April 2011 Archives

April 28, 2011

Top 100 in Technorati's Living/Family Blogs!

I've been looking at the progress of my blog, and I have to say I'm very humbled that so many people seem to be following.  I've always been surprised at the interest others have had in what I have to say, and I always hope that what I pass on is in some way helpful to those who read.  Everything I write about is heartfelt, and generally well researched.  I'm thankful for any comments made, and want to make sure any of you who leave comments receive answers when possible.

But what really surprises me is my ranking on Technorati's Living/Family blogs.  Not only do I rank, but I'm within the top 100!  I'm currently tied at 76 with several other blogs, and I am within the top 10 movers in the category.  All I can say is, thank you to everyone who as come to visit.  I hope it has been of use to you and your family.

April 27, 2011

State of Autism: Where Are We, and Where Do we Need to Go?

This month, being Autism Awareness Month, has been filled with media specials, celebrity promotions, jewelry sales, and debates about the causes, cures, and impact of Autism in our current life.  It's all great, and all valuable to help shed light on this otherwise perplexing condition, but where do we go from here?  It's much like an event given by Congress to bring attention to the Budget, War in Iraq/Afganistan, or Healthcare.  Lots of information, lots of hot air, lots of media attention, but what actually gets done?  That's where I am with Autism Awareness, at the moment, wondering where we are going.

It seems to me that the Autism Community is bickering so much within itself regarding the causes of Autism that it doesn't take into account the Future of Autism, or those on the Spectrum. Instead we spend time debating Genetics vs. Environment, Diet and Vaccines, MSG and Gluten, that we are missing the big picture.  Regardless of the "causes", the growth of Autism in the world, as a diagnosis, is becoming noticeable, and will soon overwhelm the meager resources available to the community.  Something needs to get done, and setting blame isn't going to accomplish anything.

So what is my goal with Autism Awareness Month?  To start the ball rolling on getting more resources to more people, and all without breaking anyone's budget.  That's why, interestingly enough, I am such a fan of tablets like iPad.   But how does that get accomplished?  Through acceptance, necessary tools, taking responsibility, and getting the necessary support.

  • Acceptance:  This works on a number of levels.  It's not just about accepting someone with Autism as being normal but with a condition, but more as a parent accepting our children as just that, children.  People with Autism are not any better or worse than anyone else, they just have a condition.  They hate, love, hug, hit, etc. just like other children, but they don't understand the social context of what they are doing.  They therefore can be disciplined (within reason, of course), praised, loved, etc. just like any other child.  Treating them differently because they are different highlights those differences, instead of identifying the similarities they may have with other children their age.  That is true with anyone, and no less true if that child happens to be on the Spectrum.
  • Tools:  I keep thinking back to a speech by Winston Churchill in which he famously said, "Give us the tools, and we'll finish the job!"  As a parent of a child on the Spectrum, I often feel as though I don't have any control over my son's development.  It's not that I'm not involved, it's just that I don't know what I am doing, and that seems to be the most frightening thing about my son's condition.  I don't know what to expect, I don't know what to do to help him, and as such I feel as though I have to turn my son over to those that do know in order to see progress.  I don't like that, as being an educator I like being part of the education process.  We as parents need to be given the necessary tools to provide help for our children.  A huge part of that is working with their teachers and therapists, but it also means having access to the same information that they do.  I feel lucky in that my son's school psychologist, special education teacher, speech therapist, and occupational therapist have each been very open about the data they are testing against and what they are looking for as signs of improvement.  I would otherwise be forced to result to various questionable therapies being circled around the Internet, rather than educated, targeted therapies that help my son.
  • Education:  going along with tools, education can be huge for parents.  We are bombarded with theories, surveys, media attention over some crackpot theory or another, and we generally don't know what to believe or not believe.  Add to that the mysteries that still exist with Autism, and we are navigating very muddy waters with our children.  But instead of worrying about causes, let's look at solutions.  We as parents need to be part of the day to day process, learning how our children are progressing, what progress they can show, and what we can do to help them engage.  Recently I have been working with my son to show a correlation between spelling and words by using a text to speech tool on my iPad.  Stuff like that has been very helpful to both him and me, and I definitely look forward to it.
  • Responsibility:  We as parents need to take responsibility for our children.  I'm not talking about the cause, because that doesn't matter.  It's done, and it can't (to date) be undone.  Instead, I'm talking about taking responsibility for how our our children learn, behave, progress, and interact with others.  It's not about blame, but rather about taking the parental role and making sure our children succeed.  Sure, it's a lot of work, and sure, we wonder why we have to work so hard when it seems other parents have it so easy.  But it's the reality of the beast, and we can't just ignore something just because we don't think we will be good at it.  We all, as parents, learn as we go.  It's all part of the parental process.  The only difference with Autism is that we no longer have a generation that is familiar with the behaviors and can assist (i.e., grandparents), as they often have the same feelings of frustration we do.  So, we need to just accept it's going to be our reality, and get the job done.
  • Support:  Friends and family have often asked what they can do in order to help.  Just asking is great, because they are making an offer, and we feel a sympathetic soul is waiting for us.  Support can also come in the form of a respite, someone willing to step in for a few hours and let us as parents relax and unwind.  Autism is a 24/7 condition, and working that long puts a lot of stress on the body.  Having a chance to step back and relax for a few hours a week can really help recharge the batteries.  Unfortunately the most common form of "support" comes in nagging.  "You are not doing enough", is something I've heard quite a bit.  Never mind the impact and effort already put forth.  That is not support, it is criticism, and unless someone has a real basis of knowledge to make such a suggestion, it shouldn't be made.

