I just finished doing something that I have a hard time doing, for various reasons that wind tightly down into the psyche of my Asperger’s Syndrome: cleaning books from our bookshelves. We added six books and removed twenty-one, which really represents two new books, four books replacing twelve books, and nine removals. This gives us the room we need to add another dozen or so books that have been patiently waiting.

bookshelvesAs a child, I had to get rid of books for simple reasons: we were moving, or I’d long since passed the stage of needing picture books but I did need the shelf space. As adults, Stephanie and I have more complicated reasons for getting rid of books:

  • They are falling apart. These books are disintegrating, whether through lots of use or simply because they were never well put-together (I salute you in memory, my first run of The Belgariad, bought in high school as the first fruits of my labors at McDonalds). These are the easiest to deal with, because we simply place them on our wish list, purchase replacements, and swap them out.
  • They take up too much space. In our new house, we have a fixed amount of wall space (stupid modern construction techniques using larger windows) for book shelves. As a result, we’re now in a mode of “one comes in, one comes out.” I really dislike this, so one technique we’ve been using to get more bang for the buck is buying omnibus editions to gain back shelf space.
  • They are not getting read. Even though I have read every book in my library, there are some I don’t end up re-reading that often – or when I do, I discover that my skills and needs as a reader have advanced and the book no longer is a compelling part of my library. Removing these books from the collection requires a great deal of effort to overcome the inertia of nostalgia.
  • We purchased them second-hand, but want the author to get paid. The more I learn about the publishing industry and the more contacts I make in the author community, the more personal it becomes for me to make sure that these people are able to make a living by writing. Book sales are the best way to do that – new books, back list books, whatever.

Sometimes, we combine some of these reasons. We have recently begun to replace many of our favorite books (Eddings, Brust, Bujold, Cooper, Engdahl, Weeks, and more) with as many omnibus editions as we could. This way we replaced tattered books, gained back shelf space, and made sure the author keeps seeing royalty statements. Honestly, I wish omnibus editions were more of a thing. As we can, we’ll replace hardbacks with paperbacks (or likewise) to ensure a given series is consistent and takes the least amount of shelf space.

Tonight, I’m removing books from my collection for a much different and more painful reason: I no longer wish to support the author. I’m not going to name specific authors – the reasons for doing so are between me and Stephanie and no one else – but there are some people who are so toxic in some area of their lives that we no longer wish to support them. Although the money we spent for their books is long gone, removing those books from our shelves is a tangible way to detach our lives and fates from theirs. It helps us close the open loops in our minds that would otherwise urge us to buy their books. However, getting rid of these books sucks; it takes a lot of energy and there is/will be a mourning period. For so many years, books were my greatest friends. Getting rid of books that you have accepted into your life and given a home to feels like turning out the family pet, or possibly one of your kids.

If you think that’s a juvenile or overblown sentiment for a grown man to express, all I can say is that the concept of books and writing got wired into my soul at a very early age, and yes, sometimes books mean more to me than people. If you can’t or won’t understand that, I cordially extend to you the benison of I don’t give a shit.

Autism Is Not The New Cool

Pardon, y’all. It’s been a while since I’ve been here <peers at the dust>. I’ve had the best of intentions, but sadly, my bogging client of choice (Windows Live Writer) doesn’t auto-translate those into actual written blog posts yet. Maybe in the next version. <sigh>

I can hear some of you (both of you still reading, thank you loyal fans) asking what finally brought me back, and I have to say it’s a rant. A rant about autism (and Asperger’s, and the rest of the spectrum), how it is perceived, and how trendy equals insensitive. You have been warned.

Hip To Be Square

After karate class tonight on the drive home, Steph was reading through Facebook (something I do but occasionally these days, having overdosed myself on social media some time ago) and came across the following comment on a mutual friend’s post:


Yes, that really does say that stupid thing

For some reason, this really punched my buttons. I don’t know much about the person who posted it. I don’t know if they’re a fellow spectrum traveller or not. I don’t know how many close friends or family members they have who have autism. To a certain extent, it really doesn’t matter, because this comment is a textbook illustration of a fallacy that I’m seeing more and more:

If geeks are cool, and a lot of geeks are autistic, they must be cool because they are autistic.

