From the monthly archives:

November 2007

Don’t mess with Texas

by Henk ter Heide on Tuesday November 27, 2007

in Blogging

Thinking about the kind of audience I’m targeting my blog at.

(Have you ever noticed how your life slowly grinds to a halt when you give in to your fears? I’d better start drawing again soon otherwise I won’t have a blog left to target.)

Before I started with this blog I had a Dutch blog for two years. Kind of a diary. I talked about my life and the kind of problems I faced on a daily basis.
You can imagion that hardly anyone read that blog. I had about 1 reader a week. I always suspected that the only people reading where colleague’s of mine who were afraid that I would tell were the skeletons where buried.

When I started this blog it was not only meant to be a podium where I could tell my stories but also as a kind of marketing tool to present (and maybe even sell) my drawing. So I wanted a lot more readers then I had with my old blog.
So I did what you are supposed to do. I read the Problogger site to learn about blogging. I read Weblogtoolscollection to learn about design and plugins and most important I read Copyblogger to learn about how you should write. In July I came across a site that promised to teach you ways to get free traffic and for a month I read The thirty day challenge.

I did learn a lot.

  • I learned that if you write several articles a day you’ll get a lot of traffic from google. But my main focus for this site is to present drawings and I don’t do 3 or 4 drawings on a day.
  • I learned that the blogshere is kind of a community. You’ll get much more readers when you comment on other peoples blogs. But I have a hard enough time to communicate in real life. I don’t like talking to strangers and I don’t want to talk to people only to get them to read my blog.
  • I learned that there are a lot of plugins that you can use to increase the joy of writing and reading a blog but that you shouldn’t over do it otherwise your blog will look like a Christmas tree and no one will like it.
  • And I learned that you should think about your target audience.

That last piece of advice always puzzled me the most.
There are some 500 million people on the Internet. Some of them visit my website ones in a while. Why would I want to think about who they are?
I never think about who people are.
I think about the way they act. I think about what kind behavior I can expect of them. But I never think about who they are.
(I’m told that’s typical of autistics.)

A few months ago Ed Dale, the king of affiliate marketing and the guy behind the thirty day challenge, advised his reader to read the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. The book is about the art of advertising. Specifically how you can get people to remember your message.
I’m not that interested in advertising but Ed was very enthusiastic about this book so I bought it.
It’s turned out the be a very interesting book. With a lot of anecdotes and fun the book explains how you can get your message across in a way people will remember as good as the story about the guy who lost his kidney.

After reading about two thirds of the book I just realized that they also tell a lot about targeting your ads at the right audience. The only difference is that while every other book and site stresses on how important it is. The writers of this book just give examples of real problems governments and companies face and how these problems were solved and how they could have been solved.
A few years ago the state of Texas had a problem with littering. They spent a lot of money cleaning up and educating the public with messages like “Please Don’t litter” but nobody paid them much attention.
The problem was that the kind of guy that littered: A 18 to 35 years old, pickup-driving male who liked sports and country music. He didn’t like authority.
“Bubba” wasn’t impressed by the states message not to littered. On the contrary. The more state stressed not to litter to more “Bubba” did.
The advertising companies they came up with was targeted at Bubba: “Don’t mess with Texas” says a lot about how you would want people to deal with Texas and with littering.

You’ll have to read the book if you want to find out which techniques were used to get to this slogan. The point that interests me is that by targeting the message at a specific person it becomes much clearer what you should say to get the message across. The book has a dozen more examples where imagining a specific person clarifies the message. But only after reading the story about Bubba I realized that companies who advertise have the opposite problem of what I have.
I’m not trying to get a message across. My problem is that with all the techniques I’ve learned about blogging I’m pressing myself into a mold that isn’t really me.
I’m trying to do all the things you should do to get more visitors:

  • Finding interesting meaningful titles.
  • Telling what the article is about before I start with the article.
  • Writing an article you can scan without loosing the track of the point.
  • Presenting interesting content. Never forget the “content”
  • Making it an interesting story.
  • Giving enough backstory. Taking care that some one who hasn’t read the rest of my stories still understands what I’m talking about.

