Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

I took a trip to that there London to take in a show. I was going with my girlfriend and I guess the actual show we saw was not particularly relevant, it was more the overall experience of staying in London and going to the theatre that was important. The first choice of play was no longer running when we were planning to go so she chose The Curious Incident as she'd heard good things about it. She didn't actually know it was about someone who has Asperger's Syndrome (AS) when she chose it, she only found out when doing some research after choosing it.

What's curious (pun unintended) is that the author has gone on record to say he regrets saying that the protagonist has AS. However I think that is some splash-back from The Big Bang Theory effect. Many fans of that show suspect the character Sheldon has AS but the un-confirmed nature of it (he doesn't have AS, by the way) means that people can discuss the issue to their heart's content, with people arguing each side back and forth. When you come out and flat admit your character has AS it robs you of that potential for on-line discussion. Having seen the play though, the character clearly has AS.

I'm not a big fan of live theatre to be honest, and having paid for the tickets even less so. If theatres and producers want more people to start going to the theatre they're going to have to stop charging ridiculous prices. However given that a movie is seen by millions and a play is seen by hundreds, bringing live theatre to the masses may well remain a pipe dream, leaving it only to those who do it not because they enjoy it but because it is so expensive and they think it makes them cultured. £500 family night outs so that Olivia and Finlay have something to write about in English class. Given I could have gone to the cinema with my girlfriend 10 times for the same cost I don't think it was particularly good value for money.

Anyway...the play itself :) I'm going to say some things in general about the play, then I'll say some things that have minor spoilers, and then some things with more major spoilers but I'll preface each section with spoiler warnings so if you plan on seeing the play yourself (or reading the book) please feel free to stop reading at the point you feel most comfortable.

In the production I saw the stage itself was also a character. It was like a big black cube with a rear wall that could move back and forth, and it was possible to project shapes and images on the walls and floor to convey the emotions of the characters or for more pragmatic issues such as indicating doorways. There were about three major, constant characters (the protagonist and his parents) but there were lots of minor characters, or crowd scenes etc, that were all played by a handful of additional actors (some played multiple characters) who all remained on stage, sitting on the seat that the edges of the box formed, stepping into the scene only when needed. So the way the play was physically performed made it quite fluid and dynamic.

The story revolves around a boy with AS who discovers a dead dog one night and his quest to find the person responsible for its death. Now we're getting into some minor spoilers so you have been warned. The first act of the play was probably the one I found the most enjoyable, it was kind of a who-dunnit boy-adventure story that involved humorous interrogations of neighbours etc. The second and third acts ran out of steam somewhat. The second act was particularly dull for myself as it was basically an attempt to replicate how someone with AS perceives the world, however I don't want to pay that much money just to be told something I already know :)

Now we're going to get into some of the more major spoilers so you have been warned. The story gradually morphs into a fairly cliché family drama about divorced parents coping to deal with a psychologically demanding child, and overall it left me feeling less than entertained. It was as if they played all their strongest cards first as the opening was quite entertaining and unique and played heavily with the mindset of someone with AS, whereas the later acts focussed on the baggage of someone with AS. The later acts were pretty similar to any episode of Eastenders you'd care to watch.

The thing I found most interesting was that about half way through the play the protagonist sits an exam and there is a mathematical question asked that he answers, and he then says to the audience that he will explain how he worked the answer out later on. When the play was over, everyone got up to leave and they started filing past us. I stayed in my seat and my girlfriend said "Are we going?" to which I replied "No, I want to hear how he solved the maths problem." People were constantly excuse-me-ing past us and I could sense my girlfriend was getting irritated, so I added "He said he'd explain how he solved it and he hasn't yet". Staring at me, not really knowing how to answer, she was sure I was having one of my "annoying moments" (she hates it when I don't do what normal people are doing) the lights suddenly came on bright and the protagonist exploded on stage...all sorts of mathematical symbols were projected, rotating on the walls, and the protagonist asked if we'd like to know how he solved the maths problem. At this point people shuffled back to their seats en masse for the encore.

How did I know the play wasn't over? Because he said he would explain how he did it, and when someone with AS says they're going to do something, they do it.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Rubik's Cube

I recently had a few weeks off work, and in that time there were some things I wanted to do as well as just the usual admin stuff that builds up when you don't have the chance to tackle it. One of the things I wanted to do was learn to solve the Rubik's Cube..

Now when I say "solve", I don't mean I worked out a method of solving it myself; I'm no maths genius, I was quite happy following someone else's solution. I mainly wanted to do it "just because"...geek kudos maybe? But it turns out to have been more beneficial than I first gave it credit for. One of the things about me (and possibly other people with Asperger's Syndrome) is that I seem to get a certain comfort from repetitive tasks, or procedural tasks. I also quite like keeping my hands busy, so when the two combine I'm like a pig in muck. For example if there are cards to hand I'll just sit and shuffle them repeatedly, put them back into order, then shuffle again and so on. Before looking to solve "the cube" I actually had no idea what was involved, but it turns out it is just a number of sets of moves, and the puzzle can be solved by simply learning these moves, then executing them in sequence. No real knowledge of what you are doing is actually required.

So...sets of repetitive moves done in sequence using a device you manipulate with your hands? Why didn't I think of this sooner? So now my cube stays with me and in an evening I'll shuffle it, solve it, shuffle it, solve it, and it plays to a lot of things I quite enjoy doing. And girls love it, there is nothing a woman finds sexier than a man who can solve a cube.

If you're like me and enjoy these kinds of things then I'd definitely recommend you give this a go. It's not super easy to learn, but it's not that hard either, you just need to put in the time. I looked at a few on-line guides and I actually found the one on the official Rubik's Cube site to be the easiest to follow, and there are some videos there as well. There are seven stages needed to complete the thing from start to finish, so what I set out to do was learn one stage a day. Knowing how the brain works, and how we learn things, I thought this was the best way of doing it. By doing the same stage over and over and over it is easier to get that task committed to memory, and to fully master that stage. The next day I would learn the next task, so was doing the previous tasks again (once more, lots of repetition) as well as learning that day's stage on top. I stuck to this plan and on the seventh day I was doing an ok job at solving it (all God did on the seventh day was rest). I would still have to refer to the solution from time to time to refresh my memory of the moves, but with practice it gets easier and easier, and I can now solve it every time without any need to refer to the guide.

The stages themselves start off fairly easy but they get exponentially harder, and for the latter stages there are often two different algorithms you need to know depending on how the cube is currently configured. Given there are about 7 steps to the latter algorithms and a stage can require two to solve, that's 14 things that need committed to memory which is way beyond the short-term mental abilities of humans, so the only way to fully learn is simply by rote....just keep doing it and doing it and eventually it stops being a series of steps and instead becomes muscle memory.

By the way...I lied about women finding it sexy. Sorry.