Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bartimeus Trilogy

A few days ago I finished off the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. Not a masterpiece or anything super profound, but it was a well done entertaining piece of work and the audiobook versions worked very well. So I'll have to find somethingn else to listen to at work for a while. Definitely worth looking at for anyone in the mood for a laugh.

Self therapy, Eye Contact, and Memories

So I've been feeling recently that it was time for me to pursue a certain self therapy product that I had heard about a long time ago in one of my collection of Asperger Syndrome literature.  I had avoided it for some time because, one, I don't typically have $120 to shell out, two, I don't typically have the time to use such a thing, and three, when I very seriously looked at it before I noticed the study they had backing up the product had, well, less than stellar results.  That needs clarification before I go on.  They managed to produce very powerful effects with a group spending only a modest amount of time with the program, but those effects were only strong in arbitrary testing environments.  Once the study participants were measured in environments more closely approximating reality, the effects were much smaller.  It's no silver bullet, but looks like it can help provide a good foundational level of support for gaining another skill set- that being emotion reading.  I've gotten a lot better at that over the last year or so that I've noticed, so I'm hoping that giving it an intentional push in the right direction might actually have a better chance at later translating into continued progress.  And most of the alternative methods I've heard about involve spending a lot of time staring at stranger's faces and pondering what you see there.  Not that I'm saying that's a bad idea, but there are several problems with it.  One, since my gaze pattern isn't exactly "natural" people will probably very much feel I was staring at them in ways that make them uncomfortable.  Two, looking at people's faces isn't always comfortable in that I sometimes find it hard to concentrate on what they are saying or on other things if I'm looking at them.  If I'm stressed or working hard at something, I'm likely to look away.  Three, eye contact invites social interaction.  I'm not always prepared to enter social interaction at will or spontaneously.  So typically as I walk around I avoid eye contact so that I can avoid the effort of trying to calculate exactly what factors would play into how I should perform in a certain setting.

Think of it this way.  My brain power is like a grain grinder and the things I have to think about are like the grain being dropped into the hopper at the top.  If too much gets thrown at it at once, it has to be ground faster and faster until the grain isn't spending much time in the grinder and coming out the other side looking more like cream of wheat than flour and if you try to make bread with it, something bad is going to happen. If this continues long enough, the entire thing might just overflow and need to be shut down for a time while the mess is cleaned up.  For most people, I think the grain doesn't start to get tossed into the hopper at the top until they really choose to have the conversation, based on a bunch of submental emotional and physical reactions in their body conditioned by previous thinking and experiences.  For me, the grain starts flowing into the hopper as soon as I invite the possibility of the social interaction.  So say I walk down a hallway and make eye contact with 15 people.  That's 15 people I have to take into account what I know about them from the past and any indicators that they are projecting in the present that may be different from the past, form an opinion about them and the situation they present in, formulate how any of that has anything to do with me, what might likely be an appropriate list of responses to the lists of things they might possibly say, and then choose which of a list of things might be an appropriate one with which to initiate reaction.  Granted some of this can be short cut by various scripts such as "the weather is quite ____ today," or "I think that is a different ____ you are wearing today," or "so what did you think of the recent _____?" but I have to think about it to choose one of those to say.  Having a significant history of a working relationship with the person helps because then it is already established which scripts go to which person.

Coming back to the point, if I'm going to spend a lot of time staring at people's faces trying to decode the messages there, I'd better not be doing much else, because thinking about people's facial coding and preprocessing the possible interactions that might follow is actually mental work for me.  So, not the sort of thing you do in the grocery story while you are trying to get the shopping done quickly.

So I've ordered the product since I found it for a really really good price.

