May 2009 Archives

May 28, 2009

iPhone/iPod Touch and Autism in the News

This morning while going through the morning routine, I came across several news articles talking about communication applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch.  Proloquo2go was the app being featured, but each article spoke vaguely regarding the quiet applications that provide a benefit to those with disabilities. 

I started to think about how the truth in that statement.  Sure, we have all heard of the applications that help students lives on a college campus, help people get around town, or the games that can be played.  And I'm sure the application sales will reflect that the real market for apps on the iPhone and iPod Touch are these areas, but there is such a wealth of other applications that fill real needs in peoples lives, rather than just wants. 

For instance, there are a ton of learning and education applications.  Each application does one thing, and does it well.  You can learn another language, have reference books at a click of a button, or have access to a graphing calculator without needing to buy another device for roughly the same price (at least mine was back in the day).  Here I have found several applications for preschoolers, toddlers, and children in school that help them learn and develop in fun and engaging ways.  Some are even well adapted for several learning styles, and can be used by autistic children.  For me, at least, it alone makes the purchase of an iPod Touch worth the price. 

So, while the news is only catching up with what I've already posted in the past, it's refreshing to see the platform and those developers out there get recognition for the fine and important work that they do.  Sure, applications like iConverse or Proloquo2go will not have the downloads that Sound Grenade had, but I can guarantee that the applications will be used more often and longer than those little annoying apps that work once for a reaction and then are never used again. 

My thanks to all those out there who wish to use the iPhone and iPod Touch as a tool to help those with Autism show just how special and unique they are.  You are invaluable to our community, and the community of iPhone Developers.

May 27, 2009

iPhone and iPod Touch Apps for an Autistic Child

A while ago I was contacted by an educator that was looking for good applications on the iPhone for their autistic child.  They noticed that their autistic child will play with the games their other children play, but wondered at other applications that they could find for their child that would keep their interest. 

Well, I have mentioned both iConverse and Proloquo2go before, and both are fantastic communication assistance tools, but that is just for communication.  There are a number of other tools that can be just as useful for autistic children in learning how to read and write.  Here are a few that I have found very useful:

Memory Pro (free):  Memory games are fantastic because they focus on recall and memory retention.  All children should work at memory games, and autistic children are no acception.  The one drawback of this game is the attention required to play can be a bit much for an autistic child, or at least for my 4 year old. 

First Words Sampler (free):  My son loves this game!  You are given some words and a picture, and need to match the letters to the letters in the word.  You don't have to match them in the word order, because the word is spelled out and each letter is expanded while it is read, and then the word is read.  This is perfect for autistic children because of the combination of auditory and visual interaction reinforce learning.  My son sat literally still for an hour playing this game with the same 6 words over and over again.  This is a winner by far.

iWriteWords Lite (free):  iWriteWords app is a letter writing game.  Here children follow the numbers to write the letter, with visual and auditory interaction at the end of the process.  It's great for practicing writing letters, which my son does very well (surprising even his preschool teachers).  He does get a little frustrated with the need to follow the numbers to create the word, instead of writing in his own way and direction.  Still, he will play with this app through at least 4 words.  It's a great app as far as I'm concerned.

I Hear Ewe (free):  This app is great for picture and sound association, another skill important to learn for autistic children.  My son doesn't spend a lot of time in this app, though my nephew, who is not autistic, loves it.

TT Shapes (free for now):  This app was free when I downloaded it as a special offer, but will most likely become a $0.99 app soon.  Basically, the child clicks on the shape they are asked to select.  The shape to click on is both written out, and spoken, so they can learn the word and the sound of the word.  But writing is auditory, as is the spoken word, so it may take a lot of hand-holding to play this game.  My son will play it, but is more likely to select shapes in a pattern than any one specific shape requested.  Still, it's a pretty nice game if you want to play with your child. 

