Wednesday, December 29, 2010

NT Planet: Euphemism in the Wild

You know how on Animal Planet, you get to see all these creatures in the wild and you learn more about them than you can looking in their cages at the zoo?

Well, for the new year I'm launching a new blog series: NT Planet. Examples of NTs and how they interact in their natural habitats.

To start us off, let's check out a review of emergency medicine in 2010 in which Kelly Grayson muses:

"Wait a minute, there are EMS systems out there that still use lidocaine, procainamide and furosemide? How...quaint."

First off, "quaint" is a nice way of saying "old-fashioned" or "outdated". In terms of, say, antiques and traditional architecture, that can be good. In terms of something like medicine, not so much.

("Not so much," btw, is a euphemism for "not at all.")

Also, did you note the ... in front of the "quaint". That's an ellipsis. If Grayson has been quoting an actual person and decided to omit one or more words between "How" and "quaint," the ellipsis would indicate that. But it's not the case.

Here, we've got an implied pause. And a pause in speech often means the person is searching for the right thing to say...not wanting to say the first thing that comes to mind. Since under NT norms, blunt thoughts need to be sugar-coated, someone may need to think for a second before coming up with a good euphemism.

And knowing this, one may intentionally pause for effect. The message is "What's coming up isn't the literal truth, but rather the nice-sounding version. To get the actual situation, dial up the negativity a few notches." It's a bit like reading someone's school transcript and knowing that they inflate all the grades by one letter, so if you see "B," for example, think "C".

In short, Mr. Grayson wants to say something pleasant about some emergency systems' medicine choices, so he can sound polite, but really wants us to know the unpleasant reality. That's how NTs act a good deal of the time.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

Facebook discussion: People who get offended when you wish them a Merry Christmas. (Somewhat NSFW due to language.)

Let's put to one side the merits of wishing someone a Merry Christmas, or for that matter of getting offended if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas. Suffice it to say that some people feel that getting offended at "Merry Christmas" is overly touchy...even provocative.

Self-defense expert Marc "Animal" MacYoung comments: "If they're looking to pick a fight, can I punch them? Oh wait, their version of a 'fight'"

Different people have different versions of what's a fight and what's violence, based on their views of what's acceptable and unacceptable. One person has no problem with a verbal conflict, but draws the line at touching much less hitting.

The thing is, not everyone draws the line that way. The law itself, in certain places (for example, Virginia) rejects the idea that "You can talk but you can't touch." That's because with many people - especially (but not only) in certain regions, neighborhoods and socio-economic groups - talking can lead to touching, slapping and all-out beating. You and I may see the latter as an unjustified attack; many other people see it as a simple escalation - along a single continuum.

Bottom line: You may be able to start anything you see fit by your rules. However, the person you start it with may be able to finish it by theirs - and you may have bitten off more than you can chew. (Assuming you can still chew, that is.) And even if things don't get physical, we need to understand that the other person may be willing to take things much further than we've ever dreamed. For example, what you consider to be simply a direct and forthright response to a co-worker's unfair request could result in her plotting to get you nasty assignments...or even fired.

One of the easiest and worst mistakes in the world to make is about (1) how someone else perceives what you do and say and (2) what they're capable of.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Improvising Social Skills

Improv (improvisational comedy) can be a great way for Aspies (and NTs too) to learn body language, tones of voice and unscripted conversation.

Sandy Bruce - grandmother of an Aspie, in fact - has set up an improv group, Shenanigans!, to help adolescents on the spectrum bring out their inner actors. It can really help young Aspies feel like we belong while practicing acting skills (many of us) possess - since we sometimes need to get along by imitating rather than fully understanding others' words and actions.

Improv can also help us learn to respond "on the fly" - that is, to situations we don't have a script for. People sometimes say and do unpredictable things, and it helps to develop our capacity to know what to do right away.

So if you even think you might have some talent or interest in improv, go ahead and try it!

H/T: Mark Bennett, respected criminal defense attorney.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Allan Pease on improving conversational skills

Hello,

Allan Pease, world-famous communications expert (and previously author of multiple collections of rude, nasty, politically incorrect and totally hilarious jokes) helps us give and receive compliments.

Regardless of Pease's background, this video is SFW.



Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Communications Revolution: Hold the Whipped Cream

Get to the point.

Especially on something difficult or sensitive.

That way, your listener will know right away what the situation is.

And they won't have to feel like they're searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack while you go through all your detailed explanations and only then say what the issue is.

Gopal Kapur, founder and president of the Center for Project Management (and member of the Harvard Policy Group and Project Management Institute, among other things), has given us a simple communications series. It focuses on giving the most important information first, so the other person can better understand what comes next in turn.

And it shows respect for the other person as a grownup who (1) can handle bad news and tough issues, (2) can sift through and discard all the whipped cream* to get to the truth anyway and (3) has other important things to do in the time you save them by skipping said whipped cream.

[*] Whipped cream seems to hide what's underneath, but you can brush it aside and find what's below...with time and mess. It may be fine on your sundae, but skip it on Monday!

H/T: Douglas R. Wilson.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Premonitions?

Hello,

This morning, I thought of two things: how several freshman girls were attracted to me in my senior year of high school, and the following sentence from a 1983 education commission report: "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war."

Just this evening, I happened to come across these two articles.

Maybe tomorrow morning if any numbers come to mind I should race to the nearest lottery merchant....

(Don't worry - even if I do hit the jackpot I'll still keep A SPLINT in operation - in fact I'll likely use some of the money to expand it!)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Better to drop the ball than rub it the wrong way

Hello,

We see yet another study showing that brilliant boors lose out to likable dunderheads.

Specifically, a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that customers get a bad feeling about places where co-workers mistreat one another, even if the customers themselves are well-treated - and worse than where the employees are incompetent.

Kenya McCullum has outlined the situation in the Workplace Communication Examiner.

Takeaway for Aspies: Even if we're technically skilled, that won't save us if customers feel badly about how we interact with co-workers (let alone customers themselves). Address social skills shortfalls first, then worry about keeping your technical edge. Our interpersonal side could easily become our Achilles heel - and we know what happened to Achilles.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Staying Safe Out There

Sometimes it's tough for Aspies (and others, too) to stay safe on the street. We need to navigate between the Scylla of tough-looking people (eg, piercings, tattoos, leather jackets) who may actually be nice, and seemingly innocuous people who want to beat, mug or even rape or kill us.

Criminals give off signals - and they're also very good at reading potential victims' signals. (For example, an "interview" is the process by which a criminal closely checks out someone to see if it's safe to attack him or her.)

For some good, concrete steps to spotting and avoiding thugs, check out this great* resource - including self-defense expert Marc "Animal" MacYoung (he's the short guy with relatively short and dark hair, mustache and beard):




[*] And basically SFW - except of course for simulated violence.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Custom Made Trouble

Good morning,

One problem we Aspies tend to run into is unwritten, unspoken customs and traditions. Sometimes it feels like getting up in the middle of the night - stepping on, tripping over and bumping your shin into all those things you didn't even know were there.

When making a business deal, we can negotiate specific, written agreements in which everything's all out in the open. And we'd better, because while oral agreements are enforceable, if a disagreement comes up we may not be able to prove they're complete. Then, a judge or arbitrator may need to fill in the blanks.


Back in 1991, before Lisa Kudrow became the household word she has been for years now, she hired Scott Howard as her manager for 10% of her earnings - on a handshake. Neither the original agreement nor either of two renegotiations was put in writing. In 2007, she terminated the contract.

End of the matter? Not quite. Mr. Howard believes that his share* of her income includes any continuing payments for projects she had done while he still worked for her. Ms. Kudrow says, in effect, "Show where I explicitly agreed with that."

Mr. Howard's response, in effect: "It's industry custom - after all, I did the work that got you the income, so I'm still entitled to my share of it. Since it's implicit custom, it doesn't need to be spelled out - it's just assumed. I took that into account when agreeing to work for you, let alone for as low a share as I did. Now you show where we explicitly disagreed with that."

An appeals court has ruled that Mr. Howard is entitled to argue on the basis of industry custom, so the case will go to trial despite the fact that neither party even mentioned post-termination payments while he worked for her. No matter who wins, both sides will pay a great deal in terms of time, stress and money, including legal fees**.

