Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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I wonder what she wants?

On Wednesday morning around 8:40, the front doorbell rang. On opening it I saw a youngish middle aged, smartly dressed woman. Her hair dark hair, as was her attire and even her makeup. She was carrying a ring-binder folder in one hand and what appeared to be a guitar case in the other.

For the life of me I couldn’t think of a reason why such a person should be calling. Door to door sales people are a rare as hens’ teeth these days, and the guitar case kind of ruled out an official visit from some sort of authority. The possibility of this being a religious caller sprung to mind, but they usually arrive in pairs, and  such visitors turn up less than once a year.

Within two seconds of opening the door, I was leaning towards this being someone on a personal campaign, a survey of some sort, or someone representing a charity, but why the guitar case? To be honest I was puzzled by her presence, And I wondered what the purpose of her calling was all about.

Just then my peripheral vision caught something rapidly approaching from my left. Just as I began to turn my head to see what was bearing down on me with undue speed, the woman spoke.

 

“Hi Dad!”

That cleared it all up. The visitor was our daughter, and that object approaching at near the speed of sound was Milo, her Whippet/Labrador cross.

If you’re thinking that I rarely see our daughter, you’re wrong. She typically drops in four or five times each week. Nor was her appearance any different from what it normally is when she calls in before work, and that occurs at least twice each week when she drops off Milo. So why didn’t I recognise her?

Two obvious clues:  (1) Milo had been distracted by something she saw or smelled, and wasn’t at the door when I opened it; (2) I didn’t see our daughter’s car coming up our driveway. Either of these are conditions that prepare me to expect the visitor to be our daughter. Always, as it was in this case, her voice is what confirms her identity.

Face blindness, or Prosopagnosia affects about 2% of the general population, but is much more prevalent among those on the autism spectrum. I rely on features such as gait, mannerisms, body size and shape, but especially voice to recognise others.

Some clues such as hair style and colour, and skin tone are less reliable, especially with women, as they have a tendency to change these from time to time. This has lead to some of my most embarrassing moments. With women, even gait changes depending on the height of the heels they’re wearing. I’m very grateful that my wife does not like wearing heels, and even on occasions when heels are expected they’re only about 3 cm high (a little over an inch high) and doesn’t change her gait significantly.

I’m also grateful that she’s much shorter that almost every other adult (1.47 m or 4′ 10″), and has a gait typical of many Japanese farming families of her generation. Lets just say that the Western view of deportment was not a consideration. Both these characteristics help me pick her out in a crowd, but it’s her voice that truly identifies her. The accent and volume are very distinctive.

Couple face blindness with an inability to read facial clues and a similar inability to display them, and I find myself at a considerable disadvantage in social interactions. Unfortunately this is one area I have made very little improvement on through experience or experimentation.

I’m no better today than I was sixty years ago as a ten year old boy. Way back then first impressions of me ranged from odd, peculiar or quirky to just scary – the latter especially so if I made the first attempt at communication; it was safer to wait for others to make an approach. I would like to think I have made an improvement with first impressions since then, but have I?


Oh, and on the off chance that you’re wondering about the guitar case: On Wednesdays, I pick up the grand children from school. The guitar case, its content, and the ring binder belong to our granddaughter who has guitar lessons after school on that day.

Time hasn’t help me improve the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test linked to above. I typically score somewhere in the vicinity of  12 out of 36 (the median for males is 21/36). I tried the test today when searching for the link, but today and I achieved a lowly 7/36. I could probably done better by covering the images and randomly choosing one of the  four emotions provided for each image.

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Abortion law reform passes first reading

The first reading of the abortion reform legislation has just passed 94 votes to 23. It was a conscience vote, meaning MPs were not required to vote down party lines.

Source: Abortion law reform passes first reading


Although 94 votes to 23 might seem like overwhelming support to non-Kiwi readers, this is not how we do things. After a bill passes its first reading it’s referred to a Select Committee where it is considered in detail and where interested parties can make submissions. This process can typically take around six months. This is the forum where the issues are debated, and the public are listened to. Rarely does a bill pass through this stage without some changes. Shutting down debate does not resolve issues – it’s more likely to harden prejudices.

The Committee process will see and hear submissions from all sides including health professionals, women’s groups, the legal profession, social workers, members of the public – in fact, anyone who wishes to have a say on the matter. MPs (Members of Parliament), whether they support or oppose the legislation understand this, and realise that without reasoned discussion, an informed decision cannot be made. Many, but not all, are open to persuasion based on the facts presented.

I expect the vote at the final reading will be much closer, perhaps 65 votes to 55.


