Aspergers, Empathy & Facial Expressions

Like most people with Aspergers Syndrome, I am not very good with facial expressions. When you don’t have a natural ability to see facial expressions, you never learn to look for them. I suppose it would be a bit like a dog looking at a book, he could see the book, he could probably see the words, but they would have no meaning. Thankfully recognising facial expressions and recognising people’s faces are two different functions (neurologically speaking I mean) and I have a very good memory for faces.

When I look at a face I notice the shape, the symmetry (or lack there of), the eyes and mouth and I take an automatic snapshot which I can bring to mind at any point later on, even years later. When I see people in a photograph I have the ability to mentally bring them out of the photo and I can see them as large as life in my minds eye, even if I have never met them before.  What I can’t do is associate any emotion to that face. I developed a habit of judging people’s emotions by their actions and their speech rather than their body language or facial expressions. Obviously this leads to the odd misunderstanding and causes the odd problem, but it is the best I can do.

Equally I am not very good at facial expressions. I have often been told I look angry or sad, when all I am actually doing is thinking. I often stare into middle distance, not caring or noticing what I might be staring at, and if there happens to be a person in the general direction, well you get the idea. The research I have read indicates that most babies learn to mirror the emotions of people around and they pick them up very quickly a bit like language. In people with Aspergers, the part of the brain that deals with all of this simply doesn’t function correctly due to the developmental problems caused by Autism/Aspergers Syndrome.

EmpathySadly this is the most common symptom of Aspergers Syndrome, and it is one of the main reasons why socialising and maintaining long term friendships can be difficult. The inability to read facial expressions is why people with Aspergers Syndrome have trouble empathising with others, it isn’t a matter of a lack of empathy; rather it is the inability to notice emotions in others. In fact many people with Aspergers are probably overly empathetic when they actually realise someone else in pain or unhappy.

Zen Emu X



RIP Alex “Hurricane” Higgins

Alex Higgins

I just wanted to write a quick post dedicated to Alex “Hurricane” Higgins. I love snooker and although I am not old enough to have appreciated Alex Higgins in his prime (he was world champion from 1972 to 1982), I do remember the latter part of his career and he was a truly exceptional snooker player.

The one thing you could always guarantee with Higgins was entertainment, when he wasn’t busy being a genius on the table he was busy giving the finger to the elitist and rather stuffy sport snooker had become. Higgins popularised a sport which takes incredible natural talent combined with excellent hand/eye coordination, extreme concentration, a natural talent for strategy and mental endurance. Higgins had all of these things in spades.

Obviously Higgins had his darker side too, and that was in no short part due to his alcohol problem, but one thing is certain, Alex Higgins made snooker a game worth watching. He was a breath of fresh air who inspired a whole new generation of players and I doubt we will see his kind again, which is a shame, as snooker is currently at its lowest ebb, as none of his protégés had his style or charisma.

As Alex Once said: “Snooker has gone down the tubes. It has been run by friends of friends who couldn’t organise a raffle.”

RIP Alex



Search Engine Optimization

SO then, Search Engine Optimization; It’s a bit of a sticking point with a lot of people, and to be honest I am no expert. What I am convinced of though is that there aren’t any experts in this field at all, there is simply a bit of common sense.

I’ve been designing websites for a little over 15 years now; many of those sites have gone on to be very successful, some haven’t. I like to think that I have learned a thing or two in that time.

Before we begin though, there are some points that need clearing up. There are no promises, short cuts or guarantees. Search engines like Google use incredibly complicated algorithms to decide where to place your website in their listings and they take into account lots of factors before deciding where your website comes up on their listings.

You will come across people who claim they have a good idea of how these  search engine algorithms work, but the truth is, Google and the others constantly change these formulae and for good reason. After all, what use is a search engine that doesn’t deliver a good but impartial search result (I’m ignoring paid listings here)?

What I can do here is give you some good quality tips which, if you follow them, will deliver a good search ranking and consistent traffic flow to your website.

