Friday, June 27, 2008

Behind the scenes at a resort

A view of the fountains in front of the Moon Palace Resort, Cancun

We Americans are a weak species, when it comes to traveling. We’re famous for getting sick, and the more remote a place we go to, the sicker we get. Of course, we share this weakness with Germans, Brits, and many other people from today’s “first world.”

When we go to foreign countries, two things make us sick: contaminated water, and unfamiliar germs on our food. It’s ironic that we’ve raised our standard of living, while making ourselves more and more vulnerable to what is, essentially, dirt and bugs.

It's true that we've managed to contain many dangerous diseases, but I sometimes think we've gone too far. We've also eliminated our resistance to normal flora and fauna found everywhere else in the world.

When I was young, I drank from streams and ate from dumpsters and the piles of abandoned food behind grocery stores. I ate the pizza slices people left on the tray when they left the restaurant. And the result . . . I stayed fed, and I never got sick while traveling.

Now, I eat fine fresh food, all clean and nice. And I get sick when traveling, because my body is no longer exposed to those stream and dumpster germs. I had that notion in mind when I went to Cancun this week.

I’d never been to an upscale Mexican resort before, so I decided to take a look behind the scenes at the Moon Palace. I got up at dawn and went for a walk. The first thing I noticed was the jungle. You reach the boundaries of the property, and there it is, on the other side of the fence.

Every night, through that fence, there’s a steady trickle of crabs, scorpions, snakes, and rodents. And right behind, there’s a little army of workers, catching them before the tourii wake up and notice, or worse, step on one and really notice.

Tourii, by the way, is little known the plural of tourist.

Wherever grass leads into swamp, there are signs warning of crocodiles. I looked hard for crocs, but I never saw one. I did see some scorpions, and some snakes in the trees. And I also some plenty of birds and mammals.

At 6AM, the crews were just arriving for work. The cooks and bakers are the first to get going. Here's a food service person bringing some of the first trays of food to the conference area.

I was impressed at the obvious pride they took in their equipment. Here you can see a fellow prepping his truck for the day, and in the shot below, a crew cleans up their John Deere equipment after doing a patch of lawn.

Both shots show pride in the work, the place, and the equipment. As a lover of machines, I was pleased. All the equipment repair is done outside, as you can see here:

The resort didn't skimp on equipment, either. Many of the trucks are Mercedes-Benz, and John Deere seems to have a lock on the tractor, lawn care, and construction equipment franchise. They've purchased machinery that will last, and they've got a workforce that cares enough to keep it up.

Here (below), you can see the garbage handling behind the main hotel building. As you can see, it’s clean, cleaner actually than most places in New York. I was impressed. In addition, they are separating organic from inorganic waste, and recycling. The large units on the platform are chillers for the climate control. I suspect they are raised like that to protect them from hurricane driven storm surge. With that height, they are ready for some big storms.

The total absence of loose trash and debris is noteworthy. This would be impressive if seen behind a banquet facility, restaurant, or hotel here in America. Indeed, having looked around, it's rare here. That makes this shot even more impressive in light of Mexico's reputation.

This is the other side of the dock, where fresh supplies are loaded in. Note again the absence of loose food bits and trash.

Here you can see the recycling bins where glass and plastic are gathered.

I wondered how they dealt with the water issue, as many wells in this part of Mexico are shallow and prone to contamination. The answer is on the beach – desalination. They draw seawater into their own system, and make fresh water. That water is piped through a modern distribution system, and at the other end, they have their own sewer system.

It’s all clean and modern. I wish I had pictures to show you, but my camera was overcome by humidity and it had stopped working.

Here's another interesting aspect of the resort's design. At first glance, this photo shows a very opulent hotel lobby, empty of people at dawn. And indeed it is opulent, being 100% stone. But it's something else - too. It's rugged and cleanable.

Stone flooring over reinforced concrete is very sturdy. If a hurricane comes, you stack the furniture high, and let the floors flood. And in season, you use bleach and a power floor polisher t keep it all clean. These floors have drains in corners, specifically to facilitate cleanup in this manner. Very smart.

All the rooms are the same, so they too can be cleaned with bleach solution. Some American hotels I've seen could actually learn a thing ot two from these folks. Here's a shot of my room, looking in from the balcony.

