April 2010 Archives

April 30, 2010

Weekend Roundup: Flash and Politics

Another political post today, and I thought I would start with Flash.  Lately there has been a lot of back and forth between Flash and Apple, each attacking the other over the future of Flash.  And today, Microsoft's Internet Explorer group essentially said that while Flash is used now, there are issues, which is why their HTML5 support in IE 9 will support the H.264 codec.  Not a happy day for Flash, and quite a few people in support of Flash made some attacks to both Microsoft and Apple on this post. 

So, I suppose with the last bastion of browsers moving to HTML 5 and H.264, what would be the future of Flash?  I think it's pretty obvious, Adobe will probably work in support for H.264, so current Flash developers will be able to use the same skills they have now to publish to the Web for all platforms.  Additionally, they will probably use Flash to develop apps for platforms other than the iPhone/iPad, meaning for WebOS (if HP keeps it), Android, and Windows Phone 7.  So Flash isn't going away, even in the long term, though it's use as the only video codec is rapidly becoming highly competitive.  So the politics of technology marches on, and without the help of the Democratic or Republican parties.  Go figure. 

For those of you who do develop for Flash, how are your projects working on mobile platforms?  Let me know, I'd love to get a survey and see where mobile app development is moving for Flash!

And the Chicago Sun-Times reports that President Obama will not have to testify in defense of former Governor Blagojevich.  I'm almost sad about that, because I wanted to see how the Administration and the Judicial would take such a request.  I love constitutional issues like that, it makes for good reading.  There is still a chance for it to come up in court of course, assuming it get's appealed to the Supreme Court.  Something to look forward to in a couple of years, I suppose.

April 27, 2010

A Weekend with the iPad: A Review

Last week the University had a sale for all University Staff and Faculty on Apple products:  no sales tax.  It was a perfect excuse to get an iPad.  I've wanted one for quite some time, and finally, after my wife had a chance to play with one the weekend before, I was given the OK to plop down the cash to get one.  So, on Tuesday morning at 7:20 AM I got in line for an iPad.  In line is right, there were over 50 people in front of me, and it seems that the Bookstore sold out of all the iPads by the time I got to the register.  But I was able to get one on order.  It was the longest week of my life, waiting for the iPad, but it finally came in on Friday. 

It's much smaller than I thought it would be, with the surrounding bezel smaller than I thought I remembered seeing on the device Steve Jobs showed in January.  It is also very hefty, feeling very solid.  I thought I might have needed a hard external case for the iPad, but it the device is solid enough I don't worry about it now.  The only thing I would be concerned with is scratching the glass, which can be fixed with a good screen cover. 

So what was the purpose for purchasing one?  Well, I had a laptop that was a G4 Powerbook, and it was starting to show it's age.  The battery didn't run long enough for me to be able to do anything while going to work.  And mostly I just wanted to write or play games while listening to music.  I could play games and listen to music with my iPod Touch, but I couldn't for the life of me get any writing done.  The screen was too small to type well, and so many ideas would be lost in the frustration of trying to type it out with my thumbs (I am not a texter, and therefore I have no aptitude for texting).  I wanted something larger that could take the place of my Powerbook and fulfill those needs. 

Well, I did look at a Netbook for a long time, thinking I could use one, but they have one problem:  their clamshell design.  Not that huge of an issue, unless you are sitting in a cramped seat on the bus and want to type,  The clamshell monitor cannot open far enough for me to see what I'm typing, and while I can touch-type pretty well, I would rather not guess at what I am writing.  So that idea was thrown out.  I wanted a tablet like the iPod Touch, but with more space. 

Finally, I got the iPad.  My first impression using the Notes app was that it was amazingly easy to type on, as long as I didn't used my pinkies.  That's because the Shift key isn't quite where it should be for a normal sized keyboard.  But, as I only need it for some punctuation and capitals (which Apple's spell check often fixes), I don't worry about it too much.  And if I really need a full-sized keyboard while on a long trip (like on Vacation), I can use a bluetooth keyboard paired with it.  And I like the fact that I don't need to worry about the hard drive failing, keys being picked off by my son, or any other such nonsense that comes with moving parts.  A capacitive multitouch screen is perfect for traveling.

But the real thing that makes the iPad, or any new device, is the software.  I tried running native iPhone apps on the iPad, but most were very pixelated, looking terrible in general.  So I limited them down to those that looked the best from what I had, and started looking for iPad specific apps. 

