Monday, December 26, 2011

This is not an Autism Blog

The last thing this world needs is another autism blog. I know my readers can appreciate this photo of my son sleeping on the floor next to a Bissell Little Green carpet cleaner without reading a thousand words of self-indulgent backstory. Just know it was all worth it!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas Pushers!


Merry Christmas Everybody!

I offer this greeting because, delivered correctly, Merry Christmas Everybody! carries less baggage than either Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas ending with a period, dropping the everybody. I say it with an inflection that offers no firm insight into my beliefs regarding the existence or non-existence of Christ or even a triune god. Hopefully believers and non-believers alike can all appreciate my greeting for what it is, my wish that everybody is able to enjoy the holiday as he wishes to enjoy it, in peace, with family, food, fun, and some reflection too. Merry Christmas Everybody!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Culling Pandora

It's an art, Pandora is. It's mind is very complex, making the oddest associative leaps like predicting that someone who likes a Ronnie James Dio song from the 80s will also like an Alice Cooper song from the 70s. Thinking about it now, I guess there is some degree of commonality between the two, but it isn't obvious and the prediction was wrong, at least in my case. I did not like the Alice Cooper song. My Pandora strategy up till now has been to use as many as ten seed tracks and then use the like and dislike buttons to more precisely sculpt it's understanding of my musical tastes. This has not been working. It's as if liking one song and disliking what it thinks is a similar song confuses it and causes it to make crazy guesses, crazy wrong guesses. Today I tried something different. I left my disliked songs in place, because I still dislike them, but I cleared my likes from more than fifty to about ten. I also trimmed my seed tracks to just five. I'll see how it goes for a few days but I've been listening now for three hours without a single stinker. I think I might be on to something!

My seed tracks:

Bring Me To Life (Live) by Evanescence
Someone Like You by Adele
Jolene (Live) by The White Stripes
Covered In Rain (Live 2004) by John Mayer
Put Your Records On by Corinne Bailey Rae

If you have a mind to, create a new station called Dave Mows Grass with these seed tracks and you can hear what I'm hearing. Post your own seed tracks and artists and I'll give yours a try, too. It'll be fun!

Recondite Quips and Hockey Fight Clips

"Well, life is like a box of chocolates … you never know when you might be diagnosed with autism."
--John Scott Holman

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fayetteville Half Full

As an autistic person, I'm aware of my natural inclination towards the negative, or rather my freedom from the pronounced optimism bias that pervades most neurotypical thinking. As such, it would have been easy for me to look at the course map for the Fayetteville Half Marathon and see the Fayetteville half empty. Compared to my first race in Winslow which had everything, the Fayetteville course was mostly flat with only three climbs. There would be no gravel, no mud. The temperature at the start would be a comfortable 26 degrees, partly cloudy with just a slight breeze and no chance of rain or snow. It had all the makings of an unremarkable half marathon experience.

Fortunately, though, I'd been horribly ill for almost a month before the start of the race. Whatever cardiovascular training I had missed out on during that time was more than made up for by my non-stop, day-and-night coughing, hard coughing that accomplished nothing because inflamed tissues deep in my body were producing new sputum at the exact rate the old sputum was being ejected. As the 471 of us all gaggled at the starting line, I had a good feeling that my respiratory difficulties, along with the containment uncertainty caused by my two failed attempts to pee immediately before the start, would add just the right adversity to make the experience fun.

The gun went off and we gradually accelerated from a walk to jog as the faster people squeezed through the starting gate. By the time we turned south onto Razorback road past the John McDonnell Field, I was at race speed. I'd observed previously that even the most severe cough tends to disappear completely as soon as I start running, usually to return with vengeance whenever I stop. Indeed, this is what happened, to my great relief. By not coughing, my mind was free to focus on the pressure building in my bladder and the reality that relieving that pressure would not be possible without also relieving the associated pressure in my bowels, which I had not noticed before. This is not a new problem for me, my unruly digestive track. It is a part of me, and my anxiety just wouldn't be anxiety without it! Still, timing Immodium doses before adventures like half marathons and kayaking trips remains an elusive art. No problem, though. The water station at the top of the first hill had port-a-potties with no line. After two minutes in the penalty box, I had improved my sense of well-being to a state even better than it would have been had I been able to go before the race. I was able to fly down the hill on Garland, recapturing most if not all of my lost time, happy to have faced unexpected adversity so early in the race.