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Practicalities of abortion law reform

Somewhere between one in three and one in four women in Aotearoa New Zealand will seek and have a legal abortion at some time in their life. A decade ago, there were almost 21 abortions per year per 1000 women of child bearing ages, but  has been declining since. Last year it was 13 per 1000. Better education and contraceptives have seen a dramatic drop in teenage abortions while abortions in women in their twenties and thirties have risen slightly. Our abortion rates are not too different from countries in North America or western Europe, but unlike in the US, abortion here is a crime.

The law as it is now

The Crimes Act 1961 determines the grounds for an abortion under 20 weeks, which can be serious danger to life, any form of incest or sexual relations with a guardian, mental sub normality and foetal abnormality. Extremes of age and sexual violation can also be taken into account but aren’t grounds in themselves.

After 20 weeks gestation the grounds are different. Abortions can only be performed to save the life of the mother or to prevent serious permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother.

The law is an ass

Around 98% of abortions are perform on mental health grounds, and are essentially a means of getting around the current criminal nature of abortions. The Dunedin longitudinal study reveals that the most common reason given for having an abortion was not being ready, followed by relationship reasons, including being in the wrong relationship and being alone. In other words the law is an ass. The law should be either enforced or changed.

And here we differ markedly from the trend that we observe is going on in America. In early 2018, Andrew Little, the Minister of justice, asked the Law Commission to provide advice on what alternative approaches could be taken to ensure New Zealand’s abortion laws are consistent with treating abortion as a health issue.

Law Commission recommendations

Earlier this year, the Commission presented its ministerial briefing paper and offered three possible models:

  • Under Model A there would be no statutory test that must be satisfied before an abortion could be performed. The decision whether to have an abortion would be made by the woman concerned in consultation with her health practitioner.
  • Under Model B there would be a statutory test. The health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Under Model C, there would be no statutory test until 22 weeks of a pregnancy. After 22 weeks, the health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Regardless of which model may be preferred, the briefing paper sets out several other changes that could be made to align the law with a health approach to abortion. They include:

  • Repealing the current grounds for abortion in the Crimes Act.
  • Removing the requirement for abortions to be authorised by two specially appointed doctors called ‘certifying consultants’.
  • Repealing the criminal offences in the Crimes Act relating to abortion. Instead, other offences in the Crimes Act and health legislation that currently exist would protect women from unsafe abortions. If Model B or C is adopted, an additional offence could be introduced in health legislation for people who perform abortions that don’t meet the statutory test. In no case would the woman be subject to an offence.
  • Allowing women to access abortion services directly, rather than having to get a referral from a doctor as they do under the current law.
  • Removing the current restrictions around who may perform an abortion and where abortions must be performed. Instead, the provision of abortion services would be regulated by appropriate health bodies, the same as any other health care procedure.
  • Moving the Abortion Supervisory Committee’s oversight responsibilities to the Ministry of Health.
  • Requiring health practitioners who do not wish to provide health services in relation to abortion because of a conscientious objection to refer women to someone who can provide the service.

The full briefing paper can be found here.

The art of the possible

The legislation that is to be introduced into the parliament is essentially model C with all the suggested changes, but with the statutory test being at 20 weeks instead of 22. Andrew Little would have preferred model A, but politics is the art of the possible. It’s unlikely that a bill based on model A would be able to make its way through all stages of the process required to make it law. He’s indicated that the 20 week threshold was another of those compromises he needed to make to gain support from some members of parliament, notably members of the New Zealand First party. While the reforms might not be ideal, it’s certainly far better than keeping the status quo. As the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern commented “Ultimately, it is about putting something to Parliament that has the strongest likelihood of succeeding. This issue should not be in the Crimes Act.”

Polls indicate that around 70% to 75% of the NZ adult population favour decriminalising abortion, but to what degree liberalisation should occur is less clear. However, as elsewhere, those opposing reform are by far the loudest. In this country opposition is not entirely along religious or gender lines.

Passage through parliament

If the bill passes its first reading it will be referred to a select committee, which can then take months to hear submissions from all interested parties, and you can be sure that on this topic there will be a great many submissions. It’s most likely the the select committee stage will be a prolonged affair, as more that the usual numbers supporters and opponents will wish to make vocal submissions as well as written ones. This can be expected on issues where emotions run high.

After the select committee process the bill then has to pass the second and third reading before being passed into law, and as the minister of justice admits, there’s no guarantee that this will happen. However, it’s very unlikely that he would introduce the legislation unless he believed there was a better than even chance that it would get through all stages. Time will tell if he is correct.


