Saturday, June 27, 2015

Autism and Amateur Radio

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post on another blog about "Technology Mediated Communication" and autism, using my experiences with a range of technology based communication systems, ranging from today's computer driven social media back to technologies which pre-date computers.  One of those technologies is Amateur Radio, which dates back to the first days of radio communications, in the 1890s.

So what is amateur radio, and what is its relevance to autism?  Firstly, the what - Amateur radio is a a hobby involving the experimentation with and use of radio technology by persons licensed by their government to do so.  Because of the formal licensing requirement, and the need for international regulation, there exist a formal definition, which is: "A radiocommunications service for the purpose of self-training, intercommunication and technical investigations carried out by amateurs, that is, by duly authorised persons interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest.".  In other words, it's a radio based service for people who want to learn about, experiment with and use radio for personal interest, without any financial motive.  The part about "duly authorised persons", refers to the fact that radio amateurs are licensed by their country's regulatory body to use the amateur radio service.  In practice, this means demonstrating (typically through examinations) appropriate knowledge in radio theory, amateur radio regulations pertaining to one's jurisdiction and possibly one or more practical elements.  In the past, this involved the sending and receiving of Morse Code, but many countries no longer require Morse today.  In Australia, there is a practical exam, which involves basic radio operation, such as initiating and ending contact with another station and tuning an antenna.  For more information, there are many pages, such as that produced by the Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA) that explain amateur radio in more detail (http://www.wia.org.au/introduction/about/ ).  It is well worth going through all of the links on this page.

So, how is this all relevant in the age of the Internet?  Probably more than most people could ever imagine.  If you've ever heard about amateur radio, you might have been given images of someone sitting in front of a big shortwave transceiver full of glowing valves, listening to crackling noise and talking to all sorts of exotic places.  Sure, amateurs still do these things (often with a much smaller and more sophisticated radio!), but amateur radio is much more than that.  Furthermore, we live in an age where radio is all around us, but we are not aware of it and take it for granted.  Examples range from broadcast radio and TV, to mobile phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the remote key for your car, basically almost anything that is "wireless" relies on radio to work (even infra-red remote controls use electromagnetic waves similar to radio, just a much shorter wavelength).  Yet how much of this technology, do we actually understand?

This brings us to autism, and that's an area I have a lot of personal experience.  As many know, I am on the autism spectrum.  What many don't (yet) know is that I have been fascinated by communication systems since childhood.  This turns out to be a side effect of my interest in connecting with people.  As a kid, I was fascinated by the radio, in that out of this box could come voices sent "magically" from distant places.  Two way radio, where one could talk back to the person on the other end, without wires held even more fascination for me, and the greater the distance, the more the fascination.  I dreamed of the day when a little handheld radio could talk to the world.  Back then, I had no concept of the physics required, or the technological solutions that would make this possible (you're using one of them - the Internet, to read this blog! :) ).  I also never dreamed that I would not only bear witness to this sort of technology, but actually play a minor part in making it a reality, through amateur radio.  More on that later. :)

My autism gave me the drive to understand this mysterious radio thing, so I could learn how to send my own messages across the void.  I wanted to know what made radio work, and how to make it work for me.  In my teenage years, I discovered "FM bugs", miniature transmitters that worked on the FM broadcast band.  I experimented with different designs and antennas, and managed to get them to work over several hundred metres.  Back then, in the early 1980s, there weren't a lot of FM stations, so there was plenty of room to experiment.  Today, one would have to be much more careful, there are stations all over the FM band.  I also suspect that regulations have been tightened to minimise the risk of interference from unlicensed FM transmitters.  I did learn a bit about building better antennas, as well as interfacing different audio sources, such as microphones and cassette players to the transmitters.

The 1989s were also the years when the electronics store Dick Smith were heavily into selling components and other products for electronics hobbyists (today, they are just another electrical retailer :( ).  The Dick Smith catalogue contained a large electronic reference section, which included Australian amateur radio information.  At the time, I didn't understand what it meant, but I was fascinated and wanted to know more.  That knowledge would come over the next several years.  Firstly, in Year 12, the father of a girl in our class was an amateur.  I was able to visit his "shack" (amateur speak for where the radio gear is setup) and he showed me what his gear did and how it worked.  I found it fascinating and wanted to do similar myself.  Next, I got involved in CB radio and became a serious hobbyist there, chatting to both local stations and others long distances away, when conditions permitted.  I gained a lot of knowledge on CB, but within a year, I knew amateur radio was my future.  Only on the amateur bands, could I legally experiment with transmitters and do more than just talk.

I was at university at the time, studying electronic engineering.  This meant that one element of my amateur licence was pretty much covered - the theory component, and I could study for the highest level of theory, which was relatively straightforward compared to third year university engineering.  That left regulations, which were  a combination of rote learning with a bit of common sense.  I decided to have a go at the Morse Code exams (which were required back in 1989 for access to the HF bands, but no longer are now).  I passed all of my exams - theory, regulations, 5 WPM Morse send and receive, and about a month later, received a shiny new call sign in the mail, after paying the appropriate fees.  Now I had the (radio) world at my feet! :). However, it would take me a number of years to really get established and on the air on my terms, because of the cost of radios back then (no $50 Chinese radios, like you can buy today on eBay).  But I did get myself going over the years, and learned a lot about many aspects of radio, such as:

HF radio.

VHF and UHF radio.

Repeaters - even built a couple myself.

Communicating through satellites.

Amateur television - transmitting full motion video over the air, which can be received on standard TVs usually with the help of a simple converter.

Bicycle mobile operation - combine a great hobby with exercise.  I am currently involved with an active bicycle mobile group locally.  

Fox hunting - no furry creatures here, the art and science of finding hidden radio transmitter - and something for which my unique processing style is especially suited.

Voice over IP/ Radio over IP (VoIP/RoIP) - using the Internet to carry voice traffic and link distant sites.

Politics and conflict resolution - yep, things can get political, people disagree!

Interoperability - making incompatible systems work with each other.

Data transmission on various frequencies.

Digital voice on radio.

Networking - various voice and data protocols.  I learned the Internet Protocol (IP) hands on, on radio, before using it on phone modems or local area networks, unlike most today, who start on a LAN.

Software Defined Radio and Digital Signal Processing.  This is the 21st century way of doing radio, using powerful computers to process signals, instead of traditional circuitry.  These software defined systems also have a side effect of providing metaphors for my own processing issues - sensory, social, etc.  my understanding of these systems is more a broad overview, rather than detailed.

Emergency/remote/self sufficient communication - getting the message through without any local infrastructure.

Remote bases - remotely controlling radios in another room or half a world away.  I have even built my own remote base to a unique design (yes, there is only one of its kind in the world! ) 

These are just a selection of fields that I have been able to explore through amateur radio.  Suffice to say, it's been far from boring, and despite demographics (most amateurs being elderly men), and stereotypes suggesting amateur radio is a thing of the past, it has been a way to explore cutting edge technologies, as well as learning to adapt to a changing world.  Once the amateurs were the only hobbyists who had independent global communications.  Today, anyone with an Internet connection has global connectivity.  Amateur radio has evolved to suit these changing conditions, but it's becoming a "best kept secret".

So, getting back to autism and amateur radio, there is an obvious attraction for those whose interests lie in a technical realm, especially for people who want to make social connections through a medium that encourages talking about a shared special interest.  That was certainly one of the attractions for me.  I recall before getting my own licence, listening to technical discussions on a scanner, wishing I could join in.  Amateur radio suits those who like to explore technical subjects in detail.  For me, that has been getting a system to behave _exactly_ how I want, writing scripts that can adapt to slightly different environments or user preferences, and the like.  And in a number of ways, amateur radio has helped me develop skills for dealing with the typical world around me.  Many years ago, in the early days of VoIP technology, two systems emerged with two different philosophies - one emphasised "pure" radio access, all access points were via a linked radio system, and used the Linux operating system.  The other system put an emphasis on convenience, allowing people to access the system directly from a computer, without a radio, using Windows based software.  Neither approach was right or wrong, just different.  However, the two groups largely disagreed and some serious conflict emerged.  I, along with a few others came up with a range of solutions to allow the systems to coexist.  For me, what mattered most was being able to communicate with whoever I wanted to, regardless of what system they were on, and also creating spaces where people using different systems could freely mingle.  Initially, we had a lot of resistance, but once people saw what we were really trying to achieve - flexibility for users, while giving system owners the control they desired, people came on board very quickly.

