Data, My brother from another mother (and planet)

My wife and I have been rewatching all the Star Trek series on Netflix. We’ve finished the original series and are now on series 4 of The Next Generation (Henceforth referred to as ST:TNG)

Last night’s episode was “In Theory” where the Enterprise crew encounter strange dark matter deformations in space-time causing parts of the ship to phase in and out of regular space, but for me the episode is more about Data and his first “girlfriend” Ensign Jenna D’Sora.

This episode resonates so strongly with myself. Data is a friend to Ensign D’Sora, as honest as Data always is, not that he can be anyway else (in case there’s some people not familiar with the series or the character Data is a highly intelligent and analytical android devoid of emotion but with a Pinocchioesque wish to be a “real human”)

In this episode, Data tries to respond to the romantic attentions of his colleague. He’s slow to pick up on obvious signals and despite his vast knowledge he seems lost and out of his depth trying to please his partner.

I was reminded of my early dating experiences (or lack thereof) I was woefully ill prepared for the experience. One of my long time college friends still waxes lyrical with much mirth about the time we were sitting in the student campus bar and I was talking to him about how girls just didn’t seem to like me. At the same time, this girl kept coming over and interrupting me, asking me the time, asking me for a lighter (I don’t smoke), asking what course I was on , who I was with etc etc until I turned and essentially told her she was being rude and to stop bothering me and my friend and I returned to my previous conversation about how difficult it was to get attention from girls.. .. .. erm. In hindsight I see where I went wrong there.

My friends (and I had some, a precious few) loved how utterly oblivious I could be. I would take things either too literally or opposite to how they were meant to be taken.

Example number 2. After a late party out of town a female friend asked me if I’d like to stay over at her place. As it was a long and expensive taxi fare home and I didn’t fancy sitting in a bus station for 6 hours I agreed. She showed me to her sofa bed, then pointed out the bathroom and where her room was. I thanked her and made sure I didn’t go anywhere near her room, after all why else would she have told me where it was if not to ensure I didn’t actually mistake it for the bathroom?

I was in my late 20’s when I lost my virginity (not that I was ever really that worried about that) it sort of happened and I vaguely remember being told what I was doing. I didn’t really have much say in the matter. I was TOLD I was taking her home, I was pretty much TOLD we’d be sleeping together and when I told her I didn’t really know what to do (I had book learning and knew the principles.. I lacked “practical” experience) she essentially took control while I lay there feeling a little scared and unsure of the whole thing.

Fast forward many many years and I met the woman who would become my current wife. My wife has since informed me that one of my most endearing features was my openness and honesty. The very first words I spoke to her when we first met face to face (we’d chatted online previously) was “That’s the only kiss I’ll be getting” as she handed me a Hershey’s kiss as a joke (I had developed a cold sore from nerves and blurted out that I’d not be doing any kissing in case I passed it on) She laughed this off and told me later she thought it was sweet and also slightly presumptuous. Of course, back then neither her nor I knew I was on the spectrum. With 20/20 hindsight all these amusing little titbits all coalesce into something glaringly obvious.

Data had problems with his emotions, he would often be far too honest or literal. He didn’t always understand humour or slang and often misinterpreted people’s words and actions incorrectly.

In hindsight I realise Data and I have much more in common than I first realised.

 

 

The Whisper that Tingles – My Experiments with ASMR.

Quoting from Wikipedia
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is an experience characterised by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. It has been compared with auditory-tactile synaesthesia. ASMR signifies the subjective experience of “low-grade euphoria” characterised by “a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin”. It is most commonly triggered by specific acoustic, visual and digital media stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attentional control

It has been referred to as the so-called “Head Orgasm” although I dislike this term intensely as to me ASMR is a deeply pleasing, relaxing and totally un-sexualised experience.

ASMR recording tend to be whispers in the ear, crinkling of papers and tissues or the sounds of haircuts! These actually don’t do anything for me and in fact, whispering close to my ear or giving me a haircut is probably going to do the EXACT opposite to me. These sounds represent someone getting “too close” and invading my personal space. The back of my neck as a no-go area to most people other than my wife. I have to force myself to brave the monthly haircut as I’m supposedly a grown up now 😀

Sounds which trigger ASMR for me are the white-noise static sounds. hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, hand dryers, washing machines, babbling brooks and rushing streams, heavy rain and the such.  These sounds often (but not always) trigger the unmistakable scalp tingle that travels down my neck and across the back of my shoulders. It’s an odd sensation and one I cannot really pin down, like a cross between a cold breeze on the skin and a nervous shiver.

