December 2009 Archives

December 31, 2009

Sherlock Holmes: A Review

Almost a week after the release, my wife and I went to see Sherlock Holmes on the big screen.  This is probably the first show we have seen in the movie theatre in years, as we have been preoccupied with our children and our son's development of late.  The movie was interesting, and overall I would say it was very well done.  Would I see it again?  Yes.  Would I own it?  Definitely.

The story places Holmes and Watson in about the middle of their career together, when Watson is about to marry.  I won't tell of the story, other than it deals with supposed Magic, and there is a beautifully placed cameo of Professor Moriarty, who later became Sherlock Holmes' one great rival.  The setting was true to Victorian and Edwardian England, the sets, props, and costumes enough to make a steampunk enthusiast drool.  Over all, I loved it.

Before watching the movies, I gorged myself on all of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, both in print (all but the Case Book, which I am currently reading), and the old 1940's radio shows.  I wanted to know Sherlock Holmes, whom I have loved since childhood, and wanted to really study the persona given to him by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle before I tried to see whether or not I liked the movie.  I also read reviews on the Movie, which I must admit was a bit daunting, and only about half true (proving that most movie critics don't read books, more's the pity).

First off, the critics were right in saying this movie is not what you would have expected having watched any previous Sherlock Holmes movie, or any special done by the BBC.  Where previous movies painted him as nothing more than a thinker with occasional action, this movie shows Holmes as very able in fighting and active in his investigations.  For this reason, critics assaulted this movie.  They couldn't have been more wrong.  As a good read in the Sign of the Four, His Last Bow, or a number of other cases I can't recall of hand, Holmes is very active in his investigations.  In fact, he was well known as a champion boxer.  Yes, he could use his fists, and would do so when necessary.

The second was alluding to the relationship between Holmes and Watson as being homoerotic.  Good heavens.  Does this mean that any time a guy has another guy as their roommate, they are gay?  No, I didn't get any vibes of homosexuality in the relationship between Watson and Holmes.  Perhaps because I wasn't looking for it, or perhaps it's because two gentlemen who have been through a lot together could become very much like brothers without anything being overtly sexual.

There is one scene that I thought interesting:  Holmes is in a restaurant, and becomes overwhelmed by all the sounds, sights, and stimuli that are coming his way.  While this could easily be explained away by the drugs he had taken and their after effects, some critics called is a sign of Autism.  Is it?  It's been so surmised by many in the Autism community, but as he is not a real person, it can't be proved.  I'll just say that the movie still entertains the idea, which is fun, but I wouldn't go so far as to call him Autistic.

So much for critics and their judgement.  At any rate, I loved the pace, and the thought process, as the movie came from the point of view of Holmes, as all the stories (with one exception) came from the point of view of Watson.  This gave Watson a chance to shine in his ability to detect, stand out for what was right and lawful, and even put Holmes in his place once or twice.  As such, I felt that the story was unique, and gave one an insight into the methods that Holmes would have used (had be been a real person, of course).  His triumphs and his vices were all on display, including his drug addiction when not working on a case.  While my favorite persona of Holmes remains to this day Basil Rathbone, I loved the Robert Downey, Jr. take on the great detective.

Mary in the story was superb, as she was a practical woman, well acquainted with the methods of Holmes, and actually had more sense then did James Watson at times.  In a sense, she was the perfect woman for Watson, as she was patient with Holmes' constant need for her husband on errands, and her husband's need for adventure.  Watson was also well portrayed, and Jude Law's Watson is perhaps my most favorite version.  He even had the limp that Watson had from his wound that discharged him from the Army in Afghanistan.  Lestrade was classic, and I thought his character was very well done.

And finally, I was on tenderhooks at the end of the movie.  Not because I was at all worried that Holmes would not succeed, but rather I was afraid the movie would in some way allow the arcane and superstitions that were often ridiculed by Doyle in his books to exist.  I was thrilled to see that it wasn't the case.  Holmes had, in his truly unique way, discovered the whole thing, even presented it to the villain at the end, and received his usual conformation.  In short, the essence of the movie was the same as any story from the Memoirs, Adventures, or Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, with only a few twists to make it different.

But it couldn't be completely true to the cannon.  For one, of all the stories I read, Irene Adler was only one minor character, an English woman, and not necessarily a renegade of the law.  All this changed in the movie, but then I supposed if any woman were to be Holmes' love interest, it would have to be "the woman", as he called her.  Point two comes from the introduction of Moriarty, of whom Watson was not aware until well after he was married.  Holmes was, of course, but not Watson.

