September 2011 Archives

September 30, 2011

Kindle Fire: Amazon Gets It Right

Since the first Android tablets came out, the world has been waiting for Apple to take a back seat to Google's mighty tablet regime.  Unfortunately for Google, it hasn't happened, and all their tablets have been somewhat less impressive than one had hoped based on the Android smartphone presence.  And this even after tablets with the Android platform have been provided across several makers with very diverse price points.  And then the infamous failure of the HP Touchpad and lackluster sales of the RIM Playbook seemed to cement Apple's dominance in the tablet market.  Instead, the industry turned to Microsoft to see their release of Windows 8 Preview in hopes to find a platform to compete with Apple.  Now, I really like Apple, but I also like healthy competition in a market to drive innovation.  Apple, having competed in the computer market for years found a way to drive innovation when they introduced Mac OS X and the iPod.  They then moved naturally into the mobile device arena by building on the success of the iPod with the iPhone and the iPod Touch, then the iPad and the Apple TV.  And why where they so successful?  Because they have innovative products that are backed by a very powerful ecosystem of apps and media for these devices.  The very walled garden that tech pundits had condemned when comparing the open Android platform has provided a seemless experience of adding media, accessing the apps you want, and protecting the iOS devices from security threats and software piracy that seem to be rampant in the Android platform.  Many of those same tech pundits who doomed Apple to a slow, tortured death because of their walled garden, now were calling on Google to do much of the same things:  have more control over the Android Marketplace, provide more user friendly media options, etc.  And they wanted Android tablet makers to provide tablets at a price lower than Apple was offering.  The makers couldn't see their way to doing that because they didn't have the media sales to help recoup potential losses, or they couldn't build a tablet at the same quality level as Apple.  Because they were just the hardware makers, and not the software and media providers, they had little control, little say, and ultimately little ability to compete.  And then Amazon came along with their Kindle Fire.  The Amazon Kindle has proven that a dedicated eReader without apps can be hugely successful if priced right.  They also have proven that taking a loss on the hardware can be recouped by media sales.  They have the infrastructure for their devices, including their own Android Marketplace that can be (I'm not sure if it is) tightly controlled for quality.  Essentially, they had the walled garden in place, they just needed the device to put that garden into effect.  Now, I have yet to play with a Kindle Fire, but I would guess the platform is very solid.  From what I can read, it's very simple and is geared completely and totally to consumption of media from Amazon.  This isn't a bad thing, as a large majority of people out there may just want a consumption tool.  For those looking for a little more, such as apps for content creation (I'm thinking primarily documents, worksbooks and presentations here), the Fire may not be your best choice.  The screen is too small to type comfortably (if it compares to the Samsung 7-inch tab), so you would be relegated to having to use an external keyboard, and it looks like the Fire doesn't do Bluetooth (someone correct me if I'm wrong).  So, overall, I think Amazon has the right idea.  If you have a tablet and a marketplace that can provide the ecosystem that is safe and secure for something as personal as a tablet, then the tablet can succeed. Do I think it will beat out the iPad?  No, but not because it's not great, but because the iPad can do more content creation with the iWorks suite, iMovie, and GarageBand.  Should Amazon create apps that can compete directly with those, then I think the price point will become an issue.  But I don't think Amazon will, because it doesn't make sense.  Apple is in the business of building hardware with a great customer experience.  Amazon is in the business to make it as easy as possible to consume their content they provide.  While both business models overlap at times, they are not the same.  Ultimately I see Amazon's Fire taking the wind out of the Android tablet market.  And if they move to WebOS as rumored, then Android will be in trouble.  Those are, at least, my first impressions.  Perhaps one day I'll get to use a Kindle Fire (hint, hint, Amazon, should you want to send me one!), and I'll have a more comprehensive view of where the Fire will fit in the tablet ecosystem.  For now, I see it as a valuable addition, though not the market-dominant device.  