Hatch! (free):  My son hasn't played this game yet, because I just found it today, but it looks really cool!  Developed by a parent wishing to find some way to get their child to stay occupied at the grocery store, the app was born.  Ideal for any toddler, they just tap the screen to get it to hatch, and a random friend is "born".  It's a bit of fun that will keep them entertained, because the "friend" changes at each tap.  I played with it for a good 10 minutes, and didn't see a repeat "friend". 

So, those are the apps that I currently have chosen for my son.  On top of this, I would like to mention that iConverse now has an option to set custom pictures and phrases which use an internal text to speech engine included with the app.  Where I didn't think it was initially worth the $3.99 we paid for it (on special offer), I now think it's worth a lot more than the $9.99 at which it is currently listed.  I would recommend iConverse for parents that want to set up a custom phrase list to augment speech learning, and use Proloquo2go if you need a fully fleshed-out communications suite. 

May 19, 2009

Learning Captivate

Recently I have been looking at various trainer and instructional design positions to get a good view of what the Industry is looking for, and how we as a Continuing Education department could help meet those needs.  One program that kept coming up is Captivate.

Captivate, for those of you who are not familiar with the program, is a process and training development tool from Adobe.  It will make Flash videos from processes and provide a number of plugins, such as SCORM, so that these processes can be in turn graded and developed in that manner.  I haven't had any previous experience with Captivate in the past, and as such this new process is new to me.  Also, Captivate is not currently available for the Mac, which makes learning in a Virtual Machine all the more difficult. 

So why bother?  Well, for one, I can make a better looking test for my classes, and have the results plug directly into a WebCT or Moodle course.  I can also provide additional training that I don't have time to cover in class.  All in all, it's a great method for professional looking presentations that are self-paced.  Anyway, there is a chance that Captivate could be released for the Mac soon, and it will be interesting to see how it will be implemented. 

So how am I learning Captivate?  There is a Captivating video podcast that provides some great instruction on Captivate and using it in a classroom setting.  To date I know how to create a video demo and training process with Captivate, and I'm looking forward to the Editing episodes.

May 15, 2009

Kerberized SSH on Mac OS X v10.5 Server

This week I have been teaching the Advanced Systems Administration class for Mac OS X 10.5, and we talked about security and secure access.  As usual, I mentioned the security necessity for SSH authentication when accessing the server through the Command Line remotely, and how to set up public and private keys for authentication.  But there is an inherent flaw with the public and private key:  if someone manages to gain access to your computer and copy your private key, they have a non-authenticated method of accessing your system.  Also, if someone leaves the company and shouldn't have access to the server anymore, you need to remove their public key manually instead of just removing access through your Directory.So you have the following problem:  You need a login method that will allow you to SSH into the boxes you need access to without a password, but have some type of Directory-based key system that is secure, temporary, and key-based.  Enter Kerberos.  Kerberized SSH is not at all anything new, and I found a lot of Linux instructions on how to get it set up with Kerberos.  But I was hard-pressed to find a Mac OS X v10.5 Server instruction, and as such decided to write my own.  Hopefully this will be o some use for someone out there. Now, this assumes that you have Kerberos running, and the Mac OS X Server is either an Open Directory Master, Open Directory Replica, or Connected to a Directory System and kerberized.  The server itself will need to provide authentication through Kerberos for this to work.  You also need to make some minor changes to your .ssh directory in your Home Folder, and have your client bound to the directory.What we are going to do is install the Kerberos module for PAM authentication on the Mac OS X Server, configure the sshd PAM authentication rules for Kerberos, and then on the client side enable GSSAPI authentication.  It's as simple as that.  ^_^
  1. Download the pam_krb5 library from SourceForge.  This is the PAM authentication library necessary for Kerberos 5 to work in a PAM enabled service.  
  2. Extract and Compile:  I extracted the file in my Downloads directory and then compiled it right there.  Be sure you have Xcode installed, because you will need gcc.  I compiled it on a local machine and then copied the library to my server.  Once you run ./configure and get it to pass, just run make.  The library will be placed in the .lib directory (which is hidden).  You can then copy the pam_krb5.so file to the necessary spot or to a jump drive to drop on your server.  
  3. Place the pam_krb5.so module into the /usr/lib/pam/ directory on the server.  SSH gets its authentication information through PAM, so having the library here is crucial. 
  4. Edit the /etc/pam.d/sshd configuration file to look like the following:#sshd: auth account password sessionauth    required    pam_nologin.soauth    optional    pam_afpmount.soauth    sufficient    pam_securityserver.soauth    sufficient    pam_krb5.soauth    sufficient    pam_unix.soauth    required    pam_deny.soaccount    required    pam_securityserer.sopassword    required    pam_deny.sosession    required    pam_launchd.sosession    sufficient    pam_krb5.sosession    optional    pam_afpmount.so
  5. On your Mac OS X computer, create (if you don't have one already) a config file in your ~/.ssh/ directory with the following command: GSSAPIAuthentication yes
And that's it!  You can now log into any kerberized server using SSH, not need a password, or even build a public-private key structure.