This is a fallacy because it is the living embodiment of failure to grasp proper logic and set theory. This growing "Autism Is The New Cool" meme (AITNC for those of us who adore our acronyms), for lack of a better word, is reaching stupid proportions.

Venn We Dance

Now listen up, because if you’d paid attention in Algebra the first time, I wouldn’t have to be telling you this shit now.

What we are talking about here are properties that people have: the property of being cool, the property of being a geek, and the property of being on the autism spectrum. These are not variables that we can just slam together in a transitive[1] orgy of equation signs, as much as someone might like to be able to write on a whiteboard that A=B=C.


You get to stay after class and wipe down the whiteboard

Instead, we need to head over to set theory, which is where we look at groupings (or "sets") of objects, where said sets are organized by a shared trait. Such as being a geek, or being cool, or being on the autism spectrum. We represent these sets by drawing circles. Then we can make useful and interesting (and sometimes even more occasionally related to real life) observations by seeing where these sets overlap and what that tells us. This is a Venn diagram, and it helps us immediately destroy AITNC, because it reminds us that people (the members of the sets) are not single-value variables like A and B and C and the rest of their letter trash, but complex people who are not in any way entirely equal. This is my AITNC mega-buster Venn diagram, whipped up on this evening when I had lots of better stuff to do, just for your edification:


Filling in the missing names is left as an exercise for the reader[2]

Note that there are plenty of places where there is no overlap. Note that there are four separate regions where there are overlap. I can think of people who are examples of each of those areas, but I’m not enough of a dick to tell you who they are.

The Big Boy/Girl Panties Are Right Over There

I have, I shit you not, had parents ask me how to get their kid diagnosed with Asperger’s so they can "give him an extra educational advantage" (or some such nonsense). Yeah, I know. Fucked up, right?

I’m no child psychology professional, but I know spoiled, overly sugared kids when I see them. You want your kid to get an extra educational advantage? Don’t let the little bastards play video games and watch TV when they get home from school. Make them do homework and chores. Stop buying them everything they want and make them earn a meager amount of money and prioritize they things they really want from passing whims. Spend time with them and find out what they’re learning. Teach them about things you’re doing, which means you might want to put down the remote and pick up some more books or spend time outdoors or in your shop. Take the time to buy and prepare healthy food instead of boxed-up pre-digested pap. Teach them how to cook and clean, while you’re at it. Get involved with what they’re doing at school and be ruthlessly nosy about their grades and progress. Limit their after-school activities so they have time to study. Make and enforce a reasonable bedtime. In short, be a fucking parent. Stick with that for a year, and I guarantee your kids will have an educational advantage that you can’t believe.


Unless you want it in kebabs for dinner

Once you’ve done that for a few years and your kids have adjusted to having the meanest parents on the block like mine have, then you can worry about whether your precious little shit belongs on the autism spectrum, or has ADHD, or whatever other crutch diagnosis you think you need to compensate for being a mere gamete donor instead of a real parent.

People Are Strange (When You’re A Stranger)

I’m not going to sing a litany of woes about how tough it is being Asperger’s. I have fought most of my adult life to keep this thing from defining who I am. Devin != autism, not by a long shot. It’s one of a large number of properties about me, and it’s a mere footnote at that. I refuse to self-identify as an "Aspie" because I see that many of them (not all, but a significant fraction of them) use it as a Get Out Of Life Free card. "Oh, boohoo, I can’t make friends. Boohoo, I can’t have a relationship. Boohoo, my boss doesn’t understand me." I’ll grant it makes things difficult at times, but you know what? I look at so-called "neurotypical" people and they seem to have rough patches too. Life isn’t perfect for anyone. I don’t know how much harder my life is because of Asperger’s, and you don’t either. Anyone who claims to know is full of shit. At best, they’re making wild-ass guesses.

