Borders Crossed: Third Gender passports aren’t enough

The Canadian government has announced they will now offer Third Gender passports (marked with an “X”) to citizens as of August 31st, 2017. Call me cynical for being unimpressed, but the Canadian government has a long and sordid history of refusing to admit its mistakes, never mind fixing them.

Transgender and non-binary Canadian citizens have been demanding a Third Gender option for years, yet have been denied access to it. The lie told by Trudeau and Harper’s mismanaged regimes was that “it will require an act of parliament to get a Third Gender passport.”

No, it did not. Canada is a signitore to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreement on passports, which guaranteed a Third Gender option, the same one that the UK and Australia abide by in issuing their Third Gender passports. The Canadian government was legally bound to do this, so it didn’t need “parliamentary approval”.

Equally annoying, I doubt that Global Affairs Canada or minister Ahmed Hussen will have the spine or decency to replace currently issued passports at no expense to the holders. Those who have previously asked for a Third Gender passport and were denied are not the ones who failed who live up to their legal obligations. (Yes, I’m being a little self-serving here.)  How else did we get or renew our passports? This was a failure of government to provide what it was already legally bound to do. Citizens should not have to pay to fix the mistakes of government.

Canada advances LGBT equality by offering X gender option on passports

The Canadian government is taking another step in national LGBT progress. Canadians will now have a third option when identifying their gender on their passport.

On August 24, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced the federal government will work towards creating an X option in the sex field on Canadian passports and other documents issued by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

The X option will provide an alternative for those who identify as neither female (F) nor male (M).

Beginning on August 31, IRCC will offer interim measures (until documents can be printed with the X option) to allow individuals to add to their passport that their gender should be identified as X.

The sex field is mandatory for all travel documents according to International Civil Aviation Organization rules.

WHY is gender still placed on passports when it is irrelevant to verifying a person’s identity? The name and photo are all that are required.

Music Rules: Highs and Lowe

Cool trivia of the day:

On August 14, 1976, Stiff Records released Nick Lowe’s “So It Goes”.  It was the legendary label’s first ever single, recorded by a legend in his own right.

At 68, Lowe continues to record and tour, transforming himself from the high energy rock/pop artist of the 1970s and 1980s into a dignified elder statesman and troubadour.


Heat Waves: Roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of summer

Today has been interesting (in the sense of “may you live in interesting times”). Human error at one of Taiwan’s nuclear power plants caused widespread power outages across several cities. In a massive overreaction, the Economic Affairs Minister has resigned. I don’t see how he would be directly responsible for the actions of one person….

By itself, a power outage wouldn’t be a problem. But in the midst of an extended heat wave (it hasn’t been below 32°C since June 19, and high humidity all the while) and a power shortage that has led to some rationing, it makes for a potentially dangerous situation. Eighteen months ago, Taiwan had unusually cold temperatures that killed nearly a hundred people. (The country builds for earthquakes and typhoons, not cold weather.) Now there’s the potential for heat exhaustion and death.

The deniers will have to remind me again why climate change is a fraud. [Read more…]

You Might Have Guessed: August 13th is Left Handers Day

As you might guess by the plethora of posts all at once, Sunday August 13th is International Left Handers Day (see also the facebook page).  I would rather have planned ahead and posted these once per day, but the oldest of today’s posts will explain why I didn’t.

For those who are left handed, read on.  For those right handed, find out why you should care.  And for the 1%ers, come to the better side permanently.  Isn’t it better to be an underdog?

Children Left Behind: Why talking about left handedness matters

Last year on my old blog site I posted a seven part series on left handedness. Part three of the series focused on social discrimination and violence against left handed children because they are at greatest risk and need, but have no one to speak for them unlike other minorities.

Children lack the voice to speak out, lack the knowledge of their civil protections, the life experience to solve problems, the money to buy specialized needs, the strength to defend themselves against the opinion of family, school and society.  Compared to children, left handed adults don’t have problems.

Violence against left handed kids has been common throughout history. Here is an excerpt from Chris McManus’s 2002 book, “Right Hand, Left Hand”:

Looking further afield, geographically and historically, soon reveals how discrimination against left-handers can take many forms from the systematic and the oppressive to the subtle but nonetheless effective. Among the most extreme are the Zulus of southern Africa who,

if a child should seem to be naturally left-handed, pour boiling water into a hole in the earth and place the child’s left hand in the hole, ramming the earth down around it; by this means the left hand becomes so scalded that the child is….

