Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thirsty for MythBusters?

I've not had much experience with drinking games, what with being a Mormon, and therefore a teetotaler. Still, a similar sort of fun can be had with non-alcoholic beverages, with the goal changing from (not) getting smashed to trying to see who can avoid having to go to the bathroom the longest. So in anticipation of the new episodes of MythBusters coming out on October 6, I present my lovingly-crafted MythBusters drinking game. There are a few others out there; I shamelessly stole the best ideas from them and added my own. By default, each event requires one (1) sip when it occurs; those that are worth more are noted as such.

Any Cast Member

  • Gets hurt (+2 if it's not Adam or Tory, or if it isn't their own fault)
  • Gets drunk (+1 if it's Grant or Kari, +2 if it's Jamie and you can actually tell)
  • Throws up (+2 if it's not Adam or Grant)
  • Gets censored for cursing (+2 if it's Grant or Kari)
  • Fails a driving test or otherwise performs poorly behind the wheel (+1 if they aren't impaired in some way at the time)
  • Uses a calculator (+2 if it's Kari)
  • Says something like “Well, you know we can't just leave it at that...”
  • Unnecessarily abuses a dummy (+1 if it's a cast of Grant's head)
  • Cites online criticisms of earlier experiments
  • Adds unnecessary decorations to a prop (+2 if it's Jamie)
  • Likeness appears in an animation (+1 if said likeness gets injured or killed)
  • (2) Tells the audience not to try this at home (other than the standard warnings at the start and middle)
  • (2) Is prevented against his or her will from participating in a test due to insurance concerns

Jamie Hyneman

  • Says, “When in doubt,...” (e.g. “C-4,” “lubricate”)
  • Calls Adam a big baby or makes a similar remark about his complaints
  • Talks very seriously to others about safety
  • Gets upset about a mess or damage to his shop or equipment
  • (2) Berates someone for screwing up an experiment
  • (2) Brings out the lard
  • (2) Removes his beret
  • (2) Giggles
  • (3) Gets truly excited
  • (3) Permits someone to touch his mustache or beret
  • (3) Gets his white shirt dirty, or removes it to prevent this
  • (3) Loses a “build-off”

Adam Savage

  • Juggles or performs magic
  • Displays his filthy hands
  • Calls Jamie by something other than his actual name (e.g. “Heiney-man,” “Silent Walrus”)
  • References Jamie's age, past occupations or extraterrestrial origin
  • Mimics Jamie's mustache with his hands or another object
  • Rides a Segway
  • Says “Science!” enthusiastically
  • Wears a self-referential T-shirt
  • Speaks with an accent (+1 for the David Attenborough one talking about “The Hyneman”)
  • (3) Singes his hair

Kari Byron

  • Employs her artistic skills
  • Screams when startled
  • Incorrectly predicts the outcome of a test
  • (2) Is repulsed by meat
  • (3) Has a baby

Grant Imahara

  • Builds or suggests building a “robot”
  • Brings out Deadblow
  • (2) Commits a mathematical error
  • (3) Becomes frustrated or upset

Tory Belleci

  • Someone refers to his Italian heritage
  • Gets volunteered for something painful or potentially dangerous (+1 if called a “dummy”)
  • (3) Wears women's clothing
  • (3) Speaks in a nerd-lisp accent


  • Something explodes, launches, crashes, shoots or incinerates (+2 if it was unintentional, unnecessary, or made out of meat)
  • Buster gets busted, burned, dropped, hurled or in some other way abused
  • The fire department or paramedics are on hand, “just in case”
  • A previously-built rig is reused
  • A radio-controlled vehicle fails to stop when it should (+2 if someone is inside when it happens)
  • The high-speed camera is used in situations where it wouldn't yield any data which would be useful for testing the myth, but because the footage is fun to watch (e.g. Adam getting slapped)
  • Testing is shown taking place at a gun or bomb range, decommissioned military facility, or NASA laboratory
  • The “WARNING: Science Content!” plate appears
  • (2) A “human analog” (a.k.a. pig carcass) is brought in
  • (2) The Build Team has a myth which is significantly cooler than Adam and Jamie's
  • (2) Real human body parts or fluids are used in an experiment
  • (2) A small-scale experiment fails, but they go full-scale anyway
  • (3) A revisit overturns the original findings for a myth
  • (3) Someone's entire body is coated with a substance (e.g. metallic paint)
  • (3) Essential steps or ingredients for a test are censored
  • (3) No definitive conclusion is reached for a myth
  • (3) A myth result is bafflingly counterintuitive (e.g. mouse vs. elephant)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Secrets of Success: Going Viral

Those of you who have read my previous post about the presentation I gave about my daughter, you might be interested to know that the article has been featured on the official Facebook page of Autism Speaks. I'm noticing a rather significant uptick in the traffic on my blog. Wow, never expected that!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Benjamin Franklin's Thirteen Virtues

In my last post, I talked about the presentation I gave at work about the secrets of success. Yesterday, a co-worker gave his presentation, and part of it talked about Benjamin Franklin's “Thirteen Virtues.”

