March 2011 Archives

March 30, 2011

Savory Meal Replacement Bars

I love to eat meal replacement bars.  They are easy to carry, they have pre-measured calories, and they can be stored for a long time.  They are ideal in emergency situations when you need to pack a lot of food in a small amount of space.  Like to go camping or hiking?  They are a great way to keep your energy up without adding too much weight to your pack. There's just one problem with them:  Most are too sweet for me.

Popular selling meal replacement bars tend to favor the sweet, or the chocolate.  This isn't a problem with the company's ability to create them, but rather what the market demands.  Give someone a choice between a chocolate chip bar or a bar with meat and salt in it, they will opt for the sugar.  This isn't bad, because calories are generally the same both ways.  But for those of us who like something a bit more, savory, we are out of luck.

Unless we make our own.

I've actually found a couple of websites with recipes for savory bars, but even those seemed too sweet.  So I started to think:  What do I need for a bar?  I need filler, which is generally your grain.  I need flavor, which can be any number of things, and I need a binder.  Sweet bars tend to use sugars as their binders, but you can also use starches or proteins as binders to keep everything together.  So, after some careful thinking, here are two recipes I made.

Tomato Chicken and Rice

  • 1/4 lb thinly sliced chicken strips (between 1/4 in. to 1/8 in)  I prefer dark meat, as it's very flavorful and still very light on the calories
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1teaspoon Poultry Seasoning (sage and thyme, if you don't have a pre-mix)

Combine the sliced chicken, salt, and seasoning.  Let them cure with this rub for at least an hour, and then throw them into a convection oven (if you don't have one, you can use a regular oven) at it's lowest setting (I did mine at 200 degrees) for at least 2 hours.  This will dry out the meat until it's like jerky, which is just what you want. Then combine:

  • 2 cups puffed rice (like Rise Crispies)
  • 1/2 cup soy nuts (or your chosen nuts)
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chicken jerky
  • 1/4 cup potato or tapioca starch
  • 1/4 cup soy protein flour

Mix well and then add your binder, which is:

  • 2 large eggs, well beaten
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • pepper to taste (there is already plenty of salt from the jerky)

Mix them together quickly and place them in a small, greased pan.  Then bake the mixture together at 300 degrees (mostly to dry it out as well as cook the egg) for 25 minutes.  When done, remove and cut up into bars.  I got 8 good bars this way, and they really did taste like Tomato Chicken and Rice soup.

But suppose you don't like that one, and want to go for something a bit more adventurous:

Chicken Tikka Masala

  • 1/4 lb thinly sliced chicken strips (between 1/4 in. to 1/8 in)  I prefer dark meat, as it's very flavorful and still very light on the calories
  • 4 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger

Combine the ingredients.  Let them marinate for at least an hour (I like going overnight normally, but the pieces will be thin enough that after an hour it will be good to go), and then throw them into a convection oven (if you don't have one, you can use a regular oven) at it's lowest setting (I did mine at 200 degrees) for at least 2 hours.  This will dry out the meat until it's like jerky, which is just what you want. Then combine:

  • 2 cups puffed rice (like Rise Crispies)
  • 1/2 cup soy nuts (or your chosen nuts)
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chicken jerky
  • 1/4 cup potato or tapioca starch
  • 1/4 cup soy protein flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala

Mix well and then add your binder, which is:

  • 2 large eggs, well beaten
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • pepper to taste

Mix them together quickly and place them in a small, greased pan.  Then bake the mixture together at 300 degrees (mostly to dry it out as well as cook the egg) for 25 minutes.  When done, remove and cut up into bars.  Just like the Tomato Chicken and Rice, this recipe does taste like chicken tikka masala, and yet it doesn't have the heavy caloric intake that you would get otherwise.  If you have a spouse that doesn't go for Indian food, and you crave it, this is the perfect fix.  And you can have it whenever you want!

So those are my recipes.  I've enjoyed them all this week, and I'm looking forward to making more.  I think I may replace the oil with yogurt in the binder the next time, in order to add a more creamy flavor to the bars, but other than that I don't think I would change a thing.

March 29, 2011

What Makes the iPad So Useful with Autism?

A friend of mine sent me a link to Geekdad's blog on Wired.com to his post about how the iPad is not the miracle device for Autism. Apparently, he is contesting the perception that all a child with Autism needs is an iPad, and they will immediately start improving in their communication.  And to a certain extent he is right, the device, alone and without the right apps or without knowing how to utilize it properly, is not a replacement for effort and work with your child. But you might ask, if you are one of the few that frequent my blog, why I am so excited about the iPad and it's work with Autistic children?  Let me tell you.

 

  1. Cost:  The first reason is cost.  The iPad and iPod Touch, as compared to other devices out there, is very affordable.  Now, I know that is kind of a loaded word, "affordable", but most touch screen communication devices out there are thousands of dollars.  $500.00 makes that look very affordable indeed.  They are also surprisingly robust, even without a case and screen protector.  Given a choice, the iPad is the more affordable device, and the iPod Touch doubly so. Now, that being said, there are less expensive communication devices that fall in at less than $100.00.  They are made of plastic, use paper inserts for pictures, and require someone to record the meaning of each picture.  But there are other reasons.
  2. Versatility:  Most communication devices, including the inexpensive plastic devices, are single purpose: they just provide words when pictures are pushed.  The iPad, on the other hand, provides so much more.  Specific skills can be targeted with additional applications, and new applications for each skill are being developed every day.  Many have free trial versions, and most fall within less than $5.00 (with the exception of the communication apps).  And this brings us to the next point:
  3. All About the Apps:  The iPad has thousands of apps, and (at my last count), over 300 of them are for Autism.  Calendar apps that help children visualize their schedule, communication apps that help children talk when they are non-verbal, and games that teach them their letters, numbers, math, spelling, etc.  There are so many tools out there in the apps, a parent or Special Education teacher can feel comfortable in their investment.