Another thing amateur radio, along with Computers and IT have given me is a range of metaphors to help express my own thoughts, feelings and experiences.  These metaphors have been vehicles of self discovery, giving me tangible concepts to relate to, when trying to delve into the inner workings of my own mind, so concepts such as "social protocols" - the unwritten rules of social interactions, and "sensory processing/filtering" - the techniques I've developed to cope with the world around me, could now be expressed.

And what would someone on the spectrum be likely to do on amateur radio?  Well, if you're very introverted, you may not talk at all, but you might like trying out new ideas - building circuits, writing software to do new things, just to see "if it works".  If you're one to collect lists of information, well, DXing (contacting distant and rare countries) and chasing awards might be your thing, collecting proof of contact (usually by exchanging postcard sized "QSL cards" with details of the contact on them, and a picture relevant to you on the front).

If pure science is your thing, you might do some sort of propagation studies, to further understand the complex behaviour of radio waves in various conditions, or you might try and find better ways to send data or digital voice over the air.  There's even room for some friendly competition in several ways.  The first is contesting, contacting as many stations as possible in a given time, to try and get the most points (there are many contests and sets of rules).  Or you might try fox hunting, using your ability to build equipment to help find where a signal is coming from, and your own knowledge to locate a hidden transmitter before anyone else.  Or if you want something a bit more physical, Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF), a cross between orienteering and fox hunting, where skill in locating hidden transmitters and navigation (map reading, compass use) combine with cross country running for success.

As an aside, I suspect there a lot on the spectrum (whether diagnosed or not) already among the ranks of licensed amateurs, because of the detailed technical nature of the hobby, and the depths to which one can explore the various facets.

Modern amateur radio is closely aligned with computer / information technology.  If you're good at writing code, and have an interest in communication systems, this might be a way to express your interests.  In the past, home construction meant building things out of physical components.  Today, much "home development" is purely software.  Hardware is often only needed to get the signal into a form that the computer can work with, and from there, the rest is all code.  Sadly, amateur radio could do with a lot more coders, there is so much room for experimentation and development in this field.  If a script hacker like me can do clever things with a handful of open source programs and several hours, imagine what someone proficient in programming could achieve.

Anyway, these are my thoughts on the subject.  I've gained both a lifelong interest (licensed for over 26 years at the time of writing this), as well as vast amounts of technical knowledge to further my own interests, and occasionally solve real world problems with some consumer gadget.  I've also gained insight into myself and people in general, and learned some valuable skills for working with others.  Amateur radio may or may not be your thing, but until now, you may not have even heard of it.  I hope this blog post has been enlightening, even if it's not your thing.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My first autism conference!

Recently, I attended the Asia Pacific Autism Conference (APAC) 2013 in Adelaide.  This was the first time I've ever attended an autism conference.  The experience was very profound and successful - profound in the connectedness I felt with others on the spectrum and the new friends I've made since, and successful in that I achieved what I set out to do - to participate and to network with other people on the spectrum and further my advocacy skills.  No need to go into detail here, as I have written a separate blog for APAC related activities.  You can find a link in the sidebar or use the link below.

Tony's APAC2013

Friday, August 24, 2012

Can Amateur Radio still impress in the age of the Internet?

I recently had the privilege of 4 nights staying and working at Scotia Sanctuary in far western NSW.  This site is one of many run by the Australian Wildlife Conservatory, a private conservation group.  I was there as part of my conservation and land management course, along with 2 teachers and my fellow students.  We were there to map the locations of Mallee fowl nests and learn about the ecosystems of the arid Australian interior and their unique flora and fauna, which are quite different what most of us are used to.

However, I also took the opportunity to take along some HF amateur radio gear, mostly to test some systems for emergency and public event use, and to provide a basic email link back to home.  On the third day I got to setup the radio and computer interface, and exchange a few messages.  A couple of the other students and one of the teachers watched with interest, as I explained what was happening at each stage.  However, more was yet to come.  I tuned across 20 metres (14 MHz), and heard a Scottish station (GM) talking to someone in Western Australia (VK6).  The VK6 signed off shortly afterwards.  While he was signing off, one of the other students asked if I could talk back to these guys.

When the western Australian station signed off, the Scottish station put out another call.  I answered, and he acknowledged.  We chatted for several minutes about the weather, where we were and what each of us were doing for the day, as well as the usual signal reports and details of the stations at each end.  During the conversation, I noticed I had a few people nearby listening in, as well as some "oooh wow" comments from further away.  A few people asked me where the other guy was.  In an area where Internet has to be provided by satellite, a number of people were blown away at being able to talk to someone on the other side of the world with nothing more than a bit of wire strung across to a nearby tree!

Yep, there's still something magic about being able to communicate vast distances without the help of modern network infrastructure, and some people still recognise that magic when they see it.  The vastness of the Outback tends to emphasise that magic.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Back to school

I've been a bit remiss in updating some parts of my life.  One thing I hadn't mentioned is that I decided on a mid life career change.  This is for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, IT had pretty much run its course for me, and being a sole trader with few support networks was starting to tax my executive functioning.  Also, after a bit of career research, I realised that I'm very much an outdoors nature person, and I wasn't going to meet that need in a server room, or even working from home.  Conservation, forestry or some similar environmental occupation seemed to meet both this outdoors need and my values.  However, to change careers meant returning to full time study, something which I hadn't done for 20 years, and which has a number of potential pitfalls.

I enrolled at the local TAFE in Certificate IV in Conservation and Land Management, and started studies in early February this year.  3 months later, and early in the second term, I have a number of observations:

Firstly, the course itself has proven to be very interesting.  It has broadened my interest in the natural world, and given a lot of food for thought.  Some subjects have proven to be relatively straightforward.  The chemical unit and its combination of short test and practical assessment suited me well.  First Aid was similarly straightforward.  The unit on mapping specifically tapped into my spatial abilities, as well as my previous IT experience and skills.

As expected, there have been a number of challenges.  A few of the units require diaries to be kept.  My history with diaries has not been good, despite many attempts over the past 30-35 years.  However, these diaries were more about what was done during practical work, and my thoughts on the day - what worked, what didn't, what I learned, and any other relevant thoughts.  There is also the issue that trying to take notes by hand does tend to conflict with learning itself.  However, these days, the advent of tablets like the iPad has made note taking vastly easier for me.  I can now take notes, whether in class or in the field, and take in information or participate in practical activities, without compromising either.  There's still some issues like integrating photos and drawings, but these are more a function of available software. 

Some of the bigger challenges are the major assignments and reports.  I'm extremely sensitive to work/life balance, and my executive function issues make it difficult to keep track of out of hours assignments.  So far, most of the work has been able to be done in class time, but there will be some overflow.  However, Fridays are mostly free, and there's study sessions available then, which will come in handy.  The jury's still out on these ones.

A couple of subjects and activities are particularly problematic.  The units are the ones that deal specifically with "people issues".  They are interesting in their own right, I have taken a big interest in people and what makes them tick over the last 20+ years.  However, that does still come with some limitations.  Creating a "park ranger guided tour" style of activity is going to be, umm, interesting. :)

Work placement is also another issue.  While I have some ideas of the sort of work I'd like to be involved in, or try out, the whole process seems to rely on cold calling various employers, something that is problematic for me.  I'm also not clear on some of the paperwork.

There is support available, in theory.  However, in practice, there have been a few issues.  Firstly, the support officer is severely overloaded.  Sounds like education funding cutbacks have taken their toll in this area.  Secondly, a lot of my issues fall foul of the assessment criteria for the affected units.  Because these are derived from industry demand, the issue goes back to the one size fits all model of modern society, and the same old brick walls. :(

Anyway, there's most of the year left.  It will be interesting to see where it leads.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Another competition season just around the corner!

