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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

More on my project

On Monday I said I was going to work on the labels that go with my posts. I worked on this aggressively but I started to realize something; I was having way too many labels. 

I tried to scale back but it wasn't working. Being a semi-perfectionist meant this labels had to be perfect, but I started having four different labels for almost the same thing and yet they did need different labels. 

Then there were some amazing posts that no label would fit. These are must read posts but no label would fit do what would I do with these? 

I've thought about it and have determined, for now, to remove the labels from my blog. Labels might work if I had 200 posts, but being over a thousand has made it too difficult. Maybe in the future I'll go back, delete all the labels (they're still there, they're just not able to be seen) and start anew with a knowledge that I can't use more than 10 labels. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Social Side of Golf

Despite this, this, and of course this terror on the 10th tee box I truly love the game of golf. I mentioned a line very similar to this back in 2010 or 2011 in that I love golf when in provides an isolation factor for me. In other words I prefer to be alone when I golf which is why I will often play when I'm traveling through small towns. However, I've been thinking over the past six months or so if the realm of a golf course could provide a decent ground to do what I fear.

I think back to October 2003 when I was living in Las Vegas while I was a race car driving instructor and there was a time I played at the Boulder City public golf course and I was paired up with a retired gentleman and I still remember the conversations we had. Somewhere along the way I grew scared of interacting with those I don't know; perhaps it was all the ordeals I had, but I firmly believed golf was a sport best enjoyed alone (a truly Aspergerish way to view the sport.)

Things have changed and so far this year I've targeted tee times that I know I will be paired up with others. Maybe I'll eventually turn this into a full on experiment like my Sunglasses Experiment but for now I've had about six test runs this year and what I've found has actually shocked me.

First, I've got to thank the website for making golf super affordable which has made these outings possible. Anyway, I also have to go back to a chapter in my book, Finding Kansas, called "Game Theory" which I state, not in these exact words as I didn't know how to say it back then, "within rules everything is known" and what had I had feared on the golf course wasn't the fact that other people may see some rather hideous shots from me (I do have my good moments, like my hole in one) but the social aspect of golf. There are so many social rules that I didn't know or understand. The first one I learned at a young age which was, "Don't get on your knees to put the tee into the ground" (thanks, dad for that one!) and secondly, and on the same day as rule #1, "There is beginner's luck" as my first shot on a full course was when my dad we alternating shots and I chipped it in from about 20 yards. This planted the seeds that this was an easy game (HA!)

Joking aside, there are many rules like, not walking in front of a person's putt, or the proper time to talk, or the fact that I've learned that one is always supposed to say, "nice shot" if the person makes proper contact with the ball. Where the ball goes is irrelevant, as long as there is contact and it sounded awesome one is supposed to say, "nice shot." I don't understand this because one should await the end result, but when in Rome...

I've only played one round solo this year and all the others have been with others. To let you know how extreme a turn around this has been for me; I used to fear playing by myself and approaching the next tee box to see someone there because they may invite me to pair up with them. Random social encounters aren't the easiest for myself, and others on the autism spectrum (remember though, if you've met one person with autism you've met one person with autism so perhaps there are those that counter my belief on random social encounters) and I'll do anything I can to avoid them. But let's go back to "Game Theory" and look at what I stated. Within rules everything is known which means that, within the confines of a game, a game is a safer place to socialize and since golf is a game wouldn't this mean that this would a safe place? Was it that all these years the fear of others was simply because I didn't understand the rules of the game (not the rules of golf; however I have tried to read the official rules of golf and there are more rules and more things you can get a two stroke penalty for than you could possibly imagine) meaning the social side?

So far this year I have had zero issues like the three links I started with and, in fact, each time I've golfed I've eventually ended up in presentation mode explaining things about autism. For the first time in all my years golfing an odd event happened over the weekend, and one I'm actually proud of; one thing people always ask when playing with others is, "What do you do?" referring to profession and this is what gets the ball rolling about autism however, this past weekend for the first time, I returned the question! I had the exclamation mark because reciprocity is not something I do and it did take another hole before I realized I should ask it, but I did and I found out that this person was a social studies teacher and wanted all the info he could get on my thoughts of Asperger's in the classroom.

