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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

1001 Spikes of Fun

It's been a while since I blogged about video games in any way but it was something I used to do rather frequently whether it was iRacing, NHL, or Bejeweled Blitz. I've always been a fan of games but there's been a game I recently discovered that will always bring a smile to my face as I remember it.

A couple months ago a game by the name of 1001 Spikes got released for the Xbox One. Haven't heard of it? Many people haven't and the reviews for it, well, many users hate it for being, "highly difficult." Typically, if I see people complaining of such a thing, I know those words are a sign I'm going to love the game so I had an impulse purchase and I started playing it and right away nostalgia hit as the game looks very much like Mario did on the NES.

As I progressed what seemed like a simple platformer like Mario quickly became a true test of skill and determination. Do any search on YouTube of 1001 Spikes and you'll see people flying through the levels but let me assure you the difficultly factor is extreme. There's traps, there's penguins (they aren't as nice as you'd expect) and there's scorpions that want nothing more than to destroy you. And did I mention traps? Spikes are set below certain spots on the map and if you trigger them BAM! you're toast. And oh, by the way, spikes can be shot by things in the walls so a situation can develop like this; the exit is in front of you protected by a scorpion so your attention is on that. You make the jump over the scorpion only to have missed out on the fact that the wall spike shot trap is right there.

When you lose on 1001 Spikes you go back to the beginning of the level. Most levels are 30-60 seconds, but the amount of stuff done within those seconds is a lot and the sensation of time is much greater. By the time I finished each level I knew each placement of each trap and could navigate the map with ease. It really is a test of multiple skill sets. The first is determination as if you're easily frustrated this game may result in a thrown controller. Secondly, one has to have the ability to have precise eye-to-hand coordination as there is zero margin of error. Thirdly, there is a need for memorization as the traps, while on the outside may seem unfair, are perfectly fair and set in their ways.

So why would I like a game like this? I have always loved things that are difficult and challenging. Many people on the autism spectrum are like this but there is a very important point, and this is why I'm blogging about a game like 1001 Spikes, and that is there's a difference between a challenge and impossible and if something is deemed impossible we can quickly give up and never try again. I guess I'm tenacious in my determination to finish something hence how I was able to finish the game, but I always knew I had the ability to do so. This is something, however, that has a very thin line.

Very thin line? I'll go back to when I was in school and the fact that math came easily for me. It was too easy, actually, and the teachers would often give me more difficult problems to solve and I loved this. Then, fractions happened and my love of all things numbers ceased. I never caught on to fractions and it wasn't that it was difficult for me but rather it was impossible and my motivation to do anything regarding fractions was zero. The difference, to me, was from being difficult yet knowing I could do it to being impossible and knowing I would fail and, if failure is a guarantee, what is the point of trying?

There was one level on 1001 Spikes I failed over 300 times but with each failure I got more determined. There was one jump on the level that I knew I could do but I was always off by a fraction of a... wait, let's not talk about fractions... I was always off by just a hair each time and I would try again, and again, and again. I personally can't believe the fail-set mindset didn't kick in, but I knew I could do it so I tried and eventually I did it and I'm not normally excited when playing games (outside Rob, Travis, and my dominance on the NHL series. They can attest to that) but when I got to the exit my fist went up in triumph. I had done it and I had conquered the hardest level I had ever played on any game.

1001 Spikes isn't for everyone. All you have to do is read the reviews to find out how much people hate things that are difficult. For me it wasn't just a game but a test of will and I'm thankful that they (Nicalis) made a game with an unrelenting difficulty. If you try it you have to go in with the mindset that you will lose. And you will lose again, but if you stick with it that exit is just right there to the next level past the penguin, the scorpion, the fire breathing wall, the flying spikes, wall spikes, ground spikes, and falling platforms. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Confusion in the Clubhouse

What would a year on my blog be without some sort of mass confusion or social disaster at a golf course? Well, I guess it'd be a good one for me, but alas, once again, I've got a story to tell from a golf course.

After being on the road for five days, and meeting some amazing youth from across the state of Missouri at this year's Youth Leadership Forum, I went golfing yesterday and I took my step-brother Michael.

It was a perfect day to play. The weather was about as perfect as perfect can be and we quickly flew through 18 holes. We were having such a good time that, when we were on the 18th fairway (or rough in my case. Always the rough and always to the right) I used GolfNow and booked another round and this is the point in time the story begins.

