Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Nearly Over Now

Today, I have lived, as near as I can make out given time zone differences from my birthplace, 17,608 days.

For approximately 16,800 of those, since just past the age of 2, my body hasn't felt quite right. There were things on it that just didn't match my body image.

Now that never bothered me overmuch. OK, it was a (literal) pain when this stuff got caught in fly zippers because I wasn't aware of it. It never bothered me too much that it felt all wrong, even when I saw myself as a guy. I figured it was a harmless quirk, and no big deal.

OK, so when I reached puberty, and started being sexually active, it was a problem, not having the instincts that were supposed to be supplied with the equipment. But Love conquers all, and it didn't matter that much when I was in the arms of the Love of my Life.

I actually told my partner that for the first time in my life, I was glad I had a male body, simply because she was attracted to it.

What a giveaway. Or it should have been, in hindsight.

But in 168 days, 24 weeks, that condition that I've lived with for so long will be cured. 99% of the time I will spend feeling that things aren't right is now over.

Maybe I'll feel no better. May even feel worse. I can't tell. But it's worth a try, anyway, and what was once a "nice to have, maybe" is now becoming more of an urgent need as it comes closer. Interesting from a psychological perspective, but it's different when it's you who's feeling like this.

As the time draws closer, I'm allowing myself to remember dreams I've had for so very long, impossible and impractical dreams that now look like they'll actually come true.

On the home stretch now. 99% down, 1% to go.

Roll on November 15.

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

Surprise!

From EMaxHealth :
Most people love surprises. Scientists at Baylor College of Medicine and Emory University may have discovered why some people actually crave the unexpected.

"Until recently, scientists assumed that the neural reward pathways, which act as high-speed connections to the pleasure centers of the brain, responded to what people liked," said Read Montague, Ph.D., an associate professor of neuroscience at Baylor. "However, when we tested this idea in brain scanning experiments, we found the reward pathways responded much more strongly to the unexpectedness of stimuli instead of their pleasurable effects."

Through a unique collaboration between Baylor's Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, led by Montague, and Emory's Functional Neuroimaging Group, led by Gregory S. Berns, M.D., Ph.D., scientists are beginning to reveal the biological basis of the human attraction to surprising events. Sam McClure, a Baylor doctoral candidate, also contributed to the study published in the April 15 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

The Baylor and Emory scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure changes in human brain activity in response to a sequence of pleasurable stimuli, in this case, fruit juice and water. In the study, a computer-controlled device squirted fruit juice and water into the mouths of research participants. The patterns of juice and water squirts were either predictable or completely unpredictable.
...
Contrary to the scientists' expectations, the human reward pathways in the brain responded most strongly to the unpredictable sequence of squirts. The area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which scientists previously have identified as a pleasure center of the brain, recorded a particularly strong response to the unexpectedness of a sequence of stimuli.

"We find that so-called pleasure centers in the brain do not react equally to any pleasurable substance, but instead react more strongly when the pleasures are unexpected," Berns said. "This means that the brain finds unexpected pleasures more rewarding than expected ones, and it may have little to do with what people say they like."

Well, that might explain why my recent and extremely surprising change makes me so happy. Or perhaps not, the surprise wore off some time ago, the euphoria remains.

It's yet another demonstration of how powerful a tool for investigating the brain's function dynamic MRI is turning out to be. We've only just begun using it, and we've already found biological proof of many conjectures, and more to the point, disproof of many psychiatric theories of environmentally-historically-induced behaviour.

Expect more to come that will revolutionise our understanding of Mind, both Prizes and Surprises.

Sunday, 28 May 2006

Behind the Times

The Times Online has an article by one Ali Hussain that typifies the very worst of societal attitudes towards Transsexuals.
A TRANSSEXUAL who moved to the UK because he feared persecution in his home town in America is seeking £500,000 compensation from his former British employers.

He says he was demoted in Britain after he underwent surgery to “feminise” his face and breasts.

Josh Bussert, 41, who now calls himself Jessica, is claiming for sex discrimination and victimisation against Hitachi Data Systems on the grounds that he was demoted from a senior information technology job.

“I am not a slacker,” said Bussert. “I’m a hard worker and my change of sex does not affect my performance.”

Well obviously his change of sex cuts no ice with Ali. The sneer quotes around "feminise", the "now calls himself", the constant use of the masculine pronoun... it all contributes to the inescapable impression that Ali Hussein has no time for such... TRANSSEXUAL subhuman filth.

From the Independent's article, written by somone a little less antedeluvian :
Ms Bussert says she was shocked by the "transphobic and bigoted" reaction she encountered after changing sex.
As typifed by Mr Ali Hussain.
She claims her business trips abroad stopped and she found herself working for colleagues who had been promoted while she was away having facial feminisation and breast surgery.

Her wife Sharon, 40, to whom she has been married for 15 years, says she was terrified her partner would commit suicide during the ordeal. "She was quite serious about her situation," she said. "I am saying this as the person she lives with. I saw it."
...
Transsexual support groups said last night that it was not unusual for transsexuals to face discrimination after they had changed sex.
It is also not unusual for the sun to rise in a generally eastward direction.

The Grauniad handles the complexities in the recommended way :
For Josh Bussert and his wife, Sharon, their former home in Indiana was "a great place to bring up kids". They lived with two of Mr Bussert's three children from his first marriage and two girls the couple adopted from Haiti 12 years ago. But when he decided to change his gender, small-town America did not seem like the right place to be.

"About 45 minutes away from where I lived in Indiana, about three months before I left, a 19-year-old transsexual woman and a friend of hers were brutally murdered and, because that wasn't good enough, their bodies were set on fire. That's the kind of environment that we were worried about," Jessica Bussert says.

Josh Bussert had started working for Hitachi in the US in January 2001. At the end of 2003 he was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition in which an individual's biological sex is at odds with his or her psychological gender. Mr Bussert, who remembers wanting to be a girl from the age of four, was in effect a woman in a man's body.

That month he applied for a transfer to the UK branch of the company, covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Busserts, who are still a couple and say they are closer than ever, decided to move to London, which they saw as a more accepting and tolerant environment.
...
By October 2004 the physical changes were creating pressure to reveal the truth, she says. She broached the subject with Mr Larkin light-heartedly, but "he made it quite clear that he did not want any of 'those people' working for him. I quickly passed it off as a joke but he was becoming suspicious."
Exactly. Before transition, "he" is appropriate. After, and whenever in the present tense, "she".

I must admit, I find it quite extraordinary that I'm actually in a genuinely oppressed minority. One subject to insulting articles in the Times Online, not to mention the greatly increased risk of being murdered.

I consider it a challenge.

Friday, 26 May 2006

Our Memory Forgettery

Here's one brought to my attention by reader Scotty, who I once shared a flat with in Germany for a while. And who went on an unauthorised and rather risky trip behind the Iron Curtain when it was rusty, but still intact. But that's another story.

From PhysOrg.com :
People may permanently store memories in their brains, even if they cannot consciously recall them, according to a study by Duke University Medical Center researchers.

"This finding provides insight into a fundamental neurological process and also may help us develop a tool for identifying so-called lost memories," said Roberto Cabeza, Ph.D., a member of the research team and associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.
...
In the current study, Cabeza and his colleagues used a sophisticated imaging technique to detect brain activity in the medial temporal lobes (MTL) of test subjects exposed to "new" and "old" experiences. Located deep inside the brain, the MTL is known to play a role in a person's ability to determine whether something happened in the past.
...
When subjects viewed an old word, they exhibited heightened activity in the rear portion of the MTL, whether or not they correctly stated that the word was old, Cabeza said. "This indicates that the brain has the correct answer even if we don't consciously think we've seen the word before," he said.

So why would a person make a mistake when asked about an event's oldness, if his or her brain holds the correct answer?

The researchers found that when a subject correctly reported seeing a "new" word, the scanner indicated that there was heightened activity mainly in a front portion of the MTL, rather than in the rear portion, as happens with old words. But when a subject mistakenly classified as new a word that was actually old, activity increased in both parts of the MTL, Cabeza said. This may lead the MTL to give mixed messages, resulting in an incorrect conscious response, he said.
It appears we don't lose the data, just the (metaphorical) URL. The data becomes low on the brain's search engine ranking, so we forget that we've seen it before.

I conjecture that the amount of data required to retrieve the memory is far greater than the momory itself. It is a "relational database", with multitudinous links to comparatively small bits of data. After a time of disuse, the neural connections fade, the neurons get re-used for other applications, and although some remain, not enough when compared with dreams and other stored data to cross the threshold of recognition. We don't have a memory so much as a forgettery, with bits of data still taking up space long after the reason for them to be remembered is gone.

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Surgical Care

It's still 6 months from my scheduled op, but I've done rather a lot of research on the topic of which surgeon to go to. Some of the things I've heard about some surgeons have been incredible, but there's been too much corroborative evidence not to believe them.

