Category Archives: Uncategorized

My new “wastebook”

I use the 600 page Infinity Journal as my primary day-to-day wastebook, so I don’t have to start a new book very often, maybe once every 12 – 18 months depending on what’s going on.  On the other hand, my digital wastebook(s) never run out of “pages” so I could keep using the same one forever.  I’ve found, though, the just the act of changing is a worthwhile process in and of itself.  Thus, my new digital wastebook.

This new blog actually represents the retirement of my two longstanding personal blogs:  No Straight Lines, dating from June 2003, started out as a blog about Knowledge Management; and 29 Marbles, dating from March 2005, presented a dad’s-eye view of autism.  I’ve found over the years that my many interests overlap, sometimes significantly and sometimes tangentially.  I keep everything together in a single paper notebook, why not keep it all together in a single blog?

When I start a new notebook, I typically fill up the first few pages with copies of what I think is important enough to carry over from the old book.  I expect that this blog will be no different.  So if you see something you’ve seen before, please accept it for what it is.  And please excuse the construction mess as I play around with this great WordPress.  (What’s the point of starting over if you can’t play around with it a bit?!?)

It’s a good time to be a Nintendo based virtual musician

It is a good time to be a virtual musician, especially if your platform of choice comes from Nintendo. This past weekend saw the release of versions of the popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band game franchises for the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii, respectively.

Guitar Hero On Tour brings the guitar strumming fun to the DS. I had a chance to try it out over the weekend and it is, in the words of my niece, “freaking sweet”. Like the console versions, GHOT has a custom guitar controller.

“But the DS doesn’t use separate controllers,” you say? Check this out:

That in combination with a pick-shaped stylus and the DS touch screen make for very cool game play. Check out the official game site for all the details.

The Wii version of Rock Band is, I’m sure, quite similar to the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 versions in terms of music and playability. Since I already have Rock Band for PS3 (working my way through a “Hard” solo tour), I doubt if I’ll get the Wii version, but I know my brother’s kids are already hounding him for the Wii version.

Genius comes in many forms – A review of “Some Kind of Genius”

I originally posted this review on my autism blog, 29 Marbles. While it is all too common for people to dismiss achievements of autistics as simply a ‘savant skill’ and not as true mastery, Tony’s story goes a long way to putting that perception to rest. Just another example of how autistics, and others with ‘disabilities’, are people just like the rest of us. The story is also an example of the journey of a parent on the master’s path.


Recommendation: You should add this book to your must-read list. I’ve long been fascinated by genius. Or, more specifically, the process of genius and figuring things out. My book shelves are full of these kind of books, mostly about scientists, mathematicians, and the like. This past weekend I finished Some Kind of Genius, which chronicles the musical achievements of Tony DeBlois from his first toy organ at the age of two and public performances at five that astounded the audience through his training at elite musical schools and his several CDs.From an early age, Tony’s skill was apparent. He could quickly and easily play back anything he heard. He could even improvise and improve. As he got older and in more and more rigorous training, he could listen to his teacher and play back what they just played even as the teacher continued to play. He also has composed original tunes, played with several bands and organizations, and sings. As someone who dabbles at the piano and has a hard enough time just playing a single song, I consider this ability genius. From the book is this description of 15 year-old Tony’s audition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston:

Janice arrived with Tony at the audition and took him directly to the piano. The members of the committee stood around the piano, anxious to hear him play. Gathered for this audition with Lipman were Rob Rose, director of Berklee’s special programs; Dave Weigert, chairman of the piano department; Paul Schmeling, of the piano faculty; Bob Doezema, guitarist/composer and assistant director of the summer program; and famed saxophonist-turned-educator John LaPorta, one of the legends of the school. They had all sat in this space countless times before, listening to hopeful young musicians from all over the world. Berklee, the planet’s top college of contemporary music since its founding in 1945, boasts an alumni list that is a veritable who’s who of jazz, rock, electronic music, and other genres, and students know that getting accepted means they’ll get the best training available in their field.

