Silly Texas

(Personal, Politics)

2012-03-14 16:26
Comment

Possibility that an innocent unborn life with no central nervous system might be ended: It is necessary to legally mandate raping the mother with a device in order to prevent this risk.

Near-certainty that an innocent adult life with a central nervous system and a family might be ended: Eh, whatever.

And yes, I do mean “rape”. Shoving something up a woman’s private parts non-consensually is rape.

Mostly, though, I’m just stunned by the hypocrisy. If any state in this country could plausbly claim that they really care that much about human life, it ain’t Texas.

Doonesbury’s comics on this are a little darker than usual, but pretty much spot on.

Peter Seebach

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Autistic people and phones

(Personal, Autism)

2012-03-14 12:33
Comment [7]

Hi! If you don’t normally follow my blog, someone probably forwarded you this link because you asked an autistic person to call you on the phone, or have some service or interaction for which your only provided contact information is a phone number.

My goal here is to explain why it is important, if you are ever going to serve autistic customers/clients/patients, to have a way for people to communicate with you in writing. This information isn’t really entirely specific to autism, but autistic people are the ones I most often see having problems with this.

I have not yet met an autistic person who likes phone calls. Ever. I have met only a handful of autistic people who are able to make phone calls as a matter of course. The spread of what I’ve seen is that about half are basically incapable of making phone calls, about a quarter can only make phone calls on good days, and maybe 5% if that can make phone calls without it being stressful. I’m on the edge of that 5%; I can chat with close friends and it’s not a big deal, but even weekly conference calls with familiar coworkers that I’ve had every week for four years straight are a source of stress for me. Give me two or three consecutive calls, and I am done for the day with anything that requires focus or effort.

And yet. When I email people, they email back with a phone number for me to call. Heck, one time when I contacted a local autism group, they gave me the phone number of the third party which handles their insurance verification. (I asked whether there was a way to do this without a phone call, and they offered to handle that for me, though.)

So it seems to me that a lot of people don’t understand: Phone calls are not more convenient or congenial for everyone. The reason I emailed you to ask a question, rather than calling you, is that I prefer email. Please don’t respond to my email with an invitation to use the phone; if I’d wanted to use the phone, I would have. Please assume that I chose my medium of communication with consideration and intent, and respect my preference. Do this whether or not you know me to be autistic; there are lots of other reasons for which people might strongly prefer not to use the phone.

If you have some reason for which you must not use email (such as HIPAA), please explain that reason explicitly. That’s the difference between you being a jerk who’s ignoring my preferences and being a person who is restricted by regulatory agencies or governments. I can understand the existence of laws, but if I don’t know about the law, your behavior will seem arbitrary and rude.

Also, please let me know whether it’s possible to have a friend speak to you on my behalf. I might have friends who are more comfortable with phones.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [7]

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Health care, and why fraud-prevention is suicide for someone else

(Personal, Politics)

2012-03-13 18:45
Comment [1]

So, a friend of mine is on government-provided health care. And while it’s great that this exists, I’d like to point out just how horrendously broken the system is.

My friend is… not functional. Autistic, transgendered, and with several other severe problems. Long story short, not consistently able to feed herself. I don’t mean “not able to hold down a job and pay for food”. I mean “if food is available for the asking, she cannot consistently get adequate nutrition, because preparing food and asking for things are too hard.”

So obviously, she’s qualified for some sort of support, right? Well. It turns out to be exceedingly hard to get support if you can’t win arguments over the phone with bureaucrats. Even for reasonably healthy and functional people, this stuff could be hard. The every-6-months update absolutely must not be signed or sent prior to the last day of February, and must be received by March 7th. Given how long mail delivery takes, that’s already hard.

Then you get a note saying your coverage was cancelled because you didn’t fill it out, and another note saying to ignore that note because the automated system is running slowly.

Today, March 13th, we got a letter dated March 3rd announcing that coverage had been terminated. Note: Past tense. Already terminated. Why? Because she disclosed that she received a gift from her parents, but did not provide “proof” of this. The health people want a signed, dated, document stating the amount her parents gave her and the date on which they gave it to her.

