Georgia State Special Olympics

I attended Georgia Special Olympics at Emory University last week. It was a really mind boggling experience. I participated in 2 events – the 100 meters sprint and the 200 meters sprint. I did well in both events, winning the silver in the 200 meters and the Bronze in the 100 meters.

What impressed me the most was the grit and the determination of all the athletes.  I was blown away by the courage of the athletes, the seemingly insurmountable odds they overcame to compete, and the cheerful optimism they exuded. My disability was trifling in comparison.

The haves and have-nots fused into one at the Special Olympics. Everyone had a marvelous time competing in various events. The organizers zealously cheered every contestant, even those in the last place or struggling to finish their races. The volunteers were equally generous with their time and praise. Such was the spirit of magnanimity in the Games. The Special Olympics epitomized teamwork at its finest.

I wonder why special education in schools doesn’t follow the same model as the Special Olympics. Far from encouraging every student from reaching their maximum potential, the schools are bent upon denying education to special needs students. We are thought to be fit only for the lowliest and most menial tasks. The schools are overlooking a vast, untapped pool of talent. If only some of the teachers and administrators got out of their ivory towers and watched us fighters at the Special Olympics!


My Moment of Awakening

The moment was a bookend to my teen years. I was 14 years old and attending Hull Middle School in Duluth, GA. I was working on an assignment with my classroom teacher, Ms. Pamela Hau, when she said:  “Ashish, your work can be so much better if you put your mind to it. What is preventing you from doing better at school?  How can I help you?”

Up until then I was not a diligent student. I did not take my studies seriously. Despite my best efforts, things did not come easily to me. My brain worked too quickly and in a haphazard manner to make proper sense of anything.  It seemed to fly off in a million different directions, no matter how hard I tried to regulate it.  I was at a loss to explain what was happening in my brain.  I did not comprehend fully yet how my brain functioned.  However, I resolved to try and quiet my brain so I could learn more productively. I resolved to work harder and better meet her expectations.

From that moment onwards, I made a conscious effort to improve my understanding of the material taught in class. I worked regularly on my homework assignments. I did my best to slow my brain down so I could comprehend things better. I tried to minimize distractions so that my brain could focus. I thought a lot about how I could learn in a more constructive manner, about how I could decompose my thoughts into logical chunks.  Could I learn new concepts quick enough? How soon could I show meaningful improvement? The constant refrain in my brain was:
Enough if this self-doubt! 

         Enough of self pity! 

         It is time to swing into action!

         It is time to show the world what Ashish is capable of!!

That day was a turning point in my life. There was no looking back! I started showing results quickly after that. I made real progress in all my classes. I started doing well in my tests. My teacher was happy with my progress and so was I. Life was so much better with a boost in self esteem from accomplishing things at school.

At the end of the semester, Ms. Hau left the school to move back home to Wisconsin. Before she left, she told me she was very proud of my progress. She told me to have high expectations of myself, and always strive to be a high achiever.  Her words inspire me to this day. Because of her inspiration, I am able to pursue a High School diploma today. Perhaps the day I get my High School diploma will be the closing bookend to this particular journey.

Back to the Future

Most of the time we live in the present. I feel we should make an effort to imagine living in the future.  Let me explain:

The Future

Given that the Earth is very likely to be overwhelmed by natural disasters within the next century, let’s imagine that we are transported to Mars to escape Earth. Imagine that we are living in a biting cold climate in a space suit.  We don’t have food to eat; we sustain ourselves by swallowing nutrition tablets.  We don’t have beds to sleep in; we sleep standing up in our space suits.  We don’t converse because there is no air to propagate sound.  Life would be very boring indeed!

Despite this humdrum existence, we would develop our civilization on Mars.  Elon Musk would find a way to launch a giant mirror in space that would reflect the light from the Sun on Mars.  There would now be signs of life on Mars.  We would now be able to live on Mars like we did on earth.  We would be a lot more careful about what we eat and how we live.  Pollution would be non-existent and we would eat only renewable plant-based food.  The weather patterns will be a lot more stable, and there will be little to no change in the chemical composition of the atmosphere.  We would move around in Tesla’s powered solely by sunlight – there is already one waiting for us on Mars!  Most forms of life will thrive in this scenario.  It will be like Heaven on Earth!

Back to the Present

Instead of moving millions of miles to another planet to create utopia, let’s work with a sense of utmost urgency to reclaim the Earth.  Let’s eliminate meat and dairy from our diet, and let’s lead a simpler life with fewer wants.  We can soon drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels and the resulting pollution, reverse the ravages of climate change, and re-create heaven on Earth.  I would prefer this any day than to move to an alien planet.

Innovation in Education Conference

I really enjoyed this conference held at Georgia Tech.  I especially liked the sessions that focused on letter boarders going to college.  The presentation by Ivan Riobo and Dr. Gregory Abowd was very informative; I think it holds the keys to independence on the letter board.  It was nice to meet up with friends and others I had seen previously only on Skype.