I checked into the clubhouse where the man tried to give me a golf-cart key and I said I had already been on the course. This confused him, and I had to state that I had already played 18. He then frowned and, after charging my credit card, said, "Dang, it's too late now. You payed full price when we have a replay rate of just 10 dollars." I replied with, "Oh well, this will go towards my GolfNow reward credit then. It's okay." And with that we grabbed a bite to eat and once again headed to the #1 tee.

This front nine went faster than the first time as we were hitting the ball a bit better and when we got past nine and headed to ten the real confusion mentioned in this blog title began. There was a couple in front of us that was about to let us play through and as I got onto the teebox and teed the ball up a golfer in a golf cart came and with an arrogant attitude said, "You must be on the wrong tee. There's a league about to start so you can't be here right now." And as soon as he finished another man, this man without clubs who appeared to be an employee, said, "Why are you here? There's a league about to start. You have to go off of #1."

Thankfully, the man in the couple who was going to let us play through took the point and complained. I stood in the background fearing a repeat of last year's Terror on the 10th Tee Box. I had learned from that experience, however, and I also had an angry guy doing the complaining in front of me.

The guy stormed towards the clubhouse and I followed him because here was the thing; had we been told a league was happening that night we would have teed off from hole #10 when we started the 2nd round and now we were told we would have to play the front nine again. This wasn't the end of the world by any stretch of any imagination, but now there were 10 golf carts awaiting to tee off on #1. The other experiences I've had on golf courses had more volatility, but this story does get to an intense moment.

I was angry and as I got to the clubhouse I came in full speed followed up by full brakes which gave a Hollywood movie like screech of the tires. I hoped out and followed the man into the clubhouse where he complained the the clerk at the desk. Their conversation was one of a chess match and one of, "I said, you said" because the clerk swore he told this duo that the league was one the back nine when the man said he said that it was the front nine. The man left in anger and it was now me and the clerk and when I approached I just said, "Yeah, the same thing that guy said." to which the clerk rolled his eyes at me and looked at the man who had told me to go to #1 because of league.

I had never been told there was league whatsoever so I said that it was disappointing and wrong that this had happened. The clerk behind the desk just shrugged his shoulders at me and I turned to the apparent manager and he said, "What do you want me to do? There's a league! You can play the back nine but it'll take four hours and you'll be yelled at the entire time." There's one thing that I can't put into the quotation marks to describe the hostility of his words as I felt as if I were being spoken to as if I were a prisoner.

As this conversation continued I was expecting a voucher, a coupon, something that we could use in the future because it was obvious that the back nine wasn't going to be played and all this confusion now had a dozen golf carts on hole one. I once again reiterated my disappointment and he said, "So what do you want me to do? Do you want me to ride with you on the back nine? I'll do it, but we will be yelled at." and looking back I should have taken him up on that offer because this was a total bluff. However, at this time, I was now getting overwhelmed and I could feel the frustration building up within me and I didn't want a repeat of last year.

I went silent and he said, "The only thing I can do is apologize. That's it. So go to the #1 tee box." and with that I walked out, well, stormed out briskly and I went to the golf cart and looked towards the #1 tee box where it looked like a New York City rush hour and my mind was stuck on the fact that this whole ordeal would have been avoided with a simple, "hey, there's a league starting tonight" but no. In fact, one thing the manager said, "See, that's what happens when you book online!" which furthered my feeling of being a prisoner customer.

Mike returned to the golf cart and I said, "I don't think I can go on" so I returned the key to the desk and we drove off. Of all the golfing ordeals I've had I think I handled this the best. The manager obviously was not in a negotiating mood so any debate would have been futile. Furthermore, I'm not one to ask for anything so I couldn't have asked, "hey, can we play for free next time due to your mistake?" Also, as my emotions increased my ability to communicate lowered. I was aware of this and the prior golf episodes I've had on my blog helped me learn this. I'm very logical and when someone is just being rude and doing everything in their power to have poor customer service sometimes the only thing you can do is to leave. I wanted to complain more, I did, because what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong but when you've got an angry man right is wrong and if he's in the wrong that makes him right. Any further time spent in that location would have just angered me so we left.