Put a child’s left hand in BOILING WATER so the hand is permanently damaged and can’t be used. That’s the “cure” for left handedness? Why not just cut the hand off with an axe instead? It would be faster and less painful, and make the arm just as useless.

Some might mistakenly think I’m speaking solely about (and thus demeaning) non-white countries in Africa and Asia or islamic nations. These mentalities are still common across eastern Europe and Latin America. I put up with many of the same abuses in a Canadian public elementary schools and at home in the 1970s.  Back when Ireland and its schools were run by the catholic cult in the 1960s, abuse was normalized:

Historical Abuse Inquiry: Boy punished for being ‘left-handed’

Jon McCourt, a high profile campaigner to get the inquiry set up, has waived his right to anonymity.


He told the inquiry on Thursday: “I remember, when I was about five years old, being constantly beaten by one particular nun, to get me to stop writing with my left hand.”

He said this was a common practice at the time before adding: “They were messing up with how we were wired.”

Even in countries where “corporal punishment” is illegal, violence against children goes on.  I witnessed and tried to stop ear twisting and stress positions at a hagwonUNICEF reports that violence against children is still legal – and lethal – in Malaysia, a country with a strong stigma against left handedness.  A child died at the hands of a teacher early this year and in early August a girl suffered three broken fingers after being hit with a broom, among other abuses(Granted, none of these reports mention the children being left handed, but the key issue is violence against the defenceless.)

Have you ever noticed Barack Obama’s atrocious hook handed writing position? Mine used to be worse. He talked about his childhood, being beaten at school in Indonesia:

Obama: In Indonesia, ‘I Would Get Hit With Rulers’ for Writing With Left Hand

President Obama, who is left handed, revealed today in Israel that as a kid in Indonesia, he “would get hit with rulers” for writing with his left hand. From the pool report:


While Obama, a lefty, signed, he talked with Sara some more. “Michelle, she’s a right hander. I’m trying to work on it.”

Then Obama told a story: “When I was in Indonesia, it was considered bad manners (writing with left hand). “Even though I would get hit with rulers, I just stuck with it,” he explained.

Several recent US presidents may have been left handed, but that no more “proves” there is no anti-left hand bias in the world than a black US president proves there’s no racism in the US.

They’re Mistreated: Leave those kids alone

Many specious claims without evidence have been made about left handedness, that it will lead to “learning difficulties”, “mental problems”, “criminal behaviour” and other bunk, Other claims (which have been refuted or questioned) claim that left handed people are susceptible to schizophrenia, autism mental illness, etc., or that left handed people are more likely to be pedophiles.

There are different claims for the cause of schizophrenia and also its triggers.  One of the things which triggers schizophrenia is stress (emotional or physical). Forcing a child to use the wrong hand will creating stress, which could make schizophrenia more likely to happen, not less.

Regardless of whether any of these things are proven or disproven, linked or unrelated, isn’t it best to leave children alone? Let them use their naturally preferred hand, teach them techniques specifically designed for their preferred hand, and not abuse them with forced hand switching.

Yes, forced hand switching is abuse: physical, mental and emotional. Left handedness is as natural as sexual orientation and gender identity. If you consider “aversion therapy” imposed upon LGBTQIA people to be abuse, why are you not also against “aversion therapy” imposed upon left handed people?

Discrimination exists: Against left handed people

One of the most common responses I get when raising awareness of the problems left handed people face (and especially when using the term right handed privilege) is to call this a “first world problem”.

Unfortunately, people are that oblivious.

“First world countries” don’t ostracize people for using their left hand. They don’t call left handed people “witches”. They don’t call use of the left hand “dirty” or “disrespectful”. And most importantly, “first world countries” don’t beat children at home or in schools for using their left hands.

(Mass manufactured products are exported to developing countries, but rarely have left handed options in their design, including software. What happens when people in developing countries see these products? It reinforces the right hand bias: “See? First world countries don’t have left handedness either!” It further “justifies” the mistreatment of people. A “first world problem” is something that only affects “developed nations” e.g. the wi-fi is down.)