 

But how do you use these apps?  How do you target your support of your child with Autism with an iPad?  Talk with your child's teacher and find out what they would recommend.  They already know where your child needs to focus their efforts, and can guide you in the general direction.  You can then use the iPad as a tool to help your child achieve the goals you and the teacher have set.  That's the real power of the iPad.  It has the potential to be any tool you need it to be, because the application support is there, and it's so easy to use.

So, yes, it is important to realize the nature of the iPad as a tool, and not a replacement for a qualified teacher or psychologist.  But it can be such a useful tool at such a comparably affordable price, it's hard not to see it as a miracle.  But what do you think?

March 25, 2011

iPad as a Laptop Replacement Series: Programming

Can an iPad produce code?  Many argue that it cannot because the iPad is only a device for consumption.  You can only read news, surf the web, watch movies/videos, play games, etc., and not do anything useful with it.  Well, that's not true.  You can, in fact, write code without a problem on the iPad.  There are a number of code editors that work, because code is, essentially, just text files.  Here is a list of editors and environments that I have found useful.

 

  1. jsanywhere (Free):  A free Javascript and HTML editor, it lets you test your JavaScript before you publish it.  Great environment for the price if you are a web developer.
  2. Luna (free):  Environment to test Lua scripts.  Very useful when either coding in or learning Lua.
  3. OpenGL ES Programming ($.99):  A learning and programming environment for OpenGL ES for iPhone.  A great way to learn the programming environment, should you be developing the next great iPhone platform game.
  4. Objective-C Editor ($6.99):  An editor keyed specifically for OBjective-C.  It doesn't include a compiler, but you can upload/download your code to/from Dropbox, giving you a chance to edit your code on the road, and compile it later.
  5. Editor for iPad ($3.99):  One of the best editors out there.  Very clean, very simple, looks like editing in the command line.
  6. Gusto ($6.99): A beautiful website editing tool.  Looks great, organizes websites with a clean UI, and editing is very clean.

 

Has anyone else had a similar experience with their tablet?  I'm sure there are plenty out there with an Android device that could tell me one can compile any C code using gcc (and if not, I would be surprised).  What do you use your tablet for?

March 24, 2011

iPad As Laptop Replacement Series: SEO Applications

Yes, you can replace a Laptop with an iPad (or any other tablet).  Why?  Because tablets like the iPad have applications that cover general use scenarios.  No, they will not replace high-end applications (at least at this point), but your every-day computer usage can migrate to a tablet without a problem.

Take Search Engine Optimization, for instance.  Most of the tools of the trade are on the web, be it your Web Analyzer, SEO evaluation tool, etc.  Most of these tools are at least HTML4 compliant if not HTML5, and I have yet to find one that uses Flash.  And on top of that, there are specific apps for the iPhone and iPad you can use to analyze your site.

  1. Analytics for iPad(Free, $6.99 for Premium):  This plugs into your Google Analytics account and pulls down reports for review.  The Premium gives you more information, but the free version is good enough for a quick review of your data.  And, it automatically logs you in, saving time logging in directly to Google's site.
  2. Site Analyser (Free):  A free iPhone app by Impact Media in the UK (http://seotools.impactmedia.co.uk/analyse/), which has a great response time.  It feels like a free app, in that it requires you to enter in captcha information, but still a good app.  One of the best reasons for getting this app is to analyze competitor's sites.
  3. Pear Analytics (Free, no longer in App Store?):  Pear Analytics (http://www.pearanalytics.com) is one of my favorite SEO websites.  Similar to Impact Media's site, it also does an evaluation, though it looks for different elements.  For some reason I can't seem to locate this app in the App Store, so it looks like it may have been removed.  Pity, it's a great app.

So that's the list that I found useful.  There are many more apps for SEO in the App Store, proving the iPad can cover SEO analysis without a problem, just like a laptop.

March 23, 2011

Autism Trips: Riding the Colorado River

It's that time of year again, when the family is itching to find out what to do with summer vacation.  Most parents want to have a fun time with the kids, keep them occupied while they relax and enjoy time away from work.  But for those with a child on the Autism Spectrum, this can seem like a daunting task.

In the past I have talked about going to places that seem counter-intuitive, like Disneyland.  The noise, the crowds, and the long waits generally don't create a great atmosphere for children on the spectrum, but Disneyland is leading the way in empowering parents with short wait times and minimal negative stimulation.  But, as fun as Disneyland can be, are theme parks really your only option?

