Saturday 29 September 2007

Some Good News

After blogging about some very depressing events where it doesn't affect me directly, some Good News in a matter where it does:

Abrams and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade [2007] AATA 1816 (28 September 2007)

Given the unconscionable conduct shown to me by the APO, and as documented in correspondence from them reported on this blog, I'm considering my options.

But first, a good, solid cry. This inhumanity hurt me more than I'd allowed myself to realise.

And you know what? The cold emotionless part of me is saying "well at least you got your mental anguish over their actions recorded in your psychiatric notes". For the compensation claim, should I go all legal on them. As I've a mind to. I can prove concrete financial loss too, the cost of the ADV when no passport was issued, for example.

You see, money would be very convenient in my parlous financial situation. I'm still waiting on the twice-promised refund of my passport application fee. But money cannot heal the wounds they gave me, nor sooth them.

But I know some gals who can't afford treatment. Financial compensation for "Pain Suffering and Humiliation" would not make me feel better. But using it to help some who really need it, that would.

Time to talk to a lawyer, I think.

A Letter to Congressman Frank

Submitted in reply to his very lengthy self-justification at Billerico

Dear Congressman Frank,

A Cynic would say that your lengthy article amounts to a simple statement: "Transsexuals? FOAD"

Too many do, of course. A California survey showed 30% of them suicide. A Western Australia survey, which included all premature deaths from being marginalised in society (due to drug overdose alcholism, violence suicide etc) put it at 90%.

I know, I've met, people who had been fired the day before they left for surgery. It's quite common, 70% of TS people experience some employment discrimination at some time. Only 50% get permanently blackballed though, and never work again - except as beggars or prostitutes.

They were hoping that ENDA, even if vetoed, even if narrowly defeated, would send a message that the GLBT movement is not just GLB, that it really is inclusive. That they would not be left hanging out to dry. If not passed this year, next. Or the one after that. They had hope.

Perhaps I should send you the photos, and the obituaries as they become available. So you know the real cost of your pragmatism. It may have been necessary to do it, you're the professional politician, not I. But you shouldn't be able to escape knowing the consequences of what you do, just as a leader in wartime should be reminded of the name of every soldier killed "for the greater good".

You may have saved a bill from being rejected - though if you say that it has even one chance in a million of not being vetoed, I'd say you were... incorrect. But you have forfeited all moral authority in doing so. You have admitted that it is acceptable (not desired or encouraged but acceptable) to discriminate against a minority as long as the majority is protected, and that you will not take a stand against that - merely posture.

So why should other politicians take a stand unpopular with some of their constituents in order to help your particular minority? Why should they not imitate you?

You have removed the most powerful argument that you had in convincing others not benefited by ENDA that it is necessary. Sometimes political pragmatism is self-defeating. The inevitable Veto can now occur with no moral comeback, and it will be harder, not easier, the next time this issue comes before Congress.

Friday 28 September 2007

Sold Down The River... Again

But beyond the naïve political judgments and wrongheaded legal analysis, hijacking ENDA for transgendered protections is downright immoral.
- Chris Cane Editorial, Washington Blade, 2004

From the Washington Post:
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-Mass.) is set to introduce two versions of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the House Education and Labor Committee. One would extend civil rights protections based on sexual orientation. The other would do so for gender identity, which would cover transgender people who have changed their sex, are living their lives as the opposite sex or who do not conform to traditional gender roles. This will be done because within the past few days it became clear that an inclusive bill would be defeated because of the transgender protection. Mr. Frank, one of two openly gay members of Congress, deserves credit for devising the plan that might well save the basic bill.

It requires time and patience to educate the public and lawmakers about how prejudice harms some people. That's what gays and lesbians have been doing in their quest for equality for nearly 40 years. And that's what transgender people will have to do.

Now there will be a vote explicitly guaranteeing protection for Gays, and another explicitly denying protection for the Transgendered, as a sizeable transphobic minority in the GLB (not GLBT) movement have wanted all along.

This is worse than when the same people, the same names, did the same kind of thing in New York State in 2002. A Trans-inclusive bill was, er, emasculated at the last moment, and there's no indication that transgendered people in that state will get protection anytime soon. Or anytime, period.

