Saturday, December 13, 2008

Happy 40th, Computer Mouse

This week the iconic computer mouse turned 40. On December 9, 1996, the first prototype was unveiled. This ancestor of the modern mouse had only one button on top of a notably non-ergonomically shaped, yet still not bad looking, wood case. Motion of the mouse was detected by two rolling wheels on the bottom set at right angles to each other. Since that early design idea, the mouse has developed additional buttons, a rolling track ball in place of the two wheels, a scrolling wheel (on some models) and the option of a cable-free mouse.

Clearly the mouse’s emergence has empowered the emergence of graphical user interfaces, like Windows, and productivity software that can offer functionality far beyond that of the DOS era. Indeed, one can only speculate about whether the personal computer would have developed its immense popularity had the mouse not become a standard part of all systems. For that matter, had the mouse not have been invented by a British group of outside the box thinkers in the 1960's, then Microsoft might have found it necessary to invent one themselves. Given their track record with Windows, I shudder at that idea. Let’s see, had that happened, would we have progressed through MS Mouse 3.1, MS Mouse 95, MS Mouse 98, etc up through MS Mouse Vista? Ugh.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and, as a thought experiment, envision a world in which the keyboard is the only means of interfacing with a computer. In this world, all commands would be entered only through keyboard shortcut keystroke combinations. In this world, could monitor color choices have progressed beyond 16 colors, given that each available color would need its own keystroke combination?

I will admit I qualify as a technology old timer, if not outright dinosaur, despite only being in my early to mid 50's. When I started my college career as a chemistry major, the highest tech calculating device I used was a pocket slide rule. A year later, when I took a FORTRAN IV programming class, a keypunch was used to record program instructions and test data on 80 column Hollerith punch cards. These, in turn, were entered into the school’s NCR Century 50 small mainframe computer (which filled most of a small room) with a main memory (the term RAM didn’t exist in those days) of 16k of hard-wired ferrite core memory. The impact printer sat on the floor, and generated black capital letters, numbers and a few standard typographical symbols a line at a time on the very wide, green and white striped paper commonly seen in those days. Color printing with multiple fonts and special symbols? Only in science fiction. The university I attended later on used an IBM 370 mainframe, and its 8 platter, 12" wide removable disks held (at that time) an impressive 600 megabytes.

Contrast that with today: instead of discussing main memory in terms of thousands of bytes of true physical memory, now memory is contained in sets of small chips capable of holding billions of bytes of information. Just a few years ago, the debate about the ideal amount of RAM centered on 256 MB vs 512 MB. Now, with the release of Windows Vista the debate over how much RAM is needed has shifted to “which works better: 3 gigabytes or 4?” (Or is that question actually: What is the largest amount of RAM that Vista can still crash?”)

In the late 1990's, typical hard drive capacities topped out in the hundreds of megabytes, and a one gigabyte drive was still in development. Now, hard drive capacities in the hundreds of gigabytes are commonplace and a one trillion byte capacity hard drive is on the market. When the emergent solid state memory technology achieves commercial viability, over time, even one terabyte mechanical hard drives will become obsolete, replaced by solid state drives (SSDs) that will offer storage capacities far beyond mechanical hard drive technology capabilities. By being moving part free, this emergent technology will also be able to provide significantly faster response times. This, in turn, will either challenge engineers to significantly increase front side bus speeds, or develop an entirely new internal data transfer technology capable of keeping up with the SSDs.
My mind feels boggled at times whenever I pause to reflect on the extent to which computer technology has developed and grown since I studied FORTRAN IV. That first computer I successfully programmed lacked the ability to print in color, did not have a monitor, used disk packs the size of a large pizza, and filled a small room. This blog is being revised and finished on a Sony Vaio laptop with a back lit TFT color monitor. Instead of having to go to the computer, I am parked in my easy chair, with this computer parked on my abdomen.

So the question remains: how much of this computer technological growth would have happened in the absence of the mouse?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nativity Scenes on Public Property: Conflict Begins Anew in Olympia, Washington

This is December, which means it is time for rampant consumerism (normally), office parties, Christmas seasonal music old & new, and Christian Nativity scenes on public property. Every year, somewhere in the United States these public nativity scenes evoke challenges and protests of one kind or another. This year is going to be no exception.

