Category Archives: University

Attitudes

I suppose that all along I thought I was owed something or wanted something I couldn’t have, maybe that is just the way things are when your parents don’t have a great deal of money. Back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, things were expensive. China wasn’t the huge superpower it is now and not everything was made there. This happened to be the times that I grew up in.

Most of my memories of childhood are probably about being told that I couldn’t have x or that I should save up to buy y. I suppose that was a good thing, trying to teach me the value of money or that I couldn’t have everything I wanted should have given me a good grounding. But I thought I knew better.

I was 12 when I heard on the news one day that a kid in America divorced his parents. Through Google I can now tell you that this child, Gregory Kingsley, was more or less the same age as me at the time and that basically his mother was an unemployed waitress with a history of drug abuse and promiscuity and his father had been out of the picture for some time. Kingsley befriended an attorney whom he met at the boy’s shelter he was staying up after his mother placed him and his brothers into the temporary care of the state because of her drug problem. George Russ, the attorney whom Kingsley had gotten to know empathised with Kingsley, having not had a great childhood himself and he and his wife agreed to adopt Gregory.

I picked up on this and decided I wanted to do the same, my parents were not unemployed promiscuous drug addicts or anything or that kind, the problem was mostly down to my idolisation of America and American life and the fact that I wanted things (mostly computer equipment) that my parents could not afford. At this point of my life, my parents and I were seeing a child psychiatrist who rather than pick up on the fact that I might be Autistic, chose not to label and told my parents and I that I had “normal teenage problems”.

Do normal teenagers write letters to social services and council chief executives trying to blackmail them into finding a new family in America? I also had an American maths teacher when I was 13/14, I wrote a letter pouring my heart out to him and asked him and his wife to adopt me.

The letter writing didn’t stop when I left school. At age 17, having been asked to leave the family home and ‘existing’ in a hostel for the homeless with virtually no money, I wrote another letter to the city authorities in Southampton, this time I didn’t want to go to America. I wanted to be self-sufficient, I wanted a swanky flat, laptop, car, driving lessons, etc…. of course this came to nothing again.

By age 18 I had a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome and was living in a specialist college in Sunderland. Apart from getting to see the North East of England and meeting fellow people on the spectrum, it really didn’t help me. Having spent months living alone in hostels, I had my street cred. I had come face to face with drug addicts and people with serious mental health problems, but they wanted to treat me as if I was an insurance liability, I was not supposed to go off alone, even crossing the road was a big deal. I will admit I had fun some of the time, sneaking into university computer labs, using the Internet before most people really knew what it was (this was 1998); but the experience of living under one roof with such a mix of abilities, despite all being Autistic, we were not all the same.

I suppose I have always had plans for myself, who doesn’t? I was 19 when I first started working in IT and I liked it pretty well, so I decided I should keep going. However, none of the jobs I had really lasted much more than a year, either through my own doing or because the company had issues. I went to University for the first time aged 25, having given up at least 3 times on getting A-Levels or equivalent qualifications to get into University, I decided to take the route of a “Foundation Year” in which I would gain that level of knowledge prior to starting the first year of a degree. It took about 3 months before I got behind, couldn’t turn in my work on time and then became suicidal because my whole plan had shattered. I would never finish this course and I would never get my degree. I battled with this kind of depression many times over since then. I tried again to re-take the modules I had failed in the foundation course, I tried to do the foundation work for a different degree (electronics rather than computing) at a different university, but again got behind and dropped out.

I then moved to London at the age of 30. My first job in London and my first proper IT job for some time lasted 3 months. This has lead into a succession of situations where I have gotten jobs, for some reason given up or gotten fired, then had a huge breakdown where I became suicidal because my whole plan lay shattered again.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t think counselling will work, in my head, I am doing everything right, it’s the other assholes who get in my way and mess it all up. I have tried CBT, it didn’t work. There is documented fact to show that CBT does not work for Autism and a single book about how you can possibly adapt it for Autism!

