Friday, July 31, 2009

Momentous Month

This has been quite an eventful month for me, including (in no particular order):

  • Starting up an online Asperger/Autism Spectrum Group for fellow alumni of American University (where I first went to college full-time);

  • First blogiversary, a couple of weeks ago;

  • The beginning of a new Toastmasters year, which has gone very well so far (their activities year starts in July). Among other things I've been asked to be an Assistant Governor for an area in my new division;

  • Surgery, from which I have fully recovered and then some;

  • Move for Emily and me several counties over, in order to cut her commute. I handled most of the paperwork and logistics, and we just finished the move today;

  • Tenth anniversary with my current Hotmail account, today. (In fact, I'd previously used other Hotmail accounts - back when the service was just starting, in the 20th century, they liked to call themselves HoTMaiL.) Very shortly after I began my current account, I got the opportunity to teach in Beijing, so I used HoTMaiL Hotmail to keep in touch with Emily.

Meanwhile, a close acquaintance of mine, Caitlin - a newly minted MSW and licensed social worker - has moved from the Baltimore area to Boston today to take up a one-year fellowship for clinicians and policy advocates. She's already worked with children on the autism spectrum. Congratulations and good luck, Caitlin!

How was your July?

Friday, July 24, 2009

When You Can't Do What the Customer Asks...

At the hardware store today:

Yours truly: Could you please copy this key?

Counterperson - after examining key and looking at a key blank: See how this key doesn't have the same thickness as this blank?

Hmmm...I didn't specifically ask him to use that particular blank, just to duplicate the key. Is he going to need to alter that blank, or use some other blank, or even order a new blank?

Yours truly: How can you duplicate the key I just gave you?

Counterperson: That's what I'm trying to tell you...this key doesn't fit this blank.

Irritation factor growing...I'm not asking him specifically about that blank. All I give a blast about is his duplicating the key, something I've never had an issue with each time I've visited a hardware store.

Yours truly: Can you duplicate that key?

Counterperson: This blank won't fit!

Yours truly: Can you duplicate that key - yes or no?

Counterperson: No.

Yours truly, taking the key from his outstretched and open hand: Thank you - have a good day.

Exit stage right.

For any service folks who may be reading this:

Pretty much by definition, you know much more than your customer about the situation. Your customer generally does not give a rat's whisker about the technical details of the job. The requested results either happen or they don't.

If you launch into a complex explanation without saying "Yes" or "No," I'm going to assume that the situation is negotiable provided that the issues you explain can be dealt with. And I'm likely to think of a couple of ways to handle those issues. We Aspies tend to think outside the box. (Some NTs have been known to do the same - stranger things have happened. :-})

Could your customer be mistaken about what's practicable? Quite possibly - see above. You know the situation better than s/he - even if s/he does understand the jargon specialized terminology you use to describe the matter (which isn't always the case).

If the situation is non-negotiable, please say that from the beginning and save us both a bit of time, energy and possibly stomach lining. Once you've made the situation clear, which shouldn't take more than a few words, feel free to launch into your explanation if it's called for.

(Similarly, if you want to suggest an alternative, feel free to do that - after telling the customer that his/her first choice is not possible for whatever reason. Then, s/he will know why you're suggesting the second choice and may be in a better mind to focus on it.)

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Stand of the Not-So-Light Brigade: Someone had blunder'd

By the spring of 1951, both sides of the Korean War - the United Nations (mainly the United States and South Korea) and the Communist forces (China and North Korea) had taken each other's measure. After the UN had driven Kim Il Sung's Communist regime - which had attacked South Korea - entirely out of North Korea, massive Chinese armies attacked across the Yalu River and drove the UN back. UN counteroffensives against overextended supply lines serving outgunned and outskilled (if far from outnumbered) Chinese forces prevented Mao Tse-tung from himself unifying Korea.

By Spring 1951, it had become clear that a northern Communist regime and a southern pro-Western regime would continue to "share" the Korean peninsula - the main issue was where their border would be drawn.

On April 22, 1951, around the 38th Parallel (the pre-war boundary) in Korea, the Chinese forces began their offensive to recapture Seoul, the South Korean capital, among other things. In fact, three divisions of the Chinese 63rd Army attacked across the Imjin River, just north of Seoul. On the other side: the British 29th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Tom Brodie.

Outnumbered, the British could not hold their positions, and Brigadier Brodie asked his superiors, the American commanders of I Corps, for help and/or permission to withdraw. He got very little of the former (no artillery support at all - and the 29th Brigade had inadequate artillery - no close air support on the first day and little thereafter) and none of the latter. The brigade was shattered - in four days of fighting taking 1,091 casualties, possibly 25% of its strength right before the battle.

Did the Americans understand the British 29th Brigade's desperate plight? The British had radios and could communicate the situation...or could they?

As historian Max Hastings points out in his book The Korean War, p. 218, quoting a British officer on the scene:

When Tom told Corps that his position was 'a bit sticky,' they simply did not grasp that in British Army parlance, that meant 'critical'.

In other words, the British Army suffered a stinging defeat, including hundreds of crack British troops trudging into Communist prison camps, because the British couldn't express themselves clearly and/or the Americans couldn't take a hint.

Epilogue: After the battle the British incorporated the 29th Brigade into a new Commonwealth Division - so that British commanders would be much less dependent on communicating with American superiors.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Happy Anniversary... the German officers and civilian officials who saw the handwriting on the wall and launched a Hail Mary effort to get rid of Adolf Hitler and end World War II in Europe (after D-Day and the Soviet breakthrough into Poland), failed and paid the price. Hopefully they have rested in peace these six and a half decades. Neil Armstrong and the rest of our space program. Emily, to whom I have now been happily married for four and a half years.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Insightful Horoscope

Horoscope for Pisces (February 19-March 20) from this past Friday's Washington Post, page C6:

Human connection is something that's taught. Try not to blame a person for being socially inept. If you must find fault, find fault with the behavior, not the person.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Hint of Difference

Nurse K recently discussed an interesting hint between nurses and doctors: "No new orders."