Case in point:

I had surgery with Dr S, and upon arrival back to the UK, I somehow managed to become infected. Russel Reid suggested that I go and see Dalrymple to get it sorted out, as it might have needed to be lanced. As soon as he caught sight of the fact that Dr S managed to construct a clitoris.....he suggested removal "why would a young woman want one?".


Dr Dalrymple was taken off my list of candidate surgeons very early on, long before I received this data. He has a record of less than stellar results.

For those of morbid curiousity, I'm going to be treated by Dr Suporn (the "Dr S" in the above). It was either him or Dr Sanguan, who also has an enviable reputation here in Australia. But although Sanguan's technique has a faster healing time with much less stringent post-operative maintenance in the first 6 months, Suporn's technique is more appropriate for my anatomy.

You only get one chance at this, and as with all major surgery, a good outcome can never be guaranteed. But for some surgeons, a bad one can. So take care, and choose your surgeon well, no matter what operation you're going to have.

New Toy

A new laptop. So I'm busy configuring it, downloading the latest MS patches (yes, it has XP... bleah), and getting wifi connectivity at Uni etc etc.

A nice machine though, and will keep me entertained in Thailand in November. Also good enough to do work on during the highly embarressing, messy and intesnely personal therapeutic regime I'll be engaging in for four hours a day for 6 months therafter.

My day is already too darned full to take 4 hours out of it.

It's not the most powerful machine, to say the least, but adequate for Office apps, and it has a DVD burner, integral WiFi and Bluetooth, camera and mike. About 5 times as fast with 4 times the memory and 6 times the hard disk capacity of the desktop that I normally use at home. Moore's Law and all that.

Moore (!) to the point, it was cheap. About $1000 US. And for the real apps that need a lot of computing power, I use a Solaris desktop machine at the Uni, which is about ten times as powerful in every respect. Still under $1500 US though.

Now if only I didn't have to use XP, which is exactly as bad as I always thought it would be. Never mind, it runs the software I need when other systems won't.

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

Tag! You're It!

From Normblog

I am a particularly Weird Geek Girl
I want to appear normal - within limits.
I wish I had more children.
I hate hating, even when it's justifiable.
I love cuddling with my son.
I miss never being able to be a mother.
I fear that I'm hurting those I care for.
I hear sulphur-crested cockatoos playing in the morning.
I wonder what the heck the cause of my change is.
I regret not having been as kind as I should have been.
I am not a saint.
I dance poorly, still getting used to the new way my body moves.
I sing for my son when he's going to sleep.
I cry because I can now. The Freedom to do this is wonderful
I am not always obsessed with transition.
I make with my hands model railway scenery.
I write this blog.
I confuse a lot of people.
I need to help those who weren't so lucky, injustice and unfairness offends me
I should be getting on with my PhD work and not goofing off like this.
I start things by preparing good foundations first.
I finish things at the last moment too often.
I tag you, the reader of this.

Monday, 22 May 2006

Sunday, 21 May 2006

Kissin' Cousins and SubHuman Rights

From Nature :
The evolutionary split between humans and our nearest evolutionary cousins, chimpanzees, may have occurred more recently than we thought, according to a new comparison of the respective genetic sequences. What's more, it might have been a messy divorce rather than a clean break — leading to the controversial theory that our two sets of ancestors may have interbred many thousands of years after first parting company.

The discovery also casts doubt on the status of fossils that were thought to represent the first flowering of the human branch of the evolutionary tree — but which now may have to be reclassified as coming from a time before our split with the rest of the apes.

Previous estimates put the split at as much as 7 million years ago — meaning that Touma├», a fossil dating from at least 6.5 million years ago in Chad and assigned to the species Sahelanthropus tchadensis, was hailed as the earliest-known member of the line that gave rise to modern humans.

But researchers led by David Reich of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, now calculate that the split may have occurred no more than 6.3 million years ago, and possibly as recently as 5.4 million. That would make Toumaï older than the time of the split.
...
But the story is not simple, Reich and his team explain in their study, published online in Nature1. Different sections of the genome differ by different amounts, suggesting that they parted ways at different times. The divorce period between the two species, the data suggest, could have lasted a million years.

The region bearing the most similarity is the X chromosome. This is exactly what one might expect if the two lineages had continued to interbreed after first starting to separate.
...
If such a hybrid population really did exist, the question remains as to whether it died out, or whether modern humans or chimpanzees (or both) are its descendants. It's very difficult to say, admits Reich. "The fossil data suggest — very tenuously — that it may have been humans who are descended from the hybrid population."

As I've found out, there's a lot of weird stuff in the human genome, so something like this, while a shock, isn't a surprise. I'm not a monkey's uncle, but if they're our kissin kin, then I am a chimpanzee's aunt. And we're all children of a broken home too. If I was to go all sociological, that might explain something about both chimpanzee and human behaviour.

Whether the hypothesis is true or not, for reasons which have nothing to do with kinship, but my studies on the nature of Intelligence, I've come to the conclusion that the Great Ape Declaration has much to commend it. Worth thinking seriously about, anyway.
We demand the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans.

The community of equals is the moral community within which we accept certain basic moral principles or rights as governing our relations with each other and enforceable at law. Among these principles or rights are the following:

1. The Right to Life
The lives of members of the community of equals are to be protected. Members of the community of equals may not be killed except in very strictly defined circumstances, for example, self-defense.

2. The Protection of Individual Liberty
Members of the community of equals are not to be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty; if they should be imprisoned without due legal process, they have the right to immediate release. The detention of those who havenot been convicted of any crime, or of those who are not criminally liable, should be allowed only where it can be shown to be for their own good, or necessary to protect the public from a member of the community who wouldclearly be a danger to others if at liberty. In such cases, members of the community of equals must have the right to appeal, either directly or, if they lack the relevant capacity, through an advocate, to a judicial tribunal.

3. The Prohibition of Torture
The deliberate infliction of severe pain on a member of the community of equals, either wantonly or for an alleged benefit to others, is regarded as torture, and is wrong.
I'm not too sure about the second point, but the first and third are undeniable, based on scientific research on Bonibos, Forest Chimps and Gorillas. The others I'm less certain of, but again, it's worth looking at. Hard. And without the usual ridicule and summary dismissal as a patent absurdity.

Saturday, 20 May 2006

The CEV SNAFU

Over at Enyclopedia Astronautica is an incredible (well, incredible to anyone not au fait with US Space program mismanagement) tale of repeating mistakes till the situation is FUBAR.


The CEV Alternatives - Picture (c) Mark Wade


Here's the story:
The selection of an Apollo-type configuration for the re-entry vehicle represented a step back sixty years. The original Apollo design, a NASA in-house concept, was inferior to contractor alternatives. The Soviets selected the Soyuz configuration (identical to the losing General Electric Apollo design) and had a configuration still in production fifty years later - and likely to continue to the middle of the 21st Century in the Chinese Shenzhou. Apollo, by comparison, remained in production only five years. In 2005, Northrop-Grumman again proposed a Soyuz-type design.

Other alternatives for Apollo were a variety of ballistic, lifting-body and winged configurations, any of which would have provided a fine basis for a manned spacecraft that could be recovered with horizontal landings. At least the excuse given in 1961 - that there was no time to pursue development of a winged vehicle and still make the end-of-the-decade lunar landing deadline - may have had some validity. But this made less sense in 2005, when Lockheed proposed a winged design based on forty years of intervening lifting body research and shuttle hypersonic flight experience.

In more detail :
When NASA was instructed to go to the moon in April 1961, the Apollo capsule design concept had already been selected. It was to be a general-purpose spacecraft, with a crew of three. The crew of three was selected for no other reason than NASA assumed that one crewmember would have to be awake at all times to tend unreliable automatic spacecraft systems, ergo three eight-hour shifts. The capsule had to have more space than required just to house three astronauts - enough for the crew to don and doff spacesuits on missions of up to two weeks. NASA's approach to the lunar landing mission took as its first assumption that the return capsule would be the Apollo, with a mass of five tonnes for three men.
Apollo Alternatives
Image : NASA. Apollo Alternative Concepts

General Electric proposed an alternative Apollo design that cut the mass of a three-man return vehicle to three tonnes. This put all systems and space not necessary for re-entry and recovery outside of the re-entry vehicle, into a separate jettisonable 'mission module', joined to the re-entry vehicle by a hatch. Every gram saved in this way saved two or more grams in overall spacecraft mass - for it was mass that did not need to be protected by heat shields, supported by parachutes, or braked on landing. Weight was also saved through use of a re-entry vehicle of the highest possible volumetric efficiency (internal volume divided by hull area). Theoretically this would be a sphere. But re-entry from lunar distances required that the capsule be able to bank a little, to generate lift and 'fly' a bit. This was needed to reduce the G forces on the crew to tolerable levels. Such a maneuver is impossible with a spherical capsule. After considerable study, the optimum shape was found to be the Soyuz 'headlight' shape - a hemispherical forward area joined by a barely angled cone (7 degrees) to a classic spherical section heat shield.