In conclusion the moral of this confusion in the clubhouse is that, one, it's always great to have some angrier in front of you when complaining, but more importantly it is critical to learn from one's previous mishaps. Had I not had the prior experiences on the golf course I may have debated to the point that the man lost patience with me and said something that crossed a line which would have made me, perhaps, break down or say something that is way out of my character. I do want to say the course did make things right today so I am thankful that this occurred which, but golly! if you don't play golf but have followed my blog for four years you'd think golf courses were just minefields awaiting to explode. That isn't the case and now I look at it as a training field for socializing. Look at this case, if this had happened four years ago I'd have hated myself for weeks after this, but now I realize I was in the right and this was a battle, at the time, that couldn't be won. I used to not understand that there were "no-win situations" but now I do and there are times you've got to take a deep breath and walk away.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A future Blog Series

The writer's block continues but I'm toying with the idea of doing an extended series based on my book, "Finding Kansas" in which I would give my thoughts on each chapter as of now. I have grown so much and I have never read what I write so it might make a highly interesting series. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Link

I'm having a bit of writer's block today and I'm still processing from a blog I stumbled upon over the weekend so I will share that with you here http://daciawilkinson.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/i-want-to-be-normal/

Monday, July 21, 2014

Will vs. May

This post was inspired by a police officer that went through my training last week and asked, "I see the media talk about autism and Asperger's but there's always a savant gift, this isn't true, is it?" The media often, whether in news stories or depictions of fictional characters with autism/Asperger's, will often use the word "will" instead of the much needed "may."

There's a big difference between the two words and it's within these words that understanding must take place. Let's start with the facts from Wikipedia: Asperger's is a form of autism characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication alongside restricted and repetitive interests.

What you read above is the "will" of Asperger's per the diagnosis. However, after that it opens up to a world of "may." A world of "may?" Yes, let's start with point one of difficulties: social interactions. I've heard some parents tell me that a professional told them that their child can't possibly have Asperger's because, "he can talk." That right there is the start of the confusion between may and will. Some people with autism are nonverbal, some are not. Some people with Asperger's can be very shy, and some may actually be talkative to a level that could annoy those around them. I know this because, when I was in kindergarten, I would go on and on about specific weather stats that no one knew, nor cared about, but I went on and on anyway. However, each person's ability to understand the social dynamic varies and the possibilities are endless on how it could play out.

Thesecond point plays very much into the first one and I want to skip ahead to the interests as this is one that seems to confuse people. According to that fact, a person with a ASD will have, "restricted and repetitive interests" but what does this mean? Does this mean a person will have just one interest forever? Does this mean a person will have an interest a year? Can a person have two interests? Three? I've heard some misguided experts give questionable answers to this, in my opinion, as to state that a person "will" is to categorize all people on the autism spectrum as the same. When it comes to the criteria of diagnosing then yes, it's a requirement, but after that the way it plays out can be radically unique. One person may have several interests, but those interests are the only thing that matters. Another person may have an "interest of the week," so to speak, while another may have one sole interest for all time.

If you've heard my presentation then you know I state, rather boldly I might add, that the most important thing you can ever remember about autism is that, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism." That being said, using the word, "a person with Asperger's will..." is countering the, "if you've met one..." Let's look at it this way; if we go back to the officer that asked the question, he later referenced news stories and television shows, such as "The Big Bang Theory," in that all people on the spectrum must be good at math/science because that's the way it is shown. I even heard an interview once where an "expert" said, "people with Asperger's will be good at math and science." Can a person be good? Most certainly! Can they be exceptional? Absolutely, but the dangers of saying "will" is that the person who isn't good in those, well, what will they think of themself? Another time it was art and that, "people with autism will excel in art." Can they? Oh yes, but then you'll have a person like myself which managed a grade of F in first grade art, and trust me when I say I deserved the grade.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when the word "will" is proper as in the aspect of being diagnosed. From that point on, however, the playing field is infinite in possibilities. One thing I do say in presentations, which when I began I must admit I did use the word "will," is that I say, "We on the autism spectrum may..." It is vital to understand this and, in my opinion, adopt this language because those already associated with the autism spectrum, I hope, already understands this. The hurdle we face is with those unaffiliated with the autism spectrum. It could be rather confusing if a person heard, "All people with autism will hate bright lights, and loud sounds." That would mean, if they came across a person who craved such things, that it can't be autism because of the concrete nature of the belief of "will."

Moving forward I am going to be even more conscious of the world between will and may because it's a wide, vast chasm and could be the difference between confusion and understanding.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Story of a Raccoon at a Musical

Yesterday was a big day for my girlfriend and I as a year ago on July 17th we first met and we went to The Muny, which is an outdoor musical amphitheater here in Saint Louis, to see Les Miserables. To mark one year together we decided to once again go to The Muny and on stage was The Addams Family musical but from where we were sitting there was a lot more drama to the production than anyone had in mind.