ForScore

I sing in a choir, and often I have trouble turning pages on music.  Ever since I first saw the iPad, I thought how great it would be to be able to have it display music for me.  Of course, I would need to have a way to scan in my music and use it, preferably as a PDF.  But it should be much more than a PDF viewer, because I need to be able to make annotations directly on the iPad while I'm practicing.  ForScore does all that, and gives me a metronome that is silent (visual outline that blinks to the time) so I can keep on beat.  All in all, it's a great app.

Pocket Legends

Some games are pretty basic on the iPhone and iPad.  Some have fantastic graphics and 3D effects.  And still many say that an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game would be too restrictive on the iPad.  Well, as a proof of concept, I present Pocket Legends.  This is everything I have wanted in an MMO, including the option to quest alone (you start your own quest, password protect it, then continue from there).  It's great because it shows just what the iPad is capable of doing with the right hardware in place.  Honestly, I see the possibility of a true 3D Second Life or WOW client being made for the iPad...  if someone makes the effort, that is.

Cloud Readers

This is a great PDF reader app, and solves a problem I have with iBooks:  it will only read ePub files, and I have some PDF eBooks.  And while I can't read encrypted PDF's with the Adobe DRM in this app, I can read all my other PDF's just fine.  It's a great little app, and I'm glad to have it. 

eBook Readers

I love to read, when I have the time, and so I tend to collect large libraries of books.  The problem is, I want to have them with me wherever I go, and so far I don't have the backpack big enough to fulfill this need.  So I have been downloading and purchasing eBooks for many of my reading needs.  I started on my iPod, and it worked great, though I couldn't see a lot of the book at once.  I really wanted to have more of a view of each book, and so the iPad makes eBook reading nice.  Don't get me wrong, I loved reading on the iPod, I just like being able to use the full real estate on the iPad for reading as well. 

Of my eBook readers, I think I like iBooks the most for the experience, Kobo for the night reading option (black background with white text seems to be easier to read for me), and I like the Kindle for overall device compatibility (syncing).  Kobo offers that as well in it's fashion, as will iBooks when iPhone 4.0 comes to market.  I would love to see a Stanza iPad-native app come soon, though, as Stanza was my favorite eBook reader on the iPod Touch. 

So that's a quick outline of some of the many iPad Apps I've found useful in their full real estate glory.  I'm looking forward to seeing quite a few new apps in various areas replace the iPod apps I currently use because they do not have a satisfactory replacement. 

But needless to say, I see tablets like the iPad quickly taking over much of our mobile experience, relegating the Notebook to either replace the Desktop, or breathing new life into the Desktop platform. And I like my iPad.  ^_^

April 23, 2010

SME's and Instructors: The Good, and the Difference Between Them

I was talking with my friend Joseph about a training that he had in Puppet, and the instructor's assumptions when they started the class.  Now, before I start, let me tell you that Joseph was a trainer and instructor with Guru Labs, a well-respected source for Linux training.  He started relating to me the experience he had with the trainer, and how he reacted to the training process.  I immediately identified the trainer as a SME, or Subject Matter Expert.  This prompted a quick discussion on the differences between the Subject Matter Expert and the Instructor or Trainer. 

If you have been following my posts for a while, you know that I have a different definition of what a Trainer is, or rather what a trainer should be.  Trainers are those who not only know their subjects, but know how to convey the subject to the student without exceeding their cognitive load.  There are a lot of tricks to doing this that anyone can learn, but the real instructor can recognize and adjust to their student's cognitive capabilities. 

At the heart here is the cognitive load.  That is, the level a student can reach before they feel overwhelmed.  Some do so quickly, either because they are new to the subject or they have inhibited their learning somehow (no breakfast, poorly hydrated, medicated, distracted, etc.).  A great instructor can adjust the environment, terminology, and teaching methods to appeal to the student's learning ability. 

So where does the SME fit into this?  A poor SME can be easily identified by how they react to a question to which they do not know the answer:  they lie through their teeth.  They make something up that sounds plausible, and then teach it as though it were fact.

A good SME will do the research, though usually they do it during the training when they should be moving on in the lecture.  This means they keep the students on hold, often bored, while he tries to find the answer.  A bad instructor will do this as well.  Also, it's well worth noting that a good SME can become a good Instructor, with proper experience or training.

A good Instructor will place the question on hold (often after polling the students present to see if anyone has had a similar experience), and then will do the research after the lecture and while students are going through exercises.  He will then immediately come back when he has the answer to let everyone know what the answer was, and as a bonus point, tell them where the answer was found. 