Berklee alumni include composer/producer Quincy Jones, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, film composer Alan Silvestri, guitarist Al Di Meola, modern big band leader/composer Toshiko Akiyoshi, pianist Diana Krall, saxophonist Bill Evans, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, members of Aerosmith, and many others. Tony started the audition with a short classical sonatina, then moved on to one of his favorites, George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” complete with his improvised insertion of the Flintstones theme, which revealed his clever and original approach to the piece. Those brief moments were a revelation. The committee realized that they had a formidable talent on their hands, a rare, special boy whose playing contrasted sharply with the rest of his behavior.

Did I mention that Tony is blind? And autistic? When I started reading Some Kind of Genius : The Extraordinary Journey of Musical Savant Tony DeBlois I was expecting (hoping?) to learn more about how Tony DeBlois‘ mind works, more about Savant Syndrome (which I’ve written about before). Indeed, there is some basic information about Savant Syndrome in general and discussion of Tony’s particular skills. From Dr. Darold Treffert is this description of why savants may have the skills they have while the rest of us don’t:

I’ve come to believe in the collective unconscious not as psycological myths that are handed down by generations but as actual wiring, instinctual, which I call software installed. It’s clear that some of these prodigious savants are knowing things they cannot have learned. It had to come installed. This level of memory may also explain why it appears that we come with tons of software installed that we don’t use. It’s not because we’re lazy but because it would cause the same situiation as when I try to use all my software on my computer at the same time – it would crash. It’s almost as if some of these chips have a survival value to us if something happens to us. I think we tend to look at ourselves as being born with a tremendous piece of hardware, the brain, and a blank slate, and we become what we put on this disk. But I think savants come with this installed and they have access to it that we don’t.

As impressive as Tony’s story is, though, for me the real story of Some Kind of Genius is that of Tony’s mother Janice. From well before Tony’s birth, Janice’s life seems to have prepared her for the challenge, responsibility, and adventure of raising Tony and his brother Ray. And from the account she gives in the book, she more than lived up to the challenge. For parents of an autistic, or blind or other “disabled,” child this is a story of inspiration and what can be achieved if the desire is high enough. Almost all of us will see a little bit of our own story in Janice and Tony’s. The struggle to understand what is happening with your child. The desire to have the best life possible for your child, by figuring out what they are good at and helping them excel. And the fights with the system to make sure your child get what they need and deserve.

It is also a story of sacrifice. All “special” parents know nothing is ever easy and getting what your child needs sometimes means sacrificing for yourself and possibly others, all too often leaving “casualties” along the way. For everyone else, this is an inside look into what special needs kids and their parents must go through to get what is appropriate for them. My only complaint on this front is that Janice and co-author Antonia Felix almost make it seem too easy, too matter-of-fact. An “insider” will understand what was going on in the background of this story, but those unfamiliar with the struggle of “special” kids and parents will likely not quite catch it.

The most uplifting part of Tony’s story is his acceptance in the world of music. In almost every case (at least the ones documented in the book), the professional musicians and music educators that Tony works with see him as a musician first, a nice guy next, and only then as blind and autistic. This, I think, is the hope of all parents, special or otherwise: To help their children find their place in the world and make it their own.

ps. If anyone reading this happens to know Ellen DeGeneres, could you please pass on to her Tony’s desire to meet her and appear on her show? [Disclosure: The publisher offered the book as a complementary copy in hopes that I might mention it here.]

Tag, I’m it

Jack Vinson has tagged me to tell the world 5 things that most people may not know about me. It is more of a challenge than I thought it might be, trying to figure out what I’m will to share and what people may be interested in knowing. But here goes.

  1. I have lived/worked/vacationed in 37 US states (plus the District of Columbia) and 18 countries outside the US including North America, Europe, and Asia. My wife and I spent our first anniversary riding gondola’s and checking out the history of Venice. Very nice.
  2. I attended The Wall – Live in Berlin performance at Potsdamer Platz in July 1990. Though the early part of the concert was plagued with technical difficulties, the overall experience was amazing. Not the least of the experience was the trip to Berlin: a route that showed about 8 hours on the map ended up taking nearly 20 hours. Though Allied Checkpoint Charlie had already come down within Berlin, we spent nearly 10 hours in line trying to get through Checkpoint Alpha. I also had the chance to take hammer and chisel to the Berlin Wall and break off my own souvenir of the Cold War.
  3. Yoshi and Kirby in the ParkI’m a dog person, big dogs. For pretty much my entire married life (going on 20 years), we’ve had at least one (usually two) dogs in the house. We currently have two Old English Sheepdogs, and have had another Sheepdog and a Bouvier des Flandres along the way.
  4. In high school, I worked as a summer camp counselor. This is where I really picked up my love of all things outdoors, such as rock climbing, caving, canoing, etc.
  5. In college, I was co-leader of my fraternity’s award winning float building team for the annual St. Pat’s day parade. The theme was cartoons / animation, we won with Disney’s The Jungle Book.