But that seems to be triggering an unexpected mental cascade.  I don't think anybody really likes focusing a lot of mental effort dwelling on things they are not good at, which is what I'm proposing to do by planning on using this software.  To make it worse, I think most of the therapy or self improvement situations I've had in life regarding my AS were associated with something bad.  In elementary school when the counselor identified that I had a theory of mind problem and proposed to work on it by having me read alternative perspective children's books, I had firmly in mind how stupid the stories were from my perspective, since they weren't doing the story right, how embarrassing it was to be judged as inferior by the school counselor, and a feeling that somewhere along the lines I was being undervalued.  Fast forward to the future, missionary service is shown as an opportunity only if I agree to participate in improvised therapy that was going to be performed by volunteers who had no training, background, or even basic understanding of the actual nature of what they were dealing with from beforehand.  Much of it seemed to devolve into intentionally stressing me out to see how I reacted under strain.  How much I learned or not isn't relevant to my later emotional feelings about therapy.  I failed to be accepted for service.  Fast forward some more.  Not worn out enough by that experience, I sign up for a door to door selling job, not because I think I'll be any good at it but because I think its a great learning opportunity.  Regardless of how much I actually learned or what developmental experiences I had along the way,  I give it my best shot, end up broke and have to have my parents loan me money to get myself back home, fail to have money to pay for our wedding rings, and put the starting year of my marriage in financial distress because we're stuck paying for a car that I couldn't manage to sell because, well, I think I've covered the subject of my natural salesman abilities well enough.

Honestly, I need to do this sort of thing in a setting where not succeeding doesn't mean risk of social humiliation or serious financial penalties.  Doing it that way makes the risk to my self esteem and self confidence drastically worse.

So now I'm at it again.  Can't stop prodding myself with that self-help stick.  This time the only thing at risk is the about $57 for the program, which, to give it a fair hearing, was recommended in a book by a very prominent expert, and whatever time I feel inclined to spend on it.  But even though I think it is the right thing to do, that doesn't mean that I don't have a bunch of negative emotions tied to the subject of trying to do anything about it.  Hopefully this will break that cycle somewhat and I can begin to focus on learning without putting some sort of larger success failure thing in the balance.  I really hope this works.

And because I couldn't resist, here's a funny Dilbert.

In case the link eventually breaks, transcript: Boss: I signed you up for a class to try and get rid of that thing you have.
Dilbert: What thing?
Boss: The thing. You know. The thing that makes you the way you are.
Dilbert: My personality?
Boss: Exactly. But we call it communication skills because it sounds less rude.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My almost Lesson

So now that the strengthening marriage class is over we've been moved to teaching a genealogy class.  Granted, this is an area where I have little to no expertise.  But that doesn't stop me from plunging headlong into the work.  I've already identified a few people who weren't listed in the family tree before.  Anyways, I spent a ton of time and effort trying to get ready so that from a personal knowledge perspective, a technical perspective, and a what am I going to say when perspective I'll be ready to present.  I stayed up till about 1 in the morning preparing the night before.  Then I show up at the church with a backpack filled with lesson papers, a subwoofer, and a laptop along with a duffel filled with scrap books, lesson manuals, camera, satellite speakers, and photos of grandparents along with a camera tripod slung over my shoulder.  Yes, I walked to church and yes it was Fast Sunday, call me crazy.  In any case, I'm wandering around the building 15 minutes early trying to get a member of the Bishopric to tell me what the wi-fi password for the building is so I can demo the new family search website for everybody and he tells me that last minute the stake decided to interrupt our regularly scheduled classes that day so they could send in somebody to do a lesson on missionary work.  I was supposed to be informed beforehand, but the person they told to tell me about it was out of town and not checking his voice mail or something.

Fun fun fun, I love it when communication works really well.  To be fair the person who was supposed to tell me was trying to be helpful and was also hauling in his own pair of computer speakers and laptop setup just in case I didn't have anything that would work.

So I suppose you were dying to ask by this point, what was with all the tech stuff I was hauling in?  Well, this class is supposed to have access to a projector so that the way the familysearch website works can be seen by the whole class despite not having computers for everyone in the room.  But the previous teachers for the class tried to find it in the library and it wasn't there.  But telling everybody to just strain their eyes to look at my computer screen from half the way across the room wasn't going to work.  So, I was planning on having the camera on the tripod aimed at my computer screen.  The camera can be wired to display what it sees on a TV screen with standard video ports.  I then could zoom what I was looking at on my computer screen to show it in large view on the TV.  Oh, and the class included video clips from a disk that is so scratched that the church DVD player doesn't recognize it when its inserted so I was going to have to play that on the laptop as well, projected onto the TV in a similar manner as just described.  But my laptop wasn't designed to project sound to a whole classroom, so I was bringing along my altec lansing computer speakers which happen to include a sub woofer along with so that everybody could hear.

End of story my lesson is delayed for three weeks to accommodate the lesson on missionary work, stake conference, and general conference.  But I now have the wifi password, have the ward clerk ready to bring everyone's records to class so they can login to the appropriate website,  and have brought the Bishopric's attention on to the fact that I have no idea where they keep the projector hidden.  Plus my lesson is all written. 