This design concept meant splitting the living area into two modules - the re-entry vehicle, with just enough space, equipment, and supplies to sustain the crew during re-entry; and a mission module. As a bonus the mission module provided an airlock for exit into space and a mounting area for rendezvous electronics.

The end result of this design approach was remarkable. The Apollo capsule designed by NASA had a mass of 5,000 kg and provided the crew with six cubic meters of living space. A service module, providing propulsion, electricity, radio, and other equipment would add at least 1,800 kg to this mass for the circumlunar mission. The General Electric spacecraft provided the same crew with 9 cubic meters of living space, an airlock, and the service module for the mass of the Apollo capsule alone!

The modular concept was also inherently adaptable. By changing the fuel load in the service module, and the type of equipment in the mission module, a wide variety of missions could be performed. The same concept was adopted by the Soviets for their Soyuz capsule, and the Chinese for their Shenzhou. The superiority of this approach is clear to see: the Soyuz remains in use 40 years later, while the Apollo was quickly abandoned.

Incredibly, NASA made the same mistakes again, forty years later. But this time in spades. First, an assumption was made that a six-person crew would be needed to be returned from a Mars mission. Everything else derived from this initial assumption. Now in the first place, there is no logical basis for selecting six. Dozens of Mars expedition studies have been made over the years, with anywhere from three to seventy crew being recommended. Furthermore, there is no logic to insisting that the entire crew come back in a single re-entry vehicle. Finally, this Mars mission with six crew that have to come home together, is totally unfunded, unengineered, and at least twenty years in NASA's future. It was in 1968 as well. So using this ever-receding dream as the basis for your utility spacecraft design is jaw-dropping.

At this point in its internal studies, NASA was assuming a direct flight to the moon. A large booster would fire the CEV toward the moon, it would land directly on the surface, and then it would fire an ascent stage and return to earth. This was the least complex and the most operationally efficient - trips from the earth to the moon and back could be made at any time. Furthermore, the capsule would be a maximum of 5.0 m in diameter, so that it could be launched by the Delta IV or Atlas V EELV boosters just put into service by the United States. But then NASA claims it found that: "Layouts for a crew of six and the associated equipment and stowage were very constrained and left very little habitable volume for the crew. It was determined that the internal volume for the CM was too small, especially for a surface direct mission where the CEV would be taken to the lunar surface". So NASA moved on to Design Cycle 2, with a 5.5 m diameter, where: "The desire in this design cycle was to provide enough interior volume for the crew to be able to stand up in and don/doff lunar EVA suits for the surface direct mission".

So here we are right back at Apollo. A large crew defined for no particular reason. A requirement is conceived that the re-entry vehicle has to provide all of the space the crew will need for the entire mission. And finally, based only on "constrained" layouts, NASA decides Not Invented Here launch vehicles will be unsuitable and decides only its own special-design boosters will do.

Now NASA had a capsule designed for six crew at some future date, but it discovered that it would need to only fly three crew to the ISS and four to the moon and back. Did NASA junk the 5.5 m design, and declare that it could use existing boosters after all? No, it plowed ahead with this six-crew capsule, and jinned up launch vehicles that would require existing shuttle components, facilities, and staff to make them fly. So it was clear that the mission was not to get to the moon, or support the ISS, but only to preserve NASA and NASA contractor jobs and facilities.

This doesn't even touch on the matter on the innovative designs that were suggested in the first round of CEV proposals that NASA will not even comment on. The same approach was used in Apollo. First, proposals from industry were solicited. In both the Apollo and CEV cases these were imaginative, innovative, and incorporated all of the lessons of hundreds of millions of dollars of advanced research funded not just by NASA, but also by industry and the US Air Force. Superior contractor designs using the Soyuz-type separate orbital module or a winged spaceplane approach were made in both cases. In the case of the CEV, the team that designed and flew SpaceShipOne on the first civilian manned spaceflight offered to build a complete (four-crew) air-launched booster and spacecraft that would do the job for one-fortieth of the CEV/CLV cost!. In both the Apollo and CEV cases the contractors were thanked, and NASA then proceeded with its own in-house government design. This was then suitably tweaked until it will passed the Congressional pork test.

It's difficult to come to any other conclusion than this is a project designed only to put pork in as many state pork barrels as possible. It is not designed to actually work, and I doubt it ever will.

The shape of the new, 21-st century CEV is derived from work done in the late 1950's. Essentially, the Mercury shape was based on that of re-entry vehicles with known properties, the primitive first-generation ICBM and IRBM Mk I and II warheads. Now, that was a good decision at the time. Use a known technology, even if it had distinct disadvantages when it came to volume vs weight.

But we know better now.

Have a look at the picture below. From left to right, the "new" CEV, the original Apollo, a Gemini expansion, the USSR TKS manned resupply capsule, and on the far right, the only two spaceships in service today. Soyuz and the slightly bigger Shenzhou.


Picture (c) Mark Wade

The problem is that there are different requirements. The first is for a lightweight (not rad-hardened) crew re-entry vehicle, which should be of minimum size to reduce requirements for parachutes, retros, and especially heat shielding. Such a re-entry vehicle would be provided with a manouvering module for getting about in orbit and Earth Orbit rendezvous, but that's it. The second is for a family of modules, to provide such facilities as a radiation-hardened "living area" for trips to Mars, or laboratories for LEO, or just plain cargo supply to the ISS's successors. The Shenzhou design is an example of this: a (very basic at this stage) lab, connected to a re-entry vehicle and service module.
For long-range missions, to the Moon and beyond, stacks of landing vehicles, rad-hardened living quarters, or deep-space labs could be launched into LEO for orbital rendezvous using existing non-man-rated heavy lift vehicles. One or more of the re-entry vehicles would rendezvous with this composite vehicle, and then the crew would proceed onwards.
For short-range missions, just the basic re-entry vehicle and service module would be launched for space-station crew-change, or somewhat larger stacks with larger mission modules for science, cargo re-supply, or even lunar orbit.
The existing CEV is just too big, too cramped, too difficult to launch, but at least the concept of operations is similar. I don't think it's going to work though, not for technical reasons, but managerial ones. The pork has been parcelled out in too many slices, and to too many existing companies with a vested interest in doing the same old same old. That hasn't worked too well in the past, and is a recipe for cost-over-runs, time-over-runs, and eventual project cancellation.

Thursday, 18 May 2006

Lots of Little Errors

From Space Daily, the story of a 99% success. A story of how software and Rocket Science are hard.
NASA officials released a summary report Tuesday identifying the causes of a collision on April 15, 2005, between the experimental Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology spacecraft and its intended rendezvous target, MUBLCOM, an inactive military communications satellite.
...
"There were a lot of causes," Scott Croomes, who chaired the eight-member board, told reporters during a teleconference at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Croomes said the spacecraft's global-positioning receiver suffered from a "factory error," which caused DART to reset its position and speed continually, and thereby discard the real-time GPS data that could have kept it on a precise course for the rendezvous and avoided the collision.

Because of the error, DART's receiver consistently produced a velocity reading that was biased by about 0.6 meters per second from what it should have been. The spacecraft's onboard software could not reconcile the error with the real-time data, and hence kept firing the thrusters and using up its fuel.

The investigation board also found that although the DART team at Orbital Sciences Corp. – the spacecraft's builder - knew about the error, they never attempted to correct it. This proved to be a critical misstep, because the software model that simulated the receiver during preflight testing assumed the receiver measured velocity perfectly, and that assumption was transferred to the spacecraft's software.

Combined with other errors and complications, the miscalibration caused DART to collide with MUBLCOM, the NASA board found – although the collision was minor. DART missed its 6.3 meter target envelope by less than 2 meters.

DART's design did include a collision-avoidance mechanism, but the software was dependent on the same navigational data source as the guidance system, so it was ineffective.

"The reasons for this inadequately-designed logic include the unanticipated potential for navigational errors and a lack of adequate design review," the board concluded in the summary report.

"This almost worked," Croomes told reporters. "Had any one of those causes not been there, (the rendezvous) would have worked."

As usual, the problems weren't primarily technical, though malfunctioning equipment was the immediate culprit. The problems were managerial, with two teams operating under different assumptions. One assumed that the equipment they were interfacing with would operate according to its specification - that it would fulfill its contractual promise as written in the interface documents. The other team assumed that a minor error wouldn't matter.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Today's MSM Reports on WW II

Via Cumudgeons' Corner, this piece from Victor davis Hanson :
Finally, we welcome the upcoming courageous anthology edited by John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner, Worse Than Our Enemies?, that charts the near criminal direction of American foreign policy under this administration’s plans of total and endless war, of preparing for a new imperial conflict against the Soviet Union before the current one with Germany and Japan is even over. It is in this context that the venerable John Ford recently resigned from the Navy, and instead will produce a series of films Why We Shouldn’t Fight that will reveal what was really behind this needless campaign of annihilation against the Japanese.
As they say, read the whole thing.

