Friday, June 13, 2008

Transitions and changes

I've been sitting on this one for a couple days, before posting it. Note that some of the effects I was having were likely hormonal-induced - ah the joys of being a female aspie... In any case, here's the post, for whatever it's worth.

"The shortcomings that can occur in this method such as the basis instability, the collision of hash table, and the noise sensitivity will be discussed. Among them the noise sensitivity is a serious problem. This can always cause the recognition procedure to fail." -- Kao, Chang-Lung

So, usually I'm pretty flexible, I think. I handle changes and transitions pretty good for an Aspie. Some days, when I'm stressed, it's harder. And it always catches me by surprise, and worse, catches others by surprise.

A couple days ago was an example. I had a good but full day. Had everything planned out and things went pretty smoothly. I even got my last paper of the quarter finished. Woot! Then had the eye exam (my and my son) from hell - I hate when they shine the damn lights in your eyes, and worse is flashed light, and there was this machine that we had to flash my eye repeatedly (to take a picture) because she couldn't explain clearly to me what I was supposed to do and when I finally understood (after a dozen flashes into my light-sensitive eyes), we got a decent picture of each first try. So, I wasn't in the best shape after that but I survived, so I went to Costco and grabbed stuff quickly since I was on a deadline, and managed to get checked out reasonably quickly. Even got the stuff home okay and son helped unload. Headed off to pick up sweetie for a meeting.

Then, in rapid succession, I tried to park (and had trouble with other cars and shuttles and buses) - but parking there is always a hassle. So then I finally park and call sweetie to tell him I'm there (cuz we have a meeting to go to, so there's a deadline to beat), and my bluetooth earbud doesn't work, but I don't realize that at first, and finally realize that he's already answered and I just can't hear him thru the damn earbud, so I put the phone up to my ear and say hello a couple of times and FINALLy hear *him* but of course, by this time we're both frustrated.

So I tell him I'm there and he says to meet him in the lobby of building 40. So I go there and of course, it's locked, because it's almost 6pm. So someone lets me in and I wait, and he arrives and we go to get food.

We'd planned to just grab and go - he wanted to be to the meeting on time (so did I), and he worried that my usual "take a bit of many things" style of eating there took too much time. So I'd already offered to just grab a salad. This is what we planned this morning. But - there's a barbecue. So he says we should get barbecue. It smelled awful, and I was confused because I thought he wanted to grab and go, and then thought well, maybe he just wanted to have something besides salad. I tried to explain that he could grab whatever he wanted, we didn't have to have barbecue, but that didn't work. And he somehow got the impression I was upset at him.

So then, I have to try to explain why I'm upset. I wasn't upset at him. I was just tired and stressed out and having trouble with all the changes of plan that were happening (the phone, and the bbq, and sitting down to eat instead of grab-and-go) and the horrid smell of the barbecue (it ended up much better than I'd feared - I was able to get some reasonably unsmoked stuff - it smelled like they were doing severely "hickory-smoked" stuff... or over-using the liquid smoke or something.) but I can't explain things like that on the spur of the moment well. I'd gotten my tastebuds up for a fresh, light salad, and suddenly I was facing heavy, strongly flavored hot foods. He wanted to know what was wrong, and kept wanting explanations but my explanations weren't helping things at all and I was just getting more stressed because how do I describe all this when I'm already stressed. I tried saying I was just tired and he responded that maybe we should just go home.

I finally managed to say, "Just let me sit quietly for a minute to settle down." And he let me alone so I could regroup. And the evening ended up turning out just fine.

I want to be clear - he wasn't being obnoxious about his questions - they were perfectly valid questions and he wasn't yelling or chastising me or anything, just I couldn't explain well and it wasn't getting better with me trying.

Yeah - I normally have no obvious problems with changes and transitions (or when I do, I cover it pretty well) but sometimes, like after the hectic quarter I've had, it's just harder to cover. Sometimes, I get reminded forcibly that, oh yeah, I'm really not neurotypical, even if I can often pass as normal these days.

So - how does it feel - changes, transitions...
it feels like standing on a moving surface - having to constantly adjust and shift balance while juggling multiple fragile plates and smile dammit and don't forget to make eye contact, and don't talk too loud or too soft, and don't swing your arms too far, and remember all the things you'll have to juggle tomorrow too, and here - add this teacup in to the juggling and oh - the surface just started shifting on another axis, so don't try to keep balance the old way, gotta do the new balancing act - but suddenly, and by the way, there's only room to stand on one leg now... and why are you acting so upset? Explain yourself coherently dammit!

It's not always this bad. It's rarely this bad. I've worked really hard on dealing with transitions, being flexible, not being too tied into expectations while still managing to not completely get lost in the chaos and shifting sands of spacetime...

