The Untergeek's Old Blog

Retiring the blog

Written By: admin - Jun• 23•11

It is with some sadness and some gladness that I retire this blog. I’ve written a lot in my history here. It’s been over 10 years. I’ve written some things which embarrass me today. I guess that’s a part of life. Rather than hide from those things which I’ve written, I’ve decided to let them stand as a testament to the change and growth that can occur in a person’s lifetime. I have set it up so that a disclaimer to that effect is on the right sidebar of every post.

This blog has been largely neglected due to my “growing up.” For nearly 5 years, I’ve only posted a handful of things, some months apart. This is not because I don’t have anything to say. It could be that I’m busy living now, instead of…whatever it was I used to do. I’m migrating this blog to oldblog.untergeek.com, or something like that, so that the content doesn’t die, but so that I can re-use the untergeek.com name for something new.

Please wish me the best as I move forward with something different.

Prepare for the cola wars redux

Written By: admin - May• 07•10

Seriously, when people realize that they’ve been sold a product that messes with their metabolism over time there will be a reckoning when (or if—people may still choose to poison themselves) the flow of cash slows to the purveyors of sugar water.

“When the gut’s taste sensors encounter something sweet, they send a ‘prepare for fuel’ missive that results in cranked-up insulin levels in the blood,” the biweekly reports. Insulin signals the body to draw glucose from the blood and store it in the muscles and liver. Except when the sweetener is artificial, the body gets all ready and then there’s no energy to harvest.

via Put Down the Diet Soda and Back Away.

What a surprise! Fool your body and it will eventually rebel against you! Who’d have thought it?

There is a link with much more detail inline.

The end of an era

Written By: admin - May• 07•10

It seems so long ago that I first got my site hosted. I’ve been so lax in its upkeep that I can hardly believe it’s been 9 years since I registered untergeek.com. Creation Date: 06-Mar-2001.

I worked for Verio then as a UNIX Systems Administrator. I got a free account just for being employed there. It was awesome! I learned a lot about UNIX and about hosting (web/email/database, etc). I’ve moved on—2.5 years of having moved on—and Verio pulled the plug on my grandfathered-in account. I’ve heard from friends still employed there that their accounts are also affected (or halted, perhaps) in some Stalin-esqe sounding purge. I got my email a while back with the ominous title, “Account Clean Up Project” from the “Verio Account Audit Team.” They were giving me 10 business days to either become a paying customer or get out. Guess which one I opted for?

Verio’s been extraordinarily good to me, so I can’t complain. But their current pricing is a bit steep for what I need, so I’ve moved to Rackspace Cloud hosting. I pay for what I use, bandwidth-wise, and storage-wise if I need more than my product-class provides. This isn’t a plug for them yet, but it’s been pretty good so far.

Initially I was planning to discontinue untergeek.com. We decided it was worth keeping when we also decided to keep my wife’s blog about motherhood, www.womenasmothers.com. Perhaps I’ll use this more now, seeing as how I have to pay for it!

On your feet, then!

Written By: admin - May• 07•10

It’s time to stand up for…well, for not sitting!

I’ve gained a new understanding from reading this little bit here:

Hamilton, like many sitting researchers, doesnt own an office chair. "If youre standing around and puttering, you recruit specialized muscles designed for postural support that never tire," he says. "Theyre unique in that the nervous system recruits them for low-intensity activity and theyre very rich in enzymes." One enzyme, lipoprotein lipase, grabs fat and cholesterol from the blood, burning the fat into energy while shifting the cholesterol from LDL the bad kind to HDL the healthy kind. When you sit, the muscles are relaxed, and enzyme activity drops by 90% to 95%, leaving fat to camp out in the bloodstream. Within a couple hours of sitting, healthy cholesterol plummets by 20%.

via Your Office Chair Is Killing You – BusinessWeek.

So, here’s my new thing:

Aaron's new workstation



As you can see, I’m not taking this new lying down, or even sitting down! I’m taking a stand for a healthier me!

Who will stand with me?

My wife is more beautiful than Snow White

Written By: admin - Sep• 01•09

Take that, Magic Mirror!

My wife, my poor exhausted wife fell asleep in my friend’s sunroom. I couldn’t help but want to stage pictures. My friends were my accomplices. They provided the apple, the rose and the hat.