Well, summer's coming, and that means another competition season is about to start. We've been in training of some sort since July, with the main pre-season training starting in September. I've been mostly training well. I feel stronger on the cart, but there have been some injury issues, which I'm working on resolving. So far, the casualties have been left hamstring, which compression tights seem to be helping to prevent a recurrence. Now I have a strained calf, which will require some thought on how to prevent. At this time, recovery is the order of the day, with hydrotherapy and physio ahead, while I ponder how to prevent it happening again.

Good news is the groin strains seem to be a thing of last season, with no sign of weakness there this year.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Autistics Speaking Day 2011 - Back to where it all started

Today, November 1, 2011 ia Autistics Speaking Day. Instead of writing something new, I've decided to revisit my past as one of the first gay Aspies to come out online and resurrect my original posts from the mid 1990s. I have recreated parts of my original website and have tidied up the content to remove dead or outdated links, and extraneous material, keeping my autism related posts, which detail my thoughts during the mid 1990s.

Check it out at http://firstgayaspie.com/autism.htm

Monday, May 30, 2011

I passed!

I had my assessment for my Bushfire Firefighter course on May 22. All went well, and I'm now qualified to turnout to incidents. However, this is only the start of an ongoing learning process. There's many more courses to attend, as well as gaining experience on the fireground to do.

As for the course itself, the course was interesting. There were both theory and practical components. The theory included some basic fire science, fire behaviour, navigation, communication, means of controlling and extinguishing fires, as well as the various tools and materials used, and of course, basic pump theory and operation. Last, but not least was health and safety, both on the fireground and in general.

The practical side covered most of the above areas, with particular emphasis on draughting water from a static source, and most importantly (the drill we had to get 100% right to pass), the survival procedure to follow when trapped by fire. The practical exercises also covered various firefighting techniques, both using a tanker and water, and hand tools with no water involved.

This past Sunday, our brigade organised some practical training which built on from the course.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Back to school

Last ngiht was the start of my bushfire firefighting course. The course material was interesting - we covered fire behaviour. Much of the material was revision, due to my previous firefighting experience, and my interest in severe weather came in handy when dealing with weather factors that influence fire behaviour.

Looking forward to next week's installment.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Now for the serious stuff

Over the last 6 months, readers might have gotten the impression that the fire brigade here is a glorified sporting club. This is certainly not the case, though for reasons of time pressures, I've only focused on competition work over the last summer. Now that the season is over, and I'm no longer out for a few hours 2 nights a week, I can now focus on the serious business of handling fire and other emergencies that we have to deal with.

Since I was last involved in the fire service, much has changed, with a totally different communications network, new equipment, new training and new standards. This means I have to start again from scratch. On Sunday, I'm back to the station to take part in regular training, testing and maintenance activities.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

State Championships 2011

What an awesome weekend! The VFBV State Championships are a series of events run over the Labour Day long weekend every March (second Monday in March here). I had 5 events to run, which were the Ladder Race, Hose, Hydrant, Pumper and Ladder, 2 Man Marshall, Hose and Reel 8s, and the Hose and Ladder 5s.

My only event on the Saturday was the ladder race, which is basically a 25 yard sprint to the ladder, then 20 feet straight up. I started well, but had a slip on the way up, which put me behind in the first heat. Here's a photo from the local paper. :)

Sunday was the busy day. First was the pumper and ladder event. We scored a clean run, but it wasn't enough for a place. My role was to couple my hose to one of the pump outlets on the truck, then climb the ladder and hit the second target. The next event for me was the 2 man marshall, which is a dry (i.e. no water) event that requires speed, skill and precision in laying out hoses in a specific sequence. We had a good clean run, but again, not enough for a place. The final event for the day was the hose and reel 8s. This consists of running down the track with a habd drawn hose reel, laying out one hose, hitting the target, then coupling on a second hose and hitting the target a second time. In this event, I had to push on a side arm on the reel, helping to give it an initial push away, then adding some speed down the track. Once past the hydrant, I had to leave the reel and assist the first branch (with the nozzle) get his hose over the line to hit the target. Had a great run, but unfortunately, something went wrong elsewhere, which messed up our run.

On Monday, I had my final run for the competition. This was the hose and ladder 5s, which again used the hand drawn hose reel. This event involves running down the track with the hose reel, with the aim of sending someone up the ladder (me!) to hit the target at the top. In this event, I had to take the coupling off the reel, then the branch, couple them together and place them in the harness I was wearing to carry the hose. From there it was a sprint of over 100 metres to the ladder, climb the ladder and hit the target. I had a good run, except when I went to get the coupling, the rubber band holding it on wouldn't break! It took 3 attempts to break it (any other time, they break when you don't want them to!). Knowing I was a bit behind, I gave it everything down the track and made up the lost time. Unfortunately, one of the others had some problems down below, which affected our time. It was one of those things.

Anyway, that was my weekend. In between, I was helping out with preparations for the guys, and taking videos of the events I wasn't in. It's been 20 years since I was last involved, and I am glad to be back. Bring on 2012! :)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

3 Days to the State

I've been a bit slack with updates lately. Well, the competition season is almost over. A short summary:

I missed the Jan 30 meet in Castlemaine, to give more time to recover from injury. However, the following week in Bendigo, I hit the track with a vengeance. At the last minute, I ran the ladder race, literally the first attempt in over 20 years. The climb was a bit rough, but I made it. A run in the pumper and ladder 5s followed a bit later, as well as a couple of 4s. Unfortunately, I inflamed a groin injury catching the reel in the 8s, which affected my performance the following week.

Jan 13 saw us in Mooroopna. This time around, I got through the first round of the ladder race and ran the final with a solid climb. I also had a good climb in the pumper event, though we had a hiccup elsewhere.

January 20 was at Echuca. Knocked another half second off my ladder time, but didn't make the final round, happened to be up against the guy who eventually came third. Was pleased with the improvement though. Another good run in the pumper and ladder event. Unfortunately, messed up our best chance at a place in the C section 4s, due to a combination of a bad break and a basic screwup on my part. :(

Since then, we have been busy training. I worked on my ladder technique, and have the potential to take considerably more time off my climbs. I've also learned (more correctly, re-learned!) the ladder part of the hose and ladder 5s, and have that going well. Unfortunately, another injury (this time a hamstring) a week ago has slowed things down, but I have already almost healed and should be 100% by Saturday. I was able to manage a reasonable run last night.

This weekend is the real comeback, literally 20 years in the making. Even as late as this time last year, I never thought I'd be back on the track. Things certainly can change in a short time. :)

Anyway, I'm going to give it my best shot and put it together as best I can this weekend.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

First competition back!

Well, things are finally in order, thanks to my physio and some mineral and protein supplements. Had a couple of good training sessions this week, and I'm set to go. Have a competition in Castlemaine tomorrow. The weather is going to be tough - 40C and sunny, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem - I won't mind if the hydrant leaks! :D

Everyone's set for a good day of competition and we plan on taking a few trophies home! :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Recovery

Formal training with the fire brigade has paused over the Christmas-New Years period. This has given me an opportunity to take a rest and focus on rehab using the gym, hydrotherapy and swimming. My right leg is feeling much better, and I'm confident it will be 100% by the New Year.

Christmas is almost here, it's looking like another quiet Christmas home with Mark ( :-* ). It will make for a peaceful end to 2010.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Don't you hate it when you do something stupid?

My left leg recovered fully in the first week of December, and I had a very successful training night running 5 poles (pulling the hose reel the length of the track) in a row. This is second only to a straight sprint in stressing the leg, and all was well, even after the 5th run. With 10 days to go, I was looking forward to competition.

Then last Monday, I managed to trip down the front steps at home and pulled my right quads. I don't know how I managed to do that, I doubt I could if I tried. With only 6 days before the competition, there was no time to recover and balance that with final practice.

Yesterday was the day of the first competition. A quick test run first thing yesterday morning confirmed that I would be on the sidelines for the day. Knowing that it was unlikely I would be running, I prepared the video camera, and made plans to record our team's runs. The result is now on YouTube. Enjoy! :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7ITDeTSJjo

The good news is that without the pressure of training, the leg is healing rapidly, and I should be back to 100% in 2-3 weeks. Today was a good day at the gym. Unfortunately, I've also had success with the video camera, so I might have to train someone else to shoot video when I'm running.

