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Speed of Dark

2015/08/19

“If they aren’t going to listen, why should I talk?”

I learned about Speed of Dark from Katrina Owen on Ruby Rogues. The hero is an adult autistic in the near future who is working at a pharmaceutical company doing applied mathematics.

Most of the book is narrated in first person with shivering accuracy I might say. I never knew about Elizabeth Moon so midway I looked her up; she is a mother of an autistic. And the efforts to understand her son show. A true advocate for autistics, adult or not. And great parenting advice.

I really cannot write much about the book without giving away the plot, but it is all there: autistic education, effort to fit in, bullying, sportsmanship, search for love, search for meaning, tough choices. A really fascinating book and a touching story. And lots of music. With detail. And I keep thinking that I started the book while I paused Birth of a Theorem at a chapter full of music in order to reread it.

Speed of Dark will affect you regardless of whether you know of autistic people or not. It is one of those books that make you a better person.

Yesterday it was World Autism Awareness Day. So let me copy here the only Slashdot comment I remember (and one of the few that I’ve read anyway). I read it before autism knocked my door:

As the mother of an autistic (PDD) child–thank you for saying all that.

I’m so fucking sick and tired of these geeks who think autism is some sort of neato cool thing to have which makes your life a magical fairyland of math and science genius while explaining away their aversion to dating and soap. That attitude alone tells me they have no fucking clue what they are talking about.

Autism is not a benefit and it’s not fun and games. It’s a fucking nightmare! I can’t even begin to imagine what my son goes through when he “short circuits” on sensory overload. And he’s old enough now to realize something is going wrong, but he can’t do anything to stop it. How come none of the “autism wannabes” out there ever talk about that aspect? Maybe because they’re not actually autistic? Trust me, if I could I’d take my son’s autism away from him and give it to one of those “autism is so kewl!” geeks so their dream of being autistic can come true.

It deserves better visibility and I can now attest to its accuracy.

Far from the tree

2013/08/28

TL;DR: An impressive monumental work; read it if you have the guts

A good friend lent me a copy of “Far from the tree” to read. After reading the introduction (entitled Son) and the first chapter (Deaf) I told him “I understand why you gave this to me; I do not understand why you chose to read it”.

This is a book about children and their parents. About children that “fall far from the tree” and how their parents deal with what the author calls “a chronic state of sorrow” in their struggle to provide for their children’s needs. It is also a book on patterns Identity. If you are in the business of selling identity access management products you owe it to yourself to read the introduction of this book. You will understand that what you sell is not about identity at all. You will make more careful use of the word; at least when you come and sell to me.

The chapters of the book deal with the Deaf, Dwarf, Down Syndrome, Autism, Schizophrenia, Disability, Prodigies, Rape, Crime and Transgender. As I said the book is about patterns for in the 10 years that it took the author to finish it, through his extensive research and interviews he was able to locate patterns in behaviors. To this point the book is helpful to computer scientists for we abstract in order to be precise and we see this in a completely different domain than we are used to. I admit to not reading all the chapters. I read Deaf, Autism, Schizophrenia because I have some familiarity with them. I also read the introduction (“Son”) and epilogue (Father). Why they are named as such is a spoiler.

This is one of the best non fiction books I have ever read. I do not know whether I can recommend this to someone else or not. This is a tough book with real stories and struggles that break your heart. You have been warned. Even I as I was reading the following lines was not prepared to face the reality of them due to an accident two days later:

“You’ve had the star quarterback. He’s run over by a truck, breaks every limb in his body. Your hope now is not that he’ll be a star quarterback, but that he will walk again.”

Like I said, read it if you have the guts. It will help you better understand others and yourself. It will teach you respect in ways you never thought you needed.

Thank you X for lending this to me.

At my good friend’s S.B. suggestion I read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time“. Although I am biased, this is easily one of the best books I have ever read. The main character of the book is a teenager on the autistic spectrum, who upon discovering a neighbor’s dead dog, makes it his mission to find out who killed the dog. This proves to be an adventure far more complicated than he expected and the hero is forced to deal with situations he is not accustomed to.

On the surface people may find this book entertaining, reading the narrative from the point of view of the hero and how he reacts to different stimuli (and how and why his reactions are different than what “normal” people would do). But this is not a teenage autistic version of Sheldon Cooper. This is not fun. This is not cool even though Christopher (the hero) can understand the Monty Hall problem or Conway’s Soldiers better and faster than you. This is the life of a high functioning autistic and it takes its toll on him and his supporting environment. And it shows how totally unprepared (and prejudiced) “normal” people are when needed to deal with people with slightly different wiring in the brain. It is also a story of trust, how easily it can be broken and how hard it is to build it up again.

You will enjoy the chapter numbering though.

If you have friends (or extended family) living in the problem, read the book. It will help you understand their situation. The book has been translated in Greek as “Ποιος σκότωσε το σκύλο τα μεσάνυχτα;” and it will take you a couple of days to read it. I read the English ePub version. For a shorter version in understanding what goes on in an autistic mind you may read “Ο Αυτός“.

I love “Cantor’s Dilemma“. In its final chapter (#22) a letter exchange between two powerful characters describes politics in Research in the most clear way. The book has one problem though. It is fiction.

Autism’s False Prophets” by Paul Offit is not. It covers the various vaccines-cause-autism theories and provides scientific data that prove them wrong. Do you want to read about bad science? It is there. Do you want to read about non-repeatable experiments? It is there. Do you want to read about how people mistake correlation for causation? There too! Do you want to find out how charlatans of any background take advantage of desperate people? Read the book. People want to be heard and want (instant) relief. With science not having the answers (or answers they can accept and deal with) charlatans step in loudly and fill the void. As is written in the book, hope is the best fix, better than any drug on the street.

“An easy-to-read medical thriller about the consequences of greed, hubris and intellectual sloppiness” reads the back of the book. This is a a chronicle and a science thriller, not a science fiction or science-in-fiction work. It contains the best explanation of the scientific method and the Null Hypothesis for the general public. Thanks to the book I now understand why the most illiterate and unscientific show ever presented on Greek TV exists:

“Unfortunately, the motivations of scientists who perform studies differ from those in the media who describe them: one wants to inform, the other to entertain.”

People want quick answers and are easy to jump to conspiracy theories that can provide them. It is no wonder that the opinion of journalists, ministers, politicians and celebrities that “attended the University of Google” gets accepted as expert opinion by the general public while the scientists are hiding “The Truth” by being on the payroll of big corporations. After reading the book I still do not understand why some people (the very same people that subscribe to such theories) do not visit their personal-injury lawyer every time they have a headache.

While if one is not directly involved with autism the book can have a few boring corners, it is a guide on how to present the facts. It is no wonder that the author gets so much hate mail and is the recipient of death threats.

PS: Two very interesting web sites that the book recommends are neurodiversity.com and
JunkScience.com.