I have a friend over at Colorado River & Trail Expeditions, with whom I have had this conversation.  Walker Mackay said that they have, in the past, offered trips for families that have children on the spectrum, and they have had a blast.  There are a number of advantages to riding a river, as well as a number of concerns.  Your advantages are:

  1. Outdoor Stimulation:  Most of the country through which river rafting takes you tends to be quiet and secluded.  This means the issues of large groups, loud noises, etc. is limited to the river itself which can be very soothing.
  2. Family Enjoyment:  Everyone can enjoy the trip, and not feel like they are being excluded from the trip.  Yes, it can sound like a selfish reason for being upset, but it's a very real concern when dealing with children (and teenagers).  For a trip like this, everyone is pitching in, enjoying the ride, and they can all have an adventure.
  3. Ideal Placement:  Not everyone needs to be on the edge of the raft when they ride down the river.  In a trip that I took on the Snake up on Jackson Hole, there were a couple of people who were well protected in the center of the boat, while the rest of us paddled on the sides.  This would be an ideal place for a child with Autism.
  4. Prepared Guides:  If you book the trip and TELL THE GUIDE that your child has Autism, they can be prepared for that contingency.  Not all groups are prepared for this kind of thing, so you would want to check with your tour planner.  Or you can book with my friend Walker.  ^_^
But it's not all roses on the river.  It can be very dangerous, as just about any adventure that kids enjoy tend to be.  How do you prepare for the trip?  Here are some of the potential concerns, and some things you can do to relieve any anxiety:
  1. Falling In:  Some rafting trips hit some pretty active rapids, and falling in is a real concern.  The best way to protect a child with Autism from falling in (or anyone, for that matter) is to place them in the center of the raft.  But also the time of year is a factor.  The rapids tend to be most active during the spring run-off, such as in April or May.  If you schedule your trip later in the year, such as August, the rapids are more tame.  And, as with everyone on the raft, you are required to place life-jackets on everyone.
  2. Getting Lost:  When you are in the woods, it may be a concern that someone will get lost while traveling, hiking, or while everyone else is making camp.  But this problem is pretty much the same wherever you go, and the answer is the same: make sure at least one person is fully in charge of and watching your child with Autism at all times.  If you can't do it, look someone in the eye and tell them they are in charge.  Make sure they respond.  That can go a long way.
  3. Impatient Guide:  I've never had this happen, but it is possible that a guide will get impatient, generally from lack of knowledge or awareness of what to expect from the Spectrum.  Make sure you talk it over with your guide well in advance of the trip, and while on the trip.  Let them know what is likely to set off your child into a meltdown, what needs to be done to relieve the tension, or how they react when excited, worried, etc.  Often a little bit of knowledge can go a long way.
Hopefully this helps outline some of the options you have while planning a vacation.  While I can't vouch for all river rafting companies, many like Colorado River & Trail Expeditions that run through canyons like the Grand Canyon, or canyons on the Green River in Utah, are aware of the needs that the Spectrum provide, and are dedicated to giving you the best possible experience.  And just because your child is on the Spectrum doesn't mean they can't enjoy a great adventure on a rafting trip.

March 22, 2011

A New Look

I've had the same Wordpress theme for three years now, and I think it's time it got a face-lift.  So, I changed to a new HTML5 theme, and I have to say I am pretty happy with it.  It took a little tweaking to get it the way I wanted it, but I think it's pretty nice.  That's the nice thing about content management tools like Wordpress, Joomla, or Drupal:  they let you make massive changes with minimal code changes.

So what do you think?  Do you like the new theme?

March 21, 2011

A Weekend with the Apple TV 2 and AirPlay

This weekend, thanks to a private project I had worked on, I was able to upgrade my old Apple TV to the new, tiny, Apple TV 2.  The new and improved Apple TV loses the ability to cache video files on the device, but makes some gains in many other areas.  But let me first give you the reason why I even own them:  my sons are both very adept at damaging DVD's.  That, and I am often left wanting more when it comes to current traditional television programming.  So I started looking for better ways of managing my video entertainment.

The Apple TV provided a way for me to stream my iTunes video collection to my TV.  And by using various tools, I can rip the DVD's I already own and make them iTunes compatible (and as such not infringe copyright law by stealing media someone else owns).  I spent a lot of time since first getting the Apple TV ripping all the DVD's we owned so we could watch them through a single interface.

The Apple TV 2 improved in a lot of areas.  First, it's smaller and takes up less space.  Second, it doesn't pump out a ton of heat (which the previous did, to an alarming amount).  Third, it provides an interface to Netflix and other content media, which I will get to in a minute.  The size makes it easier to place in a small corner and have it be less conspicuous.  Add to that the ability to control it remotely using WiFi and an iPad/iPhone, and you could even hide it within a closed cabinet.  The display is great, though not at the full 1080p that the TV can support.  Instead it manages with 720p, which is incredibly crisp.

One difference that took some getting used to was the location of the shared library.  Shared libraries are now in their own menu, which actually makes it simpler to move from a movie to a TV show without drilling all the way out.

Another difference is the inclusion of three apps:  Netflix, MLB.TV, and NBA.

Netflix has always been an interesting concept for me.  I'm not big into watching content on the computer (unless it's the only option), and would prefer to be with the family in front of the TV, sharing the experience.  So streaming services like Netflix didn't make any sense to me, unless it was part of a set-top solution or built into the TV itself.  The Apple TV (along with other solutions) makes that possible, with the Apple TV 2.  For $7.99 a month, you have access to an incredible list of TV shows and movies that you can stream, as much as you want.  Some even include seasons that are currently running, and not yet released on DVD!  Needless to say, I am now a Netflix convert.