It is hard to summarize how many ways this is stupid. The most glaring, though, is that past tense thing. Coverage is now off. There is no coverage. She has to navigate all of this stuff and sort through paperwork without the benefits of any kind of health care. So, for instance. If she’s on antidepressants? Better hope there’s enough left to cover her until such time as the slow and overworked bureaucrats review the letter and come up with another excuse to say no.

It is frankly insane for any dispute to start with coverage already retroactively cancelled. The first you hear of an issue should never be that you are already off the support network; it should be a warning that you will be if the problem isn’t resolved. Seriously. People who do not get their health care die.

Furthermore, it’s especially stupid given that there is no possible way this dispute indicates a sincere belief that the patient’s circumstances would in some way not reach the level of qualification for care. No one is saying that the smallish amount of money her parents gave her disqualifies her from care. No one is suggesting that she lied. All they want is some form of verification. (I can’t even guess why; is there a big problem with people claiming their parents gave them money when they didn’t?)

And to add insult to injury, this is a change from the previous six-month thing, where they denied coverage because she hadn’t explained where the money came from; that time, saying “my parents gave me money” was sufficient. This time, apparently, we need proof. Apparently it is very unusual for parents to give their kids money more than once?

This whole system is insane, and the very fundamental problem is that the people who really need help are pretty much the least qualified to navigate all these hoops and barriers. And the fact is, the cost to society of all these heroic efforts to prevent fraud is huge; not just in the insane cost of processing all this paperwork, but in the large number of people who fall off the grid, who end up either dead or doing illegal things to survive.

One of my friends has gotten as far as getting disability coverage. She now lives on the princely sum of, if I recall correctly, $900/month. Plus foodstamps, to the tune of $15/month. There was some concern about the loss of the foodstamps, which was a fairly major crisis.

Lemme tell you something. A lifestyle where the loss of $15/month in foodstamps could mean not eating? That is not a lifestyle people are willing to perform elaborate frauds to get into if they have other options. Seriously. I think we need a sort of Catch-23 here; if you are badly enough off that you would try to defraud the government out of a fraction of minimum wage, you are presumptively declared to be badly enough off to need help.

And the really, really, frustrating part? Having known a few of the crazy people who are struggling with the system, and watching what they can do on the occasions when things aren’t so bad? Honestly, if we took the barriers and hoops away, I think a lot of them would be able to become productive, contributing, members of society. As is, all that effort is going into valliant efforts to get around the random hurdles and challenges placed in the system, presumably all to “prevent fraud”.

What’s really funny is, we call the people who can’t successfully navigate the system crazy, but not the people who set it up that way. The people who can’t navigate the system often have major brain disorders; what excuses can we make for their tormentors?

Peter Seebach

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Comment [1]

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Important not to be distracted

(Personal, Politics)

2012-03-07 21:48
Comment [2]

It’s important not to let those two particular words Rush Limbaugh used to describe a law student woman distract you from the message. Okay, just ignore those two words. Pretend he didn’t say “slut” or “prostitute”.

The message, which those words distract you from, is that he thinks she has so much sex that he’s surprised she can even walk, that she has it with so many people that her boyfriends are lined up around the block, and that she wants to be paid to do it.

It is easy to see how this subtle and nuanced view could be missed if all you heard was that he thought she was a slut and a prostitute, when what he was trying to say was that she has way too much sex with way too many people and wants to get paid for it.

Some people are qucik to point out that apparently she is a 30-year-old law student, not a 23-year-old law student, and that she has a history of advocating on these issues. The objection is obvious; clearly, we don’t want anyone who cares about women’s reproductive health getting involved in a debate about birth control. There’s a reason that the original plan was to have an all-male panel discuss this issue; it’s that our entire political system is based on excluding the views of anyone who could possibly be competent to hold an opinion. Which is to say, the conspiracy theory on this topic isn’t even the least bit coherent; it doesn’t matter who she is, or what her “motives” are, or who allegedly planted her; what matters is that Limbaugh apparently feels that the specific word “prostitute” distracts people from the claim that someone is trying to get paid to have sex.

I know the guy’s been sort of a scumbag all along, but this one really does astound, even so.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [2]

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Getting git under MinGW

(GeekStuff)

2012-03-05 19:34
Comment

So, Git for Windows offers a working git under Windows — in a strange variant form of the MinGW environment that lacks all the usual creature comforts.

It appears, however, that it is compatible enough.