Let’s start with the basics:

Website Design

The days are long gone where you can assume that most people will be accessing your website through Internet Explorer or Firefox. So your main goal when you design your website should be to create clean, elegant and browser neutral code. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and <div> tags should be used to create the layout of your website. Avoid the use of tables, layers, frames and iframes, as these are not only inefficient, but also each browser tends to render them a little differently.

Keep things simple, avoid fancy effects and browser specific bits of code because these are messy and they still need to be read by browsers that aren’t going to use them.

Avoid flash if you can. Flash files are difficult to optimize for a search engine, they are large and take up a lot of bandwidth, they require the flash plug-in (something that most mobile browsers lack).

Keep CSS and Javascript down to one individual file each and be careful not to duplicate any code. The idea is to keep these files as small as possible.

If  I am honest, I am unsure that it is now necessary to create a mobile browser version of your site as most of these devices now carry fantastic browsers that can easily render a well designed and thought-out layout

Pay close attention to the <Title> tag, it is vital to have good titles. Don’t use filler words in the title though – think Newspaper Headlines, they should be made of nouns and adjectives. Equally pay attention to the <h1> and <h2> tags. These are headline tags and Google specifically always seem interested in them. Again use newspaper headline type text in these and use your CSS file to define their appearance as the default is pretty ugly.

Third Party Scripts

If you are using a third part script like a blog, forum or content management system, be sure to take every measure possible to create search engine friendly URL’s. Most of these scripts have some form of SEO plug-in, which will help. If you are comfortable there are always tweaks you can make to the code to improve SEO and general performance. With these types of scripts it is usually a good plan to cache content in order to reduce the load on the database, which will have the result in delivering faster content and hopefully less database errors.


Keep website navigation simple and direct. Users want to be able to go to your website and find the information they seek in as few steps and with as little hassle as possible. Search engines are no different. A well thought out navigation system will help immeasurably when a search engine is indexing. Be sure to cross link related and relevant pages from within your website.


This blog is about Aspergers Syndrome mostly, and it is a terrible example of SEO, because it isn’t ALL about Aspergers Syndrome, but then it isn’t a business either.  Try to et relevant key phrases and words into your content into every page on your site, but not to the point where it appears strange or inappropriate,  but don’t go overboard.

Write pages that describe the subject of your site, its history, relevant facts and interesting notes. Often these pages probably won’t get a lot of human visitors to be fair, but they show commitment to your subject matter and search engines tend to appreciate the extra effort.

Content should always be unique and there should be plenty of it. Pretty much every search engine will punish you for plagiarism. Phrase things in ways you think your visitors might when searching. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a complete design and some good solid before going live with a website. Launching a site with plenty of content ready to go will make a world of difference to launching a buggy site with poor beta content. As a rule of thumb I won’t launch a clients website without at least 90% of the content and 100% of the design in place.


Probably the most important place you can submit your website to is DMOZ – The Open Directory. DMOZ is a directory which uses people to review any submissions, and because of that, Google, MSN, Bing, AOL and numerous others trust its links, and it is where all of them send their spiders to try to find new links. Once on there, your site will quickly start popping up on most if not all search engines.

Don’t over submit your site to search engines, it is a good way to get penalized or even blacklisted and for gods sake don’t use automated website submission tools. Search engines can detect these and they won’t be impressed.


Generate an XML sitemap showing the content of your website, listing new content and changed content. There are several programs, plug-ins and bits of code out there to help you automate this, but you can submit your sitemaps to Google, Yahoo and Bing, ensuring that new content is indexed as quickly as possible.

Links to your site

This seems to be a sticking point for a lot of people. The best way to get links to your site is to ask. Email other website owners who promote things that are beneficial to your content and ask them for a reciprocal link.

Google Alerts is a good way of finding related websites, blogs and forums and use these to participate in discussions relevant to your site and link back using your signature or just your profile. I implore you thought to please respect the rules of other websites. I have run many forums and blogs and there is nothing worse than spam. If you and your website get a reputation as a source of spam I promise things are going to be a hundred times more difficult for you.