A 2013 study by the Smithsonian shows the extent of the problem:

Two-Thirds of the World Still Hates Lefties

For 2/3 of the world’s population, being born left handed is still met with distrust and stigma

By Rose Eveleth

May 17, 2013

There are still some pretty annoying things about being left-handed. But in America, at least, we’ve mostly stopped forcing lefties to learn to use their right hand. That’s not the case everywhere, though. China, for example, claims that less than one percent of students are left-handed. If that were true, it would be strange: the global average of lefties comes in at 10-12 percent. A study in the journal Endeavor recently took on this question: Why are there no left-handers in China? The researchers also looked at India and Islamic countries and discovered that nearly two-thirds of the world’s lefty population faces discrimination.

And for a long time there were all sorts of ways to “retrain” lefties. An article in The Lancet explains the “scientific” rationales used:

The methods used to obtain this result were often tortuous, including tying a resistant child’s left hand to immobilise it. Typical of the reasoning to justify such practices is a 1924 letter to the British Medical Journal endorsing “retraining” of left-handers to write with their right hands, because otherwise the left-handed child would risk “retardation in mental development; in some cases…actual feeble-mindedness”. As late as 1946 the former chief psychiatrist of the New York City Board of Education, Abram Blau, warned that, unless retrained, left-handed children risked severe developmental and learning disabilities and insisted that “children should be encouraged in their early years to adopt dextrality…in order to become better equipped to live in our right-sided world”.

What sort of social stigma are they referring to? Ones that I have experienced myself in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia. I have never been to the United Arab Emirates, but I found this on their official website for Washington, D.C.:

Traveling in a Muslim Country


The act of communal eating is a highly recognized outward expression of friendship in the Middle East.

– Do not eat with your left hand, which is considered unclean.

If someone makes a scene because I touch food with my left hand, I hand them food with the right. As they eat, I tell them my right hand is my toilet hand. Their facial expressions are priceless.

India also views the left hand as the “dirty hand” in the same way as muslim countries do.

How is being left-handed not right?

I remember the day when my mother was dumbfounded to see my daughter (who was then around two years old) invariably using her left hand for most of her activities. My poor mother reminisced the days when she struggled to convince the elders of the house that her daughter (myself) was left-handed and that there was nothing opprobrious about it but she failed miserably. She was sternly advised to change my natural inclination to use the left hand and fearing the repercussions of defying them, she coerced me into making me a right-hander.


After my hue and cry for the past three years in my family, my daughter has at last been permitted to use her left hand for most of the activities like writing and playing, barring a few like eating and serving. I feel it is very unfair to compel a left-handed child to eat with her right hand as having food is such an important activity of our daily life which is done with our heart and soul, relishing morsel by morsel, but my daughter is pressured and is not able to enjoy her food wholeheartedly. What a punishment for being a left-hander?

Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA) published a document called “What Is Witchcraft Abuse?” Left handedness is considered “a sign of witchcraft”. In 2009.

From Radio France International:

African lefties speak out on International Left-Handers Day

For some, they want to promote left-handedness because they weren’t allowed to use their left hand at school. That’s the case for Bernard Bogere Ssenkubuge, the founder of Keep Left Uganda based in Lugazi, outside of Kampala, the capital.

“It is a bit taboo in Uganda to be left handed, because your mother or parents at home would always beat the hand and say, ‘the left hand doesn’t eat’. In school, the teachers will still tap the hand of a child and say, ‘you are not supposed to write with your left hand’. So it is a problem,” he says.


Dieumerci Nugwaneza, another member of the Rwanda Left-Handers Club in Kigali, says that when he was in school, the teachers never explained how to write, but made them switch their hands.

No Quick Fix: Bias is built into everything

Mass manufacturing is a major problem for left handed people. Very few items outside of musical instruments and sporting goods (or useless junk like guns) are being made specifically for left handed users. Accomodations for the disabled cost far more and benefit fewer people, yet people would file  discrimination suits if there were no accessibility for wheelchair users, the visually impaired, and others with disabilities.

No, left handedness is not a disability, and neither is being a woman.  Is it acceptable that cars are built for the average size male as the driver, not for women?  For pharmaceutical companies to test medicines only on men, leaving women vulnerable to side effects?  Those are wrong and discriminatory towards women, so why isn’t it towards left handed people?