I enjoyed the lecture on astronomy in the evening before the conference began. It was great to get a glimpse of the heavens through the telescope. The dance social was a lot of fun.  I met with a lady from California named Julie at the social.  She conducts a monthly happy hour for letter boarders.

I also loved the session on participating in the panel.  Thank you Ms. Shelley Carnes for allowing me to participate.  Even the many attendees from far away liked my answers on the panel. Below are the questions and my answers:

Question: What do you want to tell your audience about yourself as an autistic individual?
Answer: I am Ashish Jain. I am fortunate to have found my voice. The world has a lot to gain from autistic kids. We see patterns that others cannot. We see solutions that others cannot. We are in a position to bring change that others cannot. Please disregard our occasional bad behavior and try to discern our intelligence.

Question: What do you value most since you started communicating?
Answer: Intelligence and Relationships

Question: What advice would you give to people when you lose your regulation?
Answer: They should stay calm and not lose their control. Their stress escalates our behavior.

Question: As an unreliable speaker what do you want to tell your audience?
Answer: I have intelligence, and need your support to blossom to my fullest potential. You shouldn’t always trust what comes out of my mouth. Try to get to what I am really trying to say. I would be a billionaire getting a dollar for every time I said Olive Garden.

Question: If you could sum up in a sentence, what mantra would you give to other unreliable speakers?
Answer: Have hope, have a positive mindset, treat each obstacle as opportunity to grow. Most importantly – Be cool.

1/19/17- Less Obvious Causes of Global Warming

Global warming is a complex phenomenon to comprehend and analyze. There are a multitude of factors that are in play and are inter-related. The relationships are not always easy to discern and sometimes counteract each other.

Let’s take the example of electric cars. They are supposed to fight global warming. But that is not always the case. If the electricity used to charge the cars comes from coal-fired power plants, then the electric car is not helping the cause of global warming.

Another example is Daylight Savings Time. The passage of Daylight Savings Time legislation was supposed to reduce the use of electricity. However, Daylight Savings Time promotes the use of more fossil fuels; people are likely to drive more when there is more daylight. They are also more likely to use more electricity in the evening hours by running their cooling units for longer.

Yet another example is the idling of cars is at drive-through windows. Drive-through windows are a great convenience for elderly and disabled people. However, they are used by everyone. It is common to see long lines of vehicles at drive-through windows. The amount of carbon emissions from idling vehicles is enormous. Think twice before using the drive-through!

My last example is about how eating meat contributes to global warming. Meat is produced by killing livestock. Animals first need to be raised and fed before they can be killed for meat. The grains and plants require to feed the animals often require forests to be cut down for agricultural use. The resulting de-forestation contributes to global warming.

Hopefully the above examples are meaningful and prod you to change your lifestyle.  All of us need to pull together to stop global warming. The two deadly hurricanes in recent months should be warning enough!

12/10/17- Funding for Special Education

Special education funding requires a change in course.  Governments are spending not enough money to educate children with autism. They are always short of funds to provide the necessary supports and services. This is unfair to the students and creates problems down the road for students, their families, and society at large. These problems include low self- esteem, unrealized potential, high unemployment, and lack of integration into society. The problem is worsening at an alarming rate.

My plan calls for government to work with private industry to identify skills that students with autism bring to the table (and there are many). The schools would then orient the curriculum towards the students acquiring proficiency in these skills. The students will graduate from high school ready for work and contribute meaningfully to the employer. For every successful placement the employer will reimburse the school with an agreed upon sum of money, thereby easing the financial burden of the school.

An example of a useful skill would be making pizza in a restaurant. The student will take classes in culinary arts, pizza basics, working with appliances, elementary math, language arts, and basic science. This will be supplemented with lots of practice in a test kitchen. This will ensure that the student graduates ready for a job.

Another example of a skill would be software testing. There is a huge demand for software testing, and students with autism are uniquely qualified for this work. The classes would include basics of Microsoft Office, basics of testing, and math classes to learn to record and analyze test results. This would be supplemented with extensive testing practice.

The government must initiate pilot projects with private companies at the earliest. There must be a sense of utmost urgency around this effort. Companies must be provided incentives like tax breaks to participate in such initiatives. Only then will measurable progress be made.

Pausing the wave of the Allure of Bitcoin

11/19/2017 Pausing the wave of the Allure of Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a phenomenon that is sweeping across the world like a tidal wave. Very few people understand what it is about; however, everyone is rushing to get a piece of the action.

People do not understand that bitcoin is an application of the technology called blockchain. Bitcoin has no intrinsic value like gold or silver. It does not seem to have any scarcity value either. It is being valued purely on the basis of emotion. Bitcoin is being used in transactions; however these transactions are shady like ransom ware, or they are used to launder money. There are very few legitimate transactions with bitcoin.

So, what is an investor to do? My suggestion would be to invest in the underlying technology, blockchain, instead. Blockchain has many other applications besides bitcoin. By investing in blockchain, one avoids the application specific risk. Of course one could miss out on outsize gains as well. I would recommend taking any profits in bitcoin and reinvesting them in blockchain.