In a nutshell: Suppose a patient is rapidly deteriorating. The nurse knows the patient is about to hit the wall and maybe die, but s/he may not have the authority to do what's needed - the doctor does. (Technically, the nurse can't even make an official diagnosis, but with years of experience s/he may know what's actually happening.)

Nurse tells the doctor what's going on. Doctor doesn't see it quite the same way, and decides to keep the patient where s/he is.

The nurse figures "Hmmm...this patient may just die. Or fall asleep for 10 or 20 years. Or become a vegetable or a basket case. People might blame me and even think of suing me. I need to show everyone that I knew of the danger and did what I could to stop it, but the doctor wouldn't listen."

So Nurse writes in the patient's chart something like:

Patient's blood pressure taken on both rt and left arms, 82/49 on rt and 84/52 on left. HR=124 in a sinus tach. Patient alert with sats of 92% on 4L via NC. RR stable at 24. Temp 101.2 two hours after tylenol. Pt states he feels "more weak". MD reminded of markedly positive UA and alerted to change in blood pressure. No new orders. [Emphasis in original]

The nurse doesn't say "the patient has this problem" but rather gives all the specific facts which would persuade any competent medical professional that the patient has the problem. That's a clever maneuver: you can complain without actually looking like you're complaining or exceeding your authority - you're just giving the facts.

And at the end, the nurse says "No new orders." Technically, literally, all it means is that the doctor chose not to do anything new. In this context, it's a generally recognized hint that the doctor is asleep at the wheel and as a result disaster is about to strike.

Nurse K makes clear that "No new orders" has a specific implicit meaning:

"No new orders" is the passive-aggressive medical charting equivalent of "Patient's doctor is being a tool and needs to order [pressors, fluid bolus, central line, etc]."

Note that I am more than willing to paint a picture that accurately describes the condition that you're ignoring with redundant vital-sign charting and things of that nature. Nurses, it's very important to use "no new orders" sparingly so it doesn't lose its bite. Under no circumstances should "no new orders" be deployed in a situation where writing no new orders is the proper thing to do.
[Emphasis added]


So, in summary, if [you're a doctor and] you see "no new orders", that's a cue that a nurse thinks you're missing something and/or hates you.

(You might find the comments for that post pretty interesting, too.)

So in a nutshell: Communication is relative to particular workplaces, professions, clubs, families, you get the idea.

That means that before you assume that the other person is getting your hint, one thing to ask yourself is whether that kind of hint means the same thing in the milieu you're in right now.

It also reminds us that we don't know everything. When stepping into a new job, club, town or whatever, we need to stop, look and listen. A heckuva lot more than we talk - especially at first. The words, expressions and behaviors that may have meant one thing previously may mean something totally different in our new setting. And of course there will be new signals where we have arrived, so we may now need to say the same things in a different way.

What do you think?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Aspies and Autists Wanted

Aspies who can work, especially those of us who are good with computers and who live (or can relocate to) Denmark or Scotland, may have a good opportunity.

Thorkil Sonne is a Danish man with a mission. His son Lars, now 12 years old, is autistic. Five years ago, after his son's diagnosis, he founded the company Specialisterne specifically for Aspies and autists. Knowing that many of us work well with technical tasks, especially with quiet and predictable environments, Sonne has discovered a good pool of workers.

Now, Specialisterne is planning to set up shop in Scotland. Maybe one day it will reach across the Atlantic - let me assure Mr. Sonne that many Aspies and autists here in the U.S. can do good work for him.

Hat-tip: Ari Ne'eman of The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Building Common Ground has been out there for one year now!

July 11 - 7/11 - is my blogiversary, and 7 and 11 are lucky numbers. (Of course, even luckier numbers for me are 1 and 20 - my wedding anniversary - but that's another story.)

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Economists See the Darndest Things, or An Aspie Utility Function

Walter Nicholson, an eminent Economics professor at Amherst College, has written Intermediate Microeconomics and Its Application, a popular textbook. (His specialty is applied microeconomics - basically how economic theory can be used to explain and predict how particular individuals, firms, etc. will act.)

On page 114 (Fifth Edition, 1990), Professor Nicholson gives this scenario to start off one of his review questions:

David N. gets $3 per month as an allowance to spend any way he pleases. Since he only likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, he spends the entire amount on peanut butter (at $0.05 per ounce) and jelly (at $0.10 per ounce). Bread is provided free of charge by a concerned neighbor. David is a particular eater and makes his sandwiches with exactly 1 oz. of jelly and 2 oz. of peanut butter. He is set in his ways and will never change these proportions.

Am I the only one who suspects that Professor Nicholson may have known an Aspie or autist?

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Delicate Balance

Ambulance Driver's daughter KatyBeth, who is overcoming cerebral palsy, faces adjustment challenges very much like some of those we Aspies deal with - especially sensory issues.

As he succinctly puts it:

[L]ife is all about finding alternatives, and seeking a balance between finding alternative ways to do things because the conventional way is impossible, and making [yourself] do things the conventional way, because even though it's harder, it's better for [you].

And that's a delicate balance, hard versus impossible.

[Emphases in original]

Assuming KatyBeth picks up where AD leaves off with his attitude, she's in good hands.

What do you think?