February 2011 Archives

February 24, 2011

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.. A Server In Every Desktop?

I've been following the comments of a lot of friends out there about Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, and how it relates to the Server environment.  It seems that Server services are now going to be bundled within Mac OS X, which means Apple no longer needs to provide a Server version of the OS.  This is what is inferred on Apple's preview website for Lion, and it has created a lot of buzz over it. 

For me, I think it's great!  Why?  Well, because it means that my vision for the computer world is looking pretty solid.  When the iPad came out, I saw the writing on the wall:  desktops were going to be relegated to Servers for storage, sharing, printing, etc. while home computer use will be managed through tablets like the iPad.  There are exceptions to that, obviously, like video editing and rendering, high end photo manipulation, etc, but for the most part Joe Average at home could do most of his computing on a tablet. 

So why even stop there?  Well, the Internet in general is not yet reliable enough for cloud based computing (wonder why Chrome OS is so long in coming?), and there are still a number of desktops out there that could be used for a transition in the meantime.  Apple has taken the step in the commercial OS business to provide an active migration tool to tablets and Servers, and making it easy to set up and manage. 

For those that have used Server Preferences in the past may have known that setting up a Mac OS X Server can be very simple.  For those of us who used Server Admin, we know that Apple is great at simplifying the process.  From the screenshots I have seen (I've yet to get a preview copy), it looks like Lion will have a Server Preferences like app, but it will look like Server Admin now, or actually more like Finder. 

But what about the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch?  Well, it looks like profiles can be pushed out to the iOS devices using Profile Manager, a new service.  That's exciting!  It's going to make managing iOS devices at home and at work much easier.  And the fact that it integrates with an existing directory service (like Active Directory, Open Directory, Open LDAP, Kerberos, eDirectory, etc.) makes it even easier to throw into a network for iOS management.

There are still a lot of questions that need to be answerd, but as it sits I'm really excited to see this move by Apple.  It's a good move, and with all the other updates coming from Lion, this is going to be one slick OS. 

February 22, 2011

EEG Test for Autism?

BMC Medicine published an article today on the results of an EEG study to identify children with a sibling with Autism. The article covered an EEG test to check for mental activity within the speech and social centers of the brain for those siblings of a child with Autism (which typically places them in at a high risk for Autism themselves), and the control group for children with neurotypical siblings.  They found, with 80% accuracy, they could identify the children who had siblings with Autism. 

So, let's look a the study, which the authors freely admit is just a stepping stone to additional research.  The study is looking for brain activity, as measured by sensitive electrodes that rest on the scalp of a child aged between 6 to 24 months.  The activity indicate freely firing neurons, which in turn show information processing.  It is assumed that with high activity in this area, the child is strongly social, or will at least develop strong speech and social skills. 

They found that children who had a sibling with Autism tended to have less activity within the speech and social regions of the brain.  They also found that age was a significant factor, as at 9 months the classification accuracy was near 100%, and remained between 70% ad 90% at ages 12 to 18 months.  For girls, the classification was highest at age 6 months, and then declined. 

So what are we looking at here?  Well, on the surface, it looks like it's an ideal way to identify Autism, or at least at this stage show a child has a sibling that has Autism.  More study is needed to prove that Autism can be diagnosed through EEG's.  But something else comes to mind when I read the results of the study:  the accuracy starts to decline at age 9 months for boys, and 6 months for girls. The brain is an amazing organ, and has the ability to retrain itself when given specific stimuli, hence why AAC therapy is so effective with children on the Spectrum.  What's very interesting here is the decline in accuracy may actually be showing brain compensations within the children as they develop.  That's a fascinating idea, and one that we need to get to sooner within the Autism community.

It seems that too many people see Autism as a static disorder, much like blindness or deafness. But because it is a neurological disorder, it's possible the brain can work itself through Autism, and appear quite normal.  As Dr. James Coplan suggested  in his 5th post on PsychologyToday.com, time can make the difference if the child's IQ is sufficiently high enough to work it's way through the severity of the disorder.  Therefore, I see this study as not only significant, but necessary.

