Asperger’s Syndrome

My comments and experiences… life seen from the eyes of someone with AS.

Giving a hand

Hi all,

Recently I heard a story of a young 15 year old, apparently playing with a golf ball he got from a “mate” that turned out to be packed with more than what he bargained for.  What stuck me most was the suggestion that he was likely targeted.

The other thing that stood out, was that like me, he has Asperger’s Syndrome.

Having Asperger’s can make it rather difficult, depending on its severity, to judge someone’s character.  That’s why it shook me up more than somewhat — had I judged someone’s character in a similar way, that could have been me!

For those who are wondering, there is a community trust and yes, I fully intend to drop some money into it on Monday.  Given there’s apparently been about $30000 or so, maybe another $2000 into the pot.

My hope for young Michael now, is that the surgeons are able to restore enough function in his hands to allow him to resume some sense of normality.

One question I have tough is what his interests were.  A common trait among people with Asperger’s is a keen interest in one field or another.  For me it’s Electronics, radio and programming.  One of my friends, it’s horticulture, one of my cousins is into cars.

I think whatever Michael’s interest was, I think it important that as a community, we find some way that he can resume that hobby.  It’s good to know that a few fingers were saved… he apparently has a little finger on his left hand (nothing else though) and from the photos, two middle fingers and a thumb on his right.  So he can still give his bully the middle finger at least, and should be able to do many things himself with some practice.

As an example, take the band Def Leppard.  After releasing a few albums, their drummer Rick Allen, lost his left arm in a car accident.  The band found a way for him to continue as their drummer, using two foot pedals.

I have no idea how to assist, and there’s probably a lot of people rallying around him, as they should.

In short, I have been thinking a lot about this incident.  Michael, we have likely not met, and prior to your incident, probably wouldn’t have known you from a bar of soap before that fateful day… but you have very much been in my thoughts this last week, and I do hope we can find a way to give you a hand somehow (if you’d pardon the pun).

Fed up with uni

Some of you may be wondering where I have been the last two days. I have not been on IRC, forums, or on the radio much at all this last 48 hours. I did call in to the BARC 2m net the other night… put in one over, then handed it on to the next station, going clear and turning the radio off.

I’ve been studying for a digital communications subject. I was planning this would be my last subject… but alas… the university threw a spanner in the works there by deciding to choose now to inform me that I was not elligible to graduate, due to a deficit of about 36 credit points (3 subjects).

The last two years of university have been the most stressful. This last one would have possibly seen me meet my end had I gone the full 4 subjects/semester. The high levels of anxiety and stress this course has put me through have been unbearable at times, and there have been some close calls.

The email I received delivering the above bad news… had me literally inches (or is that litres) from taking my own life. It’s a little known fact that when you drink too much water, it causes one’s kidneys to shut down in a process known as water intoxication. I clearly didn’t get to that point, but I had a few pains that suggested I was nearing the ballpark figure needed.

I have no idea how people are meant to complete such a course, and still remain in a sane mental state fit for employing. The various support services within the uni have been great — but that’s not an option for everyone.

At the moment, I’m only really studying now to see if I can actually pass this subject… but my heart isn’t in it anymore. I’m fed up with uni, and I really don’t know what to do now.

Guess I’ll be joining the dole queue next year after all.

For those who were thinking of trying the double IT/EE degree offered by QUT (formerly IF59)… I would not recommend it to anyone. The stuff-around I have experienced during this course is as such I would not even recommend it to my greatest enemy.

Thanks :-)

Hi All… figured I’d thank you for the support, and better explain my emotional ramblings (as I lie here trying to wind down and sleep, battling a 15″ CRT that wants to emulate a disco light).

A little about my personal life. I certainly realise I’ve had it a lot easier than some, but I’ve had some rough moments.

This includes witnessing a marriage breakup of my parents back in the early 90’s. (Being the ham in the sandwitch is no fun at all.) Bullying both verbally and physically over my years at school, not just from individuals, but from entire classes. Even some sexual abuse (from a female student, more on that later).

So it’s little wonder that I am sometimes a bit on the fragile side. Am I looking at blaming others for my problems? Well no. I’ve moved on for the most part.

This includes the one case of sexual abuse. Without going into details, it was back in 1992, and involved a year 7 female student at my primary school. I’m not planning on hunting her down though. If I do happen to come into contact, I only wish to know two things:

  • Has she committed the same act on others?
  • (most important) Has she gotten help for her psychological condition?