And all this is assuming both sides honestly saw the agreement differently. Neither side has accused the other of fraud, misrepresentation or unfair dealing.

The thing is, while people should explain more and assume less, no one can possibly spell out everything. We have to rest on some implicit understandings. Custom and tradition spare us a good deal of work.

Under the law, in various situations there are certain customs which are widespread enough that everyone is conclusively presumed to know about them. (For example, if you rent an apartment your payment is due on the first of each month, and that's when it needs to be received, not sent, by.) That means that if your case gets to a court or arbitrator, they won't even care whether or not you, personally, knew. Customs, even unwritten ones, in this sense are like laws - ignorance is no excuse.

If a custom is applicable - meaning if there's a custom that covers your situation and your contract hasn't specifically provided for or excluded it - it will be applied, period. And if you sealed your agreement with a handshake, you probably can't prove that said agreement explicitly addressed it. So if there was an applicable custom you didn't know about, you're pretty much screwed.

So to avoid customs and traditions we don't know about - and may not know to ask about - coming back to bite us, we should put our agreements in writing. Also, we should get advice from a knowledgeable person who can point out any customs we may have missed. Sometimes, that person should be a lawyer. All this goes double if we're new to this kind of setting (eg, if it's our first time renting an apartment).

Last but not least, while I have passed law school courses including Contracts, I am not a lawyer myself and this is not legal advice. If you have any specific legal issues, please speak with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction, preferably one who's experienced with your kind of situation.

[*] In one of the renegotiations, that share had been reduced to 5%.

[**] Ms. Kudrow certainly will have to pay more legal fees for her defense. Mr. Howard's attorney may or may not be working on a contingency basis, meaning Mr. Howard only pays if he wins - though if that's true and he does win, it will be a substantial share.

Last but not least, for those of us who celebrate it - Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ticket to Ride

On Friday, when getting back from a meeting in the city, I reloaded my SmarTrip card at a machine in the Metro station. When I finished, a family came up to me, and asked how they could get tickets (or rather, farecards) for them to make a round trip into the city and back.

After they told me which station they wanted to get to and from, and the fact that they probably would return during the height (depths?) of rush hour, I figured out the round-trip fare for each member of the four-person family, advised them that each person would need their own farecard and showed them how to use the machine to get all four separate farecards at once. They thanked me effusively.

This kind of thing reminds me of when I used to work as a computer lab consultant in graduate school - basically I helped people with their computer problems. Not everyone seemed to understand the concept of "off-duty" or even "this is a dining hall or an office, not a computer lab" and kept coming to me for help. I had to tell most comers (when I was off-duty of course) no. Not all or even most of them took it well.

So I guess I carry that kind of aura. That said, I'm much more receptive to helping those who, like that family in the Metro station, ask nicely and without a sign that they feel "entitled" to free help.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Personality Divide

Annie Hussey, a young Aspie who like me gives presentations on how to better relate to NTs - and certainly seems to be doing a good job of practicing what she preaches - has this to say to a fellow Aspie close to her.

It really shows how divided many Aspies are between being true to (what we see as) ourselves and being better accepted and liked by others. Many of us struggle to answer "Who am I?"

Incidentally, some minorities, such as many blacks and Hispanics in the U.S., grapple with some of these issues too.

Aspies, please read this and better understand some of your fellow Aspies. NTs, please read this and better understand how Aspies may be at war within ourselves.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Remember, remember...

...the fifth of November.

Yes, 405 years ago today (well, tonight local time), Robert Catesby and a gang of fellow Catholics under his command tried to blow up the English Parliament and King James (James I of England and James VI of Scotland, to be precise). (Not exactly coincidentally, the king was Protestant.) Guy Fawkes was caught with the gunpowder in the House of Lords, and the plot foiled.

To this day, the English celebrate by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes, and just plain burning bonfires and setting off fireworks. Guy Fawkes Day is the closest thing the English have to a Fourth of July.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • When thinking of doing something, ask yourself "Will anyone care about this next year, next month or even next week?" Some of the things that stress us out, everyone will forget about by tomorrow! Focus on things people will be talking about years from now.

  • There's a reason it's not Robert Catesby Day. Catesby was nominally in charge, but Fawkes was the guy on the scene, doing what needed doing because he knew how to do it. (Fawkes had fought for a decade in the Spanish Netherlands helping to suppress the Dutch Revolt, so he could handle explosives.) Though he failed, his name lives on (albeit in infamy).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What EMS Can Teach Us

Hello,

Kelly Grayson, an experienced emergency medic, has given us some pearls of wisdom:


4. About 70% of the battery patients* more than likely deserved it.

6. When dealing with patients, supervisors, or citizens, if it felt good saying it, it was the wrong thing to say.

10. Always follow the rules, but be wise enough to leave them sometimes.

32. If it’s stupid, but it works… then it ain’t stupid.

33. Algorithms** never survive the first thirty seconds of patient contact.

77. Training is learning the rules, experience is learning the exceptions.


42. If someone is pointing a gun at you, two things become apparent: 1) You should have waited for law enforcement; 2) You wish you just hadn’t made that wise-[mouth]ed comment.

[*] People who got hit by someone. Now, they may not think they deserved it, and maybe even you or I may not think so either, but guess what? The guy who hit them thought they deserved it.

Most violence is between people who know each other.

[**] Algorithms are rules and expectations.

(Both pages NSFW in a few places due to language.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Career Resource for Aspies

My Aspergers Child has given us a very good resource: Best and Worst Jobs for Aspergers Adults.

It's based on common sense: We Aspies are much more likely to be better at certain things than others. This is not a final answer to "What should I do with my life?" - any more than any other career guide is, for any Aspie or NT. It is a realistic assessment of strengths and challenges - as any other career guide should be.

Any Aspie may be able to do anything, just like any NT. And dismissing something offhand as a bad job for a whole group of people can be premature. It is, however, a good heads-up which you should seriously consider before going your own way. The harder path may involve more glory...but also more hardship, self-doubt and loneliness.

Remember that we - human beings in general - naturally tend to overestimate (1) our abilities - especially soft skills like leadership and socializing, and (2) our chances of beating the odds. We tend to assume we're more able than our peers, and even if only a few people can succeed at something, we'll be the ones to beat the odds. Especially (but not only) when we're young.

Case in point: Your Obedient Servant. People assumed that I was headed for a teaching career. After all, I was so smart, and could discuss so many esoteric things. Like with many Aspies, people thought of me as a "Little Professor". And I went to graduate school, blithely ignoring the fact that relatively few PhDs ever got tenure-track college teaching positions.

Thing is:
  • Teaching - including college teaching, especially before you get tenured - involves a great deal of social skills, including empathizing with students and getting along with peers and superiors (and these days, pleasing students),

  • Precisely because I lacked these skills, I did not know this - let alone that I was lacking,

  • Over the last few decades, colleges and universities have radically cut back their full-time faculty, shifting much teaching work to adjuncts (who are hired, and paid, by the term), and

  • I was far from the only one not to get the message.

Result #1: 20 pounds of PhDs seeking teaching jobs in a 5 pound bag of available slots.

Result #2: I was one of those who fell out of the bag.

This resource is a set of warnings, not absolute rules - but as with any warnings, do take them to heart.

What do you think?

H/T: TG, an autistic parent of autistic kids.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What Are Your Personal Demons?

Hello,

On Halloween afternoon (a week from today) - 3-4pm ET - we'll have a Blog Talk Radio show discussing some of my personal demons, and please feel free to call in with any of yours at (760) 695-5604 (free except for your normal long-distance charges or cell minutes*). NTs with constructive responses to Aspies' thoughts are also welcome.

If you see on that page a button for calling in via Skype - it depends on whether there's a Skype channel available - and you're logged into both Blog Talk Radio and Skype (both free), you can use that to listen and then if you want to talk on the show hit 1 on your keyboard.

Or you can just listen and/or participate in live chat, both on the webpage.

[*] Many cell plans these days offer free unlimited weekend (and for that matter night) minutes.

