Sunday 31 December 2006

Anatomy of a Woman

Drawn Here and shamelessly stolen from the Qsceptics mailing list.

Saturday 30 December 2006

The Power Of 'Mones

File this one under Brains and Sex.

I've already blogged about how gender identity and basic neural architecture appears to be formed in the womb, and how terribly uncomfortable a Male hormonal balance makes someone with a Female brain (and vice-versa).

Now from the European Journal of Endocrinology comes an Academic Paper that might tell us why.

The Abstract of "Changing your sex changes your brain: influences of testosterone and estrogen on adult human brain structure" :
Objective Sex hormones are not only involved in the formation of reproductive organs, but also induce sexually-dimorphic brain development and organization. Cross-sex hormone administration to transsexuals provides a unique possibility to study the effects of sex steroids on brain morphology in young adulthood.

Methods: Magnetic resonance brain images were made prior to, and during, cross-sex hormone treatment to study the influence of anti-androgen + estrogen treatment on brain morphology in eight young adult male-to-female transsexual human subjects and of androgen treatment in six female-to-male transsexuals.

Results: Compared with controls, anti-androgen + estrogen treatment decreased brain volumes of male-to-female subjects towards female proportions, while androgen treatment in female-to-male subjects increased total brain and hypothalamus volumes towards male proportions.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that, throughout life, gonadal hormones remain essential for maintaining aspects of sex-specific differences in the human brain.

We already know from the autopsy results of Gooren et al that transsexuals' brain structures differ from their cisgendered counterparts, even without hormone treatment (see referenced paper 9) though this is not stated in the article.

It would seem at least plausible that, for example, a male-pattern brain with a female hormonal environment would have a mismatch : the male-pattern structures require a less dense packing of neurons and larger brain volume in order to work properly,and vice-versa for female brains in a male hormonal environment.

But one thing is certain : sex hormone levels change the brain, and long-term hormone replacement therapy with significantly high dosage for 3 months will change the personality. In the quote below, MF means "chromosomal males with female gender" (like me) and FM the reverse.
In MFs, 3 months of estrogen addition and testosterone suppression resulted in a decline in anger and aggression proneness, sexual arousal, sexual desire, and spatial ability (usually males outperform females) and in an increase in verbal fluency (usually females outperform males) (24, 26, 27). In FMs, 3 months of testosterone treatment was associated with an increase in aggression proneness, sexual arousal, and spatial ability performance, whereas it had a deteriorating effect on verbal fluency tasks (25, 28). These behavioral and cognitive findings in transsexuals following cross-sex hormone treatment are in line with the studies reporting influences of endogenous and exogenous sex hormones on behavior and cognition, as well as on cortical brain activation, in non-transsexual adult humans (29, 30). Whether functional brain changes accompany the anatomical brain changes in transsexuals remains to be elucidated using functional brain imaging techniques.
One difference in my case - HRT actually gave me a Libido, I'd never had one before. Now this might be due to psychological rather than physiological factors, but my bet is that I now had at least a partly functional female sex drive rather than a wholly broken male one. My condition appears to involve an abnormally feminised hindbrain, where the body map and other instinctive behaviour arises. We think.

I do know - and blogged about - the perceived changes in my thinking during the mad 3 months whgen my hormone levels went crazy (and I nearly did too). It looks like my perceptions matched reality.

So, what does all of this mean from a Therapeutic viewpoint? First, that anyone with "Gender Issues" had better be sure about them before they DIY and order Hormones over the Internet without a prescription. Second, that doses of HRT used for diagnostic purposes may work well - causing Gender Dysphoria in those that don't have it - but should be closely monitored, and be for less than 3 months. We don't know if the neurological changes are reversible, and we may be playing with fire. Third, that those people who have been on HRT for sufficiently long periods of time are already by any reasonable medical definition of their target gender, regardless of their genital configuration. Their Brains have changed.

Legislators please take note.

Friday 29 December 2006

A Bad Reaction

I don't like taking medication. With my non-standard metabolism, I can never be quite sure I will react in a standard way. I especially don't like taking cocktails of different drugs, simply because there couldn't possibly have been enough testing done on subtle interactions between them.

Anyway, in Thailand, I was on 2 different antibiotics, an anti-inflammatory enzyme, an artificial opiate for pain relief, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory powerful analgesic, plus good old paracetamol, and a small amount of valium. And an anti-histamine to counteract an allergic reaction I had to one or more of the above.

Well, back in Oz, I finished the antibiotics. I didn't need the opiate (the pain had subsided). I'd virtually run out of valium, and having seen the effects of valium dependence on a family member, I have an unreasoned prejudice against that drug. Even though it was only 2.5mg (half a 5mg tablet), rather than 100 times that amount, I didn't like it.

I'd run out of the anti-histamine too, but the rash continued, so I bought an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.

After my blood tests, I also started up the HRT again - the hormones - and the anti cholesterol medication. So add 8mg of Oestrodiol Valerate, and some methoxyprogesterone and a statin to the mix.

But I was down to just 3 tablets of the anti-inflamatory powerful analgesic per day, half what I'd been prescribed, plus paracetamol when the pain got too bad.

Yet still the rash continued. If I'd developed an allergy to paracetamol, I'd be in big trouble, it's in virtually every cold and flu symptom reliever.

Anyway, instead of taking paracetamol, during dilation, I took the prescribed dose of this anti-infammatory.

45 minutes later, Carmen and Matt called the Ambulance for me : classic allergic reaction, collapse, difficulty breathing, the full bit. Not shock though, and 2 hours later when the peak level had subsided, I was back to normal.