Disappointment

I'm disappointed with Free Republic.

Why? See my previous post. Try following the link.

Not only have I been prevented from correcting some misinformation on other posts, every post I've every made has now been removed.

I had nothing but politeness from those who disagreed with me there. As the site is privately owned and run, the owner has every right to censor anything he doesn't want on there. It's even arguable that my posts had "objectionable content", though in view of some of the other posts on the subject, it would be hard to argue that they were less so.

But the post on the Euston Manifesto, that's gone too, and that could not possibly have been objectionable.

I'm disappointed. I thought the site was better than its opposite, Democratic Underground. There I was banned for being a Liberal (in the Australian sense): and from FreeRepublic for being Transsexual.

Oh well, live and learn. The people who replied to me, and those who sent me messages of support certainly will.

Monday, 15 May 2006

Not Funny

This is the other side to the "Buyer's Remorse" post below.

This one is serious, and tragic too. It's about a particular case that I've felt it wise to study, as it has direct impact on my own situation. Oh, there are differences in detail, significant ones, but it's close enough to have caused me to be very sure of what I'm doing.

It's the story of Josef Kirchner.

Here's his story, as near as I can determine it, because it's all so terribly confusing, and a work in progress.

I tried to do the right thing and date girls, even being honestly attracted and excited by them, but I always had this interest in guys which I later came to understand meant one of two things. Either I was a homosexual male or I was a heterosexual woman trapped in a man's body? I felt very inadequate as a guy, like I somehow didn't fit in with other males. Growing breasts and getting big hips and ass didn't help matters. I would study guys intently, but their masculinity was foreign to me. Girls were the familiar and boys were a mystery even though I knew I physically was one! Without a Father in the picture you might say I grew up taking on the personality of my Mother and my year-younger sister. It was no surprise that my peers noticed a femininity about me and teased me for being a sissy and eventually slapped the label of "faggot" on me.
...
Two years of sexuality in the gay world and I wised up really quick. My brief experiment with homosexuality was a component in this journey, but it was not a destination. I felt I was on a dead-end street going nowhere. Just because I was a bit effeminate and didn't especially like being on the giving end of anal sex, I was labeled a "queen". I could not function with another man as a man. Something deep inside of me wanted to be more like a woman with a man. That was then and my story is a bit different today. As my masculinity has deepened the thought of being on the giving end of anal sex is something I'd like, but now that is not an option because I had genital amputation surgery.

My deep disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the great gay life experiment lead me to take other measures to try to bring some type of normalcy to my life. I decided I would have a better chance if I were to change my sex and become a woman. After all, I already was like a female in many respects. Guys would always comment on my breast growth once I'd taken my clothes off. I would always get the question, "Are you taking hormones? Are you a transsexual?" Therapists and a huge transgender community where telling me I was a woman trapped in the body of man so why not totally look like a woman? Why not begain taking female hormones and more fully polarize myself as female? Then, if only I could find a man who could understand and accept what I went through, then I could have what I always wanted -- love and a happy home.


Josef (as Judy) Kirchner, 1997Changing genders was actually a terrifying step to take, but at the point I was at I felt I didn't have much to loose since I had already had a suicidal episode because of my depression about my homosexuality. Beginning hormones was a type of suicide. I used hormones to kill off the part of me I had learned to dislike. The boy was buried in a hormone and surgical grave as the girl emerged. I got all my psychological and psychiatric evaluations in order and off I flew to a European sex-change doctor.
...
Things were good for some years while I chased the dream of fitting into society as a woman. I even married (and divorced), but never getting the husband, children and little house with the picket fence dream fulfilled. However, I did quite well for myself as a transsexual after having many expensive surgeries and procedures to remove the masculine edge from my body and face. I easily assimilated into normal heterosexual society. I lived in stealth mode (a undetected transsexual) for many years before deciding to go public with my story.
...
For 16 years, after my gender-swapping surgery, things were seemingly going along fine and I was still clinging to the dream of meeting my prince after having kissed way too many frogs. In July of 1999 I gave Dr. Ousterhout in San Francisco $30,000 to do a full facial feminization. That completed the finishing touch on this transsexual masterpiece only 9 months before I would learn the truth about about what Gender Identity Disorder is really all about. It's like, why could I have not heard this truth before spending every last penny I had on this folly? I feel God just wanted to allow me to reach what I thought was perfection before it was time to reveal the truth to me. How ironic for me huh? After surgery with Dr. Ousterhout I was anticipating the right guy would eventually come along to make all my dreams come true. Then one day in April of 2000 along came Richard. Richard Cohen that is. Author and reparative therapy specialist Richard Cohen (www.gaytostraight.org) opened my eyes, for the first time, to what had really happened in my life that lead me down the depressing road of Gender Dysphoria/GID. The truth about Gender Dysphoria had long been swept under the rug and now I was finding many psychologists who had written volumes on the subject? How could I have been so blind before? [Update: February 2005 - Was I blind or just intersexed?]

Cached Biography


Josef was a gay guy who was born Intersexed. A mosiac of 46xy(male) and 45x(Turner syndrome female). God alone knows how his brain is wired, but it seems to be for masculinity. Due to the Ideopathic Feminisation (Sound Familiar?) and a confused sexuality, he thought he was a she, and managed to settle down in that role relatively successfully. Then he got into the hands of Fundamentalist Christian "Gender Reparative Therapists" and was convinced that not only he, but everyone else who had ever had Gender Reassignment Surgery, had made a terrible mistake.
Even though I am a strong person in many respects, my life has been ruined by this transsexual nightmare. Now, I'm not afraid to admit that there is fear in my life. How will my neighbors react when the "Judy" they have known and loved for six years starts looking like a man? All they know of me is that I'm a lovely person, kind, caring, loves God, loves people, etc., etc. They will notice I've traded in all my dresses and skirts for men's pants. They will notice all my clothing now looks like men's clothes which will be a drastic shock and clue that something is definately going on with me. It won't take long before hormones and a bilateral mastectomy answers all their questions about what is happening to the lovely "Judy" they once knew. It's sad. "Judy" has been a beautiful person and they will not understand why such a lovely and feminine woman would want to become a man. I will be faced with admitting the truth to neighbors, friends, employers and EVEN distant family members who don't know I had a sex change! Perhaps I should film my own short little documentary about my journey and mail it to my neighbors?

Since this website went on the Internet in April of this year (2004), I have received death threats from members of the transsexual community. As if my life was not ruined and devastated enough by being incorrectly diagnosed and having my penis forever effectively amputated, now people are wanting me dead. Many in worldwide transsexual community is up in arms over me and my website, because I'm speaking out and they are scared. However, on the other hand there are many transsexuals I know, some of the educated upper crust that understand what I've been through and know I'm not out to demonize transsexuals. Why such extremes?
Probably because Josef has been, and continues to be, used as a "Poster Child" to show that Faith-based "Reparative Therapy" works. And that the mentally sick perverts who think they're transsexual should be tortured into a cure ("Aversion Therapy"), encarcerated, lobotomised, or executed. Think I'm exaggerating? The first three were the usual "therapeutic options" until relatively recently, and the fourth is still practiced in many parts of the world.
Meeting John Randall was an uncomfortable experience. He was a very forthright man with a powerful ambience about him. He diagnosed ‘classic transsexualism’. Dr. Randall was surprised at my lack of knowledge on transsexuals and who and what they are! He explained the options available to me: 1 ) Aversion therapy, 2 ) remove part of the brain or 3 ) female hormone therapy. His diagnosis was shocking and also unbelievable – something from the Twighlight zone to my mind. When the diagnosis was announced to my family and then eventually to my new employers (it was necessary to change jobs due to being in psychiatric hospital) they either laughed at me or looked down at the floor in disbelief. This was the start of an incredible journey where both Christian (with few exceptions) and society as a whole would see me as a social outcast.

Stephanie Robinson

Getting back to Josef Kirchner... his life is a mess, but then, with the genetic cards dealt him, it was never going to turn out happily. He appears to have adjusted about as well as possible to his Life's travails, and his old website, http://www.helpmereversemysexchange.org with its strong anti-TS message is no longer available. That doesn't stop it from being continually quoted as evidence though.

Now we come down to why I have a particular interest. I too had ideopathic feminisation. Now I'll never look remotely as good as Judy Kirchner, but that's because it happened when I was 47, not 14. The question is though, whether I had a mainly female body or not, was I a woman or a man?

Unlike Josef, I'd never been attracted to guys. Unlike Josef, I'd always thought that something had gone wrong somewhere since age 5, and was sure by age 7. I was a girl. But I couldn't be, not with a body like that. Unlike Josef, my chromosomes appear to be normal 46xy, despite the somatic changes. Unlike Josef, I'd always had a Father figure in my life, a man who I deeply admired, respected and loved. It was the female role models I lacked.