Enjoy your week!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Q3 2010 Ends By The Numbers

As the third quarter of 2010 draws to a close, I have, today alone:

  • Had to admit making mistakes on four separate occasions - and that's not counting my earlier missteps I recounted on Blog Talk Radio today.


  • Been offered "weed" for the first time in many, many years (and possibly for the first time ever as a serious offer).


  • Pulled out from the garage with 20,400 miles on the odometer - note that the first two digits make up the square root of the last three.


  • Confirmed two close acquaintanceships.

Happy start to the final quarter of 2010!

(And yes, I'm a nephew of an accountant, and informally studied accounting myself. Plus as you might have noticed, I enjoy numbers.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It Gets Better

You may have heard of Dan Savage's recent challenge "It Gets Better" - he wants gays, lesbians and bisexuals to show by their personal examples how well they're doing now. The idea is to show those still growing up that it does get better, so hang in there.

Well, the same is true for young Aspies and autists growing up. It gets tough, being lonely, getting bullied (and not necessarily just by the students either) and feeling out of place. It's easy to wonder if life will always be that way, year in and year out.

So, we're having a Blog Talk Radio show - "It Gets Better" - tomorrow, 3-4pm ET/noon-1pm PT. We'd love to hear Aspies' and autists' success stories; just call in at (760) 695-5604. Or if you see on that page a button for calling in via Skype (that will depend on whether there's a Skype channel available) and you're logged into both Blog Talk Radio and Skype - both of which are free - you can use that. (Skype will enable you to listen to the show, and if you want to call in press 1 on your keyboard.)

Or just feel free to listen on the show's page, and do some live chat there too if you like.

If you're not able to make it, just drop by afterward and listen to the podcast any time you wish.

See you there!

EDIT: Megan McArdle of The Atlantic is spreading the word - thank you very much. Tune in this afternoon at 3 ET/noon PT!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Object Lesson: Social Skills vs. Technical Competence

Adrian Fenty has reached the end of his term as mayor of Washington, DC. He's long been known for (1) his record of accomplishments and (2) a personality which would strip paint from woodwork at ten feet.

On Fenty's record alone, no serious politician might have challenged him for re-election this year. Among other things, even the Washington City Paper, which had printed attack after attack on Fenty's personality (including the quotations from my above-linked previous post), endorsed Fenty based on his achievements: "Adrian Fenty: The Jerk D.C. Needs".

Given his problems winning friends and influencing people, City Council Chairman Vincent Gray stepped into the fray. And in yesterday's Democratic primary*, Gray trounced Fenty. Since the Democrats own the city itself lock, stock and barrel, for all intents and purposes Gray has now been elected mayor. In any case, Fenty has definitely been un-elected.

[*] For non-U.S. readers - primaries are elections held among voters registered to a certain party, to decide who will be that party's official candidate in the general election. Note that in places where most of the voters belong to one party, winning that party's primary virtually guarantees winning the general election.

As political columnist Tom Diemer summed it up:

[T]he incumbent's decisive defeat was a sobering reminder that being nice counts for something in politics, even when one has numerous accomplishments to boast about.

Fenty's prickly personality and stand-offishness turned off black voters -- and cost him even though he achieved much of what he set out to do in 2006 as the youngest mayor in four decades of home rule in the nation's capital.

[Emphasis in original]

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Screaming About Discrimination (SAD)

The Olde Salty restaurant in Carolina Beach, North Carolina has announced a new policy: No screaming children allowed.

One might think it would go without saying for almost any public place. And owner Brenda Armes says that the policy has attracted more customers than it's repelled.

A few parents and others don't like it, and even claim it's illegal. You see, autistic children are more likely to scream and even go into meltdowns, so (by this line of reasoning) a policy banning screaming in effect discriminates against the disabled.

Yes, autistic children may scream, for example, due to a sensory overload that's no fault of their own. And people should understand and not jump to conclusions about children necessarily just having temper tantrums, or say that autistic children shouldn't be brought out in public.

Does that mean that any issue causing problems for others has to be someone's fault before an establishment may take action? Suppose someone loudly coughs and sneezes many times in a restaurant. Of course it's probably not her fault she's sick. So the management has to stand by while she disturbs everyone and maybe infects some people?

Of course not. The original idea of combating discrimination is that people can't treat others differently based on illegitimate criteria. For example, if a black person wants to eat at a restaurant, the management can't bar him based on a dislike of black people, because someone's being black does not harm the business or any individual.

However, screaming in a public place definitely disturbs others and harms the business, and management has every right to eject screamers. Even if they include some autistic children who don't mean to scream and are suffering meltdowns, not pulling ordinary temper tantrums.

We need to help autistic children learn to minimize and finally eliminate their meltdowns, not demand that everyone else put up with disturbances.

What do you think?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Radio Kickoff

Yesterday, A SPLINT kicked off our Blog Talk Radio series with an episode on how Aspies can get along better with NTs in school. If you missed it, feel free to stop by any time you like and listen to the podcast.

We'll announce a regular schedule shortly. If you've any time and/or day preferences for listening live - and maybe calling in - please let me know!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Excellent Guide for Management - Self and Other

Right after Labor Day, Robert Sutton - Stanford Business School professor and author of The No A**hole Rule (slightly NSFW - guess why?) - is coming out with Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best...and Learn from the Worst (SFW; book itself rated PG). Professor Sutton was kind enough to send me a free advance copy.

Professor Sutton is also the father of an Aspie, and while AS is not the focus of either of his books, he has created something that all Aspies - at least those who hope to get and keep steady jobs, maybe even management jobs - should hearken to. (And there's plenty here for NTs too.)

First off, there's lots of practical, specific advice, from nitty-gritty tips like "Cross your arms when you talk" and "Try a little flash of anger now and then" (complete with a strong warning not to go overboard with these things) to principles protecting your workers from outsiders' troublesome demands (not a redundancy) to how to deliver an effective apology.

That last forms part of one of the most important elements of Sutton's whole work: A good boss must enable - even welcome and encourage - professional challenges from subordinates. We're not talking one-upmanship, but rather making sure that subordinates who are right are willing and able to inform bosses - and colleagues - who may be mistaken.

That means subordinates - and other stakeholders such as stockholders, customers and the general public - need to understand that the boss not only can be wrong (that's obvious enough) but also knows and accepts that s/he can be wrong. And in turn, that while the boss knows s/he can be wrong, s/he does not know just when that will be or how it can be and thus needs appropriate warnings to head off mistakes, if not disaster.

Effective apologies help reinforce that idea. So does following Sutton's advice - for which he elsewhere credits Karl Weick - to fight as though you are right...and listen as though you are wrong.

Also, Sutton shows us not only why we should not shirk the dirty work, including disciplining and firing people when necessary, but also how to do it well, especially with maximum consideration for those who are hurt.

We Aspies know very well that many people, including colleagues and even bosses, can be mistaken and need correcting. We pride ourselves on, among other things, our honesty, creative approaches to problems, love for truth and understanding of the facts without fear or favor. If and when we become bosses - which IMHO can be understood to include parents - we need to walk the walk, and encourage subordinates to correct both us and one another safely.

In turn, Sutton shows us that it's not just a matter of saying "OK, speak your minds!" He reminds us that our subordinates, like everyone else, are creatures of emotion and ego as well as logic and facts. Therefore, he shows us in detail how to both make subordinates comfortable about correcting the boss, and also manage creative conflicts among subordinates.

Among other things, we must never forget that most people have suffered bosses and colleagues who shot the proverbial messenger, so we need to inspire trust and loyalty. For example, we must not be so intent on correcting anyone we think is wrong that we smother those very impulses in people who depend on our approval.

Even for those of us who are not bosses, this is an excellent self-management guide. No one needs to be a boss to be able to apologize, link talk and action, or encourage others to approach us with bad news. To the contrary, these skills will help us become better workers, better (and happier) people...and stronger candidates for promotion.

We pride ourselves on our acid minds and talk, which cuts through surface alloys to reveal the core. Acid is a vital component of many industrial processes. Another vital component of those processes is protective measures like goggles, emergency hoses and showers for washing people who have gotten hit, regular inspection and maintenance of machinery and strict work rules. Without these things we could not safely handle acid, and thus would generally do without it.