But what interested me was the inclusion of MLB.tv and the MVA channel as apps.  These are web streaming apps, similar to what Netflix has done, but specifies a category or "channel".  It's a beginning, and one I think ultimately has the best possible result.  Instead of having to work with current Network and Cable schedules, it's possible to watch and pay for only the channels you want.  If I want to watch the San Diego Padres and the Chicago Cubs game, I can.  If not, I don't have to pay for it.  It limits my channel surfing, but lets me see what I want to see when I want it.  Google wanted to do this with Google TV.  I think this could well be the future of Cable, and it's something that Cable and Satellite companies would want to pay attention to and embrace.  Let us decide when we want to watch our shows, and you will have happy costumers.

Airplay was another really neat feature, one that I really wanted to have and the main reason why I wanted to upgrade to the Apple TV.  When we travel, I don't want to have to lug a laptop or a computer with me just to watch my own videos.  I have an iPhone and an iPad, as does my wife, and together we could potentially carry all our content we normally watch.  Airplay lets me push my video up to the TV without having to have a computer with me.  And with the latest update, I can use Airplay for some third-party apps, though that list isn't very long right now.  I can use it for Air Video, YouTube, and Netflix, and a couple of others.  But I can't use the PBS iPad app (though it works for the iPhone app), the ABC video app, or the Xfinity app.  For PBS or ABC, it just Airplay's audio.  for Xfinity, nothing.  It would be nice to see all three of these get video Airplay, so I have additional entertainment options while traveling.

Integrated Home Sharing is wonderful when using the Remote apps for the Apple TV, as well as streaming.  It makes it easy to use your Remote for the Apple TV which was previously a complicated setup.  The new setup takes a lot of the complication out.

So, do I think it's the future of home entertainment?  That might be a bit of a stretch, but I think it definitely has the potential to being all we need.  Right now it's a great offering from Apple, and one that I really enjoy.  I'd like to see some games for it, some additional services, and more individual "channels" start to explore this method of subscription programming.  I think that alone will make or break any set-top box like this.  Only one thing:  if I'm going to pay for my content, I don't want commercials.  Thank you.

So that was my experience this weekend, and it was a blast.  I would definitely recommend the Apple TV 2 for anyone with a TV that supports HDMI input, particularly if you have an iOS device.  It works great, looks great, and feels less cluttered than the earlier Apple TV.

March 17, 2011

Security on your iOS Device

A lot has been said about the iPhone and iPad.  It's great, magical, revolutionary, and cool.  But not a lot of people are aware of the security features that come with an iOS device, and it's a shame.  IT departments tend to panic when they don't know about the necessary security measures needed when such devices start showing up.  Here are a couple of things that I would recommend to any user, particularly if you are going to start using your iOS device in a business setting.

Set a Passcode:  This is so simple, and often overlooked because of the potential for inconvenience.  In particular, if you let your kids use your iOS device without unlocking it first.  But there are huge benefits.  You have secure access to your device, and if it fails too many times it can wipe the data from the device to protect your privacy.  How do you do it?  Easy!  Go to your Settings app, and then in General, click Passcode Lock.  Then select Turn Passcode On.  You can change your passcode, set it here, have a simple passcode (four digits) or a more complex alphanumeric passcode.  Then, you can turn on Erase Data.  This will wipe your data after 10 failed tries. CAUTION:  If you have kids that play with your iOS device, they may try to get access to it several times, and could get to that 10 failed threshold.  So keep track of your device.

Be Aware Of Your Network:  Unbeknownst to many users out there, the wireless network in your local coffee house may not be completely safe.  It's possible someone could be hijacking your information.  Check which network you are using in your Settings, and be sure to always connect to your email through a secured connection (most use SSL to encrypt your connection to your mail, as Google Mail does).  Not sure if you are connected through SSL?  Check with your mail provider.  And never, EVER, send any sensitive data through email.  It's not an envelope, it's a post card.  ANYONE can read it!

Use MobileMe Where Is My iPhone:  It's free now, as of iOS 4.2, and definitely worth it.  You can track your iOS device based on your iTunes account information using GPS.  A really cool example was used in the BBC show "Sherlock".  That way, should your iPhone get stolen, or your iPad, you can track it's location.  Definitely worth the 10 minutes to set it up.  And where do you set it up?  In your Mail, Contacts and Calendars (it is part of MobileMe, remember).  Just add a MobileMe account, and select Find My iPhone (or iPad).  Then using either the Find My iPhone app, or the web (www.me.com) if you are at a desktop computer, you can locate your device, display a message or a loud annoying sound, remotely lock the phone, or even remotely wipe the phone.

Physical Security:  Nothing works better to secure your iOS device than keeping it locked when not in use.  And I don't mean locking the screen, but locking the device physically in a drawer or office.  For my iPhone, I keep it in my front pocket (where I would definitely notice if someone was reaching for it).  For my iPad, I tend to keep it either locked in a drawer, in my office, or in my bag and I carry my bad with me.  The minute you leave it down somewhere, it could be the last time you see it.  Always be sure you get in the habit of putting your iOS device (or laptop for that matter) away.  Cubicles are not safe, as anyone can take anything left out.  Use a key.

Don't Jailbreak The iPhone: Okay, I know it's cool, and I know it gives you the feeling that you are "sticking it to the man" and going your own way, but think about this:  There could be a VERY good reason why a lot of those apps only available to a Jailbroken phone are not in the App Store.  One is that some have been proven to carry data mining information.  What, you say?  Someone would do such a thing?  Ask the 50,000 plus estimated Android users that used one of 50 apps that did that very thing for them.  Yes, people do that, and yes, they can do it on any platform that is left open and has no security safeguards.  Apple has intentional sandboxing of apps to keep data secure to the individual app and not share anything across the board.  Now, that being said, if you are dead set on Jailbreaking your phone, then you are on your own. I'm not your mom, and I can't tell you what to do with your life. But don't say I didn't warn you.   And if I were corporate IT, I would make it a serious breach of company policy to have ANY jailbroken iOS devices in my DMZ.