So no more non-steroidal anti-inflammatories for me. Including the over-the-counter one I'd bought in Oz. My Rash is slowly getting better, or at least no worse, though I have considerable swelling, more pain and bleeding, and now use the artificial opiate (at half prescribed dose) for pain relief.

I'll see Prof Steinbeck, my endo, before making any more changes. The GP who's been tracking my transition gets back from a well-earned holiday in the middle of January, and I'll see him too.

Of course there's Betadene, a topical burn creme, and hibiscrub (containing hibitane) I have to use too, any of those might be causing a reaction too.

I really don't like taking medication!!

Thursday 28 December 2006

Elf Sex and other Interesting URLs

What Tolkien Officially Said About Elf Sex. "One last perplexing note from LACE (Laws and Customs of the Eldar) is that Elves do not change sex, even if they are being reincarnated.". Probably for the best. Trust me on that one.

I wish this were not factual.

Christmas War(games) Father Frost, Santa Claus, the Three Wise Men and the Reindeer Liberation Front battle it out in a fight to the Finnish. Or possibly Swedish.

XKCD : A webcomic of romance,sarcasm, math, and language.

Wednesday 27 December 2006

I told you there were Elephants!

Rather than trying to recover the lost posts from a week ago, here are some highlights.

Elephants playing darts

Elephants Painting Pictures

Elephants riding tricycles

Tuesday 26 December 2006

Another Canonical View

In a previous post, I blogged about one of my favourite pieces of music.

Others opinions differ.

Saturday 23 December 2006

Let Me Rephrase That

Yesterday I wrote:
So I will be rescuing all the posts that wouldn't publish, replying to all the e-mails and somments on the blog, and generally catching up.... tomorrow.

Um... it's Christmas. And when I wrote that, I was still jet-lagged, somewhat zonked out on the painkillers I needed to make the trip, and generally in bite-off-more-than-I-can-chew mode.

Just replying to all the personal good wishes has taken me most of today, and I'm about 10% of the way through.

And now the dilation alarm is going off again, so until I reconfigure my laptop to communicate via the rather ideosyncratic broadband connection I have, I won't be posting while dilating.

I think I'll do that later. After Christmas. So blogging will be light.

And I realise how totally crazy I must have been to have done so much yesterday. Well, I'm paying for it today!

But I did get a new baseline bloodtest this morning, after 7 weeks of no hormones or statins, and 5 weeks after orchidectomy. Back on HRT now, which hopefully will keep the awful menopausal symptoms at bay, as well as various rashes etc. I get the feeling my adrenals might just be putting out rather a lot of testosterone at the moment, as well as cortisol, but I trust the numbers more than my own subjective observation of symptoms - there's a time-lag and feedback loops anyway.

Anyway, when things are set up, there will be elephants, in great quantities, doing everything from martial arts displays, painting, and playing darts. The world is an Interesting place.

I'm also getting used to having Ray, Carmen's B/F, living with us. Actually, it really is not so much nice as convenient to have a Man around the house, he's done a lot of handyman stuff while I've been away. And as I had to dilate at 5am, I could get them both a cup of tea in bed, which I think smoothed over what could have been a tricky situation. Sort of a "welcome" if you like, I'm trying to put the poor guy at ease, as much as I can.

Oh yes, the chinese character shown at the right.

It is sometimes said that the Chinese character for "trouble" shows two women under one roof. Such a character is possible, and would look like this , but there actually is no such Chinese character, though I understand that the myth lives on the internet.
Source. Time will tell.

Friday 22 December 2006

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

To quote from Bladerunner.

But I no longer feel like a Replicant, I can watch BSG without automatically identifying with a Cylon.
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
Well, I've seen and heard things you people wouldn't believe. Tales of heroism, tales of the most monstrous abuse. But one difference: for me, it is most definitely Time to Live.

Anyway, after arriving home this morning after leaving the clinic in Thailand, hugging Andrew (my first and most important duty and pleasure), dilating (which after a 24 hour delay was Not Fun, and required more than the usual painkillers), arranging a blood test to get the new baselines so I can re-start Hormones (Menopause is also Not Fun), going to to Uni before the Christmas shutdown to make preparations for my paper due January 20th....

I crashed, and slept 5 hours straight, when I was playing with Andrew, setting up the Wiggles for him. Just lay down with him, and then woke up.

Oops. Well, I was supposed to be taking it easy. Not going back to work for at least a month. Resting. My body decided enough was enough.

So I will be rescuing all the posts that wouldn't publish, replying to all the e-mails and somments on the blog, and generally catching up.... tomorrow.

Now I have to dilate have a bath, and do it again in about 6 hours to establish a regular rhythm.

I'm home though, and amongst people I love. Learning how to Live a bit more can wait for a while, as people have said, you don't over-intelectualise about it, it's more abour relaxing and letting stuff happen than anything else.

Regular blogging will resume shortly. And did I say Thanks to all my readers? For the support, the advice, the donations to my medical expenses, and all the rest. I hope to continue to be reasonably or even unreasonably entertaining and thought-provoking, just as I've been fascinated by the blogs of many of my readers and those on my blogroll.

Oh well, duty calls (Dilation, remember?). More Later.

Wednesday 20 December 2006

Blogger Ate My Homework

Having great difficulty posting any article more than a few lines long. Hopefully fixed soon.

Monday 18 December 2006

Out of My Depth

I'm in a situation - well, two situations - that I'm having great difficulty coping with.

