Service Denied: Where does privilege end and freedom of speech begin?

The video below, from August 2019, asks whether and how websites can be shut down for objectionable content and the actions of their users.

To their credit, website hosting and domain registration companies are genuinely thinking about the consequences of shutting down websites, are trying not to advocated a political position (unlike the pro-rightwing extremism of reddit, fascistbook and twitter).  They are asking for acceptable and reasonable guidelines for them to work within.  If speech that is hateful can be silenced by democratic governments (e.g. 8chan, stormfront), then peaceful speech can be silenced by oppressive governments too (e.g. antifa, environmentalists, BDS).

This is why I like Canada’s laws on hate speech and not the US’s.  There is a well-defined line between acceptable speech and criminal speech, one that doesn’t exist in the US.  The fact that almost everyone who opposes Canada’s laws is a violent political extremist and racist tells me it’s probably a good law.

But…”dextriarchy”?  Talk about biased and ableist language.

About Face: Revenge porn isn’t the only danger

Revenge porn, as most know, is the misuse of private photos and videos to embarrass or shame people publicly.  Distributing personal nude photos and sexual videos without permission is a horrible invasion of privacy (because many societies and countries are still uptight about the human body).  But what happens if people can create fake photos and videos and distribute them as revenge porn?

The “deepfake” app Zao allows people to realistically photoshop their faces onto the bodies of celebrities.  But that’s voluntary – the same could be involuntarily, unethical people placing other people’s faces onto images from porpography.  Who needs to steal privately filmed porn when you can create fake porn and humiliate people?  The company that makes the software has a questionable “terms of use” clause that might let them use people’s pictures in perpetuity – including people whose photos were submitted without their consent.

More below the fold.

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Play Faster: Introducing “Reduced Scra66le”

Excuse the intentional misspelling to avoid copyright searches.

I enjoy a good game of Scrabble, which is a nice combination of skill and luck.  It’s also a fundamentally “nice” game in that everyone plays until the end.  You don’t eliminate players from the game, and the game does not encourage unpleasant behaviour, unlike games such as Monopoly.

But there are three problems with holding a game of Scrabble: (1) finding players, (2) travelling with the game is difficult, and (3) lost pieces can’t be replaced.  There’s not much one can do about the first except meet new people, but something can be done about the game.  Read on….

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Still Alive: COBOL turns 60 years old this month

Depending on your point of view, COmmon Business Oriented Language, or COBOL for short, is either a dinosaur of computing or the backbone of modern business.

It’s both.  Despite advances in other languages in terms of speed, power and functionality, COBOL continues to be used throughout the business world for accounting, banking, and many other systems.  And it will continue to be used for the foreseeable future simply because of the cost of redesign and testing.

COBOL turns 60: Why it will outlive us all

[T]here needed to be an easier language for programming those hulking early mainframes. That language, named in September 1959, became Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL).

The credit for coming up with the basic idea goes not to Grace Hopper, although she contributed to the language and promoted it, but to Mary Hawes. She was a Burroughs Corporation programmer who saw a need for a computer language. In March 1959, Hawes proposed that a new computer language be created. It would have an English-like vocabulary that could be used across different computers to perform basic business tasks.

[…]

Business IT experts agreed, and in May 1959, 41 computer users and manufacturers met at the Pentagon. There, they formed the Short Range Committee of the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASYL).

[…]

By that September, COBOL’s basic syntax was nailed down, and COBOL programs were running by the summer of 1960. In December 1960, COBOL programs proved to be truly interoperable by running on computers from two different vendors. COBOL was on its way to becoming the first truly commercial programming language.

COBOL compilers (COBOL 85 and 2014 compliant) are still available and in development, with free versions such as GnuCOBOL, COBOL for GCC, and commercial compilers like NetCOBOL and COBOL-IT, and IBM’s COBOL for AIX.  You can also find tutorials on sites such as Tutorial Ride, Tutorials Point, Mainframes Tech Help, and others.

Businesses still need COBOL programmers, but the average age is a decade higher than your typical C++ programmer, some still in demand even into their 70s.  If you want to set yourself apart (or cripple your career, depending on your point of view) it might be worth learning and mastering COBOL.  It’s not just a mainframe language, it’s a cloud language.