And another side note to the discovery:  It yet again proves that Autism is, in fact, a medical disorder, and at least the diagnosis should be covered by health insurance. 

February 17, 2011

Can the iPad, or any Tablet, Replace your Laptop?

I have found the iPad to be one of the best purchases I have ever made.  It's usefulness has gone beyond anything that I could have imagined, and continues to get better as applications that are produced for the iPad get better.  But could it really replace a full powered laptop or notebook computer?  Does that little piece of glass have what it takes?  My answer, based on my experience, has been yes.  But let me explain how I have come to that conclusion. 

When I purchased the iPad, I bought it for three tasks:  mobile video for long periods of time (like on a flight), bigger screen for reading ebooks, and writing while on the go (literally while sitting on the bus).  These were tasks I found awkward with a laptop, and found that my iPod or iPhone was not up to the task. 

First, for mobile video.  Sure, my iPod could do this, but I wanted something that I could use to share with my kids.  With the large screen of the iPad, I can sit back with the kids and watch videos, for up to 10 hours.  Ideal for along driving trips or plane flights, this worked well.  Sure, I could get adapters for the laptop, but it's clamshell design was not the best for watching video.  Not as convenient as holding it in your hand.

I never liked reading ebooks on either the desktop or a laptop.  The controls were awkward to use, the laptop too heavy to hold, and the battery life was not up to a long period of reading.  No, I needed something with a better battery that was light enough to hold while standing and not get in the way.  My iPhone works great, but the screen is really small and having a larger screen is very handy when reading PDF files.  As anyone who has used a standard Kindle and then got the larger one would tell you, the increased screen real estate does make a difference. 

While a physical keyboard for writing is great, I wanted something that would be more mobile than a clamshell computer.  The flat nature of the iPad makes it ideal, as well as the wide screen size for typing with more than a couple fingers (or thumbs).  What's more, there are full word processor apps that are available for the iPad, as well as very spartan versions that are perfect for writing articles and novels. 

So then I started to think, if it can do these three things that justify (if only barely) purchasing an iPad, what would it need to do in order to justify using it as a replacement for a full powered laptop?  So, I started going through all the applications that I have on my computer, just to see what it is that separates the laptop from the iPad when in use.  What I found was fascinating, and a little surprising.  I found that a lot of the apps I already had could replace to a certain degree the applications I have on my computer.  Here is what I came up with:

Games:  This was a no-brainer, as the iPad and Apple's App Store is at least 25% games.  But what about those specific games that everyone is playing?  If you are looking for a specific game, then you may be out of luck (no Starcraft 2 or World of Warcraft here), but you can get similar games, so the overall experience is not lost. 

Word Processing/Publishing:  I've already mentioned that word processing on the iPad is a great way to get things done.  Recently I purchased iA Writer, and I love it.  I also have Pages, which is phenomenal for creating layouts for my text.  I also have Index Card to organize my storylines, PlainText for taking notes (also works decently for writing novels), and Documents 2.  I even have SpeakPad for text to speech, in case I want to hear the text I'm writing.

Text Editing:  Different than word processing, text editing allows for writing stuff like code.  Often times I'll be sitting on the bus, and I may want to just bust out some code really quick.  Believe it or not, that can be done on the iPad.  Tools like Markup for iPad make it possible. 

Pictures:  The iPad has a ton of picture editors, though I like Photoshop Express for making quick edits to pictures I've already taken,  I also have various sketch apps for releasing more creative ideas beyond a photo. 

Communication:  Along with iPad's Mail, I can use a number of other tools like Skype, Twitter through Tweetdeck, FacePad for the rare occasions I want to check out Facebook, or even Pocket Metaverse to chat with my buddies in Second Life.  And, because of the nature of the iPad, these apps are less distracting than on a desktop or laptop. 