In a nutshell, Sutton's work both channels our greatest gifts and challenges us to develop our more dormant competencies, particularly in human relations, without which our gifts will never - and arguably should never - see the light of day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Drill, Baby, Drill!

On Tuesday, a British Airways flight over the North Sea made an erroneous announcement that the plane may soon crash into the water. The pilots quickly corrected it, but not before passengers panicked.

Am I the only person who thinks we should have disaster drills on plans and perhaps other vehicles like trains and buses, just as schools, dorms and workplaces have fire and other drills? I wonder if, once passengers have prepared themselves for likely announcements of, say, likely imminent crashes, we'll make a habit of knowing what to do (eg, go for the life jacket, put it on and then inflate it, or maybe grab and apply the oxygen mask) and therefore not panic so much and more likely survive.

Also, what if we have reason to believe the end is near, and it would be our last chance to use our cell phones and we probably wouldn't want to take even a full minute or two in a true emergency? (Not to mention once you hit the water or likely even the ground your cell phone may get lost or destroyed.)

Perhaps it would be nice to prepare by typing and saving an appropriate text message, such as "PLANE ABOUT TO CRASH - I LOVE YOU AND WILL WAIT FOR YOU IN HEAVEN" (or maybe "PLANE ABOUT TO CRASH - I LOVE YOU AND DON'T FORGET MY WILL IS IN THE SAFE DEPOSIT BOX" - whatever your beliefs dictate), that you could pull up and then send with a touch of a key or two.

That way you'll save as much time as possible for putting on the life jacket or oxygen mask, and make it as likely as possible you'll stay alive and be able to give good news later - while if worse comes to worst you can die in peace knowing you said your last goodbyes.

Or might such a text message pose serious problems?

What do you think?

PS: More out with the old, in with the new - this is my first blog post using Google Chrome. Given who owns Blogpost, last time I checked, it seems only fitting.

PPS: On this day, 23 years ago, I went away to college for the first time, at American University.

UPDATE: We now have an Android app that - while intended for a somewhat different situation - will do the job for a possible plane crash!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Solving Our Unemployment Problem

The Onion recently put out "Report: Unemployment High Because People Keep Blowing Their Job Interviews." (SFW, unless your boss thinks it's a serious career article for people who want to change jobs. My boss doesn't have that concern...then again, I'm self-employed.)

If the point of the article is that the employers will find employees who impress them, and thus unemployment in general is really not affected by particular individuals fouling up job interviews, I can't dispute that.

On the other hand, if they're trying to argue that behaviors such as sending a handwritten thank-you note, researching the prospective employer and bringing extra copies of one's resume have no substantive value and are just arbitrary disqualifiers, they are mistaken. Employers look for signals of qualities like diligence, dedication and detail orientation, and also for indicators of a good fit. In a setting where every candidate has an incentive to say "Pick me, I'm the best," hiring managers need ways to deduce who will in fact work both hard and smart and hopefully stay a while if hired. Signals like the above provide valuable clues.

Given that we Aspies are disporportionately un- and under-employed, perhaps a better headline for us would be "Aspie Unemployment High Because We Sometimes Blow Job Interviews." If we can learn and then carry out behaviors which we can understandably see as petty or even senseless, but which the people who make the decisions place great stock in, we can turn our situations around.

What do you think?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Eating to Deadline

Last night, I had macaroni and cheese for dinner.

Why? Because that was the expiration date on the box. As I told Emily, I had until midnight (presumably EDT, since I'd also bought it around here) to cook and eat it. Her response: "You're a braver soul than I."

I pointed out that in any case I did have some wiggle room, since the box said to sell it - not necessarily eat it - by August 22.

In any case, I got it all done and eaten before 11pm. Go me!

PS: Just one niggling question - do bacteria have accurate calendars and watches? So far so good, 21 hours later....

Friday, August 20, 2010

Personality Packs a Punch

Adrian Fenty, mayor of Washington, DC, normally would have no problem getting re-elected (or rather winning the Democratic primary, since the Democrats rule DC pretty much completely) this year. According to the Washington City Paper:

A political scientist would label the mayor a shoo-in: The city’s population is growing. People are generally happy with city services. Murders are down. And there’s no imminent cliff the city’s about to drive off.

So what's the problem?

They don’t like him. They really, really don’t like him.

[Emphasis in original.]

"They" are City Council members (whose chair, Vincent Gray, is reputed to have a decent chance of toppling Fenty), political activists, engaged citizens and last but certainly not least his staffers.

They describe him in terms like "arrogant pri[g]," "brat" and "spoiled child". Staffers, in particular, have blood-curdling stories about Fenty's behavior that - if true - describe flat-out abuse.

Fenty's supporters say yes, he can be a bit prickly and standoffish at times. But it's for a good cause - he's staying focused on his work. As for his explosions, that's how he keeps a sometimes fractious city bureaucracy in line.

In other words, they're hoping voters will focus on his technical skills and tangible achievements. Fenty & Company might have to think again:

"Does the guy deserve, based on performance, to win again? Yes, absolutely," says one [Fenty staffer]. (The staffer is leaning toward voting for Gray anyway.)

In other words, even someone who can step back and say that Febty's performance deserves re-election is likely to vote for the other guy.

What better evidence is there that personality prevails over performance?

And this is an office where Fenty can at least appeal to voters who don't know him personally. Most of us live or die on the judgments of those who not only have met us but also regularly interact with us. You can have the best performance numbers in the world, but if many people don't like your personality you're risking a serious fall.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gray Matter and Green Stuff

According to a study of identical and fraternal twins' investment portfolios, about one-third of the variance in people's stock market behavior can be explained by genetics.

Yet another reason to believe that how people view - and respond to - events has a good deal to do with how we're wired. Upbringing, experience and certainly free will all matter - and their influence is refracted through the prism of our brain structures.

Closer to home, our Aspie brains affect how we see and react to the world - perhaps especially when we don't realize it.

H/T: Elmer Rich III, who has managed sales, marketing and investments for close to 35 years, and has earned a Master's degree in Social Psychology from the University of Chicago.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Golden Rule, Revised

Saucy Vixen, a married lawyer, gives us an example of a common rule which we Aspies should adapt to our situation:

Treat others the way you would want to be treated.
I want people to be straight up and honest with me. If I ask, "Do these pants make me look fat?" and they actually do, in fact, make me look fat, I damned well wanna know about it. I want people to treat me respectfully, sure, but I don't want them to pussyfoot around like a bunch of waffling [Milquetoasts]. I'd rather someone be bitchy than be superficially sweet and friendly -- at least those who are bitchy have a little edge, a little depth.


[However, i]f I treated people the way I want to be treated, I would have no friends. I'm more abrasive than most folks; an acquired taste. I understand that, which is why I treat people the way they want to be treated, not the way I might want to be treated if in the same situation.

All emphases in original.

In other words, the Golden Rule sometimes assumes we have much the same desires as others. When on the other hand we want something very different, such as blunt feedback, we need to understand the Golden Rule in terms of its ultimate purpose: act toward others in ways they will appreciate. We need to understand and accept when someone wants, or most people want, what's different from what we would want.

That's particularly difficult for Aspies, because due to our rigidity of thought - and often action - that sometimes doesn't even occur to us. We unfortunately tend to both look at our worldview as the only possible one, and to look at rules as things to follow slavishly to the letter - not the spirit.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

Honesty is the Best Policy

Yesterday morning, we had some nasty thunderstorms which cut off our power for a few hours. When I got back, I found that though the lights were still on (and the food in our refrigerator and freezer still cold), our Internet access was down.

Figuring that our cable modem only handled Internet connectivity to my desktop, whereas the router handled all our computers including our laptops, I reset the router, to no effect. I called our ISP, whose automated screener asked me "Have you tried resetting your cable modem?"

Well, I reset the router, and that's what counts. The program probably just doesn't know that the machine I'm working with is on a wireless connection and isn't linked to the cable modem. I'll just answer yes, because what they really mean is have I reset the thing that supplies connectivity to my machine.

Then the tech told me that in fact the cable modem brings the Internet into our house (the router then controls all the connections inside). We reset the modem and all is well.