May 8, 2009

Wheeler Farm Field Trip: My Son, My Wife, and I

My son's preschool had a field trip to Historic Wheeler Farm yesterday, and as I was pretty much done preparing for my class on Monday, I took some time off to go.  I haven't spent time at my son's school since I can rarely justify the time off, but this time I needed the experience. 

We met at his preschool at 8:40 AM, and my son got to spend a lot of time in the playground.  He immediately took off running, heading out of the playground and toward the parking lot.  Both my wife and I chased after him, and caught him.  He, of course, thought it was a game, and laughed like crazy.  Finally they opened the door and I got to see his beginning routine as they tried to keep the routine as close to normal as possible. 

We then headed out into the hall and toward the bus.  There were two, because the field trip was for both the Autistic class and the regular preschool class that meets at the same school.  We traveled with the regular class, and I sat with a couple of other kids while my son sat with my wife. 

Once there, my son again took off and ran into a paddock with only one gate, making it easy to keep track of him.  I think he just wanted the exercise out in the sun.  Anyway, I gathered him up quickly and we took the tour with his class. 

My son didn't seem that interested in the animals, so I carried him mostly on my shoulders so I knew he wasn't down by the river playing in the water (it was running really fast).  So I took the time to look at the other parents and how they acted.

It was odd, being with other parents of autistic children.  We were all very protective of our children, wanting to keep close tabs on them, and very anxious with their behavior.  That is only to be expected, though, as some children had melt-downs when they were asked to sit without anything happening to keep their attention, or getting on the bus at a time when they didn't expect to be on the bus (thinking they were going home early).  It comes with the job of being an parent of an autistic child. 

One thing was interesting was a mother of a child that was a year older than our son.  She has an older daughter that is not autistic, and decided to stop at having just two children.  She also defended the decision immediately, trying to explain why she made it to us.  She didn't, need to, because we had come to the same conclusion after we found out our son was Autistic.  The attention required to help your autistic child develop and learn is intensive, so having several siblings can be taxing on the parents. 

What was interesting is that we ran into the same sort of questioning after we made that decision:  often people would ask when we would have our next one, how many we were planning on having, etc.  We had initially planned for 4 kids' names (two boys and two girls), but when we found that our first son was autistic (shortly after we found out we were expecting our second), we had made the decision that his welfare was important enough to hold off having more children.

Anyway, the field trip was a success, and the teachers and aides were thrilled to have little to do, as there were plenty of parents there to help.  The only regret that I have is that we didn't drive there to Wheeler Farm, as the bus ride was cramped and uncomfortable on the way there and we could have gone home directly after the field trip. 

But it was still a great experience, and a great feeling of community the experience provided for us.

May 6, 2009

eBooks, The Kindle DX, and the Much-Rumored iPod Slate

To date, the eBook market has been, well, experimental.  This is mostly because reading on a virtual display can give one headaches depending on the display at worst, and at best it has been rather difficult to get a format that works well (with a few exceptions).  More often than not the eBook becomes a novelty that quickly wears off over time.  The main killer for me:  page numbers not being the same as printed books.  I can understand why:  it would be impossible to fit a printed page on the screen size, but it's still annoying when others are reading page 22 and you are on page 245. 