Anyone who doesn't think deep and hard about the downsides of Genital Reconstruction Surgery is crazy. There's a significant risk to health, about 1 time in 10 it doesn't turn out very well, it's expensive, and the dilation routine afterwards is messy, bloody, and very, very undignified. Time-consuming too, we're talkimg 4 hours a day for the first 6 months, at least, with the procedure I need. Is it really necessary? For some, no. Some transsexual women are no-Ops, they have looked at the downsides, and made a choice not to. Some are even comfortable in their situation.

Not me. I've lived like this for 40 years, knowing that my body is just terribly wrong, and inappropriate. Enough is Enough. Intellectually, I know that psychologically speaking, I'm not ready for it - yet. There's a good reason for having a 12 month Real Life Experience as a general rule, though for some it's not necessary. But I'd get it done tomorrow if I could. I'd have gotten it done months ago if I could. If not for the fact that I would never have married my partner, nor had the most marvellous little boy in existence (OK, I'm biassed), I would have had it done 35 years ago.

I don't "hate" my existing stuff. (OK, I have difficulty talking or writing about it, but that may just be maidenly modesty :) ) It doesn't disgust me, as by some of the books, it's supposed to. I just want it fixed, now. ASAP. That's November 15, and I'm counting the days.

I'm a woman, and women aren't built that way. I can never be normal, but I can come pretty close. It's not a detail, as it was at the beginning of my journey, neither is it an all-consuming need. I could live without it if I had to. I could live with both legs chopped off too. I have to do neither though, and so I won't.

UPDATE 2010: Mr K is a very remarkable man. He's managed to carve a Josef Kirchner - shaped niche in the world, and rather than his life being a "mess" now, as it was when I wrote this article, it's now remarkably successful. I think few men could have managed that. He's one heck of a human being.
As for me - my life's pretty darned good too. I'm not just happy with the revised anatomy, I'm ecstatic. I was born for this.
Not everyone is though.

Sunday, 14 May 2006

Buyer's Remorse

Well I found it funny.

This Vauxhall Ad.

You see, there's just enough of an element of truth there. The day-to-day problems you really better think about well in advance. Not that in my case I had any choice.

3 days after the Op you're still in bed with IV morphine, temporary sutures and packing. Likewise, there are an inordinate number of hoops that have to be jumped through indicating you know the exact consequences of surgery, and that you're not merely bonkers but genuinely gender dysphoric.

Very few of the "bits" are actually removed : most of it's used as raw material to be re-configured, and often the problem is that there isn't enough : skin grafts from elsewhere are used, and in some procedures, bits of bowel tissue. Ewwwwwww.

Augmentation mammoplasty is something you shouldn't consider until at least 2 years after starting hormone treatment anyway, and to get that type of cleavage in someone that age, significant amounts of silicon augmentation would be needed.

But no matter. The Ad isn't exactly meant to be treated seriously anyway.

This whole thing is so inherently hilarious, it's about time it was treated with a little less seriousness, and a bit more jocularity.

It does cost about the same as a new car though, in case you're thinking of buying one. A car, that is.

Saturday, 13 May 2006

What Country Are You?

Via Ninme



You're Thailand!

Calmer and more staunchly independent than almost all those around you,
you have a long history of rising above adversity.  Recent adversity has led to
questions about your sexual promiscuity and the threat of disease, but you still manage to attract a number of tourists and admirers.  And despite any setbacks, you can really cook a good meal whenever it's called for.  Good enough to make people cry.



Take the Country Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid

Well, I always dd like the place. And I'm going there in November, where they're going to make a new woman out of me. So to speak.

Friday, 12 May 2006

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Hormonal Weirdness Part... I've lost count

Latest Blood Test results : while taking 8mg of Oestrodiol Valerate, 4 times the previous level, and pretty much guaranteed to give a blood oestrodiol level of 650-1250 pMol/L.....

It was 179.

To quote a Well Known Ballad :

She performed this trick in a way so slick
As to set in complete defiance
The principal cause and basic laws
That govern sexual science.

She calmly rode through the phallic code
Which for years had withstood the test,
And the ancient rules of the classic schools
In a moment or two, went west.
When I saw the test results, I burst out laughing. My metabolism continues to do what it darned well pleases, regardless of what the medical textbooks say.

I know that in Medicine, as in Software Engineering, what you don't know can not just hurt you but bite you on a sensitive part of the anatomy, but I'm more entertained by this than anything else. There's so much we don't know, you see.

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

Un-Natural Selection

Or, "be careful what you wish for". From GreyThumbBlog :
One of my favorite papers in evolutionary biology, which I have mentioned here before, is this:

Muir, W.M., and D.L. Liggett, 1995a. Group selection for adaptation to multiple-hen cages: selection program and responses. Poultry Sci. 74: s1:101

It outlines the group selection effects observed when trying to breed chickens for increased egg production in multiple-hen cage environments. In short, selecting individual chickens for increased productivity in a group environment didn't select for increased productivity. Instead, it selected for mean chickens. The result was an overall reduction in productivity. Only by selecting at the group level was productivity increased.
...
Apparently one of the Enron CEOs was a big fan of Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene. He took Dawkins' (in my opinion) overly reductionistic view of evolution and proceeded to even further reduce it in his own mind to social Darwinism of the knuckle-dragging "survival of the fittest" (grunt, grunt) variety. Enron's HR policy included an iterative performance evaluation and firing step reminiscient of a reality TV show like Survivor or The Weakest Link. Basically, they would evaluate the traders and most other employees based on performance metrics and then fire the lowest 10-15% of the company population.

Think chickens and trading floors folks. Enron was a trading, brokering, and investment company. (Go ahead, shudder some more.)

Everyone knows that there are many things you can do in any corporate environment to give the appearance and impression of being productive. Enron's corporate environment was particularly conductive to this: it's principal business was energy trading, and it had large densely populated trading floors peopled by high-powered traders that would sit and play the markets all day. There were, I'm sure, many things that a trader could do to up his performance numbers, either by cheating or by gaming the system. This gaming of the system probably included gaming his fellow traders, many of whom were close enough to rub elbows with.

So Enron was applying selection at the individual level according to metrics like individual trading performance to a group system whose performance was, like the henhouses, an emergent property of group dynamics as well as a result of individual fitness. The result was more or less the same. Instead of increasing overall productivity, they got mean chickens and actual productivity declined. They were selecting for traits like aggressiveness, sociopathic tendencies, and dishonesty.

After a couple rounds of this selection experiment, these mean chickens could be heard on recorded intra-office phone communications laughing about "those poor grandmothers" they were ripping off via market scams. They changed the company motto internally from "Enron: Ask Why?" to "Enron: Ask Why, Asshole."

Of course, everyone knows the rest of the story. While these mean chickens weren't terribly productive (the company was losing money hand over fist), they managed to peck their trading consoles so as to give the impression of increasing productivity. This worked, for a while. Then this whole monument to Darwinian fundamentalism collapsed rather spectacularly.

I propose that the most significant root cause of Enron's collapse was this HR policy. Maybe CEOs everywhere should read more about poultry science?
What's good for the species may not be good for the individual: and vice-versa.

This illustrates a general law, one applicable to software engineering too. Be careful what metrics you use, because if you're not careful, you too will produce "mean chickens", code bloat, and unreliable systems. Measure productivity in Lines of Code/day, and what happens when some bright guy or gal finds out a better, cheaper, faster way of doing things in half the code lines? What happens with the Deadwood who churns out page after page of inefficient spaghetti? Measure in Function Points, and a suboptimal analysis can lead to astounding productivity, mighty labours to bring out a steaming pile of used food of no use to anyone. Any adequate programmer can produce a complex solution to a complex problem ; a great programmer can produce a simple solution to a complex problem ; but the majority of software written now is by incompetents who write complex solutions to simple problems.

There are 2 orders of magnitude difference in programming ability, based on utility of systems created vs effort expended. And it's not a Bell-shaped distribution, it's dominated by the under-achievers. Many of whom are better than the "worker bees" at office politics, so get recognition, while the others just switch jobs in disgust.

In software engineering, as in all human activities, we must be careful we're not just breeding "mean chickens".

Monday, 8 May 2006

The Three Faces of Islam

I work with, and alongside, some Muslim PhD students. We help each other, and no-one worries too much about who helped who. We're friends. Just people. And if the Holy Koran has an awful lot about smiting the infidel in various barbaric ways, well, the book of Leviticus has much the same (though less of it). The early books of the Torah and Old Testament are drenched in the blood of various enemies of Israel, be they soldiers or infants.

No-one does that any more. The Jews stopped doing it about the time of Judeus Maccabeus, and the Christians ceased sometime in the 17th century. The Sack of Magdeburg is ancient history, and the Holocaust had nothing to do with Christianity in any form.

That is one face.

