April 3, 2012

How it begins

In observance of Autism Acceptance Month: an excerpt from my first journal entry, Sunday, January 26, 1986. Age 17.

I do not find this writing easy. It is difficult for me to translate the thoughts, the many thoughts that are all at the same time pushing at the door in my mind to get through first to be written, in time to capture them all accurately, coherently, and with the same train. It really is difficult.

Often I have wondered at the kids in my English classes who churn out essay after essay, often with consistent A grades, seemingly without effort, while I find it hard to even begin to think coherently about the topics. I wonder if they have something I’m missing. I think maybe they are more advanced than I. Certainly, I am academically not competent—after all, my grades are low, and recently dropped quite a bit. I am ranked 36 in a class of 120.

I also seem to be lacking something the others have in home life. I mean, I never hear anyone else complaining about how their fathers yell at them with a passion when they don’t do what they’re expected—because, it would seem, they do as they’re told! Is there something wrong with me? Apparently.

But then I have my SAT scores of 690 verbal and 750 math, 1440 total, which are phenomenal in comparison with everyone else’s scores. Nearly everyone else’s, that is. There are always the exceptions [...]

Am I an idiot savant? That’s a pretty ludicrous idea. I am very talented. I act (although, since I got into high school, I haven’t had a lead role at all—quite a shock after having the lead in every production in elementary school and the junior high), I do graphic work (which, for the yearbook, was twisted—an interesting case: I brought my design for the divider pages into class and showed it to Mrs. Comarato, who liked it but had a distinct air of disappointment, saying that it took away from the job of the Art and Layout editors), and I write (as I am doing now) fairly well, so I and others think.

For years the big phrase the schools have used to describe me has been “doesn’t live up to his potential.” Personally, I’m sick of that. It’s become a cliché, a kind of “we don’t really know what’s wrong, so we’ll just say this” catchphrase. I’ve found, however, that the schools haven’t been living up to their potential. That’s another story.

I lost my train of thought there, unfortunately. As I said, that happens when I don’t get the thoughts out fast enough.


Just read the part about school and found my train of thought again, ie:

…but they can’t be more advanced than I! Honestly, I am the highest-level thinker I know. I think all the time! I have an immense mind with immense capacity for thought, reflection, and innovation. I really don’t think I’m being narcissistic. I know myself, and I am very intelligent. It seems strange to accuse the world of interpreting me wrongly, but that would seem to be the case.

August 29, 2011

Why Mickey Mouse should keep his mouth shut

For over a year, Walt Disney Imagineering has been testing a new technology in the Disney parks: costumed characters, like Mickey Mouse, with a spoken voice and a moving mouth. Until this new development, these characters have been performed silently, with all of their expression accomplished in gesture. I recommend you watch a couple of guests’ home-movie clips of the new Mickey (short clip, shorter clip) to see what I’m talking about.

Something about this strikes me as deeply wrong, but I haven’t been able to articulate my discomfort.

During my family trip to Walt Disney World in late 2010, I had the great fortune to meet Zach, a Disney College Program Cast Member. He was working behind the counter at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café in Tomorrowland during that semester, but he was granted an extension for Spring 2011 and became a character performer. Zach has formidable experience in stagecraft, and he addresses the issue of these talking characters in a recent post on his blog:

Guests go into a character meet-and-greet knowing what they want to say, and get their answers from the characters by interpreting their gestures and “animation.” But what’s so great about those gestures is that they can be interpreted however the Guests want them to be interpreted. Why take away that power from the Guests and their imaginations?

Zach explains his perspective in detail, also noting that since park visitors come from around the world, the voiced characters may not be able to speak their language.

In the midst of this, Zach tells a story that illustrates the power of quiet attention:

During my four months as a character performer, I had a lot of truly great Guest interactions. One day working at Animal Kingdom, Goofy was at Camp Minnie-Mickey and was met by a teary-eyed mother. The mother explained to Goofy that her father had been taken to the hospital from the Park, but he was going to be okay and just needed to recover in the hospital. He wanted her and her son, his grandson, to enjoy the rest of their day in the Park instead of the hospital. But he had one request: that they go get a picture with Goofy, because Goofy is his favorite. She held back her tears, gave Goofy a big hug, and said “Goofy, you have no idea how much I needed that hug.”

Zach has a bright future. I hope it brings him back to Disney. I hope Disney listens.

August 4, 2011

When words collide

I enjoy the MacBreak Weekly podcast. Leo Laporte, the podcast host, is a huge fan of longtime sponsor Audible.com. He speaks frequently about how many audiobooks he “reads,” and this always gives me pause.

