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A War on the Unexpected

In November 2007, security consultant Bruce Schneier wrote an article for entitled The War on the Unexpected, which he opened with the following paragraph:

We’ve opened up a new front on the war on terror. It’s an attack on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected; it’s a war on different. If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested — even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong. The problem is a combination of citizen informants and a CYA attitude among police that results in a knee-jerk escalation of reported threats.

As the parent of a soon-to-be-adult son with autism, the words I’ve highlighted in Schneier’s quote above seemed to jump out at me.  All of them apply to my son, and I’m sure to many – if not all – autistic children and adults. This article came back to my mind as I read Kristina’s post Arrested: The Charge? Bad Behavior, in which she describes the arrest of a 13 year old autistic boy and a 19 year old man with fetal alcohol syndrome.  This is, of course, not the first such incident to have happened, only the most recent that I’ve become aware of.

There is a legitimate issue concerning what consideration, if any, should be given to a person’s autism diagnosis with respect to criminal activity.  (See, for example, the case of Gary McKinnon.)  But all too often people with autism are approached, and often apprehended, by law enforcement personnel simply because they are “acting weird” and making bystanders “uncomfortable”.

In his article, Schneier has two recommendations to stop this war on the unexpected.

We need to do two things. The first is to stop urging people to report their fears. People have always come forward to tell the police when they see something genuinely suspicious, and should continue to do so. But encouraging people to raise an alarm every time they’re spooked only squanders our security resources and makes no one safer.

Equally important, politicians need to stop praising and promoting the officers who get it wrong. And everyone needs to stop castigating, and prosecuting, the victims just because they embarrassed the police by their innocence.

More awareness by the public at large, and law enforcement specifically, about autism and autistics is key to at least remove autism and autistics from the category of “unexpected”.

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Chris Brogan on work AND play

I have a feeling that the question of work/life balance is going to be a consistent theme here, I know it is in my life.

In this video, Chris Brogan tells us of the importance of both work AND play.  Even if you love your work, are passionate about it, and are giving it your all; even if when you think of free time you think of doing that work because it is still so much fun; you still need to take a break every now and then to recharge.  That’s play.

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Gen Y says, “Take me as I am”

I wrote my recent post Take Me As I Am with a specific, and intentional, slant towards autism and autistic individuals.  However, the feelings expressed are not limited to those with autism, as any young teenage rebel can attest.

In Generation Y in the Workplace Explained, guest poster Teresa Wu gives a Gen Y perspective on the sentiment.

As Gen Y enters the professional world, we bring a whole new set of rules. We’re often criticized for our restless job-jumping or our sense of entitlement. The truth is, we might play the game differently, but that doesn’t mean we’re not every bit as bright, innovative, and hardworking. Here’s why.

  • We crave personal development
  • We pursue unconventional paths
  • We value company culture
  • We’re not afraid to ask
  • We embrace transparency
  • We just want to do what we love

Like David Gurteen, from whom I learned of Teresa’s post, I crave these same things today but wonder if I did when I was a few (!!) years younger.

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Autism Twitter Day

It has taken me a while, but I’ve finally joined Twitter.   The catalyst behind getting me to join at this time is an event being organized by Bonnie Sayers called Autism Twitter Day, scheduled for Tuesday 16 December, a week from today.  Mark your calendars!  (Thanks to Kev and his post Autism Twitter Day for the heads up.)

Autism Twitter Day – Tuesday, Dec 16th pacific standard time – 9AM, 12:30 PM and 8 PM.  Prizes will be given out and a panel will be available with information and to answer questions.

This is open to twitter members, specifically those who are members of the autism community, whether it be a parent, sibling or relative.  If you are on the spectrum you are welcome to take part.  Most of the prizes are geared to children and young adults with autism or asperger syndrome.

The hashtag to be used for autism twitter day is #ASD.  This means when you post a tweet that day which is on the topic of autism – positive autism awareness, please use the hashtag, either in front or at end of the tweet.  Open up a window at and input #ASD to follow along with the conversation at the specified times.  Most likely they will run longer than one hour.  Stay tuned here and to my blog for prize and panel info.

We will be testing your knowledge on autism spectrum disorders, this is how the prizes will be awarded.  Here is an example of a quiz I have on my site

If you have any questions about autism, or if you’ve never heard of such a thing as “positive autism awareness” (yes it exists!), check this out.  I think you’ll be surprised at what you learn.