The rest is all history. If you click through to visit my gallery, be sure to hit the “i” to see the captions!

Visit the gallery here!

Alas!  My poor princess!  She has fallen under an evil spell!

Alas! My poor princess! She has fallen under an evil spell!

“Adam” – A journey through Asperger’s

Written By: admin - Aug• 16•09

A friend of ours had been watching an episode of Conan O’Brian a few weeks ago when he had Rose Byrne as his guest. She was there to promote the movie “Adam” which has been out since the end of July. The plot follows a man with Asperger’s Syndrome and the relationship between him and a girl who moves in to the same building. The tagline? “A story about two strangers. One a little stranger than the other…” Having seen a snipping from the movie, our friend thought we should see the snippet too. She knows about my Asperger’s.

Diana and I watched the snippet with no small amount of trepidation. It is since only recently that we are even aware of what we’ve been dealing with in any real sense. My condition has otherwise been like an invisible elephant in the room with us. The scene is of Adam’s apparent obliviousness to Beth’s (Beth is Rose Byrne’s character) need for assistance hauling a heavy load of groceries. The scene is funny to a lot of people. It’s not particularly amusing to Diana or to me. We’ve been there and done that. We were able to smile and think, “Remember when you did something like that?” The un-funny part is that I am that oblivious sometimes and the movie scene was an uncomfortable reminder of that.

Before I continue with my story I should explain a little bit about the inner workings of my mind. I relate many of my experiences to scenes in movies and literature in an idiomatic way. It’s almost a foreign language to people not familiar with it (that’s a series of stories that could have its own category), but it is a way to communicate my feelings in an indirect way that others can understand (if they’re well versed in the same movies and literature, etc.). I’m also prone to use computers and other things with which I am quite familiar as the basis of analogies to illustrate my way of thinking or feeling. I’m going to use one such now.

For those not very familiar with computers and programming these terms might not mean much so I’ll try to give some brief definitions. An algorithm is a step-by-step series of procedures or instructions followed to compute or solve a problem. A computer program is perhaps familiar enough, but a subroutine is a program within that program which is set up to pre-compute or pre-parse the data the main program processes. The movie referenced a book called “Pretending To Be Normal” – a title which immediately made perfect sense to me. I use algorithms and subroutines in my mind to “pretend” to be “normal.”

I have struggled my entire life to be accepted and treated like everyone else. My earliest memories of school are filled with teasing, derision, loneliness and isolation. As I began to see how my behavior differed from that of others I began to try to emulate it. This proved disastrous at first. In fact, it can still be disastrous even now. It’s very difficult to explain, leave alone be the difference between simply mimicking the behavior of others and being yourself but copying the performance characteristics of other people’s interactions. Nevertheless, this is what I tried to do. I was a very lonely guy as a consequence. This isn’t to say I didn’t have friends. I did, after a fashion. But as I “replay the tapes” in my mind, I can see that many of them were very tolerant of my idiosyncrasies but did not really know how to categorize me. As such they were only as close to me insofar as they were comfortable. On one hand I greatly appreciate their tolerance and acceptance. On the other I marvel that they could have been so accepting. I feel as though that “me” was so clueless that the “me” today would have a hard time with him too, even knowing about Asperger’s. It has been a long, drawn out process to create and maintain the algorithms and subroutines that maintain that facade of normalcy. More still, I have created “triggers” and detection mechanisms to initiate stored procedures and subroutines. When A is observed, perform these tasks, watch for B, proceed with caution, etc. It’s a series of actions specifically designed to compensate for my shortcomings. They don’t always work, but they’re what I use to “pretend” to be “normal.”

For instance, I pointed out to Diana (after the movie) that I forced myself to learn and remember as many double-entendres as I could because I didn’t want to be the guy who didn’t get the joke. Being the only one not laughing at a joke can be embarrassingly painful, especially if you have a look of “huh?” on your face. I was never able to be witty on the fly in school. I always envied others the ability to do that. I did everything I could to remember each interaction and stored it in a massive, brain-based database from which I could recall it in an instant, if need be. It was only last night that I realized that my retention of odd facts, movie quotes and other bits of information is actually part defense mechanism.