But if course I could be wrong. I mean, I'm sure that the bill for protection of tyhe Transgendered will be given equal priority. From the Washington Blade:
Frank said he is calling on House Democratic leaders to schedule a legislative hearing within the next month on the other bill, which would ban job discrimination based on a person’s gender identity. The version Frank introduced Thursday did not have an official name. He acknowledges that the transgender version is not likely to come up for a vote in Congress any time soon.
Hmmm, maybe not.

As Autumn Sandeen said:
In May of this year I reported of the whispers in the halls of Congress to drop transgender people from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Some went as far to claim that I was causing undue fear, that my information was wrong.

Just because we'd been sold down the river so many times before didn't mean it would happen again. Sure, there were some cynics who said we would, but the reassurances were so strong, the promises so heart-felt, they couldn't be meaningless could they?

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Functional MagnetoResonanceTomography... and Transsexuality

In German, yet, from ArzteZeitung (Doctor's Journal)

Ok, here's a partial free translation:
An Examination of the use of fMRT for diagnosing Transsexuality

The brains of anatomically male transsexuals, who identify as female, did not react as typical males do to visual erotic stimuli. In a study using functional MagnetoResonanceTomography(MRT) the reaction was instead typically female.

This work was performed by the University of Essen. 36 subjects were shown visually erotic films, while fMRT was used to study the reactions inside the brain. The study was performed co-operatively with the Klinik für Psychosomatik, and attempted to answer the question of whether fMRT could be used to diagnose Transsexuality, and especially to help in the decision to permit Sex Reassignment Surgery.

Twelve heterosexual men and twelve heterosexual women were examined, along with twelve anatomical males who identify as women. As Dr. Elke Gizewski stressed at the Röntgenkongreß in Berlin, it was already well-known from preliminary investigations of other groups that differences between men and women appear in fMRT when they are presented with erotic stimuli.

In men, the limbic system and upper regions of the hypothalamus, the amygdalae and the insular cortex were activated substantially more strongly. “We confirmed this finding in the comparison between the heterosexual men and women of our Cohort”, said Gizewski.

This specifically male activation of the limbic system was not found in the transsexual sample. Under fMRT, the pictures corresponded rather accurately to those of the female sample.

Radiologists can now confirm what transsexuals report - that they feel “trapped in the wrong body” - on the basis of the activation of the brain when presented with erotic stimuli. There is obviously a biological correlation with the subjective feelings.

I'm not sure that's wholly proven. I'd need comparison tests between Gay men, Lesbian women, and Gay, Straight and Lesbian Transsexuals (both FtoM and MtoF) too. It may be that the sample of transsexual women were all Hetero, none Lesbian. If so, it may only prove a biological basis for sexual preference, rather than gender as such.

But that in itself would be even more unacceptable to those who persecute us, and call us "mentally ill".

Tuesday 25 September 2007


Sometimes amidst the embuggerances of daily life, we lose sight of what is important, because we are too busy dealing with what is urgent.

One of the few advantages of living such a melodramatic life - apart from never being bored - is that you see things, sometimes terrible and tragic things, that put your own minor day-to-day difficulties into perspective. You realise just how great the gifts you've been given.

Here's an advertisement, of all things, from Thailand that might help in case you have any worries. To put things into perspective.

For David and Louise

Monday 24 September 2007

Another Case

IPSR - Ideopathic Partial Sex Reversal.

This one reported by a surgeon in the US. A teenager this time.

All other previous cases have been in their 40's. All have been TS though, and this one doesn't break the pattern.

So we have 4 Types, at least.

Type I - Caused by inexplicable prolactin excess, not caused by a prolactemia in the pituitary. Takes about 7 years a age ~45. Kathy Noble is the only case that is documented.

Type II - By far the most common, many cases. Mechanism unknown. Appears to be associated with rapid metabolism of oestrogen. Takes about 2-3 years at age ~45.

Type III - Mechanism appears to be "perfect storm" of two common mutations, triggered by administration of a statin. Takes about 3 MONTHS at age ~45. One known case - me

Type IV - No details yet, but case is in her teens.

