September 14th, 2012

Relentlessly irrelevant

Is that self-referential subject line? Absolutely! But I was actually thinking about bing when I wrote it.

I checked in at Nate's blog this morning, then wound up at Foner Books (a consistently Sensible writer), and from there, I tried out bingiton, the Pepsi Challenge of Search Engines. Well, I tried, too, but I was on an iPad, and I got a Coming Soon Page. Huh. Okay. I got up, walked over to the laptop, sat down again and tried bingiton on the iPad. I don't drink much soda, and when I do, my current preference is for dry soda cola and I only really get that at Nashoba Baking Co., but to the extent I have a preference in the Pepsi Challenge, I've always picked Coke. And no, I didn't have any trouble telling them apart -- I chalk other people's surprise up to the fact that Pepsi is sweeter and R. says it has more vanilla.

Anyway. I luuuuurrrrvvve the idiosyncratic behavior of showing-me-what-other-people-clicked-on-when-they-did-searches-like-yours that is Google's primary offering. I really do. It's mostly obvious when you do the Pepsi Challenge of Search Engines which one is google and which one is microsoft, because the microsoft one (a) has an otherwise inexplicable tilt towards Seattle, (b) relentlessly prefers "official" sites and (c) if it can identify a geographical preference on your part, it will take wide-ranging searches and narrow it down to your area for No Clear Reason.

Here is how it works in action. If you search on Mennonites, Bing will point you at the Seattle Mennonite Church in its results. Google, duh, won't. DUH! WTF! I'm sure the Seattle Mennonites are amazingly cool people, but still. So that's an example of (a). If you search on Jehovah's Witnesses, google will show you sites run by ex-members; bing doesn't -- that's (b), and in this case, more or less the opposite of what I would argue should be the case. Finally, if you search on "ocean", and you are in the Boston area, it will give you a bunch of Boston specific sites, again, no obvious reason. That's (c).

These are clear examples, but far from the only ones I encountered. There are probably more trends than I have described. There are differences in handling images. There are differences in handling x-rays of blogs. And then there's what happens when you search on the word odd. Both results will give you a bunch of O.D.D. results, and dictionary definitions of the word odd. But only google will link to news sites that do "Odd News", which I would think are what one might be interested in, if one were to type "odd" into a search engine.

If you are a regular reader, you know I didn't pick these just to be An Ass. I picked these examples because I thought they would expose the Heavy Hand of I Know What You Want that is so characteristic of bing's efforts to improve on google's I Am Agnostic, Here's What Other People Clicked On approach. Also, every last one of these examples is one of current and/or ongoing interest (I also ego-surfed me and my husband, and searched on autism spectrum and dsm v -- those searches were draws for me).

I used to use Yahoo's directory-like approach to finding things on the web, a million, er, 15 or so years ago. It worked for me, but AltaVista kicked its ass (and Lycos'). I moo-ed along with everyone else in the Great Switch to Google. I tried Ask Jeeves or whatever that thing was, but lost interest rapidly. I've tried Duck Duck Go, but didn't really care enough to continue. I tried mocavo a few times. But I won't ever use Bing, and I'll tell you why.

Not because I hate the Squish with a passion that knows no bounds.

Not because I know people who worked on that thing, and I kinda don't like them, either.

Not because bing thinks it knows what I want better than I and/or the herd do.

No.

I won't use bing because that fucking background is so distracting it's actually difficult for me to remember what I was about to search on. I had to _close my eyes_ for a few seconds to remember long enough to type it it. And believe me when I say, I do not have ADD. I'm on the spectrum. I have mood and personality problems. I have attachment problems. I do not, however, have ADD -- but that background makes every thought in my head exit swiftly. It is horrifying.

_Attention Deficit Disorder_, Dr. Thomas Brown, Ph.D. (kindle)

Subtitled: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults
Published by Yale University Press

I believe I picked this up around the same time I got the book about shopping problems. I realized (and this is going to sound a little silly) that This is a Thing and I could read a book about it and maybe understand it better. I have been accused of being ADD or ADHD, by my husband, and by one of the people I regularly walked with in Seattle, C. I have repeatedly looked at the DSM-IV description of ADHD and just felt that it didn't do a good job describing me. At all. Like, the opposite of having ADHD. Recent conversation with R. turned up the following explanation: (1) I twitch -- I really do have motor restlessness and (2) if I'm really focused on something, you may have to try several times to get my attention.

I've always had mixed feelings about ADD/ADHD. On the one hand, it did seem clear that there were people who were way better at coming up with plans than others and, given a plan, there are people who are way better at implementing. It's not about native intelligence and it's not about willpower. But I wasn't sure _what_ it was about. I also felt like some of what was missing with people who had trouble implementing was having Good Habits, in turn attributable to chaotic home environments or home environments which were so highly structured that once you left them the World Outside required things of you that you had no chance to practice before. Also, I believed that sleep deprivation as a result of undiagnosed sleep apnea was a good candidate to explain a lot of what got labeled attention deficit.