There's actually a sill at the balcony door, to keep rain and wind-driven seawater out. In addition, the balcony is imperceptibly pitched to drain outward. And that's not all - there's a piped drain in the corner to allow cleanup with bleach. If they simply squeegeed it over the edge, the side of the building would become streaked. There's some smart planning in evidence here. In this next photo, you can see the open spaces they've designed in, to dissipate storm surges. It looks peaceful now, but I imagine it's a whole nother world in a storm.

They've also oriented the buildings with the short side to the sea, and open central corridor to prevent pressure buildup on the inside. The roofs are heavy, and you can see how they're sectioned and reinforced to prevent liftoff. These structures are designed to survive some pretty serious storms and flooding

If you look closer at the trees, you'll see how many are bent back, away from the sea and storm surge. The ocean is never very far away. At this resort, there's a shoal line about a mile offshore where the surf breaks, but a big storm would just keep piling in the water.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

An evening on the Mexican Riviera

Tonight I'm at the Moon Palace Resort, in Quintana Roo, Mexico, outside of Cancun. I'm here thanks to the Credit Union folks who were good enough to bring me down to speak to their group in the morning. The gardens and grounds are quite striking:

Exotic flowers are everywhere:

I'm tired but it's quite pretty and I thought I'd share some other images . . . Here's a multi level garden on the side of a building

Here I am, hot and sweaty from walking:

They got me a room right on the water. It's enough to make anyone take up the book writing trade.

They have jet skis, boats, and these paraglider things

They've even got slots down here, with a warning not to bring guns inside. Luckily, I do not gamble.

I have retreated to my room but it looks like the place is hopping all night , , ,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Major League Minds

Last night I attended the Major League Minds event for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. This year, the focus was on their achievements and goals in neuroscience. The event was held at Fenway Park, and it was attended by about 300 people.

BIDMC is the official hospital of the Red Sox, so they dressed the doctors in jerseys for this occasion. That made them easy to identify, so I took the chance and talked to a few . . .

I was impressed by their breadth of knowledge, and I was pleased by the way everyone answered my questions. The more I learn about the mind, the more fascinated I become. I sure am lucky to be able to take it all in, I thought.

But that’s a subject for another post, or perhaps a whole book. Today, I’d like to share some insight as to why one might choose a hospital like BIDMC for repair or modification, for yourself or someone you know.

I myself was not seeking repair when I went to Beth Israel Deaconess, back in the winter. Actually, I wasn’t seeking anything at all; they came looking for me. And I know that sounds strange to some of you. It brings to mind images of a dentist sitting on his front stoop, smiling a strange smile as he says, “Come here, little boy! I’ll clean your teeth and test my new drill.”

And there’s a little whirrrrrrr noise, as he spins the drill the way a duck hunter blows into a bird calling whistle.

But when these doctors showed up, it was a totally different experience. They’d read my book, and what did they see? A potentially articulate and enthusiastic guinea pig, I guess. It was as if I’d written a book about my dreams of being a Green Beret and the recruiters came a-calling. I was impressed from the start at their intelligence, their expertise, and their obvious desire to help people. How could I not sign on? You can read the whole story of that in my earlier blog posts . . . .

As part of Harvard Medical School, BIDMC is able to attract the best and brightest medical talent from all over. Walking through the halls, I am struck by the diversity in the staff, all of whom seem united by a common desire to be on the cutting edge. I meet people from all over the USA, and from Canada, China, Korea, Europe, India, and everywhere else.

As a child in a college community, I grew up around grad students from all over the world, and I learned to appreciate their different points of view. My own special interest is autism and Asperger’s, and I’ve seen how very differently the world’s cultures see this condition, and indeed many other things.

Just as my autistic mind can see a problem through different eyes, people from different cultures may see answers that we totally miss. In addition to cultural diversity, a place like BIDMC is big enough to have a lot of diversity and breadth in talent. In this photo you can see the chief people in neurology, and as you can see, there are quite a few of them . .

Each doctor has a particular area of expertise. You’ve read about Alvaro and his TMS work. In addition, they have world-class experts in memory, stroke recovery, tumors, cancer, and even such nasty things as gunshot wounds to the head. One of the doctors I talked to is making new discoveries about the body’s nervous system, and another is tackling Parkinson’s disease.