This past week a Nativity scene has been set up in Washington State’s Legislative Building in Olympia. Early Friday morning the Freedom From Religion Foundation posted a rather heavy metal sign near the display. Its top sentence, to me, makes a lot of sense: “At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE [caps are in the original] may reason prevail.” In the spirit of fairness, where Christian displays are allowed, other faiths, other viewpoints possess an equal right of access to space for equally tasteful displays.

Still, groups such as the Christian Coalition ceaselessly fight against this access fairness by arguing that such displays, no matter how tasteful, attack religion. Even though the Olympia sign concludes by describing religion as “myth and superstition that hardens the heart and enslaves the mind”, in my opinion, it does not attack religion. Rather, it expresses an opinion, a viewpoint. Under the US Constitution’s First Amendment, public expression of this type of opinion is, or at least should be, Constitutionally protected speech.

What the Christian Coalition and similar groups fail to recognize is that, by maintaining what strikes me as an exclusionary expressive right of public sphere access, they are increasingly proving observations such as the one that concludes the Olympia sign right. The near universal blindness of the more radical Fundamentalist groups never ceases to amaze me. What concerns me is the increasing extent to which many of these groups are diverging from the teachings of the Judao-Christian Scriptures in general, and the Christian New Testament in particular.

I grew up in a strict Christian faith so from childhood on I read the King James version of The Bible on my own. Thus, through the years, I have read, and thought about, the entire text of both Testaments several times. The positions on a number of positions they maintain do not mesh with my readings of Scripture.

On this Olympia flap, I find it amused that one or more local Christians became so incensed over the Freedom From Religion sign that they felt justified in breaking one of the Ten Commandments (Thou Shalt Not Steal). The sign installation was completed by 6:30 am; an hour later it disappeared. A few hours later someone spotted it in a ditch outside town, and dropped it off at a local radio station.

This situation in Olympia strikes me as an extension of the disputes over displays of the Ten Commandments in public places. generally such displays are challenged on the grounds that they promote Christianity to the exclusion of all other faiths and beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, the Ten Commandments descended to Christianity from Judaism, thus they predate the birth of Christianity. For another thing, similar expressions are found in many, if not all, wisdom traditions both east and west. I don’t have access to a Qu’ran, however I suspect that a similar set of commandments appears there as well. Similar guidelines for how to live also appear in Buddhism, the Tao, and probably Hinduism as well. Thus the Ten Commandments need to be seen as universal in nature, which means they promote no specific religion.

Personally I don’t have a problem with tastefully designed displays of the Ten Commandments and Nativity scenes on public property as long as the displays minimize the name of the sponsoring Church (or Churches). Equally, as long as such displays are set up so that viewing is voluntary by all passers by, then I fail to see how they differ from monuments honoring veterans or pioneers mounted on public property.

Perhaps, too, these disagreements during the holiday season underscore the extent to which Christmas has digressed from what it technically is about: the virgin birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Is it time for US society to reevaluate the meaning of the entire holiday season?

Monday, December 1, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update: I Did It!

The subtitle of this post says it all: in less than thirty days I wrote slightly more than 50,000 words toward my first novel. This is a notable accomplishment, given that I reached that level in 23 days of actual writing. Now that I have ascended to the top of Mount NaNoWriMo, my mind feels lost since I no longer have the deadline driving me forward. Even so, this accomplishment feels really, really nice.

Now comes the challenging intellectual weight lifting: editing and polishing this initial draft into a publishable manuscript before the end of next August so I can have a clear desk come September 1st when I will launch a personal challenge: write at least 50,000 nonfiction words on Transgender Civil Rights within the month of September. That will give my mind one month to sketch out what fiction manuscript (or manuscripts) I will tackle when NaNoWriMo 2009 kicks off next November.

So, some in the reading audience may be rightfully wondering, how hard can it be to edit and polish a work of fiction?

The answer: with this project’s challenging goals yet to be addressed, very. I visualize this novel’s overall structure as a woven tapestry made from warp and woof fibers that meet at right angles throughout the cloth. The novel’s background is a fictionalized transsexual autobiography, with flashbacks to earlier generations as appropriate, that forms the warp fibers. The woof fibers will be composed of insights and information from transgender studies research already completed and additional research as needed to fill in the holes. Where appropriate, the autobiographical elements will illustrate the research supported points contained in the woof threads, thereby adhering to the “show, don’t tell” rule of thumb that, when properly applied, produces readable, gripping fiction that is a joy to read.