Imagine that you have installed both MinGW and msysgit on a single Windows machine, and started a MinGW shell. First off, do not try to cd into the bin directory of msysgit; the default $PATH has . in it, and stuff goes wrong.

But!

EDIT: The first path may have changed, as of October 2012 it appears to be /c/msysgit or some such.

$ cd /c/Pro*86*/git
$ cp bin/git* /mingw/bin
$ cp -r libexec/git* /mingw/libexec
$ cp -r share/git* /mingw//share

Poof! The git shell commands work now. I haven’t found any obvious problems in casual use, anyway. (Disclaimer: Since this is already done I haven’t retested the exact commands, but the idea is sound.)

Peter Seebach

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Followup: Why a vacation might not be relaxing

(Personal, Autism)

2012-03-01 20:35
Comment [3]

It occurs to me that it’s really hard for non-autistic people to understand sometimes why something that sounds relaxing wouldn’t be, as in the example of the family taking their autistic child on a family vacation to a strange place.

Okay, first off. Change in and of itself is a bit stressful for me. I’m pretty high-functioning, but you change enough things fast enough, and I will start going into failure modes. Now, another level of high-functioning is that my failure modes are pretty copeful. But then, I’m nearly 40 and I’ve been practicing and learning and training my brain for a long time.

Secondly… The rationale provided was that they thought it would be nice for the kid to “feel the sun on his face”. I have had occasions on which I liked that experience, so this might not seem totally crazy, but hang on: Note that they frame it, not as “we asked him and he liked it”, but as “we thought he would like it”.

Look, I like the warm sun on my face. Do you see me going to Florida to get it? No! Because I do not like it as much as I like sleeping in my own bed. Because I do not like it nearly enough for it to be worth travelling.

There are times when I can enjoy travelling. There are times when I won’t. If I have to travel when I don’t enjoy it, it creates stress and inclines me towards failure modes.

Unfamiliar people? Stressful. And yes, grandparents are unfamiliar, if they’re far enough away that visiting with them implies travel. People I see every couple of weeks for a year or two are unfamiliar.

Unfamiliar house? Highly stressful. Everything smells wrong, everything is in the wrong places, the colors are wrong. If it’s far north or south of home, the light is wrong. If it’s far from home, the scenery and terrain and plants are wrong. It does not contain my cat. It does not contain my stuff.

So that is why this sounds like a stressful thing, and given that the kid obviously had low tolerance for stressors, a stupid thing.

And the thing is: This doesn’t mean that, with a more severely autistic kid, it could never be possible to travel. It means that if the kid is in a state such that he would freak out badly enough to need to be sedated for travel, there were almost certainly plenty of warning signs that this was not one of those times.

And people who ignore warning signs like that might ignore a lot of others.

Someone pointed me at a lovely blog piece, in which an autistic child fails to realize that you can purchase coffee from a coffee vending machine. Note: I make mistakes like this all the time. I am actually pretty good at context-switching compared to a lot of people, but… Yeah, sometimes I just miss it. (I spent years stirring large batches of pasta with a single fork, totally aware that I had seen people do it with two forks and that they appeared not to have to work as hard as I was working. I just never thought about trying to use both hands.)

The relevance is: I’m sure I’ve mentioned that, when I was a kid, my mom had to explain to me how to open doors. I kept pushing doors before turning the handle, so the pressure kept me from turning the handle. I would be incoherent with frustration at the door not opening, and I couldn’t think about it. So she told me how to do it; “pull, turn, push”. This worked. But some parents, confronted with a kid who “should” know better, just react with scorn and “don’t waste our time”. And guess what? Those kids end up a lot worse off.

Thing is, I understand that it might not be obvious why going on vacation wouldn’t be relaxing. But it doesn’t have to be obvious why. The question is whether you know, and could reasonably be expected to think about it. My answer is “of course you could”. If you have a special-needs kid, and you react by ignoring the needs or trying to minimally-accommodate while preserving the freedoms of your life, you’re gonna have worse problems than you would if you took the kid seriously.

FWIW, I’m on vacation this week, and I am having an amazing time of it. I’ve been programming, and sitting around my house, and staying up until all hours, and playing video games with my spouse. We sit in the living room, on our familiar comfy couch, and eat familiar foods that we like. And we’re happy.