Franklin developed this list of virtues when he was 20 years old with the goal of self-improvement. He kept a little notebook wherein he would keep track of when he failed in each virtue. Each week, he would focus on one particular virtue to work on. While by his own admission he fell short many times, he felt that his efforts made him a better man, and it seemed to have worked. His death provided just one indicator of how his life was lead: approximately 20,000 people attended his funeral.

Around the same time that he developed his list of virtues, he wrote what at the time he hoped would be his epitaph. Ultimately, in his will, he specified that the stone should simply bear his name and that of his wife, but I found the discarded epitaph interesting:

The Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and Amended By the Author.

As evidenced by his life, he didn't wait for death for his new edition; he revised regularly. So I've been thinking a lot about his virtues and what they mean to my life. In fact, I'm thinking of writing a post about each. Below is Franklin's list of virtues, as presented in his autobiography:

  1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Secrets of Success

This week I gave a presentation at work. It was part of a series called Secrets of Success, in which each employee in the company gets a turn to give a presentation on what they have personally learned about success. I was quite nervous about mine, as it was very personal, but I was pleased that it was well-received.

I had a hard time deciding what I would say for a while. I didn't know what I could say that would be different from what others had already presented. So I started thinking about other people I knew who were successful, and what I've learned from them that I could share. Suddenly, one particular person popped into my mind, and that choice laid out everything I would say, including a rather unconventional opening.

What follows is a text version of the presentation.

UPDATE: On June 9, 2010, this article was featured on the official Facebook page for Autism Speaks. I am truly humbled and appreciative of the many positive comments I have received, both on this blog and on Facebook. However, there has also been a little bit of misunderstanding about the intent of the piece. It is not intended to tell you how to “fix” your autistic child. It is simply about what I have learned about success as I have gone through (and continue to go through) this experience with my daughter. Thanks again, and to those who have autism or love someone who does, “Never give up, never surrender!”

Secrets of Success

by Robert J. Walker (with apologies to Theodor Geisel)

What is success? Can anyone say?
Is it something you put on your résumé?
Is it big money? Is it great fame?
Is it a building adorned with your name?
We're always chasing success in this biz,
But how do we know what success really is?
There are lots of people who have lots to say,
And it's hard to know whose idea to obey.
So I said to myself, “Self, who can you ask?
Whose success is most up-to-the-task?”
Then finally it hit me. I knew who to call,
The person who'd be my guide through it all,
My guru, my teacher, my insightful sage!
I never thought she'd be four years of age!

My daughter

My daughter is the most successful person I know, even though by typical standards she has accomplished far less in her life than most children her age. In order to understand why, you need to know a little more about her.

She has autism.

Autism is a neural development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted, repetitive and obsessive behavior. It affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize. Autism belongs to a wider group of conditions called autism spectrum disorders (or ASDs), which include similar afflictions such as Asperger syndrome. ASDs affect about 1 in 110 people.

Autists frequently have overstimulated senses. A standard fluorescent light can seem like a strobe. A digital watch alarm might sound like a fire truck. A lightly-scented deodorant could smell like someone bathed in perfume. A mild seasoning may taste as strong as garlic or curry. A sweater might feel like bugs crawling on your skin.

Since many autistic children are non-verbal, they can't tell you about what's bothering them or express their needs. Because of this, they tend to behave in ways that are considered inappropriate much more frequently than their peers: screaming, throwing temper tantrums, biting, gouging, scratching, banging their heads and throwing themselves around. Many don't respond to their own names.

Some have low IQs. Others are highly intelligent, yet this intelligence can go unnoticed when they lack an effective way of communicating. Many will rarely smile, laugh, or even make eye contact; and many have few or no friends. Only 4% of autists are eventually able to maintain employment, live independently and have a meaningful relationship.

There is no known cure.

My daughter initially seemed like most other autistic children. When she wasn't screaming incoherently, she was quiet and withdrawn. She wouldn't respond to her name or look you in the eye, and she rarely smiled. You could tell that there were thoughts and feelings locked up in that little mind of hers, but she couldn't share them. She was a lonely island of human consciousness, and that made her frustrated and unhappy.

Now, despite all the challenges of autism, she is beating the odds. While her verbal ability is still significantly behind that of her peers, she is able to communicate many of her needs, wants and feelings. She smiles. She laughs. She makes eye contact and usually responds to her name. She knows her letters, counts to twenty and is even starting to learn to read and make friends. She still has a long way to go, but given the bleak outlook for most autistic children, her teachers are astounded at how well she is progressing.

