nosce aspie te ipsum

This past week I was taking first aid (again).  I’ve been first aid qualified since I first did it in air cadets thirty three years ago and needed to be current to take my cyber-security team to the national finals in New Brunswick next month.  As we were wrapping up the course our instructor First aid instructor shared a Will Smith video about surrounding yourself with good people:

It’s a good piece of advice from a talented fellow who has made a lot of conscious decisions to nurture and grow opportunities across many genres; you’d think this is good advice that would apply to everyone, but for a lot of people building this kind of social network is nearly impossible.

I’ve been recently reviewing various situations that have happened to me through an aspie lens.  It does a lot to explain why I’ve run into the problems I have.  Knowing myself in this way earlier might have helped me understand why I was doing what I was doing and might have led to different outcomes.  Being aware of a diagnosis would also have helped others understand why I’m not acting in a way they consider normal.

Back in air cadets I went for my pilot’s license.  I did well at the training, commuting for the better part of three hours every Saturday to get myself down to where we met at the opposite end of Mississauga; commitment wasn’t a problem.  I ended up missing a single meeting due to a work conflict and even though I communicated this, the guy in charge took the opportunity to drop me from the application for the summer flying scholarship course, even though I had the highest score in powered flight that year.  I ended up despondent and frustrated by the process, hundreds of hours of volunteer effort disappeared in a moment.

That situation ended up ratcheting up an already awkward relationship with that officer and did much to prevent me from advancing through the ranks.  In an organization I’d spent thousands of hours volunteering for, and one that I thought might lead me into a career, I ended up peripheral and bitter.  As I got older I began taking opportunities to sabotage situations and undermine the command structure.  I didn’t do this out of a maliciousness, I did it out of a sense of disenfranchisement.  I was capable, I was dedicated and I was keen but I was dismissed as a kid they neither liked nor trusted because I didn’t fit into the hierarchy and act like everyone else.

In school at about the same time, I was hanging out with a bunch of kids who started to get into teen-related nonsense, from smoking to drugs and other darker experiments.  Rather than value emotional connections with people over the nonsense, as everyone else did, I simply walked away.  This wasn’t easy, and I was lonely, but it wasn’t in my nature to prioritize friendships first and follow those guys down the rabbit hole.

That approach to things has always made me socially peripheral even though I played team sports throughout my childhood.  In many cases I played isolated positions like goalie that further limited my ability to interact with team mates, but then that was never the point of playing for me, as it was with pretty much everyone else.  As an adult, I couldn’t hang on to hockey because so many adult teams are friendship based and I was never good at prioritizing that aspect of the game.  The mandatory after game beers in any sport seemed like an awkward social moment, but for many of the guys there it was the point of coming out.

In university I managed to alienate a professor I thought was one of the best I’d ever had.  He got us to aggressively question the foundations of what we were doing, but in a case of Aspergers gone too far, I ended up questioning the group think he had generated in the class room and in doing so, once again made myself a pariah. I’m a perennially bad joiner.

At work I’ve run into similarly problems.  When I moved out of the city and up to a rural small town school I immediately ran into complications.  Being a big, white guy, you’d think the all white, all Canadian, mono-cultural class I suddenly found myself in would have felt more comfortable than the multi-cultural classes I’d just left, but the opposite was true.  In the previous multi-cultural environment, everyone tended to fall back on a more rational approach to interaction because cultural norms couldn’t be assumed, but in a mono-cultural, rural classroom all sorts of really offensive (to only me apparently) norms were accepted.  Students would use terms like, “he jewed me out of five bucks”, and drop the ‘n’ word in class like a  password.  They were doing this to confirm cultural conformity with each other.  It made them feel secure and meant they all believed similar things, it drove me around the bend.

I ended up showing this senior English class the Canadian-written academy award winning film Crash, as a way to make them question their overt racism and discriminatory thinking.  It’s a challenging film, but then that was kind of the point.  It put an end to kids talking like that in my class, but it also got me removed from the school.

Once again, I’d failed to adopt social norms and conform to group-think and instead went after a moral absolute.  People really don’t like that.  What people like is when you reinforce their prejudices and act like they expect you to.  In this case, one of the students in the class was the daughter of a local church leader and he decided this would be an excellent excuse for a good old fashioned witch-hunt.  I got moved out of there by the school board before things got sillier.  I’m sure nothing has changed up there and everyone is still more than happy being racist red necks – and this is precisely my problem.