What I’ve heard… this kind of abuse starts when the abuser themselves, is abused in some manner. I’m willing to forgive (not forget) the act if the guilty party is willing to, or has, undergone some rehabilitation & councelling on the matter.

As for the bullying… the worst of it occurred in 1995. I don’t exaggerate when I say I had a good 20 or so students from the year 6 class ganging up on me. I don’t recall every incident, but I do recall getting surrounded and screamed at.

It didn’t help that I didn’t get along at all with my teacher at the time. The problem solved itself however… the main ring leader wound up switching to BBC and the group kinda collapsed. The teacher also wound up switching schools if I recall, not sure of the exact reasons.

So yeah, I carry a bit of baggage around with me. I don’t let it stop me with what I’m doing now… and it has very little to do with my outburst a few days ago — which was brought on by more recent issues.

Right now… I’ve been trying to wrap my head around some telecommunications topics for an exam I have on Tuesday. (I’m repeating the subject from last year — so I really want to pass this time.)

Progress has been slow however, since I haven’t completely grasped all the concepts. My apathy/laziness and a sub-optimal teaching method (for me, not everyone learns the same way) are likely to blame there.

Needless to say, I’ll be looking forward to the upcomming Christmas/New Year break. I’ll like it even better if I can put these engineering skills of mine to some constructive use.


Well… now that I’ve redirected most of the major viewers to a safer feed, I can now drop a few bombshells and let off some steam without making Linux distributions look bad.

The last 12 months have been a bit of a roller coaster ride for me. Specifically, it has been events at university, and the stress brought on by these events that have lead to me getting burned out. No longer have I any interest in persuing a career in IT or electrical engineering, or continuing with life in general.

Early last year, I was looking forward to finishing my degree, and ideally working with some embedded systems, as that was what I seemed to enjoy. The idea of getting useful software onto an embedded computer (with limited memory, storage and CPU power), then stuffing that computer inside some package appealed to me.

In a way, it kinda still does… but not to the same extent. See, my big problem is that I’m not able to play the social game, and have no desire to. While some are not happy unless they’re chattering away with the big boys in the posh end of town — I’m more comfortable sitting back in a quiet space working on whatever projects interest me at that moment in time.

I do have quite a few technical abilities, and some social qualities that are considered highly valuable by many employers — however, what they get is a package deal, and it’s some of my personal traits that could make it a deal breaker at the interview. Put simply, interviews do not suit me or people like me. Which is a shame, since it’s people like this, that gave us many of the advances we have today including AC power generation and modern computers.

My situation at the moment is this. Make no mistake right now, I am in a suicidal state mentally. I however, don’t want to put undue stress on those that I’m working with within the university… thus I won’t be enacting on any plans until next year. If things don’t go well this year, I may well be a corpse around March next year.

Essentially, my problem revolves around the fact that I see no worthwhile future at this moment in time. If I can’t gain employment, then I’ve got no means to support myself — I’ll wind up on the streets. I’d rather jump now whilst I have some dignity, then wait until I sink to the bottom of society.

I’m in talks with various medical people at the moment… so far this has largely been a waste of time and money. I’ve been following the advice given, but so far haven’t had any real resolution to the issues that I face. My biggest problem, is that not being a socialite, more or less means that my skills are not in an easily accessible form. Thus, people conclude that I have nothing to offer them.

They see me as an ordinary person who should understand the unwritten rules of social behaviour. I mention that I have AS, the usual retort is, “You look fine to me…” Yes, I do look fine. I have good vision (slightly myopic, but acceptable), good hearing, etc. I have both arms and legs fully intact and operational. I have no mobility problems and my mental abilities are fine. But this does not mean that I react the same way as everybody else. It’s this total lack of understanding for people like myself that has me on the brink of suicide.

And no, pills aren’t the answer here … not unless you want to try and medicate 6.1 billion people who have the lack-of-understanding disease. Indeed, it’s not just AS, it’s other conditions too: being of a particular ethnicity, various forms of disabilities (mental, physical and social/communicative), demographics… you name it.

It’s something that really gets up my nose about society today. The bigger we get, the less we care. If this is how the world is going, then count me out — this is not a world in which I wish to participate.