All I want is a normal life: a driver’s licence, a car, some kind of house that I actually own (I don’t care if this actually a shipping container that I transformed into a house). These are simple demands, I don’t want thousands of pounds worth of Mac computer equipment or a family in America any more.

So every time I start a new job I think to myself, yes, this is good, I will use this money to do the stuff I want to do. But somehow it all goes wrong, usually leaving me in debt of some kind.

So, can you see my frustration? Is my attitude so wrong? That I want things that nearly every other person has? These are the problems I can’t fix and the cause of my current depression.

What to do next?

As some of you might know I have recently been offered medication as treatment for my ADHD. This is kinda the answer to the requests for help that have often dominated this blog, sometimes in a rather graphic way, including this post, this post, this post and this post.

I was originally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD aged 17, nearly every time I have asked for help from mental healthcare professionals the Asperger’s Syndrome has dominated the conversations with little attention paid to the ADHD. When I was at school this wasn’t picked up because (a) it was the early 1990’s and nothing much was known about Asperger’s other than classical Autism and (b) I was rowdy, but generally a good student. You could often describe me as “the class clown”, I had my good days and bad days, but in the subjects I was good at I did want to learn.

In the UK and especially within the NHS, the idea that ADHD can exist in adults is often considered as nonsense. ADHD is a childhood disorder and ends when children grow up, Ritalin the main drug used to treat it, isn’t even officially licensed for use in adults; so the idea that someone could go through their childhood without being diagnosed with ADHD and then expect treatment as an adult is preposterous! I have seen at least 5 psychiatrists, probably more who have told me this and therefore refused to even consider treating me or referring me to someone who could help – despite there being a specialist clinic at the Maudsley Hospital in South London.

So last week I was amazed when I went to see Dr Trevor Turner a psychiatrist with East London NHS Trust who within a 30 minute appointment confirmed the ADHD diagnosis and then agreed to write to my GP asking him to prescribe Ritalin to me. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, I never thought it would be so easy. At present I am waiting for Dr Turner’s letter to get to my GP, so I haven’t taken the medication yet.

The question is, after 17 years of dropping out of courses, jobs and generally being depressed and thinking things would never get better, if the Ritalin works and I get my concentration back, what do I do? The worst times started when I realised I couldn’t finish the university course I started in 2005, and although I tried again twice after that it never quite worked out, mostly because I couldn’t concentrate to get the work done.

So, do I go back to University? I am thinking that if things have improved by September then I might enrol on an Access to HE course (which I did try once before, but gave up on) at a local college in East London. If that works out at least I will have completed something since I was 16!

Of course I could be completely wrong – even with the drugs I might be not able to do it. I dunno, the trouble is that I am 31 now and not getting any younger. Do I want to loose another 4 years of my life?! I wish I had a time machine…

So things are getting better and I hope they will continue to do so, even if no-one wants to give me a job at the moment!

Updates to last post

In my last post I talked about how I was struggling with assignments and had difficulty accessing the JANET UK Univesrsity Roaming Service. I am glad to say that I have now finished the assignment I was struggling with and that I have resolved the issues I was having with Roaming.

I think the main issue with the Assignment – which was to write a report about a Engineer/Technologist who had made a significant impact on society, was that I had tried to go too deep. No word limit was specified and although pointers were specified about the sort of information required I didn’t really know how much detail to write about each bit.

Anyway, its all over now and I just have to get an assignment done for a module called “Product Realisation” which is about how the electronics industry actually works. I have 2 circuit diagrams and I have to copy them into a SPICE simulation package called Multisim, then do the PCB layout in Ultiboard (which is part of the same package as Multisim).

This is a fairly easy task, but unfortunately Multisim/Ultiboard are not available off campus due to licensing restrictions and the licenses are a bit difficult to bypass. But I have until 17th December to do that, so I expect it will be OK in the end. Incidentally Multisim is a very bad package and my tutor says he was once given a spec for a military project which specifically said “DO NOT USE MULTISIM!”

