most profound societal impacts. This post is about the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc), a collection of cells in the hypothalamus. And about Identity and Society.

From GenderPsychology.Org: :
For most laymen the idea that experience can alter the structure of the brain may seem unlikely, but for over 30 years neuroscientists have provided demonstrations that this idea is quite correct. At Berkeley, David Krech, Mark Rosensweig and colleagues found that when rats were raised in enriched environments (with toys and other rats) rather than caged alone, the animals showed many reliable changes in brain structure. Shortly after, David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel of Harvard demonstrated that depriving kittens of visual stimulation to an eye would alter connections between the eye and the brain. Such demonstrations of experience altering brain structure have been extended to monkeys and, in recent years, to humans. For example, a human who had lost his hand as an adult showed clear evidence that the side of the brain controlling that hand was reorganized less than a year after the accident (Yang, T.T., Gallen, 0., Schwartz, B., Bloom, F. E., Ramachandran, V.S., & Cobb, S. Sensory maps in the human brain. Nature, 386, 592-593, 1994 [letter]). As noninvasive imaging techniques are perfected we can expect to see further demonstrations that experience can alter the adult human brain. Why am I so confident that there will be more such demonstrations? I'm well aware of how much humans can learn, how much they can alter their behavior, and how frequently they do so. All of this behavioral plasticity requires that something in the brain remain plastic, too.
All well and good, and utterly non-controversial. It then continues:
But there is another important feature of the recent work with transsexuals that we can all ponder. Whether these men were born with a small BSTc which caused them to become transsexuals, or whether these men became transsexuals which then caused them to have a small BSTc, the fact remains that their brains are physically different. And that difference is not trivial, because any difference we can detect with our primitive understanding of neuroanatomy is, by definition, not trivial. Thus we might regard transsexuality as a deep, abiding conviction. Presumably these adults could no more set aside their feelings about which sex they are than you or I could. So perhaps the report of Zhou et al. will make it easier for our society to accept and tolerate transsexuality.
I wouldn't bet on it. When people's long-cherished ideas of religion or morality are concerned, any inconvenient reality that challenges these beliefs is likely to be ignored. And in this case, the Jury is still out, anyway. From Anne Lawrence :
A recent paper by Chung et al. (2002) has demonstrated a most unexpected finding: In humans, unlike the rat and perhaps other species, BSTc volume does not become sexually dimorphic until well into adulthood. However, most MtF transsexuals report that they experienced gender dysphoria beginning in childhood, often from the time of their earliest memories. It is hard to imagine how BSTc volume could be a marker for gender identity if BSTc volume has not yet become sexually dimorphic at a time when gender identity has already been firmly established.
Oh yes, I'm having a brain MRI scan tomorrow, concentrating on the Pituitary gland.

Sunday 5 June 2005

Fly Me To the Moon

...and let me play amongst the stars...

From the author of Cumudgeons's Corner, a Brief History of Lunar Exploration.
Many people ask, because of its perceived cost, why explore the Moon? Many scientists believe that the Moon contains many of the secrets of the early solar system and that a geological and geophysical study of that world would yield many of those secrets. Other scientists believe that the far side of the Moon, shielded from the Earth, would be a perfect place for a radio and an optical observatory to explore the universe.

The official rationale for returning to the Moon in the current Vision for Space Exploration, proposed by President Bush, is that it would serve as a dress rehearsal for expeditions to Mars. Technologies and techniques that would be used to explore the Red Planet could be tested out on the Moon, just three days journey away from Earth.

One of the more compelling reasons for returning to the Moon is that it may be a source of limitless energy. Over billions of years, solar winds have deposited an isotope called Helium 3 on the lunar surface. The reason that Helium 3 is important is that, when fusion reactors become commercially practicable, it can be used as fuel with little or no radioactive byproducts
There's more than one reason.

But we may have to be a little bit careful out there. From Space Daily :
The solar flare, which occurred at 2 a.m. EST, tripped radiation monitors all over the planet and scrambled detectors on spacecraft. The shower of energetic protons came minutes after the first sign of the flare.

This flare was an extreme example of the type of radiation storm that arrives too quickly to warn interplanetary astronauts.

"This flare produced the largest solar radiation signal on the ground in nearly 50 years," said Dr. Richard Mewaldt of the California Institute of Technology. He is a co-investigator on NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft.

"But we were really surprised when we saw how fast the particles reached their peak intensity and arrived at Earth."

