Autism and God

I am on the autism spectrum.  I am also a committed Christian.

This makes me a bit of an anomaly.  According to Catherine Chaldwell-Harris at the Boston University Department of Psychology, people with autism spectrum disorder are far more likely than their peers to reject religious belief and identify as atheist or agnostic.  The chair of a national autism organization has gone as far as to say that autistic children will automatically be atheist because they “lack a section for faith in their brains.”

A quick survey of people I know on the spectrum found this statement deeply offensive.  It is frustrating at two levels – it demonstrates a poor understanding of the nature of religious faith and it demonstrates a poor understanding of the nature of autism.

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Sevastopol is Russia’s Faslane

In the last couple of days, Russian troops have moved to occupy Simferapol in the Crimean peninsula.  This may be part of a larger effort to deter the Ukraine from continuing to turn towards Europe for patronage, but a quick glance at the map makes at least part of Russia’s motivation very clear.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed in Sevastopol.  Ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union there has been tension between Russia and the Ukraine over her continued presence, and Russia’s lease was only extended a few years ago.  The fleet has had it’s home there for two hundred and thirty years.  I cannot imagine that Russia would be willing to lose this critical part of her strategic protection.   And if we look at the map, we see that the only main road to Sevastopol passes through Simferopol, the administrative centre of Crimea.  If Simferopol is secured and under Russian control, the Black Fleet is safe.

The British equivalent might be Faslane Naval base, home of her nuclear fleet.  I cannot imagine the UK countenancing any threat to Faslane, although the demands for Scottish independence must surely be giving the Navy’s senior commanders some serious headaches right now.

But back to the Crimea.  Shocking though it is to see Russia so casually violate the sovereignty of a neighbour, I can only hope that her purpose is merely to defend a key military installation, rather than to forcefully shepherd the entire Ukraine back into a closer union with her former overlords.

sevastopol

Cycling is Back

It’s back!  It might be -20 outside, with huge snow piles lining my driveway, but in Australia the sun is beating down an the cycling season has formally begun, with the first stage of the Tour Down Under.  This feels like the first hint that Spring might one day return.

Cycling might be a terribly tainted sport, and it has certainly suffered a ridiculous number of scandals over the past few years.  The Tour de France records no official winner for the years 1999-2005.    And even laying aside the well-know doping habits of Lance Armstrong, many, many other names from that era are also tainted: Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Llandis, Tyler Hamilton, David Millar, Bjarne Riis – the list goes on and on.   I sometimes think that the only good think to come out of that decade was the book The Secret Race,  by Tyler Hamilton, which documents in-depth the length that competitors felt they were forced to go to to remain viable competitors.

And yet, despite all that, I still love the sport.  I love the spectacle of it, I love the many-races-in-one format of the Grand Tours, I love the interpersonal dynamics of the racers, as sprinters and climbers and GC contenders make alliances of convenience and conduct diplomatic negotiations at sixty kilometers an hour; I love the thrill of the twisting descents of the final kilometers of Milan-San Remo, I love the mud-splattered brutality of the Paris-Roubaix, I love watching the peloton snake its way through the Flanders countryside I used to live in, and I love the rare occasions when I get to attend a race in person and feel and hear the hum of derailleurs inches from where I’m sitting.

I can hope that with the introduction of the biological passport, and with new leadership at the UCI, that the sport is slowly becoming a place where athletes can genuinely contend on their own merit, and I can also hope that the UCI adopts the egalitarian spirit of the International Olympic Committee and re-instates a Women’s edition of the Tour de France.

But for now, enjoy some highlights from the first stage of racing of the year.

 

Changing the World Through Stories

JFK once said that the only reason to give a speech was to change the world.

I think this is wise advice.  I’ve been reading a lot recently about the art of speaking and presenting, and the true masters of the subject seem to agree on a couple of points.

Firstly, PowerPoint is evil.  Or at least, can be used as a tool for evil.  Consider the following slide, for example.