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Come on then, I dare you…

I am reasonably tech savvy. I worked in the I.T. industry for 35 years providing technical support in the banking and retailing sector, and although I retired from the industry almost 20 years ago, I have retained an interest in it, and in computing in general.

So when my Spam filter catches an email such as the one below, I sigh, knowing every claim made is absolutely false. I don’t need to fear that there might be a chance that what I view online will be disclosed to anyone I might (or might not) know.

While I prefer to keep my online browsing preferences private, there is nothing that would be terribly embarrassing or worse if others were to discover them. And to ensure that I don’t stumble across websites I’d rather not see, my home network makes use of DNS filtering through OpenDNS.

It’s not perfect. I stumbled upon copies of the Christchurch shooter’s live streaming of the event when it appeared on popular social media sites in the days after the incident, even here on WordPress. But for me personally, I appreciate the high level of selective filtering it provides, so the chances of any user on my home network being able to view an online pornographic video are remote.

Leaving aside the remote possibility of anyone watching porn from my home network, let alone my computer, and for the benefit of the scammer, here’s why the email can safely be ignored:

Hello,

Hello to you too. If you had access to my computer as claimed further below, I’d expect you to know my name, and to use it to prove the legitimacy of your claim. Using a salutation without my name is the first indication that you really know nothing about me

As you may have noticed, I sent this email from your email account (if you didn’t see, check the from email id). In other words, I have fullccess to your email account.

No you didn’t. Spoofing the from address is an extremely simple and trivial process. Every email client (even Outlook Express)  provides an easy means of doing so. Besides, a quick check of the email header, provides all the information I need to know that the message originated somewhere other than my own email account. In this particular case you relayed your email via a Yahoo mail server located in the USA.

I infected you with a malware a few months back when you visited an adult site, and since then, I have been observing your actions.

Really? Even on the very remote chance that I accidentally came across an “adult” site and that the site contained malware you had inserted, the odds of it being code that could infect my computer are orders of magnitude smaller. I don’t use a popular Web browser and I don’t use a popular operating system. While no operating system is perfect, any vulnerabilities discovered in Linux are patched almost immediately. This is one of the advantages of using an open source operating system. So unless your code is targeted specially towards Linux, and is using some as yet unidentified vulnerability that you discovered more than a year ago, it’s simply not possible to install malware at the operating system level.

The malware gave me full access and control over your system, meaning, I can see everything on your screen, turn on your camera or microphon and you won’t even notice about it.

Even in the extremely remote chance that malware has been installed, and that it had managed to gain root access when my logon user ID hasn’t, nor do any of the applications, including web browsers, have root access, your claim that the malware was capable of manipulating my camera and microphone is laughable, You see, there needs to be a camera or microphone for you to manipulate. There isn’t. But ignoring that inconvenient truth, shall we continue?

I also have access to all your contacts.

Aside from having access to a nonexistent camera, your malware, you would need to have an intimate knowledge of my operating system, and the software installed. Your malware would have to know what software I use for my contacts and where on the system the information was stored. Give me that information and I might believe you.

Why your antivirus did not detect malware?
It’s simple. My malware updates its signature every 10 minutes, and there is nothing your antivirus can do about it.

As I run Linux on my computer, I have no need for antivirus software. You also clearly don’t understand what a signature is. It is not something within your malware. It’s something antivirus applications create from information gleaned from malware. It doesn’t matter how much your malware modifies bits of its code, the antivirus folk are clever enough to figure out how the modifications are made and build in a suitable method of identification. And as you have been sending me identical messages for more than a year, I have every confidence that if in fact there was any malware at all, every antivirus application would have long ago figured out how to identify it. So I have every confidence that even if I did run a version of Windows or MacOS, which I don’t, I would be well protected by any antivirus program I chose.

I made a video showing both you (through your webcam) and the video
you were watching (on the screen) while satisfying yourself.
With one click, I can send this video to all your contacts (email, social network, and messengers you use).

I’m rather fascinated by your claim. In fact I look forward to viewing said video. I’ve looked and looked, but for the life of me, I cannot find this web cam. Can you enlighten me?

You can prevent me from doing this.
To stop me, transfer $989 to my bitcoin address.
If you do not know how to do this, Google – “Buy Bitcoin”.

My bitcoin address (BTC Wallet) is 1Hmn2KAK2Z3VjkpMz26nmh9KVAV6KqYiYp

If you have access to my computer, could you not have simply accessed my bank account and my credit card details?  The username and password for my online banking are stored in encrypted form within my web browser and surely it would be a trivial matter for you to obtain it, especially if you have access at the operating system level. You wouldn’t even need to decrypt the password. With your supposed knowledge it should be a trivial exercise to fool the browser into decoding it for you.