Coding:  I know I mentioned this under text editing, but sometimes you want to test your code.  Well, you can using various tools on the iPad.  Right now there are two Lua test environments for the iPad (iLuaBox and Luna), and JavaScript Anywhere works for JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS.  More are on the way, though I'm not expecting a full on Xcode environment (but that would rock!!!).

Project Management:  There are a number of project management tools for the iPad, but I'm currently looking at Trac Viewer, and Trac as an open source online project management tool.  It's supported by my hosting service, so I thought I would give it a try. 

So that's just off the cuff.  There are some other applications that I don't have and can't to this point, but over all, the iPad makes a great replacement for a laptop for general use.  So much so that I gave up my laptop and got a desktop instead. 

February 15, 2011

Families and Autism: When Family Members Don't Understand

Recently, I've been running into a common problem that a lot of parents run into:  family members not understanding their child's condition.  In this case, a new behavior that our child with Autism has has been misunderstood. 

It is quite common for some behaviors in managing Autism to be misunderstood as child abuse, particularly deep pressure stimulation. Some parents, while on a shopping trip, may need to initiate deep pressure stimulation to get their child under control.  Sometimes this means laying on top of the child.  In broad daylight, in the middle of the store.  Parents with children on the Spectrum fear this scenario, because they have been reported for child abuse at that moment.  It's embarrassing for the parent, because they are doing what they are supposed to do, but yet it makes them look bad.  It's also potentially a legal issue, depending on how versed law enforcement is on the Autism spectrum. 

Though deep pressure stimulation is usually seen as weighted bean-bags, blankets, or bear hugs, my son craves a somewhat sharp sensation on his arm.  He will use toy dinosaurs to "bite" his arm, stick his arm in the dogs mouth (much to the frustration of the dog), or even in my mouth.  Sometimes, due to the amount of pressure he puts on his arm, this can cause bruising.  We were concerned, and talked with his occupational therapist, which said this was perfectly normal.  They even taught us some techniques of deep pressure stimulation that would help our son focus more at home. 

Well, family members have been concerned about the bruises, thinking that they are being caused by adults mishandling my son.  The frustration is, I know what it looks like, but it isn't the case at all.  It's a sensory need that my son has to get that stimulation.  So, I ended up needing to explain the sensory need my son has.  I'm not sure it registered, nor whether or not family members understand.  Of course, I would hope that all those who know me would trust that I have my son's best interests and safety in mind, and would be alert to his needs, his situation, and any changes in his habits. 

Though the frustration with the misunderstanding is there, it's difficult to place blame on a family member that doesn't understand the sensory needs of a child with Autism.  Why?  Because even if they have worked with a child with Autism before, every child is different.  That is especially true in sensory stimulation.  Even if you have grown up with a child with Autism, all other children on the Spectrum are going to be different.  So how do you help family members understand what children with Autism need, even if it looks odd?

First, you need to set the foundation.  Because of the nature of Autism and the brain, they will need something on which to focus to keep the brain from getting sensory overload.  Often times that means either auditory, visual, or tactile stimulation.  Deep pressure is common with children on the spectrum, and there are a number of ways to apply that pressure.  Most commonly a weighted bean bag will work, or weighted blanket.  You can also use your palms on the arms, pressing the arm between your palms.  And remember, this is deep pressure, so you would need to press hard (not to tears, but until you feel resistance).  Bear hugs also work, or even just a large pet (like a dog) laying on the child or leaning against their trunk. 

Has anyone else had similar experiences, or had the need to explain their child's sensory needs to family members? 

February 10, 2011

HP TouchPad Preview: What It Does, and What It Needs To Do

PC Magazine has a great article with embedded video on HP's announcement for it's new tablet to compete with the iPad:  The HP TouchPad.  It will be using HP's (formerly Palm's) WebOS platform, and from the demos I've seen from the launch, it looks interesting. 

