UPDATED: Robert De Niro misguidedly gives a podium to Andrew Wakefield


Tribeca has taken “Vaxxed” off the schedule.
The following statement was released yesterday:

My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.

The Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. However, we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program. We have decided to remove it from our schedule.

Original Post

A few days ago, I learnt from Orac that the Tribeca Film Festival in New York will be showing the “documentary” Vaxxed, which was made by Andrew Wakefield.

Yes, THAT Andrew Wakefield. The one who was hired by lawyers to find evidence against the MMR Vaccine, who subjected 12 autistic children to unnecessary medical procedures, who tried to create his own Measles vaccine, who cooked the data when it pointed away from MMR causing autism, and who, after the longest trial in the General Medical Council’s history, was found guilty of three dozen charges and struck off the Medical Register.

And now we know why. Robert De Niro, the founder of Tribeca, has an autistic son, and intervened to have it placed on the schedule. The following statement was released:

Grace and I have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening Vaxxed. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.

No. Sorry, but no. Giving a podium to a man who:

  • Subjected autistic children to unnecessary and invasive medical procedures (blood draws, lumbar punctures, enemas and colonoscopies) to gain data against a vaccine;
  • Cooked the data when it pointed away from the MMR causes autism hypothesis;
  • Set up businesses to profit from the scare he created;
  • Failed to disclose his multiple conflicts of interest as required, and;
  • Lied repeatedly and is still lying today

…is not “providing the opportunity for a conversation”. It is spreading propaganda. Tara Haelle’s Forbes article nails it.

Providing an opportunity to discuss misinformation does not help the conversation about autism or vaccines — or autistic people. For nearly two decades, funding for autism research has been continually diverted away from study into treatment and supports for autistic individuals and instead toward debunking a fear that has been debunked dozens of time. That harms autistic people. Misinformation that leads parents to skip vaccines harms their children and their communities, leaving both more susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases that can maim and kill.

De Niro has blundered. Not only did he interfere in the scheduling of a festival, he has helped give exposure to a liar telling lies about vaccines causing autism. He would do very well to reconsider.

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It is done

So I presented my talk “Autism and Software Testing – A good fit”.
I started by explaining what autism was, and what the most up to date science says causes it. I then went on to the attributes of autism that make autistics good software testers. The next slide dealt with the attributes of autism that can hinder autistics as software testers.
I was originally going to talk about two cases where autistics had been employed to great effect as testers (SAP’s internship program for autistics and the Australian Governments Project Dandelion), but after the talk was announced, I’d learnt that Microsoft was also introducing a program to hire autistics, so I updated my talk to include it. Interestingly enough, the Danish company Specialisterne, which specialises in placing autistics, was involved with all three programs.
After the presentation, the floor was opened for questions. The SIGiST had wished to record it, but that plan fell through. A bit disappointing, as I feel the Q & A at the end was the best part. I took questions on what it feels like to be autistic, on how it affected me at work, and so on. One of the people on the floor thought he may be autistic.
All in all, it was a good talk.
Thank you once again to Rob Kerrich-Walker and the rest of the SIGiST Team for accepting my presentation.


If you wish to view my presentation, it can be found here.

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SIGiST Event – Autistics and Software Testing: A good fit


Employment Equity is law in South Africa, but those with learning impairments are still underrepresented in the workforce. One way to narrow the gap is to find areas where the attributes of the conditions are strengths, not weaknesses. With autism, one field is IT in general, and software testing in particular.
This presentation is about autism, and how its attributes fit well with software testing. It will mention two cases where autistics were hired as programmers and testers (SAP and Dandelion). Afterwards, the presenter will hold a question and answer session.

About the Presenter

Julian Frost
Born in 1976.
Obtained diagnosis of autism in 1997.
Holds BSc from UNISA.
Working in Software Testing since 2004, first at Test and Data Services, then at iLab.
Tested for RMB, ABSA, Standard Bank, and numerous other clients.

Accenture, Building 19 Harrowdene Office Park Kelvin Drive Woodmead, Sandton

February 24th 2016 at 5:30pm

Full details here.