To pass this along, I tag:

Update (21 Dec): Watching Jeopardy this evening I thought of something else that I should have put here, but just didn’t think of in time.

I took the contestant test for Jeopardy once, 7 or 8 years ago. Now, I usually do pretty good playing along with the show, so I thought to myself, “No problem.” Ha. HA HA!!

If I remember correctly, there were 10 questions on the test. Two of them I knew, two of them I thought I knew (I didn’t), and the rest I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. I was almost embarrassed to tell anyone how it went, but when I did most reacted with, “But you do so well when you play along.”

Talk about a humbling experience.

Mastery? It’s hard enough just keeping up!

My son’s high school principal wrote the following in her fall newsletter welcoming students and parents back to school (emphasis is mine):

On Common Ground is one of the books I read this summer. The chapter written by Roland Barth, who is an educational consultant, researcher and writer, reinforces the importance of being a life-long learner. He writes that knowledge doubles every three years and technology goes through a new generation every 18 months. Barth goes on to write that it is estimated that 50 years ago students graduated from high school knowing 75% of what they would need to know for the rest of their lives. The estimate today is that graduates of our high schools leave knowing about 2% of what they will need to know in the future. And yet graduates today leave school knowing far more than they did 50 years ago. When you consider this, it is clear that the focus for our students needs to be on learning as much as they can while in school but also being inspired to continue to learn throughout their lives.

Her point being, of course, that the world is a much more complex place and that we all need to know and understand more about the world around us just to get by. And with the pace of technology showing no signs of slowing down, we need to continually learn new things.

In no area is this more important, in my opinion, or more hard to do than in the area of security. Dennis Kennedy recently wrote a piece about technology security at the personal level, referring also to a post by John Robb entitled Getting Small. But what I’m thinking about here is big picture security.

In What the Terrorists Want, originally published at Wired.com, security expert Bruce Schneier discusses the impact of terrorism on society. But more importantly, he discusses the reaction of society to terrorist acts and how those reactions tend to work in the terrorists’ favor.

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act. …

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn’t make us any safer.

Consider these articles from Kennedy, Robb, and Schneier a lesson in life skills, and please pass it on to your kids. Aside from the warnings about online predators your kids get at school, that may well be the only security training they get (aside from that they get from the School of Hard Knocks).

Questions about a cure’s effect on people

When I checked my referer logs on Friday, I saw that quite a few people found their way to this blog looking for discussion about how the new movie X-Men III: The Last Stand might relate to autism. Most people found me through various search terms, but my post More thoughts on autism inspired by the X-Men trilogy was also linked to from “X-Men” and Disability Rights at specialchildren.about.com. (That article also points to A ‘Last Stand’ against cure, a bit more academic take on the issue).

I finally saw the movie yesterday, and as an X-Men fan I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t want to get into any specifics from the movie yet; I’d hate to spoil anything for people who are planning to see it. But I did come away from it with a few questions about autism cures that I hadn’t really thought of before. (These questions all assume that a cure exists.)

  • How many autistics would take the cure? (Though most writing by autistics that I’ve come across seems to be anti-cure, I can’t imagine that there are not pro-cure autistics out there.)
  • How would autistics who choose to be cured be viewed/treated by autistics who choose not to be cured?
  • How would a pro-cure parent of an autistic child feel about their child who chose not to be cured?
  • How would an anti-cure parent of an autistic child feel about their child who chose to be cured?
  • How do autistics feel about their pro- / anti- cure parents?