So, my final verdict is that if you enjoy any Sherlock Holmes book, I think you will enjoy the movie.  If you were more of a fan of the BBC specials, it may not be what you would expect.  But I still think you would enjoy it.  There is a richness in this story that makes it both humorous, exciting, and engaging.  And of course, if you are into Steampunk, you can't help but love the movie.  There is a touch of Dan Brown (secret societies) that makes the movie compelling.  Those who love action will enjoy it, and those who love a good mental exercise will like it even more.  I admit that while I have figured out about 20% of the Holmes stories before the end, this one had me going for a minute.  The clues were there, but I didn't catch the full meaning of them until Holmes dictated the events to Blackwood at the end of the story.

December 29, 2009

Spectrum Academy: High School for Autistic Minds

This morning I was reading the news in preparation for my day, when I came across the announcement in the Deseret News of the opening of the Spectrum Academy High School for Autistic children in North Salt Lake.  Intrigued, I read on to learn more.  I've heard of it before, as they had a booth at the Autism Autumn Carnival, but I didn't learn a lot about it because my son is far from ready for High School, and we don't yet know what will be awaiting him for Kindergarten this next year (we find out in the coming months). 

The Spectrum Academy is a Charter School currently serving Kindergarten through 8th Grade, specifically for Autistic children.  They are located just West of Redwood Road and at about 600 North.  Because it's a charter school, they have funding from the State and have flexibility in their teaching methods.  While I am a supporter of public school in general, there are situations like disabilities where a special charter school is very useful.  I just have to look back at the incessant bullying and teasing that my older brother went through in public school to know that a special charter school for autistic children would be just what my son would need.  So, I started checking out their website.

On thing I absolutely love is the curriculum information listed for each grades, so parents can see what their children are using, and can tailor their own home experiences to reinforce their learning.  This is what I would expect from the public school system anyway, though it may be a little difficult to locate.  Handbooks for both the students and teachers are available as well.

What's more impressive is the flexibility the teachers have in managing their student's success.  Gone are the rigid rules about sitting up straight, not using toys as a tactile stimulant while learning, etc.  Children are able to take breaks when they need to in order to gain control of their attention when necessary.  The grade system is based on ability, not age, so there is no worries about being left behind while going through the school system.  Wouldn't it be nice if all schools were like that, as they were once? 

All in all, I was very impressed with the news of the Spectrum Academy.  It's a bit of a way out of my way to work, but I think I could make a special trip to get my son there if need be.  The only thing I didn't like was the lack of fee details, and how much fees would cost.  It being Winter Break (I don't know if they can call it Christmas and New Year's break anymore), I can't get firm information on that, but once I do, I will post it.  Until then, this is definitely a school and school system that needs to be watched!  I see this becoming a more common situation as the needs of Autistic children are met. 

December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve Dinner: Applebee's and Autism

I don't often post a review of restaurants, as I don't feel I'm fully qualified to judge a chain's food properly.  But last night, as we sat and ate our dinner, it occurred to me that I needed to say something.

Ever since I had a nasty experience at IHOP in West Valley City, I've been reluctant to go to sit-down restaurants with my autistic son.  At IHOP, the place was so loud and the food so slow that our son went into a melt down.  What's more, it didn't have to be that way, because only 1/3rd of the place was full, we were just all crammed together.  I suppose it makes sense to the management, but it still sent our son into a meltdown that required me to walk him around in the deserted section, while a couple who sat next to us pointed out that their children were well behaved.  Hence. my total lack of desire to eat there, ever again.

But last night, at Applebee's, we had a wonderful time.  The food came to us fast and fresh.  Our youngest was the only one who got whiny, but that's because he had just woken up.  the food came just in time to help him calm down, and our oldest with Autism had a blast.  We were placed on the side by the window, and even though we had people on all sides of us, it didn't feel like we were crowded.  The noise level was very minimal, so much so that we could even whisper if we so desired.  And finally, the staff was very friendly.

We have been to another Applebee's in town, and had a similar experience, with one addition:  the waitress who served us was aware of autism and took a liking to Jonathan right away.  For these reasons, both my wife and I love going to Applebee's.  I don't know if all the Applebee's restaurants are like this, or if it's just the West Valley City and Taylorsville Applebee's, but they have made a happy customer out of my wife and I.

Does anyone else have a favorite restaurant to go to?  What makes it your favorite?

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas Eve, and I thought I would post a quick mention of the season.  I've never really liked Christmas in the past, mostly because I had worked Retail for years, and hated the rush and the frustration that came with the season.  As such, it has never been much of an important season for me.  But now, with two little ones, Christmas has become more important to me.  It's a time to see the children get excited, to see them run and jump and try to get their excitement out.  It's a time for remembering why we have family, and what they mean to us.For my son who is Autistic, this is a trying time, but he's getting better with it.  He loves the lights, and we have a Snoopy lawn light display set up in the front room because he loves it so much.  He also enjoys the presents, more in seeing how they can be stacked than what they are.  It's good, because it means that he won't spend a lot of time trying to unwrap them, and leaves them alone.  He also tends to be more obedient at this time of year, listening to what we need of him.Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the season.  Remember your family at this time of year, and enjoy your time with your own family.  Start a tradition, like driving around to look at Christmas lights, go to a production of the Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, or other Holiday favorites.  Or maybe, just maybe, spend the time as just your family at home, reading the Christmas story from your chosen sacred text.Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

December 18, 2009

Autism Genetics: Autism and Schizophrenia Possible Genetic Opposites?