September 29, 2011

Windows 8 Preview: A Review

While I am an Apple user, and love my Apple products, I love to work with new concepts and new ideas.  That's why I was excited to see that the Windows 8 Developer Preview was available for testing. I downloaded it, and once some classes were done and out of the way I installed it into Virtual Box to give it a try. First of, let me say that I'm a big supporter of Tablets.  I have an iPad, love what Android is doing, and was really impressed with the HP TouchPad (and sad to see it go).  Tablets fulfill most of your average user's computing needs, in my opinion, as you can create documents, use the web, and interface with your Social Media (oh, and play games too).  Most users do not need anything more, so talk about horse power, processor speed, RAM, storage, etc. is no longer the stick by which your computing needs are being measured.  Those that do need more, those that use Adobe's Creative Suite, or perhaps do video production, will still need a standard desktop, but most of us will not. That being said, Microsoft seems to have thrown it's lot in with the tablet.  The interface screams touch screen, and I found myself more interested in getting the OS working on a tablet than working with it on a desktop environment.  I found it difficult to imagine using a standard keyboard and mouse configuration with this OS.  So how did the experience go?  Not well.  I couldn't get any of the Metro applications to load with the exception of the Control Panel.  And once in, I couldn't get out again.  If I loaded it to the Desktop, then it worked great and everything was as expected with the one application available: Internet Explorer 10.  It worked as expected, so that was nice.  Now, I'm not blaming the problems with the OS on the OS, but rather on (most likely) the use of Virtual Box as the virtual machine.  I'm sure if I installed the OS on a desktop directly it would respond better.  At least I would hope so.  But, I don't think I would ever want to install the OS on a desktop, because it looks like it would only be at home on a tablet.  So I found myself looking for a cheap tablet that I could drop the OS on, if only because it would feel more natural. You would think that you could drag the Start window back and forth, as it has a very touch-based look to it.  And I'm sure you can with a tablet, but with a mouse you need to drag the slide bar at the bottom to get to other apps.  Or you can use your arrow keys to navigate through the apps, and that's a good thing.  But I really wanted to be able to drag the window, because it begs to be dragged.  Perhaps that's a UI feature that will be coming in the final product.  I would hope it would come in the next Beta release. The start page was, well, busy.  I'm the type that likes my desktop as uncluttered as possible, and having my start window absorb the entire screen is, well, a little annoying.  That being said, it's just a quick click into a Metro application and you are absorbed in the task of the day.  You don't have other windows that are taking up space, which is really nice for productivity (less distraction).  That I like, as I use it with my Mac OS X Lion install.  But when a window is open, you don't have any way to close it, or close the application you are in (that I could see), unless the application was on the standard desktop.  I assume this will not be an issue, as either Windows 8 will suspend the application or close it when it's not in use (remains to be seen).  It would also be nice to have something like Folders on iOS for your apps, so you don't have to scroll as much back and forth to find the app you need. So, in the end, I have mixed feelings about Windows 8.  I really want to test it on a tablet, and would welcome a developer tablet from Microsoft (in case anyone is reading), because I see Windows 8 making it big in the Tablet world.  They have a useable UI that, in spite of some problems I saw, is a fresh look at how a tablet should work.  And for desktop users?  It feels like you are being forced into the Tablet world, whether you like it or not.  There may be, eventually, a solution that will return the user to the Windows 7 user interface, but for right now I don't see a compelling reason for a Windows 7 desktop user to upgrade to Windows 8.  At least, at this stage, I would not recommend my labs be upgraded to Windows 8 if that basic start page isn't made optional during initial setup (so it can be turned off while imaging). Have you reviewed Windows 8?  What do you think about it? Do you agree, or disagree?  Why?  