Another face is presented by the reformist movements inside Islam. For example, the 27 Points listed below.
Declaring Jihad Useless and Obsolete: "Is it possible to replace war with peace?" asks Chebel, and answers: "Jihad should be declared illegitimate since it entails death, which is not a noble thing in the eyes of the Koran, and also because it is used to justify all kinds of aggression." On the other hand, peace initiatives from outside or from within the Muslim world should be promoted. Chebel suggests the establishment of a Muslim NGO, with sufficient resources, to promote peace between people, in Islamic lands and everywhere needed. Chebel writes: "I believe no other region spends as much money for its armament, relatively, as does the Islamic world." In addition, Chebel notes that "there is no redistribution of wealth, and when there is, it only concerns the construction of mosques."

Abolishing All Fatwas Calling for Death: The issuing of a fatwa calling for death is a right that cannot be incumbent upon one single human being. A human being, however enlightened and infallible, cannot be granted more power than a whole court. The best thing is therefore to abolish the use of fatwas or at least the use of fatwas calling for death.

There are two kinds of fatwas: ordinary fatwas aimed at solving personal problems and fatwas deferring human beings to divine justice. This second sort of fatwa should be completely abolished, while the first kind might remain. A fatwa should be considered advice given by a competent authority, as the advice of a physician, and not be thought of as binding.

Promoting the Status of Women: Wife banishment, polygamy, forced marriages (especially at a very young age), honor killings (khalf at-thar), and other evils all result from the inferior status of women. Therefore, civil laws must be reviewed to enhance the status of women. Women should no longer be considered minors.

Chebel believes that women have been so denigrated by Islam that only strong political action will correct the situation.

Abolishing Corporal Punishment: There is nothing more barbarous than amputating the hand of a thief, cutting out the tongue of a liar, or stoning a sinner, Chebel writes. Such punishment, including flogging, existed prior to Islam, and one might wonder how it came to be included in a religion that otherwise advocates tolerance towards the weak. Also, since an adulterous woman is sentenced in the Koran to be flogged 100 times, no court can possibly prescribe the death penalty for adultery, as has sometimes happened.

Banning Genital Mutilation: Chebel demands that all types of genital mutilation be banned, since there is no basis whatsoever for them in the Koran and very little mention of them in the hadiths. Female candidates for genital mutilation, and their families, should be informed of its profane aspect. All sexual mutilation must be cleared of all religious content, he states.

Chebel notes that there has never been religious ruling regarding female genital mutilation.

Punishment for Honor Killings: Chebel wonders why women still have the "privilege" of embodying the purity of a given group. Such a "privilege" makes them the victims of honor crimes. In an effort to eradicate honor crimes, rules should be established to protect the weak, and women should be granted freedom of choice as far as love is concerned.

Modernizing the Civil Law and the Personal Code: Chebel asserts that Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) prevents Islam from being progressive and from promoting peace and tolerance. Fiqh was originally adapted to reality, but it is no longer relevant to it. Chebel suggests eradicating fiqh - which has become the "armed wing" of the religious oligarchy - and replacing it with a new set of rules adapted to modern times. The best thing for a reformed Islam would be to choose the most efficient laws of other countries and to implement them, provided they can be implemented in an Arab and Muslim context.

However, since complete eradication might be difficult to implement, Chebel suggests reviewing fiqh in order to remove what has become obsolete and keep what still bears life. In this framework, the most barbarous aspects of sharia must be denounced, such as amputating the hand of a thief, cutting out the tongue of a liar, or bequeathing a smaller inheritance to women. Reforming fiqh is necessary to promote justice and the status of women.

Chebel clarifies that as harsh corporal punishment must be softened, sanctions against such issues as corruption must be applied - as corruption should be considered the worst evil afflicting Islamic societies, Chebel says.

An Independent Judiciary: In Arab countries, the judiciary system is often subordinate to political power, which entails arbitrary verdicts. An independent judiciary will bring about greater justice.

Free Access to Sounds and Images: There should be free access to images and to all matters linked to art and music. There is no religious basis whatsoever to the claim that Islam bans images, Chebel asserts. As for music, it is considered a satanic activity when not religious. In the third millennium, Muslim musicians, singers and dancers cannot be prevented from practicing their art - no more than people can be prevented from surfing the Internet. Chebel calls for acknowledging the human aspect of music. The only reason music is banned is that Islamic leaders base their power on the ignorance of believers.

Fighting the Phenomenon of Political Assassination in an Effort to Promote Democracy: Political assassination has often been resorted to in order to overthrow rulers. It has no legitimacy in the Koran. Chebel enumerates no fewer than 150 assassinations of caliphs, presidents, kings and imams in the Islamic world.

No one should be able to claim to be God's representative on Earth in order to gain power, kill people, or issue fatwas. In order to prevent such situations, the religious and political spheres should be separated.

Eliminating the Cult of Personality in the Islamic World: Cebel writes: "The cult of personality [in Islamic countries] is a cancer that blocks political life in most Muslim and Arab countries." Millions of dollars are dedicated to the protection of the groups holding power, usually the president and his family. The people in power enjoy such important privileges that they do anything to remain in power or avoid elections. And in many Arab countries, no TV programming, press campaign, or radio programming is exempt from the obligation to express almost blind worship of the president and his family. The cult of personality serves anti-democratic regimes.

Firm Sanctions against Corruption: Chebel says that the only system that enables the people to control the rulers' actions is democracy. There will always be corruption in the absence of democracy. Laws must be promulgated to regulate states, enable the control of expenses, and establish accountability in the political and social spheres. Such laws will represent the beginning of democracy.

Investing in the Field of World Administration: How can Islam, or countries which speak in the name of Islam, make their voice heard in the international debates related to world administration? "Solidarity" with other countries is the key word to tomorrow's world administration: Muslims should go back to their ethical sources and promote inter-religious dialogue.

Banning of Slavery and All Other Trafficking in Human Beings: Chebel asserts that slavery is still widespread in Mauritania and in most of the Gulf countries, and in Sudan, Morocco, and Asian Islamic countries. The organizations fighting slavery should demand that it be banned in all Islamic countries. These countries should declare, in the first articles of their constitutions, that any trafficking of human beings (including destitute parents who sell their small children, as sometimes happens in Africa and Asia) is contrary to Islam. Significant funds must be invested in a campaign to abolish all forms of slavery, until it is completely eradicated.

The caste system, which still exists in Mauritania, in the Tuareg country, and in the entire Sahel region, should be considered a form of slavery, since higher castes unscrupulously exploit the work of inferior castes. Destitute women should also be helped, to prevent them from resorting to prostitution. Prostitution organized into networks should be fought, all the more as it is banned by sacred texts.

Promoting a Work Ethic: Chebel notes that work is denigrated in the Arab world. School curricula should define a new attitude towards work, promoting it as a positive value. The day work is valued, Chebel asserts, the mentality of leaders will change by itself.

Ending Usury: The Koran clearly condemns riba [usury]. But so far, no sheikh has issued a fatwa condemning the huge gains resulting from exploitation and enjoyed by autocrats. Islam should have a positive impact on economic issues, with a fatwa condemning corruption.

An Active Policy Regarding New Technology: Chebel notes that neither aviation nor railways, electricity, modern armaments, computers, or any other major invention were achieved by Arabs and Muslims. In fields that require technical knowledge, the Arabs depend on the West. He notes that, according to a U.N. study on the development of nations, the Islamic countries invest the least in education. This is not because of a lack of resources, Chebel says, but because of an existing mindset that is reluctant to invest in education. Chebel suggests the establishment of an Arab Fund to finance science, technology and industry.

Defining a Clear Bioethics Policy: Issues relating to life and death, such as abortion, contraception, and euthanasia, among others, should be given special attention, since science alone cannot provide answers to these moral issues.

Protecting the Environment: Chebel asserts that Muslims do not care enough about the environment, possibly because the technological backwardness of Muslim countries somehow ensures a natural way of life. However, education should include respect for environment and of archeological sites. Chebel mentions the destruction of the Buddha statues, wondering if Islamists in Egypt will one day ask for the destruction of the Pyramids.

Promoting Play: Modern psychology has shown that play and games are a factor in stability and personal fulfillment. Therefore, Muslims too should be allowed to enjoy the benefits of play. In its wider meaning, "play" includes poetry, sports, theater, artistic creation, seaside vacations, and more.

Once the implicit ban on games and playing is lifted, the Islamic lands will be able to display their true potential: warm seas and snowy mountains, where sport and tourism can be practiced. Millions of young people will be hired to build roads to access these sites - instead of being recruited by Islamist movements.

In conclusion, Chebel states that youth, civil society, and education are the keys to reform in the Islamic world. He notes that several intellectuals in the Arab world are willing to promote reform - but are barely heard among the "surrounding noise of imams."

Chebel insists that change will begin with reform of the school curricula. All Islamic countries should dedicate important funds to education. The idea that the "other" is not an enemy, or evil, should be taught, and when doing so, common values should be stressed. People must be actively prepared for the advent of democracy, which will happen when the population in Islamic countries is mature enough to adopt it.

Chebel wonders whether Muslims can reform Islam to the extent of rejecting all forms of violence, considering the damage caused by violence in the name of Islam. In such reform, the role of religious authorities, who often advocate jihad and intolerance, should be restricted.

