Autistic human interaction tips

Often, the autistic-spectrum folks in my life have the most interesting things to say about human interactions. Survivorship bias accounts for much of this. I’m only having these conversations with the autistic people who have not only learned how to socialize with neurotypicals, but to talk with them about people and emotions.

Anyway, such people tend to have incredibly astute and precise understandings of human behaviour. So I was thrilled to stumble upon this collection of Docs, which comprise a guide to neurotypicals for Autism-Spectrum Disorder people.

Some choice bits:

Anger at deities is almost always directed upwards, above a 45 degree angle, while thanks or prayer is usually directed downward and inward. In contrast, happiness at the self is directed outward randomly, while anger/fear/shame are shown by aiming all attention vectors together at a point roughly 2 feet in front of the person.

Curious what an ‘attention vector’ might be? Take the usual body-language idea that people turn to whoever they care most about, and break into down into component parts:

By pivoting your eyes, head, shoulders, hips, and feet, you can point them in different directions. These directions are three-dimensional for head and eyes, and mostly two-dimensional for shoulders, hips, and feet because it’s difficult to point those up or down while standing. Pointing your attention vectors at something is a signal that you’re paying attention to that thing

….

The reason I mentioned that there are five of them (eyes, head, shoulders, hips, feet), is that you can point them in different directions to indicate split attention. The reason I put them in that specific order isn’t just that it’s top-to-bottom, it’s that it indicates temporary-to-permanent attention…..The lower down on the body the attention vector, the more permanent its indication of attention.

July 16, 2020

Dewey likes Decimals

Systems often seem pre-ordained until you understand your origins. When you find out how something got started, it’s often hard to take it quite so seriously.

Case in point: library classification. The Dewey Decimal system exists, in part, because John Dewey just really liked the number ten:

In March 1873, when he was still an undergraduate, Dewey had his third big idea, inspired by an 1856 pamphlet titled “A Decimal System for the Arrangement and Administration of Libraries”, written by Nathaniel Shurtleff, who worked at the Boston Public Library. As Dewey wrote at the time, “My heart is open to anything that’s either decimal or about libraries”. In fact, fifty years ltaer, Dewey would attribute the idea to order topics by decimal numbers to an epiphany during a Sunday sermon. Dewey was already infatuated with decimals. He wrote a school essay on the metric system when he was sixteen. When he was twenty-five he founded the American Metric Bureau to lobby for the adoption of the metric system within the United States. He even arranged his travel so that he would arrive on the tenth, twentieth or thirtieth day of the month…rationalism crossing over into superstition

[David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous, p53-4]

Suggested music: The New Puritans yelling “what’s your favourite number” again and again. It’s like being accosted in the street by a gang of numerologists

July 5, 2020

The Act of Creation

The creative act is not an act of creation in the sense of the Old Testament. It does not create something out of nothing; it uncovers, selects, reshuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faculties, skills … ‘It is obvious’, says Hadamard, ‘that invention or discovery, be it in mathematics or anywhere else, takes place by combining ideas…The Latin verb cogito for “to think” etymologically means “to shake together”. St Augustine had already noticed that and also observed taht intelligo means “to select among”’ [Koestler, The Act of Creation, p119-120]

I’m slowly rereading The Act of Creation, one of the formative books of my teenage years. Arthur Koestler sets himself the task of describing creativity across art, science, and humour. The core is what he calls ‘bisociation’, which means thinking simultaneously in two frames of reference.

He goes way too far in attempting to reduce everything to his one system. The picture on the right, from the book’s frontispiece, is an example of this. But the book has more than enough insight to make it worth reading.

Frontispiece to *The Act of Creation*

July 3, 2020

Review - Playing to the Gallery

Grayson Perry has found himself a niche in the British media as a guide to modern art. In this short book he sets out to ‘answer the basic questions that might come up when we enter an art gallery

Alas, the questions he answers are mostly about the art world, not about art. There is plenty about turf wars between gallerists and collectors, about young artists’ assigned role as accepted rebels, about the role of money in art.

What’s missing is any suggestion that art might have something to say about the wider world.

If I’m in an art gallery, I’ll be wondering something like “what feelings can this art inspire in me?”, or “will this change the way I look at the world?”. That kind of question doesn’t seem relevant to Grayson Perry.