When our teacher’s union lost the plot I couldn’t help but make a stand based on principle rather than supporting the people in the organization no matter what.  I’m a staunch believer in unionism – left to their own devices, the rich would happily disenfranchise everyone and return us to the middle ages.  An argument could be made that I should have supported the union at all costs considering this ever-present threat to the middle class, but I don’t think that way.  When the union broke its own rules around fair voting practices and forced an illegal contract on our members, I fought it tooth and nail.  No one had to strike and members got a contract (albeit an illegal one that has since cost tax payer millions), shouldn’t I have encouraged that?  I could have complied and ingratiated myself to the powers that be and found myself rising up the hierarchy, but not doing that is precisely my problem.  Rising up hierarchies depends on conformity of thought and valuing relationships before principles.  This is the single reason why I don’t pursue leadership positions.

Back to Will Smith’s advice.  I’ve always found it hard to make friends, let alone find supporters who will stoke my fire, though I’ve never lacked for flames.  I’m driven and capable, but I find it impossible to put social expectation above rational and moral consideration.  An inability to do that means I never develop the deep levels of trust that other people lean on in their careers.

Yesterday at PD we were looking at White Ribbon scenarios and they all seem absurd to me.  Cases where teen age boys agree to isolate drunk girls to take advantage of them?  Evidently it’s a thing now in Toronto where groups of high school boys are convincing girls to perform sex acts for money.  If that’s what neuro-typical, socially focused people end up doing with those tight networks they develop, then I’m glad it’s beyond me, but then so is Will’s empowering social network.

Of course, there are precedents for aspies building great success, but in a lot of cases they don’t do it with a supportive social network, they do it through sheer malicious will.  I tend to fixate on creative and technical challenges, people domination isn’t in my wheelhouse.  Most business-successful aspies are fixated on that kind of dominance.

Finding people with complimentary skills sets is a way around this impasse.  The problem for an aspie is that the people who tend to be very good at social discourse find our lack of it trying and don’t associate with us.  In many cases, those are precisely the people who have attacked me socially.  It has been the rare socially skilled person who has been able to see past my lack of tact and recognize what lies beneath.  Finding a leader who stokes my fire rather than pouring water on my inabilities is a rarity.  I long to find people worthy of being loyal to, but they are vanishingly rare.  When I do find people like that, I’m the staunchest ally imaginable, as long as we fighting the good fight.

Looking for people to fan your flames is a difficult proposition at the best of times.  Without the deep at-all-costs social ties most people leverage, the aspie is left depending entirely on their technical skills to get anywhere.  Most people factor in trust when making hiring and promotional decisions.  That trust is usually based on their sense of how loyal a person is to them.  In almost any management decision this emotional bias means the technical aspie loses out to nepotism – something that has happened throughout my life:  don’t expect fair or skills based promotion, expect nepotism.  In a world where who you know always takes you further than what you know, this is perhaps the single largest disadvantage this aspie has faced.

NOTES:
Asperger’s inside the ASD spectrum: high functioning autism without specific titles.
A survival guide for people with Aspbergers
ASD and aging: peaks and valleys of youth and old age
Zuckerberg: coping with Aspbergers
ASD as flavour:  this kind of thinking gives me hope that my son won’t suffer the same prejudices that I have – perhaps he’ll even be given a chance to take Will’s advice and build that empowering social network.
An interesting piece of ASD media:  Roman J. Isreal Esq

The dreaded online personality test:

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Five Years: Diversifying Motorcycle Experience and Finding Balance

After the first year on two wheels I began thinking about more challenging motorcycle projects that would diversify my experience.  Starting in year two I did my first away motorcycle ride, renting scooters and then a BMW around the southern end of Vancouver Island – that led to my first article being published in Motorcycle Mojo and gave me a lot of insight into variations in motorcycling.

In addition to pushing my riding experience in daring new directions (like riding two-up with my son on an unfamiliar bike on one of the most challenging roads in Canada), I also began looking for a bike that needed more than just regular maintenance to operate… a bike that needed me.

I discovered just such a thing toward the end of that riding season, a long dormant Kawasaki Concours that we had to cut out of the grass it was sitting in.  Something that old (twenty plus years at the time) had a lot of perished rubber on it, and when I finally got it up to temperature it also had a sizable oil leak.  The winter was spent getting a new oil cooler and lines, replacing a lot of rubber bits and otherwise getting this old warrior back on its feet again.