Giving enough backstory is the point that I find the most difficult. Even with communication in real life I usually have the feeling that people know almost every thing there is to know about me. I know they don’t. But it feels as though they do.
It takes a lot of effort not to make remarks that refer to other articles I’ve written or even to articles that I’ve jet to write.

How can thinking about my target audience help me to improve my blog?
Well for one thing now I know for whom I’m not writing. I’m not writing for people who find me via a search engine. Most of them only stay for something like 1 second so they don’t actually read anything. The few that stay for longer usually come to read either my articles about fireworks or my articles about abstract drawings and then they leave.
Which is fine. But they don’t seem to be that interested in the rest of the things I talk about.

So for whom am I writing?
I think people that have some personal interest in autism, either because they are autistic or because they know someone who is. I like to think that my writings would be of interest both for people who believe that autistics can lead a full and fulfilling life and for people who don’t think they can.
And of course I also write for any one who is interested in drawing and in my trails and tribulation while I’m learning to draw.

(If you’re in neither group you’re still welcome to read my blog 🙂 )

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Does loosing skills lead to background fear?

by Henk ter Heide on Thursday November 22, 2007

in Autism

People talk about background radiation. Can you talk about background fear? If so I have it.

The WordPress editor I’m using to write this article has an “Save and Continue Editing” button. Just like in working with any editor you want to regularly save your work in case you have a power outauge. Or what happens more frequently is that an other site I’ve opened (for instance my thesaurus site) becomes unstable and closes my browser. In that case I don’t want to loose my work.
The problem is that every time I hit the “Save and Continue Editing” button I feel this strong fear that I’ll have a database error and I will loose everything I’ve enter so far. Which is ridiculous because it has never happened.

I have the same problem with drawing the last few days.
I’ve been drawing for the better part of last year and have produced a few really nice drawings. (If I may say so myself).
The last few weeks I’ve been working with the book “Drawing on the right side of the brain” and have produced a few drawings that are much better then I had ever expected. But the last few days I’m getting frightened that I won’t be able to do it again.
Even thinking about a drawing I want to do, I feel the fear creaping up my throught.

Then there is my computer game. Mahjong. A simple game where you have to find to matching tiles and make them disappear.
I’ve been playing this game for years.
Until I started working for the sheltered work place I used to be very good at it. The last few years I became worse and worse and at some point stopped playing it all together.
Last year after discovering my autism I started playing it again and have found that I’m better at it then I ever was. Just yesterday I broke my all time record of the shortest time to solve the playing field.
I’ve even figured out why knowing that I’m autistic is important for this game. I make use of my wider then normal field of vision. By staring at the playing field I can see all the stones all at ones. What makes it possible to see which stones I should disappear and in which order.

The strange thing is that as I become better at this game I also become more frightened of the game. Although I’ve always been afraid of this game. I never recognized the feeling but I did know that I couldn’t sit still while playing. I’ve learned in the last few months that the more frightened I am, the more I move.

So why am I always afraid?
My theory is that it has something to do with the loosing of skills problem autistics have.

Usually you expect that if you start with something new that you won’t be very good at it. But if you work at it you’ll find that your skills improve and you’ll get better and better.
Of course you can have days that everything seems to be working against you. But generally your progress will be linear. And then at some point your progress will drop off. You’ll have reach the maximum amount of skill you can get with the time your willing to spent learning this skill.
(Of course the more you spent at it the futher you’ll come. But not everybody needs the skill to drive a car round a corner at 200 miles/hour.)

For me learning skills works very different. For one thing my progress doesn’t seem to be linear.
I start out as you would expect with becoming better and better but instead of a drop off in my progress I seem to experience a drop off in my level of skills.

