Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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To speak or not to speak, that is the question

That dear readers, is a question I’m unable to answer. At (almost) 68 years of age, I still don’t have a clue when it’s my turn to speak. And it’s not for the want of trying.

I often get it wrong even in one on one conversations, but if I’m in a group of two or more other people I’m like a fish out of water when it come to practising  conversational turn taking.

It appears to me that conversations consist of one person leading and others following, adding variable length interjections from time to time  (the nature and frequency of which varies from culture to culture), and then by some mysterious mechanism the lead is transferred to another member of the group.

To a person like me, the ability of others to smoothly navigate a conversation is more than an art or skill. It has the appearance of the participants having some sort of ESP or supernatural ability that is used to negotiate who says what, and when. In fact there was a period in my childhood when I was convinced this was true, which goes a long way to explain my brief fascination of the paranormal at that time.

I’m sure there’s a discipline of science that studies the mechanism by which people negotiate  conversations, but the average person seems to have no idea how they do it. Believe me, I’ve asked. Typical responses are “I’ve never thought about it” (so I gather), “It comes naturally” (no it doesn’t), “It’s instinctive” (no it’s not), “what a stupid question!” (why?), “everyone can do it” (really? I can’t)), “just take your turn” (when is it my turn?), “just observe and you’ll learn” (I’ve been observing for more than 60 years, so how about a hint or clue?).

It was only eight years ago that I learnt there is an explanation for the reason I find conversation so difficult: I discovered I am on the autism spectrum. However being armed with the knowledge why I fail to recognise non-verbal clues (a skill most people don’t realise they possess), does little to help me. If I concentrate exclusively on another’s body movements or tone of voice, I can maybe recognise something that possibly might be non-verbal clues. However, it’s a moot point as the concentration required means the words spoken have gone in one ear and out the other and I’m unable to relate what might have been expressed non-verbally with what the person has said.

When I first learnt I was on the spectrum, my only “knowledge” of autism was through the film Rain Man. I wanted to prove I wasn’t autistic, and tried many online tests in an attempt to prove the experts wrong. I failed totally. One test I tried (on many occasions) is the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. This test measures one’s ability to identify emotions in others by looking at an area around the eyes and without any other input.

The test consists of looking at a total of 36 pairs of eyes and choosing one of four emotions to match the image. The mean score is roughly 27/36 for women, 25/36 for mean and 22/36 for people who have been identified as having Asperger Syndrome or “High Functioning” Autism. I’ve tried this test on numerous occasions, and the very best I have achieved is 16/36. However most of my results have been close been between 10 and 13, which is only marginally better than one would expect from a tossing a dice to choose an emotion.

So the next time someone appears to be rude by interrupting inappropriately, just consider the possibility that they might struggling, almost to the point of exhaustion, of trying to fit in and having no idea why they don’t. They struggle to fit into your world almost every moment they are awake. It won’t hurt you to try to fit into their world sometimes.

For those who would like to try the test for themselves, there are online versions at http://socialintelligence.labinthewild.org/mite/ and https://www.questionwritertracker.com/quiz/61/Z4MK3TKB.html. The latter requires Adobe Flash, and provides the answers, both of which are good reasons for me to avoid it.

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Where’s our flag?

As the 2018 Commonwealth Games draws to a close on the Gold Coast, one thing has struck me. When the TV cameras pan over the spectators we see:

The English supporters waving this:
England

The Kenyan supporters waving this:
Kenya

The Canadian supporters waving this:
Canada

And of course, the Australian supporters waving this:
Australia

So it might be reasonable to assume the Kiwi supporters would be waving this:
New_Zealand

 

Wrong!

 

Instead you’ll see them waving this:
silver-fern-flag

We had a flag referendum couple of years ago and decided to retain the current flag. So why do we seem to have a reluctance to fly it?


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Still cattle

A little while back I took Milo (a beautiful dog that belongs to my daughter’s family) for an extended walk that included an excursion into the countryside. During the walk I happened to pass what seemed like a tranquil scene. It was so still and calming that I had to stop and take a snap of the three cows in a paddock. The only camera I had with me was the one on my phone, which happens to be very basic – not even a zoom. But even before I took the photo I realised the scene was not all it seemed to be…

Three cows in a paddock
I know the picture isn’t the best quality, but if you look closely you might notice that the three cows have iron constitutions.

