Excruciating Information

A fellow autistic blogger whose work I deeply admire pointed me to this short little PSA video from the UK that she said was revelatory in how it reflected her own experience. And so it is for me.

Particularly when it comes to the Asperger’s part of the autism “spectrum,” I think people – including actual Aspies – tend to cling to the idea of social awkwardness and alienation as the defining traits. But using this stereotype as definitive ignores what I think is one of the prime causes of that awkwardness and alienation, and that’s the difficulty we have in processing stimuli with the same capacity and at the same rate neurotypicals, and that difficulty manifests not just temporally – it’s not that we just have to sit there and ponder for a few moments and then move on – but physiologically. It’s painful.

The example you’re most likely familiar with is that of the noisy, crowded room, say at a bar or a party, an environment that can be incredibly uncomfortable for many of us. I usually see it described in terms of the noise level and the variety of voices coming from all directions emitting sound. But that’s just one factor. There’s the visual, of course, as one is surrounded by faces and bodies and objects and movement and nonverbal expressions and cues. And there’s also the tactile, the feeling of one’s clothes, the floor beneath you, the furniture you may or may not have your weight on, the food you likely have strong aversions to, and quite especially the temperature. And that sound? It’s not just the decibels, but the information contained in the voices, what they’re actually saying in the chit chat, in the music blasting, and on and on.

That’s a lot of information to process all at once, creating palpable discomfort, anxiety, and misery in a context that demands a certain kind of relaxed behavior.

There are so many other ways this comes up in my life. I can’t for the life of me orient myself in space, for example, so whether we’re talking about driving directions to places I’ve been many times before, or just navigating the interior of a building with more than four rooms or so, I’m constantly bewildered. I can’t process that information at a rate that makes the directions useful, nor can I process the information without extreme discomfort and crippling anxiety, which only makes the processing harder.

If I get an email at work that is more than a few sentences, I know I will have to relax my brain and read it carefully a few times because too often I have replied or executed instructions based on a misreading of the text or with significant pieces of data missing from my comprehension. That screen full of words begins, in my eyes, as white noise, a garble of glyphs in pixels, especially if it’s part of a threaded conversation. And again, that doesn’t just spark confusion and compel me to take my time, it hurts, it’s dizzying. (So yes, when I read books, I’m pretty damn slow about it.)

So I understand this young girl in the video. That was me at that age. These otherwise innocuous, benign interactions that a person has throughout their day, these humdrum travels from point A to point B that nonetheless feel perilous, these unanswerable questions launched at you and meant as small talk, the torrent of trivialities that threaten to drown you even when you don’t know why you’re expected to care, the inadvertent offense or problem you cause as a result of your efforts to shield yourself. It’s too much. Even today, though I fake it much better than I did then, it’s too much.

The world obviously isn’t set up for autistic people to succeed. It’s a miracle so many of us have. And the thing is, I don’t think it would take so much for the rest of neurotypical society to give us a little space. If only it weren’t so excruciating for us to ask for it.

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The Electors’ Moral Duty

I am entirely opposed to the Electoral College as a means of choosing the President of the United States. I proudly worked for an organization that had repeal of the Electoral College, replacing it with a national popular vote, as one of its three or four prime reasons for existing.

But that’s what we’ve got right now. While I’m horrified that it has allowed Donald Trump to become the president-elect, I don’t believe that his election is “unfair” just because Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly won the popular vote. Both campaigns ran to win the Electoral College vote, not the popular vote, and Trump succeeded. That’s the game both of them were playing. If it had been a popular vote contest, they absolutely would have run entirely different campaigns, and it’s impossible to say for sure what that outcome would have been (though we can guess). Hillary knows it. Al Gore knew it. Them’s the breaks.

As the electors themselves are about to vote, there is a lot of noise about whether some of them will “defect,” as it were, and that some of those who are pledged to Donald Trump will vote for someone else, or not at all. There are talks of secret discussions, compromise candidates, legal challenges, intelligence briefings, and postponements.

I don’t think anything is actually going to happen. Sure, one or two electors may ultimately vote in contradiction to their pledge, but I do not believe we’re going to see anything that changes the result of the election.

But I do support the efforts to do so, and I hope I am wrong that nothing will change.