So those are a few suggestions that I would give.  There are a number of corporate solutions that Apple provides through it's iPhone Configuration Utility and various Mobile Device Management server partnerships, but that would be a subject for another post.  These suggestions are general ones that should work for any user.  Does anyone else have any suggestions or comments they would like to pass on?

March 16, 2011

Apple, the iPad, and Autism

As an Apple Authorized Training Center, we get access to the new images for new products from Apple. I use this to browse new iOS products Apple uses to demo their products, and look for good software that I would buy later.  To my surprise, Apple included Proloquo2Go, which is assisted communication software often used by children with Autism.  It's expensive, at $189.99 in the App Store, but it is incredibly robust.  Teachers and parents of autistic children have found it to be a real help in getting children on the Spectrum to communicate when they are non-verbal.

But the real surprise was the focus by Apple to include it in the demonstration.  They haven't in the past, and other than a few references to Autism on the Apple Start page, I haven't seen much in the way of Apple being interested in acknowledging the iPad's impact in helping children with Autism communicate.  Then I saw the iPad 2 presentation.

Most companies are depicted as heartless and money-grubbing.  But seeing Apple's willingness to acknowledge the appeal to children with Autism and how it is able to apply in their lives, that still brings me to tears.  Someone out there in the business sector gets it.

March 11, 2011

Objectivity, Parents, and Schooling: How to Work With The Teacher, not Against

I, like most parents, believe my children are all little geniuses waiting for their opportunity to shine.  For every movement, I can find a rationale.  For every mood swing, I can see greatness.  And then, I meet with my son's teacher to go over his Individual Education Plan (IEP).

You see, my son has Autism, and goes to a special education class in a public elementary school.  And instead of viewing my son with the eyes of a parent, they see him with the more objective eyes of where he is and where he needs to be.  Like psychologists, they assess him through various tests to check his IQ, behavior development, social development, etc.  And his teacher will say he is extremely bright, particularly for his class.  She also doesn't believe he will be in her class for very long, as he is learning so quickly.  But he doesn't speak, doesn't write very well, and has a very, <i>very</i> short attention span.  These tend to hamper his learning, and as such hamper his ability to express what and how he has learned.

You see, with neurotypical children you can sit them down with a piece of paper and a pencil, ask them some questions, and they can give you some sort of written or verbal response.  My son can't do that.  In fact the school psychologist said that he seems to be very intelligent, but there is just no way to know for sure what his IQ is, as there is no concrete way to test a child with Autism.  So, they look at his abilities as he manifests them, using passive analysis, to determine what he is learning and how he is learning.

And, while I am sitting there, I find myself getting defensive.  I keep trying to tell myself, and I'm at the verge of telling both his teacher and the school psychologist, that I know that my son is a genius, that his IQ is bound to be at least 140 or above (128 is genius level), and that they just need to accept that and treat him as the genius that he is.  The problem is, I don't really know that, I just want to know that.  I haven't objectively tested my son for learning in a long time, being too focused on certain behaviors at the moment.  And even if I did, I would tend to be biased in his favor, because like any parent, I want my son to be smart, hard-working, and ready to take on the world.

So what is a parent to do?  Well, keep in mind that all teachers (believe it or not), really do have your child's best interests at heart.  Listen to them, ask questions, and find out what you can do at home to supplement your child's learning.  Don't treat learning as a day job, only to be administered by a teacher and stops at the end of the bell.  Homework needs to be done, questions need to be asked, answers need to be found, practice is critical.  Don't treat the teacher like the enemy, but as an ally in helping your child.  Your child's teacher will be grateful for that support, and your child (whether or not they are grateful at the time), will definitely improve in their learning.

So, as the parent of a very intelligent son with Autism, I stood back and listened to the teachers.  I looked at the testing assessments, to see what we needed to work on to improve his scores.  We compared notes, looked at the work ahead, and in the plan outlined the course we needed to take our son.  Both my wife and I are working on our end to provide the best possible learning environment at home, as our son's teacher is doing the same at school.  We volunteer in class periodically to see how the classroom is run to get a better idea of how things should be managed at home, and tell the teacher what we do at home to help her manage behaviors in school.  And the process is working!  Our son has already progressed incredibly quickly in her class to date, and continues to improve.  He is well advanced for a Kindergartener, and is very ready for first grade.

So, to all you teachers out there, whether special education or otherwise, know there is at least one parent that gets it!