Kids have this in common with pets, you know. If you try to train a cat to do tricks and go on walkies, you will not have a happy cat or a happy cat-owning experience.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [3]

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Why parenting matters

(Personal, Autism)

2012-03-01 01:07
Comment [3]

Having an autistic child wrecks your life, says a writer whose column on the Daily Mail is apparently “no longer accepting comments”.

Hard to say why. I mean, surely, there’s nothing wrong with an article in which a severe case of a disability is used as the categorical definition of every case ever of that disability. I mean, if someone said that we should test for a predisposition to depression, and preemptively abort all children with that predisposition, to spare the heartache of teen sucide, surely no one would object to that. And if I were to have some random person with no qualifications, no relevant experience, and a bone to pick with the world write an article advocating the elimination of an entire category of the human population, I would assume that I’d get only positive and constructive comments. (Trivia point: Autistics can learn to use sarcasm. NEAT, HUH?)

Part of the problem here is… well. Let’s look at a quote:

All three generations set off in a bold attempt at a holiday over Christmas. Not a resort, bustling with strangers; quite impossible. But a rented house, just the five of them, to let Tom feel the warm sun on his face. Well, it was a nice thought.

No, no it wasn’t. It was a stupid thought. It was “here is a thing I would like, I will impose it on my child without thinking about what his preferences are like”. And that kind of thing can easily turn a manageable problem into an unmanageable problem.

If people had persisted in ignoring my “special” needs when I was younger, I might have come out a lot more broken than I am. Instead, I got lucky; I got parents who were inclined to take me at my word and respect my preferences and needs, and the result is that I came out a lot healthier and happier. And more able to cope than I might otherwise have been.

I can only hope that the author of this story is never exposed to the harrowing experience of raising a non-autistic child. Why, I understand that from twelve to nineteen, they are frequently irrational! They will have problems, and choose to give only oblique hints rather than direct statements of what is bothering them. Needless to say, it’s impossible for parents to live through this onslaught. It’s sort of scary to me to see people who are so utterly wedded to the uniformity of the species that they simply can’t conceive of treating different people differently. And can’t imagine that treating a child in a way you know the child hates is likely to make things worse.

Yes, having a more-severely autistic child is worse than a less-severe one. However, when you show me parents who worried that the MMR vaccine might have been a contributor, you are showing me parents who have not made a reasonable effort to learn what they are dealing with and how to handle it. Education would help a lot more here than eugenics.

If you think having an autistic child wrecks your life, consider how much worse it is to have parents who refuse to learn what their child is actually like, and persist in trying to mold their child into something they wanted rather than what they got. That wrecks your life and all the lives around you.

DISCLAIMER: It is entirely possible that the writer of the article is misrepresenting the parents.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [3]

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The reverse-Bechdel test

(Personal, Politics)

2012-02-27 18:56
Comment [9]

The “Bechdel test” is a test which categorizes movies based on a simple criterion: At some point in the movie, is there a conversation between two women which is not about a man?

This is obviously not a flawless heuristic, but intuitively, it seems like a movie in which this doesn’t happen even once might well be underrepresenting women in roles other than “prospective love interest”.

Lots of people have written about this, and periodically someone says “but what about applying this to other groups”, and gets yelled at for distracting from the point. Well. For me, a number isn’t a point or a support for a claim without context. I likes me some context.

So I’m going to do a simple experiment: I’m going to pick twenty movies I’ve seen and check whether they have a scene in which two men discuss something other than a woman. (Prediction: 100% pass rate.)

Batman: Under the Red Hood: Pass.
Black Snake Moan: Pass.
Sherlock Holmes: Pass.
Kick-Ass: Pass.
Yojimbo: Pass.

Seven Samurai: Pass.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: Pass.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: Pass.
12 Monkeys: Pass.
Unforgiven: Pass.

Cyrano de Bergerac: Pass.
Iron Man 2: Pass.
The Hudsucker Proxy: Pass.
Cowboy Bebop, the Movie: Pass.
Time Bandits: Pass.

Snatch: Pass.
The 13th Warrior: Pass.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Pass.
Iron Monkey: Pass.
The Long Kiss Goodnight: Pass.

Chocolate: Not sure, actually. I’d have to rewatch it. Very light on conversations.
Harold and Maude: Not sure.

Okay, without going back and rewatching, I had to skip two movies. But that’s 20/20 on things I’ve seen. Pretty sure Harold and Maude is a pass, but not quite sure.

