August 2009 Archives

August 31, 2009

YouTube and Autism: Finding Social Stories

This last week my wife found a new use for our Apple TV.  Instead of listening to music or watching videos, she found that she could use YouTube.  In the past she hasn't been that keen on using YouTube, because she hasn't seen the use of it.  To tell you the truth, neither have I, beyond getting demonstrations on steampunk tech and other random videos.  But this last week she found out that several people have recorded their experiences on various Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Disneyland Paris rides, and posted them.  This filled at least four evening's full of entertainment. 

But we were not watching these rides just for the sake of watching the rides, but rather we were watching them because we wanted to help our son who is Autistic prepare for his trip to Disneyland in the Fall.  You see, with an autistic child it's best if one can provide social stories, or stories that outline important steps in life.  In this case, we were showing the steps and procedures one takes when getting on a ride.  There is the line, and things to see, then taking a ticket, showing this ticket while getting on the ride, and the parts of the ride.  At this point he is familiar with the steps, and will be able to follow them when he gets on the ride himself. 

And while we were going through these steps, I started thinking about other experiences in life.  Unlike produced material, YouTube is essentially a respository of social stories in the form of home movies.  Granted, just like anything else in the world, one needs to be careful which videos are taken as instructional for social interaction, but with some careful screening by parents, YouTube can be a very useful tool for autistic children. 

My recommendation would be to try doing a search for Social Stories on YouTube, and see what comes up.  You may be surprised.  ^_^

August 27, 2009

No Politics, Just Hot Carrots and Grilled Beets

There has been so much going on this last week with the Healthcare Legislation debate, ups and downs with the Economy, and name-calling on both sides, you would think I would have something to say in the matter.  Well, I do, but I have to wait until at least one of the three politicians contact me with their replies.I know Senator Hatch will, because he has been consistent in giving me replies to any question I send, all by snail mail.  I've never contacted Representative Chaffetz before, so this will be his first test (I tend to vote against politicians if they or their staff do not reply to my queries).  Lastly, I emailed the President's office, requesting information from the aide that will read it (I'm under no misconception that I will get to the President himself).  So, things are on hold.BeetsSo what is this about beets?  This last Sunday we had my wife's family over for a barbeque, and I cooked (again).  I knew a salad was coming, and some drinks, but no one ever brings veggies.  So, I thought I would try some things.First, I made some hot carrots from the carrots in our front garden and the Santa Fe peppers we had in the back.  They were hot, and delicious.  I still have a big bottle left (not too many people wanted to risk it, I suppose).Next, I pulled some beets.  Now, I've had boiled beets, raw beets, and pickled beets, but I've never grilled them.  I thought I'd give it a try, so I sliced them up.  I then sprinkled some olive oil over them, and threw them on a very hot grill.  You see, I grill with real wood coals, and so it takes time for the wood to burn down.  I threw the beets on when the wood was still burning, because I wanted to test the grill temperature.The first thing I noticed was the seepage from the beets, which is normal.  Then, the carmel that formed.  You see, all beets have a high sugar content, and any beet can be used to make sugar.  By grilling them, the sugar browned, giving the beet a carmel flavor.  It was just like eating candy.  If I would have done anything differently, I would have added some salt to enhance the flavor.So that's it!  If you have never had a grilled beet, I would highly recommend it.  I didn't peel the beet because I'm a firm believer in nutrients being in the skins, but they would be less bitter with a peeled beet than with a beet with the skin on.  Give it a try!

August 18, 2009

The Modernism Backlash: Smaller Homes, Gardens, Mass Transit, Composting Toilets?

Lately I have noticed a backlash of sorts against the status quo.  Sure, we have seen this in every age when society gets to a specific point, but this one seems to be more extreme, at least in my opinion.  Perhaps it's because I'm looking for this element, or perhaps it's because my attention has been focused in this way, but it seems that the modern world of large homes, expensive vehicles, and modern conveniences is being seen as a distraction.