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Films I saw in 2015

I like to start the first post of the year with a look at some of the films I watched over the previous year.
I saw the Marvel films “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Ant Man” and “The Avengers – Age of Ultron”. All very entertaining. Parts of the last named film (the fight between Hulk and Tony Stark in the hulkbuster suit) were shot in Johannesburg and Cape Town. What pleased me is that they didn’t just use South Africa as background. It was really cool when a convoy of Wolf APCs (the standard APC of the South African National Defence Force) pulled up.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” was fun. It was lighthearted, amusing and gentle.
“Ant Man” was also interesting, in a good way.
If anyone wants evidence that sequels are frequently just cynical attempts to cash in on the popularity of an original film, this year provided solid proof.
“Minions” was a film about the little yellow creatures that helped Gru in the two “Despicable Me” films. It felt contrived, silly, and not very entertaining.
For me, the absolute worst film of the year and perhaps the worst I’ve ever seen was “Pitch Perfect 2”.
The film starts with a performance by the Barden Bellas for President Obama going wrong in a stupid way. I wanted to say “ridiculous”, but that might mislead you into thinking that it was amusing. Instead, it felt contrived and forced.
John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks return as the ICCA commentators and Administrators, but this time around their comments come across less as witty and more as mean-spirited. The Barden Bellas are suspended from US competition over the mishap. This was not convincing or believable in the least. It came across as an attempt to return the Bellas to an underdog role. MAD Magazine commented on this aspect of sequels years ago in their parody of Ghostbusters II.
After being suspended, the Bellas are replaced on their tour by a German a cappela group named “Das Sound Machine”. Cue all sorts of national and ethnic stereotypes about Germans. I didn’t find them even remotely amusing, just tedious. The Bellas are alarmed by just how good they are.
The Bellas have been banned from taking any new members, but allow Emily Junk to join because she asks. They also decide to compete in an international championship as they haven’t been barred from that.
At their first meeting, the Bellas decide to emulate their German opponents. Emily is unhappy, and says that the Bellas should instead play to their own strengths.
And that’s when I decided enough was enough and walked out the cinema. That is the first and so far only time I’ve ever done that.
I realised exactly how the plot was going to unfold at that point. The Bellas would first try to beat Das Sound Machine at their own game, only to lose badly. They would then regroup, realise that they should have played to their strengths all along, and do so, emerging victorious. I’ve seen this plotline plenty of times before, but it doesn’t matter as long as the film is done in an entertaining way. “Pitch Perfect 2” wasn’t.
As well as perhaps the worst film I’ve ever seen, 2015 produced one of the funniest films, if not the funniest, I’ve ever seen. “Spy”.
Melissa McCarthy stars as a backroom assistant to a CIA field agent played by Jude Law. But when Law’s character is murdered and the data revealing the identities of every field agent gets into enemy hands, McCarthy’s character has to go undercover. The result is utterly hilarious. I laughed throughout.
“Spy” is a parody of the spy films genre, particularly the James Bond films, and it follows a crucial rule about parody.
In order to work, parodies have to understand and make use of the tropes and conventions of what they are parodying. In fact, a good parody will actually work as an example of the genre it’s parodying, and Spy meets this standard. Not only is it a fantastic comedy, it is also a pretty good spy film.
Finally, and on a sadder note, RIP to David Bowie, Alan Rickman and voice actor Brian Bedford. All three died of cancer.

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Well that was quick

On Saturday, I wrote of my anger at learning that Nhlanhla Nene had been dismissed as the Minister of Finance and replaced by the virtually unknown David van Rooyen. On Sunday evening, four days after his shock declaration, Jacob Zuma performed a partial volte-face and named former Minister of Finance and current Minster of Co-operative Governance Pravin Gordhan as the new Minister of Finance. David van Rooyen will now become the Minster of Co-operative Governance.

I wonder what happened to get Zuma to backpedal like that.

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A few steps closer to the edge

Last month, I expressed my worries about the course South Africa appeared to be following. Since then, we have taken a few more steps towards the edge of the cliff.

On December 9th, less than a week after Fitch downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to BBB-, the lowest category before junk status, Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene was unexpectedly dismissed from his post by Jacob Zuma. He has been replaced by David van Rooyen.