Just, sometimes, it's hard. Sometimes, I can't just suddenly go with the flow. And it's even harder when I'm trying really hard to meet someone elses's deadlines and schedule. I can easily go with the flow if I can just go with the flow and don't have any external deadlines to meet. I just can't do both at once. If I have to *be* somewhere, then I have a deadline and I'm in "logistics" mode and switching out of planning and logistics mode while still maintaining some hold on the logistics and planning... it's just not easy for me.

I don't know if I'm explaining this well. I'm trying to just give you all a view into what it looks like from the inside, not *always*, just sometimes. And I'm not saying there's anything anyone needs to do different, just trying to explain now so that maybe, when I'm in the midst of another time where I'm having trouble, I can maybe just say "remember the post on transitions and changes? I'm having one of those days right now." The hardest part is convincing the other person that it really truly has nothing to do with them. It's a reaction to all the little things that all happen within quick succession on top of each other to unbalance me.

What does help: just give me some space and time (quiet, no demands or questions or processing) to decompress, to regroup. Don't try to interpret my bodylanguage or tone of voice when a sudden change or transition has happened - mostly, you'll probably not be terribly accurate. I'm likely not upset at you, or angry, or anything like that. I'm most likely, just trying to re-orient myself to the new situation. And frustrated at my own lack of flexibility. Mostly, I just need to be informed of the new situation and then left alone for a short time to re-integrate everything.

It's like trying to modify a list while sorting on it, (or trying to modify a hashtable while it's being rehashed?). It's often a pretty unstable process. Let me just finish processing everything first, then we can go on from there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Research Reflection

For my Writing and Rhetoric class (on Web 2.0 and Online Activism), I have to write a "Research Reflection". I figured, given the topic matter, that I would post it here. This was the 2nd of two required courses. The first one focused on writing. This one focused on giving presentations. Woohoo.

As my topic, I wanted to address neurodiversity - autistic activism on the web. My hypothesis started as "The Internet has Changed the Nature of the Conversation on Autism."

It was difficult trying to fit *my* process in with the class process. I tend to read a lot of stuff, let things percolate in my head for a while, start writing, then figure out what I'm trying to say. I think with my fingers. The class required us to do a research "proposal" presentation first - which required me to *almost* write the presentation/paper but not quite. And we had to submit it to our "peers" to discuss it beforehand and get feedback. Then we had to start on our draft, so we could submit a draft of our "research based argument" (an 8-page paper) with an outline, first to our "peers" and then to the instructor. But FIRST, on MONDAY, we had to sit thru a weird exercise to "help us define our thesis statement". Then we had to create the presentation. Then we had to present it in "rehearsal". Then we got to *finally* present the damn thing.

All of this stuff is probably a very useful process for someone (say, an 19 year-old who'd never created a presentation in their short lives) but for me, it really felt like it short-circuited my own internal/external process. It was like getting in a car, and revving it up, then turnign it off, starting again and driving a block, turning around and going home, again and again, until I was finally able, in fits and starts to get to the presentation.

I'm not blaming the teacher, mind you. This is the process they're supposed to teach us. She was very patient with my sometimes obstreperous reaction to the whole thing.

It also seemed really odd to have to create the written paper and then create a presentation based on the written paper, but wait! the paper isn't due until... and is the paper a script or a paper on its own? Because the kinds of evidence to even put *into* a presentation and the kind of *flow* for a presentation are so totally different. It's hard to think about them at the same time without feeling like I was interfering with both.

All in all, I'm glad I survived the course and that it's over with.

Oh - I'm supposed to "consider how my understanding of the relationship between form and content has developed throughout the quarter." It hasn't. Well, I did learn how to embed YouTube videos (the *right way*) into a keynote slide, with editing and everything. That was kinda fun. Even wrote up a "how-to" for the kids in class - hope it was helpful for them. Don't know if anyone used it though.

Lessee I'm also supposed to consider:
Have my thoughts on my project changed since the proposal (and similar questions)?
I was disappointed with how much the old message of tragedy and gloom and doom still persists. So over the course of research, my thesis changed from "it changed" to "it broadened the conversation, rather than replacing the old messages." So it's a more "complex" argument than the original, but more faithful to the reality of the situation.

How did I take my written argument and adapt it to the needs and interest of a listening audience? It wasn't just listening, it was also viewing. I used video-clips to structure the presentation, and questions for signposts. I didn't delve into detail on any of the issues, but kept it fairly shallow - just going over the points I had to. I started with a question to the audience, to help them feel involved. I also used various body language and tone of voice changes to emphasize my points. I wanted a clean - simple to read - slide format. I went with just black-on-white, but added a cropped photo of a spectrum along the bottom to emphasize that autism is a spectrum (and that neurotypicals are on the same spectrum!)