There are a lot of other clues to telling a good instructor from a good SME, but this one is the one that came up in our discussions.  Does anyone else have a similar experience, or one they would like to share?

April 22, 2010

Week In Review: Politics and Training

This week has been really interesting, and really busy.  For that reason, I'm doing another week in review (and it's only Thursday!). 

First, Apple Training.  I taught the Mac OS X 10.6 Server Essentials course this week, and had two students.  Both were sharp, but one, Aaron Hix, works with Apple.  It was fun to talk with him, learn some things from his experiences, and talk about people we know.  I also got to see him at work (three laptops, an iPad, and an iPhone all running).  It was great fun, and we got a lot accomplished, and quickly!  It was the first time the Server Essentials class finished in 3 days instead of 4 (though we did skip exercises that both students were not anxious to go through). 

Second, I ordered an iPad from the Campus bookstore.  They had a sale where sales tax was not included in the price of all Apple merchandise, so I thought I would go for it.  Unfortunately, they didn't have any iPads in stock (none!  Not even the 32GB which is supposed to be the unpopular one).  So, I placed the order and paid for it anyway, and I'm still waiting for it to show up (it could be in as late as next week).  In the mean time, I'm getting my apps ready, my pictures put together, and other fun things that come with getting a new device. 

Third, I became a Master Trainer for Apple IT classes, which means that we at the University of Utah can offer T3 courses.  It's pretty exciting, and I'm looking forward to some being scheduled.  I also found out that we are unique among Apple Authorized Training Centers because we are able to run classes with just two students.  Other AATC's usually need to have 5 to 8 to run a class.  We are hoping this means we get more students coming to our site, knowing we won't cancel on them. 

Now for the Politics.  Apparently former Illinois Governor Blagojavich wants to have President Obama testify in his corruption trial, as part of the defense.  It will be interesting to see if a federal judge will try to subpoena the President in this matter.  My guess is he will not find reason to do so, though it's always possible.  Even if it doesn't happen here in Federal Court, it may be taken to the Supreme Court where the President will be asked again to testify.  And if asked, will the President make a personal appearance, or will he participate in some other way?  I'm keeping my eye on this one, just because it's an interesting situation for the Judicial and the Executive branches. 

Apple vs. Adobe:  An interesting game of attacks, primarily from Adobe.  All over Flash..  Sure, Flash is a big part of the web (advertising, at least for my part), and it's quite popular.  But Apple doesn't want it on their iPhone or iPad.  So, Adobe tried to work around it by using Flash to develop apps for the iPhone and iPad, which Apple killed with the 4.0 user agreement (which also killed Titanium from Appcelerator).  Rumors were flying about Adobe suing Apple, but today they attacked Apple by saying they would rather work with Open platforms with their proprietary platform than with Apple's closed ecosystem that supports open standards.  Apple fired back, the first time the Company has said anything publicly, while Adobe as a company and as individuals have been spewing forth hatred and ire at Apple. 

Now, I really like Apple.  I teach about their technologies, and I'm developing for the iPhone using their tools (mostly because I can't use Titanium for my class I'm developing).  I like Adobe.  Photoshop is great, as are many of their other products.  But, much like fanbois for any technology that attack others for their choices, Adobe as a company has been very, well, surprisingly unprofessional.  So has Steve Jobs in his remarks, though they were never made publicly (I don't consider a company meeting public, as it's within the private company). 

I come away from this liking the experience I have with Apple's tools, not having stupid Flash ads pop up over websites I'm trying to read, and enjoying the idea of having open standards grow faster on the Internet.  I also come away from this with a bad taste in my mouth for Adobe.  Perhaps I should start to look at the GIMP a bit more.  Also, I come away with having less respect for Steve Jobs as a person, though he seems to be doing very well as a CEO. 

Anyway, that's the week in review.  Hopefully there will be some new news on the iPad soon, as in tomorrow.  But if not, I'll be talking about it when I finally get my hands on it.

April 16, 2010

Hands On with the iPad: First Impressions

I've made posts about the iPad way before it was even the iPad, starting back in 2008.  When they announced the iPad, I was excited, impressed, and a little disappointed.  But since then, I've been converted.  Why?  Because it seems almost like Cupertino had been reading my blog posts, and built the thing just for me.  But that was from looking at videos and reading the keynote address.  What about real life?  How would it stack up?