Chebel insists that the main resource of the Islamic world is its youth - and this youth will be the driving force of reform, provided it is properly educated.
Then there's the third face. A face of Undiluted and Bestial Evil in Allah's name. A face so horrible that it physically sickens any normal human being of whatever religion. The Islamic Ritual Slaughter of Atwar Bahjat a Nepalese hostage.

Sorry, these people do so many rutual torture-decapitations, you tend to lose track.

Saturday, 6 May 2006

A Visual Turn-On

From PhysOrg.Com :
A Harvard study says visual stimulation turns up genes that shape the brain.

Citing the pioneering work of Nobel Prize-winning Harvard researchers David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel, the new study found that visual stimulus turns up the expression of some genes and turns down the expression of others, somewhat like a conductor cuing the members of an orchestra.

The study also found that during different stages of life in rodents, distinct sets of genes spring into action in response to visual input. The findings are reported in the May issue of Nature Neuroscience.

"What we found opens science up to a more global look at genes, from studying one gene at a time to looking at families of genes acting together," said lead author Marta Majdan, a research fellow in neurobiology.

The findings suggest that genetic therapies for neurodegenerative diseases will require more extensive knowledge of molecular pathways and gene interactions to be successful.
Oh My Stars, who ordered that? As if it wasn't complicated enough.

Now we have ephemeral environmental stimuli acting as triggers at the genetic level, specifying which gene sequences are used, and which are supressed. That's not to be confused with Larmarckianism, where the environment can modify succeeding generations. It's more like the exact type of animal you get in this generation, it's effective rather than actual genome, depends on stimuli in the environment, not just chemicals.

Worse, the area affected is in cognitive abilities.

Yet another argument against Intelligent Design. This wasn't designed, it just growed, Kludge upon Kludge. I'm beginning to wonder if we'll ever understand enough to be useful, it's so complex. And with complexity comes the possibility of Chaos, minor changes operating my multiple feedback loops to have major effects.

Well, given events of the last year, that's no surprise. *Sigh*

Thursday, 4 May 2006

Annus Mirabilis

Definition : A year notable for disasters or wonders;

It was at about 4pm, exactly one year ago. Whatever I was using to keep the male act going, well, it ran out.

Just.
Like.
That.

No warning. No indication that it was going to happen. I was sitting at the keyboard, busily thinking of model compiler architectural issues, happy as a lark, when I said to myself "I just can't do this any more."

My next thought was "Who ordered that?" Where the heck did that thought come from? After 45 minutes or so of just sitting at my desk, trying to get my thoughts in order, I went and told the company's CEO that either I was having some form of mental breakdown, the mid-life crisis from Hell, or I was actually a girl, and had been all my life.

Well, I was a key member of the project team, everyone was depending on me. If I'd had a mental collapse, they'd have to do some pretty fancy footwork.

But it didn't affect my work, as it turned out. Just my body.

That's the weird bit. My metabolism went haywire, and we still don't know why. The picture below tells the story, and the Hormones I started in August had no effect on my blood hormone levels - we don't know why. Anyone familiar with the mechanics of Transition will know that things just don't happen that quickly, anyway. One year on, we can definitely say we have no idea what the heck happened. Similar cases have been recorded, but as far as I've been able to tell, nothing where it happened quite so rapidly.

Transition

There are two top contenders for causative mechanisms:
  1. The same thing that caused my Transsexuality has caused some as yet understood interaction with hormone receptors at the cellular level, or something equally odd.
  2. The psychic stress and total repression of my condition has led to one of the most spectacular pieces of psycho-somatic phenomena ever recorded.
Whatever, we don't know enough yet to do more than take measurements.

Here's the record of everything I felt comfortable putting down in my blog, which reflected my thoughts and feelings about the issue. Psych students could no doubt find out more by looking at the complete archive, everything I posted about before and after, devining meanings hidden even from me.

http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/05/things-you-dont-want-to-hear-your.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/05/another-day-another-blood-test.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/06/medical-puzzlements.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/07/good-news.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/07/facelift.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/07/good-timing.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/07/any-questions.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/07/just-me.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/08/very-personal-note.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/08/new-image.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/09/music-memed.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/09/zoe-in-her-lair.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/09/amazing-triplet.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/09/tolerance-and-acceptance.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/10/whats-it-like.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/10/risk-factors-full-house.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/10/monthly-mugshot-update.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/10/depression-and-sex.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/10/passed-my-blood-test_27.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/11/turn-and-face-strange-changes.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/11/70000.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/11/brains-gender-humour-pain-and-possibly.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/11/class-of-75.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/11/class-of-75-in-pictures.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/11/it-was-30-years-ago-today.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/11/thanksgiving-2005.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/11/for-carmel.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/12/geek-girls.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/12/my-sister-in-la.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2005/12/alls-well-that-ends-well.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/01/reply-to-alisa.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/01/how-surprising-not.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/01/manslaughter-marriage-and-medicine.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/01/ms-january.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/02/on-my-way.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/02/more-medical-weirdness.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/02/to-glb-or-not-to-glb.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/03/walking-papers.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/03/48-not-out.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/03/transsexualism-transamerica-and.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/03/there-but-for-grace-of-god-go-i.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/03/role-model.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/04/just-four-weeks-ago.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/04/peek-into-another-world.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/04/more-transition-fun.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/04/new-photo-for-march.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/04/what-is-man.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/04/milestone.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/04/out-with-old.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/04/situation-normal.html
http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/05/end-of-act-one.html

Other relevant links by other bloggers:
Guest Posting : The Male View
Tim Blair - The Female Brain

My peculiar journey is only just beginning, too. Transition - the journey from presenting as one gender to the opposite - is a task that takes years, even for younger Transitioners. For people in their 40's, it takes over half a decade. So there's much more still to come.

One thing that has mystified and delighted me though. You see, when I started this, I was being blown willy-nilly, I knew not where. I knew things would never be the same, but I certainly wasn't confident that I was "truly" female, whatever that meant. I just wanted to be me, whatever that was.

The most surprising thing is that my inate femininity is so strong, so obvious now! Oh yes, still learning, still got a long way to go, but any doubts have long since been dispelled by mountains, veritable Everests, of Evidence. And it feels so natural, so right, as if I was born for this. Which, as it turns out, I was. All I've had to do is learn to relax, to operate by instinct and to cease pretending.

Will I ever be an "ordinary" woman? Hardly. I've never experienced the hormonal surges of pregnancy. My chromosomes remain unalterably 46xy, and few women can say that (though more than you'd think). Moreover, any somatic female, biologically normal, brought up for so long as a male, with male hormones coursing through her body, well, she would never be the same as her sisters.

There's a school of thought that says for Transition to be complete, it's necessary to abandon the whole of the previous life. To cut oneself off from family, friends, to move from your usual haunts, and to take on a complete new identity and career. For a Transsexual Woman to become just a Woman, it's possible that this is necessary, though I doubt it.

Well if so, I don't value "just Womanhood" that highly, and I never did.

I intend to be what I wanted to be, way back in 1968. Not an ordinary woman, an extraordinary one, and not just because I was once Transsexual. More importantly, I wish to be a pretty decent human being too, that's something I was always able to aim for. Well decent anyway. Who knows, maybe pretty one day too.

I'm working on it.

Wednesday, 3 May 2006

End of Act One

Exactly one year ago was the end of the major part of my life so far.

It's now been a year, so matters are still fresh enough in my memory to be accurately recalled, yet enough time has gone by for things to be seen with some sort of objectivity. I hope.

I'll try to explain, as best I can, matters which are by their very nature intensely personal, and more than just a bit embarressing. Why? because I think the more people know about Benjamin's Syndrome, and the more my readers, friends and family know about my personal situation, the more understanding there will be. I also think understanding is important, perhaps more important even than acceptance.

I can't reveal all, in every gory detail, as it affects not just myself, but other people, people whose permission I haven't obtained to write about them. But I can give the gist of it, for the main actress in this little drama so far has been me, Zoe. I crave pardon for the egotism, but I can't see any way of writing an autobiographical sketch without it.
1967
====

Pardon Me.
I need to see someone.
I don't know who decides these things.
But you see, there's been a silly mistake.
I didn't complain before
But I'm now nearly 10.
It's getting really late.
I don't mind being in Loddon House
Though Thames or Kennet are OK too.
If I have to change
To either, I don't mind.
And as for A Class well,
I'm good at maths.
No complaints.
But you see
They put in me in the Boys
And Boy things just aren't me.
The Boy clothes I wear
Mean Girls won't play with me.
I'm so alone,
I spend my playtime
In the Library
Alone
Different
Lonely
I don't fit in
At all.
There's been a mistake, you see.
I know my parents
Wanted a Boy.
Maybe that's why it was done
The assignment incorrect
To Boy and not to Girl.
A Natural mistake
To make
No blame.
But haven't I been good?
Done everything required?
Never been naughty
Over much.
I think I've earned the right
To go in with the Girls
And soon
Before my teens begin.
I need to see
Someone in charge
Who decides these things.
Please help.