Now that I have joined the winner’s circle in my initial NaNoWriMo challenge, what new personal challenges exist for next year? It’s true, I could once again shoot for the 50,000 word goal, or, now that I have shown that I can do it, I can up the degree of expectation I place upon my fingers. There are some writers this year who go well beyond the general 50,000 word mark, and a thread on the NaNoWriMo Shoutouts forum provides a place for word counts above 80,000 words to compare notes and encourage each other. Joining that determined group is my target next year.

I’ll admit that the idea of spinning out that many words in one month on one (or two) manuscripts sounds impossible, yet I can see that it is easily attainable. Consider: an average pace of 2,000 words per day produces 60,000 words in one month. This year I found that writing 3,500 words in an evening is an easy pace. Sustained over 30 days, that pace yields 105,000 words. Thus, by limbering up my creative juices next fall, 75,000 to 80,000 words or more will be easily attainable.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

10th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20 (tomorrow), the annual, solemn, unfortunately necessary Transgender Day of Remembrance marks its tenth anniversary. While some local observances occur on other dates in November for one reason or another, still the 20th is the primary date. This annual observance began in 1999 in San Francisco as a means of memorializing a transsexual who was murdered in November, 1998. The groups that maintain the sobering Remembering our Dead web page and the Transgender Day of Remembrance website track the sickening statistics.

In a downloadable Excel spreadsheet (it also opens in Quattro Pro X3), found at the latter website, names (where known), place, date and what is known about each death are all listed. The main table, listing all known homicides worldwide from 1970 to 2008 lists 419 names. In the United States, eight senseless and needless transgender deaths occurred in 2007, including one due to denial of medical treatment at several medical centers in Texas, and one in California that is sickening. An alleged undocumented alien needed an antibiotic to help recover from an HIV-connected illness. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials denied her access to the antibiotic, so she died in US Federal custody. Yet one more example of the extent to which the current Administration showers contempt on basic human decency and morality.

Through November 18, there have been sixteen such homicides in 2008, including one in Syracuse, NY last Friday, November 14. In this latest case, the transsexual and her brother were sitting in a car when they were shot. As of Monday’s update, the brother was still alive. One more sobering estimate exists. As reported last year, while people generally face a less than 0.0055% chance of becoming a homicide victim, transsexuals face about a 10% chance. This shows that a transsexual’s risk of becoming a murder statistic is over 1800 times higher than the people around her. Add to that the estimate I have seen that 60% of all transsexuals have been assaulted, and it can be seen that life truly is uncertain for transsexuals.

Over the last decade a few trans community murders have been turned into movies. Three that I have seen include A Girl Like Me: the Gwen Araujo Story, about a California high school aged male to female transsexual who was tortured, killed and buried by a quartet of male classmates, Boys Don’t Cry, a telling of the short life of Brandon Teena, a female to male transsexual brutally murdered in a small town in Nebraska solely because of his difference, and Soldier’s Girl, about US Army Private Brandon Winchell, beaten to death with a baseball bat by mentally unstable members of his unit because he was dating a male to female nightclub singer/entertainer at a bar near their Kentucky base. Even though he wasn’t transsexual, I feel it is appropriate to include his name on the list since his acceptance of a transsexual as normal directly led to his death.

When will this senseless killing stop? It would be a definite benefit to the transgender community if this astronomical homicide rate could be brought back down to a level comparable to the rest of society in a year or two. That, however, is sadly unrealistic. For that to happen, human societies worldwide will need to become more accepting of human diversity in all of its complexities, and will need to learn greater tolerance of individual differences.

Having said that, I choose to be optimistic that humanity will, in time, reach that level of healthiness. In 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (a childhood hero in my eyes) spoke eloquently of a time when people would be judged on the content of their character, not their skin color. Within me, his eloquent dream lives on, and will live on as long as I live. Building on his dream, I dream of a time when people outgrow the need to judge their fellow human beings.