The Concours not only got me moving mechanically, but it also offered a real blank slate, something I’ve since realized is only available on well used bikes (unless you’re loaded and like to pull apart new things).  I’d enjoyed the aesthetic restoration of the Ninja and was looking forward to doing the same thing on the Concours.  Getting an old bike and making it not only usable but unique looking has been one of the highlights of my motorcycling career to date, and a trend I intend to continue.  It’s something that my current too-nice Tiger doesn’t offer me.

The Kintsugi Concours became my go-to ride and the Ninja became my first sold bike.  It was difficult to part with something I’d developed such an emotional bond with.  I can understand why the people with the space and means hang on to every bike they buy.  Having beaten the selling a bike emotional roller coaster, I immediately went looking for another, but it took a while to finally find the right thing, and in the meantime the old Concours suddenly became less than dependable.

A KLX250 that couldn’t do 100km/hr with me on it made me feel like I was overly exposed and under-powered while riding on the road, though it was a deft hand off it and gave me my first real off road experiences.  I held on to it over the winter and when there was finally a break in the never ending Canadian snow I thought this is the moment the KLX will shine, on dirty, just thawed roads – except it wouldn’t start.  It was a lot easier to sell because I’d never fallen in love with it.  Getting $400 more than I bought it for didn’t hurt either.

Later that summer I made my next motorcycle buying error and stumbled into an old Yamaha XS1100 sitting on the side of the road.  I ignored the three strikes against it (non-runner with no ownership being sold by a gormless kid) and purchased it anyway; I won’t do that again.  I got lucky on the ownership – it was within a whisker of being a write-off and had a long and difficult history (I was the thirteenth owner!), but I was able to sell it on after sorting the ownership and just broke even.  In the process I stumbled onto a balancing act I hadn’t considered before.

I love riding older bikes I wrench myself, but they aren’t always ready to ride.  When the otherwise dependable Concours wasn’t and my only other choice was an ancient Yamaha I’d only just freed up the brakes and carbs on, I found myself with nothing to ride as the cruelly short Canadian motorcycling season began.  I’d gambled too much on being able to keep the old bikes rolling.  With riding days so valuable in the Great White North, that wasn’t a viable approach.

I still had most of the money from the Ninja sitting aside and my wise wife said to just focus on getting something newer and more dependable.  Maintaining that balance means having a riding ready bike and a project bike, and not messing up that equation.  To further complicate things, I’m a big guy so I needed a bike that fit, and my son was getting bigger every year and loved coming along, so I needed a bike that would fit us both.  Being the onerous person I am, I didn’t do the obvious thing and buy a late model Japanese touring bike that runs like clockwork.

My daily rider suddenly popped up on Kijiji but it ended up being the most emotionally driven purchase yet.  Instead of a sensible five year old, low mileage Kayamonduki, I got bitten by a thirteen year old Tiger.  It was European, over budget, too old and with too many miles, but the owner was a young professional (nuclear operator!) and from the UK and we had a good, straight up chat about the bike.  I was honest about my position (the Tiger was out of my league but I loved it and wanted it), and he was straight up with his position (he was about to take it in to trade for a new Triumph at the dealership and even my lower offer was much better than he would have gotten on trade in).  I ended up feeling like I stole the bike for over a grand less than he was asking and he got more for it than he otherwise would have.  It was an emotionally driven purchase with a lot of rational oversight.

With all that good karma the Tiger has turned out to be a special thing.  I was only the third owner.  In thirteen years it had averaged less than 4000kms/year, and on two years the first owner had ridden it out to Calgary and back (seven thousand plus kilometres each time).  It had been power commandered (that had never come up in the purchasing discussions), indicating that the original owner had really fawned over this bike.  The guy I bought it off wasn’t very mechanically minded and it hadn’t had much in the way of regular maintenance, but then he hadn’t used it much.  Within a couple of weeks I’d gotten it safetied, done all the maintenance and given it a good tuning – it has run like a top ever since.