In other rounds someone always knows someone with autism, a grandson, an uncle, or closer family member that there always seems to be some common ground for a conversation to occur. But this topic aside, the realm of the game itself makes for an easier social setting. I've always known this but I don't know why I didn't realize this when it comes to golf. The thing with games is this; there's always a topic to talk about that doesn't have to be personal as there's plenty of stuff to talk about when it comes to golf such as, "Best course you've played?" "Worst course?" as golfers are more than willing to open up about such topics. The one thing I struggle with in the open world is finidng common ground, but if I'm enjoying the same game as someone else this creates common ground and sort of lowers that wall which is the name of this blog. If the wall is lowered I'll feel more comfortable and I may just open up. And the odd thing is, so often, a autism presentation will be given in the oddest of locations such as a tee box, a green, or the beach... ahem, a sand trap. I can't believe it took so long, but instead of fearing others of the golf course now I'm actually wanting that interaction. For my long time readers can you believe what you just read because I can't believe I just wrote it?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Project this week

This really isn't a post, exactly, but I do have it in mind that I want to update the labels on my blog. 

These are the words you'll find on the right column a bit if the way down. These work great, but I don't think I've used them since post #400 and in over 1,000 now so it'll take some work, and I may have to read what I write, but I think I might just be up for the challenge. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Best Game(s) Ever

Today is a big day for my memories as today marks the ten-year anniversary of the release of what is, in my opinion, the greatest game ever made. First, I believe that the greatest game is certainly in the eye of the beholder, is it not? For some people Super Mario Brothers will always be on top for being so revolutionary, or perhaps for some it’ll be Tetris, or for others it might be something more modern. For myself, however, I’m not basing my judgment on graphics, revolutionary gameplay, or even being the most realistic but instead these two things. The first is, of every game I’ve played, which game would I want to go back and relive? And second, and this is probably going to be exclusive to myself, what game helped me be the person I became today?

Ten years ago today a game by the name of Toca Race Driver 2 came out. It was released by a developer by the name of Codemasters which is out of England and I had been a big fan of their games going all the way back to Micro Machines on the NES. On the Playstation they released Toca Touring Cars which was a recreation of the 1997 British Touring Car Series (which I was obsessed with for several years) and the sequels to that game kept growing in scope.

Toca Race Driver 2 was Xbox Live enabled meaning it could be raced online. I had just been online for just a month or so and had been playing Project Gotham Racing 2 for pretty much the entire time (I’m sure some of you that read this will argue that PGR2 is a candidate for best game) but the thing with that game [PGR2] was that rankings were purely based on time trial and “kudos” which were earned by sliding so in terms of racing other people, well, it wasn’t a priority. That being so I never really conversed with anyone. My dad, who would often watch me race, would tell me, “Aaron, you’ve been racing with those guys for a few days now, you should say hello!” to which I would come up with something like, “But dad, that’s against the rules. I don’t know them, they don’t know me. And who knows who they could be!”

Toca had a different ranking system as it used the same system that chess players use, that being the Elo system which meant that racing now meant something. Yes, there were lap records (Rob, who I’ve mentioned many times on here, had many world records) but now racing others had a thrill that PGR2 didn’t have.

Quickly I climbed the leaderboards but I was also multi-disciplined. Unlike other games Toca had an array of racing disciplines. If you wanted rallycross you could do it, wanted the DTM series? They had it. The Aussie V8 Supercar series? Yup. Racing big rigs? They had that too. Open wheel? I could go on, but it was hard to get bored with the amount of series that they had.

As I climbed people started trying to talk with me and I still wouldn’t respond. About a week later I had finally had enough as people speculated who I might be so for the first time I unmuted my mic and started to talk and instead of it being this scary world I found a bunch of people who liked racing just as much as I did and I began running with the same people over and over and establishing what seemed to be “friends.”


A few weeks after release I stumbled upon a glitch that allowed any car to run on any track. Prior to that cars were limited to their respective actual series tracks meaning that you couldn’t run a DTM series race at the Texas Motor Speedway oval. The evening I discovered this my room I was running was full for almost 14 hours and I finally went to sleep at 9AM. That night was one of the most memorable nights I have ever had gaming.