Lesson for the day: In general, answer questions honestly. Quite possibly the other side knows something you don't.

Also on the subject of honesty: Thank you very much, Person Who Cut Wide Slit Into Cookie Package At Giant. I'm sure I reflect the entire shopping community's shared appreciation of your pioneer spirit. Leave it to the rest of us suckers to actually buy something, take it out of the store and then open it. Sheesh.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Aspie-Friendly Video

What if the power dynamics at a strip club were freely and honestly discussed by the participants?

This video is, not surprisingly, NSFW due to the audio dialogue.

On the other hand, the style is especially congenial to Aspies because not only is it explicit and detailed, but also the audio dialogue is all there is - no gestures, no body language, no changing tones of voice or visual offerings to keep track of. Once you get it started, you can even minimize the window or walk away if you want to focus on something else and just listen to the dialogue in the background.

That said, headphones are recommended if others are in the area who might not be interested in listening to this.




H/T: Veteran nightclub bouncer Clint Overland, who in turn got the link from renowned conflict management expert Marc "Animal" MacYoung.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Job You Save May Be Your Own

Marilyn Moats Kennedy has written about office politics for upwards of three decades. As far as I can tell - and I've been reading her work since the mid-1980s - she's one of the first people to openly and directly address office politics.

Of course, by "politics" we don't (necessarily) mean Republican vs. Democrat*. We mean all those informal rules that you'll never find in the personnel manual or official company policy. Some of these rules, such as "Wait a bit after you get hired before you start taking sides on issues and factions," are pretty much universal. Others, like "The Payroll Manager doesn't really run payroll; the Accounting Manager does" apply to specific firms but not others.

The point here is, we all need to learn the rules that aren't spelled out at least as much as we need to learn the ones that are. Especially - but not only - when unemployment is high and managers have to decide not just "Do I have to fire anybody?" but also sometimes "Which people do I need to let go?"

Laying people off isn't just a matter of having to lose such-and-such number of employees; unless an entire location or company is closing down, it's also a question of whether that number will include Jane Doe, John Smith, Harry Jones or someone else. You may be able to survive a layoff - but not by putting your head in the sand.

And so Ms. Kennedy has helpfully written up eight traits of the perpetually employed - including:

7. They are team players.

Favors are exchanged--everyone owes them and they owe everybody else. One HR manager said that bosses making layoff decisions go first for the loners because getting rid of them does no damage to the body politic. The thinking is "If no one knew she was here, no one will notice when she's gone." Team players who are also mentors are even farther down the layoff list.

[*] Or, say, Conservative vs. Labour for our British readers.

What do you think?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Nice Guys Finish Last

Some Aspies like to be first and/or last with things. It's like all-or-nothing; no ambiguity there.

For example (well, until I click "Publish Post" anyway), I'm probably the only creature in the universe who recalls that I was the first person in the dining hall for the Fall 1991 semester.

On the other hand, recently I got the last two boxes of fudge mint cookies at the supermarket. If there weren't literally dozens of other varieties of cookies there in plentiful supply, I would likely have left one behind. But since there were lots of other kinds of cookies there, and I know the supermarket restocks regularly, hey I snagged the last two boxes!

And earlier today, I headed down to Office Depot for two 16-gig flash drives. The flash-drive cabinet (which is locked because we're talking about mobile memory in all senses of the term!) only had one on sale. Hoping against hope, I asked the sales associate if there was one more in stock. There was - exactly one more. (Lexar was holding a sale for some reason; Office Depot stocks other flash drive brands too.)

Yay for speaking up - even if odds are the next nine+ times whatever store I'm in won't have any more in storage. (Stores often - but not always - have every item on the shelves; sometimes they have the manufacturers restock the shelves themselves so the items don't even see storage).

But, nothing to lose by asking, and I really wanted two at the same low price (Emily's and my new laptops need large flash drives to save the backup recovery files, so if either of our laptops goes down for the count we can at least restore it to the way it was when the UPS guy dropped the package on our porch, knocked on our door once and headed back to his truck without knowing for sure if we were even alive*).

And, the sale ends today (well, ended since the store's closed now). I've got both their remaining on-sale 16-gig flash drives. Life is good.

[*] Remember those kids who knocked on people's doors and ran away? Guess what they do for a living now.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

New Tech Wonders

Yesterday, I went to pay my utility bill by phone, figuring I had a day or two to spare anyway since they're normally due on the 6th. Well, guess what - this month for whatever reason, the due date is the 5th. And it was c 7:55pm while the customer service office closes at 8 and presumably they'd need to wait until the next day to run the check anyway. (I use the automated system to pay; I'm not certain if people can access it after hours and didn't feel like taking the chance.)

So, I got my check information ready, called, paid the bill - and got confirmation #7000000. Plus, when I hung up, it was precisely 8:00. We Aspies like that kind of precision. (And I'm one of those Aspies who likes numbers.)

[*] For security reasons, I've somewhat altered the confirmation number here.

PS: This is the fifth communication (and first public communication) from my new laptop - and for that matter from any laptop I've ever owned! I just set it up today - five years to the day after I got my last desktop (the fifth one I've had starting in the fall of 1988). After five years, this one has earned an honorable retirement.

PPS: So far, Windows 7 Home Premium is 3l33t!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Chop Down Your OAQ (Overall Annoyance Quotient)

Penelope Trunk, Aspie career blogger and entrepreneur, has posted five ways she believes Aspies can be less annoying at the office.

Ms. Trunk has recounted her own experiences as an Aspie, in this post and elsewhere, with credibility and panache. She certainly has a strong handle on some of the ways her AS affects her.

She's got it right on the money wrt spending limited amounts of time with people. As I've said, Aspies have a limited amount of social fuel, and then we need to recharge. It's not a matter of all or nothing; many of us can come to an office party for a few minutes, a half hour or an hour. (In fact, many of us can stay longer if we know just how long we're going to be there.)

Ms. Trunk also advises that we not disclose our condition. There certainly is something to be said for that advice; many Aspies have decided to keep their conditions to themselves.

And many others have decided otherwise. Including yours truly. I've found that if you disclose after having been hired, you can get reasonable accommodations - including better understanding for things you do that would otherwise be written off to laziness, bad attitude or even ill intent. No guarantees, but it can happen. The bottom line is: depending on your condition, the odds can be better if you disclose than if you don't disclose. (It's certainly true in my case, which is why I've "come out of the closet" in the first place.)

Ms. Trunk certainly has a point in that when you disclose, the boss needs to know what to do about it. Just saying "I'm an Aspie" won't help much unless you have good reason to believe the other person already knows about the autism spectrum. Even then, it's a good idea to explain how it affects you and what the other person and you can do together to minimize your weaknesses and leverage your strengths. Especially if you want to claim legal protections.

As she points out, you can't expect your boss to read a 400-page book. The best thing to do is list some concise but detailed specific implications of your condition and requested accommodations. Maybe also send him or her some links to - or print out for him or her - a few good articles on AS. (If I may say so myself, Building Common Ground has some good resources along the right-hand column.)

Of course, the above is if you choose to disclose - and like I said, I myself only suggest disclosing after you've been hired. Disclosing while they're still considering you gives them an incentive to reject you, especially because the law would require them to accommodate you if they hire you. In any case, the disclosure decision is purely your own.

Ms. Trunk suggests instead asking questions about what to do in various situations. That can work well if (1) you actually know in a given situation that there could be more there than meets your eye and (2) you don't need to ask so many questions so often that you become...well...annoying.

Keep in mind former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's concept of "unknown unknowns". Asking questions works for "known unknowns" - things that you know you don't know about. Many times we Aspies have problems with things we don't know that we know nothing about.

For one thing, many seemingly objective situations have social implications - eg, if the boss makes a mistake, when should you just let it pass, when should you correct her privately and when should you speak up right away? If an Aspie thinks it's only about replacing the error with fact, one can come to grief quickly and never know quite what happened or why.

(Another way in which people - especially Aspies - can unintentionally offend others is to assume that their experience is everyone's experience, and go on to make flat statements about the world. That often comes across as dictatorial. When you say "All X are Y," well, people who have found some Xs as Zs instead interpret your words as saying they don't count, and they can get cranky.)