Conclusion: Just from this quick informal review, I think the test is reporting something significant when it observes that many, many, movies either don’t have two women, never show those women talking, or they talk but only about a man.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [9]

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Quick review: ASUS G53SX

(GeekStuff)

2012-02-27 02:32
Comment

To make a long story short, the price of playing games with my spouse is having a 15” gaming laptop. We picked the ASUS G53SX because I have been pretty happy with my older G73JH.

Things to note about this model:

  • This particular one, which came with two drives, also thus came with two drive caddies. Given how hard I’ve had to search to probably I hope find the right caddy for the G73’s second bay, having one provided is delightful.
  • Getting to the drives is a gratuitously complicated pain. That cover plate should have screws on the bottom, not screws on the inside under the palm rest. Annoying.
  • It came with Windows 7 Pro. I didn’t realize this, and just did a normal clean install from my Home Premium DVD. Turns out you can just “upgrade”. Also turns out the Windows activation code is not smart enough to realize that a code that was just used to upgrade might be worth checking for validity, rather than insisting that I need to type in a “new” code, and then accepting the same value. Argh.
  • NOT a glossy display. Thank you, so much, ASUS folks. The cheap-model G73 I got (the cheaper one at Best Buy) has a glossy screen and it’s horrible. The display on the G53 is beautiful.
  • Apparently there are at least four different wireless chipsets used in this machine, so you have to either install all the drivers or look the PCI vendor/device IDs up online.
  • High-res 15” display is pretty tiny pixels, but glorious for gaming.
  • The buttons associated with the trackpad are probably among the worst buttons I have ever used on a pointing device. They require substantial pressure to activate. Enough that using them even for a little while becomes painful quickly. No idea why.
  • Boring old power cable of the sort that could easily break or yank the machine.
  • I have no clue what it has for battery life.
  • Has arrow legends on the WASD keys. :)
  • Trackpad is centered on the qwerty keyboard, not on the laptop as a whole, which is sort of annoying.
  • Runs at a tolerable enough temperature under sustained load without visible problems.

Overall, though, a very credible system. i7-2670QM (2.2GHz), 8GB of memory upgradeable to 16, 2× 7400RPM 500GB drives, GeForce 560M with 2GB of video memory. Plays Rift just fine (though it’s not getting 30-60fps at max settings), plays other stuff decently. And unlike the idiotic ATI drivers on the G73, it can drive an HDMI display correctly. (The ATI drivers have a setting for underscan/overscan which DOES NOT offer “do not overscan or underscan, just treat the TV like any other flat panel display”, nor does any setting in the driver correspond to that.)

Peter Seebach

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Cognitive sickle-cell anemia

(Personal, Autism)

2012-02-12 21:29
Comment

Sickle-cell anemia has been a favorite example of biologists for years, because it’s an obviously harmful trait which is strongly selected for by evolutionary pressures. The gimmick is simple; it’s a recessive trait, so you only get the anemia if you have two genes for it. If you only have one gene for it, you’re effectively immune to malaria. In circumstances where lots of people die from malaria, this can be a marvelously useful trait to have — useful enough to make up for losing a few kids to anemia.

One of the things I’ve thought a lot about recently is the ways in which autistic people can be resistant to cognitive dysfunctions that are taken for granted in non-autistic people. A friend passed on a truly horrifying thing that a friend’s mother was falling for. It’s a generic scammer claiming to treat autism with homeopathic medicine, complete with rants about mercury and vaccination and so on. There’s some very well-tuned persuasive writing there, designed to hit all the “coverups by big medicine” and conspiracy theory buttons, complete with references to how you may have stockpiled for Y2K. (Amazingly, people who did that still don’t realize why it was stupid.)

The thing is… Those social triggers don’t work very well on me, or on my friend (who’s also autistic). We can see the technique, but there’s no impact. And that means that people who talk to us, who might otherwise get suckered, get some resistance.

So this leads me to a theory. “Severe” autism is clearly pretty disabling, but we find a lot of benefits to “mild” autism. What if this is a cognitive trait with similar evolutionary pressures? Having a little of it can produce benefits, and even if you don’t have the trait yourself, being near people who do (and maybe related to them) can still be an advantage.

Peter Seebach

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