I’m a bit of an audio experimenter in my spare time. I create “Soundscape” tracks. Not musical per se but a bizarre melange of natural sounds, synthetic drone sounds created using pseudo-random mathematical functions and strange oscillating pulsating sounds generated to strobe from ear to ear creating the so-called “Binaural Beat” effect which people claim to be able to entrain the brain into broad frequency states (Alpha, Beta, Theta, Delta etc) I’m open-minded about this claim however I don’t buy in to the more out there and “esoteric” claims of it “opening the third eye”, “aligning one’s chakras with one’s QI” or “Enabling astral projection” . Instead, to me they are nothing but an oddly relaxing sound.

I layer my sounds in what I find pleasing arrangements then master them to create these fairly lengthy tracks which range from 20 mins up to around an hour in length each.

I don’t do this for any personal gain, other than having a repository of tracks to listen to when i feel the need to relax and try to achieve a more mindful state. I mentioned this briefly in a previous post :- Music, meditation, mindfulness, and Me.

As I sit here in my office, the air conditioning has just kicked in, there’s a gentle hum from the fans that just triggered an ASMR response compounded by the sudden breeze of icy cool air blowing across the back of my neck.

To me, ASMR and White noise/nature sounds are a form of safety net. It’s a comforting sound that makes me feel good. You could almost say it’s a form of auditory stimming as it provides everything stimming does and more.

if you want to experience these yourself, please feel free. I’ve put them on Soundcloud and can be played free of charge as often as you like. You can find my “audio creations” under Mycrofttech Audio – Soundscapes

An Aspie Sidesteps The Multiverse

There is a theory which is popular among science fiction writers that we live in one universe among many other parallel and different universes. In these universes life is similar to the one we live but not exactly the same as here, so I might be a professor teaching mathematics in one instead of the software developer I actually am in this universe. Small events can ripple outwards to make huge changes in the eventual outcome, meaning even a small change at the start of a life can lead to a very different one at the end. It made me wonder. What if?

Hi, I’m Pete and I’m a 47-year-old with autism. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome aged 5. I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time, I just remember being told I had to go to the “special class” when I started school.

I didn’t much like school. The teacher never really listened to me and we kept having to do stuff I found easy, Like working out change from shopping or how to make a sandwich. I always felt really odd in there, surrounded by kids with Angelman’s syndrome, profound deafness or other similar conditions. Perhaps these days the kids would be more integrated and less isolated but this was a small Scottish lowland school in the 70’s we were hidden away in our own class like an embarrassment. I remember Mum and Dad arguing a lot. Dad always wondering about who was going to take care of me. Mum worrying about how I’d cope when they were gone. I tried telling them I was ok and could look after myself but they never listened. Primary school came and passed. I didn’t learn much, at least, not from the teachers at least. I read my own books and learnt from them. When I went to secondary school again I was segregated into our own special little class only difference now was there were more of us from other schools in the area. Teachers tried to give us the basics, but with limited staff and so many people with different abilities and disabilities more often than not we were just told to keep quiet and read.

I got picked on a lot at school. I didn’t really make any friends unfortunately. I’d often just spend time in the library, but even that was frustrating as the librarian always seemed to think the books I wanted to read were “too advanced for me” and gave me other ones. I get angry when I’m not allowed to do what I want and as such I’m always in the headmaster’s office for punishment.

School finishes and I’m told I have to go to the adult learning centre. It’s not what I want to do, I see people on TV using computers and things and I think they look fun, unfortunately my Mum and Dad say they’re for “other” kids and we don’t get one. I’m so bored so I make my own fun. I’m arrested several times for lighting fires. Just piles of rubbish but I loved the flames. I remember mum crying again and dad not speaking to me. Next thing I know I’m in “sheltered accommodation” living with other “disabled” and elderly people in a large town in SW Scotland. I’m given pocket-money every day and I have to report in all the time. I’m really bored. We have a computer in the home. It’s not very fancy but it’s got some games and stuff. I’m not allowed to mess around with it though. I was looking around one day and changed something and the printer stopped working. I was just curious.

