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.

 

 

7 hours and 400 miles of Hell.

Ok, perhaps not hell but it certainly will not be fun. On Friday I’m off up to Scotland to see my parents. I don’t drive so taking the train (or at least trains plural), a cross London multi-hop stage, then a long stage from Euston to Carlisle before the last train to Dumfries (the biggest town/train station to my parents) after than it’s a good hour and a half by bus home.

My idea of ..well.. I’ve already said it.. Hell !

Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to seeing my parents but I’m dreading the journey. It’s Monday now and my journey doesn’t start until early Friday morning but already I’m fretting. There’s rail construction going on which is causing disruption. It “shouldn’t” affect me but I’m already worrying that it will. I panic constantly about being late. I’m not as bad as I was before I moved to London/got married but I would set off an hour early… then add an hour more for safe measures… then take the train/bus etc BEFORE the one I calculated I’d need to get just on the OFF CHANCE I missed it. So the end result I’d usually be at least 2hrs early for everything.

My wife on the other hand, ambles through life and is usually late which sets me off on one of my “fun” meltdowns. Just as she’s have a positive effect on me, I’ve had one on her and now I’ll leave later than I feel is adequate and she’ll leave earlier than she feels adequate and now we arrive slightly early/on time which is a blessing.

However, back to Friday. So I’m checking the tickets in my wallet every hour or so. Like they’re just suddenly going to jump out and wander off by themselves? But I have to keep checking they’re in there. Of course, a sensible idea would be to leave them in an envelope at home, but then I’d worry about them when I’m at work. What if they’re moved? What if I can’t find them on Friday before I need to depart?

I’ve got my headphones and reading materials. And a phone charger, and a battery pack, and another battery pack just in case the battery pack and charger don’t work. (I have a drawer in my desk with AT LEAST 10 or 11 battery packs I’ve bought over the years)  “if My phone dies I’ll have no music, I’ll have to listen to all the voices on the train, I’ll have a meltdown…” (this is my thought process btw) .. “best take a third battery pack just in case!”

Ok I’m going for the weekend. Off on Friday and back following Monday. I’d best pack a weeks worth of clothes. Well you never know what might happen! But I don’t know what I’ll be doing!! ok so I’d best pack jeans AND a pair of smart trousers, oh and a couple of smarter shirts, and a jumper. Is it going to be hot or cold? Best pack another jumper and a few light summer shirts. Wet or dry? Best pack my waterproof AND my light summer jacket.

Oh dear! My rucksack is getting full and heavy now. Should I take a suitcase instead? but if I take a suitcase I’ll need to stow it in the racks away from my seat. I’ll need to keep watching it to ensure it’s still there. And if I take a suitcase how will I access my chargers etc? I’d best take a suitcase AND my rucksack for stuff I need with me.

Oh dear! how am I going to get across London carrying all this? It’s going to take me longer than I planned… I’d best plan to leave a bit earlier on Friday.

This is me fretting about everything that could go wrong about the journey. Lets not forget about the parental visit itself. No safe quiet space for me. None of my own belongings around me, parents constantly wanting to chat (they don’t yet know about my DX. I’ve never found the right moment to tell them) so it’s going to be emotional overload all weekend.

And then, of course, Next Monday.. I have to do the journey in reverse. Getting back to my London home late Monday night nice and refreshed for work the next morning.. erm?

A letter to my younger selves Pt 2

A while back I wrote two time travelling letters to my 7 year old and my 17 year old former selves. In this blog entry I fire up my quantum pen and put temporal ink to hyperspacial paper and write two more letters to the 27 and 37 year old versions of me respectively.

“Hi 27 Year old Pete!