The first is probably the easiest: it's been absolutely, blindingly, glaringly obvious that I've lived a very solitary, lonely, and repressed life. I never had an adolescence, never did anything wild, exciting, or even slightly unwise. I believed the propaganda, that good girls - or good boys - didn't do certain things (like kiss before age 18), and besides which, I wouldn't have known how nor had the desire to. Never been to a disco, been to a bar once in my life, only been to the movies with the girl I married, had lunch maybe 6 times with another girl in my teens, I'm not just talking about an introverted nerd here, I'm talking about dangerous abnormality. Someone who was 21 before they ever got kissed.

Now I could blame my Very English Middle Class Parents and my upbringing. My sister was a party animal, got involved with the "wrong crowd" and nearly wrecked her life as the result. I went the other way, too much so. Given the fact that I had to travel 5 hours a day going to school and back, never having any friends who lived in my suburb, that might have had something to do with it too.

But really, there's nobody to blame but me. And given my hormonal screwups, dealing with being Transsexual, I can't even blame Me either, not overmuch. These things happen.

Meanwhile, married to such a stick-in-the-mud homebody "husband", my partner's social life zeroed as well. Our idea of a riotous night out was to get a pizza and read on the bed together. Always scrimping and saving, paying off the mortgage when it was 17%, pinching pennies even more when I was "between jobs" and contracts were scarce. Not much call for Rocket Scientists and Combat System Designers here in Australia.

So much of my life - about a decade of it - was spent away from home, working where the work was, then after work going to a single solitary room, and reading. My wife, the love of my life, was not with me, and going out anywhere would be weary, flat, unprofitable and stale.

I was never able to do the after-work male pubcrawling/bonding bit. Sorry, brain not actually set up to think that way, to get inside the male hierarchical social scene.

When my transition first started, my partner started becoming more outgoing, gregarious, it was wonderful to see. While she had a stick-in-the-mud husband, she felt she couldn't go out. It wasn't that I'd ever forbade her - for how could I forbid another adult to do anything - or even disaproved, she just felt she couldn't.

I tried to do the same thing, but she was out dancing or socialising 6 days a week, sometimes seven. I tried to ask for one day per week, then when that didn't work out, one day per month to go out myself, but somehow I always had to cancel the arrangements as she had paid for some tickets, or had promised she'd be there to a friend, or had to help out with the catering, or whatever.

Never mind, I had lots and lots of time with my little son, it was not just no imposition, I rather liked staying at home. I didn't want to go out, really. Where would I go? The weekly meeting of the wargamers - but you had to arrange the game in advance, and I could never do that, opponents got tired after the fourth time you apologised for not making it. Maybe the SF society. I really had no idea.

There was one evening, an event held once a year, that I did want to go to. But Carmen didn't arrive back until 3 hours after she said she would, so it was far too late. I got upset then, she hadn't realised how much it meant to me, and we had a good talk and cuddle session instead. Which I enjoyed more than if I'd gone.

But now I have everyone, and I do mean everyone, my shrink, my friends, even people here at the Suporn clinic all telling me that I have a fully functional, even enjoyable body now, and that I should go LIVE A LITTLE.

Trouble is, I haven't the faintest idea how to.

I'll be getting up before dawn, dilating, cleaning up afterwards, seeing my boy off to school, going to the Uni, sitting in front of a computer, working, getting up from my chair, collecting my boy from school, dilating again while he stays with his grandparents or mother if she's not spending the night with her boyfriend (she does that 6 days a week), then playing with him until bedtime, then a bath, then bed.

I feel as if I should live a little, that not to do so would be unhealthy, spiritually and psychologically. But I'm not sure I want to, I certainly don't know how to, and am totally sure that unless this life regime changes, I'll have zero opportunity anyway. Canberra is, after all, notorious for its complete lack of social life for over-25's, and precious little for those under 25.

OK, that's the easy situation. Things will probably change, and despite the fact that I'm an ugly 48-year old sexually repressed virgin who isn't even sure she's not asexual, I'll get a life. If I decide I want one, which I probably will.

Now the difficult situation. You see, I've been a member of a number of support fora, various mailing lists, and the like. Because my Google-Fu is Strong, and because I've had to do so much research on my own condition, I've managed to help a few others. OK, many others, maybe over a hundred. Yes, I've saved a number of lives too, and do you have any idea what it's like when someone comes up to you and says "Thank you for saving my life"?

Do you know what it's like when you get an International Reputation for being some sort of Den-Mother, a combination of Ask Abbey and Mother Theresa when you know you haven't got the faintest idea yourself, you've just been in worse situations and so can see the bright side and be encouraging? Do you know what it's like to have Private Messages and e-mails calling you a Saint and not joking, when you know your feet are of clay?

What do you do when word gets around, and people you've never met point you out as someone who's helped many others?

I've been treated here at the Suporn Clinic with more kindness than I have ever been treated before. More kindness than the rest of my life put together. I've recieved e-mails, and phonecalls, and SMS messages, and goodness knows how many expressions of support on various mailing lists I belong to. And have you read the comments on some of the articles on this blog?

I don't know how to handle this. Adversity, challenge, difficulty, yes, those I know, and I may not always win against them, at least I know what to do about them. Be it saving someone from suicidal ideation, or just battling bureacracy.

But Kindnesss like this, almost unlimited. Hugs. Good wishes. Genuine love, caring and affection, from so very many people, how do I deal with that? Tears are pouring down my face again, I've been so blessed. I can't believe Life can be this good.

OK, lots of psychological hangups, various bits of baggage no longer wanted on life's voyage, I'll be right, just need to shovel a lot out.