For instance, the Tiny Home movement talks about living in a small space, between 86 sq. ft. to up to 500 sq. ft. (about).  These are dimentions of homes that have existed for centuries.  Log cabins, tents, cottages, etc. have all been built small.  Why?  Generally because building a home is time consuming, and generally you need to get into the house before the elements become too extreme for survival.  Therefore people learned to live in small spaces out of necessity.  As such, their "private time" was spent outdoors in woods, fields, mountains, etc. 

The really interesting thing about the current housing market is the size of the homes being built are larger than many of the castles built in the Middle Ages, or even many of the Roman villas (with a few exceptions of both, to be sure).  They are built to contain an entire ecosystem consisting of a local pub, dance hall, hotel for vistors with washing facilities, and theatre.  How much really does get used, and for how often?  Then there is the maintenance:  repairs, cleaning, dusting, decorating..  the list goes on, and all for space that is hardly ever used.  How easy would it be to replace it with, say, renting a space at a local restaurant, town hall, church, etc. and save the money you would have otherwise spent yearly for the upkeep of a space you may never use again. 

The tiny home community has worked on building a home that fits their needs, while limiting the excess that has come to represent the modern debt-based economy.  Often times modern conveniences are worked around for convenience to the builder, so things such as toilets are turned into composting toilets or outhouses, again a throw back to the chamber pots and latrines of the early decades. 

Farming is also making a comeback, or at least gardening.  Partly for help in the food expenses, partly because it keeps one's mind busy on something that is rewarding in and of itself, more people are growing vegetables and fruits in their yards than before.  Urban Farming has become a new focus for those in apartments or suburban areas, with window boxes full of tomatoes or salad greens gracing many a home.  This, again, is a throwback to a time when gardening provided a huge amount of variety to the diet. 

Mass transportation has been growing, and more people are buying homes where they can walk or bike to work or to a transit station and commute to work that way.  Before the Model T when the Automobile was king and represented the wealth of those who purchased them, people would often walk if they didn't have the convenience of a buggy and/or horse.  Bicycles were also very popular because of the level of mobility they provided the individual.  All before the automobile became the new standard of travel. 

It's interesting to see how the failing economy that was based on so many unsustainable practices has changed the outlook of people in general.  More people are willing to commute to work, more people are willing to due without the guest wing in their new giant home for something a bit more manageable, or people looking for a deeper connection to their land than a lawn that is only mowed and never walked on. 

The really surprising thing is the move toward more primitive living: i.e. the move away from indoor plumbing.  Perhaps it's just a fringe, but people who currently live in modern homes are building their own dwellings without the convenience of indoor plumbing.  Water is brought in from a well, stream, sistern, or other outdoor source.  The toilet is processed into "humanure", and used for a garden, while gray water is filtered out and used for gardening as well.  Hygenics aside, the fact that people are choosing to make this move is fascinating. 

So I suppose the only question that remains is where this movement will end.  My guess is the housing market will see a reduction in house sizes in response, lot sizes will increase relative to the size of the home, and more gardens will be grown for home-grown produce.  For some reason, though, I don't see the general public giving up their indoor plumbing.

August 14, 2009

Free vs. Open Source: The Real Difference

Today I was reading an article from my favorite Literary Agent's blog, when I he posted some links to arguments against free writer content.  The phrase that stuck out in my mind was "if no one pays for content we're only going to be hearing from those who can afford to write for free".  It was almost like a lightning bolt, because it clarified free vs. open source completely in my mind. 

As a user, I like to get free stuff, and use free stuff.  I don't want to spend money, that can go to other things that are more important (the piggy bank doesn't feed itself, you know!).  So I have already limited myself to content and objects that are produced by those that can afford to do it for free. 

A writer that can write for free would be a writer much like myself:  I have another job that pays the bills, and as such it takes a lot of my time.  I don't have time to devote to my writing to produce a novel in a year and have it be any good (though I do have one really crappy novel that I wrote in 6 months, and would never want anyone to see). 

This is a lot like free software available.  Generally it's produced by someone that has the monetary stability through one position or another to allow their talents to be spread about.  Web comics, many of the Open Source software projects out there, and even some of the operating systems out there all have developers that can fall in this category. 