It’s an older, European bike, but fuel injection and a resurgent Triumph Motorcycles Co. using the latest manufacturing techniques means it’s not a bonkers choice as a daily rider.  On the second year of ownership it fired right up after hibernating under a blanket in the garage, and it did again this year.  I’ve fixed some dodgy, plastic fuel connectors on the tank, changed the tires and done the fork oil and other fluids along with the chain, but other than the fuel fittings, it’s all been regular maintenance.  The Tiger has been such a treat and it’s such a rare thing (I’ve only ever seen one other) that I can’t see myself letting it go.

Meanwhile the Concours became the project bike, but since I wasn’t depending on it, the project took on new dimensions.  I stripped the old fairing off and ended up with a muscle bike like no other.  I’ve experienced some drift with this project and I think when I get it to a riding level I’ll sell it with the aim to make my money back on it (shouldn’t be too hard considering what I got it for).

I think the drift comes from biting off more than I can chew as far as tools I have on hand and time and a comfortable place to work.  If had welding gear handy and could do the fabrication I needed, I think I’d still be be pushing for an edgy completion to the project which has taken longer and has been more involved than I initially planned.  The heart is willing but I’m too tight money and time-wise to chase this big of a thing.  In the winter it hurts to go out in the garage and work on it and in the summer I’d rather be out riding.  Future projects might be more of a Shed and Buried/SPQR approach where I can get a bike sorted and back on its feet again, have some fun with it aesthetically and then move it on without losing any money on it.  Making enough on each one to keep me in tools and pay for the process would be the dream.

The sophomore years of motorcycling have been about pushing into more challenging riding opportunities.  From riding Arizona (another one that got published), to going to the last MotoGP race at Indianapolis to circumnavigating Great Lakes and Georgian Bay, I’ve gotten more and more daring and gone further afield with each season.

These years have also been about dusting off and expanding my technical skills and have seen me do everything from oil coolers to complete carburetor rebuilds.  The garage has gotten better and better in the process, though it’s still bloody cold in the winter.  If I could find a solar powered heating system for the space I’d be a happy man.  If I had a heated, insulated work space about twice the size, I’d be even happier.  The other side of the coin is riding opportunities. Living somewhere where you can’t ride for 3+ months of the year isn’t conducive to building saddle experience. I’d be happier if I lived in an all year riding opportunity – or at least if I had access to such places over the winter here.

20 hours might have gotten me able to manage the basic
operations of a motorcycle – the Conestoga course was a
weekend with about 4 hours on bikes each day, then some
very tentative rides in the neighborhood got me to 20 hours.

At five years I feel like I’ve put a lot of time into improving my rider’s craft.  I’ve also spent a lot of energy getting the rust off my mechanical skills.  What I most wish for the next five years is to maintain my hunger for more motorcycle experiences.  I’d like to try  a wider range of different bikes and types of riding and find a way to dig even deeper into mechanics.  This year I’m hoping to take an off-road training course.  In the future I’d love to find the money and time to take track riding, if not to pursue racing then at least to explore riding dynamics at the extreme end in a controlled environment.

If you put ten thousand hours into something you’ve developed a degree of expertise in it.  In each season I’ve tried to beat ten thousand kilometres of riding (and succeeded) before the snows fall.  Those fifty plus thousand kilometres have probably had me in the saddle for over a thousand hours and I’ve easily spent that again in the garage doing repairs and maintenance.  If feel like my motorcycle apprenticeship is well underway, I just need to keep finding ways to feed that expertise.

The light cover in the garage – a reminder

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FITC: The Pitch

Dear Industry & post-secondary VR/AR Interested People,

I’m at the last day of my first FITC Conference.  I’m buzzing from talks on emerging technologies, inspirational stories of artists thriving in a complex and rapidly evolving time and futurists shedding light on what is coming next.  That last bit is the focus of this post.  

I have a number of current students and recent grads with a great deal of experience in VR, AR and the coming media evolution, and we’re all eager to find people to COLLABORATE with!  

If you’re in the creative industry and are interested in VR & AR but don’t have much technical experience, we’d LOVE to talk to you.  If you’re developing VR ready software or hardware and want to talk to us, we’d be over the moon.  If you’re in Ontario post-secondary and are starting up VR/AR focused technology courses, my students are your future students and we’d love to work with you.

Sincerely,
Tim King
CWDHS Computer Technology

Here is our VR CV in glorious detail:

In 2016 the computer technology department I run at our local high school was given the opportunity by our board to explore the newly released consumer virtual reality headsets.  My background is in visual art and information technology, and my interest was in getting this visually demanding tech to work.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say I also had dreams of Sword Art Online being imminent.