P.S. I'm now totally hooked on using a Mac for video editing. The software design makes it a lot easier. The only tricky part was the picture in picture, because I had to manually synchronise the two videos for it to make sense. Shooting those runs was an interesting exercise too, as I had a camera in each hand pointed in different directions! :)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Almost there!

After a month of massage, targeted weight training and some work in the hydrotherapy pool, my troublesome left leg is almost back to normal, and I have gained some strength over what I what I had before the injury in the affected area. Here's hoping for a couple of weeks of full training.

First competition of the season is in exactly 2 weeks from today, and I want to be 100%. Let's hope this is the last of the niggles. :)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Training ups and downs

Well, slightly over a month into training with the fire brigade, and things are progressing. So far, we've done mostly general fitness, from distance running to intervals and circuit work. Most of the training hasn't been too bad. The hardest part has been some middle distance work, which has never been a strong point for me, while the general strength and fitness has been my strong suit so far.

The hamstring I pulled last month is now fully healed, and I have had some good speed sessions, but last week during interval training, I pulled a different muscle, in the upper leg above the quads. Guess it had to happen, as I haven't needed to run at those speeds for close to 20 years, so something was bound to break, as I pushed things hard! Back to the massage therapist in a few days. He's been a great help with recovering from the previous injury. Still it's a bit frustrating, I was just starting to show what I can do, when it went.

Just under 2 months until our first competition. Hoping I'll be 100% ready for it. I'm looking forward to getting back into it. :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

The comebck starts... and an early setback

Yesterday, I went down to the fire station for a working bee, as well as to sign up to become a member. Met the other guys in the team, while we worked to get the gear ready for the coming competition season.

Today, I had my first speed session at the gym. In the early stages, things looked very promising. Unfortunately, I pulled a hamstring during my second set of short sprints. Doesn't feel too severe, and with care, I should be back upand running fairly quickly.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A 20 year comeback!

We recently moved from Melbourne to Bendigo, a regional city of about 85,000 people. One of the side effects of this change is that outside the inner Melbourne suburbs, there is a different fire service, the Country Fire Authority, which is composed mainly of volunteers. In my distant past, I used to be a member of the local fire brigade in the small town that I lived in. That was up until nearly 20 years ago, when I moved to Melbourne.

The volunteer fire brigades not only put out fires and deal with other emergencies, but many brigades also compete against each other in a competition that involves the use of firefighting equipment, particularly older forms, such as manually pulled hose reels. This becomes a challenging test of skill, strength and speed. Back in my former CFA days, I was very active in this form of competition.

Fast forward to about a month ago, I assisted a passing traveller who had car trouble. There were other people helping out, including one guy from a local fire brigade. This sparked a conversation about the fire service and I mentioned that I used to be involved in the competitive side. Not long after, he had to go somewhere else, and the conversation was forgotten. However, last night, there was a tap on the window. It was the guy from the fire brigade. He had come to ask if I was still interested in joining their team this summer. I took some contact details, and will be calling the team coach later today. Good thing I keep myself fit, I may be rusty in the skill department, but I'm physically in top shape. I workout most days, and walk or cycle everywhere.

Fingers crossed for a place on the team this summer. :)

Now, most readers probably have no idea what these competitions look like. Well, I've just uploaded some videos to YouTube. Check these out for some samples.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TI1O9lic0AE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QJNSYKGdBk

Saturday, August 28, 2010

GPSed Track "Bendigo frontrunners 1"


View my new track "Bendigo frontrunners 1" started in Australia, Victoria, Bendigo.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

GPSed Track "Storm damage June 17-2"


View my new track "Storm damage June 17-2" started in Australia, Victoria, Melbourne.

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GPSed Track "Storm damage June 17 2010"


View my new track "Storm damage June 17 2010" started in Australia, Victoria, Melbourne.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

GPSed Track "R4K 2010"


View my new track "R4K 2010" started in Australia, Victoria, Melbourne.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Developing my artistic side.

I have been taking some photos over the years, and from time to time, people have suggested I sell them. I've finally taken them up on that advice and have put them up for sale. You can check them out here.

Buy my art

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Aussie autism advocacy organisation locks out autistics!

Seems some people can't let go of power for their own good. A4 is aupposed to be an autism advocacy organisation, which represents the views of both people on the autism spectrum and their parents and carers. There have been simmering issues for sometimes between some of the committee members, and this resulted in all the autistic members being locked out. For more information on this unacceptable situation, here is the public statement from ASAN-Australia.

AUTISTIC SELF ADVOCACY NETWORK

AUSTRALIA

20/5/09

A4 LOCKS OUT AUTISTIC MEMBERS

STATEMENT CONCERNING A4 – AUTISM ASPERGER ADVOCACY AUSTRALIA

ASAN AUSTRALIA understands from its members that as of today all Autistic members have been exclude from the Steering Committee of A4 (Autism Asperger Advocacy Australia) which has now been renamed the A4 Advisory Group. Convener of the A4 Advisory Group Bob Buckley states in an email to all A4 members:

"A majority group decided to separate itself from a minority dissenting group (formerly in A4 SC) who do not accept and object to long-standing polices and practices of the A4 SC."

This minority dissenting group just happens to contain all of the people with a diagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder that sat on the A4 Steering Committee up until 18/5/09. This minority group has long been battling to be part of the national voice that is A4 and now finds themselves excluded from the very group that once claimed to represent them.

ASAN AUSTRALIA finds this situation unacceptable, reprehensible in fact. We suggest that in light of this move A4 not be seen as a legitimate voice for those on the autism spectrum who can speak for themselves.

An ASAN AUSTRALIA Convener can be contacted for comment via autisticadvocacy@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We're hitched! :D

2009 got off to probably the best start possible. On January 27th, Mark and I became officially a couple, as our relationship registration became valid. As same sex marriage is not yet legal here, this will have to do for now. It at least allows us to access our legal rights without having to "prove" a relationship exists.

The new Register doesn't provide for any form of ceremony. It's a straightforward process of legally completing the application, then signing it in front of the Registrar. However, we had our own celebration yesterday with family and friends. :)

So anyway, 2009 will be our first year of "wedded" bliss. :)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I made it!

Well, Marathon day finally came, and it was every bit as challenging as it promised to be. First challenge turned out to be getting to the starting line on time! I had booked a cab the night before to pick me up around 6AM, so I could be at the start in plenty of time for the race. I had planned to arrive around 6:30 for the 7:30 start. When the cab hadn't arrived by 6:15, I rang the company, and it seems they'd lost the booking! They did send another cab, which arrived within 5 minutes.

Instead of arriving at 6:30, it was a little after 7 by the time I got to the MCG for the start. By the time I did any remaining paperwork and left my gear in the storage area, the race was about to start. I ended up making it... just, with a flying start with the tail end of the field!

The first 10km went well, taking just under an hour. This continued to 15km in 90 minutes, which was not too bad. Around 18km, some injuries from a car accident I had back in July were starting to become a problem, and the half way mark took me around 2:15, which was a bit slower than the 2:03 I had run in a half marathon 2 years earlier. By 24.5 km, the bad hip and knee joints gave out, it was simply too soon after the accident. However, all was not lost, as I could still walk without any discomfort, so I continued walking, with the occasional jog downhill, and finished the marathon. Not the best time, and at 5:19, it more than an hour behind my original target of 4 hours, but I did finish, which was the most important thing. The buzz at the end was worth all the pain! :)

Next time should be better, when the injuries have healed 100% Somehow, I don't think this will be my last marathon, even though I'm not naturally a long distance runner.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Time to make a stand?

Maybe it's the 40 thing and impending middle age (not that I feel "middle aged"!), but I find myself contemplating where I've been and how far I've come. In some ways, there has been a lot of things happen, and I have been blessed by the times we live in. Technology that was barely science fiction during my childhood is now all around me, and I'm in a position to understand and play a small part in its development in a nice of human activities. I've even discovered a few abilities that range from the geeky (but sometimes cool) to the downright freaky. And they are not just curiosities, but things I depend on in my life. As for the social thing, I manage a reasonable presence in a range of social situations, and a side effect of all that learning is I have a unique understanding of social interaction. It's like I've reverse engineered the neurotypical "black box" and then re-implemented it in a form that will work in my mind - so I have the "source code" of what makes people tick, in a sense. And like a program I've written, I can tinker with how my "NT emulation" works (social engineering anyone?), or watch for behavioural patterns that could indicate ulterior motives in other people.