Still nothing on PubMed. There's good reason to think this is severely under-reported, especially if it affects men (and that would usually be fatal, I think).

Sunday 23 September 2007

Passports Again

I'm not the only one who's been having problems.

From SSOnet:
The Federal Government has refused to issue a post-operative trans woman a female passport on the basis that she is married to a woman.

Grace Abrams last week appealed the decision by Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
On returning to Australia as a female, Abrams applied to the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages to register the change of sex. A female birth certificate was refused on the basis she was married.

Shortly after, Abrams armed herself with documentation that proved she was a woman, including medical certificates and statutory declarations, and lodged an application for an amended passport through the Australian Passport Office.

Not only was her valid interim female passport destroyed, Abrams was told she could be issued with a passport in the male gender only. She was later informed she could not be issued with a valid passport in the female gender because she could not provide a birth certificate showing the gender of reassignment.

All Australian citizens, including Abrams, are entitled to a passport if they can prove their identity and citizenship.

Abrams’s lawyer David Shoebridge said if a trans person is not married, the Department of Births Deaths and Marriages would issue a birth certificate in the new gender.

“The Minister relied upon the failure of Grace Abrams to provide an amended birth certificate as the reason for refusing her application,” he said.

“That is purely a policy position taken by the Passport Office and is not founded in any legal requirements.”

Lawyers acting on behalf of the government told the Tribunal that Abrams could not be issued with a female passport because she did not have an amended birth certificate. They said the Minister was not satisfied Abrams was a woman.
Even though her OB/GYN is. Right.
However, it was acknowledged in the government’s Statement of Facts that the Minister was not bound to the policy.

Abrams said it was not fair to force trans people to choose between having their marriage or post-operative gender recognised.

“It is inhuman and unjust,” she said.

The verdict will be handed down in about two weeks.

Saturday 22 September 2007

Tim Berners Lee and Sexism in Engineering

From :
The inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has called for an end to the "stupid" male geek culture that disregards the work of capable female engineers, and puts others off entering the profession.

Berners-Lee said that a culture that avoided alienating women would attract more female programmers, which could lead to greater harmony of systems design. "If there were more women involved we could move towards interoperability. We have to change at every level," he said.

According to Berners-Lee, a culture exists where women can be put off a career in technology both by "stupid" behaviour by some male "geeks", and by the reactions of other women.

"It's a complex problem — we find bias against women by women. There are bits of male geek culture and engineer culture that are stupid. They should realise that they could be alienating people who are smarter and better engineers," said Berners-Lee.

Engineering research facilities that interview candidates based only on how many papers they have had published also risk adding to the problem, according to Berners-Lee, because of an apparent in-built bias against women.

One academic went through a sex change, submitted the same papers under both identities, and found that papers were accepted from a man but were rejected when they came from a woman, said the web inventor. This bias is unaccountable, but adds to institutional bias, he said.
No, that wasn't me. Similar things have happened though.

Thursday 20 September 2007

Alas, Poor FedSat

From the ABC :
A scientist thinks Australia's only non-commercial satellite may have run out of battery power.

The 58-kilogram FedSat has been operating since 2002.

It was only supposed to last for three years.

The University of South Australia has been responsible for its day-to-day operation and says it has lost contact with the public satellite.

The batteries were always the things that were going to fail first. We designed for 1 year at 100% operation, 3 years at possibly degraded operation, and maybe 5 years of partial and intermittent operation - if we ever got funding beyond the 3 years originally alloted for the ground station.

We got our money's worth: and the performance consistently exceeded expectations. Even now, contact may be regained, as the solar cells may be able to get the degraded batteries "Over the line" now and then.

I can't help but feel sad though. I knew it was going to happen, but FedSat is, and always will be, my baby in some ways.

Update: It looks like it's the end.

From the University of South Australia :
Launched in December 2002 as Australia’s first 21st century satellite, FedSat has finally ceased operations, a full year later than expected and after completing 20,000 orbits of the earth (about one billion kilometers).