It’s not a simple matter. Changing the result of the election will have enormous consequences, the likes of which we can’t yet predict. Put aside the legal and constitutional questions, put aside the totally unprecedented confusion over transitions and appointments that will transpire.

Merely imagine for a moment a scenario in which, by one mechanism or another, Trump is denied the presidency in favor of another candidate, be it Clinton or a GOP compromise candidate. I cannot believe that such a reversal would not spark chaos among the populace. I’m talking actual riots and violence from angry Trump supporters, supporters who are not exactly peaceful and friendly in victory, let alone defeat. People will be hurt, some may be killed, the economy will take a rollercoaster ride, and whatever regime does wind up taking power will be debilitated in myriad ways: choked by a thick cloud of illegitimacy, pilloried by hails of lunatic conspiracy theories and vicious opposition from the far right, and who knows what else. It will be awful.

But it will pass, eventually, and even in the worst imaginings, it will be better than a Donald Trump presidency.

I know I am on record months ago as believing that Trump was preferable to, say, a Cruz or Rubio presidency, but I of course have been thoroughly disabused of this, and I would gladly welcome a President Ted Cruz over what we’re about to endure. More likely, if there was some kind of alteration of the election, we’d be looking at a President Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, or John Kasich. Fine. Great. Welcome to the Oval Office. Nice to have you.

Why is this better than just coping with the status quo and dealing with whatever comes of a Trump administration? Here are some things a Trump presidency will, with near certainty, mean. They require almost no speculation, just common sense:

  • Climate change will accelerate beyond the point that humans could do anything to mitigate
  • The Supreme Court will lurch far to the right, perhaps for generations
  • Putin’s Russia will become far more powerful and audacious
  • Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other badly needed social programs will be gutted or destroyed entirely
  • The Affordable Care Act will be mutilated or repealed, and millions of Americans will lose their insurance
  • American police will become even more militarized, and incarcerations will go way up
  • Public education will lose funding in favor of private and religious schools
  • The EPA and the FDA will be neutered, if not abolished altogether, or else turned into marketing tools for the industries they are supposed to regulate, putting millions of lives in danger
  • The poorest Americans will become poorer
  • Minority groups will have their voting rights strangled to the point of de facto disenfranchisement
  • The press will be stifled and under constant threat of retaliation from the government
  • Nazis, white supremacists, men’s rights advocates, and other blights on humanity will complete their exit from the shadows and become normal parts of American public life and politics

I could go on.

The members of the Electoral College, I feel, have a moral duty to stop this.

I think it’s worth the short-term risk of chaos and the loss of confidence in the Electoral College system. It’s worth these citizens violating their vows to vote as directed by their states. The electors are human beings, Americans who have to live in this country, and on this planet, too. But they are also Americans who by dint of circumstance have the power to save us, and one chance to do it.

They won’t. I’m nearly sure of it. But I really hope they do.

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P.S.; Here’s an interview Lawrence Lessig just did with the Washington Post, discussing his initiative to confidentially assist any electors who are considering taking action like this.

 

Let’s Get Small

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I’m a small guy, at 5’5″ I think some people almost find it alarming how tiny I am, at least compared to how tall they expect me (or any adult male) to be. It’s me in the context of other people, the relative scale can be surprising.

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On my Galaxy Note 5, it has a one-handed small-screen mode, where the contents of the display shrink for ease of use with one hand. Turns out that this unthinkably-tiny display-within-a-display is almost exactly the same size as the iPhones I stopped using as recently as late 2013. To see that size of a display now, or to hold an iPhone 5 or earlier, is to hold something that suddenly seems impossibly, laughably small. It’s the context of having gotten used to 5.5, 5.7, and 6-inch displays that makes them seem so small, when they once seemed so, well, optimal.

Know what? Everything is small. Enjoy the zen-like experience of this Business Insider video (which I seem to be having some trouble embedding, so if it doesn’t show below, click the previous link), which shows the relative size of the micro- and macro-cosmos. It induces for me a kind of sublime separation from everything, and at the same time a kind of vertigo. But a pleasant one.

A more, let’s say, manual version of this kind of revelations-of-cosmic-scale can be found here. And of course you can also dizzy yourself with the immeasurable heavens.

How Mars One is Like a Björn Borg Clothing Line

[This post has been updated with some really brilliant insight from the author.]
Mars One, the pseudo-pyramid scheme that pretends to be sending astronauts to Mars in the next decade, has inspired a fashion show.