I'm going to share with you the attributes and behaviors that she demonstrates that have contributed to her advancement, along with some secrets of success that we as her parents have learned along the way. I'm still working on these things, but I've found that the better I follow them, the more successful I become.

Don't you dare give up!

Despair is the true enemy of success. Many parents, when they learn their child has autism, give up on their dreams for that child's future. The child picks up on this, and they give up too. They become two years old forever, firmly entrenched among that 96% who never overcome it. The 4% that make it get there partly because their parents didn't give up on them, and they didn't give up on themselves. When there's nothing to gain by giving up and everything to gain by continuing to strive, for heaven's sake, keep striving!

Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.

—Bruce Lee

Have the right perspective!

Nothing changes your perspective on life quite like having a child with a disability. I used to envy the parent who complained about how their kid just won't shut up. For a long time, we begged ours to say anything. So many seemed to take for granted all the simple things that their kids do that we would call little miracles in our daughter.

The right perspective helps you see what's really important and what's not. Perspective is vital to success, because how successful can we really say we are if we focus on all the wrong things? So sit back and take inventory of your work and your life, and ask yourself: What really matters? Why are you doing what you are doing?

Even if your priorities are straight, the right perspective will make your work and life better by giving you an appreciation of what you have. It is something that will buoy you up when things get tough.

Make it work!

Most kids with autism are very literal thinkers. They don't engage in pretend play and they often have trouble innovating or working around the problems they face.

One day, my wife saw my daughter pointing at the top of the refrigerator. Since she often likes people to name the things she points at, my wife looked up there and saw the kitchen timer, so she said “Clock.” She thought for a moment, then gave the word “red” in sign language. That's when my wife realized that she wanted some Doritos, which were in a bright red bag sitting on top of the refrigerator. Typical autistic children don't do this; when an attempt to communicate fails (if they try at all), they just melt down.

This is a simple example, but it has a really important lesson. When things don't work out the way we want, we sometimes “melt down.” We throw up our hands and start complaining instead of doing the productive thing, which is shutting up and figuring out how to make it work. Our minds are fascinating machines, with abilities that are still unmatched by technology. Put that mental horsepower to work on a solution instead of grousing about the problem!

Hunger for knowledge!

For some time, my daughter would frequently sit quietly in a corner with a toy (not so much playing with it as just holding it), seemingly oblivious to the world around her. Part of what helped break her out of this was our discovering her fascination with animals—not stuffed ones or animated ones; real ones. We took her to a park one day, and she saw someone walking their dog. Completely out of character for her, she ran up and wanted to pet the dog. She was completely entranced by the animal.

We took her to the zoo and she went bonkers over it. We took her to the aquarium and she went bonkers over that. We got her books with photographs of animals instead of drawings, and suddenly she was interested in books. This marked a turning point for her: she didn't sit passively anymore; she wanted to engage with the world and learn about it.

Our education shouldn't be restricted to our formal schooling. We should hunger after knowledge and be open to opportunities to learn and improve. Any day where you don't strive to learn is a day of wasted potential. Find an area where you want to improve, and get going!

Find a mentor!

My daughter would not have been able to make the progress that she has without our help, and we would not have known how to help her if we hadn't looked to others to guide us. Once you know how you want to improve, you can benefit from the guidance of another who is more experienced.

How do you choose a mentor? Think of the people you know who have the knowledge and experience that you're seeking. Accepting instruction and correction from someone else takes a bit of humility, so your mentor should be someone you trust and respect. Your mentor needs to be someone who cares about your advancement, someone who wants to see you succeed. Both you and your mentor must be willing to devote the time and effort that will be required for the mentoring process.

Once you've found someone who could be your mentor, ask! You might be nervous, but if they decline you're no worse off than you were before, and most people are flattered that someone wants to learn from their experience.

Success is not what you achieve. It is what you overcome.

It could be said that my daughter has not achieved much thus far in her four years of life. Most people can't understand what she says, she's still in diapers, and she still has a fair number of behavioral problems. But what she has overcome is more than many adults ever have.

Most of us aren't forced to face those kinds of challenges. We spend large parts of our lives without having to struggle against anything nearly so difficult. But if success is measured by what we overcome, that life of comparative ease may very well stand in our way of our success. Overcoming challenge causes us to grow in ways that just aren't possible when everything's easy. You can't coast towards excellence, you have to get out and push.

So if challenge isn't coming to you, you have to go seek it out. You'll sometimes have to do difficult things when you don't have to, things that are hard enough that failure is a real possibility. You'll work, you'll strain, you may even fall down and cry more than once, but you'll rise stronger, wiser and better than you were before.