Sanity Break

Hi All…

At the moment, stresses are running high.  Exactly why, I’m not sure, but it seems everyone is on edge.  And I don’t just mean the Gentoo Development community — I mean elsewhere too.  Everyone seems to be edgy for reasons I cannot fathom.

I’m not going to speculate about what could be causing this stress… I know in my case, the tense atmosphere has had an impact.  I’m nowhere near the point of doing anything irrational like suicide (I know this will create more problems than it will solve), but I am noticing that I’m not in my usual “stable” mental state.  I think in my case, there are a few factors in play…

  • At university, I’m doing a subject entitled “Core Project Initiation”, which heavily depends on groupwork.  We have to form groups of 5 people or so, choose a project, find a project supervisor (typically other lecturers at QUT), then work towards implementing a prototype.  The first assessment item, is due this Friday, and more or less requires the group to be formed.  After having two attempts at forming a group fail, I’ve been in contact with the lecturers and am in urgent need to get into a group.  Basically, if by Wednesday, I’m not in a group — I’ll pull out of the subject, it’s just not going to be viable for me to continue.
  • Last semester was rather stressful, having had two major stuffups by the university (in one case, a lost exam paper; in a second, a breech of examination procedure), and winding up failing a telecommunications subject for seemingly unknown reasons.  A total lack of feedback was a big factor — there was nothing to suggest I was offtrack, yet, I got a 2 (7-point scale) as my grade for the subject in question.
  • I’m still looking around for work.  I’m quite conscious that I’m basically living out of my father’s back pocket — have been for some time now.  This has been playing on my mind a lot lately.  I know that without any work, I can forget passing my degree, I can forget moving out of home at some point.  And luxuries like attending LCA2008 are definitely out of the question.  I’ve applied to several positions over the last few months without success.
  • The weather has been rather hot and humid lately, enough to shorten the fuses of most people.  Add to that the fact that Brisbane (like much of Australia) is in drought, and that the dam levels are dropping to alarmingly low levels.
  • Then there’s the censorship debate that’s been raging on for the past fortnight on both gentoo-dev and gentoo-core.

Some of these problems are aggrivated by communications issues stemming from my Asperger’s Syndrome.  Stress is not something I handle well, with depression being quite common in such circumstances.  I’m in the happy position that I haven’t needed any medication to keep things under control however — I intend to keep things that way if I can.  Right now, I’ve just detected abnormalities in my behaviour, and thus know something is up.
At this point, I’m certainly not planning on resigning from Gentoo.  My builds for MIPS1 (little endian) are progressing, having just started Stage 2 this evening.  There’s no major issues to deal with at this time, and I hope to have these out soon.  I’ve also picked a fight with µClibc trying to bash out updated stages — managed to mess something up rather badly there, but I’ll hopefully get that straightened out and have some netboot images for you.

Presently, I’ve got stuff in my personal life that needs my attention first.  Thus, I’ll be “away” for the next fortnight whilst things settle down locally.  I’ll be contactable by email, and may be on IRC sporadically — but I don’t expect to be doing a hell of a lot.  I need some time to reduce some of the external pressure, get myself mentally ontrack again.  Hopefully when I return, not only will things have calmed down around here, but people within Gentoo, and perhaps others globally, might have settled down too.

In short, I’ll be around, just laying low for a while.

….. and BREATHE….

Ahhh, so nice to be rid of most of the assessment. I put in my last bit of mid-semester assessment today, and for now, I can relax.

After this week though, it’s onto SWOTVAC (the week-long “holiday” proceeding the examination period — for the purpose of exam preparation), then it’s crunch time.

This year’s been a bit of a fiasco academic-wise, having failed a maths subject the previous semester… and one engineering subject right just now is not looking wonderful right now. (Okay, I won’t fail… but the marks will still be pretty ordinary)

Part of this was due to an assignment on programming the Motorola M68HC11 8-bit CPU. This was susposed to be a group assignment, but since I have autism, I prefer to work alone. I also have found it very difficult to build up much of a network in amongst my engineering peers. I’m beginning to build a network around on the IT side — it’s taken 2 years, but it’s starting to happen there. Needless to say, technical hitches ended up delaying this assignment, and so it’s ended up eating up time for other assignments… so much, I’m stuck rushing some UML diagrams for one of my C++ assignments.