But I still don't know how to handle this outpouring of Kindness I'm receiving. It's overwhelming. Thanks, everyone. Please forgive me for this rambling, incoherent and emotional post. I'm in an ocean of Kindness, and I'm just out of my depth.

Friday 15 December 2006

Truth Stranger Than Fiction Department

File this one under "interesting URLs".

It's the story of the MV Sealand Express

It's a story involving a container ship being damaged by cannonballs from a sailing ship of the Royal Navy, of radioactive materials being removed by helicopter, of Hazmat teams and collisions with old shipwrecks, and of great daring-do.

Also at the CargoLaw Site, a distressing report on Piracy on the High Seas. Not just the Billions (yes, Billions) of dollars worth of cargo and shipping stolen each year, but the many lives of merchant seamen that have been lost.

When Chinese workers boarded the highjacked Australian freighter M/V Erria Inge a couple of years ago to cut it up for scrap, they smelled something foul. Searching for the source, they found ten members of the crew in a long unused refrigerator. The bodies had been splashed with gasoline and burned alive by the pirates who captured the vessel.
Fortunately, the only Al Qaeda-related attack on a cruise ship so far was foiled (MV Seabourn Spirit, off Somalia, Nov 5 2005). But it wouldn't take much to have a seagoing 9/11, with the possible side benefit of the pirates looting the ship of millions before sinking her and all within her.

Going Home

This time next week, I'll be fast asleep in my own bed, with my own son nearby, and the woman who is still my soulmate and best friend nearby too.

It means I'll miss the Dr Suporn Clinic Christmas Party - which I'm told is legendary! But I'll have Christmas with my Family, and get to see my son open his Christmas Presents.

Now you may wonder why Christmas is celebrated in Thailand, a Buddhist country, in the main. Well the Thais are no fools. Chinese New Year? Good Excuse for a Holiday! Water-splashing day? Good Excuse for a Holiday! The King's Birthday of course is a Holiday, with Fireworks added. Christmas? Good excuse for a holiday, and also for dressing up in silly Santa Hats and playing christmas carols. Also, you get to give gifts to Children! Eid, the end of Ramadan, is of course celebrated too.

I've already got my Christmas present of course.

Thought for Today

Shamelessly stolen from Katherine of the QSkeptics Mailing List:

If the human brain were simple enough for us to understand it, we would be too simple to understand it.

Thursday 14 December 2006

Four Weeks Later

It's now 4 weeks since the operation.

And I'm bawling my eyes out, I'm afraid. You see, I'm finally starting to realise that it really, truly happened at last. Nothing went wrong. Nothing prevented it. It genuinely happened, and there's no need to stop concealing the all-consuming hunger, the longing, the dreadful need I had for this.

I was so afraid something would prevent it. I couldn't let myself feel what was inside, simply because if I had, and something had have happened to cause a delay, then I don't know if my sanity would have remained intact. Probably, I have a son to parent after all, going nuts might be a pleasant escape, but I couldn't afford to.

I've been suppressing the need for so very long, it's only now that it's starting to come out. I'm crying tears of joy, but mostly of relief, my long nightmare over at last.

It will take me some time to get all this out of my system, you don't get rid of 35 years of suppressed psychic torture - for that's what it was - overnight. I've told myself that I was lucky : unlike those who dressed part time, who took ever increasing doses of anti-depressants, who spent vast quantities of time and money venting their abject misery to psychiatrists, those who crawled into booze bottles or worse... my Gender Dysphoria wasn't as bad.

But now I know, after talking with many other women here at the clinic, that it was far, far worse. So very bad that I couldn't admit its existence. No psych for me, no anti-depressants, no coping behaviour, I just went psychotic in a very small way, total denial. And now all the things I had to keep inside and hidden from myself, I can now admit their existence. They're Irrelevant now. The Fear of failure or delay now evaporated. I'm Free. I'm actually, genuinely Free.

Oh the Relief!

I've kept a relatively even keel so far, blogging about space, and politics, and the joys of dilation, but now the emotional pressure is low enough for me to let it all out without explosion. OK, without much of an explosion.

You see, I'm so very happy, that's all. And now is the time for me to say so.

And to thank all those who have commented here or elsewhere giving their support, and especially those who have contributed significantly to my expenses by hitting the tip jar.

Tears of Happiness. Tears of Relief. Tears of freedom from Fear. Tears of Joy.

Thank you all.

Wednesday 13 December 2006

Over Achiever

When I first had the packing removed, my depth was 8 inches. Now the instructions were to try to keep that depth. It was taken as read that you couldn't - with the initial swelling, an apparent depth of 8 inches was an actual depth of 7.5.
It's just that I did try to maintain the 8 inch depth, and succeeded.

Now Dr Suporn has gently but firmly told me to keep to 7.5. With my frame, my torso's anatomy, there is a risk that 8 or over will tend to intrude into areas best left alone. 7.5 is still way over the odds for my height - it was becuse my pubic bone, in fact my pelvic structure, was female, more set up for a birth canal than for external genitalia - but not very good for either.

Another change of policy: the usual dilation regime is 2 hours per session, 2 sessions every day, for the first 6 months. Now I've been told that providing I maintain 7.5 inches with the large dilator, I can reduce the time from 2 hours to 1.5, or even 1, again providing I get the full depth as I have been doing. Depth and frequency is more important than duration.

This morning though, I tried without painkillers or muscle relaxants, and barely got 7.5 after the full 2 hours. I also feel as if, well, things have been stretched a bit. Actually, make that a lot. No blood though, no tearing.

Not quite ready for Prime Time yet, but should be back at work in 2 months not three, without having the side-effects of the painkillers affecting my thinking too much. Peak pain is at 2-4 months, usually 2, after that it gets easier.