How do genre and media impact the writing process?
Um, which genre and media? Considering that I live on the 'net, it didn't change much for me. I've been a netizen since late 94, and never looked back. So - for me, this was my natural environment.

How do genre and media impact the research process? For example, do web-based research sources require a different approach and perspective than print-based sources? How so?

I view web-based sources as primary sources. Just as anyone could write a book, a letter to the editor, a pamphlet, or a letter to someone, people can write their views and perspectives on the web. Most blogs and many sites provide comments, which acts like a peer-review system. In any case, I view the web as just another source of data - just easier to access. Many articles and books are easily accessed via things like google booksearch and google scholar (I *adore* google scholar!) And with, I can tag things and explore sites others used similar tags on. With web-sources, you need to track when you accessed them (particularly a source like wikipedia) since the source may (and probably will) be edited and updated. Some folks had trouble with youtube videos being removed. That's why I found out how to download and clip them myself, so that I didn't have to worry about the potential transience of items on the web. All in all, as someone who's done research both before and after the advent of the web, it's WAY better now.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Why I love the web

Okay - it ain't perfect. Amazon went down recently and Twitter is down more than it's up and other web 2.0 services are often up and down.

On the other hand - I have 5 presentations and a whole lot of research notes backed up "on the cloud", as we speak. (I also have copies on my thumbdrive...) I don't have to worry if my laptop get stolen, or crashes. I don't have to worry about a data disk getting stolen or losing pieces of valuable paper. AFAIC, the more I have on the web, the more I live my life online, the easier life is for me. So yeah - I'm a fan of places like Google (who truly improves my quality of life) and Apple and Amazon. And a lot of little companies that also make my life better. Wesabe helps me keep track of my finances. Google helps me learn new things, research, and save what I've found with tags so I can find it again (and help others find it). IwantSandy and RemembertheMilk both help me remember important things. Google calendar tracks important appointments and events, (like "refill my prescription" and "give the cat its flea treatment") and google docs let me collaborate with others. Podcasts and RSS feeds keep me up to date on the world. Email, IM, Facebook, Twitter keep me in contact with friends and communities.

I just took a class this quarter on Web 2.0 - activism on the web. Some folks complain about the "Cult of the Amateur" or worry about the funnelling effect or privacy concerns. I understand these concerns, but for me, they don't diminish the value of the web. So yeah - there's a whole lot of really awesome companies out there doing some pretty kewl stuff and I'm all for it! I look forward to its expansion.

I'm just sitting here with my head in the clouds, computing...

What I'm doing this summer and why it matters

Some of my friends from school are going off to corporate internships for the summer - Apple, Google, etc. I'm pleased for them. Some are going to work with startups. Kewl.

I'm doing a research internship. I'll be working on a project to help kids who've suffered trauma in their lives. Yeah - it's a pretty specialized use of what I'm studying. It'll require someone with a very interdisciplinary background.

I am way more interested in this than in whether I can help some company improve their website so someone can decide to buy a watch at store x or store y. Yes - some of the stuff the corporations do is going to affect billions of peoples' lives, some in small ways, some in larger ways. I'm very glad that people are doing that stuff. It's useful and affects a lot of people, directly and indirectly. The various uses of HCI and of programming range from trivial to incredibly kewl. I applaud anyone who thinks of the user and how to make their lives better.

But, for me, many of the projects really don't matter to me personally nearly as much as possibly helping some kid overcome the trauma in their life. and, y'know - if one of these kids overcomes the trauma sufficiently to go to University, they could be the researcher who finally cures AIDS or cancer or figures out how to stop alzheimers or the entrepreneur who invents the next Google or something else really awesome. In any case, if it works, we will have improved their lives - directly - and longterm. And to me, that's a far more worthwhile use of my summer than whether someone can use their mobile phone to find out if their buddy is at the same bar, as kewl and geeky as such things might be. (I like geeky kewl stuff. I'm a serious geek.;-) Anyone wanna join me on Brightkite?)

It kind of scares me to think about how much responsibility I'll have in this project. Yeah, it would probably be way more comfortable to be in a big company where there's plenty of people to watch out for me, where others set the agenda and run the show. No, I won't be completely alone, but there's so much I need to do on my own, that I need to figure out for myself, and design, and create, and manage, to make this work. So yeah - it's scary. But it's a good scary. I just hope we can pull it off. Cuz that would be totally awesome.

EDIT: I do hope that what my friends are doing at their summer internships matter to them just as much. I'm not at all saying those things don't matter... just that they're not something I'm passionate about, while this is.