I stay in one sheltered home after another. I’m allowed a little more independence now. Seems people are more accepting of the mentally ill. I have a small job working in the local supermarket. I’m not allowed to be on the tills or anything, but I sweep up the store and stock the shelves. It’s nice to be able to get out of the house.

One day a new book shop opened across the street. It was an odd place, sold books but also have a coffee shop and computers you could use! If you paid 50p you could use one of the computers and search for ANYTHING you wanted. It’s amazing.

This one time, I found this story about a guy the same age as me, funnily enough also called Pete. Only he’s married and living in London with his wife and works as a senior software developer for a large multinational company. Gosh.. what a wonderful life that would be but it’s not likely.. it’s just pure science fiction if you ask me!

Afterword.

Obviously none of this happened to me. But it’s not all fictional. My school did have quite pronounced segregation for special needs students. Even the deaf students who were bright and intelligent were schooled with the more acutely disabled students. I did actually (and erroneously) end up in that class for one afternoon. I didn’t enjoy it one bit. My life as a troublemaker, arsonist and shop worker didn’t happen to me either. There was one boy in our school who this happened to. I never really knew what happened to him, I recall him being sent to a borstal school because of his arsonist tendencies.

My mum and dad were supportive all my life and encouraged my curiosity and wild ideas. Not many kids in early secondary school had two full sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica! (Admittedly 2 very old moth-eaten second-hand sets – but still !) I got my first computer aged 10.

And yes, I knew of people consigned to the care system. Living in sheltered homes and the such. My mother used to work as a carer in one such establishment and I got to know some of the residents who lived there. In this “what if” scenario I just put myself in their shoes.

I was never diagnosed at school. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 46 by which point I was working in London and married. Perhaps my life wouldn’t have changed so drastically and dramatically. But I know my parents would have worried about my future and I also know I wouldn’t have got the level of education I needed. The rest is pure fiction and conjecture.

Positively Autistic: A List of (Positive) Autistic Traits

I just had to reblog this for my friends who read my wittering’s! So much of this could be used to describe me and it’s immensely refreshing to see these “quirks” portrayed as positives! Anyone who knows me will see me reflected here !

The rest of the blog is really interesting too! You should *really* go check it out!

So Much Stranger, So Much Darker, So Much Madder, So Much Better

Sometimes it’s hard to feel positive about being autistic when so much of the presentation of autism focuses on our deficits. In a world that tells us all the ways we are “wrong”, I think it’s important to look at the many ways we are awesome.

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Music, meditation, mindfulness, and Me.

Fellow aspies and non-aspies alike often suffer from the self-same problem, namely an overabundance or busy thoughts bouncing around our cramped overloaded brains all clamouring for attention. I guess ASD people perceive themselves to suffer more as they’re that little more susceptible to the negative effects. However, it’s something EVERYONE has to deal with at one point or another and in today’s high octane, high stress, low downtime environment finding quiet time is becoming increasingly more and more important.

As a child/young adult I loved the invention of the Sony Walkman. I’d never leave the house without mine and a collection of cassettes. Later the Sony Discman came out and again, I’d walk around with this oversized tea plate of a device strapped to my side and a collection of my precious CD’s . Thank heavens for the invention of the MP3 is all I can say.

To me, music was a means to escape – a bolthole for when things got too much. Although I listened to pretty much anything and everything my music tastes veered more to Classical music, repetitive tracks like Philip Glass or Steve Reich, complex layered pieces from the likes of Jean-Michel Jarre or Jazz from practitioners like Stan Getz et al.  I liked music I could get lost in, music that took me away from my immediate surroundings and gave me something to think about other than my current anxieties.

I remember listening to a self-hypnosis CD. It wasn’t music, it didn’t have vocals or anything but it was a rich layered abstract environment with overlapping elements of Whale song, synthetic drone sounds, chimes, discordant sounds and choral voices. I loved it! I would listen to this while lying on a bed in a darkened room and my mind would drift off into a strange daydream like state, totally focussed on the sounds but unlinked from reality. For the 30 or so minutes it played I would be totally relaxed and calm and the myriad voices in my head would be quietened. 