September 26, 2011

Anxieties of a Parent with a Child with Autism

First published on Technorati as Anxieties of a Parent with a Child with Autism. Parents and children surround a magician at the Utah Autumn Carnival for Autism.Every parent of a child with Autism has concerns about their child's future. And, inevitably, we compare our children with those neuro-typical children with whom he plays in the park or attends church. Any social situation, we can see how our children are behaving and reacting in comparison with other children.When we first notice, we tear up, or at least I did. I would get choked up because I knew my child was different, and I knew the teasing, bullying, and ridicule he was going to endure while attending school. I could see the future, and it was not what I had hoped it would be. That was before I noticed the extraordinary things my son can accomplish.At this point, I would get excited, seeing a future for my son as a scientist or engineer as his natural ability to puzzle out and complete tasks well more advanced than is typical for his age. I would feel comfortable with the future that I could see, secure that there would be a place for my son in this world.And then reality hits. The work that is involved in getting my son to the point where his natural intelligence can shine through the limitations of s Autism is very real. It takes a lot of time to focus on his eye contact, working on attending when his name is called, or even keep him focused on a task that needs to be completed. It is a frustrating point in my son's development as he is very plight and quickly gets bored. And I'm not just saying that as a biased father, because his teachers have all mentioned the same thing.I know in the last hat I have mentioned solutions or projects that need to be accomplished in order to better the plight of parents of children on the spectrum. But this time I don't have any answers or secrets. There isn't anything special that can be done, no secret herb or magical gesture that will fix this situation. It's the reality of children with Autism, and parents who try to help them through their condition. It takes commitment and dedication. Personally, I work through it day by day, looking for those little accomplishments that come, and working through the regression and setbacks that my son may have.But it is all worth it when you see your child make a friend who looks past his lack of speech or social graces and wants him to come over and play. It's worth it when, during a church presentation of his class, he makes that presentation without a meltdown. And it will be worth it when I see him become a positive contributor to society when he gets older. Autism is not a condemnation or a curse, it's just another way of thinking. And as such there is nothing that can really stop a child on the Spectrum from accomplishing what he or she wants, as long as they have the support from everyone around them.

September 19, 2011

Why I'm Skeptical of Google Wallet (and all RFID Communication) For Now

Computerworld is reporting that Google Wallet is now live. Google Wallet, if you are not aware, is Google's Near-Field communication tool for payments.  Essentially turning your phone into a credit card.  While it's a great idea in concept, there are some security risks when dealing with NFC (Near Field Communication) technologies:  the signal can be intercepted and utilized for what it was not intended.  Google has addressed this issue by requiring a PIN to be entered in in order to authorize payment, which is a real concern and a leap forward for NFC payments, but there is another concern I have with the technology:  Is it really needed?As with any invention, you need to fill a need.  Right now there are two types of payments:  hand out cash to the teller, or use a card to swipe and enter in a pin number (or signature).  Both take moments, rarely longer than a minute.  With Google Wallet, you touch your NFC enabled phone (currently only the Nexus S 4G supports NFC), enter in a PIN (a security measure), and make your payment.  Again, it would take moments, and rarely longer than a minute.  So where is the benefit?  Some might say it reduces your need to have a wallet to begin with, but I don't buy that.  You still need your ID with you, and other cards should Google Wallet not be accepted.  So you still have a wallet, and you are taking about the same amount of time to take out your phone from your pocket vs. taking out your wallet from your pocket.  So I'm not seeing a time-based benefit here. Another benefit might be that you have full control over the payment in that you enter your PIN number on your phone, as opposed to an easily viewable panel by the teller.  That could be, and if so that would increase your security for your payments.  So there is a benefit. But what about battery life?  For anyone who has ever had their battery die on them while talking, texting, or playing a game, it's frustrating.  And if that is the only source you have for payment, you are kind of in a spot.  Granted, if you are a true prepper, you would probably have a solar panel ready for your phone (and who wouldn't?), but it still takes time to charge.  So, ultimately, I don't see a benefit for Google Wallet in the short term.  That, of course, may change if governments of the world agree to a single method of identification that is computer-based, and any device could access it using some special method of authentication.  At that point your ID would be on your phone along with your credit card.  Companies that offer cards to provide membership (such as Costco) could follow along, and eventually you would only need a mobile device for all your connections.  It's just not there yet.  So am I saying Google Wallet is a bad idea?  Not in the least!  I think, in principle, it's a great idea, Google just has a lot of hurdles that need to be overcome before Google Wallet can be a success.  So for now, don't expect people to flock to Google Wallet as a method of payment, and expect slow growth and adoption.  Like other digital technologies, it will have a large amount of inertia to overcome before it will become a power in the marketplace.  Hopefully that will give everyone a chance to work through all the security issues and concerns that will come up.  And no, I'm not planning on adopting it anytime soon. 