Yep, they are made entirely from corrugated roofing iron.


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The land of awkward terrorists, communists and fascists

For several weeks, I’ve been struggling with completing a post regarding the Kiwi propensity to avoid conflict and how it has a tendency to neutralise extremist views. Today I stumbled across an opinion piece first published in April 2017 which neatly summarises what I was attempting to write, and even poses a question very similar to what I wanted to ask.

So in the interests of getting a post out at all, I have abandoned writing my own, and refer readers to the Stuff article New Zealand: the land of awkward terrorists, communists and fascists.


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The Kiwi Rite of Passage

Taking an OE, or Overseas Experience, has become a characteristic activity of Young Kiwis over the last fifty years. Young New Zealanders head overseas for an extended period, usually immediately after graduating university, although often before beginning (and sometimes instead of undertaking) tertiary study. It has become such a social norm, that failing to show some work experience or extended stay overseas on one’s CV can put one at a disadvantage in job applications. Colloquially termed The Big OE, it’s estimated, that at any one time, one in five kiwis are living or travelling overseas. To make up for this “loss”, we have a high immigration rate. One in four New Zealand residents are immigrants.

So what lures young Kiwis to foreign shores?

A sense of adventure? Its been argued that the reason NZ had such a high rate of military volunteers during the first and second world wars was that young men saw it as the only opportunity they would have for an adventure in a foreign land. There’s no doubt that our isolation and small population makes other places seem more enticing and exciting.

Seeking one’s roots? Aotearoa New Zealand is a young country, and there would be very few individuals who don’t have at least one parent, grandparent or great grand parent who was born overseas. Depending on which branch of the family tree I follow, I am a second generation, third generation, fourth generation or fifth generation New Zealander. My wife is an immigrant, as is my daughter-in-law. In that respect, I’m a typical kiwi. Young people today have a greater interest in their roots than do people of my generation and have a genuine interest in where their family came from.

Career prospects? Kiwis are often highly sought after, particularly where the reputation of our work ethic and “can do” attitude precedes them. There’s certainly no denial that overseas there are pay scales and career opportunities that we can only dream about here. On returning home, that experience gives them a distinct advantage in the job market.

The lure of bright city lights? Sure, why not? World wide, there are over sixty cities with populations larger than our entire country, and if you include metropolitan areas, that number swells to 100. I have a distinct dislike for it, but most young people seem to crave for the excitement that can be found where the lights are brightest.

Economising? Strange as it may seem, this is a factor. New Zealand is very isolated geographically, and to get anywhere outside the country is expensive and takes a long time. The cost of travel to and from foreign destinations is relatively high compared to the cost of living there. So why not cram as much into one journey as possible by making it last a year or three?

There’s no doubt a myriad of other reasons, including that fact that this country and even its biggest cities just too quiet or dull for some. But eventually most return, sometimes with a new partner in tow to set up a new family. For although it’s an expensive place to live in, there’s no better place in which to raise a family.

A beneficial outcome of such a significant number of our young adults spending an extended period abroad is that they experience a wide variety of cultures different from their own. This means that on return they are, generally, more accepting, tolerant and appreciative of alternative cultures and life styles found within Aotearoa New Zealand. And that can only be a good thing.

So our rite of passage is the Big OE. What’s the rite of passage where you live?


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(A belated) Happy Hundredth Birthday Sir Lloyd

For the last 2 months I have wanted to dedicate a post to the achievements of Sir Lloyd George Geering who reached the great old age of 100 on the 26th of February this year. The problem is I have been struggling not only with what I should say, but how I should say it.

While I’m able to spout facts as well as anyone (especially if it’s on a topic I have an interest in), expressing more abstract notions presents a real problem for me. I’m not sure whether my thought process is closer the that of the autistic mind or that of the neurotypical mind, but I have great difficulty in converting what I feel/sense about ideas and concepts firstly into words and then into a series of ordered sentences.

So I will simply say thank you Sir Lloyd for helping me realise that my beliefs were not “way out” or heretical way back in the 1960s when I liked to think I was Christian and for affirming to a large sector of NZ society, both within and without Christianity, that religion does not have to be steeped in supernatural beliefs.

Oh, and a very happy (and belated) 100th birthday!


