August 2010 Archives

August 24, 2010

History of Autism Treatment: An Introduction

Dr. James Coplan posted a quick introduction to the history of autism treatment, excluding the horrific past treatments of isolation, incarceration, and forced confinement.  Instead, he's focusing on the history of the current treatment, or the roots of what we now know as ABA, or various other proven treatments for Autism. 

With psychologists and psychiatrists being so common and almost cliche in our culture, it's odd to think that the study of the mind beyond philosophy was never taken seriously, even 150 years ago.  Instead you had mentalists like Franz Mesmer who invented hypnotism (and from whence we get the word mesmerized) who were performers, not scientists (or at least not what we would imagine to be scientists).  It wasn't until the turn of the century when you get Freud, Catteil and Binet, Spearman and Pearson, and others who start to take the study of the mind into the realms of scientific study, testing, and observation.

As the new science we know as psychology starts to develop, we see two branches emerge:  Behavioral Psychology and Holistic Psychology.  Behavioral psychology focuses on addressing the behavior, and from that steps the Applied Behavior Analysis therapy.  Behavioral Psychology was pioneered by E. L. Watson and J. B. Thorndike, who trained B. F. Skinner, who in turn trained the late Ivar Lovaas, the father of ABA. 

Holistic psychology focuses on more than just behavior, but rather intention, consciousness, emotion, etc. as part of the whole subject of psychologists, and therefore should be placed on the same level as behavior.  The idea being that if you break down the brain and brain experience into it's parts, you are missing out on the whole.  It was pioneered by Professor William James.

All this is covered in Dr. Coplan's article, but I find I fascinating to learn about the history of treatment, and where it is heading.  I'm looking forward to more posts, and in the mean time continue to search for digital copies of the works of Watson, Thorndike, and James for additional reading. 

August 23, 2010

Real Smoke in Cooking: From Burgers to Squash

Smoke, real hardwood smoke, has an amazing effect on food.  Food that normally would be tasteless and lifeless take on a new flavor when you introduce hardwood smoke.  And this weekend we celebrated my nephews birthday at our house, which means I got to cook.

Now, there are some basic rules in smoking food.  First, don't use any wood that is either treated, or a soft, resin wood (pine, cedar, etc.) for smoke.  The resin burns, leave cresote behind, which can ruin the flavor of food.  You need to use a hardwood that is, well, just hardwood.  My favorite is to use fruit tree wood, but any hardwood is fine. 

Second, the food needs to be properly prepared.  I find using some fat and salt applied to the food draws in the smoky goodness.  If the food is already fatty (i.e., most grilling meats), then just salt.  If you use any ingredients with high sodium levels to add additional flavor to the food (i.e., soy sauce, worchestershire sauce, etc.), then you don't need to add salt.  But it does need to be properly seasoned before you can expect the food to absorb the smoky goodness. 

I started with building my own fire.  Some cooks like to use charcoal, but I find it more rewarding to start the fire from scratch.  So I pulled some pine needles, pine branches out, and laid some russian olive wood over that to get it going.  Now, I know what you are going to say!  I just said not to use pine, and here I am using it.  Well, I'm not using it to smoke the food, just to get the fire going and to build some coals.  Once I had some coals from the wood (about an hours burning), and all the pine had burned away, I put on a piece of plum wood cut from our plum tree last year.  This was my first experience using plum, but as it was a hardwood I was not too worried.

For the party, I made hamburgers.  Not the hockey puck patties you can get at the MegaMart, but freshly pressed from ground meat.  I added some paprika, pepper, and worchestershire sauce to the mix, and started mixing it together.  Once done, I brought out the mix and pressed them into patties just before placing them on the grill.  Once on the grill, I closed the lid and let it do it's thing. 

After about 7 minutes or so, I checked the meat, and then flipped it over.  another 7 minutes or so, checked again, and if necessary, flipped and let it cook yet again, to be sure it got up to temperature.  The smell was not much to write home about, but then with few exceptions hardwood smoke doesn't start to smell amazing until after it's cooled a bit (the one exception I've found is mesquite, though I'm sure there are others). 

But there was still a lot of heat and smoke coming up after the burger was done, and I didn't want to waste it.  So I pulled out some zucchini and some summer squash, sliced it into rounds, greased the exposed flesh with oil and added some salt, then threw it onto the grill.  The veggies actually took longer to cook than the burgers, but once done the smell was amazing, and the taste even better. 

Now, two days later, I brought the left-over veggies to work for lunch.  And all the way to work I smelled like Jerky, which is to say, very, very good!  If I didn't make several students hungry on the way to work, I would be surprised.

So that was my experience in smoking over the weekend.  What is your favorite wood to use in smoking, and what foods have you smoked? 

August 18, 2010

My Experience Jailbreaking the iPad, And Why I Restored

Yesterday, I thought I would try an experiment: jailbreaking my iPad.  I had everything backed up, so I wasn't worried about losing any data, and I was curious to see if the benefits were as good as all that acclaim jailbreaking propose.  So, I thought I would give it a try. 