Garland was dead flat for the next several miles leading to the U of A Agriculture Department compound where we turned around. I got to see my friend David as he flew past me the other direction, his feet barely touching the ground. At the compound, I got to run a few hundred yards on gravel and then on a grassy shoulder for a while which felt wonderful compared to the pavement that made up the rest of the course. Going back south on Garland, we eventually weaved through a residential area and ended up on the Scull Creek Trail at Sycamore. I was breathing hard but still breathing, running just over ten-minute miles and feeling reasonable well, all things considered.

I knew what was ahead as I passed Wilson Park and the grade of the trail started to build. The hill was no worse than what I run up all the time in training, but I could tell pretty quickly that my conservatively estimated (healthy) finishing time of 2:15 was not going to happen this day, even though I was still on pace for that. Long before I got to the summit on Maple street, I was already taking walk breaks to cover one nostril at a time and blast 30-degree cones of thick, yellow snot on the sides of the race course. Starting the second loop down Garland, I found myself shuffling along unable to recover my breath from the climb onto Maple rather than flying down as I had done the first time. Doing some quick math, I figured out I would need dig down and find something for the last four miles or I would not even beat my Winslow time. There was still a bit of hill left so I kicked it and didn't let off until I was back at Wilson park looking up the hill. Then I kicked it up the hill!

I am profoundly grateful to the passer-by and the runner behind me who both shouted at me as I ran right past a barrier with a large arrow pointing left towards a sidewalk where I was supposed to have turned. It was at the very top of the hill and, even though I had run that section less than an hour earlier, I was in such an hypoxic delirium that I simply blasted right past the sign. Props, guys, you saved the day!

The percussion quartet who were banging on garbage cans with sticks under the one overpass in the university district lifted my spirit immensely but did not seem to lift my pace which had dropped off sharply from the first two-thirds of the race. The shallow downhill grade leading back to the John McDonnell Field did not lift my pace either. I thought entering the track of the team that has won 42 NCAA Track and Field championships would give me a psychological boost and it did, but it still did not lift my pace. Somewhere earlier, I had managed to pass a younger runner who had been pacing me beautifully for almost the entire race. I knew he was close behind me so I veered towards the outer lanes and motioned for him to pass saying that he had paced me the whole way and was going to finish ahead of me. He thanked me but then took off so fast I could not have stayed with him if I had wanted to. I guess he had some kick left! I struggled across the finish line in 2:21:55, almost three minutes faster than I ran at Winslow, and was woozy and unresponsive as the trophy gals gave me my medal and cut the timing chip off my shoe. I did wobble around long enough to regain myself and thank them, though, as I tried to do to all the volunteers around the course. They were awesome!

The coughing resumed almost instantly as I found my way to a bench to retie my shoe that had come untied as as they removed the timing chip. My friend David Dinan, who had just run what for me is an unfathomable personal record time of 1:36, kindly waited around the additional 46 minutes it took me to finish so that he could congratulate me on my own PR. That made me really happy. I was also able to find the gal who shouted to me as I ran off course and thank her. We had passed each other and talked a few times during the course but in the end, I faded and she did not. She finished several minutes ahead of me.