See you there.

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The Art of Learning

Last summer I picked up Chessmaster The Art of Learning for the PSP to take with me on my frequent business trips.  One of the things that adds extra value to this game is the involvement of Josh Waitzkin.  (You may remember Josh as the subject of book, and film, Searching For Bobby Fischer.)

On my trip out to Arizona last week I read Josh’s book The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.  It is a quick read, so I had finished by the end of the day, but soaking it all in will take a little longer.  Over the past few days I’ve been re-reading sections, marking up the margins, jotting down notes to myself in my notebook about the many insights that Waitzkin provides. I have the feeling that this book will end up with a permanent slot on the bookshelf above my desk; this is where I keep those books I turn back to over and over.

In some ways, The Art of Learning is like George Leonard’s Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment and The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei (both of which are on that aforementioned shelf). But where Leonard tells the story of a middle-aged man who sets out on a path of mastery later in life, Waitkin’s story is one of reflection on a life of a child and young adult who essentially started life on the path, lost his way, and then found his way back.

For myself I found his insights valuable, if not obvious in the sense that all good ideas are obvious when someone else gives them voice.  As the parent of two very talented and hard working teenagers, Waitzkin’s insights are invaluable.

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Take me As I Am…

I wrote recently about the Dream Theater song “Solitary Shell” and how it brought to mind the impressions many people have of autistic individuals.  Tonight I popped in Dream Theater – Live at Budokan to help get the creative juices flowing.  The first song in their set list for this show is a song called “As I Am”, an excellent opening.

Anyway….  I’m pretty confident that this song wasn’t written with autism in mind, but the message the writer is trying to get across – that he is a unique individual and should be accepted as that – reminds me of what many of my autistic friends ask for.   (Like most poetry, this is best appreciated in spoken, or in this case, sung form.   Just imagine a driving guitar, bass and pounding drums as you read this anthem out loud to yourself.)

Tell me what’s in
Tell me how to write
Don’t tell me how to win
This fight
Isn’t your life
It isn’t your right
To take the only thing that’s

Proven over time
It is over your head
Don’t try to read between the
Are clearly defined
“Never lose sight of
Something you believe in”

Taking in the view from the outside
Feeling like the underdog
Watching through the window I’m on the outside
Living like the underdog

I’ve been trying to justify you
In the end I will just defy you

To those who understand, I extend my hand
To the doubtful I demand, take me as I am
Not under your command, I know where I stand
I won’t change to fit your plan, Take me as I am

The emphasis on the last verse is mine, because I think it really gets to the heart of the issue.  Though we may not have all thought about this, because our situation in life allows us to not worry about it, if you give it some thought you will realize that this is what you want for yourself as well.

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Collaborate, cooperate, or coordinate?

Using the Cynefin framework, which I’ve also discussed here, Shawn at the Anecdote blog takes a look at the question of When should we collaborate? It’s always useful to define your terms before starting this kind of discussion, and Shawn obliges with the following:

So what is collaboration then? It’s when a group of people come together, driven by mutual self–interest, to constructively explore new possibilities and create something that they couldn’t do on their own.

Turns out the best time to collaborate is in a complex situation, as opposed to a complicated (cooperation) or simple (coordination) situation, as shown in Shawn’s diagram below.  Of course, the diagram also shows that there is potential overlap between the quadrants, and you really do need to look at each situation individually.

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20th-century teachers using 19th-century methods to reach 21st-century students

As someone who loves technology and gadgets, and loves figuring out how to make them useful, I’ve had a long interest in how the technology of the information age could change the way people – especially children – learn.  This interest is compounded by the fact that I have two teenage sons, now in high school.  Born at the dawn of the information age (1991 and 1993), they are right in the middle of it all.  Sadly, though, my personal experience has been one akin to the quote used for the title of this post.

The quote is actually something overheard by Marc Aronson in his School Library Journal article We’ve Got the Technology: But our (sic) today’s schools ready for a radical transformation?, but is reminiscent to me of a main point of Seymour Papert‘s 1992 (yep, 1992!!) book The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer.  The following is paraphrased from the opening chapter of that book:

Imagine a party of time traveling teachers from an earlier century, eager see how much things have changed in their profession a hundred or more years in the future.  They might be puzzled by a few strange objects.  They might notice that some standard techniques had changed, but they would fully see the point of most of what was being attempted and could quite easily take over the class.