I hadn't upgraded to iOS 3.2.2, so I used to start the jailbreaking process.  It went flawlessly, and within a few minutes I was able to use the Cydia to start installing apps.  That went great, and I can understand why so many people find it so easy to jailbreak their iOS device.

So what worked well?  WinterBoard, which allows for some awesome visual effects.  Particularly I liked the ability to wash out the app icons, so while they were still there, they were not so distracting from the wallpaper.  That was awesome, and I would love to see a feature like that added to the iOS sometime in the future natively. 

Categories worked well too, as the iPad does not yet have the love of iOS 4.0, and lacks this ability.  You can also add more then 12 items to a folder, which is nice.  Of course, for it to actually work in shrinking the apps displayed, you need to reboot the device.  I'm not sure I like that, as it feels yet again like a Windows machine, and not anything like the Mac or Linux computers with which I generally work. 

Now comes the clunky bits: installing apps from Cydia.  Finding them was slightly frustrating, as searches were limited to the name of the app, and not what the app does.  And for all the intents of the developers to have cool and sexy names for their apps, they just don't readily explain what the app actually does.  So, I had to resort to either scrolling through apps by category (which becomes unwieldy the more apps that get developed), or use the Internet. 

Once I find the app and choose to install it, It takes me to a "terminal" display, where it shows the installation, and then I generally have to restart either SpringBoard, or the device itself.  Man, it was like working on a Windows machine all over again, which is what moving to a Mac was all about. 

Then there was the instability of some of the apps, crucial apps that I wanted to have running but couldn't, because they crashed my iPad.  I've NEVER crashed my iPad before, and yet jailbreaking managed to do it. 

So, are there benefits to jailbreaking an iOS device?  Sure!  Categories and Winterboard were great.  You can also install Google Voice, and a number of other apps that you can't get in the App Store through Apple.  But is it worth it?  I found the device less reliable once it was jailbroken, and while I'm sure a little more tweaking could have fixed the reliability, I don't have the time (or rather, I'm unwilling to devote the time to something that should just work). 

So, I reverted my iPad back and upgraded to iOS 3.2.2, losing all the jailbreak changes I made.  For me, at least, I'm OK using the standard Apple release of the iOS.  For those of you who jailbreak, I salute you for your tenacity and devotion to tinkering, but it's just not for me.  For those of you who are perhaps less technically inclined or have more important things on your plate than trying to tweak a hack, it may not be for you. 

August 13, 2010

The Diagnosis, and Afterwards: Two Exciting Projects in Autism

This week has had two great announcements:  a new Autism diagnosis procedure that will diagnose after a 15 minute brain scan, and a new therapy being developed right now in Pittsburgh. 

First, the diagnosis.  Currently there are several attempts to diagnose autism with a genetic test, and the best accuracy that can be met (to date) is about 9%.  Why?  Because there are so many different genes that can cause autism, it's difficult to identify a particular genetic marker and say "That's autism right there".  Other tests attempt to check for biological changes based on conditions that accompany autism, like intestinal disorders. 

The new thing here is that the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College in London is actually mapping cerebral changes, and the test is only 15 minutes.  Compare that with several hours of evaluation by psychologists, and it becomes extremely cost effective.  And what does that mean?  Perhaps insurance companies will FINALLY identify autism as a diagnosis, and cover said diagnosis. 

The other good news about this test is that it has been found to be 90% accurate in it's diagnosis, which beats 9% clear out of the water.  And for those who are diagnosed, they know it's because of an actual, physical cause, not some form of parental neglect or parental abuse that is causing the condition.  For everyone in the Autism community, this should give them a huge sigh of relief. 

But what happens after the diagnosis?  Sure, it's great to know, and it's great to understand that it's physical instead of something the parents have done, but what now?  Autism doesn't go away, and there is no magic pill that will "make it all better".  Autistic children need to be taught in any way they can.  And one such way is currently being developed at Interbots, Inc, a spin-off from Carnegie Mellon University Technology Center.  Yesterday they issued a press release on their project in "Character Therapy", or using robots to help children with autism learn to interact. 

The program is very much cutting edge, both in technology and in autism therapy.  It's based on the premise that children with autism prefer interaction with non-human entities, be it animals or robots.  Why?  Because both animals and robots have far less social and emotional baggage to carry around, and therefore an autistic child doesn't have to worry about offending (as we humans tend to be easily offended). 

A good example of this working is the Crush experience at Disneyland's California Adventures in Anaheim, California.  Parents with autistic children, even with low functioning autism, find the children speaking and repeating either sounds or words after having the experience with Crush.  It's a fascinating phenomenon, and I'm looking forward to experiencing it with my son.

So, for the first time in a long time, I find myself wishing I were either in London to work with the psychologists and psychiatrists at King's College, or in Pittsburgh.  The idea of working with such excellent programs, providing feedback, and contributing so such revolutionary ideas is very compelling.  I can't wait to see these two projects come to fruition. 