It’s unrealistic to expect left handed versions of large scale and expensive items to be made, such as:

  • photocopiers
  • microwave ovens and other appliances
  • radios (and old televisions with knobs)
  • ATMs at banks
  • turnstiles at stadiums or train stations
  • power tools and industrial equipment

But it is not unreasonable to ask for left handed products that can be made inexpensively and used by 10-14% of all consumers:

  • kitchen knives and utensils
  • stationery (scissors, rulers, pens, geometry sets)
  • notebooks, folders and binders
  • watches (worn on the right arm)
  • computer accessories using USB plugs

Computers are the most egregious example of people’s obliviousness to right hand privilege. I am not talking about hardware, which would require large retooling of factories to make products. I’m talking about software, something which has no physical limitation on how it is produced.

Today, touch screens no longer or rarely use scroll bars. But when they were common such as on PDAs in the 2000s decade, scrollbars were always placed for the benefit of right handed people. There was no patch or option on any device to move scrollbars to the left. In order to use a stylus, a left handed user had to block their own view of the screen. (If you say, “Well, use the stylus in the right hand!”, you have just demonstrated right handed privilege.)  The end of scroll bars does mean the end of the problem.

On all touch screen devices, on e-readers, on facebook and many other websites, to move forward a page or image in a gallery requires touching the side nearest the right hand, Again, this forces left handed users to block their own view of the screen. E-readers were designed to be held one handed (in the right hand) and users tap with their thumb to go forward a page. If a left handed user does the same, the e-reader will go back a page.

Why is there no option to switch this behaviour? This requires changing two lines of code (left=forward, right=back), not rewriting the entire program. (Again, don’t say “use your right hand,” even though I know you want to.) Dozens of hotkeys can be created, deleted and reassigned within most software and browsers, and yet the simplest form of navigation control can not be changed, the form of navigation that needs to be changed for left handed users.

Finally, let’s talk about cellphones, since most people use them nowadays. Last year, before the release of the iphone7, I talked about left handed users of the iphone 3, 4 and 6 getting no reception due to Apple’s poor product design.

Guess what? The iphone7 STILL has this problem, despite Apple being aware of it since 2010, AFTER high profile reports in the media with the iphone6. Apple continues to give the same arrogant response to consumer complaints and news stories: “Use your right hand.”

From (Sept. 2016), about the iphone7:

Left-Handed? You May Not Want to Buy an iPhone

If you’re left-handed, you may want to rethink running out to buy the newest iPhone model. Or buying any iPhone for that matter.

The latest iPhone models, including the SE, 6, 6S, and 6S Plus, have the worst reception of the most popular cell phone models when held in the user’s left hand, according to a report commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers that analyzed cell phone reception. Models like the DORO PhoneEasy 530X, Microsoft Lumina 640, and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge performed significantly better.

From (2016), about the iphone6:

Why Some Left-Handed People Are Having Big Problems With the iPhone

From (2010), about the iphone4:

Some iPhone 4 models dropping calls when held left-handed, including ours (Update: Apple responds)

From (2010), apple’s inept response to the above article:

Apple responds to iPhone 4 reception issues: you’re holding the phone the wrong way

Apple responds to iPhone4 reception issues: you’re holding the phone the wrong way
We know what you’re thinking, and we’re thinking it too: this sounds crazy. Essentially, Apple is saying that the problem is how you hold your phone, and that the solution is to change that habit [read: use your right hand – R], or buy one of their cases.


Update: To add a little perspective, check out a video from 2008 after the break showing the same issue with the now-ancient iPhone3G.

Here’s an easier solution: Don’t buy iphones, then you won’t have that problem.

Android phones aren’t much better. True, there are no reports of poor reception when held with the left hand (including my Asus Zenphone). And android does have a left handed option, ***BUT*** it’s buried deep within the software instead of being readily accessible on the phone’s settings and options menus. You have to jump through hoops to find it:

  1. Open “Settings > About Phone”.
  2. Scroll down to “Build Number”.
  3. Tap SEVEN TIMES quickly to enable developer options.
  4. Go back to Main Settings.
  5. Open Developer Options (not visible by default).
  6. Scroll down, enable “Force RTL layout direction”.

Google says it’s updates “won’t change your settings” but that’s not my experience. More than once my Right-To-Left settings have been switched back to right handed mode.

You Don’t Say: Ableist Language Sucks

Recognizing ableism in language is important. There is no “default and alternative,” and language should never infer, refer or defer to anyone or any group as inferior or superior. The same applies to ableist language and left handedness. It exists, it should be recognized as a problem.