I choose not to play "what-if" games, because there is always something you think of after the fact. This wiring malfunction in my brain does not define or control me unless I choose to let it. The only reason its effects dominated my life through my early adulthood is that I didn’t know. Once I knew…well, I went all G. I. Joe[3] on its ass.

You know what really sucks? That my wife and kids have to be hyper-vigilant about what food they eat because their bodies are attacking their own auto-immune systems. I can tell you exactly how much of a crimp that’s put into their enjoyment of life. One thoughtless dweeb in a restaurant kitchen who doesn’t properly wash bread crumbs off a counter, or clean off that dollop of butter on the knife, can make them miserable for a week. That’s a pretty raw deal, friends. Asperger’s has nothing on that. Try traveling or going out to a restaurant with friends. The number of things you can eat with one of the 8 major food allergies quickly limits your options. Enjoy two of them (like my family) and you can start counting your dining options on one hand.

So if you’re one of those assholes who thinks autism is cool or glamorous, get a life. Seriously. Be thankful for what you have. And recognize that people are cool not because of their afflictions but because they are cool people.


[1] You’ll probably have forgotten in five minutes, but transitive means if one thing is equal to a second thing, and a third thing is also equal to the second thing, then the first and third things are equal too. This only usually works in math and quantum mechanics, because how often are two things actually equal in the real world?

[2] Extra credit if you noticed that I really did match the color coding between the two diagrams.Without thinking.

[3] "Knowing is half the battle."

Support Our Scout

Edit 11/11/09 to remove the embedded video and replace it with a link. It was messing up the layout and I need to do more research to figure out how to embed videos inline.

I love living in the future. First, though, watch this video that Alaric and I made.

I was a Boy Scout for close to three years. I started as a Boy Scout; I missed Cub Scouts, including Webelos Scout. When I was in Scouting, we had to go door-to-door to do our fundraisers, or spend a lot of time with our relatives over the phone. I hated doing it, for reasons that didn’t become clear until much later in life when I began grappling with autism and Asperger’s. However, I have a lot of good memories of Scouting; it did a lot for me and it was a valuable part of my childhood.

Steph and I wanted Alaric to experience Scouting. Even though the modern BSA has some characteristics that I don’t agree with, I’ve come to the decision that first and foremost, Scouting is about the boys. Scouting needs intelligent, reasonable adults of all persuasions to help drive the program. By being part of Scouting, Alaric will learn and do things Steph and I can’t give him on our own; by having us there with him, Alaric will learn how to deal with people from differing backgrounds in a diplomatic and productive manner.

Over the summer, Alaric has really seen what a good thing Scouting is. He even got me to go to Scout Camp with him for four days in July, and I must admit I even had fun. It was a great experience for both of us, including facing down and conquering some challenges.

Unlike many Scout packs and troops, Alaric’s pack works on the schedule of the school year. As a result, they do their major fundraising push at the beginning of the school year with a number of activities. Alaric’s already helped out pulling Hire-A-Scout wagons at the local auto swap meet and had a great time. However, the major source of operating funds is the traditional Trail’s End popcorn fundraiser. Trail’s End, if you don’t know, has been the go-to-source for Scout fundraising for a long time, and they offer some of the best popcorn on the planet.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been rather hectic and busy and haven’t really had time to coach Alaric on his first door-to-door sales campaign. (Poor guy seems to have the same issues I did when I was his age, so it was pretty painful.) This last week, I came up with what is I hope a brainstorm: harness the power of the Internet to get Alaric’s sales pitch out there. So, you get to enjoy the results: the following video where Alaric and I pitch popcorn to YOU, the faithful reader. And because this is the future, Trail’s End even got with the program: they now allow you to purchase online, supporting a specific Scout, and have the product shipped directly to your door!

Go to Trail’s End to support Alaric’s fundraising for his pack

Thank you for your support!