So, asking questions can be good for those of us who are basically well-schooled in social matters but need some blanks filled in once in a while. For those of us who may offend and not know it, we need somewhat broader tolerance and help. That's much more likely to come from someone who knows you have a relevant diagnosable disability.

Ms. Trunk also points out that we need to be especially good at what we do. She's got an excellent point there - if we're going to upset people once in a while, however unintentionally, we're going to need to make up for it by being better than average - to say the least - at our jobs. Bosses tend to prefer likable people, and she points out that such people help others become more productive. Not everyone may agree with her that it's fair, let alone as obviously fair as she seems to think, but fair or unfair it is reality.

She also mentions that we have difficulty sussing out the complexities of office politics. The next questions is whether we can opt out of much of the process, and if not whether we can learn to grasp the twists and turns. There's no place at which anyone can opt out of politics entirely; on the other hand some places are much more "political" than others (slightly NSFW) and Aspies should consider avoiding them.

Last but not least, Ms. Trunk is quite right in that sometimes you just have to accept the rules, especially unspoken rules that no one person makes or can unmake. Not everything that happens is going to make sense - sometimes especially to an Aspie.

Btw, these insights can help us socially as well as professionally. Many if not most of us - including yours truly - have fewer friends than we'd very much like. And many of us are lonely for a mate - I was for a very long time, for example. Improving our social skills and devising workarounds will help us get and keep good friends, dates and romantic partners. (And - fairly or otherwise - so will getting and keeping good jobs, which directly affects our social lives too!)

What do you think?

H/T: Malcolm Johnson.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Matthew 5:37 Comes to Mind....

Jackie Gleason gave a (SFW) "60 Minutes" interview summing up his career, just a couple of years before he died.

In this segment (the second of three), Gleason discusses among other things "You're in the Picture" - a TV show he hosted that, well, seemed like a good idea at the time. To everyone except the audience, anyway.

So the following week he got on and apologized to everyone out there in TV land for the awful show.

When the interviewer asked Gleason how the show could have seen the light of day, he replied (c 6:00 in this clip):

Because there are executives who have a great talent, and that talent is to say yes that sounds like no or no that sounds like yes - so they continue in their jobs because they have this great talent.

(As for why The Great One himself had gone along with it, he suggested the possibility of SOWI [Signing Off While Intoxicated].)




H/T: Emily, who loves the Irish stars.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thursday, July 8, 2010

End of an Era

StatMom is - at least indefinitely - hanging it up. She's not sure if she'll do much more good by continuing to post, especially given how stubborn people tend to be, and she needs her energy to fight for her two young children who, like her (and her husband) are on the autism spectrum. Her blog, over three years old by now, is coming to an end.

I'm very sorry she's doing that. She extended the hand of friendship to me back in the fall of 2008, when I was a new blogger. It's not just me, either - according to Technorati, right now she's one of the top 10 Asperger Syndrome bloggers in the world!

I'm very sorry to see you go, StatMom. I'm not going to lie and say I don't understand why, though. Reese and Sonne need you more than anyone else does.

Here's hoping you do come back up to the line one day. I'll always leave a space open for you.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wisdom for the Day

If only I'd learned this, say, a decade or two ago:

One of the most painful experiences a person can undergo is having an outlook on life that doesn't sync with how the world works. For example, we all go through this stage when we are teenagers. Where our expectations and attitudes begin to run headlong into adult-sized issues. Most people adapt. They do this by adjusting their attitudes and expectations of the world. However, the people who will go through life having the most trouble are the ones who refuse to let go of certain assumptions and beliefs.

(Emphasis added.)

This wisdom brought to you courtesy of self-defense and conflict resolution expert Marc "Animal" MacYoung.

Monday, July 5, 2010

New Label

Hello,

Hopefully you all had a great Fourth of July.

I spent it with a couple of acquaintances in Arlington, going out to eat, watching the National Mall Concert on TV and then watching the fireworks.

While waiting to change trains in Washington, DC on the way there, I saw a couple of men looking at the map and trying to find their destination. I told them how to get to their stop, and then advised another man to go to the other side of the station for the train going the other way, and a woman on how to get to her stop. Another man suggested maybe I should get paid for this. I just smiled.

When I took the Metro back home and got off at my rather crowded station, a boy came up to me and asked me if a nearby door led to the bathroom. Knowing that it did, and that the station management often allowed customers to use it - but not wanting to usurp their authority (let alone suddenly become everyone's go-to person on an occasion like this) - I pointed him to the managers' kiosk and suggested he talk to someone who was there to help him.

This has happened often enough now to justify a new label.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What's Your Excuse?

Another T-shirt seen on the National Mall yesterday:

"I get paid to make an ass of myself...WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE?" (signed, Richard Pryor)

Very good point. The same behavior can be very good in one context, such as a comedy performance, and quite problematic in another, such as an office meeting or the dinner table.

Or as a long-lost acquaintance of mine, Steve Coile, liked to say: "Maturity is knowing when and where to act immature." (Also check out this recent roommate ad.)

Happy Fourth of July, my American readers!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Kids Wear The Darndest Things

Seen at the National Mall in Washington, DC today:

A young boy wearing a T-shirt saying: "You're not that bad - I'm just that awesome".

Yeah, it seems a little pompous. On the other hand, it also avoids putting down others - a model for anyone.

Good salespeople don't insult the competition, and in fact may compliment them a bit. The idea is that the prospective customer sees that the salesperson seems confident enough about one's own product. And that attracts customers.

Don't just take my word for it - Dale Carnegie makes just the same point in his classic How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Sometimes, we should build ourselves up. But tearing others down doesn't work - not with those you'll really want to deal with.

What do you think?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Putting Your Best Foot Forward With Women

Ali Wisch, a recent college graduate and now a writer and producer in the New York metropolitan area, has written an interesting article on how men can approach women they don't already know and not seem creepy (Not completely SFW).

In particular, note Ms. Wisch's emphasis on reading body language and other subtle signals. Maybe guys in general are perfectly able to infer whether or not a woman is interested without being told so in so many words, as she seems to believe. Or maybe not.

In any case, she gives a few good signs to look for either way. And she's certainly right in that the more able we are to use nonverbal signals - both ways - the better we can communicate and hence the luckier we will get in the dating game.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Halftime Show

I went back to Subway today. The manager was there again - and as soon as he saw me come in he told the worker just how to prepare my sandwich, and had my cookies ready for me. Things went much better; just to be sure I took the tray with my sandwich and cookies to the table, then went back and filled up my drink and carried it separately. When I went to the men's room I put the (very large) key ring around my arm so I wouldn't forget it.

This little episode straddles the midpoint of 2010. Hopefully the second half will go as well as the first half has!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dangit, What Was My Horoscope For Today?

I went into Subway a little while ago, where I

  • spilled most of my drink on the tray all over the table, chair and floor as soon as I set the tray down,

  • caught my shirt's short sleeve on the door lever to the men's room (fortunately, it wasn't damaged),

  • mistakenly thought the door was locked, so someone tried to walk in on me while I was drying my hands,

  • locked the door and then forgot both that I had done so and that I had brought the key in with me, so I locked the key in the men's room, forcing all customers (including the one who almost walked in on me and then snapped at me for leaving the door unlocked) to use the ladies' room for the time being and

  • got some meatball sauce on my silk shirt which will now need to be dry-cleaned.

(Of course I profusely apologized for [1] and [4] multiple times. And they know and like me there.)

I take a sort of pleasure out of getting all of my bad luck out of the way in one sitting.

At least I wasn't unlucky the way so many Germans were 76 years ago today.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Good Manners When Job Hunting

Yesterday afternoon, at a drinking fountain by the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland:

Young Man #1: Don't say "understaffed" - that's insulting.

Young Man #2: (Interested look.)

Young Man #1: Say "I understand that you may need people sometime in the future."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dishing Out Subtlety

Hello,

Emily and I just got back from a 25-hour vacation* to Ocean City, Maryland - a family-oriented seashore vacation area.