So what I would like to see is more resources being made available to parents in helping their children.  This doesn't mean throwing tons of money out there for every parent to have three therapists per child, but rather help the parents become the therapists.  In the end, I see it as the only viable option in what is seen as a growing instance of Autism.  Let us as parents take charge and responsibility, because then we will feel more connected with our children and it will reduce our anxiety.

One great way to do that is through technology.  Already, hundreds of apps are showing up for the iPad, Android tablets, and smaller models like the iPod Touch.  The potential of incorporating a lot of my son's therapy into that type of device, which in turn makes it less expensive for the school (and us, in the end), means that over all the costs can be reduced.  My son gets the therapy he needs when he needs it without a specialist needing to be on hand 24/7.  It makes good business sense.

What are your thoughts?  What does Autism Awareness Month mean to you?  What would you like to see as the overall goal for the Autism community?

April 22, 2011

Coming of Age and Autism: Planning Beyond 21

21 is supposed to be a magical number.  One becomes a "legal" adult, showing once and for all that the person is strong, independent, and able to take care of themselves.  So, apart from adult children returning to the nest, everything should be perfect for those who come of age.  Unless you are a child with Autism.

Autism services have come a long way in just the three short years I have been immersed in the world of the Spectrum.  Services are available at many school districts for children from pre-school until age 18.  Some Universities provide services for their students with special needs, and indeed State schools are subject to the same American Disabilities Act legislation as Government.  But once our children leave the ivory towers of education, they are thrust into the streets of daily life.  The services that were once so common, like occupational therapy, sensory therapy, speech therapy, etc. are no longer being offered, because the child has become an adult and is expected to fend for themselves.  The problem is, often times they cannot.

So this brings up a whole slew of different issues that need to be addressed.  What is to happen with an adult with Autism?  How are they to live?  How can parents manage their care, both while they are living and when they have passed on?

First, it is very important to become a legal guardian of your child, and this should happen by the time they are 18.  It may seem incredulous that you would be denied that right as a biological parent, but in the eyes of the law you lose all responsibility of your child when they turn 18.  If they cannot be trusted to make their own decisions with discernment, do it.  It will save you a lot of headaches in the future.

Second, if your child cannot be trusted in matters of finances, get Power of Attorney.  Family members can quickly amass credit card debt, even without a job, because they are promised funds that they would otherwise not have, and have no chance of paying back.  This becomes a serious risk to your child's financial health.  It also makes it more likely that they could lose their identity through various schemes, if you are not consulted first.

Third, as soon as you are able, set up a trust fund for your child as a secondary, supplementary income, and pay into it with anything you can get.  Often times when family members ask about what to get for gifts for holidays or special occasions, they would be just as happy to donate what they can to the trust fund.  The fund can make sure your child has necessary essentials when you have passed on.