I'm also told that having a boyfriend obviates the need for dilation after 6 months, but I think I'll stick with the dilation. 48 seems a little old to be looking for a bed partner, casual or otherwise, especially if one is both a never-been-kissed Virgin and has No Idea how to socialise, let alone play the dating game. I have Love, I have my little Boy, right now a sex life seems not just un-neccessary, but too much bother, despite the fact that my new configuration is very obviously far more sexually capable than anything before - normal in fact. Exploring it, even alone, should be quite fun. When I've healed, and purely in the interests of Science of course.

There's also the problem of not having a sexual orientation, being asexual, but it's early days yet. Much as I would like to get back onto hormones as soon as possible - I'm suffering menopausal symptoms - I want to get a complete set of blood tests done first to establish a new baseline. My pelvis wasn't quite the standard male model, that was a surprise, and every time we find out something more about my metabolism, more minor anomalies crop up. Individually negligible (usually) but taken together, they add up to something definitely abnormal.

There's so very much we don't know. So let's try gathering some more data.

Oh Gosh I'm a Geek. And you know what? If I'd been born with 46xx chromosomes, I'd still be a Geek, with posters of Ada Augusta, Mary Curie, and Rosamund Franklin on my walls. My Heroines, Geek Girls All, and I'd probably be an activist in getting Girls into Science and Technology. Ah well, maybe in a Universe next door. If so, I hope that version of me has time for children too. They're the most wonderful parts of this whole peculiar Universe after all.

Tuesday 12 December 2006

Swiss Army Knives Revisited

The Buddhist Version - "One with Everything"

The Female Version.

Good Concept, but obviously designed by a guy who hadn't got a clue what would be genuinely useful and practical. As a joke it works, but something not very different in concept (though very different in detail) would be genuinely useful.

Monday 11 December 2006

All Good Things

Another good day, 8 inches dilation with the medium stent, and 7.5 with the large. It's getting noticeably more difficult, but I'm already a quarter of the way through the critical period where depth can so easily be lost.
But there's one thing about my journey to Thailand that I didn't expect, and I wasn't prepared for. You see, a group of us in the support forum coincidentally had surgery at about the same time with then same surgeon. So we got to meet in 3D, usually after pouring out our hearts to one another, halving sorrows and doubling joys by sharing them.
An soon it will be time to say goodbye. Goodbye to close girlfriends from Michigan, or Alberta, or Mississippi, or Victoria. Goodbye to people who share a bond only combat veterans can approach in strength. Goodbye to the closest friends I've ever had in my life, especially one, Mardie. You know how some people just click? We did. I knew we'd be close from the postings we'd made on BL, but not that we'd become best friends just like that.

And now she'll be half a world away. leaving in a few days. I myself have only got 10 days before departure, the time has raced past.

Now I'll be picking up a few gifts, typical Thai pieces to give to friends and family. Like the 3D portrait in glass for my Mother - she has few pictures of the new me. Might even get some silver or gold jewelry, just earrings or bangles, as I have sensitive skin.

I'llbe glad to see my family, and especially my little boy, before Christmas. But I'll be sad to leave here, everyone is so nice!

Sunday 10 December 2006

Kim Beazley - a Political Epitaph

From The Sunday Telegraph :
To be a successful politician you've got to have a fair bit of the mongrel in you and Beazley simply didn't. You also have to deliver short, simple messages instead of painstakingly explaining the complexities of a situation and he couldn't do that either.

Beazley was a failure as a politician.

He should be very proud of that.
Yet he had enough political nous to be able to weld the mutually hostile factions that make up the Australian Labor Party into something resembling if not a well-disciplined army, then at least a semi-cohesive rabble in arms.

His failure is that sometimes it really is simple. The backflips he attempted trying to hold to the official party line over Iraq, when he so obviously agreed with the Government's policy, were painful to see, and wholly unconvincing. He was trying so very hard to maintain party unity, while actually having some principles, you see.

Beazley wasn't a good politician : he might have made a good statesman though.

Saturday 9 December 2006

Rocketry and Stagnation

Sometimes there is just one good way of doing things. Look at the average car these days. 4 wheels, driver at the front to one side, engine usually at the front, usually rear wheel drive... not a lot different in its basics than a model T Ford.
The Drawing at the right, courtesy of Mark Wade's superb Encyclopedia Astronautica is that of a Russian R-7 booster, in its military form known as the SS-6 SAPWOOD. From The Space Review :
As a far as long-lived boosters go, they are the rule in the launch business. Even limiting our examination to only 21st century launches, we find that the most-launched vehicle since we turned the corner on the new millennium is the Russian Soyuz/Molniya series, with over 60 launches since January 1, 2001. These vehicles are, frankly, rather uninspired evolutionary developments of the SS-6 Sapwood, the world’s first ICBM, and also the vehicle that launched both the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, as well as the first manned space mission.

As a far as long-lived boosters go, they are the rule in the launch business.
The SS-6 was, in many respects, a straight-line development of the World War 2 German V-2 ballistic missile. Today’s Soyuz booster engines still use hydrogen peroxide to drive the turbopumps, just like the V-2, and employ multiple thrust chambers, each of which is very close to the size used in the V-2. Even the thrust chamber injectors for the old Soviet and older German vehicles are close to being identical in design. The Soyuz is not just a bunch of V-2’s strapped together, but it doesn’t miss that concept by too much.

Okay, so the Soyuz is ancient; in fact, in space age terms, it is literally prehistoric.