All that aside, there are still some persistent challenges. My executive function is somewhat sub par, even compared to others on the spectrum of similar overall functioning to me. When faced with an unfamiliar situation that has relationship with my experience, I don't know where to start. Add paperwork and red tape, and it's a case of forget it. I almost didn't finish uni because of this issue and the increasing reliance on self directed research. Fortunately, these days Google (the best prothesis I could ever have!) exists, and there are plenty of discussion forums, lists, groups etc, all of which help me work around that massive hole. Anxiety has and always will be an issue, especially where it revolves around what other people might think (and yes, logically, I know what they think generally doesn't matter).

Anyway the net result is while I'm surviving, I know I could be doing a lot better, and while I'm in touch with with various autistic groups, I feel I haven't contributed as much to raising awareness as I could. However, when one casts themselves out on the web like I did over 10 years ago, it's hard to know the real impact I've made.

The countdown begins

Almost 2 years ago, I committed to running a full marathon this year. On October 7 2008, I will be running in the Melbourne Marathon. The weekend just past marked the start of my training season, with a 15km run. The hardest part may not be the race itself, but fitting in the training between commitments. I don't want to be someone who alienates those closest for the sake of the prize.

At 40, I'm still in good shape and physical capable of covering the distance. The question will be how long will it take? I'm aiming for 4 hours as a goal at this stage.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Navigating the Red Centre.

July 2007, dawn breaks over the East McDonnell Ranges, 80km east of Alice Springs. It is the morning of the Australian Rogaining Championships. The next day or so will be spent hiking around this rugged patch of the Outback, a red wilderness in the middle of Australia.



And no, the checkpoint that was clearly visible from the campsite at dawn was not on the official map! :-D




During the morning, we collected our maps and prepared a route that we thought would gain us a reasonable number of points during the 24 hour period. Our strategy was to stay out until after midnight, come back to the Hash House, eat and then sleep for a few hours and finish off in the following morning. Finally, we were ready, maps were prepared and the start drew clear.



And finally at noon, we set off...



The early afternoon saw us traversing some rocky and hilly terrain to the west of the Hash House. Conditions were unusually warm for the middle of winter, 25 - 28C, which made climbing some of the hills a bit more difficult than normal.


At the bottom of a particularly steep section...


And the view from the top...


And finally, the checkpoint!

More steep climbs followed, culminating in this one in the middle of the afternoon...



The only way is up! (the checkpoint is to the left, but still nearly 1km away)


Nice view at the top!

And finally, we reached our goal *whew*! :-)

That was the last major hill climb for a while. We descended down to the Ross River flood plain, where would remain for the next couple of hours. By this time, water was a priority, and the water drop was several km north of where we were. The trek to the water drop took a bit over an hour. After refilling our water supplies, we continued on easy ground for a while, and enjoyed a spectacular sunset, with no sign of human activity in sight.



Moonrise in the desert.


And finally, the sun sets, giving the landscape its famous orange colours.

After sunset, it was time to don the headlamps and reconsider our plans. We did get another two checkpoints, before approaching an area that would be extremely difficult to navigate through at night. Instead, we decided to skip that area and head for easier pickings further east. Unfortunately, that meant spending over an hour just walking along tracks and roads. Even worse, when we approached the next checkpoint, a track that led from the river on the map didn't appear to exist! In the end, after some searching, we decided to just enter that patch of scrub and somehow managed to find the track in the dark. This allowed us to easily find the next checkpoint on a small knoll.

The checkpoint after also proved to be difficult, and we weren't able to find it in the dark. Later, we found others had similar difficulties in the dark, and the map may have not been 100% accurate in that area. In the end, we moved on and picked up a final checkpoint in the dark, before returning to the Hash House a little after midnight. The rocky terrain of the hills had taken their toll and we needed to rest our feet, so we camped the night and started out again around 8AM to gather the final checkpoints.

The morning hike was much easier. After some climbing to the first two checkpoints, and dodging a little spinifex, we spent the final 2 hours out on the flood plain, enjoying the scenery. The final leg back to the Hash House was like being in an old Outback movie, with the red dust and flat landscape dominating.



Racing across the desert on the return leg.


At last, the Hash House is in sight. Almost home!


Just about to arrive at Admin to get our finishing time recorded. It's over!

Now we could get another bite to eat at the Hash House and rest our feet. After the presentations, most of us wandered over to the nearby Ross River restaurant and its bar and enjoyed a quiet drink, swapping our experience of the previous 24 hours. We stayed on for dinner, but for me there was one final act after dinner. It was almost sunset and it was time to get some spectaculat photographs, even if that meant climbing another rocky ridge! The photos were worth it, and I think readers will agree...








And so ended an amazing weekend in one of the more spectacular parts of the world. For more info on rogaining... http://vra.rogaine.asn.au .

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Happy 1 1/2 Anniversary!

Yesterday marked 18 months of Mark and I being together. It's been a wonderful journey so far. Mark is still the sweetest man I know. :)

I'm sure I'll be typing "18 years" in another 16 1/2 years. ;) Hope this blog is still around then! :-D

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Web forums - Why they suck and what's needed.

And now for something different. You've no doubt seen all those web forums on the Internet. These systems come in a myriad of flavours, from online communities, much like the BBSs of old, through to product support forums. I will admit that they have a few advantages, such as searchable archives and strong support for threading. These are no doubt some of the reasons why many people like them. As for myself, most web forums suck. What's wrong with them?

1. They are slower than local email access. Despite access to broadband (5 - 15 Mbps download speed), and having seen how fast well written databases can work, web forums are still sluggish, and furthermore, if your Internet goes down, you can't read any more. And then your browser has to render it. I sometimes use memory constrained systems and on those, rendering time becomes an issue. Because web forums send data to the user in real time, there is little opportunity to click the "download" button and let the posts come to you while you grab a coffee. This is in contrast to email, offline Usenet and offline Fidonet readers.

2. They are "passive". This means you have to remember to log on and check the forums for new posts. Some do have email notification, but this is still insufficient, you still have to switch to a web browser and post (which is even slower on memory constrained systems).

3. They are clumsy to navigate. It takes several mouse clicks to navigate between forum posts and threads. Contrast this to my email, which I have configured in a way that a single keypress or mouse click allows me to navigate between messages, or delete those I don't want.

Can this problem be fixed? Yes, certainly! What is required is for software developers to realise that different people have different communication preferences. This means that the solution lies in starting with a decent web forum system and add bi-directional email capability, or even NNTP as well. As a number of forum packages support RSS, RSS could be a standardised way to pull new posts off the forums. Some means of posting replies that are emailed to the system would need to be added. Development of a standard here would allow third parties to develop forum to email gateways. If I was a coder, I would have had a go at adding such support to some of the open source forum packages. Unfortunately, this is not the case, but I'm more than happy to test any attempt to add email functionality to web forums.

Anyway, let's see if any of the open source developers are up to the challenge. You'll be helping a whole heap of people stay in touch with their web based communities.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Just a short walk in the bush ;)

Rogaining - a challenging sport with an odd name! So what is a rogaine? Firstly, it has nothing to do with hair restoration, though I'm sure it does wonders for keeping the rest of one young!

Rogaining is the sport of cross country navigation. Think of it as a cross between orienteering and long distance hiking. Like orienteering, rogaining involves navigation using a map and a compass. However, rogaining is a team sport and rogaines last from 6 hours to 24 hours.

This weekend (September 9 and 10 2006), I competed in my first 24 hour rogaine. We hiked 70km (45 miles) in fairly hilly terrain, stopping twice for 30 minute meal breaks and a few water refills. The event started at midday on Saturday in cool, sunny and windy conditions. Pretty much immediately, we commenced the first of many climbs. During the course of the event, we ascended from the Hash House (base camp) at 220 metres, passing 800 metres on 3 occasions, and dipping below 500 metres several times.