Flu Shot

I've got the sore arm today.  Luckily I don't do any real manual labor at work so that doesn't really matter.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

College status

Ok, so the final requirement for applying for schools is done.  The school at the bottom of my list already mailed back to tell me I was accepted.  The one on the top of my list still says they are waiting for proof that I actually home schooled instead of taking extended naps for a couple of years.  School in the middle is the one I just finished the final step for today, so no possible way they could have responded yet.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I felt this just deserved attention:

Take a look, it speaks for itself.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

GWC... and moving on

I've been meaning to post a review of my experience at George Wythe for some time, but can't quite bring myself to do it yet.  My decisions to attend, to keep attending, and to pursue certain life paths following it involve a lot of private contemplation, inspiration from charismatic teachers, and simple growing that I don't like to talk about because my experience has been that not everybody respects my readiness to make my own decisions in life or even respect whether I properly understand myself and my own wishes.

To boil down my experience at George Wythe down to a nutshell, I'd say this.  If you feel prompted by the Spirit that you are supposed to attend, don't miss the opportunity of a lifetime.  If you didn't feel that prompting, stay away unless you have your basic course in life plotted out and can afford to spend a lot of luxury time in personal development.  Anything I'd say about whether certain things the school has done may never really be of any value to anyone else, because the school is constantly changing and tinkering with itself.  One school year a certain course might be taught effectively, another year that same class might be a total joke.  So I could spend a lot of time criticizing or praising certain things and a current student might think I attended a completely different school than they are in.

I'm in part reluctant to criticize an institution that has brought me so much personal growth.  I attribute my ability to understand the basic ebb and flow of group discussions primarily to unique education experiences I don't believe I would have had elsewhere.  I attribute my widening vision of the world from a very narrow minded foolish and angry outlook to a much broader, accepting, and much more careful outlook to experiences I had at that school.  Some of those I could possibly have gotten elsewhere, but I don't think so.  A normal school experience is probably too specialized to have rewritten the broad swath of my understanding of society.  It probably could have fixed several areas of my understanding, but not the whole thing.  I remember feeling like I had woken up, being intensely embarrassed by my past strong opinions, and wondering if I had really known much of anything before I came.  It's a mind expanding experience.  There's no other way around it.  Its hard to explain the differences because they are so vast.  For example, my entire view of sexuality's role in history had to be thrown out and replaced with something more accurate.  My entire viewpoint of the legal mechanics of freedom of religion was thrown out.  My entire viewpoint of property rights had to be rewritten (it used unconsciously hold as an axiom that actions regarding property were inherently distinct from the property and actions of others with only a few exceptions that didn't really exist enough to be worth taking into consideration).  And that's just a sampling and doesn't mention my understanding of modern biology, economic policy, judicial practice, cultural and identity diversity, global politics,... and I could go on if I thought about it long enough.

Criticizing the problems is different.  Problems are easy to mention because they are concrete and distinct.  There were just so many of those moments.  Like when a professor suggested that we might achieve a unified field theory faster if we rewrote the number theory based on the equation 1=600.  Or when someone else boldly suggested that Hebrew was the Adamic language.  Or when someone suggested that a bizzare grouping of 13 century writings should be considered almost like cannon scripture and came up with breath taking conspiracy theories explaining why so much of those writings were so easily dismissed by any modern examination.  Or when it was suggested that we were on the verge (or at least should be trying to be on the verge) of a number theory revolution that would remove the arbitrary symbol based limitations of numbers and replace it with a numbering system that wasn't separate or apart from reality.  Or that since the modern scientific method of evidence based observation was really simply the religious conclusions of a whole bunch of people without authority then there was no reason that we shouldn't rewrite the religious premises of the science and come up with practical scientific conclusions more or less directly on revelation.  Uncertain about where Heisenberg's nasty little particle has gotten off to or how fast its going?  Just pray about it...  Ok that one is a slight exaggeration, nobody actually suggested the uncertainty principle was untrue or could be replaced by revelation, but that would be a good example of applying the proposed system.