Living with Asperger’s on the road and on the stage

Four 3-day trips in four weeks:

  • Apr 2-4, Orlando, to present 3 hours of sessions at Exchange Connections.

  • Apr 8-10, Denver, to be the main speaker at the Exchange 2007 Unified Messaging Roadshow.

  • Apr 18-20, Anaheim, to be the main speaker at the Exchange 2007 Unified Messaging Roadshow.

  • Apr 23-25, Dallas, to be the main speaker at the Exchange 2007 Unified Messaging Roadshow.

For those of you keeping score at home, yes, it’s why my blogging has been very sporadic of late. And I’m particularly annoyed about the timing of the current trip; turns out John Scalzi was doing a signing in Seattle yesterday, and that would have been something I would have gone to had my travel schedule not prevented it.

Needless to say, I’m a bit burnt out. Travel always screws me up to begin with; this series has been particularly hard, because the last time I did this kind of back-to-back travel was several jobs ago (not that I cared for it then, either). And I’m not done yet: I still have one more Exchange 2007 roadshow date in Phoenix May 14-16, although at least for that one I’m flying into Tucson a couple of days early and meeting up with my parents and sister for the weekend.

Travel screws up my sleep schedule, big time. I finally got a decent night of sleep last night — I’m not sure how — but my body is repaying me now big time with massive insomnia. Partly it’s being away from home in a strange place and bed, partly it’s that the hotel beds are never quite right no matter how comfortable they may be (and since the roadshow has been putting me up in decent hotels, bed quality is actually pretty good). It screws up my eating, especially when I’m speaking — I hardly ever can eat lunch on a day I’m speaking, because I’m just too damn busy/nervous; even if I did find the time to eat and could find something suitable in whatever catered options we have at the events, I’d probably just throw it back up. It doesn’t help that I’ve made some recent big changes to my normal routine, and I’m trying to keep those changes in place and going even while traveling.

Plus, since I’m outside of my routines, I’m an insecure nervous wreck. I’ll take 15 minutes to lay out my clothes and various articles for the next day, then re-check them six times before I go to bed. I’m very precise about how I unpack and where I put stuff. I maintain a level of worry just below “freak out” over things like getting to the venue/airport on time, and obsessively check and verify addresses and route maps. Not that this level of preparation is a bad thing, mind you; I hardly ever have to hurry in the morning (which is good because I’m usually groggier than crap), I hardly ever forget to take stuff along that I need, and I’ve been able to just hand our taxi driver a post-it note with the address of the venue the last two cities. But this level of obsessiveness takes it too far, and dumps me right in the middle of awkward, paranoia mode, which is so not helpful. If I’m chatting with one of my co-presenters and there’s a lull in the conversation, I’m immediately worrying that it’s a direct result of something I’ve done or said; if I don’t get included in a casual conversation, I spend minutes trying to figure out why. Take me out of my routine, and my Asperger’s isn’t at all far underneath the surface, no matter how well people tell me I conceal it.

The funny part is, I really love speaking — and the bigger the audience, the better. Smaller audiences require me to deal with a collection of individuals, which taxes my social skills to the limit. I find smaller audiences usually tend to be “flatter” — they don’t react as well to the jokes I make, they don’t tend to ask questions of the same intensity, and I just don’t seem to “click” as well with them. This is disappointing; I want my audiences to feel like they’re getting not just the technical information they paid for, but I want them to be entertained. I want them to feel like I’ve helped them. Hardly anyone who comes up to me afterwards and asks a good, hard question ever takes me up on my offer to email me so I can research and give them an answer. I tend to get good marks and comments on my feedback sheets, so if the people listening feel like I’m doing them a disservice, they’re not complaining about it, but I just can’t read them.

Give me an audience of 150+ people, though, and I start to have fun. I’m only nervous for a few seconds, and then something clicks and I turn on. The few times I’ve talked in front of a really large audience, I had great sessions — lots of fun, lots of laughter, and lots of good questions. 