March 10, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness: An Introspective Exercise

 

Lately I have been thinking about life's problems.  Money, health, education, living space, employment, disasters, political and social unrest..  You name it, it's been on my mind.  They seem like overwhelming problems and cause so much pain in misery, I often wonder how we as modern humans let it get this bad.  I've also been looking at my own life, and how I can make it work within my means while bettering the position of my family.  Follow my thought process here, as long as it is, and perhaps you can help give insight to this same argument.  My interpretation of happiness is having rules to follow, or consequences of following such rules, that manage to bring about five things:  Shelter, food, water, comfort (to a degree), and protection for me and my family.  First, let's look a the rules that govern our happiness, see what gets in the way, and then explore ways to meet those goals.
The first thing I thought about was the need to be remembered.  Everyone likes to be remembered I think, going down in the history books, talked about, made famous.  Some choose to do so infamously, some choose to make contributions that are worthwhile.  And some like to do it dramatically.  Take the ancient Britons, for example.  For all it's perceived religious importance, all the henges, like Stonehenge, Woodhenge, and the like, all are lasting monuments to their existence.  If truly religious, they are lasting monuments to their religious beliefs and practices.  If just a gathering and feasting location, or part of a burial rite, then it is a lasting monument to that practice.  It's both remembered and lasting, and that seems to be the important thing to the ancients.  Even the ancient Egyptians with their art, structures, sculptures, and tombs.  The Romans with their great buildings of concrete, central heating, and hot and cold running water.  And even the ancient native Americans with both their temples in the South, and their cliff dwellings in the North, all left us clues and remembrances of who they were.  Legacy has been important to humans since we have been human.  And a huge part of that legacy has been measured by wealth.
Another rule is morality.  Whether it be biased by religious influences or simple social contracts, moral rules dictate how we as people interact with each other.  Laws have been put in place for those who egregiously offend another, and social taboos have been put in place to manage minor offenses.  And often these rules are seen as too restricting.  Partly because when religion is enforced to the point of overriding one's right to make those moral decisions themselves, or when someone is looking to avoid the consequences of their choices, it can interfere with one's happiness.  Often times this is self-imposed, though sometimes it can be imposed by someone who is "judging" your choices.
A final rule I will throw out there is self-image.  Often we take the rules of morality and prosperity to mean the same thing, but I don't agree.  Self image is something beyond both, though both those rules can reflect this particular rule.  And this rule has it breakers, either those who misinterpret what a positive self image is, and those who assign self image to consequences that are beyond their control.  This is a problem, and one that needs to be thrown into the mix.
Another given rule is that we all have problems.  Disasters, famine, cramped urban living, commerce, it's all existed before.  As has been the blaming of others for our troubles.  For generations we as humans have tried to solve this problem by imposing rules.  Religion in general has provided rules of morality, either simple or complex, promising happiness by following these rules.  Secular living has tried to cater to our need to gather monuments to our lives through possessions or accomplishments.  Problems come when something comes along, either unexpected or contrived, to bring our rules into conflict.
For example, a flood could wipe out a self-sustaining farm, and thereby destroy the livelihood of a family for an entire year.  The destruction of a home by fire, earthquake, tornado, or hurricane can leave a family homeless while also destroying or severely damaging all that family's possessions.  Company lay-offs or severe illness can leave a family destitute, with no home or shelter of any kind and forcing those families to rely on their own wits or the help of others, be it family members or social programs.  These events happen to people of all faiths, all denominations, whether devout or rebellious.  Yet each can assign blame on one rule or another, either moral, legal, economic, or political, and everyone can assign their troubles to a different rule.  This, I think, shows us as a person, which rules we value the most.  An interesting insight, I should think.
So, is happiness within our grasp?  First, let's look at prosperity.  Call it wealth, call it things, call it land, call it fame, call it acclaim, it's all prosperity.  There are two conditions that need to be met in order to be considered prosperous:  You need stability, and you need recognition.  Having one without the other makes for fleeting prosperity, and a very shaky position.  At a high level some governments have tried to rigidly control everything, which can best be represented by feudal governments, autocracies, and even some theocracies.  Religious communities like monasteries, abbys, and even whole countries run by religious states have tried to control every aspect of society and economy.  Kingdoms tried to do the same through rigid social structures and controlled economic markets.  Both worked in that they provided stability, though such rigid structures caused a strain on the population recognition.  That strain, either by forcing people to live in a certain socioeconomic tier or just by limiting access to education, reduces the human desire for recognition for their efforts, and cause unrest and eventual revolution.   Often this is because a person feels powerless, unable to make their own decisions and way in life.  If your decisions are made for you, and no matter how hard you work, how much better you work, or what you create, you do not benefit from your efforts any more than doing little or nothing, how can you feel prosperous?
Still others, even in a free, truly democratic society where everyone is left to their own devices to make their own way in life, find themselves paralyzed by the lack of structure, lack of direction, and ultimately a lack of confidence in their own decisions.  Recognition comes quickly, but is just fleeting.  Economic changes are quick and impact all so completely that stability comes into question.  Paralysis because of uncertainty is a quick and easy way to torpedo prosperity, even with recognition.  Those that become paralyzed don't take care of themselves, because they don't think they can or feel that responsibility is that of others to take care of them.  They may even feel that because their parents or ancestors, prior appointees, or those in previous positions they took had respect, they somehow inherit it and do not need to work for that same level of respect, or recognition.  Why should they demean themselves by putting in the effort when their predecessor didn't seem to make that same effort?