Fourth, fight to have Autism recognized as a diagnosis.  I'm not necessarily talking about guaranteeing costs for therapies and the like, but rather guaranteeing that the diagnosis will be recognized as a legitimate medical condition.  It can pave the way for future coverage as it becomes available to adults, and with the new Healthcare Law in place, it cannot preclude them from coverage because of an existing condition.

Five, look for sustainable techniques for helping your child with Autism.  There are lots of support services that work for a while, but may not be sustainable for the long term.  For instance, having Autism Little League is great to help them learn game skills and provide social interaction, but what happens when they are no longer old enough for Little League?  You may want to think about what the next path will be.

As for therapy, learn as much as you can from your therapists, special education teachers, psychologists, and anyone else who works with your child, so you can continue the work at home.  And, depending on where your child is on the Autism Spectrum, think about teaching your child what they need to do themselves to give them some independence.

And lastly, all your efforts should be geared not just to surviving Autism, but helping your child become a productive member of society.  I am a firm believer that every child with Autism (with a few exceptions) can provide something to this world that will earn them a place in society.  We just need to help them realize what that thing is.  For now, my son is an excellent software usability test, as I can quickly determine what software is easy to use and what isn't based on his attention span and desire to use the app.

Planning beyond each day for a parent with a child on the Spectrum is not something that comes easy.  The day to day routine can become so overwhelming it fills your whole world, and even thinking to the weekend can seem overwhelming.  But these long term plans need to be made, with some flexibility built in to allow for your child's development as their brain learns how to manage the condition.  The better the path you start when they are young, the more likely they are to succeed when they get older.  Much like planning the education for your neuro-typical child, it needs to be done for your child with Autism as well.  It will be hard, as Autism continues to baffle everyone studying the condition, but it needs to be done.

So hold fast, and know you are not alone.

April 21, 2011

Mobile Devices and Treating Autism

Mobile devices have become the next stage in speech and language therapy for Autism. While they do represent a huge up front investment, the benefits of having a a mobile device are becoming clear.First, they represent a more intimate interaction. Instead of having to make a correletation between key and action, a finger on the screen makes the interaction more simple. No longer do you need to relate a mouse location on a desk to a visual pointer, you instead point with your finger. That makes for a more simple interaction with data. It is similar to interacting with paper, a book, or a poster on the wall.Another reason is the versatility of the mobile device. Starting with the iPod Touch and iPad, and now with Android tablets starting to show their heads, developers have found a way to bring the old paper therapy tools to life. That means increased engagement on the part of the student (in this case with Autism), which follows with more progress. To date, developers have created communication tools to allow children with Autism to relate pictures with spoken words and actions, games to teach social skills, apps to teach reading, games to teach social interaction, and even apps to help children visualize what the mouth is doing in order to learn how to speak. While all this technology has been previously available for the desktop, or even a laptop, never before has it been made available in a device that can fit in your pocket. Yes, the new multitouch device has been a technology advance that has come at a time when Autism is growing as a diagnosis. But how do you use these great applications? Not all of them are intuitive, and that is what is often what defines a good app from a bad app. Many are designed by speech therapists, occupational therapists, special education teachers, etc. who know what they want, but do not often know what the parents need. Not that it's a problem generally, if you are working with your special education teacher, or are willing to do a little bit of reading on the apps main website. So to all those out there who continue to doubt the "magic" quality of the iPad, Motorola Zoom, or any other mobile device for children with Autism, I hope you rethink your position. Sure the iPad is not the immediate support tool, as it doesn't replace a therapist, but it can reduce the number of meetings and the amount of time spent in one on one therapy sessions. And I, for one, think that is pretty neat.