So lets just say that when I was first at the school I was enamored by the idea of transmitting the mind evolving paradigm shifts that I experienced at the school to others and I wanted to teach at GWC or a similar school.  Anyone who has known me for long enough knows that I can be fairly good at delivering an impassioned lecture on a subject I feel deeply about, and I felt this was a good way to put that talent to use.  Later as I had to spend more and more time on the parts of the school that I didn't like, I realized more thoroughly that for every amazing wonderful thing that happened at the school, there were plenty of crazy things that happened that just left me embarrassed and wishing I wasn't affiliated with these people.  Eventually I decided I wouldn't really be happy being at the school in an official capacity.  Glad I went there?  Yes in many ways.  Ready to spend my life there?  No.

So, when Bonnie Jean came up with the idea of seminary teaching as a career option for me, that seemed like a perfect mix.  Bear impassioned testimony on subjects I feel deeply about, get to spend time studying scripture, and change peoples lives for the better.  But I miscommunicated with the teacher who ran the seminary training program and it turns out that my GWU degree means nothing to them.  Am I disappointed?  Yes.  Am I deeply shaken and shocked?  No, I'm not even surprised.  Its an experience somewhat like finding out I wasn't qualified for missionary service because of Asperger Syndrome except on a much smaller scale.  I had felt prompted that I should pursue doing it and that with the help of God I could accomplish it, but I had also felt spiritual promptings in advance of it becoming official or even before I was supposed to know that somehow it wasn't going to work out.  So when it doesn't work out my reaction isn't deep disappointment or anger, its just relief that I'm accomplishing one more step along the path I'm supposed to follow.  And I have to remind myself that what I'm becoming during this process of life may mean more to God than my immediate success at achieving any particular goal.  I seem to get a lot of those experiences, and I have to be careful because my self confidence and self esteem is sometimes a delicately crafted and balanced ornament rather than a deeply rooted part of myself.

So, its time to move on.  I've always felt that career wise God has been trying to give me my choice on the matter.  After so many years doing the George Wythe experience, I've gotten out of the habit of thinking about what I would like because I've been focused on trying to figure out how I could make the biggest impact on the lives of those around me and figure out how to do so in a professional capacity.  I still feel that I'm supposed to try to change people's lives in a way similar to how I was originally hoping to do.  But now I'm considering that perhaps that role is one that I will fulfill in private capacities.   Or in other words not getting paid to do it.

So now I'm turning back to my older and more enduring interests to see if I can find a life path from the things that I really enjoy.  I love science, and in particular I love learning about and being around animals.  So now I'm turning to biology.  With work and blessings from above, I hope to get into a normal university and be able to work myself through it without too much delay.  And then, perhaps just live life because that's what I like doing, rather than pursuing things that change me for the better while I'm pursuing them, but leave me without an immediate path forwards.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Look me in the Eyes

I just finished listening to another audio book today.  It was Look me in the Eye by John Elder Robison.  Brief synopsis for those who haven't heard of it, a memoir of an aspergian (his word usage, same meaning as me saying I am an Aspie) who grows up from a broken family, develops savant skills working with electronics dealing with music and special effects, drops out of school, does major work for big name rock and roll bands, goes on to become an engineer/executive at various electronics companies, and finally settles down to be a car mechanic, only learning that he was on the autistic spectrum when he was in his 40's.

Lets just say I have mixed feelings about the book.  He's not the kind of person I would have made a point to get to know when I was growing up.  The focus on rock and roll in the book was almost a turn off to me.  When the main thing that gets mentioned in a lot of review blurbs is that he designed guitars for KISS, it lead me to believe the book was more of interest for his involvement in rock and roll than for his Asperger Syndrome.  So I never put the book on my wish lists.  But when I noticed it was a downloaded audiobook from my library, I figured it couldn't hurt to try it out for free.  And when I did download it, the pervasive profanity and background story elements of the associations that come with being employed by a heavy metal band were significant turn offs.

But, I also couldn't put the book down.  So many of his experiences hauntingly remind me of my own past.  Some of the negative things that happened to him could have been my experiences as well if things had been just a little different here and there.  The descriptions of lost relationships, missed opportunities, and the constant analytical questions about basic emotional social interactions that others take for granted all spoke to me.  Even if the settings in which he describes these events in are bizarrely out of my experience, I still get the point.  I don't know if the book will ever make its way onto my shopping list or whether I'd recommend it to my younger friends on the spectrum, but I'm glad I read it just the same.  It was a beautiful experience to read and made me review my life again and be grateful I didn't have to wait till I was 40 to begin to understand myself.  I just wish I could have had the chance to start understanding myself at a much younger age... some things might have been different if I had known so many things...