The game’s popularity waned over the course of the year so to bring back some of the better drivers I devised an “All Series Championship” and came up with a schedule, point system, and I even wrote write-ups on the day’s racing activities which might have been my true first bit of writing without being forced (and these write ups were highly looked forward to.) From running this series, and talking to others, I slowly learned the art of the conversation. Having Asperger’s I’ve always struggled with timing and in a physical conversation the appearance of a person would also lead to an overwhelming sensation, but since I was with people that had the same interest, and there was no physical presence, I could focus just on the words and it got to the point that I was conversing without thought.

Almost two years later Toca Race Driver 3 was released. This game was far beyond Toca 2 but the timing was wrong as the Xbox 360 had been released just three months prior. Because of this a lot of racers stuck with the next gen racer of PGR3 but there were many of us that, despite owning the newer system, played the older system more. And it was worth it as now there were more official series as Indycar was represented along with lower feeder open wheel series, including go karts, and there were even riding lawn mower races! Codemasters revised the Elo system with now, instead of one master score, there was a score for each discipline. This increased participation in everything as on Toca 2 good drivers that specialized in the V8 series might not race, say, the ice racing.

The game was patched a month or so later and the most unfortunate of events happened; some of those online at the time had their score reset to -1 and there was nothing that could be done to get out of that. I was highly competitive and focused on becoming #1 in the world, but now that was impossible. We who were struck with this got compensated with a copy of Dirt for the Xbox 360 and having our name in a future Codemasters game (I was going to be Grid, but the series my name was in got cut so to this day my name hasn’t been in a title. Hey Codemasters… hint, hint) so that was nice as not many companies would do such a thing.

Again, popularity began to wane and I did an All Series Championship which took much, much longer. On Toca 2 we did four seasons of this, but because of the ambitious size of Toca 3 it took over a year! But what a year it was! Once again I conversed greatly on the weekends and would do write-ups that were rather good (other racer’s words, not mine) and that’s why, for me, these two games are the best ever made.

It’s weird to credit a game for something other than just entertainment, but these two games gave me two incredible skills. The first is presenting. Yes, I know, it wasn’t a presentation in the way I know now, but when I explained the rules of the series I ran I had to say it with confidence, and also talking so much allowed me to speak without thought which to present you’ve got to have that skill. Secondly, writing about the races ran in the championship was very much like a blog of sorts and I actually looked forward to writing the reports which I had never looked forward to writing anything in my life.
Times have changed and games have changed. The present Codemasters games have gone away from the soul of the Toca series and while critically acclaimed they just weren’t to the simulation that myself, and others who played the Toca series wanted. Also, overall on console games, there’s this disappearance of leaderboards. Gone are the boards for racing and games now have the PGR2 mentality of lap times or nothing and this is what has drawn me to iRacing so much. However, as I said, my criteria for the best game ever is what I would want to go back and play and let me tell you, I’d give anything to race the Formula Ford around Vallelunga, or the American 1000 around the Pikes Peak oval, or the V8 at Surfers Paradise and have an hour’s worth of writing race reports and updating points. Yes, I’d give anything to experience this just one more time.

Friday, April 11, 2014

When It Gets Personal

In my full presentation I state during my "Alias" segment, "You may think this is very personal for me; this giving a presentation essentially telling you everything about me but actually this is the most impersonal thing I do because I am simply playing a role." This line is certainly true as when I'm presenting it's a one-way street with my ability to say personal things and yet have it totally be impersonal. There are moments, however, that it does reach the personal level and when it does, well, I blog about it.

The situation that started this all off was Wednesday's post regarding a 4th grader thanking me for letting him know what Asperger's was because he had it and was unsure of what it meant. I understand this is a big deal for a person because I would never have thanked any speaker when I was in 4th grade. Well, I might have but not in front of anyone else and yet that's exactly what this student did and when he did my walls of my "Alias" came crumbing down. This no longer was a job, career, or presentation as what I had just done was reached someone to a level that is almost impossible to reach.

Here's the thing; I do what I do because it needs to be done. It's not just a job or career, but a passion that is fueled by a fire in my soul and yet I do everything I can to distance myself from the emotional aspect of what I do and when emotions are felt I feel oddly sad. Sad? Yes, the reason as to why there was no blog post yesterday was I had no idea what to say or how to say it. I still don't, really, but I'm trying my best but it doesn't seem to be good enough.