After 6 hours, we entered the night phase of the event. Night navigation presents a whole new series of challenges. Landmarks become difficult to spot, and traveling off trails requires a much higher degree of skill. Fortunately, we had the aid of a beautiful full moon, which aided visibility. The full moon also provided a psychological boost - a wonderful silvery light that permeated the forest, interrupted by the occasional beam from a torch and the firefly like light from head mounted lights. At 1:15AM, we commenced the biggest single ascent, some 470 metres in 2km, which we achieved in 45 minutes. After that ascent, the rest of the course was relatively flat, with the next 3 hours being downhill, except for the occasional climb to a checkpoint along the way.

6AM saw the sun make its grand return. Night faded to day, and the forest regained its features. As the first rays washed over the ground, we ate breakfast, elated by the fact we had made it through the night. That feeling hid the other reality - there were still 6 hours to go, and 25% of the rogaine left to complete!

The new day rapidly warmed up, and the wind abated. We had a fairly clear run, but at around 3 hours from base came, a tough checkpoint eluded us. After wasting almost 90 minutes searching for it, we had to abandon the checkpoint and make a dash for the finish. We arrived back at the Hash House 30 minutes early, tired but very satisfied.

After the presentations, we boarded the bus for the 4 hour trip back to Melbourne. As the bus took off, I nodded off for the first half of the journey. Recovery from the rogaine took a little while. It was 2 days before my sleep patterns were back to normal, and late in the week, before the stiffness went away.

The problem with rogaining is that it is addictive. When I first looked at the website, I thought "You have to be crazy!", but within a year (June 2004), I gave a 6 hour event a try and was instantly hooked. I had to wait for another year to compete in my second 6 hour rogaine, followed by an 8 hour event the next month. By early 2006, I had my first 12 hour event and my first night navigation experience. Since then, night time has been my favourite part of the sport.

Anyway, that's all for now. Who knows what's around the corner. :)

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Marathon of Life..

Well, I managed to complete my first half marathon yesterday. All 21.1km of it! While I suspected I would be able to conver the distance, I had some pre-race jitters. However, I need not have worried, as around the 12km mark, the second wind kicked in and I made the remaining distance without too much effort. In the end, I managed to complete the course in 2:03, just 3 minutes longer than the 2 hours I was aiming for. I wasn't alone. Several other members of Melbourne Frontrunners took part in the race as well.

As the title suggests, there is another marathon going on - life itself, and it's never ending stream of little hassles. Whether it's work, taxes, paperwork, it never seems to stop. Unlike the running race, there's no safety cars or ambulances on standby. Oh well, let's see what tomorrow brings...

An update...

Just a little update. Mark and I are going well. In fact, that's one of the reasons I haven't been blogging as much of late. ;-). Been spending a lot of time with each other. Unfortunately, the real world keeps on poking its head in, with things like work. We hope to travel around Australia later in the year, maybe chase a few storms.

With the arrival of winter, it's been a good time to catch up on sci-fi DVDs. One good thing about winter is it's a great excuse to cuddle!

I've kept active myself. Another street orienteering season ended 2 weeks ago, and there have been 2 rogaines since my last blog entry - a 12 hour rogaine, my first, and a 6 hour rogaine just last week.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

1 year on

June 3rd marks the first anniversary of Mal's death. A lot has happened in that time, most importantly, Mark entering my life. I didn't get a chance to visit the place where Mal's ashes were scattered, but I have been past on several occasions during orienteering events in the last 7 months.

I still miss Mal, that will never change, but life must go on as it has. I'm still convinced that Mal had a part to play in bringing Mark and I together. Mal was a matchmaker in life, someone who liked to see people happy together. I'm sure he is happy with how things have gone for me now. :-)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Lightning... of a different sort... does strike twice!

Sometimes, the Universe works in really mysterious ways. 5 months after the once in a lifetime chance encounter with Mark in an Internet chatroom, history repeaters itself, and once in a lifetime becomes twice in a lifetime.

While on a social outing, Mark and I met Doug, another wonderful man, with so much in common with both of us, and someone who makes us both feel at home. I had to pinch myself to make sure this was real and not a dream! :-)

This just highlights the mysteries of life, but a few sayings seem to hold true for me:

"Expect the Unexpected!"

"Million to one chances happen 9 times out of 10."

"As impossible as it seems, my life is based on a true story!"

and, the old classic...

"The Universe works in mysterious ways."

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Thunderstruck!!!



The day dawned with a promise of some storm activity. Yes, it was the annual ASWA BBQ - where storm enthusiasts from all over Victoria gather for a few snags and a chat... The forecast showed potential for storms, and as we ate lunch, towering Cumulus were drifting past our picnic location atop Mt Macedon. Many of us packed up and headed for the Memorial Cross on the southern end of the mountain around 1PM. After 10 minutes of watching the approaching storm, all hell broke loose, starting with the radar tower to our north, 500m away being struck by lightning. Within the next 10 minutes, there were 4 or 5 strikes within 300m, some within 150m, and later, the same repeated itself. Torrential rain trapped around a dozen of us under a small wooden shelter... we were in chaser heaven! ;) The photo above is a frame grab from video I took minutes betore the storm struck.

Well, December 2004, and now February 2006 are memorable ASWA BBQs, because of the storms that followed. We seem to be getting friendly with the storm gods... ;)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

2006 - a New Year, New Adventures.

As I previously mentioned, Mark and I travelled to my parents' house near Tocumwal, NSW to celebrate New Years Eve.

This was our first significant trip away together, and one that will be remembered as special for many reasons. Firstly, the weather was something out of an Australian Outback novel - 44C when we arrived at 3PM, which turned into a balmy summers evening. Our accommodation was equally fitting - a tent out under the stars. Just the thing for a couple of summer loving outdoors guys.

As midnight approached, we checked our clocks against the WWV time standard, so we got the countdown right, and at the stroke of midnight, we played Auld Lang Syne from the laptop through the car stereo at full volume. Just the 2 of us, remembering 2005 and looking to a new year together. It was several minutes before we rejoined the rest of the family for a celebratory drink.

But the really special memories for me were what Mark gave to me - far more than I realised up until this morning. Mark gave me the ability to be ME in nore ways than I had previously. We spent much of the weekend arm in arm like a couple of love struck teenagers. And it just seemed to fit in. My younger sister noticed I seemed the most relaxed she had seen me in a long time. This change in me has already brought me closer to the rest of my family. Up until now, we were on good terms, but I always felt a little distant, but I now feel a lot closer.

Our night together in the tent was wonderful. We are both country guys who have moved to the city for career reasons, but the call of the bush always beckons. As they say: "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy". This rings true for both of us. We plan on spending more time camping together. It's good for the soul and brings us close to our beloved Mother Nature.

For both of us, 2005 will be remembered as a year of great change and unexpected twists. For me, it was a particularly difficult year, but one which ended on a good note with a whole new shared life ahead. We now look forward to 2006 together with new opportunities and making plans for a lifetime together.

Love you Mark! :-*

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Years Eve 2005

December 31 2005, what a year it's been. So much has happened that it's hard to believe that just 12 months ago, Mal and I were sitting on the edge of the Yarra River watching the fireworks mark the start of this year.

Of course, Mal is no longer in this world. That was the biggest shock of 2005, and a huge loss that I will feel deeply for a long time. Mal was a special person, and one without whom I wouldn't be where I am today.

But 2005 did have its positive side. Firstly, my first overseas holiday, which was the most prominant symbol of achievements in Amateur Radio. But the biggest surprise and joy was meeting another wonderful man, Mark. Knowing that many friends are yet to find their first special someone, I thought a second round of such luck was just asking for too much, but the mysterious ways of the Universe had other plans, and delivered a miracle to close off 2005.

This year, New Years Eve will be different. For the first time in 14 years, Mal won't be there, and instead of being somewhere around the suburbs, Mark and I will be in the bush camping, with the only fireworks being the stars and whatever meteors that happen to fall. As the clock ticks past midnight, I will remember a year that's changed my life totally. In what direction, I don't know yet. Guess that's what 2006 is for.

2005 was a year of triumph, tragedy and miracles. Let's hope for a quieter 2006 to build our new life together.

Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas... and a Happy New Life!