COBOL still not dead yet, taking on the cloud

Common wisdom says that COBOL should have died years ago, but the language that sits at the heart of financial systems is still around, and making moves into the cloud.

“It’s almost impossible for most people, in our day-to-day lives, to avoid a COBOL application,” says Stuart McGill, chief technology officer and general manager of Borland for Micro Focus. “COBOL applications tend to be the ones we can’t really do without.”

Approaching 30 years with the company, it’s fair to say that McGill is familiar with the ins and outs of one of the oldest programming languages around — a language that still sits at the core of the financial world.

“Normally most transactions that we go through everyday would be supported by COBOL applications, still are, have been for 30-40 years, probably still will be for 10 to 20 at least,” McGill says.

My college had VAX 11/780 and 4500 computers, and COBOL was one of the languages we learnt. Even in 1990 it was archaic, but we also knew that millions of lines of COBOL already existed. Businesses weren’t about to throw away something that still worked and would be cost prohibitive to replace.

Besides, it was fun.

Canberra Cowers: First silence, then participation

Silence doesn’t just mean consent, it often means complicity.  Or to quote Martin Luther King Jr., “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

In July, during pro-Hong Kong, pro-democracy protests in Australia, the government and police turned a blind eye to intimidation and threats by propa-Panda thugs.  Physical assault and throwing of fecal matter was recorded on video.

In September, the Australian government is now using protests in Hong Kong as a pretext for unecessary screening and denial of entry to Hong Kong citizens.

If they’re not cowering and kowtowing to Beijing by harassing Hong Kong citizens, it certainly looks like it.

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Rhetorical Question: Does birth month affect left handedness?

Scientists have figured out how  Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination affects the gender of some reptiles.  If the ambient temperature of a nest is above or below a certain degree, or the temperature is inside or outside a certain range, all the eggs in the nest will be the same gender, either male or female.  Climate change is already playing havoc with sea turtle populations.

I have often wondered it ambient temperature has a similar effect on humans.  A study at the University of Vienna showed a disparity of handedness depending on birth month.  (The original paper can be found here.)  More children were born from November to January.  The authors of the study ascribe it to hormones, but I wonder if the ambient temperature during the first trimester plays a role.  A child born in January was conceived in April, and the foetus spent the third and fourth months in the hottest part of the year.

Early in 2019, I polled members of a left handers’ group on facebook, asking people to state their birth month and which hemisphere they were born (north or south).  Over 350 people answered.  After accounting for hemisphere, the results were similar to the U of Vienna study.  It was voluntary reporting, but I doubt people had any reason to lie (other than worrying about facebook’s data collection).

First, the number of people born in each month, reversed north/south seasons accounted for:

  • January: 48
  • February: 41
  • December: 33
  • November: 31
  • July: 29
  • September: 28
  • June: 27
  • March: 26
  • May: 23
  • April: 23
  • October: 22
  • August: 22

The monthly average was 29.41666…, and the standard deivation was 7.6752669153732. The empirical rule for normal distributions is:

  • within 1σ = 68%
  • within 2σ = 95%
  • within 3σ = 99%

Ten of the twelve months fall within 1σ which should be only 68% of the people, but turned out to be 75.4%.  February is off by 1.51σ, which should account for 85%, and was actually 86.7%. Close enough.

January is off by +2.42σ, which should account for 98-99% of people. That barely falls within the range of normal, but close enough to merit further study.

Left Handed Complement: You were always wrong, we were always left

A new study published by Oxford University has directly linked left handedness and brain formation, on top of already existing studies that show up to forty genes are connected to left handedness. Too bad they didn’t publish this four weeks ago, in time for International Left Handers Day.

Emphases in the text are mine:

Genes associated with left-handedness linked with shape of the brain’s language regions

It was already known that genes have a partial role in determining handedness – studies of twins have estimated that 25% of the variation in handedness can be attributed to genes – but which genes these are had not been established in the general population.

[…]

Dr Akira Wiberg, a Medical Research Council fellow at the University of Oxford, who carried out the analyses, said: […] ‘We discovered that, in left-handed participants, the language areas of the left and right sides of the brain communicate with each other in a more coordinated way. This raises the intriguing possibility for future research that left-handers might have an advantage when it comes to performing verbal tasks, but it must be remembered that these differences were only seen as averages over very large numbers of people and not all left-handers will be similar.’