August 6, 2010

Book Review: Sir Walter Scott's Guy Mannering

I'm in need of a rebuke. All this time in my life, and I have never read a book by Sir Walter Scott. Well, recently I changed that, and read Guy Mannering. Clearly, I have been neglecting my studies, my heritage, and my opportunity to be edified by the prose of one of Scotland's greatest writers.

The story was pretty clear in and of itself, and the principles were quickly identified. Guy Mannering, while traveling in Scotland, chances to arrive at a Laird's house, one of the last of the great and ancient names in Scotland. The Laird just had a son, and Guy Mannering, being then schooled in the "science" of astrology, promptly worked out the son's fate. He wasn't happy about it, and as he left, he vowed to give it up. The son was then lost 5 years later, and taken away by smugglers from Holland. The story is about his return, connections to the family, and more importantly to now Colonel Guy Mannering, late of His Majesty's Royal Army in India.

The story was compelling, and only seemed slow because I wanted to see if my conjectures as to the relationships between characters were correct. It was written much like the old serial method, each chapter being a story in and of itself, though building upon each other.

Sir Walter Scott was instrumental in restoring the Tartan to the Highland clans, their rights and their culture. It was he, though his writing, that restored the valor, pride, and spirit of Scotland to her natives, and such stories as Guy Mannering are a testament to his work.

And as a side note, this book was the cause of a special breed of terrier being called Dainty Dinmonts, after one of the principle characters in the book. It also mentions one Duncan Robb in passing, of which I am very proud.

August 4, 2010

First Impressions with the iPhone 4

Well, I've gone and done it.  My old Nokia phone was dying, not able to keep a charge for longer than a day, and had issues.  It had run it's course over the past three years, and it was time to get a new phone.  My wife, who had the same phone as I did, opted to get an iPhone 3GS, and I hesitated.  It was early in the Spring, and I knew that there were rumors of a new iPhone coming. 

There was no doubt that I would get an iPhone.  I've used an Android phone before, and find the overall experience rather clunky in comparison to the iOS experience.  Perhaps it's because I started with an iPod Touch, moved to the iPad, and have invested quite a bit in iOS apps.  More likely it's because there are at last count only three apps (that's 3, only 3) that cater to Autistic children, while for iOS devices, there are over 250. 

At any rate, I was happy to say I waited until the iPhone 4 was announced, and finally ordered one.  Please note, I did wait until the "Antennagate" issue was addressed by Apple, though it doesn't matter that much to me (I'm not left handed).  The free case, which is currently ordered, was definitely a bonus. 

So, what are my impressions of the iPhone 4?  Well, it's just what I would expect having use iOS devices before.  I have never cared for Flash much, as most of my Flash experience has been with ads on news sites, so I don't miss it at all.  What I do like are the new features, many of which I find very wanting on the iPad.  As such I am looking forward to the iOS 4 update, rumored to be due in November (sooner would be nice, Apple!  Just saying!). 

1.  Folders:  I love folders.  I love being able to combine all my 5 pages of apps to one screen.  It's fabulous to have that kind of consolidation for my apps.  I was also interested to learn that of all the "games" on my iPhone, my kids games out number my own. 

2.  Multitasking:  I have to admit, this was one of the reasons I was holding back on another 2 year contract with AT&T and the expense of an iPhone over that time.  I wanted to be able to use Skype while not having to have it open all the time.  Ideal for an iPod Touch, it's great on the iPhone.  That, and I can listen to Pandora while surfing the web.  Bring it to the iPad, and i'll be one happy mobile computing professional.  ^_^

3.  Augmented Reality Browers:  I just discovered it this week, and I'm already intrigued.  There are several free browers available in the iTunes Store, along with some that come with paid subscriptions or others that charge for the browser.  At any rate, it's a pretty cool thing, and I'm looking forward to playing with it more. 

4.  720p Video Recording:  This was what sold me.  Not only did I want to consolidate my cell phone with my iPod, but I wanted to add in a decent video recorder.  The video capabilities on this thing is great, and I didn't even need to purchase the iMovie app.

5.  Retina Display:  I do a lot of reading on the go, mostly on my iPad.  But reading on the iPhone 4 is a new experience entirely.  The clarity of the words is astounding, particularly when in small text.  My eyes don't tire when I read on the Retina Display, and I hope to see it in future iPad releases as they come (and I'm sure they will). 

Those are my likes, things I have enjoyed about the iPhone 4.  Now let's talk about the minor disappointments.

1.  Bluetooth Headset Woes For Voyager 510:  Yes, I finally have an iOS device that will allow the Voyager 510 headset I have owned for over 5 years to work.  The problem?  It can only be used for calls, and will not work with the iPod app.  It seems this poor little trooper is just had it's day, and I'll need to spring for a stereo bluetooth headset. 

Yep, that's it.  Everything else I was either expecting, aware of, or surprised that it doesn't happen at all (i.e., Antennagate). 

So, there is my first impressions.  Some have called me an Apple fanboy.  Honestly, I think I like Apple because they take all the frustration out of compiling on UNIX.  It works when I want it to, and doesn't feel clunky when I work it.

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