Meanwhile, the USA is, for the very first time, developing an Expendable Launch vehicle that wasn't originally designed for lobbing thermonuclear warheads about the joint. In fact, it's developing two of them.

The less than wonderful outcome is described by Wayne Eleazer, responsible for initial planning of the EELV (Evolutionary Expendable Launch Vehicle) concept. I'll just give two quotes from his article, which is worth reading in its entirety.
The Air Force took a guess at enveloping the commercial requirements. Such a move was wise, and both noble and necessary—and they blew it.

They can't really be blamed given the circumstances, but yes, unfortunate.
NASA finally bought EELV boosters, coincidentally or not only after abandoning the new RLV that had been started at the same time as the Air Force program. But NASA’s lack of input to the EELV requirements process had its impact. Both the Delta and Atlas were designed to save money by flying lofted trajectories not particularly well-suited to carrying winged Shuttle replacements in particular or manned payloads in general. At best, it will take some work to make them capable of carrying manned vehicles; at worst it will take a clean sheet of paper.

Based on fifty-plus years of history, we can conclude that Delta 4 and Atlas 5 will indeed be around for a long time. That in itself is neither bad nor unexpected. At least we are no longer utterly dependant on first-generation ICBM technology. But perhaps we should consider the new vehicles’ true ancestry.

Delta 4 is built around an engine derived from the Space Shuttle, a vehicle that proved to be so complex and costly that no one is even considering building anything like it ever again. Atlas 5 is designed around a engine developed to launch the Soviet copy of the Shuttle, a vehicle that would never haven been developed had the US not built the Shuttle, and which almost immediately was recognized as being something less than useless. The Soviet shuttle, Buran, flew but once, unmanned. At least the surviving US shuttles are flying.

So, Delta 4 and Atlas 5 arrived decades later than they should have, are less capable than they should be, cost more than they ought to, and are based not on new cutting-edge technology designed to conquer the universe but on old hardware developed for a failed concept and its foreign copy. And they are still, by far, the best we have—and that in its own way is rather sad

These boosters are not man-rated. They ar not even particularly suitable for being modified so that they can safely carry crews "to infinity and beyond" - or even low Earth Orbit.

They are the best the US has though, once the Shuttles are retired. In what, 4 years time?

We need to do better. Or start learning Mandarin.

Friday 8 December 2006

Activation of Suppressed Genes

Well, maybe.

You see, we took a shopping trip to the Night Bazaar in Bangkok. Now I've never been a great one for shopping. Not even electronics shops full of the latest gadgets and gizmos have held my interest. I go in with a purchase in mind, see what they have, go to competitors and compare price and features, end of story.

Well, until now.

I had great fun just... shopping. Not neccessarily buying, but looking for stuff, trying some jewelry on, seing how I looked. Buying some presents, little knick-knacks to give to friends and family. A 3-D portrait of myself etched in a block of glass for my mother. Some well-varnished teak draqons and elephants to give to relatives. I would have liked some of the more natural wood, but the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service requires wooden products to be very thoroughly treated to avoid importation of disease.

Alas, the teapot I'd had my eye on for my partner was indeed as good as I thought it was, Tang Dynasty, with price to match. Out of my league. And Andrew wants a radio-controlled Robot or truck rather than something Ethnic.

I splurged and got a 92.5% silver bangle for me too. Pricey - and I'm sure like everything else I could have gotten things for 1/3 of the asking price rather than 1/2 to 2/3 - but even then, comparing what the same article would cost in Australia, it's still a bargain. I spent less than $100 all told, anyway.

And... I enjoyed it. For the first time in my life, I went shopping, just to go shopping, with nothing in particular in mind to buy, as if I was gathering fruit and nuts.

Still to get : a tea service for Carmel. Maybe some Jade (I love jade jewelry). Andrew's Robot, maybe some gold earrings. A T-shirt or two for friends. Who knows what the future holds? I've converted only half my contingency money from Dollars to Baht, and spent about half of that. So I might just do something I've never done before. Retail Therapy.

The last time I had a genuine holiday was our late honeymoon in 1986. I'd never wanted one you see, what was the point when things felt wrong?

Now whole new vista of, well, normalcy are opening up. I feel like going out, like socialising, like having a girls night out, all the things I never saw the point of before. So many growing experiences I didn't expect from a mere re-arrangement of bodily tissues and nerve bundles into a different configuration.

I'm still just as Geeky, even a bit of a Tomboy in some ways. But I'm looking forward to having my first facial, my first hairdo, my first manicure and pedicure, and all the things that are part of female privilege. OK, money's tight, but I've been a good little worker bee all my life, time to taste the honey. Just a bit, no emptying the combs. But a taste nonetheless. I've been saving for a rainy day. Well, it was a deluge, and now it's time to spend, not save.

I still buy teabags at the market, rather than the more expensive ones at the hotel. I still exchange money at the best exchange rate, even if it means walking some distance and waiting in line. I'm still thrifty. But now I'm learning how to spend, not just save. To enjoy, not just prepare for retirement.

In only 2 weeks time I leave Thailand, and the friends I've made here. Life's too short not to enjoy it.

Thursday 7 December 2006


Today was a big day. My first gynecological examination, and also permission to start using the largest of the 4 dilators we were supplied with. 34mm diameter.

I'm told by those who know that there are few, very few, men who would find an 8 inch depth and 34mm in diameter too small.

And here am I, doing Kugel exercises to strengthen the abdominal muscles, having seen the best surgeon in the world for functional female genitalia.... and I don't have a sexual orientation. Yet, anyway. No interest in men, and never have had.