Put this all together and what have you got? A walking, breathing human “google-ing” computer. Ask me a question, I run my internal search engine and put together a response based on the saved database of catalogued interactions I have observed in myself, others, movies, etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m a big pattern matching engine. That’s what I use to “pretend to be normal.” When I run out of data or am in a situation where I am so stressed out that I am disconnected from my database (analogous to being out of CPU cycles or having a failed network connection) then I fall apart and you get to see what my Asperger’s really looks like.

It seems strange to me now that it should be so. It feels like “normal” to me. I don’t know any other way. I only apply these subroutines and algorithms to save myself the pain of loneliness and isolation, and also to not make others feel uncomfortable around me (which makes me sad, believe it or not, regardless of how unemotional I may appear on the surface). I don’t often find myself conscientiously thinking about doing it. That’s one reason why I call it a subroutine. The stress levels I’ve endured lately, however, have pushed me to the edge of my ability to cope with algorithms and stored data.

So, now we come back to the movie. After we saw the snippet and watched a few trailers (neither of which do the movie justice, by the way) we decided we really wanted to see the movie. It isn’t everyday that you get to see a dramatization of your handicap in a well-made movie. This movie is kind of like the “Rain Man” for HFA/Asperger’s sufferers. Hugh Dancy does a remarkable job portraying an “Aspie” as Adam termed it. My review will be tainted, of course. It’s not really a movie review. It’s more like a “if you want to see a dramatization of what my life is like and have it be 90% accurate, here’s why” kind of review.

Watching the movie was… interesting, to say the least. I was uncomfortable many times, mostly because I saw myself. Anyone who knows me well and watches the movie will likely (and quickly) say, “but you’re not like that at all!” You need to look a little deeper to get it. It is true. On the surface I do not appear to suffer as badly as Adam. My interpersonal skills appear to be much better than his, even to the point that most would not quickly notice that I suffer from any discrepancy at all. I refer the reader back to my discussion of subroutines and algorithms. Yes. They can make that big of a difference. Like Adam, I have a tendency to speak uninterruptedly about any subject for which I am both knowledgeable and passionate (yes, we aspies do get passionate about things. Adam was that way about astronomy). This was clearly demonstrated in the film not once but many multiple times. Beth had to squeeze Adam’s hand to gently remind him he was going to far. Been there, done that. It sometimes feels like I’m trying to stop an avalanche or a landslide on my own when I forget and catch myself running off at the mouth. Yes, this still happens, though I’d like to think I’m making progress in that area. I don’t want to make this an “Adam did this in the movie and so do I” kind of post, but Diana said that she’s observed me doing nearly everything that Adam does in the movie, and that was difficult to swallow.

At the end of the day, all that most of us “Aspie’s” want is to be loved and accepted for who we are, whether because of or in spite of our handicaps and idiosyncrasies. The movie shows that Adam makes progress. The difficulty is that to the viewer, if you are unfamiliar with Asperger’s, you have a tendency to think he’s just grown up. While that is possible, it is much more likely that Adam has improved his algorithms and subroutines, expanded his database and added some new trigger points to watch for certain behaviors and act appropriately in response. Yes, it’s that difficult. It is hard to watch because I go home from the movie the same as when I walked in, even if I have been on a journey of (re)discovery in watching it. It’s my life, not a movie.

The invisible handicap that wasn’t

Written By: admin - Jul• 01•09

Keep watching this space for a series of blog posts I will be writing.

The subject? “The invisible handicap that wasn’t”

If that isn’t cryptic enough, I don’t know how I could possibly improve on that.

The point, dear readers, is that at long last I feel compelled to write about something that’s been a part of my life for as long as I can recall. I have a handicap that is invisible, odorless, dissolves instantly in liquid and is one of the deadlier poisons known to man (okay, that last part is from “The Princess Bride”). The problem with this handicap is that it’s invisible.

An invisible handicap? How so? No one can tell I have it by looking at me. Most can’t tell I have it from even speaking with me, unless they take enough time to really start to notice. How is anyone supposed to even know how to deal with this if they can’t see it? In this day of politically correct behavior everyone wants to be sensitive to those with handicaps, but how can they if it’s invisible?

Have I piqued your interest yet? Wondering what it is that’s got me? I’ll tell you…

I am a High Functioning Autistic, or if you prefer, I am afflicted by Asperger’s Syndrome. (It’s kind of an either/or diagnosis).