The weather was perfect compared to last year (it was over 100 degrees last year) which was a nice change. The Addams Family was a much different production compared to last year's show that we went to and I made note of many, many breakages of the fourth wall by the actor who was playing the lead of Gomez. Some of these were so quick-witted I didn't know if they were scripted or not. However, during the 2nd act, I kept hearing some yelling from the section below and to my left. It was at random bursts and I typically don't understand why people cheer at certain sections of plays, and concerts, but to these bursts of yelling there was no logic. Gomez made reference to this when he said in a line, "Go do it before people start screaming again!"

As time went by the screaming became more frequent and my hyper-vigilance began to kick in. I've written about this before, such as the time I noticed a fire drill in kindergarten was much more and this time, again, I knew there was something to this yelling. But what was it? I was fearing the worst as maybe someone was going around stealing things from people, perhaps harming them, or maybe a person was just scaring people. Whatever it was I didn't know but my imagination was running free.

The screaming was now to a distracting level and Muny staff were now on the scene. Flashlights were being used and it looked like a good, old fashioned man hunt. We were seated almost as far back as you can sit but now at least half of the sections had there eyes on what was going on. While most people looked in confusion I sat there in fear ready to react to whatever calamity was about to occur.

Have I mentioned I'm a worst case scenario thinker? If you haven't gathered that by now let me say that, well, I am and in this instance I was plotting an escape in any and every direction should whatever man, women, or beast that a dozen people were chasing strike.

It was getting to a level that the actors and actresses were performing but no one was watching as the audience sat there in awe of the random screams and random leg kicks. And it was from these leg kicks that I finally calmed, somewhat, as it was now obvious that there was a critter who didn't have a ticket to see the production. And whatever critter it was it was fast! One minute the chasers would be at the top of the section, then the bottom, then back at the top. I didn't let my guard down all the way because whatever it was, should it have rabies, could pose a threat so I remained in a state of no emotion and all attention and senses were directed towards the drama.

There had just been staff with normal shirts on but I knew things were getting serious when men in suits started arriving on the scene speaking in ear pieces. I was wondering if the production was going to be red flagged, ahem, stopped (sorry, racing lingo seeped in) because of the ruckus and, when a song had ended, a voice over the PA announced, "Your attention please. We are going into a delay to deal with an uninvited audience member" to which there was a round of applause as, I guess, no one had ever heard of such a delay before.

The house lights came on and the chase was on! The staff which had been trying to respectfully, and quietly, catch the critter now had full house lights and the green light to chase and catch at will. All the while the actors and actresses were left on stage, but the ad-libbing Gomez played by Rob McClure kept the ad-libbing going and I don't give compliments all that often but his lines were downright hilarious.

A few minutes passed and then there was an enormous cheer which could only mean one thing. The critter, which turned out to be a raccoon, had been nabbed. The assembled staff quickly dispersed and the show resumed which, as luck would have it, there was a line in the script delivered to Gomez in which he was asked, "What can I ever do to repay you?" and the ad-libbing was seamless as he said, "For one, you can remove all the raccoons from here!"

In the end it turned out to be an unique theater going experience and one that everyone was talking about on their way to their cars. For most it was just an experience that they never had seen before, I heard one person say they saw something like this many decades ago, but for myself it was something that started out with an immense amount of fear. Being hyper-vigilant is something I don't have control of. I am always aware of my surroundings and it doesn't take much to spark that part of my brain that shouts, "RED ALERT!" When there is a situation about to arise I'm usually ahead of the curve because I've seen it develop. On the flip side, however, I have also dealt with an infinite amount of crisis situations that never materialized. This is, to be perfectly honest, tiring. Last night, though, The Muny did it right and I have to commend them for stopping a production to deal with a localized pest. I fully could not pay attention to anything but the unknown element that was being chased, but by stopping, turning the lights on, and dealing with the situation was the right thing to do. I know that had to be a hard decision, and one that I'm sure all the people on the production will talk about forever and I can just imagine that conversation now, "Remember that one time, when a raccoon was the star? No, well, let me tell you..."

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Sensory Issue in Progress


It's rare to start with a picture but to understand where I am now you have to understand where I was because there, in that picture, I'm working the largest USAC .25 race of the year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and working it to perfection I might add, but it doesn't matter now. I don't feel anything does.