So what makes the difference between Open Source and Free?  Free doesn't guarantee quality.  Often times it's closed source, and only distributed to be out there.  Because many of those who develop free software can't always devote all their time and energy to producing good content, they generally release something that is passable, and call it good. 

Open Source, on the other hand, not only provides the content, but provides the tools necessary to continue the development of said project.  So while someone may write a barely functional browser, someone else can come in and improve a section and submit the changes.  While any one person can't devote all their time to the entire project, they can devote a little bit of time to properly develop one feature. 

Eventually, through the community that dedicates themselves to the project, the browser (or any other project for that matter) gets improved and becomes a solid, functioning project. 

This may not be a revelation to a lot of you, but the connection was burned into my mind after reading that quote from an article by my favorite Literary Agent. 

August 13, 2009

Testing Windows 7: Initial Thoughts

I’ve been fighting it for a while now, mostly because I had such a lousy experience with windows Vista, but I thought I would finally give Windows 7 a try.  I downloaded the release candidate, burned it to a DVD, and installed it in Boot Camp on my Mac Pro at work.  The verdict:  It crashed.  For some reason it crashed, and so I installed XP instead. 

Not to be done in completely, I tried the same process on my iMac at home, and the results were functional, at least.  After a few restarts and installing Boot Camp drivers, I was ready to take on the world.  So, my initial thoughts:

I like the size.  It took up 10 GB of space, compared to 15 GB that Vista took up.  That alone is a huge improvement. 

Security:  Very annoying.  Much like the annoying tools in Vista, it keeps asking me if I really want to install files, and every time I run a file I need to give it permission (at least until I reboot).  Not too bad, except when I get to a flash-intensive website, and I have three or four requests to let Flash run.  Luckily, after I do give it permission and reboot, I don’t have the problem. 

Management:  It’s been a while since I have had to support IT for Windows, but I have to admit I like the Control Panel here in Windows 7.  It’s a lot like the early Windows OS releases (the best in my opinion was Windows 2000), so I feel at home.  There are a lot of new features that I need to get into, like the Gadgets, but other than that, it looks good.

Mac-like:  It’s amazing how much Windows 7 feels like my Mac!  The Windows Explorer looks a lot like Finder, the feel is far more like a Mac.  I don’t think I like the start menu though.

Windows:  The windows try to second-guess your every move, and often times this means optimizing in a way you don’t want.  I really don’t like that, it makes me feel like Windows doesn’t trust me to make the right decision.  Maybe there is a setting to turn that off.  I hope so.

Performance:  It runs great on my iMac, and so far I haven’t had any complaints.  I installed Office 2007, and it works perfectly, allowing me to work from home if I need to.  I also have Virtual PC installed for those Virtual Machines we may have to get ready for various lab classes.  Again, no problems so far.  It all looks good.

Final verdict:  It is a much better experience than I had with Windows Vista, which is a good thing because we will be using Windows 7 in our labs once it comes out.  The overall rating would be about a 5 out of 7.  I wouldn’t switch from Mac OS X or Linux for Windows 7, but it makes for a good Virtual Machine when I need to use Outlook or other Windows-only apps that WINE can’t handle. 