The Boston Globe had posted an article on the 15th regarding a study that links autism and schizophrenia as genetic opposites.  I have to say, I was dubious at at first, but the article is well worth reading. 

It seems that Bernard Crespi, Philip Stead, and Michael Elliot identified a the same places within the human genome that cause both events.  The difference is in the number of copies the genes the genome has.  For Schizophrenia, there are multiple copies, for neurotypical people, they have just two copies.  For those with Autism, they have just one. 

So, it seems that Autism could be a genetic opposite to schizophrenia, making similar treatments possible at the genetic level.  The research was completed at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.  The research is interesting, and it reaffirms the genetic link to Autism.  What's even more interesting, is that once these evidences have been identified, real definitions can be made when it comes to Autism, beyond just the behavioral observance.  Perhaps one day, Autism can be treated as other mental conditions, and families can receive real support in every State.

December 14, 2009

Autism Christmas Poem

This poem was sent to me by a friend on Facebook, and I had to share it.  Unfortunately, I don't know who wrote it.  If anyone knows who the author is, please post it in the Comments.  I would be happy to give them credit for this wonderful and touching poem. 

Twas the Night Before Christmas
And all through the house


The creatures were stirring
Yes, even the mouse
We tried melatonin

And gave a hot bath
Asleep early for Christmas?
...an unlikely path
The children were finally
All nestled in bed
When visions of Christmas
Ran through my OWN head
Did I get the right gift?
The right color and style?
Would there be a blank stare
Or even, maybe, a smile?
Friends & family come
But they don't understand
The pleasure he gets
Just from bending his hands.
"Just make him stop it," some say
"Just tell him "no",You must learn to be tough.."
On, and on they do go...
We smile and nod
Because we know deep inside

The debate is moot
Let them all take a side
We know what it's like
To live with the spectrum
The struggles and triumphs
Achievements, regressions.

But what some don't know
And what some don't see

Is the joy that we feel
Over simplicity.
He said "hello"!
He ate something green!
He looked me in my eyes
He did not cause a scene!
He peed on the potty!
(Who cares if he's ten)

He stopped saying the same thing
Again and again!"
Some others don't realize
Just how we can cope
How we bravely hang on
At the end of our rope

But what they don't see
Is the joy we can't hide

When our children with autism
Make the tiniest stride
We may look at others
Without the problems we face
With envy, with wonder,
Or even distaste.

What we want them to know
What's important to see

Is that children with autism
Bring simplicity.
We don't get excited
Over expensive things
We jump for joy
With the progress work brings

Children with autism
Try so hard every day

That they make us proud
More than words can say.
They work even harder
Than you or I
To achieve something small
To reach a star in the sky
So, to those who don't get it
Or can't get a clue

Take a walk in our shoes
And I'll assure you
That even 10 minutes
Into the walk
You'll look at us all
With respect, even shock.
You will realize
What it is we go through
And the next time you see us
I can assure you
That you won't say a thing
You'll be quiet and learn
,Like the years I learned too
When the tables were turned.

                        -Anonymous

December 8, 2009

The Future of eBooks, Books, and Reading: A Historical, Technological, Consumerist, and Hopeful Writer's View

Lately Nathan Bransford, a literary agent and writer that I have been following for some time, has been posting information about the future of books.  With the Kindle, Nook, and the much-anticipated Apple tablet (which I have been blogging about for 3 years in high hopes), it seems that many people are already writing eulogies for the hard copy, bound book.  Often I'm surprise with the comments he receives from his readers, many if not all are writers in various stages of publication (from established to hopeful, like me). 

The discussion has interested me on four levels: as a trained Historian, a trained Computer Technician, an avid Reader (consumer), and a Writer (instructional and hopeful novelist).  Here is my view of each:

Historian

Books as we know them have gone though a lot of changes ever since man had learned to use writing as a method of communication.  What started as tablets of clay became scrolls of paper and papyri, which then changed to parchment and a codex, or bound book.  The codex didn't change for thousands of years, and now a move from the printed to the digital page is being made.  But is it really so recent?

Computers originally had a "monitor" that was a printer, printing out the results of commands as one navigated, executed, and errored their way through programs.  The digital monitor, the one we know and love today, both simplifies the reading of computer results, but also saves a tremendous amount of paper.  And ever since print could be read on a computer screen, people have been reading books on the computer screen. 