When I was about 13 I played tennis for a little while. I started out with hitting a ball against a specific point at a wall for a few weeks (or maybe even months) and then joined a tennis club. A few weeks joining the coach taught me the backhand and from that moment it seemed as though I lost all my skills.
All over sudden I lost the ability to aim. Instead of hitting a specific point my balls went all over the place. Mostly up. After loosing a lot of balls by hitting them over the fence I stopped playing tennis.

For years I thought that the problem was that for what ever reason there was something wrong with my learning curve.
25 years ago I played the guitar for a while and that too lead to strange problems.
I noticed that instead of practicing a lot it seemed as though I would learn more when I didn’t practice. After playing a nice tune in the morning and failing miserably in the afternoon I wouldn’t play for a few days only to find that my skills had improved.
Up till a point it seemed as though I improved my skills by not practicing. But of course if you hardly ever do something you’ll loose interest.
So although I still have my guitar I haven’t played for years.

Now I’ve learned about autism and experienced it for a while I think this problem is created by two symptoms.
I’m told that autistics have a harder time learning new skills because they have trouble with automating skills. (I’m not sure whether this is the right word).
When you repeat a new action often enough your brain will create a little program that takes care of that action. So you can do it without thinking about it.
Learning how to walk would be a good example. Anyone will know of the kind of struggles little children have with walking. Then at some point they do it without thinking.
Apparently it takes more time for autistics to create these programs. I haven’t had any experienced this in the last year so I don’t know whether this means that I should make more of an effort to learn a new skill or that I just should be more patient.

The other problem that autistics have with skills is that these little programs sometimes just cut out. For no reason what so ever you’ll loose a skill you’ve know for years.
For a few minutes, days, weeks or maybe even months the skill will be gone. And then as if nothing ever happened the skill will come back.
Minutes, days, weeks or months…? Well, actually I don’t know for what period the skill will be gone. I hope it’s only for a few minutes of maybe a day.

I’m assuming that my problem with learning to play tennis had something to do with skipping parts of learning the skill of forehand hitting. For weeks I practiced daily to aiming at a stationary point. After joining the tennis club I had to learn in a few hours a week to aim anywhere but towards my opponent.
In hindsight that’s probably exactly what I learned. The problem being that “anywhere” wasn’t right. It should have been “anywhere on the playing field”.

I think that my problem with learning to play the guitar might be related with impatience. I didn’t have a good idea of the amount of practice that would be needed. But succeeding to play a simple tune in the morning and failing in the afternoon didn’t help. So being disappointed I wouldn’t play for a few weeks. And a few weeks later I would find that I could still play the tune. Which is what I would have expected if it wasn’t for the fact that I couldn’t the last time I tried to play it.

I’ve been wandering why pushing the “Save and Continue Editing” button scares me.
The problem seems to be with the way I write my articles.
The general advice for bloggers is to brainstorm for good ideas and articles but I never do. I write my articles in the same way as I used to do my homework when I was in school.
With many school assignments I didn’t know what was expected of me. So I would read the assignment and then stop and do something else.
After a while it would come to me what was expected of me and then I would continue with the assignment. (Of course my mother never understood what was going on and punished me for procrastinating).
After having done an assignment I sometimes lost it. I would misplace it or forget to take it to school. (Or you had to tell the teacher what you had done without looking in your notebook.) I don’t remember how often this happened but I do remember how frightening it was to face the same problem all over again. To ones again have to figure out what was expected of me.
I always tried to solve the problem by trying to remember how I solved it the last time. Which almost never worked.

I still have this fear. This article contains 1500 words. If something would go wrong I would have to reproduce it. I can’t remember it and I don’t know whether I could write the article again.
The same holds true for drawing. How do I know that I can repeat the drawing I did yesterday.
The holds true for mahjong. How do I know whether I can improve my time if I don’t know how I did it the last time.