There are some words which cannot be changed, even if they are biased. Not only would no one accede to a different term than human rights, what would we replace it with? But the word right and its usage – ability, correctness, appropriateness, justice, political leanings, morality, possession – all have positive connotations. Only the use of right for political extremism is used in a negative way. (See also: the root -rect- which means right, as in correct, rectangle.)

Compare this with the word left. In nearly every language worldwide, the word left has derogatory meaning or usage: inferiority, weakness error, evil, incompetence, femininity, homosexuality. Most reading this will say that femininity and homosexuality are not things to be ashamed of. Why should any derogatory meaning be attached to the word left?

There are not just negative definitions but also colloquialisms and metaphors:

  • “two left feet”
  • “left handed compliment”
  • “good with the left hand” (Japan: a heavy drinker, an alcoholic)
  • “on the left” (Russia: corrupt)
  • “left luck” (Hungarian: bad luck)
  • “left handed marriage” (an affair)
  • “left handed wife” (a mistress)
  • “left hander” (homosexual)
  • “left hand path” (satanism)

The list of terms used to insult seems endless: awkward, butterfingered, cack handed, cuddy wifter, gauche, graceless, ham-fisted, ham-handed, handless, heavy-handed, maladroit, molly dooker, southpaw, unhandy.

It’s reasonable to ask (but unrealistic to expect) that no connotations be attached to either hand (no more use of right for “good” or “correct”). But it is not difficult to use proper and appropriate (Latin proprius: one’s own, special) instead of right for things that are good and well fitting (e.g. “the proper way” instead of “the right way”).

In Short, Supply: Who sells products for left handed people?

Buying products for left handed people is difficult in a world of right handed privilege. There are fewer disabled people than left handed people, yet only the disabled are catered to by manufacturers. It makes you wonder why.

Below is a compiled list of online stores and vendors which sell left handed products for children and adults. There may be others but I cannot verify if they do or the businesses do not sell online or overseas. I have been told Staples sells left handed notebooks. I also do not buy from Amazon, though their website does list some left handed items. (Amazon refuses to ship to Taiwan by postal mail, I am NOT willing to pay upwards of US$100 for shipping.)

(Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of these companies, do not receive any financial or other benefit for mentioning them.)

Left Handed Specialty Stores

These online stores sell a wide variety of products for left handed people, both for the home, office and school. Not all carry every product.

My left handed kitchen knives have the bevel on the proper side and are a pleasure to work with. I also love watching the faces of guests when I ask them to open a can, them unable to figure out a left handed can opener.

  • educational materials (e.g. books on handwriting)
  • stationery (pens, rulers, folders, geometry sets, etc.)
  • housewares (knives, can openers, gardening tools)
  • watches (the dial on the left of the face)
  • musical instruments and supplies
  • novelty items (e.g. mugs that face a left handed user)
  • entertainments (playing cards for the left hand)

Anything Left Handed, UK

Left Handed Convenience Malaysia

Left Handed New Zealand

Left Shop Online, UK

Lefty’s Australia

Lefty’s Left Handed

Stationery only, various items:

Maped, UK


These companies sell books with the spine to the RIGHT of the cover, not the left. The left hand can rest comfortably on the table, as right handers do with most notebooks.

Imborrable, Spain  Imborrable also sells brush pens, suitable for left handed use.

RS Paper Products

Rainbow Resource (Yes, it’s a “homeschool” company and run by fundy christians. I include it because there are few sources for left handed materials.)


These sites sell many types of pens for left handed use, such fountain pens, space pens and yoro pens, the latter designed specifically for left handed writers. (I have included only sites selling affordable pens. Many fountain pens run into hundreds of dollars.)


Jet Pens


Pen Chalet

Pen Heaven, UK

Tools To Live By, Taiwan

TTS Group, UK

Printable resources for sale and download:

Left Handed Letter formation guide for left handed children  These can be purchased for £3.95.

This Reading Mama: Left-Handed Handwriting Pages  There is a trial (free) and full version (US$5) of printable pages for teaching left handed handwriting.

ABC Teach: Left-Handed Friendly Handwriting Practice Printables Worksheets  While these worksheets are free, they require site membership to download.

Anything Left Handed (see above) also sells a printable guide for left handed handwriting.