Well, I haven't purchased one yet, but I have played with one at the Apple Store, and at the University of Utah's bookstore.  Here are my impressions:

The Keyboard
Unlike a lot of other people out there, I like the keyboard.  It's big enough in landscape mode to type with, and I was pretty proficient with it when typing.  I can also type well without looking at the keyboard, which is a bonus.  The only thing is the shift keys don't seem to be in the same place, so I would need some practice with it.

The Real Estate
I love the large screen.  It's actually smaller than I thought it would be, though it's about the same size as my 12" Powerbook G4 I purchased years ago.  While I can't yet replace a laptop with it, I can definitely replace what I've been using my laptop for, and leave all the heavy lifting up to my iMac at home, or my Mac Pro at work.  I can't wait to see all the awesome Autism apps that will be coming to the iPad. 

The Need
Yes, I think I need one.  Why?  Because I want a "computer" that is easy to use and gets out of the way when I use it.  I need something bigger than my iPod Touch to type on while on the go while still fitting within my seat space while commuting on the bus and TRAX train (those seats are not very clamshell-laptop friendly, let me tell you!). 

So, all in all, I am a happy camper, and look forward to the day I get one (which will be soon, I hope).  Do I think it will be the best tablet out there?  I think it will be for me, but I'm also excited to see how the HP Slate and various Android devices will act when they are released in the future.  The tablet format has finally found the technology and the uses that it needed to be useful.

April 15, 2010

Children, Time Management, and Autism: The Schedule Book

I have been thinking a lot about children and time management in relation to a project I'm working on for my son.  The basic premise is that children thrive when they have a structured environment, and that their structured environment doesn't have blank spaces in it.  That means the current project takes as long as the time it takes to get to the next project.  In fact, if you think about it, the same could be said about most people's scheduling habits, except we as Adults tend to have "background noise" tasks to do (check email, Twitter, Facebook, News, email again, etc.). 

So in my musings, a schedule for children in general should be a start point, and a finish point ONLY if they have something else to do.  If you don't do this, children tend to get a little rowdy and bored because they need at that time to figure out what to do on their own.  That way they have a flexible schedule that will give them time to complete a task or series of tasks.  This doesn't work 100% of the time, but for a general schedule option, it works out pretty well. 

So how does this relate to Autism?  Autistic children are in desperate need of set schedules, and often get irate and have melt-downs if they do not follow the schedule.  Scheduling for an Autistic child or person needs to have a beginning and an end, and the end needs to lead into another part of the schedule.  "Background noise" time doesn't really work for an Autistic child, and they often get lost within their task at hand instead of moving on to their next project. 

Now, let me qualify these observations:  they were made after attending my son's Preschool class and seeing how structured the class time really is.  Students, even if they finish their tasks early, were given a new task to perform that was within the scope of the task time.  So, for instance, if they finished with Art, they would move on to Book Reading.  If they didn't want to play with the blocks, they had time at the swing.  It all depended on how the zones were broken up. 

Now, move that to a non-structured play environment, and my son becomes excitable and quickly floats from one project to another.  He doesn't have a schedule to follow, and so often misses important tasks (like using the potty).  So structure is something that he needs regularly. 

And that is part of my current project.  I'm creating a Schedule tool that will provide structure based on the beginning of the next task, instead of the beginning and end of a task.  Many children with Autism have "Schedule books" that they reference and use, and my son works well with his at School.  Hopefully this project will help him work well with it at home and at daycare as well. 

April 13, 2010

Autism Genetic Breakthrough: Blood Test and Treatment May Be Possible

Laura Shumaker, a blogger on the San Francisco Chronicle, highlighted a study by the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. outlining the possibility of using a blood test to find genetic markers for Autism, and providing treatment.  The study, published online at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, identified two genes of protein production that are reduced in those with severe Autism.  The interesting thing is that providing a "cure" for this type of Autism seems just as simple as providing gene-therapy to increase the production of the BCL-2 and RORA proteins. 

Now, before we get all excited in thinking that Autism may be cured within our lifetime, let's keep in mind that this is a recent discovery that still needs to be reproduced and proven, and that any gene or drug therapy that will come out of it will be at least 5 to 10 years in the making (I would wager, at any rate).  But the important thing that came out of this study is that the genetic material could be something as simple as a red blood cell, and treatment can be equally simple. 