At least this is how I felt when reading eBooks on pretty much any platform previous to the iPod Touch (more on that later).  I've read them on CRT computer screens (which are not very mobile), laptops (which are marginally mobile because of battery life), the PalmPilot, and the Pocket PC.  Either the platform was not convenient to navigate, or the resolution made reading the tiny print difficult.  Often times I would just walk away with a bad headache and leave it at that. 

Then I got an iPod Touch, and reading became easier using Stanza.  eBooks were well formatted and the text was readable even in a small font.  BUT, the eBooks didn't include images.  Why?  Most likely because the screen size would make even a high-resolution image (such as the iPod Touch or iPhone can provide) difficult to see.  So Stanza would not include them.

So I started looking at the Kindle today, because of the announcement of the new Kindle DX.  I've been skeptical of the Kindle in the past, because all it can really do is read books.  Why have a device that can only read books?  What's the use in that?  It would only be of use to people that spend a lot of time reading, or have the time to spend a lot of time reading. 

But as I started to read the description of the DX's features, I became rather intrigued.  The large 9.7" screen allows for a clear and crisp display, and it only displays in 16 shades.  Why only 16 shades?  Because it uses an electronic ink technology that uses real ink but displays it through an electric current at each dot.  Basically, it prints a page for you each time to write a comment, edit, read, or change pages. 

The print method is exactly like that of books or newspapers, and as such has the same readability as those formats.  It also doesn't need backlighting, so the battery can last for days of constant reading, and you don't get a glare (one of the annoyances I have with the iPod Touch).  That alone is intriguing.

Another neat feature is 3G wireless connections that are always on (assuming you are in service range), and it's partnered with Sprint.  The thing is, you don't have a monthly service charge for the service, and you pretty much only use it when downloading books (or using the limited web browser).  Amazon pays the bill to Sprint, which comes (assumedly) from revenues from book and device sales. 

There are other features, but those were the ones that stood out for me.  There is also some limited MP3 audio included as experimental, just to see if such a benefit would be of use to the Kindle crowd.  And all of this can be used without the need for a computer. 

So the first thing I thought was how neat the battery life would be, how cool the display technology was, and how much I had misjudged the Kindle platform.  For those that only want something mobile to read and save trees from printing hardcover books, it was a pretty decent answer. 

Then I started to think about all the rumors swirling around the "iPod Slate", or Apple's media webpad that is rumored to be released for Verizon's network.  The rumor is that it will have a 10" screen similar to the 9.7" screen of the Kindle DX, and it will be designed for web browsing, applications, and probably be close to a watered-down laptop or netbook.  But it will be a tablet, much like the Kindle DX.

Now, I only have a couple of gripes about the iPod Touch for eBook reading:  It doesn't have many options for image displays (at least through Stanza), and it has a problem with glare in sunlight.  The Kindle doesn't have these problems, which makes it a good eBook reader in general.  If all I did with my iPod Touch was read books and listen to music, a Kindle would be a good and cheap replacement for these reasons alone. 

But, with the introduction of the rumored iPod Slate, Apple could at least fix one problem:  the display issue.  With Amazon's purchase of Stanza, they can make the display more Kindle-esque while keeping the usability of Stanza which has made it easily the best eBook reader I have ever used.  They could also keep book formats the same as printed books, so page numbers could be accurate (the main problem I had with Microsoft's eReader).  Also, the iPod Slate would most likely let you do more than just read books, so you have a multi-use device.  That means no need for many devices to carry around and clutter up your life.

I'm not sure how many people have purchased the Kindle, and so I don't know how popular it is.  I don't know of anyone that has, though I do know of a few that have purchased Kindle books and used the Kindle app for the iPhone/iPod Touch.  They didn't like the reading process as compared to Stanza, but the books are a lot cheaper than the Stanza-compatible books from Fictionwise.com/eReader.com. 