The Australian satellite was developed by the Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems (CRCSS) as a scientific or research satellite and was launched at the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan.

Contact was lost with the satellite by the ground station at UniSA’s Institute for Telecommunications Research a few months ago, after the first signs that the batteries were finally failing and unable to continue to supply power to keep the satellite functioning.

The FedSat mission was the first Australian scientific satellite placed in orbit for more than 30 years and was used by the research community to gather data on space weather and radiowave propagation. The 58 kg satellite (the size of a bar fridge) also carried instruments used to test new communications technologies and self-healing space computers.

Former CEO of the CRC for Satellite Systems, UniSA’s Pro Vice Chancellor for IT Engineering and the Environment, Professor Andrew Parfitt says FedSat represented a bold initiative by Australian researchers to re-engage directly in space science and technology.

“The FedSat mission provided valuable experimental infrastructure and a wealth of scientific data that will continue to be of use,” Prof Parfitt says.

“Unfortunately the demise of FedSat means we no longer have a space asset with which to conduct new science - at least for the time being.”

With the closure of the CRCSS in December 2005, the Australian Government through the Department of Defence assumed ownership of FedSat in order to extend the initial three-year mission and gather further scientific data for the benefit of the Australian research community.

“The extra data collected has added to the already considerable FedSat legacy,” Prof Parfitt says.

“The Australian space science community is now developing its first decadal plan to ensure that Australia remains engaged in space science and technology at an appropriate level.”
So that's it then.

Wednesday 19 September 2007

Our House

Is the one with the green roof, in the centre of the cross-hairs. Arr.

That's a white Daihatsu Charade in the driveway, to give you an idea of the scale.

"I remember, I remember, the house where I was born."

But the place where we had a huge bonfire on November 5th, at the bottom of our garden, is now occupied by another building. Our huge garden is half the size it used to be. The fields where I used to watch the Fox Hunts racing through the morning mist, now a dormitory suburb housing 250,000 people.

Many years later, tired at last
I headed for home to look for my past
I looked for the meadows, there wasn't a trace
six lanes of highway had taken their place
where were the lilacs and all that they meant
nothing but acres of tar and cement.
Yet I can see it there so clearly now
where has it gone?
Yes I can see it there so clearly now
where has it gone?


What be the circumference of a circle?
Two Pi Arrrrrr.....

Today be International Talk Like a Pirate day, it do be, Jim Lad.

How much does it cost for a pirate to pierce his ears?
A buck an ear!!! Aaaarrrgh!

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Constructing the Human Brain

There's more to the specification than is in the DNA.

From Lloyd of It Looks Different From Here :
When the Human Genome Project was completed everyone was surprised at how few gene there were. Only about 20-25,000 protein coding genes. It was not that much larger than that for much simpler organisms. So where was the greater complexity of humans and other mammals coming from? Where was the coding for the difference between human brains and those of other mammals?
The talk I went to today was on estimating how many micro-RNAs there were in a given species. It turned out to be a lot. An awful lot. In a mouse they estimated that there were over a million micro-RNAs. Less complicated organisms had an order of magnitude or more less micro-RNAs. And what was really interesting was that humans had over three million different micro-RNAs. Nothing else came close.

Guess what they think most of the extra micro-RNAs in humans are doing? That's right. They are probably a major part of the plan of the brain.
And in the comments:
It seems to be the construction plans. Of course the brain modifies itself, there is no sharp distinction between hardware and software. And these micro RNAs will be involved in the modifications.
Debugging self-modifying systems is notoriously difficult.