Just thirty minutes ago (it's 7:30AM as I write this) I was in the midst of sleep. Sleeping is something that is done in bulk when I get home from a race as the mental and physical toll are steep. However, thirty minutes ago, the condo unit I'm in started the process of getting a new roof which isn't the quietest of events. In fact, when you're sleeping on the top floor and there are a chorus of hammers, well, it makes for a major sensory event.

When I awoke I awoke in panic. I didn't know there was a new roof going in and at first I feared all sorts of end of the world scenarios of what this noise was. My heart rate jumped to a high level as that panic set in and after I, somehow through the panic, came to the conclusion that there were people on the roof the panic and other emotions just intensified.

Sensory issues are something I haven't blogged about for a long time, but are something, when the conditions are right, I suffer from. Well, suffer isn't a strong enough word because that picture I started with means nothing now. I feel nothing does. The feelings I have are of severe self hate. The thought of, "This shouldn't be a problem. I should just be okay, I should just be able to get over it." kept reverberating in my mind. They still do at the moment. I mean, how do I go from on top of the world illustrating a perfected art of flagging to going to a whimpering, panicked mess?

This is the thing with Aspergers; which I have to say writing that line to start this paragraph is the first time my mind has allowed me to accept the fact that it is the cause. I'm still fighting internally with the fact that I should somehow be stronger or to, "try harder" to be normal and yet with each time I hear the hammer go down it's like being jolted with electricity from the inside as I don't just hear the noise but I feel the noise.

Another aspect to point out, as I go from a seemingly sensory unfriendly environment of a race track to my own home is this; at the track I have ear protection, as the photo points out, but the noise is also consistent. Secondly, and I make sure to mention this to every police officer when I present to them, is that it isn't necessarily the volume of the noise but the frequency and now I'm learning the unpredictability of it because, between hammer strokes, my body was bracing for it as if someone were about to punch me in the face.

In a episode like this the mental component doesn't help because the response to the hideous reaction my body has is to just hate myself. As mentioned two paragraphs ago, the thought of being "normal" is constantly there, such as, "If I were normal this wouldn't be happening." It's there even though I go around the country telling people what it feels like and knowing full well it's a part of Asperger's and it doesn't mean I'm better, worse, above, or below anyone. It just means my brain is wired differently and this type of noise, for me, is like zapping a computer with a billion volts of electricity; it just can't handle it.

As I now sit in my basement away I can still hear the noise, it's muffled, but it's still there and all I can think about is how this shouldn't have happened. Where was the notice? I had none. There was no warning to this. If I knew there was going to be an all out assault on my roof I would have either got a hotel room, slept in my basement, or gone over to my dad's, but I wouldn't have put myself in the situation I am in now. I'd like to think no one should go through an episode like I am now, but life has other opinions and I, and others, do. Again though, in a situation like this, it didn't happen. Couldn't they have put something on my door, a warning of sorts to predict this for me?

During this episode I called my dad and I don't think I said anything on the positive. In fact, most of my words were "hate" and, "no hope" and, "if I were normal..." but as the adrenaline is now dissipating I can only think of the countless others, and perhaps undiagnosed others out there that would have had the same reaction I had. What would their parents' reaction have been? One of understanding? If there is no diagnosis or understanding then how can one possibly have any fathomable iota of an idea of what is going on. "So what, it's just a hammer" is something I can imagine a parent telling a child which, again, if there isn't a diagnosis how can one understand this because the reaction is so great that, if you don't have this reaction, there is no way you can understand the reaction, no, the painful reaction the body can have to noise.

I now have another story to share and this is the point my dad made. The need for awareness and understand goes so far because an episode like this didn't have to happen. Do the roofers have a job to do? Yes they do as it's going to be hot and humid later in the day with potential thunderstorms in the afternoon so work had to start early. At the same time though there could have been a warning, or prediction if you prefer, that this was going to happen. There was none and for about an hour I went through the worst feelings I've had in an extremely long time. I went from being on top of the world for the past five days to all that being forgotten. Many years ago when this type of reaction would occur I would hate myself for weeks afterwards, but now the hope I am grasping to is the fact that I can share this story, to let others know they aren't alone, and to educate others that we just can't simply, "get over it."

Friday, July 11, 2014

Watch it Live!

Whats better than a video blog? Not much, but you can watch today's and tomorrow's on track activity at the USAC Battle at the Brickyard by going to http://m.ustream.tv/channel/usac-253

We are starting shortly and will also start tomorrow at about the same time.