So what really works?  What is it we as humans are striving for so diligently, and yet seem to never manage?  Personally I feel that we as humans are trying to succeed in life by the rules we have adopted, and provide a way for our posterity to succeed in life. Just like our prehistoric ancestors, ancient ancestors, and every age previously.  The only problem, it seems, is the rules we impose on ourselves. Unfortunately, those rules seem to be so complicated that we can't live up to them all by avoiding conflict, leading to discontent and, in some, paralysis.
How can we be prosperous, even if we are not a millionaire?  How can we define prosperity so that we meet the stability needed, while reaching the level of recognition we want?  Is that even possible, today?  So, what simple rule can be followed to meet happiness in this goal?  Well, perhaps being happy with what you have, and knowing that you can save for what you want/need.  Spending money you don't have isn't sustainable, because eventually that money will come back to bite you in the form of crippling debt.  The problem with this rule is that it is so open to interpretation that it can become very complicated, very quickly.  So, the problem with stability is living within your means.  A great way to do that is to live simply.  Cut out waste by looking at what you truly need.  Create a budget, look at all your outgoing funds, all your incoming funds, put it on paper, and check to see what you really need to spend.  Perhaps shopping for less expensive food, cutting out Cable TV, or getting a smaller home might be the answer.  We all have to make these decisions ourselves.
Personally, my family has been trying to cut out as much waste as we can in order to better live within our means.  We have been decluttering our house to remove things placed away and forgotten.  We look at what is really important to us, and how we can possibly consolidate those things.  We were trying to find a larger house to accommodate the needs of our son with Autism (such as a sensory room), and now we are looking to better utilize the space available in our existing home.  By being content with what we have, pruning out waste, and improving our position, we improve our stability.
At work I try to make my mark by improving processes, managing better projects, and making myself a valuable asset to the team.  Am I at my dream job?  Yes, though it wasn't always my dream job.  I'm not a History professor, politician, or famous actor, but I love my job, and can't think of working anywhere else while I still have so much to give.  The recognition I earn is from my students: the satisfaction they have my my classes and the knowledge that they are able to take with them to increase their own recognition and stability.  So my two requirements for prosperity can therefore be met.  Notice, it's not an end, it's a process.
Morality is next.  This is perhaps just as ambiguous, as so many people have different definitions of what is morally correct.  Many try to challenge other's moral codes, trying to discover hypocrites in the midst, and so on.  Morality, for me, is how one interacts with others.  Moral conflict can come when your personal moral code of conduct seems to limit the happiness goal of someone else.  Often it's in conflict with someone's goal of prosperity, but sometimes it can be someone's moral code that is trespassed.
Morality is really a question of decisions and consequences, no matter how you look at it.  If you are religious, you have a set of moral codes that you live by.  If you choose to ignore them, certain consequences are assigned based on the religious affiliation.  Those that are not religious, but choose to live by secular moral codes (i.e., laws), receive certain consequences for trespassing those legal codes managing interaction with others.  Some rules may seem silly, and some seem obvious.  But all of them are important, as the consequences of following or not following your respective codes can dictate your happiness.  To avoid negative consequences and receive positive consequences, you follow your chosen code.  Most of the consequences are social:  they identify you as part of a social group with the same ideals, and grant you the benefits of said association.  Those of a religious disposition would argue that lasting benefits of a metaphysical nature are attributed with following those codes, while those of a secular disposition know their overall well being is not hampered by following the law of the land.
But some feel that their moral code, be it religious or secular, interferes with their rules on prosperity.  If that is the case, you may want to re-evaluate one or the other.  Being a religious person I am biased toward both religious and secular codes, and therefore see any conflict with said codes and my goals as prosperity as a need to re-evaluate my goals for prosperity.  To date, I have not had that problem, and hope not to have that problem in the future.  But, again, this is a problem that requires some deep soul searching.  For my family and I, we have to date chosen to follow both religious and secular codes of conduct to the best of our ability.
Self image is a puzzlement, as generations have defined it differently, and different societies, based on their focus on prosperity or morality, made their own definitions.  My personal definition of self image is a feeling of worth to others.  That is, whether or not someone else feels like I am a contributor to their well-being, I feel like I have made some contribution that betters others as well as my own position.  It is, ultimately, the main indicator on whether or not you are achieving your goal of happiness.
Wealth has often been a sign of self image, as more wealth can generally mean more independence from others.  Independence generally means one can now determine how they can live, and therefore the prosperity portion of happiness can be easily satisfied.  Include a moral goal reached by following your chosen moral code, and it seems your self image is well on it's way.  Yet many with wealth feel they don't have enough, while those without wealth seem perfectly happy with what they have.  How is that possible?
It's because those with great wealth generally don't feel they are not worth much to others.  The same can be said for those with great fame or acclaim.  If you are an actor or actress that became famous for a movie, how does that help someone else?  They are entertained for a moment, and they are done.  But take that same actor or actress, and watch them use their fame, wealth, and acclaim to build something lasting, then it changes.  They feel a part of something.  Perhaps they champion human rights, the cause for those with disabilities, the need for medical research, or something similar, and they have found something that helps them feel good about themselves.
But do we all need to make such large, dramatic contributions?  Heavens no!  I personally feel that any parent who has managed to raise a child to be a successful contributor in this day and age should have more than earned their feelings of self worth.  A successful contributor would be someone with a moral compass that does not run afoul of at least secular law, and the ability to provide, to some degree, their own prosperity.  That is a level that I feel my parents have reached, as I am very grateful to them for the values and abilities they have encouraged in me.  Do date I can only hope I can be of the same benefit to my own sons.
So there you have it.  Honestly, this post turned out to be very different from my intended goal.  The introspection has helped me immensely in my own goal of being happy.  Does anyone else have anything to contribute?  Have I got anything wrong?  What would you say?