The race was last Sunday. On Tuesday, I finally decided it was time to go to the doctor. I admit I did have fantasies that my illness was this "walking pneumonia" I've heard of--it would be fun to brag that I finished a half marathon with pneumonia--but alas! she said it was mere bronchitis, which is not even close to being a medical emergency. It's not even previously undiagnosed asthma combined with a sinus infection so severe it would require surgery like my sister had when she ran Winslow with me. Still, it's the ailment I had and it provided just the right amount of adversity to turn what could have been an ordinary race into a great one that I can really be proud of. Definitely Fayetteville half full!
Still waiting for that Hammer Gel sponsorship!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Cool Product Pick of the Week

My original reason for acting on this skateboarding whim was to have a vehicle that was more similar to my son's scooter than my bicycle is. Donald is well trained and checks for traffic before tearing across the parking lot at our apartments at least 95% of the time. Being not overprotective but adequately protective, this means I must be close enough to him at all times to remind him that one time out of twenty that he forgets. I was accomplishing this by riding my bike not so near to him that I interfered with his scooting liberty, but near enough I could give a quick shout when there was traffic he didn't see. Riding my bike worked just fine for this, but I wanted to ride my bike when he was riding his bike and ride something like a scooter when he was riding his scooter. Hence the skateboard.

I did many things right when selecting my first skateboard. I chose an 8" wide deck, which I knew was largish for someone of my stature and foot size, and correspondingly wide trucks. I was seeking a stable platform on which to express my skateboarding values of understatedness and non-injury, not a board that would be easy to do nollie backside heelflips on. I also selected what it seemed to me, never having ridden a skateboard in my life, would be good wheels given my level of experience and the surface quality of the parking lot where I would do most of my riding. They were slightly soft and, at 54mm, just a tick larger in diameter than a more skilled street skater would chose. The idea was good; the execution was not, which I will explain.

I knew my first few skating sessions would be periods of intense learning. I would not be able to learn my board and watch Donald at the same time, so I skated by myself. At first, I pushed off with the wrong foot and wrecked spectacularly several times. After correcting that one technique issue, though, the learning progressed quickly. I could get on the board, get off the board, speed it and slow it, and even steer it with some success. After about a week, I felt comfortable that I could survive on my skateboard and keep an eye on Donald at the same time. My vision was becoming reality!

Here's the problem: The wheels on Donald's scooter, you see, are quite large in diameter relative to skateboard wheels and they are molded from a very soft urethane. At one minute we would both be putzing around in the Northwest corner of the parking lot near the entrance from Cambridge street. He would stop at the entrance without prompting, as he does 95% of the time, and I would say There's no cars so you can go! Seconds later, he would be sitting in the far southeast corner of the parking lot, at least a hundred yards from me, playing in the leaves, completely oblivious to the fact that the reverse lights of the car parked just a few spaces from him have just come on. I never realized how fast that damn scooter was!

Anyway, the solution was fairly simple. Filmer wheels! These 57mm Ricta Clouds wheels are super soft and super quiet. I'm not sure that they're all that much faster than hard wheels, but they are fast and they roll about five times as far with each push. Plus they look bad-ass, like gumbo mudders for your skateboard. They're great fun! Most importantly, though, I can come pretty close to keeping up with Donald on his scooter. If there's a downside to these wheels at all, it's that they don't slide. I might need to reinstall the old wheels before trying to powerslide across three lanes of asphalt.

A Technical Note

Say, I just discovered there is such a thing as comment moderation and that one available feature of comment moderation is automatic spam filtering and that I have automatic spam filtering enabled and that that is the reason I get emails announcing that I have received these indecipherable comments every day but don't see them on my blog. Fortunately, this automatic spam filtering feature does somehow flag certain "spam" comments as being perhaps not spam at all. Sure enough, I went into the "comments" section of my Blogger control panel, which I visit only occasionally because I hate Chrome and the monopolistic bastards at Google have somehow rigged it so I can't access my own damn blog with Internet Explorer, and discovered it had flagged ten comments as requiring moderation. The ten of them were from Tijno, Mule Friend, Bullets, Soub, my sister, and maybe UF. Not a one of them was real spam! Anyway, it was short work to publish them and they should be up now. The other 273 comments are gone from my life, hopefully forever. I don't know how many readers visit my useless blog because I have no traffic counter things, at least none I'm aware of. I do know of about a dozen readers, though, who keep coming back year after year, even when your thoughtful, effort-requiring comments don't publish. I can't tell you what that means to me!