Good enough... Perhaps that's the problem. For that moment when that 4th grader became brave (and empowered) to proudly proclaim to all that he too had Asperger's my job, career, and passion ceased and I, Aaron Likens, made a change in a person's world. The thought of this is almost too much for me to process and I don't write this to toot my own horn but rather to describe to you how achieving the ultimate goal of my job can create this oddly awful feeling within me.

Oddly awful... that's an odd way to put it but I know no better way. There's a void within me but, as I think about it, I don't think it is that event within itself that is the driving force of these feelings. Instead, I believe the root cause is the knowledge that this one student is not alone in his struggles. There's others out there and this oddly awful feeling, I'm sure of now, is a sense of being overwhelmed with how much work there is to be done.

The work to be done is great and I see it as a race. Each day, I feel, is a chance lost as in my mind I repeat this saying, "time lost is growth lost." These words reverberate within my brain at least a dozen times an hour and when it gets personal for me I don't just see this as a job or career but instead I see it as a race that can't be lost. From these thoughts my minds just goes around in circles wondering what more I can do to, perhaps, repeat a moment like the one in that school.

Before I was doing this (blogging and speaking) I always knew that I'd have problems if I worked in a job that required any form of caring because, when I do care, I often care too much. I try to suppress my emotions by playing the role of "Autism Ambassador" and "Author guy" but when a fantastically singular moment happens there is no alias large enough to deflect the thoughts and emotions.

When I hear misguided people say, "All people on the autism spectrum have no emotions or can't care" I have a hard time holding off laughter because I know it couldn't be farther from the truth. I do, though, try to stave off these emotions but when they are triggered it is like a gigantic dam bursting and I feel and think of too many things at once. This is where I am now. Right now I am trying to think of ways to better the situation, how to do more, to speak to more people, to achieve higher visibility for the autism spectrum, and all in all I'm overwhelmed because there's someone out there that needs to hear a message of hope beyond all other words. That person is out there, I know it, and I'd give anything to reach that person because this is more than a job, a career, or a burning passion. Yes, it's much more than that because, try as I might to deny it, this job/career/passion is personal.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Essence of Hope

I presented at an elementary school today and it never ceases to amaze me the amazing and profound questions that are asked. There was one comment though that sums up my mission and today's blog post is short, but this sums everything up. This student, in 4th grade, said, "I just want to thank you for doing this today. I have Asperger's and really haven't been told what it means for me but hearing you has opened my eyes and given me hope. Thank you."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Glimpse of Normality

I've said for the longest time that racing has been the driving force to get me to where I am today. If you've followed my blog from the beginning you'll know I've had a countless number of blogs from my travels across the country working events for USAC and SKUSA. Some of these stories sometimes pop up in presentations, but while I mention them as "stories" they are much more than that as I experienced on Saturday evening.

I take deep pride in my work in the flag stand and there aren't many things in life that operate as fast as my mind usually operates but working the USAC .25 series offers me a chance to truly work at full speed. It's awesome and I wish you could get a sense of just how amazingly difficult and intense it is to work just one race in a day much less the normal 30+ to sometimes even 50 in a day. I put my heart and soul into it and at the end of a day I am emotionally, and often times physically, drained. Which all this leads to moments of normality afterwards.

From where I was when I began with USAC in 2010 to where I am now is almost so great that to make any sort of comparison would be futile. However, I still feel a general social divide in life and often wonder what life is like on that other side of the proverbial wall, but Saturday night when the racing was over I got a glimpse.

When I began flagging these national events I'd rarely go out to eat with a large group. Or a small group for that matter as I preferred to be alone. Times have changed, as well as my ability to handle these situations, and when the race day was over we went to an Applebees where it just happened to be karaoke night. Let me stop your line of thinking right there and say that no, I did not get up in front of a crowd and sing.

Our seats were right by the bar area and from where I was seated I could see right to where whomever wanted to show their singing skills (or lack thereof) would be singing. I had never witnessed a karaoke night but it was an oddly unique, and normal experience for myself. I often have a hard time partaking in the concept of a "shared experience" but when some of these "singers" came up all were on equal footing doing everything they could not to laugh. (Is it rude to laugh?) Despite some of the cringe-worthy performances each singer always got a round of applause for all in the bar area and there was one singer who quickly became a crowd favorite as he'd often rip out a harmonica during his songs.