When I first ventured out to BIDMC, people warned me about “those neurologists.” I think lay people have a fear of doctors in general, and brain doctors are among the scariest. However, my experience has not been scary at all. In fact, I’ve found the neurologists to display a remarkable level of empathy.

Some people would just snort at that, and say: What do you know? You’re autistic!

But in fact I do know. I have an excellent sense of how people treat me in conversation, even though I may not show it, and I may not respond as expected. I have actually thought about the treatment I’ve received at the hands of the BIDMC staff, and I am very impressed. I am even more impressed at the quality of the work being done. Some of the achievements are just so big you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. At least, I’m afraid that’s the case, so I’m waiting for the scientific data to back me up. Then I’ll tell you.

How do they do it?

Thousands of people apply to join their team. Harvard Medical School as a whole only accepts 1% of applicants, and when they go looking for doctors the ratio is probably similar. That means they start with (presumably) very high caliber individuals. Of course, these top people cost top money, but luckily their reputation helps address that.

As one of the top medical facilities in the world, BIDMC attracts donors and supporters from all over. Some give money to hunt a cure for a disease that’s touched their own lives, while others just believe in their mission, and some give because they attribute their own success to what they learned as students at BIDMC or Harvard.

Much of BIDMC’s work is funded by research grants, as opposed to selling medical services on a piecework basis like a regular hospital. That removes or at least diminishes the tremendous time pressure that most doctors in other hospitals face. In addition, as researchers, they know the value of curiosity and asking questions. And that pays off as they spend more time talking to patients. That makes for stronger connections and better outcomes.

Finally, compared to most hospitals, their breadth of expertise and their research orientation gives them a bigger bag of tricks. It’s worth remembering that the odds don’t much matter when you deal with your health. You don’t care if one in a hundred people respond to an experimental cure, as long as you’re that one.

So if I needed major repairs, BIDMC is where I would go. When people tell me about looking for medical specialists in the big city, I’ll understand what they’re talking about. I understand the role of these research hospitals, and why it’s so vital to support them and keep medical science moving forward.

I don’t want to sound like a fund raiser, but if you have a spare million bucks, send it to them and say I sent you . . .

The TMS research we are doing is made possible by private donations.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day and the Newport Car Show

Yesterday was Father's Day, and the day of the Newport Car Show. I almost didn't go, because it was pouring rain in Amherst, and Newport weather didn't look much better. After hearing the rain sheeting off the roof and overflowing the gutters at 5AM, Martha elected to stay home and pet our old crazy blind toothless poodle instead. But this year Cubby had his license. He wanted to drive his Grandpa's old car, and he had his girlfriend ready to go. I guess that tipped the balance . . . Here we are, pulling out during a break in the rain.

Despite the weather, Cubby made half the trip with the top down, but we had to put it up before Providence when it really started pouring. When we arrived it was 55 degrees and rainy, but we parked the cars and waited for the action, which actually never materialized. The weather cleared from rainy to gray, but the turnout remained low.

In this photo you can see a chilled wet Cubby in front of the Class J cars . .

Despite his appearance he actually had a good time, and I marvelled at the fact that he's 18 and still willing to do things with his dad. At his age, I was two years down the road and totally sick of my own parents. It was some years before I reconnected with either of them. Cubby seems to like me better.

Weather notwithstanding, my friends Fran and Cathy prepared their usual tailgate feast which would surely win an award if they had a tailgate picnic competition at this show (but they don't) In 2006, my friends Jan Anderson and Bobby Hartsfield won at the British Invasion with their tailgate picnic, and they say they'll do it again this year.

Here are a few of the cars . . .

This is a 1965 Porsche 356C that was next to my friend Neil's car. I photographed this one instead of his because I like bright colors and his is gray.

This Corvette was right behind me on the field.

I'm not sure where the Shelby came from but it was nice

Cubby drove his Grandpa's Jaguar to the show, and he took second place in the British Sports Car class. Here he is in the award line . . . You can judge the prevailing weather for this June day by the color and the jackets . . .