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Dealing with fear

by Henk ter Heide on Tuesday November 20, 2007

in Autism

It’s difficult to judge how long you’ve been suffering from phobias if you’ve never been able to recognize your feelings. But judging by the types of behavior I’m learning to recognize it must be for years.

When I started with drawing at the beginning of this year I figured that I would learn a lot. But I didn’t figure I would learn more about myself then about drawing. (Although I might still become quite good at drawing 🙂 )
The last few weeks I’ve been reading and working out off the book “Drawing with the right side of the brain” and it works. Doing the exercises seem to have made it possible for me to use the right side of my brain much more then I have the last 30 years, or so. As a result I’ve almost entirely stopped thinking in words.
I’m getting feelings and thoughts back that remember me of myself 30 to 40 years ago.

When I started this I expected that it would enrich me. I didn’t expect that I would have to deal with a large amount of fear. I’m now noticing that I have so much fear that it’s becoming ever more clear that I have to deal with it.
I have to defeat it or it will defeat me.

The coming few days, or possibly even weeks, I won’t be doing much drawing. For one thing because that too begins to scare me. But mainly because I’m busy sorting through half forgotten memories to figure out when fears and phobias started and how I will deal with them.
For one thing is clear. I’ll have to do something.
When your really scared of something you’re tempted to curl up in a little corner but if you do that you only get more scared and at some point you’ll never come out of your corner.

I’ve seen that happen with a friend of mine who gets an anxiety attack every time he wants to leave his house. The last time I saw him was about a year ago. He was in the middle of an anxiety attack. He told me that he always got them when he had to go out to do his shopping or to visit his psychiatrist.
That was all he had left. Visits to his psychiatrist and doing his daily shopping. The rest of the world scared him to much.

I don’t want to become like him. So I’ll better deal with my fears.

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Safety first

by Henk ter Heide on Sunday November 18, 2007

in Stories

Windows vista comes with a few useless safety features.

New PC

I have a new PC. Birthday present by my father.
The new PC came with windows Vista pre-installed. I’ve been thinking about formatting the hard drive and staying with windows XP. But that would only postpone the inevitable. I’ll have to move over at some point and it will probably be less of a hassle if I have a running PC to render assistance.

Networks

On Wednesday I’ve taken a day off to deal with some personal business. Which gives a perfect opportunity to start with the installing of my new PC.

The first order of business is installing DSL. If I can get that running I can at least consult the Internet if I run into problems.
Sadly enough installing DSL presents me with my first problem. It’s seems that my administration account doesn’t have enough clearance to install the install CD I got from my local phone company.
At 7.00 AM I can’t call in to get some help.

Next on my list is installing the network between my two PC so I can start copying my programs. But that also doesn’t work because I have the wrong cable.

Playing around

That leaves me with nothing to do but to play around and see what kind of changes Microsoft has made to this new operating system.
The new screen looks very nice. There are a few new games. Windows still has the annoying power save configuration that turns your screen of when you walk away for a while. Microsoft has found a way to deal with home users who forget there password.

Never again forget your password

That’s interesting. Not that I’ve ever forgotten my password but I never had a password. I always felt that it was to much of a hassle. But with windows vista the advice is to install two accounts. One to make changes in your configuration and one to work. That way virri will have less of a change to install themselves.

The procedure for recovering from a lost password is very easy. You only have to make a recovery floppy disk.
There’s just one problem. Over the last ten years files have become bigger and bigger and people use less floppy disks. So when the builder of my PC had room to only install three out of four devices; Floppy disk station, DVD station, memory card reader and hard drive. You can guess which one he left out.

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Beware of details (Sketch: Chair)

by Henk ter Heide on Friday November 16, 2007

in Drawing

I got a little bored with only drawing my left hand, so I decide it would be fun to try the same technique on the chair I drew a few months ago.

But that turned out to be a little harder then I imagined. In drawing my left hand I started at the left side and worked my way to the right. Which was exactly what I tried with the chair. But for some reason the result was that the pillows got about ten times as big as they really are.
I thru two sketches out before I finally realized what I was doing wrong.