But how can that be? Aren’t autistic people unable to interact with others? Aren’t they like “Rain Man” or something? The truth is that’s full-blown autism. High Functioning Autistics/Asperger’s Syndrome sufferers have only some of the symptoms of the fully autistic. If you really know me well, go and do some googling on the subject. Try “High Functioning Autism symptoms” or “Asperger’s symptoms“ in your favorite search engine. Read up a little bit. See if you don’t start to see similarities.

Meanwhile, to further whet your appetite for new knowledge and understanding, I suggest that you Take The AQ Test and see what your results are. From the article it is clear that:

  1. Average people (the control group) scored an average of 16.4
  2. 80% of those diagnosed with HFA/AS scored higher than 32
  3. The test is not meant to diagnose HFA/AS
  4. Those who score 32 or higher, and/or meet the actual criteria for HFA/AS can still lead a normal life, difficulty free
  5. This test was prepared by the foremost experts in autism research

So. What did you score? I score a 37. I also manifest many of the symptoms of HFA/AS. A lot, in fact.

I took it upon myself to read up on the subject. I can’t actually self-diagnose as I’m not a doctor, but I’d put better than even money on the outcome, based on what I’ve read and based on my recollections and memories of past events (and how I acted in them).

Where does this lead, then? Why is this a handicap? Why do I call it the invisible handicap, even? People don’t understand that I have a very difficult time interacting with others, particularly in large groups. It’s hard to see this because I enjoy teaching and do well teaching in front of large groups. But put me in a social group where people are conversing and just having a good time and I become withdrawn. I offend people merely because I appear to not want to spend time with them (which isn’t necessarily true). I have difficulty looking people in the eye, leave alone maintaining eye-contact. This isn’t because I’m ashamed, it just makes me very uncomfortable. It doesn’t mean I’m shy, either. It’s exceptionally hard to explain to others exactly what’s going on in my mind when these sorts of circumstances happen. All they see is that I seem evasive, that I don’t want to be there with them, that I don’t want to talk to them, or any other number of apparently anti-social behaviors. They don’t realize that I do those things because I have a handicap.

I don’t want to write too much more on this subject now because I need to finish out the premise: The invisible handicap that wasn’t.

The other reason that people don’t see that I have a handicap is that HFA/AS sufferers are frequently gifted in a specific area, or sometimes multiple areas. They can focus on their subject or area of expertise in ways that others cannot, though this is a handicap sometimes too as it can be difficult to stop working on something you’ve started – the need for closure prevents you from stopping. I have been able to survive, thrive even, with my handicap. It’s lead me to the field of computers (machines and mechanical processes are usually one of the areas in which HFA/AS people excel), cars and other mechanical things. I have good work I enjoy. It doesn’t look at all like I have a handicap.

But, I do. And it’s about time I acknowledged that I have it.

I’m not fishing for sympathy. Nothing would offend me more than to have people tread lightly around me out of pity or sympathy, or even at all. What I crave is understanding. If people understood that I act the way I do not because I’m anti-social but because social interactions are difficult, painful even, then perhaps they’d be more inclined to accept me the way that I am and not think I’m odd because I don’t interact with others the way the other 99.99% of the population do. But then, being a part of such a small subset of the population, that’s why it is a handicap.

The invisible handicap that wasn’t.

Swimming with the cousins

Written By: admin - Jun• 27•09

Goggles and masks make swimming more interesting.

The big room shuffle of 2009, part 1

Written By: admin - May• 25•09

After steam cleaning the carpet upstairs, it took me most of the day to shut down, disconnect, disassemble, move, reassemble, reconnect and adjust all of the computers. If I do say so, it was worth it! Now it’s family LAN party time!

Dropbox is the bomb

Written By: admin - May• 07•09

I don’t often geek out over online services, but this is one I can get excited about — Dropbox.

Simply put, Dropbox allows you to synchronize up to 2G of data for free across multiple computers and platforms. Currently, Mac OS X, Linux and MS Windows are supported.

In addition to this, Dropbox allows you to provide quick links to your friends and family to view photos or to share files you have synced with the service. Future support for group sharing is forthcoming. They have a web-based tour here and a screencast here. The screencast is really helpful. I highly recommend it.

As a bonus, if you click on this link or the one above and sign up for free we both get an extra 250M of storage. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed! (You sign up once you’ve downloaded and run the installer. It’s part of the installation process).