The issue with the Roaming Service was that I had my wireless driver set to verify the certificate provided, clearly something dodgy is going on at Bolton, because there instructions specifically say to turn off certificate verification! Again this is another example of how bad a University it is and how it has become too big for its boots! Never enough computers available for use, very small library and a general penny pinching attitude – we’ll try and get as many students on a course as we can, never mind if its booked for a room where there aren’t enough computers or we don’t have enough licenses for the software they are using!

I will try to decide in a few months time what to do next, weather to stick around or take my credits and go somewhere else…

Trying to get Assignments done!

So, I guess we all (Students) have this problem, assignment x is due on date y, Time is now y-4 and it isn’t done! Like I said back in “Hello from Newcastle“, these things are difficult for me.

I think that the latest batch of undergradates are probably members of the ADD generation – not that they have ADD, but more that life has too many distractions. Facebook, Myspace, IM, email, texts… we can now access these services anywhere at any time. Nearly everyone has a laptop or some kind of computer of their own and the temptation to go off and chat/social network is probably greatest when we are bored, but know whe have stuff to do: Procrastination. Workplaces have to block these sites because people would get no work done otherwise (not to mention the possibility of litigation).

Now I know I cannot blame anyone for this, no-one held a gun to my head and said “join Facebook” but sometimes it seems that way! I guess in these modern times our lives are bankrupt to the point where we just have to know what everyone else is doing to be happy!

Tonight I had a plan, thanks to agreements between North West Universities I am able to go to any University and use their library to study. I am also able (theoretically) to use Internet facilities of  any University in the UK that participates in the Eduroam Service. I made this choice because home is too distracting and Bolton has a very poor library with little space to study and never enough computers.

So I went to Lancaster University, because I know that there is no requirement there to show ID to get in, so no arguments with jobsworth security guards. I did do some work, approxmately 300 words about Alan Turing for an assignment due Friday, but sadly Eduroam failed. I could not logon to the system and I don’t know if this is the fault of Bolton or Lancaster, but according to JAnet their systems are supposedly up to scratch. I have emailed Bolton to ask what’s up.

Possibly this wasn’t the best of ideas, an hour’s travelling time or so each way to do 300 words, but I did do something and I suppose I should think about that rather than thinking “I can’t do this, there is no point in me remaining at University”.

Tips and Stuff

I have recently moved to a new virtual server hosting provider, Linode have hosting centres in 4 locations in the US and allow you to pick which centre you would like your server in. They have a great web user interface and are cheaper than my previous provider, Slicehost. So now I am paying about half what I was for hosting. I have also got away with using a lot less memory for my virtual server, by implementing some different ways of getting around spam.

Realtime DNS Block Lists (DBL)

DBL’s store a list of known IP addresses which should not be trusted when receving mail, either they are IP’s assigned to home machines (DSL/Cable clients) or known spammers caught out by traps. There are a few DBL’s, but until now I have only been using one – Spamhaus, but sadly this doesn’t catch most spammers. I have now been through my configuration and included a few more DBL’s which are listed below. The advantage of this is that looking up an IP in a DBL is not processor or RAM intensive and does not require an external program – like Spamassasin. I have also implemented a few features in postfix which allow the looking up of hosts who try to exchange mail with my server, if the hostname they are giving doesn’t match their actual hostname or they have no A record or MX record for the domain they are using, postfix will end the connection.

smtpd_recipient_restrictions =
permit_mynetworks,
permit_sasl_authenticated,
reject_unauth_destination,
reject_invalid_hostname,
reject_non_fqdn_hostname,
reject_unauth_pipelining,
reject_non_fqdn_sender,
reject_non_fqdn_recipient,
reject_unknown_sender_domain,
reject_unknown_recipient_domain,
reject_rbl_client dnsbl.sorbs.net,
reject_rbl_client zen.spamhaus.org,
reject_rbl_client b.barracudacentral.org,
#reject_rbl_client t1.dnsbl.net.au,
reject_rbl_client dnsbl.njabl.org,
reject_rbl_client dnsbl.ahbl.org,
permit_mx_backup

It is very important that “permit_mx_backup” goes at the end, because I am finding that spammers will take advantage of backup MX servers to get their spam accepted in some way, which then causes a lot of dead return to sender messages in your queue later.