Here's his award. They give us plates, which Cathy and Fran serve car show food on . . . I do not know if Cubby will hand over his plate for that purpose, though.

Afterward we headed into town for lunch at the Red Parrot. The picture just shows Cubby and Masha but there were actually 16 people at the table. We had a bunch of the people from work . . . Jeremy and his mate, Maribeth and her mate and kid, Bobby and his mate, Jan and friend, Cubby and Masha, and four more guests.

The put us on the third floor because there are years when the guests get loud but this year they all behaved. I think it's the open windows, visible behind Cubby. When you're on the first floor, drunk and loud, an open window is just irresistable. You just gotta throw someone through it. But it's a long way to the ground fron the third floor, both for the guy you toss and for you, trying to exit the place down three flights of stairs before the cops arrive.

I have never personally tossed anyone out a window but I have seen it done. We had a most spectacular window-tossing incident on the 1979 KISS tour, but that's another story. In any case, nothing happened here.

We looked at boats, and headed home

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The challenge and opportunity of autism from Medill at Northwestern University

A few weeks ago, Dianna Heitz of Northwestern University's Medill School drove up to film me for a story on Asperger's. She's got a brother on the spectrum, so she had a personal stake in the story, and she did a really nice job.

It's called The Challenge and Opportunity of Autism

Here is a story about the making of the story . . .

But there's another story in the background, and you'll have to watch several videos to figure it out. Watch me in the video link above. Then go to the links below, and watch me on television this past fall and winter. Look for the changes . . . what do you see?,WDIA:2008-22,WDIA:en&q=john%20elder%20robison&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wv#,WDIA:2008-22,WDIA:en&q=john%20elder%20robison&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wv#

I'll tell you. All the links above were filmed before TMS. The Medill interview at the top is post-TMS

So you'll see the results of the TMS experiments, just as Kim Stagliano described on Age of Autism last month. Take a look at both and tell me if you see any changes. I think I do, but I'd like to hear what you all think.

So please let me know . . . . I'll hold my breath . . .

Monday, June 9, 2008

When CBS comes calling

Here's Erin Moriarty of CBS Sunday Morning with me in my living room in Amherst. Erin and producer Kay Lim came up to do a story on memory, memoir, and the portrayals of our father in A Wolf at the Table and Look Me in the Eye.

The segment should air in early July. I'll let you know when they schedule it.

The filming was done over two days at my brother's house and my house. It's amazing how much video they shoot to make a ten-minute segment on network television. I'll bet they went back to New York with eight hours of video.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pictures and color for a Thursday night

Harbor in fog

A double rainbow, last month in the Berkshires

A mountain stream, rendered in strange colors

One of the dancers

Sky, reflected in the Bentley's hood

The Queen of the Road is on the road.

It’s time.

My friend Doreen Orion’s book about life in a bus is finally on sale. Now, you too can learn what life is like, inside a bus. To give you a taste, check out this photo of Doreen and me, in the engine compartment of her bus.

She is one of the only females I know who has her own bus. I know others exist – particularly in the circus and entertainment industries – but I don’t know them. I am even conceptually aware of retired females who own buses, but I don’t know any of them, either.

Some of you will say, What’s the difference? One female with a bus is the same as another. I don’t agree, and I’ll tell you why. Females with buses may be divided into three groups, as follows:

1) Females who support themselves by work outside the bus
2) Females who are supported by other means
3) Females who support themselves by work within the bus.

To the extent that bus-owning females exist, most are in groups (1) and (2). Doreen is that rare bird, a member of group (3).

She actually developed a paperwork and phone based psychiatry practice to facilitate her bus travels. Imagine that! I mean, some people attend a three-month juggling academy and join the circus to get bus experience. She went all the way – medical school, residency, the whole deal.

And it paid off. She has a fine bus, a far cry from the hammered VW Microbus you get from juggling tips. She doesn’t actually work for tips at all. Insurance companies pay her to evaluate patient records, which should give you pause for thought the next time YOUR insurance company denies coverage for some critical medical procedure.

It’s one thing to have your claim denied by some bald-headed guy with glasses in a cubicle deep within some huge building. It’s quite another to be turned down by some stylish shrink parked by a lovely brook in a national park.

You can order your copy of her book here:

And you can visit her website and blog here