Names Named: A partial list of famous and important lefties

The list of famous and important left handed people is long and full of significant names from ancient history (e.g. Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc, Julius Caesar) to the modern day. It includes some of the greatest minds and achievers in history. The idea that left handedness is an “impediment” to success or accomplishmentis farcical.

There are unproven claims that left handed people have higher IQs and that we make more money. But there is also the fact that left handed people cannot do certain jobs or produce as high a quality of work because equipment is made only for right handed people (e.g. industrial machinery). And don’t get me started on desks in schools and colleges, made solely for right handers….


  • Marie Curie
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Mark Twain
  • Albert Einstein
  • Brian Kerninghan
  • Nicola Tesla

Business people:

  • Bill Gates
  • Mark Zuckerberg
  • Henry Ford

Artists, Musicians and Writers:

  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Michaelangelo
  • Wolfgang Mozart
  • Ludwig van Beethoven
  • H.G. Wells
  • Cole Porter
  • M.C. Escher
  • Lewis Caroll
  • Rembrandt
  • Vincent Van Gogh

Politicians and militarists:

  • Winston Churchill
  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Barack Obama
  • Bill Clinton
  • Ronald Regan
  • Herbert Hoover
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Harry Truman

Here are longer lists to gaze at:

Famous Left-Handers by M.K. Holder PhD, U of Indiana

Famous left handers from

Left Handed Wiki: Famous Left Handers Famous Lefties

The Guardian: One hundred famous left-handed people

Music Rules: Left Hander’s Day edition

If wikipedia is at all credible (it’s not), the list of famous left handed musicians is lengthy. Other sites also list left handed players. Noticeably most of those well known came from rock, blues, jazz and country, from 20th century popular music. Few classical musicians are reported as being left handed, especially those from the past when children were forced to switch hands. How many there were, we’ll never know.

What are some famous names you can listen to (and whose music I like)? Here’s a selection:

Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits: “Sultans Of Swing”

Elliot Easton of The Cars: “Shake It Up”

Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath: “Paranoid”

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana: “Breed”

Jimi Hendrix, “All Along The Watchtower”

John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants: “Don’t Let’s Start”

Tim Armstrong of Rancid: “Ruby Soho”

Dick Dale: “Pipeline”

Dave Wakeling of The Beat: “Mirror In The Bathroom”

Gerald Casale of Devo: “Secret Agent Man”

Gerald Johnson and John Massaro of The Steve Miller Band: “Abracadabra”

Ian Paice of Deep Purple: “Hush”

Jazz and rock session drummer Simon Phillips, with The Jeft Beck Group: “El Becko”

Stewart Copeland, The Police and solo; recording as Klark Kent: “Don’t Care”

Elvis Costello: “Pump It Up”

Robert Fripp, solo and with King Crimson: “Sky”

Albert King: “Born Under A Bad Sign”

B. B. King: “The Thrill Is Gone”

Also of importance, Orville Gibson, founder of the Gibson guitar company, was left handed.

(Yes, I am aware that the two surviving members of an overrated English band are left handed. My blog, my music.)

Many left handed guitarists strum with the left hand and fret with the right hand, which I have never understood. The guitar and violin are descended from the lute, a middle age and Renaissance instrument. The lute has many more strings and is primarily played with the right hand plucking the strings. The fretting left hand moves far less than on a guitar or violin. Convention and tradition has turned what was once a disadvantage for left handers into an advantage, like the QWERTY keyboard on the typewriter and computer. Why give that up and reverse the guitar?

Keyboard instruments clearly demonstrate a right hand bias, designed to play the melody of a song with the right, and bass chords and notes with the left. Reversed guitars are readily available, slightly more expensive than standard guitars. Reversed pianos are unheard of, though they could be created with a programmable synthesizer, reversing the order of the notes. The keyboards are symmetrical.

Instruments of more recent origin demonstrate a clear right hand bias. The horn is an ancient instrument, but trumpets with valves date only to the very late 18th and early 19th centuries, when anti-left hand attitudes still dominated, and are exclusively right handed with the exception of the French Horn. The same goes for the sackbut and trombone (16th century instruments), the slide moved with the right hand.

Originally, the straight flute of the Middle Ages and recorder of the Renaissance could be played with either hand at the top or bottom. It was only when its descendants (the flute, clarinet, etc.) were invented that keeping the left hand near the mouth became the norm. Early flutes (the Japanese shakuhachi) were end blown, not held to the side.