The Market’s reaction was immediate. The Rand lost value against the US Dollar, Euro and British Pound, although it recovered slightly. The Public’s reaction has been one of shock and disbelief mixed with anger. Analysts and Commentators have slammed Zuma for a decision that could politely be called “questionable”. The hashtags #ZumaMustFall and #JacobMustFall have been trending on Twitter.

David van Rooyen, the new Minister of Finance, is a virtual unknown. He was Mayor of Merafong from 2003 to 2009 where he had a mixed record, and has served as a whip of the economic transformation cluster. His highest qualification is an MSc in Finance from the University of London. That he was appointed instead of Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas raises suspicions about why Nene was removed.

The rumour is that Nene was replaced because he refused to fund the nuclear deal between South Africa and Russia, refused to pay for a new presidential jet, and that when Dudu Miyeni, chairwoman of the SAA board changed the terms of a deal between Airbus and SAA, refused to fund the deal and demanded that the deal go ahead on the originally agreed terms, and that van Rooyen will be more susceptible to executive pressure. I hope that this is not the case, but we will have to see.

On November 30th (my birthday), the Constitutional Court overturned a ruling by the Electoral Court and ordered that by-elections in the Municipality of Tlokwe be re-run.

The story is as follows: in 2013, several ANC councillors in Tlokwe Municipality disregarded instructions from their party and voted with opposition political parties to remove then Mayor Maphetle Maphetle. They were then expelled from the ANC, and had to vacate their seats. They then stood as independent candidates in the By-elections which were held.

And lost to the ANC’s candidates.

The independents then approached the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) with various complaints about the way the by-elections were conducted. These included:

  • Failure to properly verify if the people who cast ballots were from the wards in question;
  • The independent candidates had experienced delays in receiving the Voters’ Rolls for their Wards;
  • That when they did receive them, in many cases the residential addresses of the voters were missing, and that;
  • As a result, voters not entitled to register in these wards had been registered, and;
  • Their participation had materially affected the by-election results.

The IEC investigated, and found that the complaints were valid, but ruled that the irregularities had not impacted the outcome. The candidates then appealed to the Electoral Court, which rejected their claims. So the candidates went to the Constitutional Court, which ruled in their favour.

This entire issue raises questions about the competence and impartiality of the IEC. The independent candidates had brought the problems to the attention of the IEC, but the IEC went ahead anyway. Adding to this, the current head of the IEC, Vuma Mashinini, is a personal friend of South African President Jacob Zuma. Next year, Municipal Elections are being held across South Africa.

Will the elections be free and fair? Or will there be cheating?

If things haven’t changed drastically by the end of next year, South Africa will be ruined.

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I am never buying from Volkswagen again

(Note: this only applies to VW South Africa. Other countries may be better.)
I have had it with Volkswagens.
I have owned two cars in my life and both were Volkswagens. When I buy my third car, it will not be from that manufacturer.
My parents between them have owned five Volkswagens: two Passats; a 1988 Jetta CLi, a Citi Golf and a Golf 3. When it was time to purchase my first car, I went for a 1.4L Citi Chico. After it was written off in a crash, I bought my current vehicle, a 1.4i Polo Classic.
The Chico was as robust as a tank. The only major expense it incurred was at the 90,000km service when the clutch assembly needed to be replaced. That service in 2009 cost me just under R9,000.
Now let’s compare that to the Polo.
30,000km service: The dashboard mounted cupholder had to be replaced.
Before 50,000km: The hooter gave out and had to be replaced.
60,000km service: The workshop found a bunch of things wrong with my car. Total cost to fix was R14,745.53. No, that’s not a typo. I have the bill in front of me now.
90,000km service: On Monday, I took my Polo in for its 90,000km service. Bill was R12,462.08. I also have that receipt in front of me.
I accept that as cars get older, massive and expensive overhauls are inevitable. However, a car needing two services before 100,000km that each cost in excess of R10,000 is totally UNacceptable. I would also like to mention at this point that my mother’s experiences with her Golf 3 led her to abandon the Volkswagen brand. She now drives a Honda.
It seems to me that Volkswagen South Africa’s standards have slipped badly, and that they are sitting on their laurels and trading on past glory. They have permanently lost me as a customer, and if anybody asks my advice about buying a new car, I will tell them all about my experiences and advise them to avoid Volkswagen.

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