We purchased one of the first HTC Vives to drop in Canada and proceeded to build a PC that could run it.  Over two years ago we had working, fully interactive VR in our lab.  That summer I got put in touch with Foundry10, a Seattle based tech-in-education research group, and they helped us get into our second VR headset.  So that we could be platform agnostic we went with the Oculus Rift.

Since then we have introduced hundreds of students in our board to virtual reality.  We have done multiple grade eight technology fairs and elementary school weekend tech-days demonstrating VR to teachers, parents and students.  We’re a deft hand at remote setup and breakdown now.  It never gets old watching people get floored by their first immersive VR experience.  We don’t do it with phone based passive systems.  When we introduce VR our users have hands and full interactivity.

Starting last year we began building VR ready computers and packaging them with headsets to hand out to other schools.  We’ve built dozens of Vive based sets and this year we swapped over to cheaper but equally capable Samsung Odyssey VR based systems.  We have built mobile, laptop based VR systems and desktop PC  systems on a variety of different platforms.  We have become very adept at making VR work in a variety of circumstances.

While all that was going on we also started developing VR ready software for the hardware we’d built.  Our earlier work was built on Oculus and Vive but with the amalgamation of VR platforms on Microsoft’s Windows 10 Creator’s Update last fall, we are now able to build across multiple platforms simultaneously.  This spring our senior software engineering class is building two VR based titles.  You can check out the 3d models students are turning out on our Sketchfab site.

Meanwhile, I’ve been presenting and demonstrating VR to teachers and educational administration across the province.  I’ve attended the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario’s annual conference the past two years, demonstrating and presenting on AR and VR.  That led to an Ontario Ministry of Education grant in student led VR and AR research.  Our groundbreaking work is helping to decide how VR will be used in education in the province.

Last summer I presented at the Ontario Teacher’s Federation summer conference on Pedagogy and Technology.



We’re always looking for other ways to diversify stereoscopic 3d digital interaction.  This past year we built school-branded 3d Google Cardboard viewers using a company in Toronto. We’ve also been in contact with Lenovo’s Educational outreach over the Google Daydream platform that’s about to drop and would love to get our hands on a Hololens, but that’s a bit too rich for a public high school.  Which leads me back to the start.

We’re tech-handy, more VR experienced in both hardware and software than most VR startups, and eager to COLLABORATE!  If you’re able to reach out online, you could be anywhere, but we’d especially like to make connections with industry and post-secondary programs who are exploring this emerging medium in Ontario.  My students will become your post-secondary students and eventually the people you hire when you’re developing in a
ugmented and virtual reality in the coming years.  We’d LOVE to hear from you.  If you can help enable us, we’ll floor you with what we can do.

Here are some links:

To The Department:
CWDHS Software Engineering (VR development) page
@CWCompTech on Twitter
CW CompTech on Google+

To Tim King, the teacher:
On Google+
On Twitter
Direct to my work email
On 360 degree video capture – if that isn’t extreme enough, how about 360 on a motorcycle?

To current student work:
To Cameron: our valedictorian who is already working on his second VR game title AND a Unity based construct for embedding 360 immersive video into – he already has experience on half a dozen 360 camera rigs from basic consumer Samsung 360s to the Insta360 professional quality 8k 360 camera.
To Nick:  also working on his second VR title and the winner last year of a specialist high skills major award for introducing a new coop program where high school technical experts go back to their old elementary schools and help them improve digital fluency.

Both Nick & Cameron are part of the Cybertitan team who are in the national finals of ICTC Canada’s cyber security competition.

To Eric, one of our top 3d modelers

To recent grads:
To Zach, now at Mohawk for IT & Networking (so he’s already better than he was) – he was pretty good in high school too, winning the Ontario Skills Canada provincials for IT & Networking with one of the highest technical scores in the competition  Zach can get anything to work.

We have other grads, like Maddi, who have gone into 3d modeling and video game design.  She was producing stunning work three years ago, I can’t imagine what she’s up to now:

Speaking of which, I’ve been moving mountains to try and get more girls into our digital tech program (and uphill struggle in conservative, rural Ontario).  Our electronics expert in Skills Ontario (7th last year, aiming for a medal this) is the only girl in the competition.  Getting in contact with women in tech who are interested in mentoring the next generation would help support me in this.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Tim King
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