Monthly Archives: July 2007

Arcane abacus geekery.


My brother has been into abacuses all my life. He recently told me he’d found an obscure paper from over 100 years ago on cube roots and was working on translating it to modern abacus technique. (I hadn’t known that abacus technique changes over time, but apparently it does.) He seems to have finally done so.

Anyway, this Abacus Cube Roots page is by him and someone else in his abacus group. I won’t pretend to understand it, but from what he’s said about working it out, it sounds pretty impressive and like something he’s been trying to get right for a long time.

And I somehow figure that given the sorts of people who read my blog, some of you might just find this interesting. ;-)

(Edited to add: Shane suggested Totton’s home page as a good place to start if you’re looking for more basic information than the advanced cube root stuff, and also apparently keys to the diagrams.)

Please read: urgent.


(Written by Laura Tisoncik, not me — also on the front page of

My Declaration of Independence

Ours is a community filled with computer geeks. I don’t, properly, happen to be one. I’m a computer-literate political organizer. Yet somehow I’ve found myself having to decipher Bind9 (I can’t), disentangle one mailsystem from another (something else I can’t do), be the lead person on computer security (another subject way over my head) and lord knows what else.

That I can’t do what I’m not trained to do and have little talent to do seems irrelevant to the rest of the community. The only problem they see is that I don’t do what they want me to do — that the scripts aren’t running right, that they don’t have feature X and feature Y, that they’ve been deprived of access to feature Z for a few hours while I go sleepless for days trying to figure out what is going wrong with Z, etc.

Well today I am declaring my independence from enslavement to this website. Either members of the community step up and do the necessary work so this website can go on without me killing myself trying to maintain it and so that I have a shred of energy left to do something I’m actually good at, or I will kill this server, this website, and everything else it hosts at the end of the July billing cycle (circa August 5th) and be done with

–Laura Tisoncik

(And back to something by Amanda, not Laura: Sorry to put you on the spot, but I know both of my brothers do some amount of computer stuff, one of them professionally, and I know you both read this blog, so do either of you have the kind and level of knowledge required for this?)

(Another added note: Be aware that our server includes the main part of, this blog, the forums, the Autism Demonized blog, Autism Network International, Asperger Association of New England, and Getting the Truth Out, among other things.)

Whoever invented fireworks…


…ought to have them strapped to their ears, or something.

I can’t stand Independence Day. Thanks to a loud fireworks show, I spent a good deal of last night first involuntarily twitching every time a loud firework went off, and then later frozen in place for a really long time. The guy I was with said that fireworks were a good autie test: The two of us were the only ones visibly startling, in a large crowd of people who had gathered outside my apartment building to watch the fireworks. I can’t understand, either, why we commemorate a war with a display that has to be absolute hell for veterans. But anyway. At least this time I wasn’t curled up under a desk like I was last year, although that’d have been preferable maybe.

Something I noticed like always, but this time decided I was going to actually mention rather than relegating it to “things I can’t possibly find proper words for”, was that as soon as my body began un-freezing, my mind started freezing. When I freeze, it generally follows a certain progression, where first I can’t move at all, then I can only move in certain locations or directions and not in others (usually roughly the same sequence), and then I can possibly end up re-freezing in different positions, and so forth. I found that I could understand everything fine, and think and plan just fine, as long as I wasn’t moving. But the moment I did move more fluently, then my mind went rigid in the same ways my body had, and then I could only move along some pathways but not others, and there were giant gaps in what I could understand compared to usual. Which still makes me think there must be some kind of tradeoff going on when that happens, either comprehension works or moving works but not both.

By the way, if anyone ever happens to be present when that happens, be aware that the biggest concern is making sure that I’m changing position often enough to avoid injury. It takes awhile to get a pressure sore, but long before one happens, the pain is pretty excruciating. And not being able to move doesn’t mean not being able to feel pain. (It also doesn’t mean not being able to hear you or see you, so waving hands in my face or shouting louder at me is really annoying and unproductive. Nor, unfortunately, does it mean being unable to feel itches. And I could tell all kinds of stories of the sorts of things people have said and done under the assumption that the moment I stopped moving I stopped comprehending. In fact, the opposite is usually true, and if you don’t want to be written about in great detail later, don’t mess with me verbally or physically when you think I can’t understand you. That includes any of you who stand by and watch while people do these things, too.) The seat of my wheelchair is designed to handle a totally immobile person without causing pressure sores, pretty much any other seat is not. Another of the main concerns is to make sure that I’m not in a position that would impair breathing (anything that bends me in a way where I can’t get a full breath of air).

I also realized that it’s been so long since I’ve had a normal (for me) activity level that I had completely forgotten what can happen when I do. I’m finally getting over the asthma crisis — I hope. And the fireworks were undoubtedly only the last straw. Since realizing I could exercise again without breathing problems, I had a few days ago run all over downtown (including uphill) with someone without being pushed at all, and then yesterday, started an exercise routine, gone to the park with my dog, and watched the fireworks show. I’d completely forgotten there were non-breathing-imposed limits on this sort of thing, and that I might want to take things slightly slower. Then I suddenly noticed I couldn’t move. :-P

Dialects of nonverbal language.


(Inspired by a recent discussion with Joel on this blog.)

I took a class once where we learned how nonverbal language can vary from culture to culture, both in terms of intonation and body language. The same seems true from brain type to brain type.

I’ve known for awhile that autistic people tend overall to make more sense to me than non-autistic people. This is an overall tendency though. Some are this way more than others.

Joel Smith is a really good example of someone whose body language is almost completely comprehensible to me, and vice versa. We were instantly like open books to each other, in a way so extreme as to be uncomfortable. Too many layers: What we are feeling, what we feel about that, what we want to be feeling, what we want to look like we’re feeling, all in a big jumble. As Joel said, it’s like being naked, and not always in a pleasant way. I began to understand why there are so many polite conventions among non-autistic people built around sparing each other’s feelings: They can often see all that about each other, and it must be a protection and a politeness to avoid being too invasive.

Phil Schwarz is someone I can read somewhat, but not the way Joel and I can read each other. I can read Phil because I grew up around my brother, and my brother and Phil have a lot in common in terms of certain intonation and movement patterns. Their bodies look nothing alike, but something about their mannerisms and speech has a likeness. I have met several other people who fall into this general category.

And there seem to be a lot of different “dialects” of body language among autistic people in general, independent of the assorted cultural overlays we also develop. I also find that these boundaries often totally defy the standard categorizations of autistic people, whether HFA/LFA or autism/AS. I find this interesting, when not finding it too much like nudity.