Scattered across the globe, various appropriate ceremonies will be held to remember the fallen. Not surprisingly, no announced ceremonies or observances are planned in Idaho, where I live. In light of the wide-spread bigotry and resistance to change in this state, it will be quite a while before any events like this can be planned.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update: 50,000 words are in sight

November moved into its second half this weekend. This means that the 125,000 or so participants in this year’s National Novel Writing Month project need to be very close to the 25,000 word mark in their manuscripts to have a realistic chance of hitting the 50,000 word target by the close of November.

I am in good shape in this respect. As of this evening, my word count has topped 31,700 words, so in my mind the countdown is on. I am reaching the home stretch, and my personal goal of reaching the 50,000 word mark by Thanksgiving eve (a week from this Wednesday) is in sight. To pull that off, I need to add about 18,300 words (or more). Given that there are ten days left in which to reach this target, I would need to average about 1,830 words a day. Given that I have been averaging a little over 2,000 words a day since I started on November 2, this is eminently doable.

So now it becomes pertinant to reflect on what I have learned or discovered during the course of this year’s project. Actually, plenty. First, I have confirmed for myself that I am, in fact, a writer. Even NaNoWriMo veterans make that observation. If a participant finds the challenge to be fun, and, perhaps, not that hard, then odds are that participant is a writer. To me, once I hit my stride last week, I found the pace to be rather easy. For example, to write 50,000 words in exactly 30 days, a pace of 1,700 words (or a little less) a day is needed. Last week, on successive evenings I wrote about 7,100 words combined, and did not feel stressed by that pace.

One question that came up on one of the website’s forum boards concerns the use (or non use) of outlines. I noticed that virtually all of the participants who added relies don’t use outlines, for one reason or another. I approached this manuscript much like I have launched term papers in school: when it came to the actual writing, I simply jumped in and started writing. I find written outlines to be a distraction so I disdain their use. With this manuscript, writing without an outline has given the writing the flexibility to unfold as it chooses. While this might sound like a chaotic situation (and a couple of times it felt that way), actually out of that essentially free-form writing style I have gained a number of fresh perspectives and insights that will be immensely useful for me.

This year’s manuscript is a fictionalized transsexual autobiography with a wrinkle. When finished, my current intention is to use the autobiography as a backdrop for an investigation into possible biological and social antecedents of transsexual identity formation, with an examination of the "absent father figure" as a contributing factor. In parallel with this, I am planning on exploring the interplay between family emotional dysfunctionality and transsexual identity formation. I am getting a sense that inter-generational transmission of emotional memories (parent to child, possibly even grandparent to grandchild) is emerging as an issue to be examined.

In other words, once the 50,000 word mark has been surpassed, and has been confirmed by the website servers, which will add my name to the list of this year’s winners, a fairly significant amount of additional research will need to be done as well as the editing (and additional writing) process. Yes, this does sound like a mountain of work still to be done before this manuscript will reach the point of publish ability. So the question is: have I set a target deadline for completion of this project? Yes: October 31, 2009, so I can step back, take a breath, load up on caffeine, and, a few seconds into November 2009, begin writing next year’s NaNoWriMo winning manuscript.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

National Novel Writing Month: 50,000 words in 30 Days

November of every year is when this open competition takes place. The ground rules all participants must adhere to are simple: write 50,000 (or more) words of a new novel, provided that the only words that can be included in the official word count must be written between November 1 and November 30. The sponsors stress that in November the focus is on quantity not quality; December is for editing.

This is my first year of participation, having just learned of its existence while browsing the deeply engrossing blogs hosted by on November 1. After thinking about it for a bit, I signed on shortly before midnight, then begain writing in the wee small hours of November 2. In the first seven days of writing, my word count has gone from 0 to 14,000 plus, so, yeah, I am quite confident I will hit the target on time, and will join the thousands of other winners.

During November, if long gaps of time develop between posts on this blog, it's because I am up to my hair follicles chipping away toward the 50,000 word target one word at a time. Still, I find the fiction writing process to be quite enjoyable (so far), and, since this first manuscript is intended to use my trans autobiography as a backdrop for exploring the interplay between family dysfunctionality and trans identity development as well as the question about the nature and nurture aspects of transgendered identity formation. Suffice to say, this first 50,000 words is just that -- the first 50,000.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Finally, the Elections Are Over, And Hope Has a Chance

The American elections reached their Election Day conclusion today. Several hours earlier than I expected, the Presidential race ended when Republican John McCain called Democrat Barack Obama to congratulate him, then publically conceded the election. This means that the 44th US President will be its first African-American occupant of the Oval Office. In the final days of the campaign the current economic mess trumped all other campaign issues.