With the “reject_rbl_client” lines I have in this config, I don’t have to use Spamassasin or other spam anaylsis programs at presnt, the few spams I am getting are minimal and may have been things I accidentially signed up to in the past! t1.dnsbl.net.au was blocking Google Mail last night, which is why I have blocked it. barracudacentral.org requires that you sign up to use their service first.

Moving MySQL

I have to admit that I am no programmer; Systems Administration, Network Administration and troubleshooting come fairly easily to me, but programming has always passed me by. I have often just blindly copied something someone else has done to get by and I remember when I was young spending hours typing in source code from magazines to see try out programs and stuff!

So when it comes to SQL people say “well its not that hard, its mostly english!” but you have to remember the order things go in and weather a line needs a ; at the end, etc… I have tried to get into PHP and stuff, but I just get really bored and give up. I have a load of programming books on C and PHP if anyone is interested!

I use some SQL on my server – WordPress, which makes this blog work uses MySQL… but to keep it going I had to move it from my old server to my new one.

I followed the usual instructions, to backup your databases use:

mysqldump -u root -p --all-databases > database_backup.sql

And then to restore:

mysql -u root -p < database_backup.sql

Then presto and everything is back, but is it working? Well it might be a good idea to try:

/etc/init.d/mysql restart

Because when you import your old databases, you overwrite the passwords for the users that are stored in them. In the file /etc/mysql/debian.cnf there are settings for a user called debian-sys-maint which is setup when you install MySQL. A password is generated for this user and then stored in the file, when you import all databases you overwrite the users database which then overwites this password, causing debian-sys-maint to be unable to access the database and a failure when you try to start MySQL, although the daemon is running.

phpMyAdmin is your friend here, because you need no knowledge of SQL commands to go in and change the password for a user, therefore fixing this nasty problem! Once you’ve done that you can then use this command to stop MySQL (as /etc/init.d/mysql stop won’t work):

kill | cat `/var/run/mysqld/mysqld.pid`

Then go ahead and start MySQL as normal:

/etc/init.d/mysql start

Uninterruptible Power Supplies and their lack of Uninterruptible-ness

An Uninterruptible Power Supply or UPS is a big battery that will keep your computer running if the power goes off, it will also protect it from surges and incidents when the power dips to what it should be. They are very useful for when you need to move things around or if you have electricity that you have to pay for in advanced (and will therefore be switched off automatically if you have no credit).

I have had small UPS’s for a few years which are about enough to keep an average desktop PC going for about 10 mins if the power fails. However, I have recently had to start dealing with them at work, since we have moved away from Co-located hosting to hosting our servers at our office. When you are running UPS’s commerically, the need for power cannot be overstated – you need things to be as overkill as possible! Most UPS’s (anything designed for keeping more than just one PC going) will have overload detection and if the UPS detects an overload, it will start to shut itself down – because if the power were to be lost, the batteries could not take the load and the servers connected would not be able to shutdown gracefully.

However this means that mains power is lost to these connected servers and hence zap – no power… Well, in our case it means a 50% reduction in power as the servers have 2 PSU’s each which are redunant. However, it is not so easy to build redundancy into a network, and taking out the UPS that the network switches are connected to will take down the servers as they can’t talk to the outside world… resulting in my mobile phone ringing and someone giving me grief that they can’t do any work!

Teamed Network Cards are network cards that can run in pairs (or more) providing greater throughput or redundancy if they are connected to different switches (in different UPS’s!) however my employer apparently has little interest int he redundancy aspect of this and uses teaming only for throughput… why have 1Gb/s when you can have 2Gb/s?!

After this happening twice today, I had to bypass the UPS’s entirely as they were getting less reliable than the service from the electricity provider!

Whilst I like my job, I hate the fact that my employer prefers to buy his parts on eBay and expects great performance from a limited budget!

Well, I think that is all for tonight… until next time (in the imortal words of Sara Cox) – “rave safe kids, rave safe!”

The problem with ADD

So I think I have finally figured it all out; no, not the answer to the great question about life, the universe and everything, that would be 42! What I have I finally realised is why I have so much potential (or at least people keep telling me that I do) but fail to use any of it.