[…]

‘For the first time in humans, we have been able to establish that these handedness-associated cytoskeletal differences are actually visible in the brain. We know from other animals, such as snails and frogs, that these effects are caused by very early genetically-guided events, so this raises the tantalising possibility that the hallmarks of the future development of handedness start appearing in the brain in the womb.’

The researchers also found correlations between the genetic regions involved in left-handedness and a very slightly lower chance of having Parkinson’s disease, but a very slightly higher chance of having schizophrenia. However, the researchers stressed that these links only correspond to a very small difference in the actual number of people with these diseases, and are correlational so they do not show cause-and-effect. Studying the genetic links could help to improve understanding of how these serious medical conditions develop.

To my “parents”, to the “teachers” I endured in elementary school, to the abusive nuns in catholic schools, and to all who continue to abuse left handed children by forcing them to use the wrong hand: You were always wrong. You committed wrongs. And how much progress did you inhibit with your ignorance?

Name Checking: Who are the most famous people in history?

A few weeks ago on Deadspin (on Left Handers Day, of all things), writer Clover Hope asked, “Who Is The Most Famous Person Ever?”  To me, that’s a fairly nebulous question that requires some definition.

  • Are they known for their actions, works, or influences?
  • Were they famous in history and will remain in the future?
  • Is famous among living people important?
  • Are they known worldwide, even if their actions were not?
  • Do they have celebrity, or notoriety?

Working backwards, the last three are the easiest to answer.

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The Healthy Desire: September 4th is World Sexual Health Day

World Sexual Health Day is a World Health Organization initiative for educating people about sexual health and change attitudes.  Its aim is for the world to recognize that sexual rights are basic human rights, and to encourage healthier attitudes towards sex, the human body, consent, and about health and sexually transmitted diseases.

On facebook: ‪#‎WSHD2019‬

Time And Date‘s write up is the best I’ve seen:

Annually observed on September 4 since 2010, World Sexual Health Day (WSHD) is an awareness day managed by the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS), a global advocacy organization committed to promoting best practices in sexual health.

Sexual Rights as Human Rights

One of the main aims of WSHD is to help people around the world recognize that sexual rights are basic human rights, and they are essential for peoples’ well-being and for living a fulfilled life. The day fosters a positive perspective on sexuality, one that is respectful of everyone’s sexual identity, irrespective of where they see themselves on the human sexuality spectrum. The spectrum is a continuous scale that goes beyond conventional gender binaries and suggests that sexuality is a fluid concept – one that can change over time and space.

Talking About It

Sexuality is an integral part of an individual’s life and identity. Despite this, sexuality and sexual health are often considered taboo subjects. World Sexual Health Day attempts to change this by engaging youth, adults, educators, sexual health practitioners, nonprofit organizations, and government policy-makers in an open and earnest conversation about sex, sexuality, and sexual health.

The day also encourages parents, teachers, guardians, and pediatricians to provide children and youth under their care with age-appropriate and scientifically accurate sex education. Comprehensive sexuality education can help young people and, eventually, adults, to be more sex-positive – the notion that all sex is good as long as it involves consenting participants and does not compromise their health. In addition, sex education promotes safe sex, which is one of the bedrocks of sexual health. It also helps make consent an integral part of all sexual encounters.

Keep Looking: It’s never too late to reconnect with your past

Sometimes we lose touch with people we love and care about.  People’s lives change, and distance can take us apart.  But when you genuinely care, you never forget your relationship with them.

Jessica Stuart is a Canadian who lived in a small Japanese town for a year in the 1990s while her parents taught English.  She made a friend named Fukue and after returning to Canada remained penpals until Fukue suddenly stopped writing.  Stuart went to Japan to try and find her friend, to find out what happened.  It’s a sad story with a happy ending.  The fact that Jessica and her family made such a positive impression played a big role in finding Fukue.

I’m still crying as I write because this story hits home for me.  Two years ago as I turned fifty (it was two years since I had transitioned) and my 25th anniversary of graduating college approached, I decided to find important people from my past, friends from college and people from elsewhere.  Tracking them down and writing to them was overwhelmingly emotional, but so fulfilling.