So now the transition, and the healing can begin. I feel that, with the Obama victory, hope has a chance. We saw that during the dust up between Russia and Georgia earlier this year. When McCain was asked how he would respond to the situation if he was President, his response was predictably militaristic, and involved sending US troops into Georgia, to side with the Georgians. Barack Obama’s response to the same question centered on seeking a peaceful resolution through diplomatic means.

While exit polls appear to indicate that economic concerns formed the top issue in voters minds, still I wonder about the subconscious impact candidate health had on the outcome. The fact that John McCain is 72, and has had four malignant melanoma skin cancer surgeries had to be a background concern, at least in the minds of some voters. The extent of its influence on the more medically aware voters will never be known.

Still, tonight, the United States faces a better future because enough responsible citizens saw through the last minute mud slinging from the Republican side and cast a decisive vote for the candidate of change. Now let the international healing begin.

Finally, tonight, there is even better news: in 77 days the Bush nightmare finally will end. More importantly he has only 15 days left in which his administration can make "economically significant" policy and Federal rule changes. After November 20, any such changes become draft proposals for the next President to act on.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Two Days To Go Before the Counting (And Recounts, Challenges, etc) Begins

Two days from today it will be Election Day in the United States. The general sentiment among state election officials is that this years turnout will be significantly heavier than in many recent elections. Whether this is an accurate assessment can only be known once all of the votes have been counted and the actual per cent age of registered voters who voted is determined.

At this point, two things are certain. First, in each contested race there will be one winner and at least one looser. In the race for President either Barack Obama will win, which means John McCain will lose, or vice versa. Second, I feel the Presidential outcome will not be known with any certainty until the states of Oregon, Washington and California declare their respective states’ winner. If this is the case, given that the polls on the west coast don’t close until 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, on the east coast (where big media is concentrated), it could easily be two or three am before the outcome is known.

However, as we have seen with recent Presidential elections, even then the outcome might remain up in the air. Should John McCain appear to win, I look for Democratic challenges to the outcome in possibly several states, alleging tampering with electronic voting machines. Already, I am seeing multiple references to videos circulating on the Internet showing touch screen units changing votes cast for Obama to votes for McCain. So 2008 might end up being a replay of 2000, with the Courts deciding who will be the next US President.

My embracing of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism has been on-going for some time. For me, it is far healthier and down to earth than Christianity, the faith of my youth. I am surviving this pivotal national election cycle with far less psychological distress than in recent years because the core Buddhist teaching "all is impermanent" helps me keep things in perspective. Whoever occupies the Oval Office next will do so only for a short period of time, then fade into history.
I’ve subscribed to Tricycle: the Buddhist Review for several years now. On their excellent website, they offer a free series of e-mails called the Tricycle Daily Dharma, which is a series of short passages presenting various aspects of overall Dharma. The November 1 Daily Dharma provides an interesting additional way of looking at this year’s election outcomes.

Joseph Goldstein, author of the book Insight Meditation, where this passage first appeared, illustrated the difference between perception and mindfulness. Briefly, when perception outweighs mindfulness, the mind recognizes various appearance-guided artificial concepts. To build on his main example, in the Northern Hemisphere nighttime sky, on a clear night it is relatively easy to identify a constellation called the Big Dipper. It takes its name form the shape a particular set of stars forms in the sky. While this artificial concept helps identify this set of stars, allowing one to become attached to this concept causes these stars to stand out and become separated from the rest of the stars. This, in turn, causes the observer to lose sight of the oneness and the wholeness of the universe.

These thoughts are helping me see the US elections in a different, and far less stressful, light. In the Presidential race between Obama and McCain, supporters of each carry perceptions that their candidate is right and the other candidate is wrong. The same can be said about the policies each side is promoting. These positions arise out of perceptions, not mindfulness. When the final winner is determined, supporters of the victor will see the outcome as a victory for all Americans, while the loser’s supporters will see only gloom and doom ahead.