Flash-forward many years and I started making these sort of “music” pieces myself for my own benefit. I put music in quotes there because it’s anything BUT musical XD. I’m a mathematician, a programmer, an electronics engineer but most certainly NOT a musician.  I wrote software to generate midi keyboard signals based on musical theory (a mathematical concept) , Chord progressions too I incorporated  (again, another mathematical concept) –When you boil it down, you realise just how mathematical musical composition is ! I’d no real talent at composition but my semi-random plinks and plonks seemed pleasing enough.

I investigated binaural beat theory. I’m dubious about all their claims of Binaural (or Isochronic) beat technology being able to “Open the third eye, Activate astral projection or ensure lucid dreaming” instead I simply found the strange oscillating, pulsating sounds oddly soothing. Whether or not they were actually affecting my Alpha, Beta, Theta or Gamma brainwaves as they claim I have no idea – but they did relax me.

Later in conversation with a friend who was going through a rough patch I mentioned I did these for my own benefit and he showed an interest. Then another, and another.  Ultimately I polished my technique and made a few tracks which I released on Soundcloud.

As I say I’m not a professional musician – I’m not even an amateur musician XD I like listening to these as a means to relax. I find I become very focussed on the music and my random thoughts quieten down. I drift through strange landscapes where thunder and lightning mix with Tibetan bowls and choirs singing vocal aaahs and ooohs!
   I make no claims about my “creations” other than they’re vaguely and strangely relaxing.

If you are interested you can check them out here.

 

 

Me and The Mask

No, this isn’t a discussion of my personal feelings regarding the Jim Carrey movie (although, for better or worse, I quite like it.. Let’s just agree to never talk about the sequel though ok?)

No, the mask in question is this one *points to face* what? You don’t see a mask? Perfect! Just the way it should be. You should look at me and ne’er give me a second glance. You should cast your eyes upon my unremarkable mediocre visage and pass on without a second thought. I should merge seamlessly into the sea of anonymous faces, never standing out.

The mask I wear hides who I really am. After 47 years of being an aspie – actually no, technically after 1 year of being aspie and 46 years of being a very confused individual – I’ve learnt to hide my inner true self. I hark back to the conversation of the previous week ( see blog post Oh Dear…. for details) where a colleague told me I couldn’t possibly be on the autistic spectrum as I was “not weird enough” I suppose I should be happy that it’s working so well.

Unfortunately, I have to present a false front to my shabby interior. We’re all judged daily by people we know and people we don’t. Walk onto a bus and within seconds someone has probably made a snap judgement about who you are and what sort of person you might be. I get treated differently when I’m in my work suit and tie opposed to my scruffy weekend gear. How do you think I’d be received if people who didn’t know me suddenly realised I’m “not right in the head” (not my words – overheard on a bus recently about another passenger)

Masking is dangerous. It puts us under incredible stress and strain. Constantly being on guard and pretending to be someone else every waking moment is hard. Constantly worrying about letting your pretence of normality slip for a second makes me very anxious. Of course, I can’t SHOW this anxiety, no I have to bottle it up as well. Apply the plastic broad smile and artificial twinkle in my eyes. I have to laugh and joke with everyone like I don’t have a care in the world when in reality I’d dead and dry as dust inside.

It’s tiring being someone you’re not, which is why my wife is so important to me. She’s one of the few people who know ME – Not the fake public me, but the frail broken shy private me. She’s got the keys to my inner enclave. She’s seen the face behind the mask and covered it in loving kisses. I feel safe around her. She is my strength and my anchor.

Unfortunately I can’t carry her around with me every minute of every day. I have to work, interact with people, deal with problems and strangers and that great messy uncontrolled tangle that is London. As much as I hate it, I need the mask.

Time to put the mask on again and face the world from behind its protection.

How do I feel?

Smokin’

the-mask-world-cup-630x349

 

A letter to my younger selves

Imagine writing a series to letters to be sent back in time to yourself at previous points in your life. What would you say to yourself?