I don't remember what blog post it was, I think it was somewhere in 2010, that I said I often wondered what normal (whatever normal is) people do on a weekend evening and sitting there, at that Applebees in Phoenix, I think I was getting a glimpse. At our table we were somewhat engrossed in our own little world talking about racing which made the environment safe (I would not have been in there otherwise with the loud music... it was on the brink of my threshold) and yet at the same time I was witnessing this apparently normal weekend event playing out in front of me. It didn't matter if a person was 20, or 70, dressed like a biker or a cowboy, or could sing like a platinum singing artist or were completely tone-deaf as each singer could a rowdy round of applause after each song. The bar area in front of me was like a world upon itself where it was like all were one in that they were going to have a great time and nothing was going to stop them.

While I did get that glimpse of what I perceived to be normality I'm sure that's the closest I'll ever get to that type of environment. I'd never feel comfortable in such a place and I was perfectly content being just outside the realm of this karaoke zone, but there was something oddly fascinating watching people be free. I don't know, perhaps that entire room had too much to drink, but those that were singing, from what I was observing, were not drinking. These were people that were out to have a good time and a good time is exactly what they were having. As I watched I did envy the ability to simply let go because I don't have that. I can be joking, but I'm mainly focused and overly deep in thought. I can't simply let go and here's the thing; I don't think I'd want to. Despite my envy of what was playing out in front of me I am perfectly happy being a bystander to such an event because I am who I am and I'm happy with that. Sure, I might be missing out on the "fun" I was seeing, but my brain works differently. My fun comes it keeping track of 12 race cars doing six second laps. My fun comes in planning my blog, or thinking of new examples to use in presentations. I did get a glimpse of what appeared to be normality, but I'm happy with my state of normal as well. I might, from time to time, envy the normality I witness around me but I am much more content now than I used to be in who I am and the environments that make me feel normal and happy.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Case of The Not-So-Perfect Stopwatch

In my duties with USAC as the chief starter I keep track of practice times meaning that I start the session and if it's a two minute session I keep track of that time. I used to have a great stopwatch and used it for a long time, but when this video was made, which you can clearly see the stopwatch at the 1:22 mark, I used it to tie some paperwork to the flagstand and, sadly, I left the stopwatch there.

I had to buy a new one which worked great for, let me think back, um, two events. After that the start/stop button wasn't 100% accurate. I'd have to press the button with different degrees of pressure or rapidly click it to sometimes make it work. I grew accustomed to this and most of the time it would only take a second or two to make it start timing and eventually I didn't find this to be that big of an obstacle at all despite how frustrating it could be at times.

After my first event this season I finally had given up on this stopwatch and when I was headed to the track in Phoenix on Friday I asked if we could make a stop to get a new one. When I took it out of the package and hit the button and it worked the first time it was a bizarre feeling. And, when practice started that night, it was even odder.

Why was it odd and how does this relate at all to the autism spectrum? I think back to certain eras of my life and this is a perfect metaphor. I had become so used to having a massive struggle to do what should have been an easy task, such as starting a timer, and accepted that it would be a near impossible task. So, when I had a stopwatch that actually worked, it actually became more difficult as I kept over thinking the process of keeping time. I had gone a season and a half with a not so perfect stopwatch and now I had something that worked.

I had become so set in my ways of having something that wouldn't work that I simply accepted it. At any point in time I could have bought a new one but I accepted the struggle and thought nothing of it which I wish you could have seen some of the struggles I had with the old stopwatch because sometimes I'd have a frantic battle trying to start, stop, or reset the time.

By the end of race day I still was not acclimated to a stopwatch that worked. As I mentioned, this makes a great metaphor because I've had the same sensation when it comes to all things regarding anything social. I am so sure a social situation is going to be difficult or a disaster than when things aren't they prove to be more difficult because I am accustomed to things being challenging. Call this the fail-set mindset, in a way, if you want but whatever it is I know my explanation of this incident of the not so perfect stopwatch can't give justice to the odd feeling of enduring a faulty stopwatch for two seasons and now having something that works that doesn't require the right touch, or right luck, to make it works.