Drum kits were a 19th century innovation for orchestras and bands to allow one percussionist to play multiple instruments (very difficult in marching bands). Percussion instruments that play notes have ancient origins, but the low-to-high order on the xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba and bell lyre is from the renaissance. Notes on Jamaican steel drums (or steelpans), however are organized to keep intervals between notes to prevent unwanted harmonics. Many left handed rock drummers (e.g. Stewart Copeland) play a standard kit. It is rare for a drummer to reverse the kit or relocate parts (e.g. Ian Paice’s high hat cymbal).

Real Life Intrudes: Summer sucks edition

Social life? Posting here?  Who’s got time for that?

In my line of work, teaching ESL, summer is often the busiest. On top of our regular work, we teach summer camp classes. Children are on summer vacation from school, and many parents send them to buxibans all day as “day care”. That often means extra classes and working from morning until night.  Add to that the DIScomfort index these past two weeks has hovered around 40°C.

To quote from the Alan Arkin movie Popi (1969): “You know, when you’re not working, it’s terrible.  And when you’re working.  It’s terrible.”

I am extremely peeved that the Taiwan government spinelessly backtracked and allowed indoor smoking to continue.  But this fight’s not over yet, especially after the Reuters expose on tobacco companies illegally influencing governments, their desperate attempts to keep users addicted and create new ones. The person who ran Taiwan’s Health Promotion Agency in 2016 was forcibly removed for misuse of the office. I suspect the same of the current HPA director.

Cancer Sticks: Big tobacco makes Union Carbide look like amateurs

Across the developed world, tobacco addiction is in heavy decline for a variety of reasons – facts about the risks of smoking, education, laws restricting where people can pollute the air, heavy fines for violators (both the addicts and the dealers), concern for people’s health, declining wages, etc. Even in countries that have been filth pits of cigarette smoke (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, et al), the trend is the same.

Out of desperation to find new markets, the drug dealers are seeking new markets: Africa and Asia, Indonesia being one of the worst examples.  Which is exactly how the tobacco companies want it.  In the third link (a news item from 2012), the reporter says “There is no minimum age for buying cigarettes. […] Cigarettes are today the number two item of household expenditure, after rice.” [Read more…]

Type Or Write: Putting down words for 150 years

The venerable typewriter is now 150 years old, depending on what you consider its key moment of invention and development.  (Regarding the title, should that be putting up words, since some typewriters use upstrike?)  There are older typing machines than that, but it was the Sholes and Glidden design of 1867 which became the standard, first mass produced in 1868 (although many improvements came later, e.g. lower case text).

Typewriters changed the workplace, changed literature, changed education.  They produced writing that was more legible and faster to produce than handwriting could ever be, allowing writers to express themselves at speeds never before possible with less effort.  (The less laborious work is, the faster and more willing people are to do it – and do more of it.)

The typewriter has also had major impact on the change of language, not just what was written.  For alphabetic languages (Latin, Cyrillic, Hangeul, et al), a 1:1 keyboard assignment was feasible.  For character based languages like Chinese and Japanese, it posed a major problem.

Typewriter historians credit Lin Yutang not just as the inventor of the Mandarin typewriter but also the inventor of predictive text. He placed commonly used characters near each other to make phrases and combinations much easier. He also simplified the organization of Chinese language characters by number of strokes, making it easy for users to find them.

Sugimoto Kyota, inventor of the Japanese typewriter, had a major impact upon his language. Prior to the 20th century, Japanese students learnt upwards of 10,000 kanji (Chinese characters). He chose to limit his typewriter to 2,400 characters he deemed most important (for government, business and legal use). Today, Japanese students still learn about 10,000 kanji, but only about 2,000 are used in everyday life, most of those selected by Sugimoto.

South Koreans still learn thousands of hanja (Chinese characters) and read newspapers written with them.  But in everyday life, only the Hangeul script is needed for school, government or business.

Myself, I hate predictive text and never use it because (a) it rarely chooses the word I want and usually inserts the wrong one, and (b) it uses american spellings.  No thanks.

Is predictive text robbing us of our ability to write?

In China they call it character amnesia – being unable to recall how to write a phrase because you’re so used to autocomplete software. Now it is on four billion phones, and children type before they write, will we still be able to put pen to paper?

[Read more…]