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Wahine fifty years on

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster with the loss of 53 lives. I was almost 19 at the time and can still recall listening to the minute by minute live radio commentary as the disaster unfolded. What is so memorable is the feeling of helplessness. The ferocity of the storm meant the would-be rescuers could only watch while remaining onshore.

At that time, television broadcasting was only eight years old in Aotearoa New Zealand and this was the first occasion where a significant disaster was able to be recorded as it happened.

Almost no one remembers the name of the ex tropical cyclone (I had to look it up: Cyclone Giselle) that collided with an Antarctic front over Cook Strait causing perhaps the most severe weather event in NZ in the last 100 years. Everyone remembers it as the “Wahine Storm“.

Unsettled weather is common for this time of the year. Today, much of the country is experiencing gale force winds, tornadoes and snow. Where I live we are experiencing high winds, reaching gale force at times, and it’s currently 8°C (46°F), whereas at the same time yesterday it was calm, sunny and a mild 19°C (66°F). However, today’s weather is nothing compared to this day 50 years ago.


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A Creation Myth

Growing up I was familiar with both the two creation myths of the Bible and of several variations of creation as told by the Māori of Aotearoa New Zealand. I don’t recall either the Biblical or Māori version as being any more “true” than the other. Neither were thought of as being real events, but as a vehicle for conveying an understanding of the human condition. In this, the oldest of the creation myths, which found in the second chapter of the Genesis, is the only one that sets out to blame the “sins” of the world on humankind.

Interestingly the three versions are strikingly at odds as to the order in which man and woman are created.

Genesis 1: Man and woman are created equal on the 6th day.
Genesis 2: Man is the first living creature, while woman is the last creature created, and from a rib of the man.
Māori mythology: Humankind was not created until an indefinite time after the separation of sky and earth. The first two of humankind are both female.

Here is one variant of the Māori creation myth:

It was from this myth that I was taught that personal desires can have consequences that may be harmful to others, and so one must be mindful not just of ourselves but of others as well. I notice that within Māori mythology, there is no attempt to explain the nature of “good” and “evil”. Instead they seem to tell us that actions have consequences: some desirable, some undesirable.


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(Not) Windows Support Desk

[Ring ring. Ring ring]
ME: G’day. This is Barry
CALLER: Hello this is Windows support. I’m calling regarding a problem with your computer.
ME: Oh? what kind of problem?
CALLER: Do you realise that your computer is generating a lot of Internet traffic that is related to viruses and malware?
ME: No. Is that bad?
CALLER: Very bad. You can get into a lot of trouble if you let it continue.
ME: Bugger! So what should I do?
CALLER: That is why I am calling sir. So we can repair your computer and make it safe. Just follow what I tell you to do. Do you understand?
ME: yes
CALLER: OK. Please turn your computer on.
ME: It’s already on
CALLER: Ok. Hold down the Windows key, press the “R” key and release the Windows key.
ME: What’s the Windows key?
CALLER: Do you see the key at the front left of the keyboard? It should have the letters CTRL in it.
ME: Yes
CALLER: Well the to its right should be the Windows key.
ME: Oh you mean the one with a kind of wriggly 4-paned window one it?
CALLER: That’s the one. Hold it down and then press the “R” key then release both keys. Got That?
ME: Yes. [pause] Done it.
CALLER: Ok. Now type in E V E N [unrecognisable] [unrecognisable] W R
ME: Sorry my hearing’s not the best. Can you spell it out again please?
CALLER: E for echo, V for victory, E for echo, N for November, T for tango, V for victory, W for whisky, R for Romeo.
ME: [pause] Ok. Now what?
CALLER: Click Ok.
ME: I don’t see an Ok button. Should I just press Enter
CALLER: What? Ah, yes, just press Enter. Then tell me what you see.
ME: Nothing
CALLER: Huh? What do you mean nothing? Can you describe exactly what you see on your screen.
ME: well, I mean Nothing happened. The box that I typed E V E N T V W R into is still sitting in the middle of the screen.
CALLER: Do you have any other programs running?
ME: Yes, I have my email program, a web browser, a word processor,and a [Caller interupts]
CALLER: [cross tone] You must close all programs completely. Do you understand? I want just the desktop like when you first start your computer. Am I clear?
ME: No need to be so short. If you wanted a clean screen you should have said so at the beginning. Now, when you say “Like when you first start your computer”, do you mean before I log in or afterwards?
CALLER: [sounding flustered] Before. No, I mean Afterwards.
ME: [sounding doubtful] Ok. Hang on a mo.
[long pause]
CALLER: Hello? Hello, are you there sir?
ME: Yes. I was just closing down everything. I’m ready now.
CALLER: [speaking slowly and deliberately] Ok. Hold down the Windows key, and while holding it down, press the “R” key. Then release the “R” key and then the Windows key.
ME: [short pause] Ok, Done.
CALLER: Has a box appeared?
ME: Yes
CALLER: Type E V E N T V W R into the box and then read out what you have entered.
[slow typing can be heard]
ME: Done. I’ve typed in E for echo, V for victory, E for echo, N for November, T for tango, V for victory, W for whisky, R for Romeo
CALLER: Very good! Now click the Ok button.
ME: Like I said before, there’s no Ok button.
CALLER: [pause] What buttons to you see?
ME: There are 3 buttons: “Preferences”, “Close”, and one that is greyed out with the label “Launch”.
CALLER: Does the box have a title at the top?
ME: Yes.
[silence]
CALLER: Well?
ME: Well what?
CALLER: [exasperated] What it the title?
ME: Oh sorry. “Application Finder”
CALLER: And you got there when you pressed the Windows key and the R Key – are you Sure?
ME: If you mean the R key between the E key and the T key and below the 4 key and the 5 key and above the D key and the F key, then, yes, I am sure. If there’s another R key somewhere else, you’ll need to direct me to it.