About a third of the way into this book, I had a bit of a crisis, and talked to R. about it. I _really_ thought this author was full of it, and R. really disagreed with me. So I continued. Halfway through the book, I finally Got It. (1) _I_ really don't have attention deficit. I really do have the opposite of attention deficit. (2) R. really does have some of aspects of attention deficit, and he has Fantastic Habits that help to counter those aspects. But what he has is Nothing Remotely Like what's going on with people who are diagnosable.

Motor restlessness/hyperactivity are red herrings. Sure, they do get associated with attention deficit, but not always. Sure, they are the Most Disruptive aspects in classroom settings (well, for suitable definitions of Most). But the real problems lie in that overlap between executive function and working memory that enable people who have lots of attentional capacity to seamlessly keep track of three other things coming up at specific times later in the day (a meeting, a doctor's appointment, the kids' arrival home) without losing track of what one is doing at the moment (playing Whack-a-mole, or the employment or parental equivalent thereof). Turns out that's a capacity some people lack, along with the ability to repeat back, using approximately the same set of words, a short, narrative story that one just heard. I cannot even _imagine_ having that particular issue, but remember, my own problems involve a language acquisition process that is colloquially known as "cut-and-paste".

Around the halfway point, I called my dear, dear friend R., and we had a (fortunately non-triggering) chat about a series of men she has had close relationships with, who either had diagnoses or probably should have had diagnoses, of ADD. We went over whether they had a diagnosis, whether they had ever been medicated, whether it worked, why they stopped, blah blah bleeping blah. Turns out in one case, medication never really did work (that's the unfortunate 1 in 5 that Brown talks about), but possibly the CPAP machine did; she ended the relationship before she found out. And the descriptions she gave me of what it was like to live with or around them confirmed the sense that I had developed over the years: they were attracted to her in part because she was willing to help keep their lives from falling completely apart (make sure bills got paid, type of thing). Alas, like many people who date/marry those with ADD, R.'s frustrations and unmet needs built up over time.

At around the three quarters point, as I was reading about co-morbidities (and I have to say, this author's take on autism spectrum/Asperger's is Not Great, but fortunately, he doesn't spend a lot of time on it), that I realized how little I really knew about oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder, and that it might be rewarding to read about those, too. Also, I started to realize _just how utterly amazing_ Ross Greene's _The Explosive Child_ really was. I read it back in 2003, give or take, and it was the book which convinced me I really _could_ be a decent parent, by showing me a way to deal with tantrums in a way that was compatible with my values (harsh punishment and positive parenting strategies both give me the wiggins, and I Am Not a Doormat).

This isn't much of a review of the book, except to tell you that I read the book with some skepticism of ADD, and some skepticism of medical management of ADD, and the author Convinced me Completely (in part because he was willing to draw a direct line between caffeine and other socially acceptable stimulants and stimulant treatment of ADD. You connect those dots and I'll go right along with you).

If there isn't a better book about ADD out there (I wouldn't know), I hope there will be. Dr. Brown left a lot of space, by focusing so relentlessly on it-must-be-chemical-because-it-responds-to-chemicals (<-- That is a _great_ argument.) . I hope some future book will reflect some (probably) future research that explains the genetic underpinnings as we discover them, better testing to identify how ADD manifests in various individuals (look, if it's different in day-to-day, we ought to be able to devise tests that display that, right?), and a more nuanced understanding of behaviorist approaches that are helpful vs. behaviorist approaches which do nothing vs. behaviorist approaches which are counter-productive.

Finally, the author recognized the genetic underpinnings and thus the likelihood that one or both parents had attributes of the disorder if not the disorder entire. The author told stories about parents who brought themselves in for treatment after their kid got better with treatment. The author showed data that kids from more chaotic households did worse -- this is one of those things where Parenting Matters. But there's a whole chunk that could be written about Family Policy -- on all levels -- that is outside of scope here, but would be useful to work through.

If you think you know someone with this, you should read it. It'll help you determine if you have properly understood the category, and help you articulate better why you think someone is in that category, as you explore options in getting them help. I would say, if you think you have this, you should read it, and if you can, great, but you really don't need any more shoulds in your life. There are too many already.

Good luck. We all need it.

_The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Invincible_, Jack Campbell

Military SF. Not the first in a series. Ha! Not the first _series_ in a series! There was The Lost Fleet series, and then the Lost Fleet made it home. Then Beyond the Frontier covered what happened when the fleet got sent back out again, and this is, IIRC, entry 2 in that series. I look forward to the next entry (note the pleasure-reading equivalent of drool).

What happened in this one? We met a couple of new species, which made the army of scientists along for the ride have fits, because the new species didn't act they way they hoped/expected/believed new species would act. One species is herbivorous, looks like teddy bears and is relentless in its pursuit of genocide of anyone other than itself. The other looks like a cross between wolves and spiders, has awesome engineering aesthetics, and lusts after duct tape.

Fun!

No, it really is. Campbell is Reliable. I hope I'm still reading him in twenty years.