Is it my natural "keeping options open", or is my subconscious trying to tell me that now I have a female body, it's not just allowed to take a romantic interest in guys, but Society rather expects it.

Chastity still looks good though.

Anyway, to celebrate our Graduation, after the first dilation with the new stent, Mardie (a friend of mine from Michigan) and I went out in search of sate.

Alas, we were too late: the sate vendors had shut up shop. But what we did do was spend 300 baht feeding a passing elephant, and then another 100 baht feeding ourselves on brazier-grilled chicken, rice, and chlli sauce.
So for 200 baht each - call it $8 Australian - we didn't just have a delicious meal (with a bottle of coke each) but memories of elephants that will last a Lifetime.

I'm healing well, a dream over a third of a century old has come true, I had superb company, and life just keeps on gettung better

Wednesday 6 December 2006

Talk is Cheap

From the Daily Telegraph :
In fact, women talk almost three times as much, uttering a staggering 20,000 words a day on average compared to men's 7000.

They speak more quickly, devote more brainpower to chit-chat and get a buzz out of hearing their own voices, a female psychiatrist suggests.

In her book, The Female Mind, Dr Luan Brizendine says the disparity is caused by differences in the male and female brain.

The sex hormone testosterone, responsible for moulding the male brain in the womb, shrinks the areas responsible for communication, emotion and memory, she claims.
A claim backed by evidence from autopsies, though whether testosterone is the culprit is another matter. The human brain is sexually dimorphic, and although hormones have been implicated, the exact mechanisms are not understood.
The result is that men chat less than females and struggle to express their emotions to the same extent.

In contrast, women have more brain cells set aside for communication. And the act of talking triggers a flood of chemicals which gives them a rush similar to that felt by heroin addicts on a high.
As does chocolate. Seriously. Oestrogen amplifies the serotonin effects (at least) of chocolate, so while to guys chocolate is "Oh chocolate, that's nice" to girls especially near ovulation it's more like OMG!!! CHOCOLATE!!!!!". But it's hormonal, I doubt it has anything to do with the structure of the brain. There's no actual evidence here.
Dr Brizendine, who runs a female 'mood and hormone' clinic in the US and describes herself as a feminist, said testosterone also reduces the size of the section of the brain involved in hearing, allowing men to become "deaf" to the most logical of arguments put forward by women.
Not to mention the pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo, rank superstition and sheer claptrap purveyed by many feminists. This is sexism pure and simple. It also demeans women who, I'm ashamed to say, sometimes have their cynicism filters dialed way too low. But not all - witness the Skepchicks and others.
Their {Mens} brain power, however, is definitely superior when it comes to sex.

Dr Brizendine believes the area responsible for sexual thoughts is twice as big in male brains.
Not true - but they do have an auxiliary neural processing centre, much like dinosaurs, that handles much of their thinking for them. It's located below the navel, and between the big toes. This leaves the rest of the brain free to concentrate on matters such as footie, pizza, and beer.
Studies have shown that, while a man will think about sex every 52 seconds, the subject crosses women's minds just once a day, said said.
Again, exactly wrong. Dynamic MRI scans show that young women think of sex about once a minute during the day. Boys only think of sex once, starting at 00:00:00 and ending at 23:59:59.
Dr Brizendine, whose findings are based on her analysis of more than 1000 scientific studies, added: "There is no unisex brain. Girls arrive already wired as girls, and boys arrive already wired as boys. Their brains are what drive their impulses, values and their very reality."
Oh Unisex brains exist - rarely, and usually associated with a small minority of people who are intersexed. And there's no guarantee that a girl with a girl brain won't be born in a body that's intersexed or even male. But regular readers of this blog will already be quite well aware of that. They'll also be aware if the influences of the many other hormones, vassopressin, the various oestrogens, both in creating the neural structures before birth, and modulating thinking patterns afterwards.
Other scientists, however, are sceptical about the effects of testosterone on the brain.

Deborah Cameron, an Oxford University linguistics professor, said the amount we talk is influenced by the social environment we live in.
No Sh1t Sherlock!

Good lord, what is scientifi reporting and the quality of research coming too?

Monday 4 December 2006

Customs in Thailand

File this one under "no good deed ever goes unpunished".

You see there is a Canadian girl in hospital here in Chonburi whose luggage was sent to Hong Kong by an airline error. Now I'd volunteered to do a meet and greet at the airport to another Australian who I'd known on a support forum for ages.

The airline - which shall remain nameless though it starts with E, ends with A and has a V in the middle - located the lost luggage and conveyed in to Bangkok airport.

But rather than doing the right thing, clearing it through customs and delivering it to the hotel, taking it to the airport was as far as they went. A letter was sent to the hospital saying that the luggage could be obtained from the local airline representative at the airport.

So I helped out, the girl in question currently being hospitalised, armed with her passport and the letter describing the luggage.

I met the representative... who then, instead of handing over the luggage, took me through the quarantine secure area (body search etc) and handed me the luggage from the baggage claim section. From there, I was on my own.

So I proceeded to Customs. "Anything to declare"? Well, I said I had no idea what was in the luggage, it wasn't mine.... so maybe it should be searched.

How was I to know the Canadian girl was a Diebetic?

Do you know exactly how many syringes and vials of drugs a suitcase can hold? Have you any idea how suspicious that can look, especially since my own handbag held a large cocktail of post-operative pain killers?

Now it took a little while, proving the suitcase wasn't mine, that the medications were all legitimate, and the language barrier didn't help at all.

