Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Scenes from the Be Different book tour

It was a five mile walk from the hotel to my New York event, and I awoke before dawn the next day.  Here are a few images . . .

Join me today, March 30, at Elms College in Chicopee where I'll introduce my friend Kim Stagliano, who will tell us about her new book, All I can Handle.  Tomorrow I hope to see some of you at Barnes and Noble in Framinghm, MA at 7PM.  Then I'll be at Smith College in Northampton MA on Sunday.

My full schedule is here

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Be Different is finally here

Be Different went on sale this Tuesday, and I'm on the road with a pretty grueling travel schedule to promote it. My first talk was at the Autism Society of America's Georgia conference, #ASAGA11 for those who tweet.

I've had a great reception there and from the Connecticut Society of Special Education Professionals, where I spoke Wednesday. Today, Thursday, I have the honor of speaking at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC.

So where do I go from here?

Sunday morning (March 27) and afternoon I am at the ASPEN Asperger conference at the Hilton Woodbridge Inn, in Iselin, New Jersey. The website says the conference is sold out but call them . . perhaps you can get in anyway.

Sunday evening I am in Manhattan for a GRASP event at 7PM, at 339 West 24th St, the site of the regular Manhattan GRASP meeting. Register for that here

Monday morning I'll be doing some radio shows . . . listen for me later that week on Sirius Doctor radio, and also live Monday with Brian Lehrer on New York Public Radio

Monday evening I'll be at Barnes and Noble Tribeca, 7PM

Wednesday March 30 I'll be at Elms College Library in Chicopee, MA introducing my friend Kim Stagliano who will be talking about her new book, All I Can Handle, a memoir of raising three daughters with fairly severe autism.

Thursday March 31 I hope to see some of my Boston area friends at Barnes and Noble Framingham, MA, at 7PM.

Stay tuned for more dates, as I visit more of the East, then hit Denver/Boulder, then the West coast. I'll be working in a few Canadian stops and some autism conferences, like Autism One this May.

Meanwhile, if you've read Be Different, please spread the word. Blog it, review it, and tell your friends. It's word of mouth that makes books like this a success, and for that, I need all of you.

Best wishes

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Some links to preview Be Different, in print and audio

This is a link to Scribd, where you can read the intro to Be Different just as it appears in the printed book.

If you'd like to hear me read the intro, with pictorial accompaniment, look here

I'm both incredibly excited and incredibly anxious . . . Be Different goes on sale in seven more days!

I'll be speaking in Atlanta on opening day, at the Georgia Autism Society of America conference. The following day, I'm speaking to the Connecticut Special Education folks in Hartford. You can get tickets to that here. On Thursday I'll be addressing the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC.

After that I've got several months of travel in both the US and Canada. I'm looking forward to meeting more of my online friends in person this tour.

See you on the road!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Exceptional, or ordinary with practice?

How do you solve math problems in your head? Perhaps a better question is, do you solve math problems in your head? With the availability of electronic devices to do it for us, I would not be surprised to learn that many people never try. This is a fascinating question, one I also consider briefly in my new book, Be Different.

I was reading Darold Treffert’s book on savants, and I was intrigued by a few examples of savant thinking. I tried solving some of the problems in his book to get a feel for how “comprehensible” they might be to me, with no recent practice calculating. Here is a simple example:

You have a carriage with a wheel that’s six yards in circumference. How many revolutions will the wheel make while traveling two hundred twenty miles?

This is how I get the answer in my head. I’d be interested in how you might do it:

Six yards is eighteen feet. I see that as a short line.

So one hundred revolutions of a six yard wheel would take me 1,800 feet. That’s a much longer line in my head, one that curves.

Three hundred revolutions would take me 5,400 feet – more than a mile. Now the line has curved back unto itself, making a circle.

How many rotations are there to a mile? Less than three hundred. A mile is a smaller circle. I can see those circles, on inside the other. They do not quite match.

I adjust the length of the longer line that forms the big circle. Try 290 . . . that’s 5,400 less 180, or 5,220. A mile is 5,280. Now I see the line laid flat, like a straight stretch of highway. Two hundred ninety revolutions leaves us sixty feet short of a mile marker. So what’s the fraction?

Three eighteens go into that sixty-foot remainder with the same six remainder. Adding that to the 290, I see the answer is 293 and a third. The six-yard wheel does not fit a one mile line, but it fits perfectly into a three-mile ring. If you put a mark on the wagon wheel, and mark any point where it touches the big circle, those points will touch every time the wheel rolls past. I like that.

If you roll the same wheel around a one-mile ring the points will only touch every third trip around, which is unsettling to me. I like smooth fits, so I will solve the next step using three-mile units.

I can now see the answer: 880 revolutions. A perfect fit. Six yards, three miles, and eight hundred eighty turns.

How many three-mile eight-hundred-eighty revolution units are there in 220 miles? My mind visualizes stacks or piles for this next step. Seventy units reach two hundred ten miles. I quickly see how seventy-three and a third are needed to reach the two-twenty goal.

Stacking seventy-three piles of 880 in my mind takes a little time. Eventually, the stacks add up and I see the result is 64,240. Now I just have to add the third (of 880) and I’m done. To do that, I add three hundred to the pile, making 64,540, and then take back six and two-thirds.

64,533 and 1/3 is the answer to the question.

As a further experiment, I scaled up the distance, to 2450 miles and then 20,315 miles to see if I could keep scaling up the numbers. There must be some limit to that, and it certainly took me longer, but I solved those bigger problems in a few more minutes. Solving the longer distance problems involved one and then two more levels of “stacking” in my mind.

It does not seem that hard to me. I often did similar calculations as a kid, for fun. I’m sure I could do it again, pretty quickly, with some practice.

I test my answer with a calculator. The process to do that is considerably simpler.

I multiply 220 (miles) by 5,280 (feet per mile) to get 1,161,600 – the total distance in feet.

I divide that by 18 (the wheel circumference) to get 64,533.333 – the revolutions turned.

It’s a lot faster to get this answer from a computer, for sure. But is the ability to figure problems like this out in one’s head really exceptional? In today’s world, I would not be surprised if kids never develop these skills. When I grew up, though, pocket calculators did not yet exist and I had to know how solve math problems on my own. Given my own ability, I suspect many people of my generation could solve a problem like this in their heads, but perhaps I am wrong. What do you say?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

John Elder Robison on Ingenious Minds

Me, with the camera and sound crew from Discovery Science, Ingenious Minds

The Science Channel show finally aired on Feb 24th. I think they did an excellent job; the production quality of the whole series has been vey high. One of my friends (Bob Jeffway) recorded the INGENIOUS MINDS show and uploaded it here in two parts

And this is the second half

I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think.