So I'm not a convert yet, but it at least turned my head and got me thinking of where the future of reading may be heading.

May 1, 2009

In the Garden

Earlier last month I planted my front garden in vegetables, with beets, carrots, radishes and lettuce growing like crazy, and the cucumbers not coming up yet at all (might have been too cold, I'm not sure).  The plants, being cold weather plants, are growing wild and free, with plenty of each plant getting their second leaves.  It's been wet enough with all the rain and snow we have had of late that I have only had to water a couple of times.  Other than that, they are growing quite well on their own. 

Well, a couple of weeks ago I planted my corn, pumpkin, and some melons.  The corn was Bloody Butcher dent corn, which has a beautiful deep red kernel, and some red broom corn, which is actually a sorghum instead of a maize variety.  I purchased both off of eBay, which shipped in plastic bags. 

After I ordered them and put them up in storage for the spring (I ordered them in the Fall), I found out that plastic bags can kill the seed with static electricity.  Anxious, I still planted them and hoped for the best.  That's why I planted them this month, so if they didn't grow I would have enough time to purchase some new seed and plant it for this season. 

Well, A week went by with no change in the ground.  Some weeds have been growing, but that was about it.  Nothing more substantial than that.  I was concerned, worried, and anxious that I may have planted bad seed.  I decided that I would give it another week and see if there was any change. 

Well, on Wednesday I was watering the back garden, and sure enough I spotted about 5 little shoots of corn in the same general area.  Not a lot, but I was excited to see that all the seed was not dead and I would have at least enough corn growing this year to have seed for next year.  That may mean that I wouldn't be able to make parched corn as I had planned, but I was just excited that my red heirloom corn was growing at all. 

Then I checked the garden yesterday after I got home from work:  And I have about 14 shoots!  Yes, my little corn patch is starting to grow.  It's still a long way off from producing (between 60 to 70 days), but at least I know that I will have the stalks.  As soon as the pumpkins come up (which should be any day now), I can place some mulch around the plants to protect them, give them heat, and slowly leach nutrients into the soil.  Also, once the little plants are well established, I'm going to plant some pole beans next to each corn stalk. 

So that is the garden so far.  On May 9th at Rowland Hall Lower School (720 South Guardsman Way, SLC), Wasatch Community Gardens is holding a sale for various starter plants, which my wife and I will probably be attending.  They have over 42 different heirloom tomatoes, with several heirloom peppers, melons, squash, pumpkins, and cucumbers available.  The vegetable plants are $2.00 each, with a buy 10 get the 11th free.  They also have various perennials available from trees and grasses to flowers and berries.  The perennials are $7.00 to $10.00 each. 

I want to be sure I have some lemon cucumbers growing if my cucumbers don't sprout here soon, so I'll probably pick up a couple there with some other pickling cucumbers.  Then I'll pick up at least three varieties of tomatoes, though I'm still not sure which I want.  I definitely want the Cherokee Purple, which is said to have came across the plains in the Trail of Tears, and I think I want to get the Hawaiian Pineapple for color, the Black from Tula, and either the Amish Paste or 1884.  And finally, I think I'll pick up a Black Plum, because it keeps its sweetness even when dried.  Sounds like a good sun-dried tomato variety to me, and it's a deep purple! 

So if you are in the Salt Lake area next weekend, I would encourage you to attend.  Parking may be a bit of a problem in the area, though there is a University parking lot nearby, and it's free parking on Saturdays (no permit required).  The easiest way to get to Guardsman Way is to come East on 4th South and pass Rice-Eccles Stadium and turn Right at the light past the stadium, or come up 8th South and take the first Left past East High School's football field.

So that's the news from the Garden this week!  Next week I'll see if I can't give some more details about the sale, and any plants we picked up.  Then as the vegetables get harvested, I'll let you know how my dehydration for food storage project works.  ^_^ 

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