The study was funded through a grant by Autism Speaks, an organization often criticized by many in the Community for it's goal of "curing" Autism.  For those with severely Autistic children, this could be for which they have been praying.  They may soon have a way to manage the condition of Autism in their children, allowing them to perform in school and eventually become contributing members of society as we hope all our children will be one day.  Futures seem bright, treatment is medical instead of behavioral, and that means Insurance Companies have fewer and weaker arguments against covering Autism as a diagnosis. 

Just imagine how far we would have been if the Autism community had not been distracted by the MMR controversy.  If you are interested in reading the study as it was published, the methods of testing, and the rigor the process had gone through, the full article is available here: http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/abstract/fj.10-154484v1

I'm not sure if everyone can download the full text or not, as I am looking from within the University of Utah's network, which has registered for a number of pay-only online subcriptions.  If nothing else, you can read the Abstract. 

April 5, 2010

The Lasting Legacy of Irresponsible Autism Claims: The Resurgence of Measles

NPR has run a story about a resurgence of measles tanks to parental fears of vaccines.  It talks about an outbreak of this extremely contagious virus in Vancouver, during the excitement of the Winter Olympic Games.  Foreign travelers carried the virus and infected two Canadians and a visiting American, which has lead to a spread of the virus to 16 people so far.  Of those 16 people, half come from the same family where the parents rejected vaccination for their children.  That's 8 people who were infected because they were not protected.  And why where they not protected?  Because a friend of the family convinced them not to get vaccinated. 

And more families are choosing to leave their children vulnerable every year, according to the article.  In San Diego County alone there are at least one thousand families who have opted not to let their kindergartners get vaccinated, which is 100 more families more than the last time San Diego had a measles outbreak, where 75 children had to be quarantined to keep them from infecting other children in the same school. 

And the number one reason why these parents don't want to have their children be vaccinated?  Because they think the Government is in a major conspiracy to poison their children into getting Autism through the vaccines.  They may not say it outright, but they fear that the Government is covering up facts that connect Autism and the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccines, thanks to the misinformation published by "Doctor" Wakefield and perpetuated by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy. 

The problem is, this misinformation has been spread so tightly and interwoven to completely into our culture that parents don't believe the scientific evidence that has refuted such claims.  Instead they take their children's lives into their own hands and opt not to become vaccinated.  As a result, when our vaccinated population reaches below 95% (which it is in many Western cultures amongst the school-age children), outbreaks occur and spread.

While I can understand that parents want to do everything possible to protect their children, I don't agree that not protecting them from a preventable disease in order to "protect" them from a disorder that is genetic in origin is a smart thing to do.  I vaccinated both my sons, even though my oldest is Autistic.  That's because the evidence pointed to genetics for Autism, and not as a result of being vaccinated. 

To those who continue to perpetuate the fear, uncertainty and distrust of vaccines by invoking the Autism card, I would like you to behold your legacy.  Whole families of children who could potentially die or receive permanent brain damage from the measles. 

Let us hope families quickly realize the Genetic causes of Autism and start protecting their children again.

April 1, 2010

April is Autism Awareness Month

This month is Autism Awareness Month, and there are several events across the nation to bring awareness of those who live with Autism in their lives.  In Salt Lake City, there is the Walk Now for Autism, which is a fundraiser for Autism Speaks, which seeks to increase our knowledge of the condition and searches for a cure.  But regardless of which side of the autism cure/acceptance debate you are on, there are a lot of informational booths there.  I would highly recommend attendance if you have someone in your family who is Autistic.  It's scheduled for May 1st, which puts it just outside of the month, but it's definitely worth attending. 

The Layton Krispy Kreme Donuts establishment will be selling iced blue donuts on Friday, April 2nd in support of Autism Awareness.  They encourage you to wear blue in support of Autism. 

Real Salt Lake will have a special event on April 25th in support of Autism Awareness, and on the same day the Davis Master Chorale will have a special Gloria event for families with Autism in Davis County. 

It's also a good month to harass your representatives for Autism insurance reform.  Currently Autism in Utah is not considered a medical condition, and therefore diagnosis and treatment is not covered by health insurance.  There have been and will continue to be bills up on in the State regarding healthcare company requirements to identify Autism as a medical condition, which should at least cover the diagnosis.  The recent Healthcare Reform bill that President Obama signed into law requires behavioral therapy to be covered, but does not require Autism to be recognized as a medical condition.  Until such a requirement is identified, there are still loopholes for families living with Autism.

So what do you intend to do for Autism Awareness month?  Do you have anything planned specifically?  Feel free to post your Autism Awareness Month events in the comments below!

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