What did help was total honesty, complete co-operation, smiling a lot, and saying My
Pen Rai - something like "Nichevo" in Russki, or "She'll be right" in Strine. Not sweating the small stuff, and generally being calm and patient as the wheels of law enforcement ground slowly.

So I didn't get detained on suspicion of drug smuggling after all. In Australia, they would at least have had the suspicious substances tested. But maybe not. You see, in Thailand they shoot drug smugglers. And I was so very obviously calm, even serene, and not even remotely worried that they didn't bother. Once satisfied the luggage wasn't mine, it had genuinely been lost, and the recipient was definitely in hospital, I was waved through.

Had I not gone up to the customs people first, and instead been given a "random check"
, then maybe it might have been a bit more uncomfy and protracted.

Whatever. My Pen Rai.

Saturday 2 December 2006

Keeping Busy

After a short examination, Dr Suporn told me he'd do an Internal exam on Wednesday. That should clear me for the 54mm diameter stent, rather than just the 31mm I've been using so far.

He also told me to start using a few more pain killers, that's what they're there for!

I still can't believe how normal it all feels. The simple act of urination always gave me a peculiar feeling before. You'd relax, open a sphincter, then instead of things happening, it felt like all sorts of tubes and plumbing were opening up, quite hydraulic and most un-natural. There were bodily bits where no bodily bits should be.

Now - no longer.

OK, I'm a Geeky Scientist, but it is after all a re-plumbed body I have now, nerves are waking up, and it's just really interesting. What's most unexpected is that I'm not having to learn how the new stuff works. I already know - I was pre-fitted at the factory so to speak. At the risk of being tediously repetitious, I've always had male peripherals and female device drivers. But even I didn't recognise the extent of that. At one stage, while using the stent to maximum depth, I triggered what appeared to have been Braxton-Hicks contractions for a few seconds.

Now the neovagina is still not vaginal tissue, and won't be for at least a year. The nerves are nowhere near healed. So the reflex must be to do with abdominal nerves. There's so much about the human body we could find out from, er, unusual people like me. If I'm right, Braxton-Hicks contractions must be caused by pressures from the placenta on other structures, which means various neoplasms could cause them too, with symptoms of false labour.

It would be interesting to see if natal women who have had surgical reconstruction of the same area had a similar experience.

Back on my current medical condition.... given that I've retained the depth I originally had despite the swelling going down - within a centimeter anyway - it looks like I'll be able to dilate only 1 rather than 2 hours per session from an early stage. But I'll wait to see how I go with the larger stent first.

Besides which - I've now set up the laptop so I can blog while dilating. Yes, I've written this whole post while having a..... post-operative maintenance procedure.

Sorry, the whole thing is so incredibly, bizarrely undignified in the worst possible way that hilarity is the only sensible reaction. But don't laugh while doing it unless things are tightly secured. Otherwise something can get launched across the room at high velocity.

Not only screamingly funny if it happens, but it can break stuff, and of course there's the mess to clean up.

You know... if someone had predicted just 2 years ago that I'd be doing this.... ah dear. What a weird and wonderful Universe we live in!

Acting on Impulse

Hawking prefers Matter/Antimatter to get us to the stars.
Hawking, a 64-year-old father of three who rarely gives interviews and who wrote the best-selling "A Brief History of Time", suggested propulsion like that used by the fictional starship Enterprise "to boldly go where no man has gone before" could help solve the problem.

"Science fiction has developed the idea of warp drive, which takes you instantly to your destination," said.

"Unfortunately, this would violate the scientific law which says that nothing can travel faster than light."

However, by using "matter/antimatter annihilation", velocities just below the speed of light could be reached, making it possible to reach the next star in about six years.

"It wouldn't seem so long for those on board," he said.

The problem with antimatter is not the containment - that was solved in theory anyway by the late Dr Robert Forward 20 years ago.

The problem is that antimatter takes power to make it, lots of power, E=Mc2 kinds of power. As in the complete current energy production of Earth for a Thousand years kind of power for a single small unmanned probe.

And there's a huge problem when speeds start exceeding 0.3c or so, even single atoms coming in at speeds higher than that are tricky things to deal with.

I think the way we're going to explore our near neighbourhood is more like some of the ideas from the The Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction (ITSF) study conducted for the European Space Agency. For example, the microwave sail.
Alternatives to light sails have been proposed. The microwave sail is also an idea from Robert Forward. A tiny spacecraft, the Starwisp, is propelled by microwaves transmitted from a solar-powered satellite in Earth orbit. The craft would be mostly a 1 km diameter mesh sail covered with microcircuitry, weighing only a few grams. The beam power should be 65–100 GW, pushing the 4–5 g craft to 20% of the speed of light, using a Fresnel-zone type lens to focus the microwave beam.

We could do this within 10 years.

One thing Hawking does have right though is that all our eggs are in one fragile basket. We don't even know if it's biologically possible to live and reproduce outside of a relatively benign planetary environment, but we better start finding out real soon. We do know that the biosphere of this planet periodically has some event like a whacking great asteroid doing a cosmic reset. And in the long run, stars don't last forever, if we, or the various species we evolve into, are going to be around in the medium term, we have to colonise the solar system. To be around in the long term means interstellar colonisation too.

I do so hope that Dr Hawking manages to get a flight into space on one of the Virgin suborbitals soon to be in service. Dr Forward is no longer with us, Arthur Clarke is so frail as to be confined to Earth now, but maybe Hawking will get to space.

I never did have the body to wear a Star Trek (TOS) uniform. I never will. But within this middle aged woman's dumpy body beats the heart of a Space Cadette. You see, sometimes it's possible to make seemingly impossible dreams come true. Trust me.