So the idea of an eBook is not new, but rather the mainstreaming of the eBook is what is so scary.  Just as ancient Egypt was afraid of the parchment codex (threatened their trade in papyri), those tied to the old methods of distributing the story both fear and hate the coming mainstream eBook consumption.

Computer Technician

The technology for eBooks have been around for years.  I had eReader on my PocketPC for years, and I loved being able to read while on the go.  But before it could become mainstreamed, there are some factors that needed to be met:

  1. Battery Life:  The early PDAs were terrible in their battery life.  This hampered reading, as you needed to either change your AA's or recharge your book within just a few hours of getting into it. 
  2. Performance:  There are a lot of old eBook readers out there that were so clunky to use they were not worth it.  I went through several before I settled on the couple of eBook readers I use today.  It all came down to performance.  I was looking for something that was easy to use, easy to customize, and had a small memory footprint (so I could have more books in less space).
  3. Storage:  What good is it to have an eBook reader if you can only store at the most 10 books?  If you are going abroad, or spend a lot of time commuting, just a couple of books will not satisfy. 
  4. Reputation and Appearance:  eBooks needed to have a good reputation behind them, or come from a reputable source.  Often times some books were, or at least appeared, to be bad copies, which creates distrust.

Others may outline more points, but it is my humble opinion that technology needed to advance to this point before the eBook could have even thought of being mainstreamed.  With ebook readers like the Kindle, Nook, and even with current Windows Mobile, Android, WebOS, and iPhone OS devices out there, we have finally made it to the point where big names feel comfortable in releasing their books in eBook form to reach a profitable audience. 

The thing is, dedicated devices are, at least in my opinion, doomed to a quick death.  Part of the reason why I have an iPod Touch instead of a Kindle or Nook is because I need more than just an eBook reader.  eBooks are a convenience, not a lifestyle.  I want other conveniences to be just as convenient, and preferably on the same device.  This is part of the reason why the iPod Slate (or Apple Tablet) is so important to me as a device, and why I have been so keen on it's release. 

Reader

I love to read, but I find that I have little time at home with the kids, and very little time at work.  But I also have a long commute, in which reading becomes convenient.  It's also convenient to work on my novel, get some work done, and listen to my music/old radio shows.  Suddenly carrying around even one bound book can take up more room than I am willing to give, as my bag becomes overloaded with various other devices.  But carrying an entire library in my pocket, which also will play my music, videos, and allow me to do some text editing; that's the way to go. 

Now I've heard the arguments against eBook readers because of eye-strain.  Well, I don't strain any more with an eBook reader on my iPod Touch than I do with any other book, and I can guarantee that, in the dead of night in winter, when the bus or train is dark, I can read my book without having to have a separate light.  I can also adjust the text on the book to make it larger or smaller based on my needs.  You can't do that with a printed book. 

Also, there is the convenience of purchasing and downloading the books.  I have the Kindle app for iPhone, eReader app from Fictionwise, the Barnes & Noble eReader app, and Stanza.  I have tried each one, and my favorite two so far are the Kindle app and Stanza.  Kindle because of it's flow (they have changed it a lot since Amazon purchased Stanza), and Stanza because it's so convenient to download books from the Gutenberg Press (free books in the Public Domain).  They are easy to configure, and easy to manage.  Within a few seconds I will have several new books that I have purchased and downloaded, ready to read.  It sure beats waiting for a book to ship, I can tell you!

Writer

Some day I hope to be published, as soon as I write something that I wouldn't be embarrassed to have someone else read.  I would also like my book to be quickly accessed by those who are interested, and I want to write a story that will flow well enough regardless of which format it is in.  So you can imagine that the interest in eBooks has had me thinking, and I'm watching this very closely.  Adding multimedia components for higher-end readers or computers (like the Slate, hint, hint!) can change a story as much as adding slides to a presentation, or video to a musical performance.  All of a sudden you have more content to relate to, all at the same time.  It's challenging, it's exciting, and it's a little scary. 

So what exactly will be the future of books?  I think most analysts out there are right:  the codex book will not be going away anytime soon.  There is a feeling of intimacy that comes from reading a well-worn and well-read book again and again that you don't get from an eBook.  Because of this a good hardcover or even paperback will not go away entirely.  But I think you will see a huge shift from the published book to the eBook by casual readers in particular.  The idea that one can turn on their device while waiting in line, riding a bus, or riding in the back seat of a car, read a couple of pages, and then turn around and do something else when the need arises?  It's huge, and it's happening more every day.  Add always-on 3G or 4G networking and integrated media, and you have a revolution that will absorb the mainstream out of pure convenience. 

Are there problems?  Of course!  But there were problems with first Gutenberg Press, the codex, the papyrus scroll, and even the clay tablet.  The real question is not whether or not we will manage with what we have, but rather how soon it will take the industry to adapt and make the situation better. 

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