August 11, 2009

The Illusion of Democracy

Last night I was watching a show with a mock pageant, one where the viewers participated in the outcome.  The viewers voted on the finalists, those selected by the judges to be of the best quality, thereby controling the outcome of the pageant to only those who were acceptable to the judges.  This is not unlike any reality show, where choices are already narrowed, making the decision easier.Rewind about two thousand years.  Rome was a dominant power, having emerged from their Republic after a series of civil wars between powerful political and military men.  Now, at the end of the last pretexts, an imperial dictatorship was put in place, though Octavian, now Augustus, kept the pretext of choice and the Republic by having a Senate for which the people voted; a Senate with little power.  But the pretext, or the illusion of choice allowed the people to feel as though they still had a voice and could participate in politics.Now fast forward to the 1780's, when the United States of America was being formed. The Founding Fathers, finding problems with the Articles of Confederation in their effectiveness, met to draw up the Constitution.  This is when the three branches of Government were defined, their spheres of influence set.  Part of that definiton process outlined the methods of appointment.  Because of concerns regarding the common man's understanding of the issues, an intermediary was created to vote on their behalf.  This intermediary, the Electoral College, can vote any way they want, though they generally (with one exception) vote with the results of the Popular vote.  So the people have only the illusion of Democracy, choosing instead intermediaries to worry about their political future.I think that Scott Adams put it best:  Two Choices give the illusion of leadership.  As long as we are given a choice between two things, we are happy.  Republican or Democrat, Capitalism or Socialism, local vendors or corporate stores, etc.  Our society is built on these kinds of choices, these illusions of power and leadership.  Society doesn't seem to want to worry about the details, just the choice.But, you might ask, I have the freedom to choose, so that's all I need, right?  Well, the thing is, those who want you to choose their way know we prefer simple choices, and as such try to frame our public opinions by trying to make their side seem like the side of reason.  They do this by distorting facts, telling half-truths, and providing "spin" on any and all positions.  This practice has been running in Politics since politics started.  As I'm sure the Ancient Greeks could attest to, it has had devastating results to nations and the lives of others.Please don't take anything I say to be supportive of any political agenda.  I just started to notice this pattern, and thought it interesting that democracy as we know it is nothing more than an exercise in managed choices for those who are too busy with their own lives to be bothered with "the issues".  The only way to avoid that is to become active with the issues, which can take time away from other activities.  That again, is a choice...  how managed it is depends on ourselves, I suppose.

August 7, 2009

Autism and Safety: Your Home, Your Child, Your Needs

As part of my daily routine, I check the news sites for any new information on Autism.  After a few outrageous articles about a certain celebrity with wrong and potentially damaging ideas about Autism, I found a BBC piece on a mother who is struggling to make her home safe for her two autistic children.  Unfortunately, the cost of the materials are too high, and she can't get either a loan or any kind of financial aid to help. 

The celebrity was forgotten, and I started to look at the process my wife and I are currently in, trying to make our home safe for our sons.  Baby-proofing doesn't really work for autistic children, because they are smart.  Almost too smart for their own good.  For instance, my son was quick to figure out how to get a door to open, not just when it's locked, but when it is locked, has a chain, and the chain is out of reach.  He also has figured out how to open any fenced in area that has a gate, without someone showing him how to open it. 

So, we are working on a way to help keep him safe and out of the road where young drivers tend to speed as fast as they can.  Here are some tips I received from friends of mine, and they may help with your family as well:

  • Get Door Alarms:  Often called Alsheimer's alarms, or Autism alarms, these are door alarms that ring locally, and have different sound settings so you can tell what door is open.  They are magnetic, and make for an easy install and monitor. 
  • Get A Fence:  We had already fenced in the back yard, but we are now working on fencing in the front yard as well.  The type of fence depends on what your city will allow.  We are looking at an iron fence, since I can't stand vinyl fencing, and chain link fences now have an ordinance against them in West Valley City.  That, and I love iron fencing, painted black, with pointed tops.  It has the whole "Mad Scientist Manor" look to it.  ^_^
  • Children's Gates - Lots Of Them:  We currently have two children's gates for our kitchen, and we are going to purchase a third as soon as we can.  The idea is that each gate slows Jonathan down just enough that he may not make it outside before we can finish changing Scotty.  Of course, that's when Jonathan makes his break - when we are busy with Scotty.  Like I said, he's one smart cookie.
  • Get a Child Locator:  I have found several for $30 to $40, and they work up to 150 feet.  The nice ones are the ones that start beeping loudly after your child gets outside 50 feet.

There are a lot of good techniques for keeping your child safe in your home.  If anyone has other ideas, please feel free to post them! 