(When it’s people you want no contact with, or they want no contact with you, these things don’t apply.)

Fondly Remembered: I kept the childlike wonder

On Thursday, PZ Myers wrote about the origins of Dungeons and Dragons, an article and about a documentary on it.  I managed to get copies of those books in the early 1990s after the height of the fad had passed and a toy store was dumping old stock.  I didn’t own them for too long; after I graduated from college in April 1994, I pretty much stopped playing and had to sell or give away of all my D&D materials for a move.  (Yes, the 25th anniversary of my graduation recently passed – scary thought.)

My feelings and nostalgia about the game aren’t about the game play, the adventures, or about late night sessions.  What I look back on most fondly are the people.  Growing up how I did, D&D was a lifechanger and a lifesaver.  Continued below the fold….

Excerpts from “Put Away Childish Things”, by Harley White:

Put away childish things
yet keep the childlike wonder.
Though dreams be rent asunder
our wishes still have wings.

[…]

Put away childish whim
yet not delight in playing,
then when the world’s dismaying,
our days won’t seem so grim.

Put away childish fears.
Nonetheless, through thick and thin
hang on to the child within,
the laughter and the tears,

all the livelong years…

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Growth Stunted: Another good explanation of toxic masculinity

Earlier today a friend linked to a Harper’s article on toxic masculinity from May 2019. It rings true in so many ways. The stunted emotional growth of men leaves them incapable of bonding as adults, dependent on the workplace and girlfriends or wives for their total social interaction.
Women are the ones paying the price for it. And oft times, women are blamed for that infantilism, instead of the toxic masculinity of society that caused it (i.e. garbage like “if they had girlfriends, they wouldn’t act like that!”).
Men lashing out are like babies smashing a TV to get their parents’ attention. But a baby can’t cause the damage an adult can do, a baby doesn’t shoot or kill people out of frustration. Society has create men exactly like the monkeys in Harry Harlow’s experiments of the 1950s

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Let’s Backtrack: The Jonestown Massacre, 40 years later

Yet another post from while I was away:

On November 18, 1978, charismatic christian cult leader Jim Jones murdered 918 people, either by forcing them to drinking koolaid laced with cyanide (thus the origin of the idiom “drinking the koolaid”), injecting them with poison or shooting the unwilling. Approximately 300 children (age 1-17) were among the dead. It was the final act of control of a paranoid, self-aggrandizing narcissist and sociopath.  It was the single largest death of americans at one time until something happened in New York 23 years later.

It didn’t happen all at once. Like all atrocities, it built gradually – the claim of “religious oppression” in the US (read: authorities trying to hold the cult accountable for physical and sexual abuses, Jones’s fanatical christian/communist ideology under investigation). The mass departure of people for Guyana in South America and a promise of a “utopia”. The foundation of “Jonestown”, a parodic portmanteau of Jones and Georgetown, Guyana’s capital.

Guyana turned out to be no paradise, instead little more than a prison camp in a jungle. Propaganda was blasted day and night through speakers. Forced participation in religious activities happened multiple times per day. Attempts to leave the camp were met with violence, only a select few allowed to come and go. The isolation of people from their former friends and families. Cutting off members from outside contact (no mail, no phone, no reporters, no embassy staff, no newspapers).

The final events began on November 14th with US congressman Leo Ryan visiting the camp. As he tried to leave three days later, Jones’s militiamen murdered Ryan and others on the runway. The camp closed for the final act, a pointless and selfish mass suicide by a control freak and narcissist.  Charles Krause worked for the Washington Post and travelled with Ryan to Jonestown. He was shot but managed to survive the assassination of the congressman and continued to report on the mass suicide as events unfolded.

They were driven into a frenzy with Jones’s final speech, forcing children to drink poison and watch them die, then the adults. Jones made sure they were dead before killing himself, and his militia shooting the bodies to ensure they were dead before committing suicide themselves. A few people (less than ten) managed to survive, those who managed to hide, to feign drinking and escape unnoticed. Two were among the trusted allowed to leave the camp, who had been on their way to the Soviet embassy in Georgetown.  Laura Johnston Kohl was one of the few survivors.