It’s me! 47 year old Pete writing to you from the year 2017! How are you doing? Congratulations on your math degree by the way! I know you found it quite easy. Math always was your strong subject, you might not have known you were Asperger’s back then, but you were, one of the rare positives of austism I suppose, although not everyone develops super math skills like you. I hate to tell you though, you won’t be using your degree skills much from now on as you’ve no doubt found already? Let me see you’ve had a couple of small jobs already. A Document Controller for an oil and gas pipeline project? Oh and you worked for that Joinery and Building company in Aberdeen didn’t you? You wrote their client tracking and employee scheduling system for them didn’t you. That’s what you’re going to do from now on I’m afraid. You’re a Software engineer now, you’ll write software for other people! Still it pays the bills (admittedly it doesn’t pay very many bills at the moment.. but you will get paid more eventually, especially when you move)

Oh yeah, I really should cover that. You’re in Aberdeen at the moment. The “Big” city! I know you found moving there really stressful and you miss the quiet of your small home town. It’s ok, it will get better. Trust me you will get used to city life. You’ll be here for around 10 years yet, just in time for my next letter I guess. You’ll make some great friends and even have one of those more serious Girlfriends I told you about previously. You’ll end up as a software developer for a huge multinational oil and gas corporation and you’ll be there for nearly 8 years. However there’s going to be some big changes ahead. Good ones I have to say – don’t make me worry you. But there are big scary changes ahead and you can’t avoid them. Just try to enjoy your time in Aberdeen. Anyway, I’ve only got a short while and I still need to write a letter to your 37 year old self. Enjoy the next 10 years, by my calculations I’ll be writing to you just around the time of your big change! It’s ok. I won’t spoil the surprise just yet. See you in a decade

Your friend, You (aged 47)”
Right that’s one for the Doctor to post next time he’s popping over. Time for one last one.
“Dear 37 year old Pete,
Hello once more ! This will be my last letter to you as a decade after this – well you’ll be me here writing them! So you’re still in Aberdeen for now and you’ve recently bought a flat?! Wow you own your own home! Feels very odd doesn’t it? You and your last girlfriend broke up if I remember, it’s a pity but hey, you’ve got a new girlfriend now haven’t you? Yes, and what’s more she’s from London! I still cannot you met through social dancing of all things XD It was your best friend who suggested you go dancing after you broke up with your ex.  I recall you didn’t particularly enjoy the dancing, but you made some very good friends there, friends you still have today..er.. my today that is – not yours. My my time travelling is so confusing! Anyway you like this new girlfriend of yours and I believe you’ve been popping up and down to visit her and she’s been doing likewise. I know you have a good feeling about her and you’re right to. Ok, in my last letter I told you about a big change, one I knew you wouldn’t like much. I just want to take a moment to prepare you for it. The company you work for is being bought out, they are going to get rid of most of your department and I’m afraid to say, you will be being made redundant. It’s nothing personal, but I know this will really upset you for a while, it’s ok to be upset but I’m here to tell you something you might not expect. Ready? THIS WAS A GOOD THING!

Yes really! You and your Girlfriend have both been travelling back and forth from Aberdeen to London for months. You don’t need to do this any longer. You’ll get a sizable redundancy package, you’ll find someone to rent your flat – and you’ll move down to London!

No, I’m not kidding. Don’t panic it’s fine. It all works out REALLY well. You move down to London and move in with your girlfriend in her flat. You’ll get a REALLY COOL new job working for a famous F1 motorsports company and you’ll be making so much more money. But that’s not the best part. Ok, I’m probably spoiling the surprise a bit but here goes. When you turn 40 you’ll get married. YES, you heard me right, married. Believe it or not, you’ll actually get up in front of all your friends and do a speech! And you’ll barely stammer at all. You’ve come a long way since that scared little 7 year old boy I first wrote to.

You and your new wife will then sell both your and her flats and buy a house in London together. You’ll have ups and downs, you’ll change jobs a couple of times but eventually you and I will catch up. We’ll be living in our family home with a cat called Jelly. No we didn’t name her. You won’t have any children unfortunately but that’s ok. You’re happy. Eventually during one of your low periods you’ll go to the doctor for counselling and , in doing so, will finally be told the truth of who you are. It’s taken you 40+ years to get here but here you are – Aspie and proud.