We’re already looking into some tutoring, not just for myself, but for others too. I did ask Disability Services about this, but they basically said, “Sorry, we don’t offer that”. I’ve since got wind of some funding though, and I’m hoping we can get something set up. All things going well, we should have a framework up to assist not just myself, but anybody studying Engineering (and possibly IT), with Autism/ASD, to gain assistance.

I’ll be talking with people and setting the ball rolling tomorrow, we’ll see what happens.

Going Full Circle — Linux Newbie, to Advanced User, to Developer

Ten years ago, if you had asked me where I was likely to be… what my plans were… chances are I would’ve responded along the lines of setting up my own software company here, and making software for a living. I hadn’t heard of Open Source, or Linux… I had heard of Unix, but had never seen or used it, and I was aware of only two platforms, IBM and Apple.

My, have things changed over that 10 years.

At the time, my father had recently been made redundant from Telstra (having been a communications engineer there for 29 years) and had gone back to university to study a post-grad IT degree.

Part of his course, dealt with this funny little Unix-like OS called Linux. He brought home a set of CDs, complete with Red Hat Linux 4.0, dragged out his old workstation (a 486 DX4 100MHz with 64MB RAM, previously ran Windows NT 4.0) and loaded it on. This was my beginnings with Linux.

At first, all I knew how to do, was to switch the machine on, log in, run startx at the prompt, and I discovered issuing the 3-finger-salute sent the machine into a shutdown procedure. (Very useful when you didn’t have root access) I used to fire that machine up a lot… largely to play the games that were available.

For the most part, I was fascinated by the games. xbilliard and xhextris in particular, as I had nothing like them on my Windows machine. (At this point, I had just upgraded to Windows 95, and was still trying to adjust) First time I ever saw the desktop in Linux (FVWM 2) my first comment was how much the task bar resembled Windows 95… until I realised that FVWM 2 got there first. Microsoft do like pinching ideas of others.

Anyways, it wasn’t long, before I was putting it on my machine. Initially, it was Red Hat 4.0, then later, 4.1. I managed to screw up my machine’s installed version of Windows 95 in the process, but soon I had mastered the concept of dual-booting.

Sometimes I came into uni, and helped out with the exercises — largely to do with routing and TCP/IP. The lab machines there ran some derivative of Slackware, sporting the FVWM 95 desktop, which I quite liked. It wasn’t long before I switched to Slackware on my desktop machine at home, and that’s where I learned the most about how Linux works.

From there, I ricochetted between several distributions… Red Hat, Slackware, Mandrake (briefly), Caldera, SuSE (before Novell took over)… Most of the time was spent running Red Hat or Slackware.

At this point, we also upgraded the Linux box… to a Pentium 120MHz w/ 48MB RAM. The old 486, then got a lesson in true Unix… it got a dosage of SCO OpenServer 5.0.4… which it still runs today.

This continued right up to around 2001, when I downloaded Slackware 8.0… on dialup, whilst trying to burn up hours. We were preparing to switch to ADSL, and I had clocked up some 800 hours on my account. In that time, I downloaded Slackware 8, Solaris 8/x86, Counter-Strike 1.3 (although I lacked Half-Life), and numerous other bits and pieces.

After running Slackware 8.0 happily for some time, I had gotten used to the concept of compiling stuff by hand. Anyways, we managed to get hold of Red Hat 8.0.

My, what a disappointment. No support for MP3 playback, RPM dependancy hell (Incidentally, I have heard Red Hat developers complain about RPM), and a stuffed up text console. BlueCurve wasn’t all it was cracked up to be either. I sorta got used to it… but there were things I didn’t like. Essentially, I had outgrown the distribution, and found it very fragile when I tried to bring in third-party apps. I spent more time wrestling with RPM than I did using the distro.

Eventually, it was back to Slackware 9.0. Sure, there was next to no package management, but that was okay… I knew how to compile stuff at this stage. I had also dabbled a bit in FreeBSD, and saw Ports which I liked emmensely. It was here (Slackware), that I stayed, and contemplated making my own, using some sort of Ports-like system for package management (later to be called Atomic Linux).

At this point, I knew quite a bit about how to use Linux, and regularly assisted others in using it. I was also starting to play with Linux on RISC architectures. We had bought a Gateway Microserver (cousin to the Cobalt Qube 2), which ran an ancient distribution of Linux based on Red Hat 5.0. (Kernel 2.0.37 or something — need I say more?) Anyways, needless to say, I decided to try upgrading the distribution by hand. BIG MISTAKE.