April 19, 2011

The Future of Television

Cable television is obsolete, or at least in it's death throes. Network television is bound to go the same way, as I see it. But what is going to replace it? What could possibly replace something so ingrained in our nations experience since Uncle Milton? Streaming media.The problem with network television, and cable television, satellite, etc. is the schedules for their shows. People have had to reorder their lives to watch their favorite shows, know what John is doing about his rocky relationship wi Marsha, and who won last weeks game. While live shows pretty much dictate the schedule, pre-recorded productions need have no such restrictions. So why do they?Networks and cable channels are all about making money, and they have revenue streams coming in from advertisements and subscriptions. Money going out goes to the production teams. So in order to make money, more money needs to come in from subscriptions and/or advertisements than goes to the production teams themselves. Therefore, networks and cable companies try to place shows and events where they will make the most money. Unfortunately, they don not always succeed.With our current modern lives, we have found ways to work, eat, and recreate when it is convenient for us. And we have even started to apply that principle to our television viewing and movie going experiences through buying DVD content, or trying to stream video from the Internet. But there is a problem: no one can seem to decide how this Internet streaming thing needs to work. Try as they might, they can't seem to get it right. Time Warner is providing streaming media through their iPad app to their customers by channel, so no matter where they are they can adhere to the channels schedule of shows. This works, if you like the channel and like the offerings they have in their current schedule. But what if you don't? What if you only want to watch a few shows or events, and don't care about what else is offered by the channel? What do you do?Well, Comcast and Netflix both provide shows and movies on demand. Some have advertisements for the network that produced the show, but they are pretty much it. The problem with this deployment is timing. The shows are not immediately available when you want them, or the collection of shows may not be complete. Hulu has it's own model of delivery which provides more immediate access to shows, and just the shows you would want. But they also have ads running within the show (much like commercials), and they even run (reportedly) if you have subscribed for Hulu Plus. Both these solutions are great, but you still run into a big problem: What content is going to be available? Not all networks or production houses have signed up for this type of delivery, being worried about their intellectual property.But, if the success of Netflix is any indication, this type of delivery is quite popular. Beyond just the Internet browser, Netflix provides access to it's content with mobile apps and set top devices, making it a viable replacement for cable. And what's more, content can be provided on a per-show basis, instead of per channel or per provider. That, in my personal opinion, is the most compelling reason why Netflix is so successful. So what is the future of television? Set top devices, many of which you would get for something else (gaming systems, streaming devices, etc.), that provide access per content for a subscription fee. I don't see per show or even per season working too well. iTunes has had that for quite some time, and it doesn't seem to be taking off. But a subscription that allows access to all the content you want for a low monthly fee is very attractive. Add to that the ability to watch it on your big screen, and you have a very compelling offering.So, in my personal opinion, I think cable companies will become Internet providers in the long term, network television will be relegated to the free over-the-air channels (until local news becomes part of a streaming service too), and most people will be able to watch what they want when they want, on their own schedule. But what do you think? Do you think this is viable? Why or why not?

April 15, 2011

Benefits of Teaching

There are several things that make Teaching worth while.  These things help you look past the politics, layers of red tape, and constant posturing for respect and position.  And all these things come down to the students learning something.

In spite of what most people tell you, where you go to school doesn't necessarily guarantee that you learn more things.  You may have better tools for learning elsewhere (like books, equipment, etc.), but ultimately learning is a personal responsibility.  As a teacher, it is your responsibility to provide information in such a way as to increase someone's ability to learn.  So we present learning plans, schedules, assignments, assessments, quizzes, tests, grades, grade levels, etc. all to provide you, the student, with a healthy, safe, responsible environment to exercise your rights to learn.

There are times when that fails.  Construction, relocation, faulty air conditioning, etc. can all distract from the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to learn.  But these are just that, distractions.  Often, they can be taken as excuses for not learning, reasons for letting that responsibility slip from your grasp while trying to fling it on to someone else.

And then there are times when we as teachers succeed, and that alone makes it all worth while.  For instance, today in my Linux class, my students started telling me how they integrated using the command line and scripting in their work.  Both techniques they learned while in my class.  Both stories warmed my heart no end.  That, my friends, is what teaching is all about.  That is what makes it all worth while.  My personal investment in my students was accepted, and validated in their learning process.

Ever wonder what makes parents really proud of their children?  It's the same thing.  They work with their kids to teach them something, pass on knowledge they gained, and see their children apply it.  Teachers are the same, and take just as much pride in the learning of others.  It's a great feeling.