 

Afgan-COIN

 

That’s part of a real PowerPoint presentation given by a real military commander trying to explain the goals of the occupying force in Afghanistan.  I don’t understand it.  I’m sure the audience didn’t understand it.  And I’m not at all sure that the guy giving the presentation really understood it.  If you can’t get your key point across in a few sentences, you’re probably not sure what you’re trying to say.

Fortunately, the masters of presenting agree on a second point.  Speaking and presenting is about telling stories.

Consider this example:

stories

This is from a vastly better presentation, Pixar’s 22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling. Go and watch it now.  Seriously.  I’ll wait.

Done?  Good.  The author of that presentation had a clear point he wanted to make, and made it with simplicity, creativity, and a keen eye for design.  All the hallmarks, in fact, of the company that he’s talking about.

If, like JFK, we want to change the world, we’ll need to do better than endless bullet lists and obfuscated flow charts.  We’ll need to learn to tell honest, simple, engaging stories.

 

New Year, New Resolutions

Yes, it’s that time of year again, when magazines and websites are full of articles about New Year’s Resolutions.

Actually, I quite like this tradition.  While I’m only too aware of the low success rate of resolutions, I think the turn of the year is an excellent time to stop, take stock of your life, and plan ahead for the coming months.

I have some specific practices that I find extremely helpful in this exercise that I’ll be sharing on Sunday at Vox Alliance, but in the meantime, I’m interested in hearing from you.  Do you make resolutions? Do you stick to them?  What resolutions do you make?  And what are you looking forward to in 2014?

new-res

Happy New Year!

 

What’s in my files? Heads, tails, cats and more.

As soon as you start working on the Linux command line, you have to start working with files.  Linux follows a very powerful design philosophy expressed as everything is a file. This can take some getting used to, but is incredibly useful once you get it.  Because once you’ve learned how to read and manipulate text files, you can do pretty much anything on your machine.

The first command you need to know is cat. Cat is short for ‘concatenate’, and is used for writing text to and from files. So if I have a file in my current working directory, I can get its contents with cat:

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apt-get: Making your ubuntu machine more better

I pretty much live on the Linux command line.  There’s a number of tools I have in my ‘toolkit’ that I use on a daily basis to automate tasks, manage systems and provide features.

apt-get is one of the most important tools to understand if you’re using an Ubuntu distribution.

apt-get is like the Apple App Store, except it’s been around for much longer and everything it provides is absolutely free. When I’m setting up a new Linux machine I immediately download and install several useful packages.


$ sudo apt-get install ipython
$ sudo apt-get install nmap
$ sudo apt-get install mercurial

and so on.  Very quickly your new Linux machine can be a database server, a graphic design workstation, or a development engine.

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The Navy Yard

As soon as I heard about the shooting at Washington Navy Yard on Monday, one question sprang to mind and refused to leave.

We are shocked, and rightly so, at the news of yet another mass shooting.  And yet, for some reason, most of us aren’t particularly shocked about the location of the shootings.  But I can’t help pondering the location of this act of violence, the Washington Navy Yard.  I’d never heard of this place until Monday, so I took the time to read up a little on the site and its history.

The Yard started out more than two centuries ago as the largest shipbuilding facility in the US navy.  By World War II, it was the largest naval ordnance plant in the world. The weapons designed and built there were used in every war in which the United States fought until the 1960s.

To put it another way, this facility has existed,  for two centuries, to create guns, torpedoes, gunboats, frigates and shells.  In short, all the machinery needed for people to kill other people with production-line efficiency.  To be blunt, this site has been in the business of mass-producing death. This is not a value judgment, just a plain statement of fact. Many thousands of human beings have been shot, blown up, burnt or drowned by the output of this facility.

And yet for some reason this doesn’t elicit a strong emotional reaction, or indeed, any comment at all in the coverage of Monday’s tragedy.

Why is that, I wonder?