September 14, 2011

Wandering: The Fear of Every Parent

Article first published as Wandering: The Fear of Every Parent on Technorati. Grandma and grandson at This is the Place Monument in Salt Lake City, Utah for the Autism Speaks Walk for Autism event.I just read that the 8 year old boy with Autism in Southern California, Joshua Robb, was found in good health. The news made an interesting deal about the fact the boy loved Ozzy Osbourne CD's and rescuers were able to use that to their advantage. But for me, it was a flash back to the pain and anguish that I fear every day: my child with Autism running away.Wandering, where a child takes off without anyone knowing where he is, is a common problem with children on the Spectrum. They tend to just get it into their heads that they need to go somewhere, and take off. They don't tell anyone where they are going, and sometimes they don't even know where they are going themselves, they just go. Children have been lost for hours, some in dangerous locales, in treacherous weather, and the fear is they will not make it. It's a very real danger.The boy's last name, Robb, is what really caught my attention. I have a cousin in Southern California, and I didn't know if perhaps they were a relation. It turns out they are not, but I'm still very shaken with the possibility that my cousin could have gone through that ordeal.You see, Autism in my family is rampant, with most members of my extended family having children on the Spectrum. Some are well known for running, hence my concern. And we all have managed to find ways to make our families more secure.In my own case, I have placed security doors with double-locking deadbolts on my house. Not to keep burglars out, but to keep my son (and dog) from running loose in the neighborhood. It's not that I'm afraid he will get lost, as he follows the same route when he does run, but I'm afraid he will get hit by a car because he doesn't look when he crosses the street. Of course, this doesn't keep him from running when he is at school, or when getting on or off the bus, or even when getting into the car for a trip. But it keeps him from running at night, or when others are distracted during the day.I feel for the family in California, both for the fear they had experienced, and the relief they must be feeling that their son has been returned to them safe and sound. It's a fear we parents of children on the Spectrum experience every day.

September 12, 2011

2011 Utah Autumn Carnival for Autism

Article first published as 2011 Utah Autumn Carnival for Autism on Technorati.Child is enjoying a water game at the Utah Autumn Carnival for Autism.The Utah Autumn Carnival for Autism will be happening this weekend, September 17th from 11 AM to 2 PM at Historic Wheeler Farm. Registration for the event needed to happen by August 25th, but even if you are not registered it is an event of which you should be aware. Why? Because it is specifically for children on the spectrum.Sahara Cares puts on the carnival every year, and for the now three years we have been attending it has been hosted by Historic Wheeler Farm. The venue is well organized, though there tends to be too much noise for many of the participants. So, if your child is sensitive to loud noises, be prepared with noise-cancelling head gear.But other than the noise, the carnival is awesome. There are plenty of bounce houses for the kids, giant inflatable slides that my son enjoys the most, and a "train" that the kids can ride. There are plenty of games that focus on sensory stimulation, and my sons both enjoy splashing in the water. The parking is incredibly well organized, or at least has been in the past, making the event a joy to attend, and easy to leave when your child has had enough. There is also a free lunch for registered children and their immediate family members.There are some potential dangers though. The farm is by a creek, and all water has been running very high this year (thanks to large amounts of snow this last winter, and a late spring). There are also live farm animals and duck ponds that could be problematic. At least, if the carnival was not well staffed with volunteers! That is the most impressive part of the carnival, as children who "run" are quickly searched for and found by scores of staff members. Every game, every ride, every bounce house is staffed with more than one volunteer.And another great part of the carnival is the presence of the vendors. Autism schools are present every year to talk about how their school programs benefit children on the spectrum. Some are private, some are Charter schools, and both provide great information about their programs. Also on hand are various healthcare representatives. The University of Utah has been there to talk about their music therapy which has seen some success in helping children on the spectrum. Other health professionals have been there in the past as well.It's a great event for all children, and the fact that it is "Autism-Friendly", even by my own standards, makes it a great event for children on the Spectrum. If you were not able to register this year, look for it next year about this same time. You will be glad you did.