The above conversation is the beginning of a 31 minute 17 second session I had with a guy that was trying to “help” me fix a “serious problem” on my computer. After several more unsuccessful attempts to run Event Viewer, he tried another approach:

CALLER: I want you to click on the Start Button.
ME: Where do I find the Start Button?
CALLER: At the bottom left hand corner of the screen
ME: There’s no button there
CALLER: [sounds like he’s talking with clenched teeth] There is a bar that runs along the bottom of the screen. On the left side there is a button that says “Start” or it has the Windows logo on it. I want you to click on it.
ME: Look mate, I’m telling you there’s no bar along the bottom of the screen and there’s no button with Start or the logo on it. I’d tell you if there was. Are you sure you’re qualified to be doing this?
CALLER: You little sh*t! Do you know how much trouble you can get into by messing around with Windows Security Office? You don’t want to f*ck with us.

Usually these types of calls end abruptly when I question the qualification of the caller, but this was a new approach. He clearly thought I was a young person trying to be smart. He then went on to explain how I could be banned from the Internet for life for knowingly distributing malware; that my telephone would be monitored, and as distributing viruses and ransomware was regarded as terrorism by the authorities, I’d be put on the terror watch list and the No Fly list, and so would my parents. He then threatened to set the wheels in motion unless I cooperated fully, and asked me again to click the Start button.

I gently explained that I was in fact 69 years old, and as I have autism I often take instructions too literally, and rather than assuming my screen looked exactly like his, he should ask questions that would lead him to understand how my computer is different. I then gave the example of Instead of being rude when I said I didn’t have a Start button, he could have enquired what I do to start up a program.

This seemed to calm him down and we spent another 20 minutes or so as he fruitlessly tried to lead me through installing a remote desktop, a key logger and backdoor, and finally an attempt to install TeamViewer. If only he had bothered to ascertain what operating system was installed on my computer, he would have had a much easier time. My home has been Microsoft Windows free for almost 15 years. Our 2 desktops, a laptop and our media and backup server all run variants of Linux.

Eventually it dawned on him that I might be leading him on and he directly asked if I was wasting his time. So I told the first porky of the evening. I mentioned that New Zealand was a member of the Five Eyes Spy network and I had been using delaying tactics so that his precise location could be identified. It was just a matter of deciding whether to use the local law enforcement agency to arrest him, or the Internet Rendition Unit to whisk him to a jurisdiction where Internet crime is better dealt with. The decision would be made within 24 hours. At that point he hung up. I have no idea if he believed any of the lie, but I hope he sweats for a few hours at least.

I don’t like lying and on the rare occasions I do, I always feel physically uncomfortable afterwards. But on this occasion I actually feel good.