After we finished breakfast, I left our cash tip on the table. Emily asked me to put it under the lip of her dish, which confused me just a tad. After all, the dish would cover maybe one-fifth of the tip (which was paper), so the money would be out in plain sight anyway. Being a thoughtful well-trained husband, I put it under the lip of the dish.

When I asked her what good she thought it would do, she said it would be more subtle.

That's like much of what NTs do that I have difficulty understanding: If something is going to be obvious one way or the other, what's gained by doing it more "subtlely"?

What do you think?

[*] We pulled out of our parking spot at home just after 5pm yesterday; we opened our front door again just before 6pm today.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Just Another Negative Example (JANE)

Just like these debt collectors and this fictional character, here's another NT - this time Congressman Bob Etheridge from North Carolina - who has graciously volunteered to help show the difference between intentional misconduct and social faux pas:

(This is SFW, though you might ask small children to go elsewhere.)





H/T: Ambulance Driver.

Monday, June 14, 2010

People Watching Through Your PC

Judging from this (SFW) Onion article:

(1) How would you describe Rich Zeger in a word or three?

(2) What about Jodi Hennings?

(3) What would you advise Dave Klapisch, and why?

Also, Happy Flag Day!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

D-Day!

Sixty-six years ago today, Allied armies (U.S., Canadian, British and others) stormed the beaches at Normandy (northern France), to begin the end of World War II in Western Europe. Over the following eleven months, they drove the occupying Germans out of France, Belgium and the Netherlands and then invaded Germany itself from the west.

At the same time, the Soviet Union fought its way through Poland and then invaded Germany from the east, including occupying Berlin. Adolf Hitler committed suicide, along with his new bride Eva Braun, on April 30, 1945, and Germany unconditionally surrendered on May 7. World War II (in Europe) actually ended at midnight on the night of May 8, now known as V-E (Victory in Europe) Day.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

More NTs Not To Emulate

Like the previously profiled NT, this is a group of people who could use social skills - and here maybe also elementary decency - training. Unlike the other guy, these folks are real. And also this has a happy ending.

(SFW, but only because the language has been censored.)



H/T: Kenya McCullum, Workplace Communication Examiner.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Go Big Red!

Hello,

I've now been a Cornell University graduate for 20 years!

I met my first date and first real friend (same person) there. (In fact, in my first weeks there I received offers from both sexes!) I enjoyed perhaps the best university dining hall food in America there - not just my opinion, we had a bulletin board full of praise from students at other colleges.

I learned how to fine-tune my ideas, and to defend them; I still hold a few of them today. I learned the joy of reading (well, not necessarily the night before papers were due...). I also learned how to deal with weather you don't like - at least in central upstate New York - namely, wait a few minutes. (That and always carry an umbrella.)

Now, I mentor Cornellian Aspies free of charge, and also meet with Cornell applicants on behalf of the Admissions Office.

When I started seriously thinking about college options, in the summer before my senior year of high school, Cornell was where I really saw myself. I applied for freshman admission, but got turned down flat. A couple of weeks after getting my denial letter, I wrote them back asking for transfer admission materials. The next year, I applied for transfer admission, and got in.

Last but not least, thank you Mom!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Up, Up and Away!

This past weekend, Emily and I flew to Austin to see her brother receive two Master's degrees. (Yes, I can now close my eyes and still see the Longhorn symbol!)

When we touched down in Austin, I got off the plane first (we had to sit separately since the plane was perfectly packed). While waiting for Emily, I was approached by an older woman - likely an immigrant, and definitely Spanish-speaking only - for help. Since I knew nothing about the airport, I flagged down two nearby pilots, and then translated for them (I speak some Spanish). Turned out she was looking for the baggage claim area, and they were able to point her in the right direction.

Then, after Emily and I had just gotten our own baggage and started walking away, another lady flagged me down. She had just paid for a luggage cart, but still couldn't get it out of the machine. Having neither the detailed knowledge nor the time, I pointed her to a nearby customer service office and also a nearby worker who might be able to help her.

As my loyal readers know, this kind of thing happens once in a while. (And it's already happened again this week, back here in the Washington, DC area...but that's another story.)

Meanwhile, The County Line in Austin serves the best barbecue this native New Yorker has ever had. (If you enjoy big meals like I do, try their "All You Can Stand" special - ribs [pork and beef], brisket, sausage, chicken, sliced turkey, baked beans, potato salad and more!) And try the Star Seeds Cafe - open 24 hours, come as you are (and if you're not the barbecue type, check out their many vegetarian and vegan specials)!

Austin - an omnivorous city!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Free Money from Maryland Community Connection!

Hello,

If you have, or know someone who has, a developmental disability (which includes but is not limited to the autism spectrum), you/they live in Southern Maryland (Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George's or St. Mary's County), and could use extra funding to pay for Low Intensity Support Services (LISS), please get in touch with Maryland Community Connection (MCC) right away.

LISS refers to a wide range of services, which certainly includes life and career coaching but also things like medical and dental services, eviction prevention, adaptive equipment and many other things. (If you even think it might be covered, put it down on the application and they'll consider it!)

MCC actually has extra money they need to give out by the end of the fiscal year - June 30. This is not an income- or means-based program. Barring any complications, they'll give you a decision within 10 business days of your completed application (one page form plus documentation). Their requirements have liberalized substantially since December 2009, when the program started.

If you contact MCC, please tell 'em I sent you. If you'd like to ask any questions before getting in touch with them, just drop me a line. Do hurry, 'cause money is long but time is short!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Virtues of Medication

Clarissa has made an interesting point: Why should people wanted to be medicated for who we are, including if we have difficulty picking up on social cues and others' feelings?

Her point seems to be: Why should we accommodate people who won't accept us for who we are - and presumably for how we behave while in ignorance of said cues and feelings?

Well, some things that Aspies do, while not understanding cues and feelings, hurt others. We insult people. We put people between a rock and a hard place by forcing them to express negative things, such as a lack of desire for a date, bluntly. That makes it hard for us to make and keep friends, good jobs, accommodating roommates, and particularly romantic relationships.

We even make it more difficult for people to distinguish actual criminals, in that we sometimes act the same ways that criminals act, such as by peering into people's windows, staring at and even following people (especially women) and pushing people's (implicit) boundaries. That means, among other things, that people may call the cops on us. Or even play vigilante and give us a beating...or worse.

Now, some of those real criminals are mighty grateful for the service some of us are providing them. So, they're happy to accept us for what we are. They'd love us to remain oblivious of people's thoughts and intentions - especially theirs as they gear up to beat, rob, kidnap, rape and even murder us. The last thing a thug wants is for people to jam his easy-victim sensors or detect and pre-empt his game.

If AS and autism spectrum conditions in general are disabilities, for which we can ask for accommodations - and I think they are - don't we owe it to both ourselves and society to pursue reasonable efforts to alleviate them?

What do you think?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Possible Oxytocin Treatment?

Hello,

A team of German and British researchers has found that nasal sprays of oxytocin, the nurturance hormone, can help men better respond to social cues and others' feelings.

Scientists are speculating that it may help people with certain neurological disorders, including autism.

Do you think general use of oxytocin therapy can be a positive or negative step for Aspies and autists?

H/T: KipEsquire.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Interesting Anniversaries Department

Hello,

Did you know that ten years ago today, the U.S. Postal Service began enforcing regulations about appropriately designating mail addressed to a Private Mail Box, or PMB for short?

(In essence, the Postal Service wants to make sure that people sending things - like money - to a Private Mail Box, like, say, a UPS Store box, know that the recipient is a PMB and not a swank set of offices. So for anything sent through the mail where the address is in fact a PMB, but not marked as such on the envelope/package and thus the sender may not know it's a PMB, the Postal Service will return it and indicate why, giving the sender a chance to reconsider in light of the information.)

Cheers!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Taxing Decision

Hello,

Here in the U.S., the April 15 deadline for sending in Federal and (most) state tax returns is rapidly approaching.