September 11, 2011

What I Remember from September 11th, 2001

I had been married for almost a full year.  I was on my way to the University of Utah for my second third semester in Ancient Greek and an Ancient Greek studies class, when I turned on NPR and heard the news.  A plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center.  I immediately thought it was a terrorist group, but didn't immediately think about which one it could have been.  Then I heard about the second plane, and one that hit the Pentagon.  I was speechless.  We took some time to talk about it, then got back to work translating our material.  Now, I didn't have any friends or family at Ground Zero at the time, but I was still devistated.  I felt for my fellow Americans in New York as much as I would have if it happened here in Salt Lake City.  Because I knew there would be families impacted dramatically.  And I got angry.Days after I heard about dancing in the streets in Palestinian cities.  I hadn't been partial to one side or the other on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but that engraged me.  But then I heard Yasser Arafat send his condolences, and talk about how terrible it was that so many innocent people had lost their lives.  Immediately I had respect for that man, and appreciated his comments.  But I was still angry, and more angry that I didn't have an outlet:  someone on whom to focus my desire for justice.The Red Cross started petitioning for donations and blood.  Thousands were lining up to help.  Canada hosted many Americans that were delayed on their borders do to the no fly zone.  A fellow student in my Ancient Greek prose class mentioned a call she fielded at Morgan Stanley about a gentleman who was upset that the New York Stock Exchange was not trading.  She had to tell him to turn on the news to explain why.  As the days went by, we as a nation found someone to blame:  Osama bin Laden, now buried at sea after his positive identification.  We then went through a period of unity, unlike anything I could remember.  Both sides of the political spectrum started working together.  President George W. Bush, who I had almost written off as a one term president for his lack of action, all of a sudden became animated and took the helm and rode this unity into a war against the Taliban, and eventually against Iraq.  Right or wrong (and I'm not saying either), we found an outlet.  Things have changed since that day, and right or wrong, our lives are not the same.  Sure, we still go to work, we still eat lunch, go to movies, watch TV at night, or play with the kids, but we do so with the knowledge that someone hates us all so much that they would do anything to try and kill as many of us as possible.  Aniversary days, like this decade from the September 11th attacks, become a time of baited breath, as more attacks are expected.  What's interesting is that these feelings never seem to go away, though I don't walk about with the same anger that I did.  I found that out when London suffered their July 7th attacks in 2005.  Again, I don't have family (at least not close family) in London, or even in England, nor do I have any friends that live there.  But they were people who just wanted to go to work, and they were attacked.  Britain had their September 11th experience that day, and we in the US knew exactly what they were feeling.  I don't think I will ever forget that day.  The feel of the car as I turned onto the freeway, right when I heard the news.  I don't think I will forget my shock.  And I don't think I'll forget, nor do I want to forget, the overwhelming feeling of goodwill I had for everyone in the United States on that day.  

September 7, 2011

Groundbreaking Autism Research: Biological Identifications

Article first published as Groundbreaking Autism Research: Biological Identifications on Technorati.The reported a groundbreaking Autism study as announced at the 3-day Asia Pacific Autism Conference.  The University of California's MIND Institute has performed the most comprehensive medical examination of children on the Spectrum, finding that there are clear subsets of Autism that can almost be documented.  Essentially, this is like breaking down cancer into it's various strains as opposed to treating all cancers the same.  And, once you can isolate a type of Autism, you can start to treat it, or even prevent it.  This is huge, this is bigger than huge.  This places Autism as a specific medical disorder linked closely with the amygdala, a small mass of nuclei found in the temporal lobe of the brain.  It, interestingly enough, controls a person's emotional and mental state.  Small wonder, when you look at the behavior that is caused by Autism.  And how did they arrive at this conclusion?  Genome research and MRI scans of over 300 children on the Spectrum.  It's a huge step forward in identifying types of Autism based on biological and medical research, as opposed to just behavior observances. So what does this mean for parents short-term?  Not a lot, other than the knowledge that Autism is not the result of bad parenting but rather a biological disorder.  In the near-term, it will mean diagnosis of Autism will start to come from identifying first the type of Autism one has, and then a treatment method that best addresses that type of Autism.  I don't imagine it will be anything other than ABA, but I can definitely see differences in focus with modifications being made to address specific types of Autism directly.  And the long-term result?  Insurance companies can no longer claim that Autism is not a biological condition, and therefore refuse to cover diagnosis and treatment.  I consider this long-term because it will take some time for the results to be confirmed and generally adopted by the medical profession, and even then it will take longer for the Insurance industry to recognize Autism as a medical condition and therefore requiring them to shell out cash for diagnosis, testing, and treatment. But it will be coming, and that's very important. Another side-effect that should come from this news is the slow but steady weeding out of "Autism-like" conditions from the Autism spectrum, and getting them treated properly.  An example would be various allergies to food that can cause swelling in the brain, causing Autism-like symptoms.  Some rare individuals are unable to process cassein and gluten properly, resulting in a toxin that gets into the brain and causes Autism-like symptoms.  They go away when cassein and gluten are removed from the diet, but those with Autism do not experience the same clarity.  Removing or reclassifying these disorders away from the Autism Spectrum will give Autism a stronger foundation to work it's way into the covered disorders by Insurance companies.  Frankly, the results presented by the University of California's MIND Institute could be the turning point in Autism research.  I'm excited.. are you?