In his article, Aronson gives us a quick dose of reality, reminding us:

The fact that technology makes new kinds of educational opportunities possible doesn’t imply that teachers, administrators, school boards, and college admittance personnel—not to mention students and parents—want, or even need, those new methods.

The process, Aronson says, should be one of evolution, not revolution.

I’ll leave the pronouncements about 21st-century skills and radical reform to education analysts and other columnists. For those of us who write for, teach, or work with young people in schools and libraries, the old and the new are likely to overlap and blend, not suddenly displace each other. Doesn’t that make sense? Doesn’t that sound more realistic than a vision of a completely transformed educational system? It does to me.

As much as I’d like to see an overnight change, I have to agree with Aronson that it is better to grow, over time, the educational system we want instead of trying to simply build it.  The system is much too complex to think we can figure it all out at once.

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Schneier on Security: Communications During Terrorist Attacks are Not Bad

In Communications During Terrorist Attacks are Not Bad, Bruce Schneier calls Twitter a “vital source of information” during the recent attacks in Mumbai.  But not everyone agrees, as there were reports that Indian authorities were trying to get people to stop posting information, apparently fearing that the terrorists would be able to use this information.  To that, Bruce says: 

This fear is exactly backwards. During a terrorist attack — during any crisis situation, actually — the one thing people can do is exchange information. It helps people, calms people, and actually reduces the thing the terrorists are trying to achieve: terror. Yes, there are specific movie-plot scenarios where certain public pronouncements might help the terrorists, but those are rare. I would much rather err on the side of more information, more openness, and more communication.

Schneier also includes a quote from David Stephenson in his post US officials must monitor, learn from use of Web 2.0 in Mumbai:

I can’t stress enough: people can and will use these devices and apps in a terrorist attack, so it is imperative that officials start telling us what kind of information would be relevant from Twitter, Flickr, etc. (and, BTW, what shouldn’t be spread: one Twitter user in Mumbai tweeted me that people were sending the exact location of people still in the hotels, and could tip off the terrorists) and that they begin to monitor these networks in disasters, terrorist attacks, etc.

The challenge, of course, is to get authorities to be able to monitor these tools in the event of disaster (man-made or natural) and yet resist the urge to turn it into yet another wholesale surveillance program.

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Does your blog’s “personality” reflect your personality?

Recently, Dave Snowden and Jack Vinson have both typealyzed their blogs:  Dave’s is ENTP and Jack’s is INTJ.  Since I’m not sure exactly how Typealyzer works, I wasn’t sure if I’ve got enough content here at this new blog (15 posts so far) to get a type, but figured it was worth a shot.  The verdict:  INTP – The Thinkers.

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Interestingly, maybe not surprisingly, this is typically what I get back after taking a personality type indicator test.

Being the curious person that I am, I also checked to see how other blogs I write (or have written) are typed:

No Straight Lines: INTJ – The Scientists
29 Marbles: INTP – The Thinkers
Tramp and Tumble: ISTP – The Mechanics
St. Louis Elite: ESTP – The Doers

The first two are, of course, my personal blogs that have since merged into the current blog, so it is no surprise – at least to me – that they turned out to be what they are.  I write it primarily for myself, so the topics are what interest me and the style is what I’m comfortable with.

The third, The Tramp and Tumble Blog, is a site I maintain to get information out to parents, athletes, and coaches in the sport of Trampoline and Tumbling.  The topics I choose are still somewhat based on what interests me, since I’m a parent of a T&T athlete, but the style of writing is based more on what I think the readers would appreciate than what I would like to see.

The last, the web site for the non-profit that supports St. Louis Elite Trampoline and Tumbling, is primarily targeted at outsiders to the sport of T&T and intended to get them excited about the sport and the team so that they will support the team financially or in some other way.  It’s nice to know that this site comes across as a “Doer – They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities”.

In general, I agree with Dave that one shouldn’t take these types too seriously and that they shouldn’t be used for “categorising people into little boxes”.  I do, however, think that these types of tools can help individuals gain some personal insight into their ‘natural’ tendencies.  It is obviously possible to overcome these tendencies when the situation demands it, if you simply use it for what it is – another tool in the toolbox.

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