 

March 2, 2011

The iPad and Autism

Today was a pretty crazy day for me. First, I had an appointment with my son's teacher and the school district addictive technology team to talk about needed technology for our son. Second, I got to watch (belatedly) the iPad 2 keynotepresentation. What I didn't expect was to have the two be so closely related. The meeting went really well. We first answered some general behavior questions with the social worker to evaluate our son, who, due to his lack of verbal skills, tends to not do well with standardized testing in this area. We discussed his behavior, challenges, goals, and left knowing they were getting good data about our son in order to help him. Then we met with the teacher and the occupational therapist, speech therapist, and representatives from the school district to discuss assisted communication devices for our son, as he is non-verbal. They discussed the basics, what progress he has made, his limitations, and how incredibly intelligent he is (which, of course, made me proud). They then discussed the tools that could be used to help him.They started with a standard voice enabled tablet with pictures, from an 8 to 32 cell device. The teacher already had a 16 cell device that she uses, and wanted to start him on that. Then, interestingly enough, another student was already being tested on the iPad wi Proloquo2go, a very expensive app that is perhaps the most comprehensive bit of software for assisted communication. The size of the iPad screen makes it a great tool, though it can also work on an iPod Touch or iPhone. Then we started talking about the iPad in general, with which the teachers and therapists were all impressed. We explained about the apps we had tried, mentioned the apps we had reviewed, and provided some suggestions on some of the very decent free apps available. I came away from that meeting with a distinct feeling that we needed to budget in the future for Proloquo2go. Then later this evening I had the chance to check out the iPad 2 keynote. The first video, explaining the uses the iPad had been put, and after the school argument, medical uses, and business, they talked about how the iPad has been used by persons with Autism. If you have not seen the video, please do. I teared up, because it was very true, particularly the interview with the parent of a child with Autism. And while I was impressed with the new features, and especially the new software tools, that segment stuck with me. So the iPad, with all it's other benefits, games, apps, and potential, remains one of the most versatile tools for Autism that I have found. Perhaps one day Android will expand their app offerings for Autism and others who struggle with disabilities, but until then the iOS devices are clear winners in my book with their over 300 offerings specifically for Autism.

March 1, 2011

iPad 2 Wishlist

A day before the scheduled Apple event, and I think it's time to mention my wishlist for the rumored iPad 2.  For me, the original iPad was a great tool.  It's plenty fast for what I want to do with it, it gets the job done, and it's built very well (it's taken a couple of falls, and a couple of head-butts from my son).  So, in order for me to think about replacing it with the latest and greatest, I would need to see some pretty crazy changes.  What would those be? 

First off, you need to realize that there are two things that make the iPad:  It's screen size for typing and visual display, and the software it can run.  That is what distinguishes it from the iPod Touch, and in the end makes it a truly remarkable device.  The list below outlines the changes I would like to see. 

  1. Retina Display:  Obviously, I would want to see the retina display on the iPad.  And, honestly, I'm not sure how you can get any better than that for such a device.  Once the display exceeds the number of pixels necessary for the human eye to distinguish between them..  where do you go?  Rumors go back and forth on this for the iPad 2, and suggest it may not be there until the iPad 3.  We will see. 
  2. Camera?  Okay, the front facing camera I can almost see for FaceTime.  But a rear-facing camera?  Can you honestly see yourself holding up the behemoth that is the iPad to take a picture or record video?  I don't see it as a practical thing.  Rather, I would prefer to use the camera on my iPhone and then sync it to the iPad.  That would be cool.
  3. Faster Processor:  Better technology, better performance, better speed, less power.  All that would make the latest iPad a great buy.
  4. More Memory:  Of course more storage would be great, but I'm also talking about RAM.  I expect both to be available, and that will extend the capabilities of the iPad and software it runs. 
  5. Expansion Ports:  Currently the iPad only has the 30-pin proprietary connector.  Additional dongles can be purchased for that connector, but for now that's all it has.  What would be nice is to see some other standard ports become available.  I don't think it would be USB (though that would be nice), but I would like to see the new Thunderbolt port for the iPad, perhaps even replacing the 30-pin connector port.  It may not happen with this release, but I would like to see it happen on future releases.  The only problem:  the port would be bigger than the edge of the iPad would be.  Other ports that would be nice would include an SD card slot. 
  6. Longer Battery Life:  The iPad already has a killer battery life, lasting pretty much all day on normal usage.  But the longer I can go between charges, the more I can do with my iPad. 

So that is pretty much it for the hardware.  Most of these are just wishlist type things anyway, and even if they all happened on the iPad 2, I think I would be fine until the next iteration.  But the one thing I am really looking forward to is an iOS update, a significant one. That is where I would like to see changes.

  1. Gestures;  Apple has made gestures a core for their software, and I think taking it further would be logical.  I've seen rumors for a gesture to replace the home button.  That would be awesome.
  2. Better File Sharing Access:  Right now I'm getting along well with Dropbox on my iPad, but it would be so nice to use a WebDAV client built in to get access to files, as well as an AFP or SMB client.  NFS would rock as well, though I don't see it being particularly useful in a wireless environment.
  3. Speech:  I would love to see speech to text and speech commands integrated into the iOS.  Why?  Because sometimes I would just like to speak and have the thing done, while I'm typing elsewhere.  It could speed up a lot of processes. 
  4. Great Remote Management:  Apple has done a fantastic job with it's remote management tools for iOS, and with 10.7 pushing profiles, it's only going to get better. 

So that's my list.  Anything you all would like to see?  Anything you would not want to see? 

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