September 2, 2011

A Great Idea: We The People

Just recently the White House has announced a new tool to allow people to easily petition the Government for answers to their "grievances". It's called We the People, and will allow everyone and anyone to create and sign a petition that goes straight to the White House.Currently the only way that I have known to petition government officials has been to write to my local Congressman or State Senators, and place my concerns before them. I have done this in the past with great responses and response time coming from both Representative Chaffetz and Senator Hatch. They understand my particular concerns and have told me they keep them in mind. But do they know how important the issue is? Only if several people contact them about that same issue. Then it takes a lot of staffer work to keep track of these issues, requiring some sort of database to log requests, frequency, urgency, etc. All of which could be easily replaced with this same petition system (hint, hint, Congress, this could be a great way to increase your approval ratings!!).When Pete Ashdown, challenger to Senator Hatch in the last election, was running, he proposed a Wiki system to give his constituents a voice on policies that he would attack in Washington. I thought it was a nice idea, but how do you reflect urgency? How do you keep control over the articles to keep them from becoming partisan-laden flame wars. But the idea of just posting petitions and letting them stand based on the numbers that support it and not giving anyone a chance to attack it, that is a good idea. After all, if you have an opposing view, you can always post an opposing petition.Quite frankly I think it is a great idea, and one that is sorely needed for all our representative officials. In order for we as a people to be more engaged in our government, we need to understand what they have in mind regarding our issues. And government officials, in order to better represent the people who have voted them into office, need to know what we as their constituents understand and want from them.Now, there are some ground rules that have been set, and are likely to change based on the participation of those out there and the demand that gets placed on the White House staff (I am not deluded enough to believe that the President himself will have time to review every single petition). As of this article, the White House is planning on reviewing and responding to any petition that receives 5,000 signatures within the space of 30 days. For the Federal Government, at the Executive Branch level, I expect this number will go up as major issues will rise quickly and take a lot of attention from the staff. But it is a great starting point.I like this idea so much that I actually think it would b a good idea for all executive branch officials, starting at the municipal levels (mayors of cities/towns) to State Governor's offices to enact this same procedure to gain a feeling of where their constituents, not just the parties that got them into the office, are feeling about their terms in office, issues that are close to their hearts, and needs that reach the people directly.The really great thing about this program is that all petitions are going to be public record and publicly available, so anyone can read and participate in giving their voice to an issue near and dear to their hearts. Everyone can be "heard", even if their petition is does not gain enough signatures to grant attention of the White House. It also helps the Government gauge the most important issues to the people without the lobbyist and media "filter".Of course, all this assumes special interest groups do not take advantage of the process by trying to fill petition slots through various means other than natural voter interest. It also assumes that the administration in office (whichever party at any given time in the future) does not manipulate signature data in order to push agendas they want while ignoring the grievances of their constituents. Perhaps there will need to be an independent oversight committee of some sort to audit the system. We shall have to see how successful this project is. For my part I sincerely hope this can be counted as a success, not for any particular party or Administration per se, but for the People they are supposed to be representing.

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