Use Facebook and Twitter as a friendly method of pointing people to new content, but again don’t go overboard. People don’t log onto social networking websites to be bombarded with spam. In Facebook start a group which links to your site and allows you to post links to your latest website news / content. Again participate in discussions on these sites. Links from relevant content are infinitely more valuable than links from random websites. In other words try to contribute to awareness of your subject in general.

Use Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics to see where your traffic is coming from and how it is getting there. You can use this invaluable information’s to look at mpopular content, traffic sources and trends on your website and you can use this information to tailor your content and marketing stragies accordingly. Take some time to analyze this information  though and consider the very best way to use it.

Keep your wallet closed

SEO shouldn’t really cost you anything unless you are a large business wanting paid for or pay per click listings. I have never been convinced these paid for approaches generate significant traffic for 99.9% of websites. In my view aside from SEO friendly add-ons/plug-ins for third party scripts if you are not comfortable writing your own, there really shouldn’t be any outlay for SEO. All it should cost you really is time and not your hard earned money.


SEO is an ongoing process. Scripting languages change, browsers, search engines often move the goal posts by taking into account hundreds of different things, and awareness of your website will take a while. If you follow the above tips, your traffic will grow consistently; you just need to give it a little time.

I will cover some of these points in much greater detail in some future posts when I have the time as I realise I have been a little vague in a lot of areas, but for now put these general principles into play and hopefully you will see the rewards.

ZenEmu X

zx spectrum

Take it apart.

Since I was a very small child I have always loved understanding how things work. I could often be found taking apart random pieces of technology that I came across. I have been told this is an Aspergers trait, I don’t know. What I do know is that I was a little sod and by the age of ten I had taken apart and reassembled (successfully for the most part), pretty much everything electrical in the house and some stuff that wasn’t in the house, or even my property.

At this point I should apologise to my childhood friend and neighbour Mark, whose 48k ZX spectrum taught me about soldering. Happily I like to think it worked a little better when he eventually got it back as I had replaced the internal speaker and the modulator with a better model. I thought it would be a nice suprise, but now I come to think about it, he didn’t talk to me a lot after that and I don’t think he noticed the improvements, so maybe this is an Aspergers Issue after all.

Sure there were arguements, disagreements, punishments and a few electric shocks along the way (a halogen lamp comes to mind and so does a very painful incident with a microwave magnetron), but you live and learn and a few electrical burns are all part of life’s rich tapestry are they not?

I didn’t often actually break things and in some cases I improved them. I had the fastest Commodore 64 on the block and the datasette (tape recorder) could read audio cassettes , so it could play audio tapes through the television too!

I don’t often feel the need to take bits of technology apart as often these days. I can usually guess pretty much how things work thanks to many happy years of tinkering. However a few years ago I came across a wonderful website that brought all those wonderful childhood experiences flooding back and but also served to reduced the urge to disassemble expensive electrical items, which I have also discovered isn’t a great hobby if you want to keep the peace in a loving adult relationship.

Started by two like minded chaps called Christopher Tomkins-Titch and his good friend Brandon Kimball, TakeItApart.net consists of videos, slideshows and descriptions which show you what is inside your favourite tech and how it all works without you needing to go out, buy and then attack with a screwdriver. Hopefully it will save some of you guys invalidating your warrantees’.

Chris & Brandon justify taking these things apart by claiming they are dusty or some such nonsense, but the truth is, sometimes you just have to know what makes something work.

Anyway, they (and I) deny any responsibility for you destroying your tech by taking it apart, so have fun doing it, but it is your fault if it doesn’t work afterwards.

P.S. I apologise for the lack of posts this month, it’s just been a bit of a hectic and wierd couple of weeks.

Remember, If curious about your tech dismantle it. If it still works afterwards it is yours. If it doesn’t it was never yours to begin with.

ZenEmu X