Normally it takes two or more hours for a dangerous proton shower to reach maximum intensity at Earth after a solar flare. The particles from the January 20 flare peaked about 15 minutes after the first sign.

"That's important because it's too fast to respond with much warning to astronauts or spacecraft that might be outside Earth's protective magnetosphere," Mewaldt said.

"In addition to monitoring the sun, we need to develop the ability to predict flares in advance if we are going to send humans to explore our solar system."
15 minutes to peak means very little time for interplanetary astronauts to get into a shelter. This means trouble.

Hat Tip yet again to reader Shaun

Saturday 4 June 2005

How Thoughtful Of Them

From OS News :
Intel is adding DRM capabilities to its new Pentium D chipsets, but as with AMD, they're not that keen on talking about it. Aside from DRM, there's also this gem: Additionally, AMT also features what Intel calls "IDE redirection"...allow administrators to remotely enable, disable or format or configure individual drives and reload operating systems and software from remote locations, again independent of operating systems.
To simplify, DRM - Digital Rights Management - is s system to make sure that no matter where you are in the world, you comply with that particular company's interpretation of US copyright laws. But all that does is prevent you playing music and accessing other intellectual property you may have a right to.

IDE allows the chip make to do whatever they want to your computer, whenever they want to. Of course, it's for your own good, and we can all be quite sure that no-one not authorised to use this feature would be able to do so for at least the first few weeks.

Still, it could be worse. Mother Nature's doing a pretty thorough job of giving me a field upgrade to my own biological hardware, whether I like it or not. Looked at objectively, yes, it's an improvement (so far, anyway), even one I would have welcomed if offered the choice. But choice didn't come into it.

Hat Tip to reader Shaun

Thursday 2 June 2005

Music Meme

In response to the Currency Lad's Music Meme Challenge, here's what I'm listening to.

1. The total volume of music on my pc:
About 200 Mb, free samples and tracks from CDs I own.

2. Songs playing right now:
"Stay With Me" by Shakespeare's Sister

3. Last album I bought:
"A Shoggoth on the Roof" (Sound track of the theatre production)

4. Five songs I've been listening to a lot:

"Hazy Shade of Winter", the Bangles cover version is even better than the original Simon & Garfunkel one. Just right for Canberra in June.

"The Night Santa Went Crazy", by Weird Al Jankovic. As you do. Just in case I start taking life too seriously.

"I am a Rock", the original Simon & Garfunkel version, to help me uncover painful memories long buried, but which I now need to retrieve to provide clues to long forgotten medical problems of relevance today. At one time in my life, it was my theme tune, and I derived great comfort from it. I wish I could go back in time, and tell the me that was that I was actually going to live happily ever after, after all. Miracles sometimes happen, and of three impossible dreams I had, one has come true, one came true enough, and the most improbable of all may yet be coming true.

Maybe it's because of the hormonal mood swings I'm having that I'm reminded of puberty. And what I had was a helluva lot worse than the usual Teenage Angst.... brrrr. (Time to start counting my lucky stars once more).

"Wouldn't it be Nice", by the Beach Boys. As an antidote to the heartwrenching loneliness of the previous song, this was my theme song after meeting my wife-to-be. Though for the first few weeks of that period, I thought with good reason that I only had a short time to live, and it was wistful, rather than expectant. But I got better. So did my life.

"Heaven Can Wait", by Meatloaf. That's my theme song now, and has been since the day we got married, almost 25 years ago.

And as a bonus:

"Rocket Man", not the Elton John version, nor the Kate Bush one, but a trance version by a female vocalist who I haven't been able to trace.

When I hear it, I automatically substitute a few changes:
"And all the Science, yes I understand
Not just a job, five days a week..."
And yet I am reminded of that kid back in 1972, rocking back and forth in his bedroom and whispering "And an Island never cries" with tears silently streaming down her face. (No, not a misprint, try googling "Intersex" : 1.5% of the population, by some estimates)

Puberty Sucks for everyone, but for some it's worse than others. I have got good medical reasons to believe that mine was probably worse than most. 98.5% in fact. The Chromosome test results are still pending, but a number of ultrasound exams of my pelvic region in the next few days should show the extent of the problem. Like the psychic wounds, probably just scar tissue by now, but you never know.

Now for 3 others to pass the meme along to:

Norman Geras, Michele Catelano, and Ninme

My All Time Favourite Dr Who Companion

May I present Wendy Padbury, alias Zoe Herriot.


I might add that at over 50, she's still my favourite.