From a basic view, it's pretty much like the iPad.  The size, resolution, and even the basic look just screams iPad.  They really took a queue from iPad and understand what the tablet should be.  When working in an app, the app takes over the screen.  They even go so far as to have multiple screens of apps instead of app icons to select the app you want to use now.  Orientation is really the same, and I don't see anything that really screams unique in this area. 

What it does have that the iPad doesn't is a forward facing camera, and a dual core processor.  The software also communicates wirelessly with the HP Pre3 using a proximity sensor to transfer data between the two.  That's pretty cool, and I think it would be a neat feature for any smart phone/tablet combination.  Why?  Because it creates a level of cooperation between the two that enhances the experience, and could create immediate need to purchase both for the sake of that tech.  Of course, if rumors are true, the same could be available in the next iPad and iPhone using RFID (much better then using the phone as a credit card that way).  What else does it do?  Well, it runs Flash, but as I have mentioned before, the power requirements to run Flash make it a non-starter for me in a mobile platform. 

So what is it lacking?  Apps.  The WebOS platform, while starting out really promising in 2009, has always struggled in this area.  HP has touted some partners, but the list is still meager.  Though one way to expand app excitement was to introduce a WebOS platform for Windows, making it possible to run WebOS apps on your PC.  That would increase the install base significantly, though how it's going to be implemented remains a mystery.  My guess is it will exist as either a simple development platform, or better yet something like Apple's Dashboard.  Either way it would be of benefit for HP in the long run to have a wider app base than their current platform. 

As of now though, the TouchPad is still more or less in development.  It's not polished, much to the annoyance of Lance Ulanoff when he did the article, and that's a problem because it makes them look desperate.  It's very similar to Motorola's Xoom presentation, which was pretty much just videos of what it could do when finished at CES.  The difference?  HP didn't have an arbitrary date to get everything ready like Motorola did for CES:  this presentation was from HP on their own schedule.  Perhaps they should have waited until the device was done and ready to go. 

So, with the introduction of the TouchPad, the iPad has more competition.  What will this mean for Apple?  It means they will need to wow everyone with the next release of the iPad in order to stay on top.  Do I think that will be a problem?  No, because Apple has a knack for producing wow's at their presentations, even if the initial iPad presentation left many tech pundits feeling confused.  Personally, I think the tablet in general and the iPad in particular represent a fabulous move forward in the future of computing.  I can't wait to see how it all shakes out!

February 6, 2011

Dog Training and Service Dogs

We have had out dog now for well over 6 months, and he and our son have bend well. He is tolerant, to a point, and shows the Labrador traits strongly. He also shows his Corgi traits, making it an interesting mix. And now, he is ready for training. When we first found our dog Toby, we wanted a smaller dog to be a good service dog for the boys. We wanted something small so that he wouldn't take up too much room. We also wanted a breed that was a working dog, with an emphasis in herding. When we found Toby's listing, the family that had him said he was a border collie/corgi mix. Instead, he turned out to be a labrador/corgi mix, making him a very big dog. We were dubious about him at first, but when he started herding your youngest away from where he was not supposed to go, I was hooked. We loaded him up in the car, and were ready for the new member of the family. So now, we are ready to start his training as a service dog. According to the ADA, a service dog is any trained dog with good manners in public a public place that also performs working tasks (a list of requirements cand be found here).The training we are putting our dog through is beginning stuff, and we don't expect to hve him ready as a service dog for at least a year. But in that time, we intend to teach him at least seven useful skills to help a child with Autism. First, to sense a coming meltdown and react to short-circuit it. Second, to find our son in various situations. Third, to open doors when necessary. Fourth, to close doors when necessary. Fifth, to fetch various objects for our son, Sixth, to put objects out of harms way (toys, and such). Lastly, to tug our son from dangerous situations or as a way to restrain him. Vests marking him as a service dog are not difficult to find, and I have already targeted a couple that I think would be useful. But until he is ready, our dog Toby is a service tog in training. I'm looking forward to the day when he is ready to keep a good watch out for our son in all social situations.