Monday 17 September 2007

Yet Another Part of the Puzzle

My metabolic whoopsie of May-July 2005 is explained in the comments section of this post. Now we have another part of the puzzle.
The researchers found that in rodents, a molecule called 27-hydroxycholesterol, or 27HC, binds to the same receptors in the blood vessels of the heart to which estrogen binds.
In normal premenopausal women, the amount of 27HC generated from cholesterol is relatively low compared to the level of estrogen circulating in the blood, leading to enhanced cardiovascular protection. In contrast, when the level of 27HC is higher relative to estrogen, such as during the postmenopausal period or as a consequence of high cholesterol, the researchers speculate that 27HC out-competes estrogen to bind with estrogen receptors, blocking the function of the receptors and resulting in a loss of protection.
The researchers also found that 27HC works predominantly on estrogen receptors in the cardiovascular system. When it binds to estrogen receptors in other tissues, such as reproductive tissues, it has no effect on their reproduction-related functions. This property of 27HC makes it a “selective estrogen receptor modulator,” or SERM, the first such naturally occurring molecule known to exhibit such selectivity.
...except to stop oestrogen from binding to those receptors. A woman with a chronically high level of LDL cholesterol will have much of the same effects on her as if she'd had oestrogen instead, they "appear" the same. Apart from on the vascular system, where the difference is marked.

What the effect on genetic males is, I have no idea. My cholesterol levels, the dangerous LDL ones, were chronically abnormally high though. It was when they dropped precipitously (and I had a huge oestrogen spike) that Weird Stuff® happened.

Japan's Lunar Ambitions

From Reuters :

Japan launched its first lunar probe on Friday, nicknamed Kaguya after a fairy-tale princess, in the latest move in a new race with China, India and the United States to explore the moon.

The rocket carrying the three-metric ton orbiter took off into blue skies, leaving a huge trail of vapor over the tiny island of Tanegashima, about 1,000 km (620 miles) south of Tokyo, at 10:31 a.m. (9:31 p.m. EDT) as it headed out over the Pacific Ocean.

The long-delayed lunar explorer separated from the rocket in skies near Chile about 45 minutes after lift off. It is to orbit the Earth twice and then travel 380,000 km (237,500 miles) to the moon.
Now the satellites are flying on their own. This is the first step and I am really impressed," said Tatsuaki Okada, a scientist involved in the project.

Japanese scientists say the 55 billion yen ($479 million) Selenological and Engineering Explorer, or SELENE, is the world's most technically complex mission to the moon since the U.S. Apollo program decades ago.

"If we succeed in this program, we will be able to prove that Japan has the technology," Okada said.

The mission consists of a main orbiter and two baby satellites equipped with 14 observation instruments designed to examine surface terrain, gravity and other features for clues on the origin and evolution of the moon.

The rocket itself was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has said it hopes to send astronauts to the moon by 2025, although Japan has not yet attempted manned space flight.

See previous posts on Russian, Chinese and Indian Lunar plans. Still to come: the US space effort, or, "Back to the Future".

Wednesday 12 September 2007

The Smell of a Million Melted Computers

An account from a casualty from 6 years ago. A friend of mine.

Lest We Forget.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

Piled Higher and Deeper

"Study time for PhD students is no joke, so why are ANU postgraduate students laughing? Research has shown that laughter is good medicine and scientists at the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science and the ANU College of Science have taken a practical approach to this well-researched problem: bring in a comedian.

Jorge Cham is the creator of Piled Higher and Deeper (PHD), the comic strip about life (or the lack thereof) in grad school. Often called the Dilbert of academia, PHD has appeared in the Stanford, MIT, Caltech and Carnegie Mellon newspapers among others, and it is published online where it receives over 2.7 million page views a month from over 1,000 universities and colleges worldwide."

I'll be going to see him in about 20 minutes.

Monday 10 September 2007


Too busy to blog. I have a pile of papers to mark, on safety-critical engineering. The first of the three questions is a fault-tree analysis of the shuttle Columbia disaster.
Ok, it's Rocket Science.

Wednesday 5 September 2007


As I mentioned in the previous post, I'm doing a course in Communicating Science to the Media and Public, at the Australian National University.

Today, we gave a small presentation about the work we're doing, and I was astonished at the sheer talent of those around me. I should have realised, but I didn't.

Some of the projects others are working on:

* The study of Dragonfly wings. Now getting a real Dragonfly to co-operate has proven... tricky. So they have a test bench, with a robotic dragonfly. They can vary shape, angle of the wing, how hard and how fast it beats. Why study this? One day, it may lead to flying micro-robots less than the size of a finger, that can penetrate burning buildings, investigate hostage situations, even be used in mine rescue.