About three weeks ago I re-enrolled on 2 modules that I failed 2 years ago when I took the Foundation Year in Technology the first time. So I am back to being a student at the University of Plymouth; the computers may have gotten faster, but they broke the Intranet system!

Hurray for me; so why so glum, you ask?!

When I was a kid, I had trouble learning maths, tables would never stick in my head, I would always use a calculator when I could. You’re probably saying “but most kids do that!”. Well giving into the calculator is fine when you’re just adding up a few numbers, but when you are trying to factorise quadratic equations or solve simultaneous equations, you kinda wish you hadn’t given so easily.

Maths is the foundation of the Universe, it is also the foundation of electronics, communications and every form of engineering. Everything I want to do over the next 5 years relies on maths. So the fact that I can’t do maths at around high school level is a problem.

I said this was about all of my problems not just maths, right? Well I give in too easily, so therefore I never exercise my brain enough to keep it going. So my brain atrophies and I get more frustrated that I can’t learn new stuff and get past this foundation year.

You know what the biggest problem of all is? Doctor’s don’t believe me, apparently I do not have ADD and all of my problems can be explained by Asperger’s. Maybe I just didn’t explain myself properly or perhaps I come across as someone who might abuse stimulant drugs. I don’t know, but my suspicion is that Adult ADD is just too controversial for the British National Health Service (certainly at a local level here in Plymouth) and so I will never get referred to someone who actually knows what they are talking about – something I have been asking for for the last two years, ever since my trip to Newcastle.

Perhaps the worst thing is that I can’t put the required effort into CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) because I give up and think its a load of BS! So I can’t cure myself of my wanting a silver bullet for the ADD or the giving up on everything.

So I am going to try again to keep going and not loose hope in my course and myself, but its hard. When I was younger I didn’t give in so easily, but now I guess I give in before I have really tried most things.

Perhaps getting this out there will give me some hope, but I doubt it…

First time tequila…

…the room won’t stop spinning! Someone help me.

That was 2am, now its nearly 6am I have slept for a couple of hours and can’t get back to sleep!

I was out for a quiet drink with my housemates and then bumped into a couple of people from my course at Uni (which was nearly 2 years ago now!). The upshot of it was that I got brought lots of beer and then a shot of tequila, complete with salt and lemons!

They suggested I go back to University and try to do the course I originally wanted to do – computer systems and networks. Whilst I know I have the brain to do the work, I have this alter ego, lets call him Mr ADHD, that likes to get in the way of doing that work. My original plan was to try and get treatment for that and THEN go back to University. Well, two years after being suicidal because I couldn’t get the work I knew I could do done, I’m STILL waiting for some kind of treatment for that, although I have seen 2 shrinks now!

So, what do you think? Continue the search for mindless annoying jobs or go back to Uni?

Breaking the habit of a lifetime

Written on the train and then posted later…

So, you find me on a train from Plymouth to London (“The Mayflower”), but for a change this isn’t a random trip to escape the demons in my head! Maybe I will finally see them in Technicolor because I am going for an MRI scan.

I have volunteered to take part in some autism research at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London. I am not sure of the full details of what they are looking for, but I know that it involves an MRI scan – which will be at 8:30pm tonight.

Anyway, my point for this blog is to discuss the problems I am having right now. Yesterday my folks were in town and we went to see a mental health social worker who I saw previously back in January. This all relates back to my previous incidents in Newcastle, Brussels and of course New York.

Now, if you were at the point of suicide and had been rescued from a disused railway viaduct by the Police, then admitted to psychiatrists, mental health nurses and your GP that you felt suicidal, you wouldn’t think that it would take 4 months before you actually got someone assigned to you from the mental health service; You wouldn’t expect to still be waiting to see a psychiatrist (other than an emergency assessment at a Police station), would you?

But this is the reality I am facing in Plymouth, which is one of the poorest wards in England. Clearly no-one in a position of power cares about human life; otherwise I would have gotten some help by now, right?