So what future does exist for the United States? I am not a psychic, so I don’t know. What I do know comes from US history, particularly over the last 40 years or so. Every newly elected US President has entered office will a specific set of goals and plans to accomplish while in office. Under the US system, all such ideas must gain the approval of Congress before taking effect. More often than not, that is the black hole where Presidential ideas get lost in petty partisanship. Thus, it really doesn’t matter who wins, the new President will still have the US Congress to deal with. To the winner: good luck.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sarah Silverman and "white" comedy: reactions

Last Thursday I reflected on this site about the Netflix entry on the quirky Stuff White People Like blog. At the time I also mentioned another entry on the list about Sarah Silverman as an example of white people's taste in humor.

With its new season now airing on Comedy Central, I have begun watching her The Sarah Silverman Program. While her character strikes me as quirky, free-spirited and light hearted, I do not get most of her humor. Perhaps it is a generational thing, perhaps it is a background cultural thing. Her program is set in suburban California (near as I can tell), while I grew up almost entirely in small town/rural Idaho. In general, my observation for some time is that the things Californians see as comedic/hilarious Idahoans don't, and vice versa.

Then there is the generational factor. I was born during the 1950's. Thus I was a young, impressionable youth during American comedy's golden era, when comedy actually was funny and quotable without bleeps, or a lingo translations list. Where Gen X and Gen Y relate to contemporary comics and comedy programs exclusively, I still recall the classic work of such grand masters as Abbott & Costello, Jack Benny, Bergin & McCarthy, Burns & Abbott, and Fibber McGee & Molly. I must admit that much of contemporary stand-up comedy leaves me going "huh?"

As a result I am not certain about how I classify Sarah Silverman's current program. There is an undercurrent of drama woven into the comedy. Thus, to me, it is not a pure comedy, and it is not a pure drama either. Even so, I still enjoy it and plan to keep watching.

Still, to return to the premise of the entry: can types of comedy people enjoy be accurately categorized racially? Granted, there are comics that draw predominantly African-American audiences. In my eyes, that is a good thing for every racial group and every nationality needs its stress relief outlets. However, there are cross-over comedians and comedic actors who appeal to a far broader, mixed racial audience. Eddy Murphy comes to mind in this regard. I am white, and still Eddy Murphy's movies always crack me up because of his knack for perfect timing of comments, etc. For that matter, I question whether it even makes sense to try to categorize comedy as "white comedy", "African-American comdey", etc.

Along this same line, two final examples that may help disprove the validity of comedy/humor classification along racial (or any other) lines come from American TV programs. One now regarded as a classic comedy is the sit-com Sanford & Son, which revolved around Fred Sanford, an African-American junk dealer and his long-suffering son. This is one of the best comedies ever produced because it addressed a braod variety of stereotypes, both positive and negative, in a light hearted manner. I have enjoyed it throughly since it first aired decades ago. Personally, I feel it would have been far less funny had all of the characters been white, even though most of the stereotypes would have been the same.

The other counter example (in my mind) is the new program Chocolate News on Comedy Central. This is a deliberately tongue-in-cheek African American spoof of network news magazine programs. Its deft weaving of factual information into the background of rather outrageous claims strikes me as hilarious and definitely worth watching. The fact that it is African-American themes and produced, in my opinion, adds to its enjoyable charm.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"White People Like Netflix?" Say Wha???

A little while ago I stumbled onto a satirical blog primarily composed of Stuff White People Like ( Its author has compiled a list of 110 plus things that supposedly are liked by all white people, suggesting that other raced don't. Whether this is completely true or not probably cannot be definitively proved, nor should it be.

To me, this delightfully weird -- and very popular -- blog is a spoof of all of the "Top 10" lists floating around. While claiming to be scientific, the entries have a very definite toungue-in-cheek nature to them. All of the items on the list have attracted lengthy strings of reader comments, many of which attract comments on their own.

While I cannot attest to the rightness or wrongness of every item on the list, two I see as worthy of a response.

#39 on the list is Netflix, the DVD rental by mail business in the US. This item has attracted over 300 comments since its appearance in January of this year, including some posted today. Obviously, there are people who love Netflix (I fall in that category), those who don't, and some who basically are saying "What's the big deal, anyway?"

I have been a Netflix member since December 2006. Since then, I have rented over 200 DVDs from them. Almost without exception, the replacement disks arrive in my mailbox exactly two days after the disks I am returning go in the mail.