* The use of metal-fibre composites, and their behaviour when stamped by a machine. Such laminates of alternating layers of metal and carbon or glass fibre have traditionally been hand-assembled for air and spacecraft. But to mass-produce them, they must be easily constructed, shaped and formed by standard metal-presses. If successful, this research could lead to cars 70% lighter than those today, with a fuel saving of 57%. The environmental considerations alone make this very important.

* Stimulation of bone-healing by electro-magnetic (EM)fields. The healing of bone is accomplished by the intricate dance of two types of cell. One causes a "swiss cheese" effect, honeycombing existing bone. The other deposits bone material and makes bones denser. In a normal, healthy bone the two effects are balanced. In Osteopyrosis, the cavity-making cells are too dominant. It's already been shown that EM fields can stimulate the "bone-depositing" ones in animals, and this wok could lead to faster healing of fractures, as well as making osteopyrosis extinct.

* Automated recognition of emotions, initially anxiety, by recognition of body-language, voice stress, and facial expressions. This can be used to help those with Alzheimers, who may be unable to verbally express their concerns. Then again, it may also lead to an improved and true "lie detector", in conjunction with polygraph-measured skin conductivity, and body temperature.

* Research on Robotic vision. The applications here are obvious.

I LOVE this place!

Tuesday 4 September 2007

60 Seconds of Zoe

I'm in the first day of a 3-day course on "Communicating Science to the Media". I had to give a 60-second presentation about myself:
I'm Zoe Brain, and was born in 1958 not very far away from Windsor Castle in England.
How to compress 49 years of life into 60 seconds?
I could talk about how I came to Australia in 1968, and to Canberra in 1983.
I could talk about some of my achievements, projects I've worked on, from the Fedsat satellite to submarine combat systems. Laser eye surgical devices too.
I could talk about the places I've been to that shaped my life: the snow-covered Bahnhoffstrasse in Zuerich, seeing a sunset from a Destroyer in the middle of the Pacific. I could even talk about the Zeppelin Hangers in Akron Ohio.
I could talk about who I am, the parent of a 6 year old son, an SF fan, a gamer, a political blogger and more.
But there is no time. I'm me, Zoe Brain.
We were supposed to prepare the speech beforehand, but I didn't get that e-mail, so I made it up impromptu.

There is so much more to life than just being TS. I shouldn't let it define myself.

Monday 3 September 2007

Russia's Space Plans

From Novosti :
Russia plans to send cosmonauts to the Moon by 2025 and establish a permanent manned base there in 2027-2032, the head of the space agency said Friday.

Anatoly Perminov said that in accordance with Russia's space program through 2040, a manned flight to Mars will be carried out after 2035.

He said that toward the end of this year, Russia will have 103 satellites in orbit, up from the current 95.

There are plans for a new space center in the country, but a site has not yet been selected, he said. Russia currently launches all manned flights from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan. Perminov said previously that construction of a new launch facility would only begin after a new type of spacecraft was built.
They have the technology: but do they have the cash?
A major source of revenue for the agency in recent years has been space tourist flights from Baikonur to the International Space Station (ISS), with tickets currently priced at around $30 million. Russia has put five wealthy foreign tourists into space since 2001.
Maybe they do...

Perhaps the The Man Who Sold The Moon might be one of Russia's Mafya. Or Businessmen. It's difficult telling the two apart, assuming you can be one without the other.
Perminov said the first Russian space tourist, who will fly to the ISS in 2009, is a businessman and politician.

"He asked me not to disclose his name yet. I can only say that he is a serious young Russian businessman and politician. He is currently undergoing medical tests."
Well, it's one way to finance a Space Programme.

Sunday 2 September 2007

Fathers Day

Dea Dad
Happy Fathers
Day Love
From Andrew

Ok, so the spelling isn't perfect. The Day is though.
The one genuine, good and true part of the Boy Act was being a Father. And it looks like I've managed to keep that despite Transition.

Count the Catches

From the Visual Cognition Lab of the University of Illinois, an experiment to see how much we notice.

Carefully count the number of times a ball is caught, or bounced.

Notice anything unusual?