April 12, 2011

Final Cut Pro 8 Announced Today? Things to Look For

The rumors have been flying about Final Cut Pro 8 being announced today at the FCP user group Supermeet in Las Vegas.  It seems that a "special presenter" has bumped Adobe and Avid off the presenter podium, and it's a known secret it is Apple.  Reports I've read have been ranging from excited for the new program to offended by those who are big Adobe and Avid fans, which means it puts Apple in a very tight spot.  They have to deliver, and they have to deliver big.

But, personally, I don't care a whole lot about the software, as I'm not a video editor.  But I do set up a lab with Final Cut Studio installed, and our lab is started to show it's age.  So what really matters to me are the requirements for Final Cut Studio.  What are the hardware requirements?  What kind of a footprint will it represent?  And, most important, how easy will it be to deploy in a lab environment?  Historically Final Cut Pro has not been the best software for a Lab deployment.  I'm hoping that will change here in the near future.

I've also been told that the old Final Cut Pro has had a very dated core to it, coming from the old Mac OS 9 world (not sure how true that is), and making it very inefficient compared to what it could do.  That has caused part of the problems with deployment, but it also means you need more beefy hardware to run the thing (though rendering in general requires a lot of processing time).  So, based on what my Final Cut Pro instructors have wanted, here is what I would like to see (for their sakes):

  1. More Efficient Use:  Video editing shouldn't be too difficult, or take a lot of memory/CPU/GPU processing to work.  Instead it should dedicate as many resources as possible to rendering.  While I know most video professionals have Mac Pros, Xserves, or MacBook Pros, I would like to see software that could be installed and run easily on smaller iMacs, Mac Minis (which the current FCP can technically do), Macbooks, and even Macbook Airs.  It will give us more flexibility on hardware, which means the software can be more available.  It also makes planning for a new lab easier, and less expensive.  I'm just saying.
  2. Better Integration:  Apparently there are problems moving files from Final Cut Pro to, say, Motion or Color, and back again.  That kind of segmented view to video editing is not popular, because it means more work for the editor when it should be focused on less.
  3. Smaller Hard Drive Footprint: Currently, a base install of Mac OS X 10.6 and Final Cut Studio (with all the bells and whistles) is almost 60 GB of hard drive space.  That's huge, even on a computer with 250 GB of hard drive space.  While all the libraries are not technically necessary, it would be nice to have a full Final Cut Studio install that weighs in at about 30 GB.  It may not be possible, but that would be nice.
  4. Less Memory Usage:  While most modern computers come with 4 GB of memory, older computers are struggling to use Final Cut Pro with 2 GB of memory (like my current lab).  While more memory means faster rendering, that I understand, it shouldn't require a huge amount of memory to do the initial editing.  Of course, I could be wrong, but I would like to see a smaller memory footprint with the new Final Cut Pro.
  5. iPad Integration:  This is purely on the wish list, and as I said I don't use Final Cut Pro, so I don't know how useful it would be, but I think it would be awesome to see Final Cut Pro have some sort of integration with the iPad, or even the iPhone.  It would make a great toolkit that could be integrated with little effort, but make editing more efficient.  That, and it would be very impressive for those running a demonstration.

Those are the things I would like to see.  I fully admit much of it is geared to making life easier for me to deploy the software in the Lab, and to cut costs in lab maintenance.  I trust to those who use Final Cut Studio to worry about the actual functional bits.  After all, someone has to worry about how they are going get on the computer initially, and what computers are going to be needed to get the work done.

April 8, 2011

After School: Autism and the Workforce

We worry so much about Autism and our children, we don't often think about what to do for them when they grow up. Currently, most programs focused for Autism are geared to children in school. School districts make allowances for children on the spectrum, psychologists are working on testing methods to better gauge learning, and parents bend over backwards to make sure their kids have the best possible environment at home to manage their stimulation. But what happens when they grow up and have to get a job?Fox News ran this article on Autism and the workplace, identifying ways to prepare your child for the rigors of getting and keeping a job. This is critical preparation that every child should have, in my opinion, but even more so with children on the Spectrum. Because of the nature of the spectrum, they would need to be prepared early. Preparing my son for work is something I've been concerned about, as I want him to have a good, self-sustaining life. So how do you prepare your children to enter the workforce? Anyone have any suggestions?