My four-year-old daughter has shown me the way.
Success isn't something on your résumé.
It isn't big money. It isn't great fame.
It isn't a building adorned with your name.
Success isn't anything that you have done.
It's not what you achieve. It's what you overcome.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Facebook or Not to Facebook

So it seems like more and more people are on Facebook these days. (And migrating away from MySpace, thank goodness.) In the past, I'd never really felt the need or desire to have a Facebook account. I mean, I already have this blog, in which I talk about what's going on in my life (when I remember to write in it), and I in turn, follow the blogs of my friends and family.

Except... a lot of them seem to be migrating to Facebook as well. My wife is on Facebook, and some of her friends there are people she met through me. Recently, she showed me some of the people that they're connected to, and I found several family members and a lot of old friends from high school.

And on top of that, my mother is now on Facebook. When I learned that, my brain needed a few seconds to overcome the cognitive dissonance. Mom's on Facebook, and I'm not. I work in the computer industry, and my mother is more wired, more down with the social media thang, than me. You turn your back for one minute, and the world goes upside-down on you.

So that's the question before me: should I break down and get a Facebook account? I don't know. Maybe those of you who have one can give me your opinion. Here are the pros and cons, as I see it:

PRO: Facebook would let me restrict what I write to just family and friends.

Everything I write here is out in the open. I'd prefer the discussion with family and friends be a bit more closed. Facebook would keep my updates within my circle of friends and family, and easily brings their updates to me.

PRO: Facebook would help me reconnect with old friends.

I'd love to find out what those pals of mine are up to these days. It's apparent from one glance at my wife's profile that Facebook would definitely help with that. And unlike a blog, I could initiate what would become a two-way connection, instead of me just blasting updates out into the ether and wondering whether it would ever cross the eyes of some of those old friends.

CON: Facebook seems oriented towards “stream-of-conciousness” posting.

From what I understand, there isn't a blog feature. Instead, there's the wall, which seems to be a stream-of-consciousness affair, kind of like Twitter, except that your friends posts and reactions are interwoven into the flow. The thing is, I don't think that I'm fascinating enough for anyone to be interested in my consciousness stream. I feel like I need to put some thought into it before I could expect anyone to bother reading it. That usually translates into less frequent posting, but when I do post, it tends to be at least a couple of paragraphs and about something other than what I ate for lunch. But do people want a multiple-paragraph entry on their wall, amongst all the one-liners?

CON: What about the other topics?

Facebook's ability to restrict the audience works against me when I want to talk about something more that just updates. This blog is pulling double-duty: not only to I give family updates here, but I also write about other things. And unlike the updates, I want people I don't know to come and read those posts. Sometimes I will write something and someone just shows up out of the ether and posts a reply, which is gratifying. I want some of my writing to be public, and some to be restricted to my friends. Facebook doesn't seem to make this very easy. And is Facebook really the kind of place for that more public writing, anyway? Would it be worth the trouble to keep a blog separate from Facebook just for that kind of thing?

PRO and CON: Applications

The applications seem like a powerful way to extend Facebook, and things like photo-sharing are nice. However, it seems like most of them are pretty frivolous, and worse, they insist on spamming your friends about your activity in them. I'm not particularly interested in keeping up with how much time anyone is wasting feeding nonexistent pets or throwing nonexistent snowballs. I know that you can block an application, but I'd personally prefer that all applications be blocked by default, and then have the opportunity to unblock ones that I actually find useful.

CON: Loss of control

It seems that you don't have total control over what appears on your page: your contacts show up and scribble all over it, with their profile photo next to it. This is fine when you're reasonably certain that all your contacts will behave in a gentlemanly or ladylike fashion. But sometimes there's someone out there with whom you'd like to keep in touch, but they don't exactly show much discretion in what they post. I know at least one person where this would be the case. It's bad enough to deal with that yourself, much less exposing my family and friends to it whenever they view my wall. I don't know, maybe I'd just have resort to holding my Facebook friendship with them hostage until they clean up their act. That brings me to the final point...

CON: The perceived offense of not “friending”

So say I decide, for whatever reason, that I don't want to accept a “friend” request from someone. If the request is from a stranger, no big deal; I couldn't care less what they think. But if it's from someone that I know, turning down the request can have undesirable consequences. They may want an explanation. The reasons could range from “You seem nice, but I don't know you well enough to say that you're a friend,” to “Sure, you're a relative/friend, but you don't exercise proper discretion with your online behavior and I don't want to expose my friends to that,” all the way to “I'm actually trying to reduce contact with you, thanks.” I could deal with this, certainly, but it's not been something that I had to be concerned with up until now.

So what do you think? Should I make the leap?