After receiving the payment, I will delete the video,
and you will never hear from me again.
You have 48 hours to pay. Since I already have access to your system
I now know that you have read this email, so your countdown has begun.

As it’s been close to 9000 hours since I received your first email, and I have received around to 200 subsequent messages, why should I believe this 48 hour deadline is any more final than all the others? It’s quite obvious that you have no idea whether or not I have read your message. The most common technique for knowing if an email has been read is by embedding web link to a transparent 1 x 1 gif. My email application does not display linked images by default. I have to explicitly enable it for each message. The other common technique is to include a flag requesting an acknowledgement when an email is read. My email application is configured to never send an acknowledgement. Besides, I read the contents of your email from within my online Spam filtering system control panel, which, not being an email client, can not open links nor send acknowledgements.

Filing a complaint will not do any good
because this email cannot be tracked.
I have not made any mistakes.

You fail to understand how emails are sent. I can tell exactly the last server and location that the message passed through before it arrived at my mail server (yes, I have my own mail server). Armed with that information and the cooperation of email server hosts, I can track the message to a vpn and beyond, or to a compromised computer. I’ll concede that I’m unlikely to find your identity, but that’s of little concern.

If I find that you have shared this message with someone else, I will immediately send the video to all of your contacts.

Well, as you can see I have shared it. Come on then, send the video. I dare you.

Take care

Of what?

Some further details for those still reading: Some of the messages contain a username and password that I possibly did use many years ago, but not in the last ten years. Over the three decades that I have had online access (does anyone remember NCSA Mosaic?), I have been notified a few times that a website I use has been hacked and and there’s a remote chance that user credentials might have been compromised. This is the most likely source of the user credentials included in some of the scam attempts. In most cases, they have been sites that I had stopped using, but even in the two cases where I am still an active user, I’m not particularly concerned.

You see, I never use the same username and password on more than one site. Yes folk, I’m one of those nerds that use a different user ID and password for every website, and for every computer login. Perhaps I’m fortunate in that I also own several domain names, and can create an unlimited number of email addresses. So even though a great many websites now require an email address as the user ID, I can still create a unique email address/user ID for each and every site.

What the scammer probably doesn’t realise is that every Spam filtering system worth its salt, now recognises such messages as Spam, and will have done so for many months. The intended recipient is unlikely to even see these blackmail attempts.


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Believe the Internet

I’ve always known the Internet to be a rich and accurate source of information. Today it revealed something that I wasn’t aware of, or had forgotten:

I have a PhD in history.

I don’t actually recall studying for it, but according to this test, my 100% correct result came about because of my education level; that being the said PhD. As more than half the questions were about American history, I presume my thesis was related to that, or perhaps I studied in an American university. I have no recollection of either, but a perfect score is unequivocal evidence of my great intellect.

Now where did I put my certificate and my thesis?


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“You and mum help make this happen”

These were the words my daughter used to accompany a video clip sent to me via WhatsApp earlier today. To me they are very humbling words indeed. This is not because in any way we were directly involved in facilitating “this” to happen, although perhaps there is an indirect link in that we provided child care and dog sitting services at times to enable her to make “this” happen.

Instead I would like to think that what she is showing appreciation for is in regards to the values we encouraged her to develop, and which she expresses – participation in “this” being but one example. I’m uncomfortable using the word “proud” for my part in her development because it can be used in ways that are closer to boasting, and I don’t want to imply that our daughter is who she is simply because we as her parents made her that way.

I’m convinced that the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is accurate, and as parents, we are just one of the many influences that have played out in our children’s and grandchildren’s lives. And even in saying that, we have to acknowledge that we too are products of the environment in which we developed, including parents, whānau, and the wider community. So I cannot claim be the originator of any of the values my offspring hold dear. At best, I’ve been a conduit, and perhaps, only in a very small way, an enabler.

I acknowledge that I have often fallen short as a parent, and it has been my children who have shown me how to be a better parent and human being, and for that I will be forever grateful. And yet our daughter takes a moment to say “You and mum help make this happen”. I can’t find a word or phrase that describes my reaction to her statement, but I hope the sentiments are clear enough from what I have written here.


As to the “this” referred to above, I have been contemplating whether or not to identify the occasion. My reason is that I’m somewhat anonymous on this blog. Although there’s enough information available for anyone to discover my real identity if they had a mind to, it would take a small amount of work to do so. And the possibility of someone who knows me stumbling across this blog is extremely small.