It’s been one hell of a journey and I’m glad I got to share it with you

Best regards

Pete.

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…

Oh Dear….

I had an “interesting” conversation with a colleague today. The subject of Autism came up and as in the course of the conversation I mentioned that I was on the spectrum and that I have Asperger’s. I present the conversation as best as I can remember it here.

“You realise that I’m Autistic? At least I’m on the spectrum. I have Asperger’s Syndrome”
“You? no you don’t”
“er.. yes I do!”
“No, you don’t you can’t have Asperger’s Syndrome”
“I do. Why do you say I can’t?”
“Because you’re normal. You’re not weird or anything!”

at this point I start laughing.. not because I find what he’s saying funny or even amusing but out of sheer disbelief

“I assure you. I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome by a number of medical professionals. First my Doctor who sent me to a specialist and secondly by the specialist who said, in no uncertain terms, I was not just slightly on the spectrum.. but SLAP BANG IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SPECTRUM”

what he said next , stunned me into silence.

“Nah! they’re wrong. They don’t know nothing!”

So there you have it folks. I’m obviously NOT on the spectrum because I’m “not Weird enough” and two Doctors/Psychiatrists don’t know diddly-squat when compared to the vast intellect of a software developer.

I walked away at that point. I might have started throwing things otherwise XD

Please.. someone stop the planet. I want to get off.

Welcome to your new Aspie user guide.

Thank you for purchasing this 1970 Model aspie. With care and attention to details you should have many years of quality friendship from this model. To maintain your model at optimum efficiency it is beneficial to familiarise yourself with these simple guidelines.

1. Be Understanding : Remember things you take in your stride and find easy may prove challenging or even upsetting to someone on the autistic spectrum.

2. Be Consistent : This may mean doing the same routine things over and over and over. You may be bored but to your Aspie friend this may be comforting. Also be aware that if you want to encourage your friend to try something new or unfamiliar you will need to do it at their speed. If they don’t like it don’t force them to stay.

3. Be Patient : An aspie’s reluctance to change may be perceived as stubbornness. They’re not being difficult just for the sake of being difficult. Try and understand their point of view without anger and try and present your arguments in terms they can relate to. Often stubbornness to change is a result of dealing with the unknown, giving them more information which they can absorb at their own speed can often (but not always) change their minds.

4. Be Proactive : If you are waiting for your aspie friend to contact you.. you might wait a while. They’re not good at instigating social situations. if you want an aspie friend to meet up try choosing a quiet low key place where external stimuli is at a minimum. Smaller crowds are better than large ones and don’t suddenly drop the decision on them.. give them time to mull it over and prepare themselves mentally for it.

5. Be Strong : Don’t get upset if you ask your friend if they’d like to do X, Y or Z with you and they reply along the lines of “No, I’d rather read this book/Watch this TV show/Listen to this Album” it’s nothing personal. They may not be needing social contact right now. A little goes a long way with aspies. They’re not trying to be offensive, just being honest.. which brings us to..

6. Be Honest : Aspies are not good at reading between the lines. If you don’t want to do something like see Rogue Squadron for the 15th time that week, when asked say “No I’d rather not” instead of “oh do what you like!” because if your average aspie hears that, that’s EXACTLY what they’re do. Communicate your thoughts, feelings and upsets clearly as possible.

Finally

7. Be Honoured : Aspies don’t make friends easily. if you have an aspie friend it’s because you’ve met every one of their list of exhaustive criteria. They trust you and feel safe around you. A friendly Aspie is a loyal Aspie. Once you have an Aspie friend you’ll find them to be a deeply caring friend. Remember you may have many many friends but the Aspie in your life may only have a couple. You may even be their ONLY friend. That’s quite the accolade.

By following these 7 simple steps you should have many happy years of aspie friendship. Just remember to check the underside for rust and oil occasionally for fault free operation.