In drawing a hand you don’t have bother with details. All the fingers are about the same size. So it doesn’t matter that much were you start.
But in starting with a detail of the chair I made it very difficult to estimate how much bigger the pillows should be. To make matters worse, the pillows are at an angle. Which means that if you draw the angle even a few degrees off the pillow gets very much larger.

This time I started with the back of the chair. That’s the widest part of the chair. Since every thing else is smaller it’s a lot easier to estimate the size.
Chair
Chair

There’s only one thing I wonder about.
I’ve been reading further in the “brain book” and the author suggests to use a right-angled cut-out to frame the picture you want to draw and a piece of plastic to draw on. That is, draw on the plastic while looking through the plastic. Which means that you’re in fact tracing the chair on to the plastic.
It seems that even a famous painters like Vincent van Gogh used some kind of frame when he was learning to paint.
I use neither.
Does that mean that I’m very good at drawing? Or does that just mean that I’m kind of stupid?

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Drawing: Left hand 2

by Henk ter Heide on Wednesday November 14, 2007

in Drawing

I think drawing too many hands is a bit boring. But the book seems to think that it’s good practice. So here’s an other hand drawing. I think I have to do two more.
Left hand 2
Left hand 2

The thumb nail seems a bit wide. That’s because I moved it after drawing.
I drew the first line of the forefinger wrong and wanted to erase it. Without thinking I put my left hand on the paper the hold it while erasing. Which was superfluous because I don’t need a hold when using my electrical eraser.
Getting my hand back in the pose I changed the position of the thumb.

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Free hand (Drawing: Left hand)

by Henk ter Heide on Tuesday November 13, 2007

in Drawing

Drawing a hand in a difficult angle.

The assignment was to balance a piece of clear plastic on top of your left hand and draw your left hand on the plastic while looking through the plastic. That is an easy way to draw what would have one of the most difficult drawings.
But I didn’t have a piece of clear plastic and I didn’t want to go through the rain to get one. So I thought I’ll first try to draw my left hand free hand. If that didn’t work I could buy the piece of plastic tomorrow and try again.

I must say that I like the result. If you had asked me a few weeks ago I don’t think that I ever would have been able to draw my hand. Especially under this strange angle.
The trick is to close one eye. That way you get very clear edges which makes it a lot easier.
Left hand
Left hand

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Don’t feel like talking (Drawing: Lines inside hand)

by Henk ter Heide on Monday November 12, 2007

in Personal

The exercises in the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain seem to be working.

I haven’t done much the last few days. I haven’t written any articles because I didn’t feel like talking and writing is a form of silent talking. Neither did I draw anything.
Drawings come with little stories I repeat in my head until I write them down. Since I didn’t feel like talking I couldn’t get myself to do a drawing.

The last few days I’ve just been playing some computer games. Feeling a little disappointed about the whole “Right brain” thing. It didn’t work. Nothing changed.
Only yesterday I realized that I actually couldn’t expect anything to have change since I’ve only just started with the book. I should continue.

I did and found that what I’m experiencing right now is perfectly normal. After doing the first few assignments people usually feel resistance against talking.

I am experiencing a few problems that give me the feeling that the left side of my brain won’t just give up control. But I’ll tell some more about that in a while.
For now, here the next assignment.
While looking at your left hand you have to draw the lines in your hand. You have to draw for five minutes without looking at the drawing.
The idea seems to be to bore the left side of your brain into submission.

To know when the five minutes are reached you have to set a timer.
With the first attempt I got bored and stopped. After the second attempt I felt that I might get a better result if I tried again.
I don’t think I did. Although you can’t tell by looking at the drawing since the drawing is only meant to be an tool to reach a certain feeling.
Lines inside hand
Lines inside hand

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Understanding right sided thinking (Drawing: Horse without a knight)

by Henk ter Heide on Tuesday November 6, 2007

in Autism

After reading some more and thinking a lot about it, I’m beginning to understand the right sided thinking and why it seems to be much more easy for me.