"I must confess I was born at a very early age." - Groucho Marx

In 1958, in Earley, a suburb of Reading, Berkshire, in the UK, in fact.

Few pictures of me exist as a child : one of them, taken at about age 3, is of me setting up an early morning tea, teacups, teapot, "pretend" cake and so on, for my cousin Mark. He's still in the RAF I believe, Military Police, happily married with a large family. I wonder if he remembers?

About this time, I started having big problems with zips. You see, my instinctive "body image" never included external genitalia, I plain forgot there was anything there. This caused many painful episodes with zip flies, then just coming into fashion in the UK, around 1961. Eventually my parents gave up, and I wore button flies till age 10.

My first Friend was Virginia - I'm not sure if I ever knew her last name. I do remember how happy we were playing together, me at age 4, and walking home from her house, thinking of the word "friend", and how I now knew it's meaning. I rolled it around my tongue, and was terribly happy.

She moved away shortly after, and I've never seen her again.

It was when I first went to school that I realised there was something odd. Boys were so different from me. I didn't identify as a girl as such, I just wasn't a boy, I didn't think like they did. It took me several years of people-watching, closely observing their actions, before I could successfully fake it.

At age 7, some girls allowed me to play with them. Now this was a really big deal to me, because no-one allowed me to play with them, neither girls nor boys, somehow I didn't "vibe" right. I was pre-literate too, dyslexic, I hadn't found the comfort and solace of books. I had no poetry to protect me.

I was good at hopscotch. Never could skip a rope, my co-ordination was poor to nonexistent. The whole body just felt subtly wrong, a mismatch between the peripherals and the device drivers. But hopscotch, with it's planning of what to do three jumps ahead, that was my style exactly! We made ever more complex variations on the standard theme, with obstacles, requiring going backwards or sideways at a certain point, lots of fun. But always out of sight of the others, for it just wasn't the done thing for a boy to play with girls like that, or girls to allow a boy into their midst. And I was a boy. I had to be, I was dressed like one. I hadn't got a clue at that stage that there was anything more to it than that, I just thought your parents decided how you'd be reared.

And I liked a lot of "Boy Stuff". Playing Cops'n'Robbers (whenever I could find anyone to play with), mechanical things of all kinds fascinated me. Going fishing with my Father, I loved that. I was no spoiled "Mother's Darling", neither did I feel overly lonely. I loved going out exploring, on my own, riding my bike to places I'd never been before. OK, I wasn't a boy, but I surely didn't fit the pattern of girlhood as practiced in England in the mid-60's. I just couldn't understand the Tribal Boy dominance games, the love for football and sublimated combat that was team sport. I figured I could have been either, and as I'd been placed in with the boys, a boy I would have to be.

It got worse though. Less comfortable. I had no desire to wear girly clothes, in fact, I fought against any trace of femininity that might give my secret away. Who could I have told?

The family moved again, and I lost my girlfriends.

The next part of my life, I'll deal with briefly. Just to say that I always felt a strong maternal, protective urge to those smaller than myself, and I was always big, broad-shouldered and strong for my age. My Uncle in the USA had sent me a book, Encyclopedia Brown, and I always identified closely with Sally Kimball.

At my next school, I soon went Bully-Hunting. And was hunted back. They came in packs though, and no matter that I could take any of them on individually, for I fought like a girl, biting, scratching, no-holds-barred, soon my existence was dominated by figuring out new escape routes, new places to hide, new ways of getting home to avoid the packs that were out to get me. I still didn't "vibe right", and a CAT scan I had a few years ago showed just how many bones in my face were broken at that time.

My parents placed me in a boarding school when they found out just how badly I'd been hurt, and that saved my life. My soul too, I was becoming just as brutalised as those I fought against. You see, I'd wait till pack members were alone, and attack. I know I broke one kid's collarbone, and he was only 11. OK, I was 8, but he was still just a kid, he didn't deserve that.

My two years at boarding school were very, very happy. It was a time of healing. I no longer was afraid. I had my own secret little flower garden in the middle of the woods, and was so very happy. At a place where everyone was a boy, I didn't stand out so much, there was nothing to contrast with: I could stay inside and make up and play board games, or use the school's model railway (for I still loved mechanical things).

It was at this time, at age 10, that I picked my name, Zoe, from the Dr Who character of that name. She was a bright, sparky Maths genius, everything I wanted to be.

Then one weekend, my parents paid a surprise visit, an I was told we were going to Australia the next week. We flew out on October 13th, 1968.

Again, a mixed school, and again, I stood out. But this time, it was more because I was a "Bloody Pom", at a time when Racism against the English was fashionable, the way Racism against the US is fashionable today, alas. But no-one tried to kill me, no-one used a brick or crowbar to try to damage me, it was all just boy dominance pecking-order stuff, and I found it very difficult to take the schoolyard violence very seriously. There was almost none, and it was conducted in playing fields after school anyway, the teachers wouldn't allow it on school premises. Very ritualistic.

At home... well, you know how some flowers, when transplanted, fail to thrive? My mother was like that. She's never fully adjusted to living here, and never will. The England she left faded long ago, and she's at home here as much as she ever will be anywhere. Here agoraphobia got worse and worse. Meanwhile, my sister, who missed her 18th birthday as we crossed the International dateline at midnight, well, she seems to be permanently stuck at age 17 all her life. She didn't want to come here, and made that very clear by numerous acts of teenage rebellion that came close to wrecking her life. My Father's job turned sour too, again the anti-Pom Racism fashionable at the time.

The one bright shining hope was... me. I managed to get into Sydney Grammar School, and my scholastic career took off by leaps and bounds. I was the one who cheered up my mother when she was so terribly unhappy. I was the one whose report cards brought proud smiles to my father's face, amidst his woes. Who could I tell? They had quite enough on their plate. As for my sister - well, she made all the mistakes of youth so I didn't have to, and for that I'll always be grateful to her for.

And at age 12, I found out that Boys and Girls were born different. And that came as a shock. Despite all my feelings for so long, I was a Boy after all. The evidence was clear, I could be nothing else.

I struggled against it though. The body was too awful, too broad-shouldered, too alien to ever be successful as anything else, yet I did try both rubber bands and shoelaces to "cure" my condition. But it hurt far too much.

Eventually I decided to accept my fate, because I desperately wanted children, and the only way I could have them was as a father, not a mother as I so desperately wanted to be. I hadn't figured out the implications of that, I never found boys attractive in any way. They were too alien, not like me at all.

I figured that there were two possibilities: either I was a boy, with a harmless "quirk", a mild delusion that he should really have been born a girl: or I really was a girl trapped in a man's body, and unable ever to escape. That latter scared me to death, because if it was so, it was such a hideous, horrible, utterly intolerable situation that that way lay depression, madness, and death. Such a situation could not be allowed to exist, the whole family was depending on me.

So I tried to be the best Man I could be, and I acted the role well, knowing with increasing certainty that a role was all it was. But in denial, for to admit to it would have meant the collapse of my whole existence. In order to be happy, healthy, sane and functional, a man I had to be, full stop, end statement, and worse things happen at sea. The most I could admit to, to a very few close friends, was that I felt I could have been born either, and on the whole, had a mild preference for femininity. Just a preference, mind you. Every day, I woke up, and repeated my mantra : "Thank God I was Born Male", no high-heels, no monthly curse, no silliness with makeup, clothes that made sense... and didn't realise that this was not the normal behaviour of any Man. At least, I assume it isn't. I've never been one, you see. A lot of unspoken assumptions about guys, what they feel, and what they do, based on my own internal observations of how I feel and what I do, are now open to question.

One year ago today, I was in this state. Happy, really, and who wouldn't be? I had a wonderful 3 year old son, a very happy 25 year marriage to a woman who is still despite everything the love of my life.

But the fuse that was lit 40 years ago was nearing its end, and the explosion, when it came, was more powerful for having been so totally denied for so long.

One year ago today, I'd never heard of Gender Dysphoria, or Gender Identity Disorder, or the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association Standards of Care. I had no contact with the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-whatever groups, I didn't even know Transgender support groups existed. I considered myself a weird but straight male, just not very good at it.

I didn't know it, but the curtain was closing on Act I, and less than 24 hours later, my whole Life was to change in ways I still am trying to comprehend.

And you know what? The story above, with minor variations, is absolutely typical of the transsexual woman. All that time, I thought that at least I was unique, special in some way, even if weird. But no, just very, very ordinary, and very, very typical. You'll find it repeated many times in the book True Selves. But you see, I hadn't read it. I knew nothing.

That was shortly to change, and the story of how it did change appeared in this blog, as it happened. The next post will be an Index to the relevant entries over the last 12 months. I hope that readers, and psychology students, may find it useful.

I'm quite interested in it myself. For all its tragedy, and hilarity, this really is utterly fascinating for a Geek Girl like me!