It's 10:17PM on Christmas Day 2005. Mark and I are sitting here just playing around on our computers. We had a wonderful day, which really started on Christmas Eve with dinner with friends, which set the tone for the start of our first week together unimpeded by mundane concerns such as work.

Today, after a sleep in, we journeyed to my sister's place, where I introduced Mark to her and her husband, as well as my parents. This went extremely well and a good time was had by all. Afterwards, we called in on some friends of mine who were having their own Christmas party. Again, Mark and the news of our relationship was well received.

Happy (insert favourite religious holiday here) Mark! :-)

As for the rest of our week off together, we haven't made any plans. Just going to meander along and let it happen. It's just wonderful being together, whatever we're doing! :-)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Coming out on the Web, 10 years on...

2005 marks an important anniversary for me. Back in 1994, I first logged onto the Internet from my own account. At the time, the Internet to me was a nice geeky solution to a problem that I hadn't yet found. Then one day it struck me to use Veronica to search Gopher for references on "autism" (yes, the web was in its infancy then). As expected, I found a LOT of useful information and started to make contact with people, but not one other gay autistic could be found...

So in 1995, I decided to tell my story to the world, mostly for the benefit of self therapy (writing about life's problems is a good relief valve), as well as in the faint hope that I would find people that understood. As it turns out, I got a LOT of positive feedback from parents, as well as autistic people, and even the occasional "please help me" question (sorry, I don't have professional qualifications, no one recognises even a Masters from the School of Hard Knocks" ;) ) .

10 years on, much has changed. I know dozens like myself, including several personally in my own city! There's a few gay autistic groups on the Internet, where we can interact at our own pace and discuss life issues. There's even adult autistic groups here (not gay specific, but I'm definitely not the "only one" there :) ). However, much ground needs to be covered. There's still a strong dominance of non autistic elements (parents/carers/professionals) in the autism community that sets most of the agendas, and there's a strong conservative bias from both the autistic and non autistic elements, which is cutting off a significant number of people from benefitting from shared knowledge.

Let's see what the next 10 years brings...

footnote: My earlier writings can be found at http://members.optusnet.com.au/tlang1/

Sometimes it's hard to find good help...

Sometimes I wonder how many problems society creates for itself by segregating out each non-mainstream element of the wider community into it's own little niche. We have the "Queer" community, which is in turn made up of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersexed communities. Then we have communities for various conditions... blind, deaf, autistic, and so on.

And there's the support for alcoholics, drug addicts, survivors of sexual abuse, and the list goes on. The problem becomes when you add REAL people into the equation. Real people do not fit neatly into boxes, and frequently belong to many of the abovementioned communities. This can mean that sometimes finding support, and even friendship can be difficult.

Using myself as an example... The gay community's most public face is a highly social, party oriented culture. While the gay community is increasingly recognising its diversity, that's still the most dominant facet. I'm not one for big parties. I prefer small intimite gatherings of friends and sharing deep conversation or common interests. The gay community also has some excellent support services (but a caveat below). The autism community is in a mess. This is actually at least two separate communities. The first (to develop) was the community made up of parents, carers, spouses and professionals. This community has driven almost all autism polict to date. The other, as I call it, the _autistic_ community is in its infancy, and has only become possible since the advent of the Internet. However, the autistic community is rapidly developing, both online and now in face to face meetings. Like the gay community, the autistic community is extremely diverse, with a wide array of people. The dominant face tends to be the so called "higher functioning" people, simply because these people are the ones with the resources to connect to the Internet and get out with minimal intervention by parents or carers.

Then we have the support groups. While my experience with support groups has been mostly positive, with GROW being one of the things that helped me to appreciate myself, there are still issues. The unique aspects of an autistic mind - highly retentive long term memory, strong associations, and a lifetime of living "blindly" in a subtle, social world take their toll. This damage accumulates over time, and can be particularly hard to address for a number of reasons (conventional counselling has very limted benefits for me because of the way I deal with contexts). Some of the mainstram support groups can also be a bit gay unfriendly, though the gay community (at least here in Melbourne) has its own comprehensive array of support services. The autism community, OTOH, would rather that I did not exist. Very few outside of specific circles such as gay autistic Internet groups or groups that know me personally want to even acknowledge the issue. Try getting an openly gay speaker into an autism conference to talk about their experiences, for example. In fact, even sexuality of any form among autistics is something that seems to have only recently been acknowledged.

This blinkered thinking is damaging people. I ran into an old personal problem which seriously affects some aspects of my relationships. After decades, I have just come to the realisation that this likely stems back to an incident during childhood. Given that this is adversely affecting my current relationship, I would like to deal with the issue and put it behind me, but who do I go to? Most professionals aren't equipped to handle the quirks of an autistic mind. The autism community would rather not know I existed, and aren't equipped to handle a gay man. The only possibility is a very busy professional who is not covered by the public health system, so that means a very expensive punt with no certain outcome, and one that I can't afford at this time, despite being well off compared to most. :-(

In the meantime, this lack of acceptance is damaging more gay autistics. It's time society faced up to the reality that some percentage of their auitistic kids are going to be something other than heterosexual, whether they like it or not. Best that these kids (when they're old enough) be equipped to survive in a community that can often be superficial, especially when it comes to sex and sexuality. I've seen so many people damaged to the point that even social relationships can get strained, because of anxiety caused by a innocent misunderstandings, which are trigged by a lifetime of bad experiences. I know I for one have some damage, though I do my best to recognise and minimise its impact, and I do my best to prevent new damage. But I'm lucky, I have a strong survival instinct and a very stubborn streak. ;-)

So where does a gay autistic go for counselling about childhood trauma? And where do young gay autistics and their parents, who ultimately should help guide them, go to learn to be "street wise" in a world where some people take advantage of easy prey?

Well, one day, I'd really like to be able to post here to say "I know just the right places to go for help, it's listed in both the gay and autism resource directories".

In the meantime, it's back to picking myself apart to see if I can face those demons.... alone.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Conservative conferences?

Yet another autism conference goes by... and the conservatives are in charge again, influencing the agenda...

I'm beginning to wonder what is it about autism and why does it seem to attract the conservative element in the NT (general) population, especially the professional community?

From what I'm hearing, seems that autism conferences around the world have a bias towards conservative subject matter and speakers. Is it some need to protect those "poor, socially inept kids" from undesirable influences? Or what is it?

If you ask me, it spells bad news for many of those kids as they get older. Let's face it, autistic people are like any other - they come from all walks of life, and like it or not, many are sexual, and a significant number of these people are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. In fact, some evidence suggests there may be a higher proportion of GLBTI folk among the AS/autistic population than the general community. I know, either personally, or via the Internet literally dozens of autistic men and women who cover the full range of human sexuality, from asexual to highly sexual, from straight to gay, and also a large number of transgender people, with a handful of intersex adults as well.

Hiding from this does not help these people, and it's a minor miracle that some of us actually managed to get through life and become balanced and healthy adults... I suspect many are not so fortunate as I am.

While I can understand being careful about what topics are raised in front of children, those adules that care for them, need to be given the tools and knowledge to help them guide their children into adulthood, whatever the child's orientation happens to be. Similarly, adults need to be aware of the issues they face in their sexually active lives.

Ignorance isn't bliss. It's just.... ignorance, and it's harmful.

Monday, October 31, 2005

New love, new Beginnings...

Well, time marches on, and through coincidences in an Internet chat room, I met the most wonderful man - Mark.

From a chance meeting in that chat room mon a lonely Monday evening, our relationship quickly developed, and it was immediately apparent that we had a lot in common. On October 17, we decided to share our lives together. More to follow when I have time. :-)

Love you Mark! ;)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Lost in the wilderness

3 months on....

The real magnitude of recent events has finally hit. The last few weeks have been the most difficult. The sense of loss is real, and maintaining health has become an issue. As a result, I've had to scale back some social activities and try and keep some sensible hours, conserving energy for the things that have to be done (like work).

Now I'm coming to appreciate all that Mal did for me, and the extent of my executive function issues - something I haven't had to face as directly for almost 14 years. Somehow I'll make it, though right now, it feels more like "crash and burn"...