April 7, 2011

National Autism Awareness Month: The Human Side

April is National Autism Awareness month, a time for us as a Nation to reflect on what Autism really means.  I'm not talking about causes, cures, or numbers, but rather the family toll and how they manage to cope.  Autism is having a growing impact on families all over the world, and it's about time we start looking at the human side of this condition.  Keep in mind that I speak mainly from personal experience here, and that is hardly a broad interpretation of how families can cope with Autism.  But I'm seeing a disturbing number of police reports about parents "overwhelmed" by the diagnosis and doing unmentionable things to their children.  Perhaps it's time we stop talking about causes and cures, and start talking about coping.

When your child gets the flu, you know what to do.  When your child gets chicken pox, you know what to do.  If your child even loses a limb, you know what to do.  But when your child doesn't seem to notice you at all, doesn't respond to you when you talk, and ultimately seems to ignore the world around them, you haven't got a clue what to do.  Your doctor/psychologist/neurologist may tell you your child has Autism, and you are suddenly thrust into the confusion that is the Autism Spectrum.

The main problems with getting a diagnosis of Autism is the broad spectrum that diagnosis covers.  You don't know where your child is, you don't know where your child will end up.  You only know that at this moment, your child has specific challenges that need to be overcome.  All of a sudden your world comes to a crashing halt, and you can no longer plan for years in advance.  Instead, you are planning each day at a time, working out a strict schedule to keep everything flowing.  You may have to deal with sensitivity to light, sound, touch, food textures or flavors, colors, fabrics, etc.  You worry about potty training because of the endless hours it takes to work out a routine that your child will use.  There is so much in the details that you end up getting caught, overwhelmed, and need an escape.

Then, there are family and friends that don't understand the sheer weight of responsibility you are putting on yourself.  They can't understand why you have to cancel parties, relocate family gatherings, don't invite others over for fun outings, or even avoid various restaurants.  They also are quick to run Google searches on Autism to find the solution for you in their effort to help lift the weight from your shoulders.  They mean well, but they don't seem to understand that you are already doing research, talking with teachers and psychologists, and already tailoring ABA techniques for your child.

And then there are the critics.  Those that don't "see" your efforts, and instead pass judgement.  They seem to think they are the supreme authority in child care, and know much better than you how to raise your child.  These are many and varied, ranging from sympathetic family members who just want to get you to wake up and "start disciplining your child" to complete strangers who are just downright mean.

So what is a parent to do?  You want to protect your child from the evils of the world, whether or not they are well-intentioned, and yet you know that eventually they will need to fend for themselves.  What do you do?  How do you manage it?  How to you help your child, all the while keeping your sanity with all the other tasks you have in front of you?

Personally, my wife and I have found that just being good parents is the best thing you can do.  Our son has high-functioning Autism, which means he has a high IQ, great self awareness, and is academically advanced in spite of his lack of verbal skills.  He types words on the computer keyboard (and on an iPhone or iPad screen), will look at you if he knows you, and enjoys the world as though everything were a game.

With this in mind, we manage as best we can by keeping the schedule as simple as possible.  We have set times during the day when things change (i.e., morning routine to travel to school, home from school to play, play time to bed time, etc.).  Most things on the schedule are flexible, such as how playtime is conducted, what will be available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, etc.  We keep the details as unstructured as possible, while keeping the higher level of structure constant.  This is handy when it comes to traveling on vacation as the structure doesn't change, just the events within the structure.  Our son thrives with this structured chaos, and it relieves a lot of stress from us.

We also don't get hung up on the latest and greatest theories of "curing" Autism.  While I do blog about research and find the news about the brain, genetics, and Autism fascinating, I don't worry about treatments, alternative treatments, and various other "claims" of curing Autism.  I accept my son for who he is, for how he is, and how he can better improve himself.  The nice thing about this process is that I will be feeling frustrated about lack of progress one day, and the next day notice that my son has not only mastered the task but does it without prompting.  Potty training went that way for a while, and though there are still strides that need to be made, has been progressing very well.  I used to worry that my son would never be potty trained, but now I know he will have no problem with it.