Having said all that, for being a smallish group today, the crowd here in Dallas was just plain fun. At the other venues, I’ve left my cowboy hat off when I got on stage; I left it on here and was able to get a laugh from it (at Anaheim’s expense; sorry, SoCal!) My post-lunchbreak observation that bringing in 100% clouds and rain to make the Seattle boy feel more at home was probably overkill got another good laugh. Thanks to everyone who showed up and had a kind word or question for me; y’all were great.

Now to see if I can get an hour or two of sleep before the wake-up call drags me out of bed. Have to get to the airport early enough to be sure to get on my flight home, since I’m not sure what kind of crowding has resulted from last night’s weather-related ground stop. I’d be more than mildly stressed at this point if I didn’t make it home tomorrow reasonably on-time.

Well, that’s no good

Chatting with my sister just now and I realized that a lot of my problem with this current chapter is that it deals with the people side of the process. And as you all know, I’m such a dynamite people person, so clearly this is my strength.


I also realized that somewhere along the way, I’ve fallen back into the IMPS (I Make Perfect Shit) mindframe. When I’m in IMPS, it isn’t enough to write a good draft, or even a great draft. No, it has to be perfect. It isn’t enough for me to neatly and concisely distill all the information and opinon on the topic I’m working on, leaving a clear and accessible summary — no, I have to impart some unique and brilliant insight that will leave the reader gaping in awe.

Now, you may think this comes from ego, and I’m sure there’s a bit of that lurking around. However, most of it comes from fear. Fear of being seen as a young snot who has no practical experience with this topic and has no business writing about what is one of the most complex topics in today’s IT world. Fear of being seen as a phony. Fear of finding out I’m a hack. I’m afraid of my editor pushing the chapter back to me and telling me, “You know, Devin, normally your work is really good — an easy edit — but now when the rubber meets the road, this is just crap.”

[Message from Devin’s brain to Devin here] Hey, idiot. It’s called a “draft” for a reason! [Message ends.]

So, now that I know what the problem is, I think I know how to solve it. It’s okay to produce material that isn’t polished and sparkling like a diamond. It’s okay to write material that lets the editors earn their pay and add value to the product. It’s okay to not be perfect.

Update: Not only is it okay to not be perfect, most of the time (if not all of the time) perfection is what really kills the effort. More on that another time, though — I have a chapter to finish.

$ shutdown -h now

So far, this has been an eventful, confusing, and difficult year. It hasn’t been all bad, of course, and when it has been good it has usually been pretty good — but there’s been a lot of crap to cope with.

On top of the big issues, today I just dealt with one of the smaller, more bittersweet issues. During my time at Premier1, I became the proud owner of an Auspex NS5500 server. This was seriously high-end hardware back in 1990 and it was an awesome piece to have in my collection. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to fire it up and use it. I’ve been looking for a good home for it for the past couple years, after finally admitting I wasn’t going to have the time or energy to get it running again.

Just a few minutes ago, I helped its new owner unload it into his garage. Unlike me, he will have the time to get it restored and running. I am glad that I found a fellow enthusiast….but I miss my Auspex. I joked about getting visitation rights to cover up the fact that with all of the other goodbyes I am forced to say, this feels like one too many.

If it’s a meltdown, it must be Monday

It’s a Monday. With a vengeance.

Work has been better, the car needs $1K+ in repairs soonish, some personal projects have been hit with unfortunate and untimely delays that I really didn’t need right now, oh no, and I’m stressed beyond all belief.

I really just want to stop coping and have a full-scale meltdown. Preferably in front of the idiot psych dude at UW who said there was no way I could be Asperger’s because I’d managed to stay married. I have news for you, Psych Dude — my marriage is one of the few stable things in my life and it gives me the strength to cope with all of the rest. And even then, there are days where it’s a near thing.

Where do I find the spiritual and emotional equivalent of bailing wire and duct tape? My supply is running out fast.