Unlike autism, which typically presents very early in life, in the world of the X-Men the “change” from human to mutant occurs at puberty, after the child has had a chance to experience what a “normal” life is. Subsequently, these mutants have an experiential basis for making a personal decision to be ‘cured’ or not that it seems to me autistics don’t have. Just a thought.

tagged as: Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, X-Men

Finally, a description for ‘best practice’ I can live with

I’ve written before about my ambivalence toward “best practices,” at least how many people define them: one-size-fits-all checklists of things that worked for some successful team in the past that should be used by anyone that is doing anything remotely similar. In other words, tacit knowledge made explicit with no accounting for the context or knowledge of the people/team expected to use the practice.

On the recommendation of Larry Prusak, I am currently reading Knowledge, Institutions and Evolution in Economics (The Graz Schumpeter Lectures). I’m about 2/3 of the way through, and am still digesting most of it (I have the feeling I’m going to need to read it again to truly appreciate it!), but the following quote (on page 64) from ‘Routines and other recurring action patterns of organizations: contemporary research issues‘ by Michael D. Cohen et al (published 1996 in Industrial and Corporate Change) caught my eye:

A routine is an executable capability for repeated performance in some context that [has] been learned by an organization in response to selective pressures.

Replace “routine” with “best practice” and this becomes a description of best-practice that I can live with.

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Dave Pollard’s choice of 12 best business books of 2005

Dave Pollard’s list of The 12 Best Business Books of 2005 is worth taking a look at. I’ll definitely be checking at least some of them out.

What really struck me about his review, though, was the summary at the end of the post (emphasis is mine):

In general, it was another disappointing year for books about business. The lack of imagination and courage among book publishers seems to be endemic, and the approach seems almost formulaic — give us a big name cult-of-leadership CEO and let’s bask in his wisdom, or give us a book about some intriguing new management theory, but make sure it sounds like it’s been thoroughly tested out in the real world by dropping the names of familiar Fortune 500 companies who allegedly have deployed this theory — even if they really haven’t. When will publishers, and business book buyers, realize that there are no guarantees, best practices or cookie-cutter implementation methodologies for anything? We should read books to get interesting and useful ideas, and then draw upon our courage and the wisdom of crowds — our employees and customers especially — to decide which ideas to pursue, experiment with them, and then decide how to implement them in the unique context of our own organizations.

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Who’s reading your blog: Blogger Blocked at U.S. Border

It’s hard to believe it has been almost three weeks since BlawgThink and I still haven’t written anything about it!! Between the holidays blah blah blah. Most of my writing these days has been on my autism blog, but I do have a lot of ideas in the works for here.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Top 10 Blog Usability mistakes according to Jakob Nielsen. (I’ve made at least one change to my site design based on that list, only nine more to go 😉

The number nine top mistake is “forgetting that you are writing for your future boss.” Sometimes, though, a future boss may be the least of your worries. I recently wrote about this on my aforementioned autism blog, 29 Marbles, and came across the eweek article Blogger Blocked at U.S. Border today:

Bloggers have no privacy and should expect none—a lesson painfully learned by a Canadian citizen who was recently turned away after U.S. border guards Googled him and pored over his blog to discover where he lives.

Just a quick reminder that you are writing for ANYONE that may want to find out information about you in the future.

tagged as: , , , ,

Technology makes it easy to ‘remember,’ the trick is learning how to forget

My early days in Knowledge Management included a lot of time developing, deploying, and getting people to use “knowledge repositories.” (At least trying to get people to use them.) A worthwhile endeavor in some regards, I’ve always had misgivings about the whole idea, at least how it has been implemented in most cases. The cheapness of mass storage these days, and the way we just keep everything, has nagged at this misgiving over the past couple of years.

I finally realized one day that the problem has become not, “How do we remember all this knowledge that we’ve learned?” but rather, “How do forget all this knowledge we’ve accumulated that we no longer need so we can focus on what we do need?” This same question has come up, albeit in a different context, in that other domain in which I blog: autism.

MOM – Not Otherwise Specified recently posted a very interesting piece about the role of memory, and the inability to purge it, in autistic behaviors. In her post, she quotes Paul Collins’ new book The trouble with Tom:

Memory is a toxin, and its overretention – the constant replaying of the past – is the hallmark of stress disorders and clinical depression. The elimination of memory is a bodily function, like the elimination of urine. Stop urinating and you have renal failure: stop forgetting and you go mad.

This also plays on my long-held dislike of best practices, at least how most people implement them. If you are so caught up in what has happened before, it is hard to get caught up in what is to come.