February 3, 2011

The Delicate Art of Communication

Often times I find myself in the position of having to interpret someone else's words.  Not because they are in German, French, Dutch, Spanish, or even Latin or Ancient Greek, but because I have no idea of the context of their question.  And so, inevitably, I need to ask questions about the context of another's question, when they are expecting a simple answer.  They, missing the reasoning behind my questions, become annoyed and continue to evade the vital piece of information I am trying to gather.  All, apparently, for the sake of avoiding a lengthy but clear explanation. 

So it started me wondering, why do we do it?  It seems, as a culture, we have become married to sound bites.  Little bits of information encapsulated within 140 characters, meant to keep our attention only for a few seconds.  Anything longer than that, we become inpatient, unable to wait for completion.  And so, we have been left as a culture to interpret the same.  And often those interpretations are misunderstood to our detriment. 

In the early days, before the days of television and the associated advertisements, people would enjoy the art of conversation.  Communication was clear, well spoken, and required thought and attention.  While advertisements were available, some with only one or two mentions, usually several paragraphs accompanied to explain the contents and it's relevance to the product.  I recall ads I've seen from the early 20th century, some from the 19th, or even the 17th century from documentaries that were very well versed.  Everything was made clear,

So what happened?  Is it because of Television, the microwave oven, or instant potatoes?  I wonder. 

Personally, I see a growth of assumptions as to what others are thinking as the problem.  People assume you have X knowledge, and base instructions off of that assumed knowledge.  For instance, I may be working on a project for one of my classes when a co-worker will ask me a question about putting OS information into a website.  The co-worker wouldn't explain what website it is, or in what context the OS question is being placed (we work with four different OS platforms), so I have to follow up with questions.  My questions ask what OS is being referred to, and in which context, and the answer I get back is, "I don't know, can you tell me".  Inevitably I need to see what the co-worker is looking at in order to understand the initial question. 

Similar issues in communication happen when I worked for eBay, Salt Lake Community College, and NEC.  Each time I would be presented with a problem that someone else has been trying to solve on their own.  They would then assume I had the same level of experience with this same issue when they call, without clarifying the issue itself.  Therefore it became my responsibility to get more information through probing questions.  It wasn't as though clients, co-workers, or customers didn't want to tell me the problem, it was just that they assumed I had the same level of experience they did, with the answer they needed.  While it was often true that I had the answer, I needed to know the full extent of the question before I could provide it, and have it be correct.

Don't see this as a complaint against customers, co-workers, or clients.  Far from it!  It's more an attempt, through writing, to find a cause for a disconnect in communications. 

Often, as I find with interpersonal relationships, it can be a problem of reading too much into statements and jumping to conclusions.  For instance, I may suggest to a friend that they clean out their storage of anything they have not needed, nor used in the past five years.  As I have friends that are, to a certain extent hoarders, it is a good opportunity to help them take stock of what is truly valuable instead of hanging on to stuff that may be "cute" at one time, or may have some obscure use in the distant future. 

But instead of taking me at my word, often times offense can be taken in assuming I have them throw everything away in storage, even priceless (either monetary or personal) heirlooms.  Nothing could be further from the truth, but it is inferred, and the friendship is strained until a big blowup happens and feelings are hurt.  Easily, the fault could be at my end, as I didn't specifically say heirlooms are safe from the purge.  What seems like an obvious exception in my mind becomes obscure in the face of taking offense.  So, yet again, because of my lack of clarity in all aspects, a friendship becomes strained. 

So, what can be done to repair the communication troubles that seem so common in today's society?  What do you think? 