So, subject to approval, the social worker will soon be seeing me on a regular basis. But this doesn’t really help me with the problems I had back in November. Things have only gotten worse since, I took my trip to see Gina in New York after I missed a coursework and a test in Maths at University, I was in a position where I just concentrate and didn’t get the work done on time. The coursework was essentially to do the sample version of the test, since I knew I just couldn’t get what I needed to know into my head for the coursework, I really didn’t think I had much chance with the test. Whilst I was in NY I missed another deadline for a very easy (albeit tedious) coursework in computing, the lecturer wrote to me telling me that she was ‘disappointed’ since I had gotten such high scores in previous assignments and tests.

So, I am told that the ball is in my court now. I have two more assignments with deadlines looming, more maths and also statistics, if I can get these in (before the end of the week) then I might be able to pass those modules. I am not so hopeful, the maths assignment involves writing a Visual Basic program to rotate a cube around its x, y and z axis (using matrices) and the stats assignment covers work that I missed while I was in NY and I haven’t been to many lectures since I came back.

I probably can’t pass electronics since the deadline for most of this terms work was last week, although I got 74% in my work from last term. I haven’t done any work for my project, other than write a proposal, although that doesn’t have to be in until May. There is one last computing assignment (write 3 pages of HTML on a computing related subject!), due April 27th.

I need 120 credits to pass this year, if I get between 60-120 credits I will have to do referral work over the summer and if I get less than 60 credits I will have to repeat the year. Unfortunately maths is worth 40 credits, statistics, electronics & computing 20 credits each and the project is worth 10 credits. I don’t think I can pass.

So, what’s this about the habit of a lifetime? Well ever since I left high school in 1996 I haven’t managed to pass any course that I have signed up to and I have taken quite a few. Admittedly, it wasn’t all my fault; I found out a few months into one course that I had Asperger’s Syndrome and was sent off to a residential college for instance.

So after 10 years of messing up courses and maybe 12 years of running off when things got too tough I am not sure I can ever change my habits. Don’t get me wrong, I really do want to do this degree, I just don’t know how I can fix all my issues.
Take 24hrs in my life for example: yesterday, after seeing the social worker, my university tutor and a disability advisor at university, I did think I could try and do the maths and stats assignments, but then after my folks went home I laid down for a nap and got up 4hrs later. I didn’t do any work apart from briefly looking up matrices in a maths textbook (then thinking ‘shit how will I use this to make a cube move’), I stayed up late, watched a DVD and chatted to Gina on the phone for an hour.

Before I took that nap I had agreed to meet up with some course mates to catch-up with stats, which would have happened this morning but I stayed in bed until 1pm and then had to rush around to get my stuff together for this London trip. I didn’t bring any work with me.

So you see, its futile if I can’t keep the promises I made to myself for 24hrs, what hope do I have of keeping them for the next 2 months to get this year finished, or even the next 4 years to get my degree?

If anything, going to New York messed things up even more. When I didn’t have to focus on maths, stats, electronics and computing, I found that I wasn’t too bad at looking after kids, making sure folks were up to go to school and cleaning other peoples houses! Heck, I even got to walk around 127 acres of farmland and shoot a 30-30 Winchester rifle (I missed the target though!).

But I am kidding myself if I thing I can live that life. The American government would never let me live and work in the US. I have no degree, no hotshot job and most importantly (given I have diabetes and pancreatic insufficiency) no medical insurance no garcinia cambogia.

So, I guess I all I can do is try and wait. Try to do my best at University and wait and see if any Psychiatrist is interested treating my ADHD.

Meanwhile the Voyage of the Mayflower continues. See you in London!

The results are in…

So, after all that hassle of last term I am proud to announce the following results:

TECH029: Introduction to Computer Systems

Initial Assignment on Computer Systems/Binary:
84%

ICT & Society Group Assignment:
Presentation: 54.5%
Writeup: 48.5%

Overall module score:
63.78%

TECH028: Introduction to Computer Programming and Applications
Visual Basic Section:
In Class Test 1: 78%

End of Module Test: 72%

Programming Assignment: 85%