Keeping abreast of what our son does in school is essential to his development.  In a time when it seems Teachers and the teaching profession is under attack, your child's teacher is the best resource for help in progressing your child.  Your child's teacher will know where your child is lacking in their development.  Depending on their expertise, they may or may not know how to close the gap, but they should at least be able to point you in the right direction.  Sometimes that means setting up additional therapies, working through therapy techniques at home, or restructuring your time to better provide learning opportunities for your child.  It doesn't matter what technique you try, as long as progress is being made.

Know that progress can be slow.  For every step forward, there can be half-steps or full steps back.  But also know that your child's brain is active and can work through much of the effects of Autism to progress.  Expect changes, but don't expect them to come quickly.  It may, and you will be pleasantly surprised, but if it doesn't, don't get discouraged.  Autism is difficult to live with, but not impossible.  And don't start placing blame for lack of visual progress.  Blame doesn't solve anything, it just causes more stress.  Instead, look for solutions instead of problems.  The solution is more important than the blame.

Anyway, that is my personal experience with Autism in my family.  There are a lot of problems that can be directly tied to Autism within a family, but it's not something you can change, like bad Cable Internet.  It's something you need to work on, put effort in, and learn to accept as part of your life.  Because it is your reality, your child's reality, and it's something that should be addressed in that manner.

If you have any stories about dealing with Autism, go ahead and share!  But be respectful please, or the comment may not make it to everyone.

April 6, 2011

The Mobile Programming Dilemma

Mobile apps are the new, hot thing.  Developing an application for a mobile device, be it web based or a native app, is where the industry is spreading out.  Why?  Because it's a chance to literally live in someone's pocket, and that is real estate most marketing companies want.  But how do you do it?

There are five mobile platforms:  iOS, Android, WebOS, Windows Phone 7, and Blackberry.  And each one has their own programming specifications:  iOS uses Objective-C, Android uses a version of Java, WebOS uses HTML5 and CSS, Windows Phone 7 uses Visual Studio, and Blackberry uses Java.  So which do you learn, and how do you know what platform to use?

Ideally, you would want to develop for all platforms, but that's not always possible.  That is especially true if you are the only developer.  So, you need to start hedging your bets, and develop for the most popular platform.  That takes you down to either iOS or Android.  You could also use a development SDK like Titanium from Appcelerator or Corona, and do cross-platform development, but that's not a good idea.  Let me tell you why.

If you develop for a cross-platform environment, you need to develop at the lowest common denominator.  That means, instead of taking advantage of the hardware you are going to deploy to, you have to make exceptions which will dumb down your app.  For instance, while most mobile devices have the same hardware specifications, not all have a Gyroscope (like iPhone 4 and iPad 2).  Maybe you are going to be deploying to a device with a wide-screen display (like the Motorola Zoom), but you can't use that if you are also deploying to a 4:3 display (iPad, iPad 2).  This is just an example, but it shows you some of the problems with developing cross platform.  Then there are the issues with software optimization.

Sure, you may be able to compile your code easily with an SDK, but often you get a performance hit which will make the app perform poorly.  For instance, your animations may drop from 60 frames per second to just 10, or just 3, depending on the platform to which you are exporting.  That's a problem, and not one that is easily surmountable.  There are exceptions to this rule, but in general this is true for most development tools out there.

So what is a developer to do?  That is the dilemma I've been at for months.  There are a lot of great platforms out there, and I want to be able to develop for as many as possible.  SDK's provide a means to the end, but they are not ideal because they code for the lowest common denominator.  For me, that means picking one platform, or at least one programming language, and sticking with it.  And, because of my biases, that means programming for iOS.

There are lots of reasons to focus on iOS, but the main reason is that I own several iOS devices, and not any android devices.  I know the specifications of iOS devices, and can only guess at Android devices.  And I know the iTunes App Store very well.  So that is where I would place my money in development.

But what about Android, you ask?  Yes, it is a very viable platform (assuming it will survive the current legal battle with Oracle for stealing Java code), and I think I will eventually start programming for it, when Objective-C libraries are included in the Android SDK.  But that project is still in it's early development phases, and I'd rather develop for just the one platform.

So that's my take on mobile development.  Others will probably say developing for Android is the ideal way to go, but for now I see it as something for future plans, and instead focusing on a platform with which I am already familiar.  That, and I have to say I was influenced by my visit to Cupertino for a Faculty and Student iPhone Programming seminar.  ^_^

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