February 1, 2011

Motorola Xoom and Android 3.0: What The Videos Show

I finally was able to see some of the videos highlighting the new features of Android 3.0 Honeycomb, and I'm impressed.  There are some features that I think are interesting, making for a unique user experience.  Of course, I have yet to see a device actually use those features (the video for the Motorola Xoom tablet just played videos of the features, but didn't demo them), but the features seem interesting.  Here is what I thought was impressive:

1.  Scrollable Widgets:  I'm not a big fan of widgets on a tablet screen, if only because it should be a launch area, not the point of the interface.  That being said, it's an interesting concept: scroll through your content for your apps.  Where Apple has you go into the app to see your content, you can see a "preview" of your content on the widget. 

2.  Screen Size:  And I'm not talking resolution (though that was impressive), I'm talking about physical size.  Have you ever tried to type with both hands in landscape mode on a Samsung Galaxy Tab?  I did, once.  It was cramped, difficult, and I thanked my lucky stars that I had an iPad.  Motorola apparentlly saw that, and went with a much wider screen.  Tablets aren't about putting it in your pocket, that's your smartphone.  No, tablets are all about replacing your books in your backpack.  And this size that Motorola came up with works, at least in landscape mode. 

3. Buttonless Interface:  This is rumored to be coming to the iPad in version two, and I'm impressed with the concept.  Mostly because both my boys know they can easily exit out of what I'm doing if they press that button.  Argh.  It would be much better if it were gestures, though that could be easily learned by my boys as well. 

So that's what stood out from the videos in the "demo" with which I was impressed.  So does it make me want to ditch my iPad for Android?  No.  Why not?

1.  The Marketplace:  There are thousands of apps for Android..  but where do you find them all?  You can't, unless you check all the various marketplaces.  It reminds me of the trouble I had finding apps for my PocketPC..  you really have to hunt, all over, and through various websites to find the app you want.  Sure, iTunes is closed, but I can find what I need/want, and move on.  Hopefully Amazon can help consolidate the Android Marketplace and make apps easier to find. 

2. Keyboard to Screen Ratio:  I've heard of a lot of complaints about the iPad's keyboard taking up half the screen when you need it..  Motorola's Xoom with Honeycomb takes up at least 2/3rds of the screen, if not 3/4ths.  If you didn't like the former, you are going to hate the latter. 

3. Limited App Space:  Perhaps it was because of the demo, or the videos, but the apps seemed limited to just the lower part of the screen, and you could have only 6 to maybe 8 there.  That's it.  Need more apps?  I think it  changed as you scrolled along the screen, but it didn't seem to make any difference.  Why only the bottom of the screen?  Because the rest of the space seemed dedicated to widgets.  I could be wrong, but it would seem a little..  untidy to have these large widgets mixed up with the little app buttons.  It would soon look cluttered, at least from what I could see.  Hopefully I'm wrong. 

4.  Flash:  Yes, I will admit it, on a portable environment and on the web, I don't like Flash.  It's not because I don't like Flash in general, I just don't like Flash ads on the web.  I love the fact that they don't work on the iPad, and I can just read the web.  It also doesn't drain my battery, as it has been proven to do on Android platforms that support Flash.  Does that mean Flash is dead?  No, I think it's future is tied up in a development platform that can make native, well coded apps for mobile platforms.  But if a website doesn't have a non-Flash alternative, I'm going to one that does. 

And, of course, the most important reason, I love using my iPad.  It's a great tablet, and does everything I need.  In fact, I found that just about everything I do on the main computer, I can do on the iPad with the appropriate apps.  But that's the subject of another post.  ^_^

So, does that mean I think that the Motorola Xoom is going to be just as disappointing as the Galaxy Tab?  No!  I think it's going to be the best thing for both Android and the tablet platform.  Google has raised the bar in a number of areas, which will ultimately push the tablet platform into the main computing experience.  Well done Google, and Motorola!  Let's hope this thing ships, and is affordable for those who choose an alternative for current tablet platforms.  And I can't wait to see HP release their WebOS tablet, and see what they bring to the table. 

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