Finding the right person to talk to can be difficult. Counsellors do a wonderful job, but Aspergers and the associative memory that goes with it makes it difficult to apply what gets discovered in one context (the therapy session) to another context (real life), so I share memories with friends instead and try to remember the good times.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Setting sail in the winds of change

Just having a bit of a downer today, as the challenges ahead loom ever closer. What will the future hold? How will I manage on my own, with the realities of running a home?

As often happens, these dark days are also a time of reflection. I've come a long way since that day when the specialist told me "You definitely have Aspergers", and then to have no one offer any solutions. Likewise, 10 years ago, I was the only gay aspie on the Internet. Now there's dozens of us, and we interact daily over IM and email. What's more, I even know a few in my local area!

From the start, I knew that Mal's death would be the biggest life changing event so far, but I had no idea how that change would affect me. Maybe in my next round of struggles, I'll look to sharing what I learn with both other autistics and those who are trying to understand us. Somewhere in there must lie some answers that can be used to help someone after me. Again, I feel like an explorer in an uncharted ocean.

Who knows what the future brings. Whatever it brings, life is too short to waste opportunities to improve the world. Whatever it is I have to do, I'll give it my best shot...

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Thank you Melbourne!

Well, I have to say a big thank you to the people I know across Melbourne. While no city is perfect, the people I've come to know from all walks of life have been fantastic. What brought that home to me was the effort that people like John and Jenny (husband and wife) from one of the orienteering clubs I belong to, to help and support me in whatever way they could. Not only did they visit Mal in hospital, send flowers and attend the funeral, but they went the extra step of ensuring that I got some of the left over food from tonight's breakup dinner for the street orienteering season. That kind gesture moved me to tears.

Similarly, the families on both sides - even those more distant that I never really got to know didn't bat an eyelid and came up and expressed their sympathy. Another surprise was my parents, who now live near Tocumwal made the long trip to Melbourne for the funeral. We hadn't been really close, and I never really spelled out the details of our relationship, but they made the effort.

While the politicians debate the validity of our relationships, more and more lay people are quietly discovering the GLBT men and women in their lives and are quietly accepting us as part of their community and circle of friends. I've seen that happen increasingly over the years. This is the side of Melbourne that makes me want to stay and makes me proud of our city.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Farewell Mal

Mal finally lost his battle with melanoma. I was priviliged to be there to see him off to the next Universe, it was quite a powerful time. His influence in my life has been considerable, and I'm sure he's still out there somewhere keeping an eye out for me.

At least he's no longer in pain and is in a much better place now.

As for me, life will go on. It is strange knowing I have no one to go home to, and all those little things in life that go with it. There will be some sad and lonely times, but in time these wounds will heal. I prefer to celebrate the life of a wonderful man - dare I say it, a guardian angel and a beautiful soul.

I now have a long and difficult journey ahead in a changed world...

Note: The time of this blog entry has been set to the exact time of Mal's death...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Radio blog

For those who don't know, I also have a radio specific blog, which can be accessed at http://www.bloglines.com/blog/vk3jed . The more tech bits will appear over there. :-)

Third time unlucky?

As I hinted in my last post, there are some serious issues on the home front. My partner of nearly 14 years is gravely ill with malignant melanoma, and was admitted to hospital on April 29, just 2 days after I returned from the USA. Unfortunately, there was nothing that they could do except for manage pain and alleviate the worst of the symptoms with radiotherapy, and he was moved to a palliative care hospice on May 28th.

The melanoma started 8 years ago from a spot on his back which he had removed. As a precaution, he was sent to hospital where they removed even more tissue in a day procedure, and all was well for another 3 or so years, until he started getting abdominal pains. These turned out to be a melanoma tumour on the intestine, which was also successfully removed, some 4 1/2 years ago.

Lase November, he began to get chest pains, which were diagnosed as "recovering pneumonia" from a chest X-ray. As he did actually come good over Christmas, we weren't overly concerned, but the pain came back in mid January and rapidly got worse. By February, he was off work, and finally, after a frustrating search, the worst was confirmed in April - inpoerable malignant melanoma, with tumours in multiple sites. I received the information while away in the US (thank goodness for VoIP telephony, which made phoning home cheap).

Well, if it wasn't for the awareness campaigns of the Anti Cancer Council, we may not have had the last 8 years together. Heeding their warnings certainly did give us many good times. However, if you have a mole or spot you're the _slightest_ bit doubtful about, get it checked NOW. And if you have kids, watch their sun exposure. Moderate sun, especially early and later in the day is great for their health, but avoid sunburn and the midday sun in summer.

USA April 2005

April 2005 saw my first overseas journey - to the USA. The trip lasted two weeks, and took in southern California, Las Vegas and central and east Texas. The original purpose for the journey was to attend a ham radio conference in Las Vegas. I built an entire holiday around this, and also got to attend a second meeting the following weekend in Nacogdoches in eastern Texas. The weeks in between were spent catching up with online and radio friends.

I arrived in Los Angeles on April 12 and was met by 2 friends at the airport. The next few days were spent touring around the San Diego area, where I met up with one of the locals who also happens to be autistic. Also got to meet the local naturist folks, as well as visit a resort a couple of hours out of San Diego.

Next came the road trip to Las Vegas. After a delayed start, I experienced my first US style traffic jam on the freeway just east of LA, which made us a bit late for a dinner that was arranged in Vegas. We did make it in time to eat, however. But the "day of disasters" didn't end there. Just as we were about to head off to bed, the toilet in the hotel room became clogged and we had to wait for a plumber to come up and fix it. That provided some time for some good old fashioned heart to heart conversation. The plumber did fix the problem a bit after 2 AM, but by then the conversation had become entrenched, and we ended up talking until about 4:30(!). Somehow I managed to drag myself out of bed at 7AM for a 7:30 breakfast... ;-)

With "Black Friday" behind me (no, it wasn't the 13th, but maybe the IRS and tax deadlines had something to do with it.... ), the conference went well, and I ended up giving two presentations - one planned, and one impromptu on various aspects of ham radio and VoIP technology. I also met many friends with whom I had only spoken to on air or corresponded with via email/IM. Vegas itself was an eye opener, though for someone on the spectrum like me, it's more than a bit overstimulating. Lucky I've long known how to manage sensory overload...

From Vegas, I flew to Austin, Texas to meet up with some more ham radio friends. I had previously met this couple on their Aussie holiday in early 2004, as well as frequent IM, email and ham radio contacts since early 2003. Got to see quite a bit of the scenery around Austin, as well as 2 days operating ham radio from a naturist resort (hmm, so I barely made contact? ;) ), and also took in the beauty of the local wildflowers at the wildflower gardens in Austin.

The next Friday was the day where anything could have gone wrong. It was to be a 4 way meetup at Houston (Bush) Airport with some other hams from the eastern states, then a 2 hour drive to Nacogdoches. While waiting on the tarmac at Austin, the pilot announced a short delay due to a technical hitch, and it looked as though Murphy would have his day - but no, it wasn't to be. Although I arrived 10 minutes late at Houston, everyone else made it on time and the meetup went without a hitch. After a lovely lunch of catfish and crawfish (mmm, must go back over for more!), we hit the road and headed for Nacogdoches.

The weekend in Nacogdoches could be described like a family reunion. Most of us hadn't met in person before, but we have worked very closely on air for well over a year providing emergency communications (yes, these days, I can do a LOT from down here!). The weekend ended up being a productive planning meeting, as well as a time to really get to know each other. As a matter of fact, a couple of the participants had been peeking on Google and found out a bit more about me, which brought us closer together...

On the Sunday, we headed back to Houston, and I flew back to Austin for a final night, before starting the long 30 hour journey home, via El Paso, Los Angeles and Auckland, before arriving back in Melbourne on the morning of the 27th.

All in all, the USA holiday brought out the best in the people I met, and I had a great time, although some serious issues were brewing back home...

New blog

Well, I've finally gotten around to joining the bloggers. Updating web pages is such a pain, and blogging makes it so much easier.

The down side is that a lot of content won't be as structured as it might otherwise have been, so expect posts on a myriad of topics, from autism, to gay issues, ham radio and more!

Stay tuned for more posts, I believe there is RSS on the blog...