This is a recording of Jim Jones’s last speech. True believers may have willingly gone along with it, but most were unwilling and held at gunpoint, beaten, threatened, imprisoned against their will. This was no “voluntary act,” it was religious fanaticism at its most pernicious.


I was eleven years old, watching this on TV as it unfolded over several months. I was left thinking, “Is this what the world and people are really like?” In less than the span of eight months, I witnessed Jonestown, the Love Canal disaster and Three Mile Island (topics for another time) plus two high profile serial killers in the news over the next two years, one in Canada and one in the US (Clifford Robert Olson, Wayne Williams). What else would a kid think?

In 2017, German heavy metal band Accept recorded the song, “Koolaid”.  It’s much better than Manowar’s 1984 song, “Guyana: Cult Of The Damned”.

Final note: Before posting this, I looked to see if anyone had covered the fortieth anniversary.  I was surprised that they hadn’t.

I Wish: What if lacrosse had become the biggest sport?

On a facebook page today, I said to someone that I wish lacrosse had become the dominant sport in the past, not “football”.  How much different would the sporting landscape be?  Take away the elitism that lacrosse is viewed with now, and it would be a better game for many reasons.

Women and men can both play.  It’s not a gender specific sport.  At US colleges and universities and elsewhere, both women and men play the game, though I do object to the fact that women usually only wear eye protection while men wear helmets, gloves and shoulder pads.  They should wear the same equipment and play by the same rules, just like hockey players.

Lacrosse can be played anywhere.  If you have a flat surface, sticks and goals, you can play lacrosse, whether in a gymnasium, a grass field, or even an asphalt basketball court.  Unlike baseball or football which require large playing surfaces that may not be available, lacrosse requires no more room than does basketball. It can be played on a surface as small as 50′ by 100′ or as large as 50m x 100m.  For US inner city neighborhoods, it would be as attractive as basketball and far less expensive and weather-restricted as hockey.

The basics are affordable.  Goals, plastic sticks and a ball are no more expensive than plastic floor hockey equipment.  Schools with limited budgets could afford them, which would make the game available to US public schools with poor funding.  Large investment would only be needed for players who show elite talent.

It’s primarily a waist-up game.  Other than dirty play, most contact is upper body only.  Injuries to the lower body would be far fewer and mostly due to awkward accidents, not deliberate intent.

Violent upper body contact can be limited.  Unlike football with constant head contact, concussions and subconcussive hits, lacrosse has no more head injuries than hockey.  And if contact is limited to the shoulders and arms and head hits banned (e.g. pushing and shoulder checks, not clubbing with a stick), head injuries and cases of CTE would be far fewer.

Size is less of a factor in player success.  Unlike basketball and football which demand larger and taller players, small players can survive and thrive in lacrosse (and sometimes in hockey).  Speed, vision and stickhandling skills are far more important.

It could be an international game.  It could be as much an international game as football/soccer, not just dominated by Canada and the US sport and a minor sport elsewhere.  The skills involved are similar to other popular sports (e.g. field hockey, rugby, team handball, basketball, football/soccer, etc.) and requires less room than football/soccer. Tae Kwon Do became a worldwide and olympic sport within fifty years.  Why couldn’t lacrosse?


Imagine if a professional lacrosse league had existed in in 1957 and Jim Brown had chosen that road instead of the NFL.  And imagine the economic impact if cities had recognized that arenas are better investments than stadiums.  Where would pro sports be today?

Showing Off: A photo of myself with Chi Chia-wei

Below is a picture of myself with Chi Chia-wei, the Taiwanese citizen most responsible for marriage equality and the push for LGBTQIA rights.  This photo was taken at the Taichung Pride Parade, November 2018.

“This is the right that we deserved from a long time ago, as a beacon in Asia, I hope Taiwan’s democracy and human rights could have a ripple effect on other countries in Asia.”

– Chi Chia-wei, May 2019, after marriage equality was guaranteed

In 1986, while the fascist government was still in control, Chi came out as gay on national TV, unheard of and shocking at the time.  Chi was falsely convicted of a crime to silence him.  He spent only 162 days in prison, released by a judge who admitted the conviction was wrong.  (Quartz article, February 2017)

“I wake up every day and I tell myself, ‘Today I’m not going to have success, but I’ll have it tomorrow,’ so that every day I have hope.”

– Chi Chia-wei

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