It turns out that I didn’t do my last two drawing in the way the book expected. With the Faces and vases drawing you were supposed to name the parts of the face you were drawing in the left face. Then draw two horizontal lines and then draw the right face.
It’s quite possible that this drawing is almost impossible if you do it that way.
But of course I didn’t. I don’t like thinking in words. I do it much to often and get very tired. Especially when I’m drawing I try to only think in pictures.
My way of drawing a face is think of a face in silhouette and trace it. The tracing part still doesn’t work that well. But it is getting easier.
With the right face I switched to the vases view and there was nothing to it.

It isn’t completely clear to me whether people were supposed to recognize the subject of the up side down drawing. For most people trying to draw an up side down picture is so taxing that they stop talking inside their mind.
The point being that talking is an ability of the left side of the brain and drawing is an ability of the right side. Drawing up side down is so taxing that the left side gives it up and leaves it up to the right side to do the job.

The book describes a special feeling people are supposed to have while they are doing this kind of drawings. You should feel more alert, more relaxed and not notice the passing of time.
I can’t say that I experienced a special feeling while doing the up side down drawing.
I do have those feelings when I concentrate on thinking in pictures. Especially noticing the passes of time seems to be something that is closely related to thinking in words.
I remember from my youth, when I primarily thought in picture, that I had very poor sense of time. But of course back then they called it day dreaming.

Could it be that one of the differences between autistic and other people is that autistics make more or better use of the right side of their brain?
I don’t know.
I do know that autistics are supposed to have a different thought process. I can think in words but it is a lot of work. Very taxing.

Any way. The book advices to do several up side down drawings before going on with the next assignment.
This was supposed to be a horse with a knight. But when I copy I always enlarge. So by the time I got to the head there was no room left for the knight.
I drew the horse up side down and then turned the page to draw in the shades.

Considering that this is the first time in my life that I’v drawn any kind of animal. I think it’s not to bad. (Except for the right fore leg.)
Horse without a knight
Horse without a knight

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Drawing up side down

by Henk ter Heide on Friday November 2, 2007

in Personal

Spoiler: If you’re planning to read and use the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain you’d probably better not read this article.

After doing the somewhat strange first assignment to awaken the right side of your brain I went on with the even stranger second assignment.

The author describes how she found that her students can copy very complicated paintings with great ease if she turns the painting up side down.
The theory is that people normally use symbols when they try to draw something. So you might draw eyes as two concentric circles even if the eyes in the painting are picture perfect. But when the painting is turned up side down people don’t recognize the subject and draw what the see instead of what they “should” draw.
The second assignment uses this same technique.

Only thing was that it didn’t work for me.
Turning the page I was presented with an up side down picture of what seemed to be Einstein. But the caption read that it was a Philippe Halsman. Turning the book up side down I still thought it looked like a picture of Einstein. Turning it back and re-reading the caption I found that the picture was taken by P. Halsman.
According to the text it was indeed a picture of Einstein and apparently most people have a lot of difficulty recognizing pictures that are up side down.

The assignment was to copy an up side down drawing. Picasso’s Portrait of Igor Stravinsky. The point was stressed that you should first draw the picture before turning the book around to see what it looked like. Otherwise this assignment won’t work.
But again I didn’t see the problem. Although it’s a drawing that is very difficult to copy I had no problems what so ever in recognizing what it was about: A man in jacket and tie sitting in a wooden chair.
Up side down
Up side down

Half way through the drawing I decided to give up.
Not the drawing but my neat way of drawing.
This drawing has a lot of lines that are far from straight. But if you try to copy them in exactly the way Picasso drew them they tend to get very straight. I decide to draw a little sloppy. Hoping that it would bring some life to the drawing. And it did.
Right side up
Right side up

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