June 30, 2020

Lawn-mowers are internet oxen

From a report on how people read online:

the rise in popularity of comparison tables and zigzag layouts (where text and images alternate in each row on the page) has coincided with the development of a new gaze pattern.

On pages with distinct cells of content, people often process those cells in a lawn-mower pattern: they begin in the top left cell, move to right until the end of the row, then drop down to the next row, move to the left until the of the row, drop down the next row, and so on. (The name of this pattern is inspired by the way a lawn mower sweeps methodically back and forth across a field of grass. The mower moves from one side of the lawn to the other, then flips around and mows the next row of grass in the opposite direction.)

I love this because it so perfectly recapitulates a metaphor from ancient Greece.

Some early Greek manuscripts were written in a similar way. One line goes left-to-right. The next reverses everything (down to the shapes of the letters themselves) to be read right-to left. Then for line 3 you go left-right again. The reader’s eye can smoothly follow the text, without needing to jump across the page (or the tablet) to find the start of the next line.boustrophedon

There were not many lawn-mowers in early Greece. But there were plenty of oxen. And you plow a field the same way you mow a lawn: all the way across the field, then turn and come back.

So this (soon-abandoned) form of writing was called ‘boustrophedon’, ‘like an ox turning’. I’m tickled pink to find it reborn online

June 24, 2020

Enterprise Software

I never hated Enterprise Software until I had to work with it.

I have always been in the open-source world – admittedly spending far less time contributing than being paid to build closed-source products on open-source foundations. Still I had a vague, theoretical distrust of enterprise software.

Now, for the first time, I get it. I’m working on a tiny project which is entirely subject to the half-baked API of an enterprise behemoth. On every side I’m faced by problems caused not by my own work or by logical limitations, but by the past decisions of a nameless somebody. Problems I cannot fix, no matter how hard I work or how cunningly I plan. Because here you don’t change anything by thinking. You change it by siting in meetings, persuading people, and perhaps having your boss write a five-figure cheque.

And so, I feel an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.

These days I am not used to feeling powerless. It reminds me of home and school – of the last time I felt continuously, cripplingly, at the mercy of arbitrary rules. That my life since then has been relatively independent is of course the result of immense privilege. It’s also because, hating being constrained, I’ve cashed in some of that privilege running away from authority.

Now, with this sense of powerlessness in my head, I look at free software in a different light. I had seen it either in political or in practical terms – as the Right Way and the Best Way.

I had overlooked the psychological aspect. I had not really felt the frustratation of being trapped inside somebody else’s conceptual world, and the compulsion to break free.

The children of the revolution, I suppose, never quite understand the horrors of the ancien regime. So maybe I should appreciate my current situation as a teaching moment, a picture of how I Do Not want to live. For sure, it has motivated me to contribute more actively to free software.

Mostly, though, I just want it to be over.

June 21, 2020

Beginnings

At that other time of beginning, the New Year, I resolved to structure my life around the solstices and the equinoxes. Covid has thwarted my plans to throw parties on those dates. But it has not stopped me using them for introspection, for contemplation – and for new beginnings.

Hence this notebook, beginning on the longest day. Its immediate inspiration is DrMaciver, whose daily notebook has already spawned a brood of offspring. Mostly, though, it’s just latest iteration in my slash-and-burn approach to writing.

I’ve previously bounced from LiveJournal to student newspaper to self-hosted blog to Tumblr, to the daily diary I’ve typed into text files in its dedicated CRT-green editor.

Every time I eventually find myself boed by the imagined constraints of the structure or the audience. I give up. I stop writing for a while. Then I emerge somewhere else, re-energised by a new location or a new format.

So what is the new format this time round? First off, longevity. I have plans to write this from the summer solstice until the autumn equinox. After that it might continue, it might mutate, it might die – all bets are off.

Second, this is a notebook. It is not quite a diary, not quite a blog. That is, it is not primarily a vehicle for self-revelation, nor for connecting with others – though I hope both will happen occasionally alog the way. There is no commitment to theme, to length, to making each post interesting. This is a drop of whatever is on my mind – no less, no more

June 20, 2020