Experience during my formative years taught me to be cautious about how I expressed myself, and I learnt the hard way that there are boundaries (which I still can’t always recognise) that can’t be crossed without very unpleasant consequences. Although I believe our society is far more tolerant and liberal today, the caution within me remains. The relative anonymity provided by this blog allows me to express views that I would be reluctant to share in the “real world”.

But in light of the fact that “this” is a public expression opposing the very thing that makes me so cautious, I cannot help but feel duty-bound to share it here, even at the risk of making my identity easier to discover. I could perhaps not mention that our daughter identifies herself by name and role in one of the Facebook video clips linked to below, but I want to publicly acknowledge that one of my greatest teachers about life has been my daughter, which is why I find her statement humbling.

“This” refers to a local street party declaring that bullying is not acceptable. It is never “character building”. Its only function is to cause harm.

   


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Is the world order is being ripped to shreds?

In 1844 Manuscripts, Karl Marx said communism is radical humanism, and we need to use machines to create a situation where we do as little work as possible thus freeing ourselves from necessity – individual human freedom is the goal.

On her Nine to Noon slot this morning, Kathryn Ryan talked with Paul Mason about his new book Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being where he argues it’s not too late to stem the chaos and disorder that appears to be on the rise worldwide.

Mason says the world order is being ripped to shreds by an alliance of ethnic nationalists, women-haters and authoritarian leaders who are harnessing the power of machines and algorithms to do it.

In a wide ranging interview, the two discuss the rise and rise of leaders such as Trump, Putin, Erdoğan and Jinping; the influence of right wing neo liberalism and our acquiescence to its manipulation of information in the belief that it is the bastion of free speech, and even more importantly, freedom of thought; similarities to, and differences from, the rise of right wing ideologies in the decades prior to WW2 and now; social media algorithms and how they influence us; what being human is; and more.

Mason suggests that today’s elites realise the current system is not working for them and by supporting the likes of Trump, a system of capitalistic anarchy will rise in its place that promotes the interests of, you guessed it, the elite. He tells why we need a new theory of the human being and how people can help back with small acts of defiance.

Even if you disagree with his ideas, I think you will find them thought provoking. You can hear the whole podcast Why human beings need to resist the machines [32m 18s]


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Wow! I’m not into poetry, but very occasionally something speaks to my condition (to use a Quaker term). I am quite familiar with the experience described below. Bombardment of the senses, especially in social settings, is something many on the autism experience.

The hourglass is set, sand fills the corners of my eyes. Dust particles react to the sounds like fairies grouping around a newborn. Swarming, the buzz can sometimes be unbearable and all I want to do is wake up. But no matter how hard I pinch or how sharp a pin I prick myself with […]

via Overcrowded — Treeshallow Musings


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Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines

New Zealand is almost alone in the world in allowing direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines (DTCA). The United States of America is perhaps the only other nation that allows this form of advertising, although it is more heavily regulated in the USA than it is in NZ.

This state of affairs is rather unusual in that the health industry in America is predominantly in private ownership, whereas here in Aotearoa it predominantly in the public sector. Two health systems at opposite ends of the public/private spectrum, yet sharing similar attitudes to the advertising of prescription medicines.

So, how did this situation arise? In the case of the USA, regulations were relaxed during the 1980s and 1990s, whereas in NZ there appears that DTCA was overlooked altogether when the New Zealand Medicines Act was enacted in 1981.

The question is: Should NZ to continue allowing DTCA or should we adopt regulations similar to every other country, apart from the USA have established? I tend to agree with the conclusion reached in this article in the New Zealand Medical Journal:

Pharmaceutical companies have touted DTCA as a pro-consumer activity, encouraging dialogue, empowerment and choice. Whilst available evidence is incomplete, it generally refutes this view. DTCA is a biased source of health information and is associated with unnecessary prescribing, iatrogenic harm and unnecessary costs to the taxpayer.

What’s your view?


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Like perhaps the majority of Quakers in the liberal tradition, I am a non-theist, yet the term God has significant meaning me. Whether or not we believe that God is a deity, we share a belief in values and a philosophy of life which we can ascribe to being attributes of God. It is what we share, rather than what each of us specifically believes that unites us, not only to those within the Religious Society of Friends, nor only those who hold similar values, but with all of humanity and beyond.

In the post linked to below, Peter Turner has selected some quotations that illustrate how Liberal Quakers understand God.

I have much been influenced by Quaker thoughts and ways. Their horizontal power structures in their church organisations, their intelligent, practical good works, the sheer good will that you can feel at any meeting of the Friends – I don’t know why I didn’t become a member years ago! (Well, actually, I do; but that’s […]

via 896: QUAKER VIEWS OF GOD by PETER TURNER — zingcreed