Dear 7yr Old Peter,

Hi, It’s Pete here. I’m you from 40 years in the future. I’m just writing to say hi and to let you know you’re going to be ok in School. You’ll be, what?, in 2nd year of Primary school at the moment ? I know you don’t like school very much on account of the bullying. You won’t always be the smallest person in the class, in fact by the time you go to high school you’ll be the tallest.  I know you don’t like many people in your class. But it’s ok. Things will get better. Not for a while I’m afraid to say, but they will get better. I know you feel different, you are but not in a bad way. You won’t know for a long time but you’re on the Autistic Spectrum. It means you find some things like making friends difficult but you’ll find you’re better at other things too. I know Mum and Dad shout at you when you get your homework wrong. It’s ok. They know how clever you are and are just trying to push you to do your best. Pity they’re doing it all the wrong way but it’s not because they think you’re stupid but because they think you’re clever and can do better. You know, after high school you’ll go to college and then university and you’ll become a Mathematician! Imagine that!! Mum and Dad are so proud of you, they may not tell you now but they will.. when you’re older.

Are you still playing with Lego ? In a few years Mum is going to give all your Lego away to our young cousin. I know I’m still angry about that. But you know what’s funny? When you leave university and get a job you buy more Lego that you ever have now ! At least that’s something to look forward to.

Oh and another thing, in a few years in the early 1980’s you’ll get a toy called a ‘Rubik Cube’ trust me you’re going to LOVE THAT!

Anyway I must go. Keep reading those science fiction books. In the future getting books is so much easier. I know the local village library isn’t very good but by the time you’re 18 you’ll have so many second hand books you’ll break the bedroom wall ! Dad will shout about it then, but we both laugh about it now.

Take care, stick in at school, And I’ll write to you again in a few years. Say hi to Kaye for me 😉

I’ll just stick this in the post. Hmm I might have time for another one to a later version of me..

Dear 17 year old Peter,

Hey! It’s me again! I know it’s been 10 years since I last wrote. It’s not easy writing letters to be delivered back in time. The postage is EXTORTIONATE ! haha. So, secondary school eh? And what you’ll be in 5th or 6th year now I suppose? You’ve been doing ok with your exams if I remember? And you’re library monitor now , albeit unofficially.  Sorry to hear you’re still getting bullied but congratulations on getting over your stammer ! You may not have liked it at the time, but the speech therapist sending you to the school acting club really helped! I see you like to hang around with the clever kids. They’re nice but they really don’t think you’re one of them you know. In few weeks they’ll all be voted in as Prefects. They’ll all vote for each other but I’m sorry to say no one will vote for you. I know you try to fit in but you’re still too “odd” for them. I wish you had been diagnosed earlier but you still won’t be diagnosed for nearly another 30 years! I’m sorry, people are just going to think you’re strange for a bit longer. At least the Doctors are looking into your Anosmia now! I know it took a while for them to realise. You’re not very good at communicating things yet. I know all those tests etc are unpleasant. I hate to tell you they never find a cure, turns out that it was due to you being so premature. Maybe that explains why we’re so “different” in other ways too? Who knows.

But.. whoo hoo.. if I remember correctly. Didn’t you get your first girlfriend recently? I forget her name but I remember her hand me down fur coat she’d wear to school. She was picked on a lot too. You called her “Teddy bear” and she called you “Specs” it won’t last I’m afraid but there will be others, few and far between granted but there will be others! You even get married later! But again that’s not for 23 years !

How you getting on with the cube? You’ve got a few now don’t you? And you’ve asked Dad to put bigger shelves up above the bed for all your books? I’d warn you not to overload them, but I know you won’t listen. Never mind, the sight of you buried under a pile of books will be a joke you and dad share in later years.

Oh, and how many LP’s and Cassettes do you have now? In a few years at University you’ll get a thing called a CD player. It plays things like little silver records. You and your sensitive hearing will LOVE the sound quality.

What else to say? Oh yeah. Don’t feel bad about flunking your 1st driving test.  You’re still young. Heck I’m 47 and I’ve just failed again too XD I won’t tell you how many times that is now.

Anyway must dash and get this in the post. I’ll write you again in a decade or so.

Pete.

Ps. Yeah, btw, you’ll drop the ‘R’ from your name when in Uni. Mum will still call you Peter. Heck she still refuses to call me anything but Peter!

Time’s getting on. Maybe I’ll write to my 27 and 37 year old selves in a few days.. Anyway I’m off to watch Doctor Who…