Some of the comments I read came from people who experienced delivery problems, etc. I wonder how many of those people actually read their e-mail? (In order to sign on as a Netflix customer, an active e-mail address is required.) This is a Netflix strength that they don't promote enough: Netflix does not leave its members in the dark about things we need to know.

The way it works is this: say I send a disk back on Monday. It normally arrives at the nearest distribution center early on Tuesday morning. As soon as it has been processed by Netflix Receiving, an automated e-mail message is sent to my in box confirming its receipt. Then, later that same day, when its replacement disk is ready to go into the mail, a second e-mail message is automatically sent, announcing which DVD is coming, and when they expect it to arrive. On occasion, the next disk isn't immediately available locally. Rather than make me wait for it to show up locally, Netflix forwards the shipment order on to whichever distribution center has it in stock. Then, they send an e-mail apprising me of this fact, including where it will be coming from, and their estimate of when it should arrive. I have had this happen a few times, and, regardless of the extra distance it has to travel, every time, the disk has arrived on the day they estimated.

Still, this tongue-in-cheek, all-in-good-fun look at Netflix leaves me with one question: how do other races feel about Netflix?

As to the other item on the list that I can comment on (#52, Sarah Silverman) I will blog about after the latest installment of her show later tonight on Comedy Central.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Verbal Predators: Nuisance or Threat?

This personally reflective post arises out of a chain of comments posted at A. E. Brain, an excellent blog out of Australia. Its author is a sister male to female TS. This past week an anonymous commenter has been posting a series of virteolic comments that can be seen as verbal attacks on the entire TS community.

This series of comments -- and the first one in particular -- got me to reflecting on the point at which being argumentative crosses a line and becomes verbal predatory behavior. To the best of my knowledge, the psych and legal communities have yet to recognize such behavior as a separate issue. Still, in the sense I am discussing it here, a verbal predator is one who uses written or spoken comments to repeatedly attack another person (or a group of people sharing a common characteristic) for the sole purpose of tearing them down in some way.

In my younger years, I have been around more than a few such individuals. One common characteristic I noticed is that such people cannot be reasoned with or engaged in rational discourse. Such people, in my observation-based opinion, feel small, unappreciated, powerless and maligned in some way by society. These people give the impression that they see tearing down the haves in some way as the only way they can feel good about themselves. So they attack with their words. An out of control ego, which causes the individual to see himself as more important and powerful than he actually is, also fuels such behavior.

Such misguided individuals appear to be completely oblivious to the chaos their verbal jousting causes. For some, unfortunately, they are aware of their effect on others, and simply do not care.

It appears to me that these people specialize in leading the unrelenting attacks on the entire GLBT coommunity by extremist Christian Fundamentalists, particularly in the US. (Come to think about it, these are the same people still railing againt abortion as well.) When these individuals' excess verbiage is stripped away, it becomes clear that they are arguing on subjects about which they understand very little and know even less.

Such prople are potential threats to progress in the securing of civil and legal rights for transsexuals world wide. Through being excessively vocal, they provide a rallying point for others who oppose the extension of these rights. Unfortunately, American politicians paradoxically tend to give their unsupported rants far more credence than the well-researched and presented, factually accurate information we can provide.

While this blog is set to allow unmoderated comments from anyone, even prople signing themselves "Anonymous," I do hope that comment posters will identify themselves by a first name (at least.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Every Blog Needs an Icebreaker

Hello, blog-reading world!

This post is my personal introduction to the blogosphere from the perspective of a blog host. My blog's title is meant to indicate that this blog will, over time, explore a wide ranging varitey of topics drawn from current affairs, social sciences, science, the humanities broadly defined and whatever else tweaks my interest.

I encourage others to respond to these posts as you feel inspired. All comments are welcome as long as flaming is kept to a minimum. There is value in negative feedback alongside positive for in their juxtaposition arises well-reasoned discourse. Indeed, as time goes by, I will do everything in my power to respond to any questions submitted to me in a timely manner, with only one exception. Any question that contains either questionable or vulgar language, or can be seen as a hate-derived attack will be ignored.

This exception will be enforced by me in part to preserve the integrity-rooted value of this blog and in part to ensure absolute adherence to this site's content policies. I have read their complete statement and, in my opinion, are brilliant in their clarity and fairness.