So, guess what I was doing this past weekend? Emily's and my taxes (including A SPLINT's property tax return, too). For the Federal income tax return, I decided to use the Free File Fillable Forms program; you gather your W-2s, 1099s and similar forms and records, create an account (using last year's Adjusted Gross Income to identify yourself) and then sit down, type out each form and schedule and electronically submit the whole kit and kaboodle, all for free. Plus the IRS notifies you within hours if there is a problem with your return. (Your refund or payment can also be electronic, and can also be just as free.)

Among other things, I needed to fill our Schedule C for A SPLINT. The schedule asks for the nature of the business, which of course is life coaching and presenting. It also asks me to input an appropriate code for the business and I selected one that indicates services.

Schedule C includes a section for "Cost of Goods Sold" and asks for inventory figures. Of course, I don't have any inventory, so I just put zeroes on down the line.

It also asks which inventory valuation method I use: basically, do I say the inventory remaining at the end of the year is worth whatever I had originally paid for it, or do I "mark it down to market" and just say it's worth the going price at the time if the price has gone down, or do I use some other method? And if the latter, could I please attach an explanation?

I don't see any space to type in an explanation, or any way to upload a document. But, I figure, the business type explanation - both verbal and code number - plus the zeroes for all the inventory figures should give the IRS enough of a clue that this question doesn't apply to A SPLINT. So I click "Other method," merrily (hah!) finish our return and other schedules and submit the package.

A few hours later, I get the dreaded email: My return has been...

...rejected!

Because it didn't have an accompanying explanation for the alternative inventory method.

Heavens above, what's going on here? Why is the IRS kicking back my return over something that doesn't even matter in my case?

This looks like a clear issue of principle to me: The IRS has no right to make me re-do my return over an issue that makes no sense.

Indeed they don't. On the other hand, if I just jump through their extraneous hoop and select an inventory method (after all, if I have no inventory and the question therefore doesn't matter, neither does my response), they'll accept my return and I can move on to other things.

So, I in effect promised the IRS that in the event my nonexistent inventory declines in value over the year, I'll mark it down to market. I see no point to the obstacle, on the other hand if I can get around it as quickly as clicking another box for an answer which, for that very reason, commits me to nothing anyway...

Expediency 1, Principle 0.

One of the things running a business does for anyone - including an Aspie - is rack up some points for the Expediency team. I just don't have the time anymore for some of the stupid donnybrooks I used to get into.

What do you think?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Autism Resource Fair Tomorrow

Hello,

I'll present at the Autism Resource Fair tomorrow, 3-7pm, at Montgomery College's PE Main Gymnasium (51 Mannakee Street) in Rockville, Maryland. It's sponsored by Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services' Aging and Disability Services' Community Support Network.

Meanwhile, any of you up in the Baltimore area who wants good business supplies (eg, business cards, flyers, copies and the like) should check out Head Graphics Enterprises, Inc., on 630 Frederick Road in Catonsville, Maryland, (410) 744-0415, fax (410) 744-0246, headgraphics AT erols DOT com. It's a small business and it's run like one - that is, they seem to me to do right by their customers. If you do check them out, feel free to tell 'em I sent you.

Last but not least, hope you're having a good Autism Awareness Month - and U.S. readers, let's get our taxes in on time! =8-}

Friday, April 2, 2010

Autism Awareness!

Hello,

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I've guest-posted at Autism Learning Felt. It summarizes a talk I gave last week at the Jewish Social Service Agency in Fairfax, Virginia to a group of parents of Aspie adolescents.

Also, I wore blue today in honor of Autism Awareness Day. Specifically, my sky-blue tie.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Safe Words

Hello,

I recently re-read Harry Turtledove's How Few Remain, an alternate U.S. history which posits, among other things, the Confederate States having won the Civil War (which they nearly did in reality), and George Armstrong Custer enjoying a much longer and more successful career than he actually did.

On page 244, Colonel Custer is searching the home of a suspected polygamist in Utah in 1881. Despite the denials of several of the women there, he has found a family picture of the man with all his wives and children together:

"I say that this photograph shows me you have been imperfectly truthful here," he told them, having been too well brought up to call a woman a liar to her face.


That's puzzled me for a little while now. Let's put aside the question of why it's so bad to tell a woman who has lied to you, that you know she has lied.


What could Custer have meant by "imperfectly truthful" if not that the women's pleas that they were not the suspect's wives were untrue? If everyone there, including the women, was expected to understand that Custer now knew that they had, well, lied, just why is "imperfectly truthful" so much better than "lying" when everyone knows that they mean the exact same thing?

What do you think?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Asperger Syndrome and the Workplace

Gwen Parkes has profiled Temple Grandin and me on AOL Jobs in "Asperger's Can Aid The Workplace," in which Ms. Parkes discusses the challenges we face at work, and how we can best contribute.

As of now, it's still the second most popular article on AOL Jobs. It came up on AOL's own front page this morning, and I fielded calls and emails for most of today.

On another note, Emily asked me last night if I'd called a blawger (blogger who writes about the law) demanding he take my name off his blog.

J: I don't know what you're talking about. Who was this blawger?

M: He said you called him....

J: What is his name?

M: I found him by Googling your name...it's one of the first links to come up....

J: What. is. his. name??

M: I don't know - I'm sorry.

So, I run downstairs, fire up Google and eventually find Mark Bennett's post. Mr. Bennett is an interesting defense lawyer - with whom I strongly disagree on certain issues but whom I respect, not least for his willingness to question authority.

I printed it out and ran back upstairs. When Emily stepped out of the bathroom, I showed it to her:

J: Did you scroll down and read the entire post?

M: I did...I'm sorry.

J: Didn't you see the line "No" in there?

M: I read above and below it...I must have missed the "No" itself.

The morals of the story:

(1) Life is so often in the details.

(2) I'm not as unique in all respects as some people might think.

(3) Emily, I love you. You're always a lioness where I'm concerned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In the News

Hello,

Jennifer Lawler recently interviewed me for Bankrate.com on launching a second career. My advice in a nutshell: Understand yourself.

Anthony Balderrama of CareerBuilder.com recently included my suggestions on things you need to learn out in the real world 'cuz they don't teach them in school. Basically, people need to learn to read other people and to relate especially well to customers, superiors and peers.

Meanwhile, refreshingly blunt (NT-speak for "some people find him tactless, insensitive and even rude") ESPN sports commentator Tony Kornheiser has been suspended for his recent remarks about fellow anchor Hannah Storm's taste in clothes. Can you name one thing he said that could be found particularly offensive? (I can find three.)

Given my basically distaff readership, I'm especially (but of course not only) interested in men's input on this one.

Have a great rest of your day!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Better Living Through Technology

Emily and I celebrated Valentine's Day last night at Eggspectations (she loves eggs; I can take them or leave them).

Anyway, needless to say we had a bit of a wait to be seated. Like many fine restaurants, Eggspectations gave us a paging thingy, which went off when they had a table ready for us.

As you know, I'm always looking for ways to send and receive information more efficiently. The restaurant pager gave me an idea: Why not use it for maternity wards?

As I pointed out to Emily, the father may still have things to do, people to see and business to conduct if the mother doesn't want him hanging around the delivery room. (And if she does but he insists on letting his work come first, he'll need to line up a divorce lawyer anyway!)

Either way, the hospital could give him a pager-like device. Instead of multiple blue lights it could have one blue light and one pink light, and the light(s) would flash accordingly (maybe multiple times as needed). Or the hospital could send a text-message alert.

To simulate the joy of being in the delivery room, for a small extra charge the hospital could offer pix messages of the baby and mother. Heck, why not a live webcam, so the father can periodically maximize a window and see how the delivery is going? And with two-way webcams/videoconferencing (available on Skype now, for instance), between emails or blog comments the father can offer occasional encouragement when the mother seems to be tiring.

(In that case, the delivery room webcam and monitor should have a strong plexiglass shield maybe a foot in front of them. And protective clothing for the father himself, once he comes to the hospital, may not be a bad idea.)

Guys who normally drive with your wives in the passenger seat - wouldn't you like to be able to turn the tables?

(And as for those who do stay in the delivery room or the waiting room...I've got two words for the hospitals: Free wi-fi!)

What do you think?

PS: I had a large burger at Eggspectations. And an unexpected splash of pink (an omen, perhaps?) - it seems that when I said "medium rare," they heard me best at the end.