The distribution on this Gateway machine, was so out of date, I practically had to replace every single package on the system. Of course, once I replaced things like modutils it all turned pear shaped. I tried compiling kernel sources from (which don’t work with MIPS), and failed… and managed to bugger up the module loading. So things like PPP didn’t work.

Upon restoring a backup… I reformatted the root filesystem, EXT3. I thought this would be fine, as it was backward compatable with EXT2. Wrong! The machine’s boot ROM is so primitive, it can only understand EXT2 revision 0. I had made a nice AU$400 MIPS-powered door stop.

I ended up trying out Linux From Scratch, which I ran for a couple of months. The aim of the experiment was also to figure out how to compile a distribution for the Gateway box. During this time, I also got a Silicon Graphics Indy. The intent was to follow this guide I had found on bootstrapping an Indy with Linux.

Well, in the end I didn’t go though with it… I found Debian had a MIPS port of Linux, and ended up running Debian Woody on both the Indy and the Gateway. Debian wasn’t bad on MIPS… but it really didn’t satisfy me. There were things that didn’t work right on the Gateway machine… and I was forever plagued with problems trying to build kernels on both machines.

On my desktop, I tried Gentoo on the recommendation of a few others. Damn… that scratched itches that I never knew existed! It wasn’t perfect… but it was the best distribution I had tried yet. So far, I haven’t left Gentoo.

I later discovered there was a MIPS port of Gentoo. This was before the Cobalt port existed. Needless to say, off came Debian, and I had printed out the handbook, and was sitting in front of my Indy, having netbooted it (at the time Gentoo pinched Debian’s netboot images) and was doing a stage1 install on it. Initially, I just left the CFLAGS unset… I figured I’d just keep things simple, then build up from there. It was bliss. 🙂 I later tweaked the CFLAGS (to their present setting, -pipe -march=r4600 -mabi=o32 -O2) and saw a DRAMATIC improvement in the system’s responsiveness — much greater than I had seen on x86.

Kumba, then announced a port to the Cobalt server. This immediately purked my interest. At the time, my Gateway box was acting as a CVS server for the Atomic Linux project, but the moment we moved it to BerliOS, I took Gentoo/Cobalt for a spin. I did a stage3 this time… had all sorts of fun doing so… but eventually I cracked it. Once again… bliss… The machine was so much more responsive under Gentoo than it was under Debian, and for once, it was nice to have a common platform on all my machines. Not to mention, I finally got a hand-made kernel to boot on the damn thing. No more kernel 2.4.18… hello 2.4.22 🙂

It was some time later, the Gentoo/MIPS team were looking for someone to handle the Cobalt port, and the Documentation. I wasn’t sure at the time. I did assist a lot of people with Gentoo/MIPS, but wasn’t ready at the time to commit myself. Eventually (about 6 months down the track), I decided I’d test the water by maintaining the documentation.

One complete re-write of the docs later… and a crash course in using Catalyst… I’m filling both roles. I’ve gone full circle. Started out a newbie user… and have now been made a developer working for Gentoo.

The Linux community has let me gain HEAPS. Not just technical knowledge either. It helped my social skills, as I had to ASK questions, and it helped my research skills, as I had to go locate the information before asking. (People get justifiably upset when you don’t do some research first).

The latter two have applications in real life. Especially the social skills one. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which affects my ability to communicate with others… Having to go out, and ask people, whom I’ve never met, how to do something has been great life experience for me.

So the open source community has helped me greatly along the way. Now, as a developer, I’m able to give back to the community. I’ve already done a complete re-write of the Gentoo/MIPS documentation… and up on my dev space I have stages and netboot images for use on Cobalt servers.

I hope to continue this work for much time to come. What comes of it, I don’t think anybody can say, but for the moment, I intend to keep at it. I’m having fun here, doing something practical, and of use to the community overall. Unless things suddenly change for the worse, I don’t see myself leaving any time soon. 🙂

In a way, I’ve thrown away the old dream of running my own company… but in a way, I’ve succeeded. I’m freelance now, working on a number of opensource projects, and under my own terms. Sure, there’s no money involved… but it’s practical experience, which may be useful when I do get to the stage of getting a paid job. I’m hoping my job, will also involve one of my primary hobbies. I’ve had a lot of fun in the open source community, and hope to continue to do so, in the distant future.