Hearing someone recite a text is equivalent to reading for some people, I guess, but it very much isn’t for me.

Verbal input, whether I see it or hear it, triggers huge cascades of mental processing. I am prone to becoming immersed in those cascades: analyzing word roots, parsing the grammar, identifying more appropriate synonyms, feeling the scansion, relating the meaning to the immediate and overall narrative context and to everything else in my experience.

Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, describes Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect’s experience of being subjected to a Vogon poetry reading, strapped into “Poetry Appreciation chairs” with electrodes stuck to their temples:

These were attached to a battery of electronic equipment—imagery intensifiers, rhythmic modulators, alliterative residulators and simile dumpers—all designed to heighten the experience of the poem and make sure that not a single nuance of the poet’s thought was lost.

That’s what reading and listening are like for me, all the time.

When (or if) that cognitive bloom finishes playing itself out and my brain settles down enough to return me to my senses, I move on and take in the next bit of text—but if the text is being read to me, then I have already missed any number of words (sentences, paragraphs) that were spoken in the interim. Normal interpersonal conversation is light enough for me to keep up with, but really good dense prose just jams up in my ears.

Verbal communication is linear, but I do not comprehend it linearly. I can’t listen to audiobooks.

June 19, 2011

Eddies in the data-time continuum

Copying a terabyte hard drive. A few minutes in:

Screen capture of remaining-time estimate: 22 hours

One minute later:

Screen capture of remaining-time estimate: 12 hours

And two minutes after that:

Screen capture of remaining-time estimate: 22 hours


May 3, 2011

Whence Osama

Fifty-four years ago in Saudi Arabia, a little boy was born.

His bright young mind was poisoned by a dogmatized rejection of common human dignity. He was molded into a conduit of hate. By the time he was killed by his enemies, he had become a wellspring of that poison.

I mourn the loss of the helpful person that little boy could have become, of the profound gift his talents could have been to the world. But that loss was long ago.

My answer to this crime, this cancer of the human spirit, this turning of life against itself, is a plan I have been executing for fifteen years.

I am raising my sons to be good people.

April 3, 2011

Pretty hate machine

Unless you are a monk who renounces all luxury, you profit from the abuse of your fellow humans and the natural world. We in modern society all are thieves, killers, and despoilers; we are only different by degree, by how far removed we are from the theft, the death, the destruction. Once you realize this, to convince yourself otherwise—to attempt any moral justification for your complicity—is an act of outright misanthropy.

Be always deeply grateful for your good fortune. It comes at great expense to people as real as you. They are not justly compensated.

Be kind and compassionate to others.

March 23, 2011

Devise reason later

Jean-Louis Gassée:

Customers don’t make decisions with their neocortex, an organ that is too easy to bullshit. They decide within deeper, comforting recesses, and they rationalize when the culture demands a seemingly logical, socially acceptable “post-planation.”

March 6, 2011

On whose shoulders stands Atlas

Andrew Reichart:

[Ayn] Rand’s philosophy rests on a pretense of individualism that doesn’t reflect reality. The “self-made man” is a myth; everyone’s success is built upon the labors of those who went before them and those who labor alongside them. Whatever success we may bring upon ourselves, we have done so with the assistance of those who invented our language, our culture, our monetary systems, our infrastructure, etc. Though we may hire and direct employees to do our bidding, and though that bidding may be directed entirely by our personal vision, our success is still utterly dependent upon the existence and the effectiveness of those employees. And our “personal vision,” as any psychologist can explain, is primarily a result of genetic and environmental factors which we did not create. The “individual” as Rand conceives it is largely a myth.

(His follow-up: “I frickin’ hate the ‘black box’ psychological model presented by folks who still somehow think that humans are ‘rational.’ Capable of using reason as a tool, yeah, but even so there is no ‘objective’ motivation behind the user. We’ve known better since Freud 1905 or at latest WWI, hellooooo?”)

February 8, 2011

The measure of a man

Nicholas Felton, an information designer, creates yearly “Annual Reports,” summarizing data from his day-to-day life with witty and beautifully-designed graphics. I’ve been a fan for years. His 2010 Annual Report summarizes of the life of his father, who was born in July 1929 (two months before my father) and died last September at age 81.

Excerpt from the 2010 Feltron Annual Report

January 31, 2011

Rupert, you’re doing a heck of a job

Screen capture from the July 27, 2009 edition of The Live Desk on FOX News (via MediaMatters):

FOX News map graphic showing Iraq labeled as “Egypt”