August 6, 2009

The Much-Rumored Apple Tablet

I have made several posts in the past about the Apple Slate, or apple tablet PC for 2 years now, and it seems Apple may finally be releasing the much anticipated device.  Already the PC Community at PC World has criticized the release as a stupid move, and a guaranteed flop on the side of Apple.  Take the reports as you will, though I sincerely expect it will be quite popular.But what do I think of the rumors that are already floating around, based on analyst reviews and suppositions?  Let's take a look at them and see:
  1. The Price:  The price is the most important thing here, and the deal maker or breaker as far as I'm concerned.  Apple made a huge mistake with the Newton MessagePad back when it was first released, pricing it higher than the average business would front for a PDA.  That was a long time ago in Electronics terms, and businesses are now more willing to fork over the money for a laptop replacement if it's cheaper than a laptop itself.  At $599 to $699, with all the rumored features, it's a good price.
  2. 3G Wireless:  As far as I'm aware, there are no laptops with a built-in 3G wireless connection in the US.  Japan has had them for years, but the US has just not seen it necessary to make that kind of investment.  The iPhone, the Kindle, and SmartPhones in general have changed that considerably as more people and businesses see the advantage of keeping connected while on the go.  Of course the problem with a built-in solution is it's compatibility with different carriers:  no one likes being locked into a single carrier, because everyone has different needs.  If this is built in, I hope that the ability to switch carriers will be available in the future, if not immediately.
  3. 3G Data:  Building on that, I would like to see the device come with a Data-only option, and not restrict which apps can be used on that data stream.  Why?  Because I want to use a VoIP solution, such as one from the office, without having to redirect lines and use precious minutes.  This is crucial, though I'm not sure any carrier would see it as viable.  Either that or they would price the connection far too high.  Perhaps with competition, the prices will be realistic (yes, this is a slam at the AT&T exclusive rights to the iPhone).
  4. 10" Touch Screen:  I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that the screen would be a touch screen.  The touch technology is what made the iPhone the iPhone, and makes using the iPod Touch so cool.  The size does make it a little problematic, in that it can't fit into someone's pocket.  This will be a bag device, though it would fit nicely in a messenger bag or purse, and therefore not too much of a problem.
  5. HD Video:  Great that they are focusing on HD for video, and this makes for a convenient method of taking a lot of video with you while traveling.  I can anticipate car mounts for this device, as it would be large enough for anyone to see in the back seat (or more than one back seat).
Okay, those are the rumors that are being spread right now, and my opinion.  What do I want it to have?
  1. Office.  It needs to have both Microsoft Office and iWork available on this tablet.
  2. Presentation tool:  it needs to have a way to hook up to a projector, if not be a projector itself (that was a wild rumor, one that I don't expect to be true).  Why?  Because I don't want to haul a huge laptop around just to do a quick presentation, or edit one.
  3. VoIP:  Real VoIP needs to be supported, in some form or another.  There are quite a few solutions available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but they are limited to WiFi, and I would like it through a 3G/4G connection.
  4. Word Processing:  Being able to create documents of some sort needs to be there.  There are some good solutions for the iPod Touch, again, but it's not ideal.
  5. iPhone OS Support:  I don't think I really want it to be a bigger version of the iPhone or iPod Touch (unless all my software needs are met by said OS), but it should be able to use the same apps.  That means using something like Dashboard to run your iPhone apps.  That way I have all those apps I want (i.e., games and stuff), while still being able to use full-fledged OS apps.
  6. WiMax support:  I know this isn't a technology that has taken off to a great extend in the US, but I like the idea of getting 7 MB connection speeds for up to 70 miles away from the antenna.   Having this built into the device would be just as useful as 3G/4G, since it is a 4G technology.  ^_^
  7. Full Bluetooth:  No more throttled bluetooth.  I want to be able to pair my Plantronics Voyager 510 headset to the thing, and a bluetooth keyboard.
  8. SD Card and/or USB port:  a port on the thing would be really nice.  Make it easier to add video/audio/image files to the device without having to do dock it to a computer.
  9. Mini Display Port:  How else would it connect to a projector?
That would be about it.  Most everything else I would either expect to be included, or I would expect I would find a need at another time.  It all comes down to which direction Apple has decided to take the device:  Media player only, or a nice, affordable replacement for the MacBook Air.
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