Björn Borg, who I assume is very important in the fashion world, showed off a collection of what is said to be sportswear the serves as “a tribute to the courage and the faith that these people show by going out to the unknown for the evolution of mankind.”

That’s all fine. The idea of human beings risking everything for the longshot chance to live out their days on another planet is, in fact, deeply inspiring. The problem, readers of this blog will already know, is that Mars One is, at best, just shy of a scam. Far too many of its core claims have been shown to be either outright false or gross exaggerations, its stated aims have been declared utterly implausible by even the most optimistic experts, and former would-be candidates for the big trip have revealed the shoddy and ethically dubious process for choosing candidates.

But the idea in abstract? Totally compelling. That, with a heaping dose of laziness, must be why outlets like Space.com and others still repeat the press releases of the Mars One company, complete with references to the alleged 200,000 applicants, which is complete bullshit.

And how perfect a metaphor is this kind of high-end fashion show for the Mars One concept? The Borg collection of clothing is lofty and future-looking, but also entirely impractical and more than a little absurd. The clothes are aspirational, but of course will never be worn by anyone.

It is Mars One.

Forget the boondoggle. How does the Björn Borg “Training for Mars” sportswear look?

I know nothing about the fashion world, so I’ll leave you to be the judge of that. The show was held about a week ago in Stockholm, with Mars One candidates in attendance. Here’s the official promo video from after the fact:

This is clearly not the kind of merchandising Mars One needs to fund their adventure. They need to find some product to be “the official nacho cheese sauce of Mars One” or something.

As a side note, Engadget is going to begin a video series profiling five of the Mars One candidates, and I hope they are going to approach the project with an appropriately skeptical eye. I will be watching with interest. The trailer alone with the wide-eyed, hopeful candidates, and with the parents pained at the idea of their kids disappearing into space, thinking it could actually happen, only makes me more irritated at the scheme.

Here are my previous posts on Mars One:

Actually, Note 5 #Penghazi is Less Stupid Than I Thought

MacBreak Weekly on TWiT.

Yesterday, I wrote that the controversy over the Galaxy Note 5’s S Pen was overblown. Quickly: if you stick it in backwards, it gets stuck and does at the least significant damage. People cried “recall,” “design flaw,” and invented the (hilarious) hashtag #penghazi. Apple-loving pundits couldn’t contain their glee or smugness. I said that this was silly, that it was akin to trying to shove a floppy disk into a drive upside-down and then blaming the manufacturer when it breaks something.

What I didn’t realize, however, was just how easy it was to do this accidentally. I didn’t understand that until I saw this clip of Leo Laporte, who was just casually discussing the controversy on MacBreak Weekly, fiddled with the S Pen going in butt-first into his Note 5, and lo and behold, not even halfway in, it got stuck.

I had been fiddling the very same way! It didn’t happen to get stuck, so I may have dodged a bullet.

So, I’m obviously reevaluating my hard and fast position of “just don’t do that.” It’s simply too easy for this to happen by accident.

And even if it wasn’t all that easy, before I even came to this new realization I thought about ways that Samsung could address this if it was inclined. Now I feel like these have moved from “could do” to “must do.” (Samsung’s not known for being classy or anything, so who knows what they’ll ever do.)

First, no-questions-asked returns on Note 5 devices. If someone bought this and they’re worried about it, or worse, they’ve gotten it stuck, they can return it for a full refund.

Second, they should cover all repairs related to this issue, free of charge.

Third, presuming they’re not going to redesign the whole phone, they need to make a new S Pen with a wider butt-end, maybe with a rubbery nub, such that it is impossible to stick into the phone backward, and send one to every Note 5 owner, free.

Alternatively, at least issue (free of charge again) a rubbery cap of some sort to put on the end of the S Pen to serve the same function of keeping it from going in the wrong way, some kind of cap that’s more or less impossible to take off again.

And that should be that.

So I largely take back the last post. This is a much bigger problem than I thought.

I’m delighted with my Note 5. It’s a wonderful device, and chances are this S Pen problem would never have even come up for me. Now I confess to being a touch nervous about it, but it’s not enough to make me regret my decision to get this phone. It’s still amazing, and it’s still a keeper.

But I’ll take that redesigned S Pen, now.

Poor Leo.