November 2011 Archives

November 30, 2011

OS X Lion Server Essentials 10.7 Workbook is Available!

For those of you who are looking for Apple training for OS X Lion, particularly if you have a Server, the classes are now available for registration, and the workbook is available for those classes. And while I am excited that the classes are available and are being taught (some by me, of course), there is another reason: I contributed to the writing of the Workbook. I can share this now with the publication of the workbook, and I'm excited. It's the first time anything I have contributed to has been published, and it's a very good book.The process was longer than I expected for such a small contribution, but it was a great experience. I was contacted by the project manager/official author of the book to help with the exercises. I chose one chapter, and got to work in my spare time rewriting the exercises to work with the release of Lion. My contributions, with screenshots, were then sent on to the technical editor for review, and he made a ton of excellent suggestions and corrections. I'm not the best at taking criticism, but every one was correct, though not all the suggested changes needed to be made (instead different changes were made). It then went on to editing, where more screenshots were taken, updated, etc. My part ended with the Beta class where Mac OS X experts who had more experience than I did got together and tested out the workbook. More suggestions and corrections were made by the Author, and the final book was compiled.The publishers and editor at Peachpit were excellent to work with, and the staff at Apple were fabulous. Arek Dreyer, the author of the Workbook and the Reference book, was great to work with, as was Adam Karneboge the technical editor. I loved the experience and would do it again in a heartbeat.For those of you who are interested in purchasing the workbook, I'm afraid to say the price may be more than you think: It's only available from Apple Authorized Training Centers, and only distributed to students that take the Lion 201 training course ($1500.00). But you get three days of training in the bargain, learn how to use Apple Server to manage a domain, website, file sharing, and Mobile Device Management for Macs and iOS devices. Classes at the University of Utah start in the Spring. Check them out!

November 21, 2011

Kindle Fire: First Impressions

I am a Mac user.  I have been ever since that day with Mac OS X when I opened the Terminal app and found the command line.  I like the fact that I don't have to configure and compile every little thing to get it to work, and worry that it may break something else.  That being said, I like several different platforms for their individual strengths.  So when Amazon announced a sub-$200 Kindle tablet with a version of Android, I was intrigued.

I don't have the funds to purchase every tablet out there, and unlike major news organizations I don't have the luxury of companies sending me products for review (but I wouldn't be adverse to it!).  So when a search for a toner cartridge for a Xerox Phazer 3250 (quite an odyssey in itself) took me to my local Staples, I had to try it out. Here were my impressions:

  • Reading:  The Kindle Fire may be a tablet, but it should be first and foremost an eBook reader.  I've read reviews of some people do did not like it, but on the demo, books looked great.  It was comparable to reading on my iPad in performance and clarity, though the words were crisper on my iPhone 4 (may be because of the Retina display).  Still, it worked well, and I was impressed.
  • Magazines:  Reading books with no pictures is one thing, but magazines are another story completely.  The magazine experience was frustrating, as it was pretty much like reading a PDF on a very small screen:  nothing was readable unless you blew it up.  It didn't flow well, and that's a problem.
  • The Interface:  I liked the interface, as it was similar to Coverflow on the Mac.  I'm not sure how it would perform with more than a few apps on it, as it would be easy to get lost in the icons you have in the coverflow view.  But for the few apps there, it worked well.  When you get to the eReader app, it would blow up to show the books available in a grid, much like iBooks or Kindle for Mac/Blackberry/Android/iPhone, etc.  You get the idea.
  • Web:  I was very disappointed here, as I couldn't test the web capabilities on the demo.  Instead I got a demo video, which I do not trust.  Other reviews I have read were not impressed with the performance of the Silk browser, but until I can test it for myself I can't give an opinion.  Instead, I can give you a rather frustrated opinion of the video:  I was not happy with it.

I didn't test any of the other apps, beacuse at that point it's pretty much like any other tablet.  So my overall impression?  As a low-cost tablet, it could function, but it doesn't really excel at anything.  But without testing the web capabilities directly, I couldn't recommend it as your only computing device.  A larger device that can allow for content creation (like documents) would definitely be a good move if you are looking for a Tablet.  If you are only looking for an eReader with touch capabilities, then purchasing the Kindle Touch would be a cheaper and excellent solution.  The Kindle Fire works well if you are carrying your Kindle with a laptop.

And, interestingly, I don't need a laptop with my iPad.

November 18, 2011

Schools, Teachers, Autism: Working with the Specialists

Boy with Autism writing on a magnetic tablet.Article first published as Schools, Teachers, Autism: Working with the Specialists on Technorati.This week we had our second (and my first) parent-teacher conference with my son's first grade teacher.  She just started, has a Master's degree in Special Education, and is very excited to be working with her group of students.  But this year, so far, she has been struggling with my son.  That struggle has not been because of his inability to learn, but rather her struggle is trying to find ways to connect with him and teach him.  We discussed how we work with him at home, and what they see as a barrier in my son's development.  It seems that he is highly visual and tactile, and needs a lot of deep pressure stimulation to calm down enough to perform in class.  We talked about strategies for working with him, ideas that would be tried over the next couple of days, and what we can do at home to help him focus and work on learning.  In the past I had talked about how I get defensive about my son and the work we do with him at home.  But it took a good talk with his Kindergarten teacher and the school psychologist (who tested his IQ and was frustrated, because there was no way to more accurately test him until he is more verbal) to understand that they were there to help us help them.  They were the experts in special education, behavior techniques, and tools necessary to teach him, but needed us as parents to use their methods to reinforce the lessons.  It seems odd to say this, as I teach for a living, but we as parents always want to "know what's best" for our children.  And sometimes, we don't. Perhaps that is why so many parents are now quick to blame teachers and schools for their children's failures.  Instead of working with the teacher, they fight them for "judging" their child.  It's frustrating for teachers, coddles children into thinking they don't have to work if they just make a big enough stink about every little grade, and parents are teaching their children that being a bully will get you what you want in the short term.  So what can we, as parents, do to help our children develop and learn?  Something I learned from my parents, you go to the parent teacher conferences with a goal:  learn what you can do at home to encourage learning.  It's more than just forcing your children to do homework.  It requires discussion about the topics, making games that reinforce learning concepts, and instilling a desire to read.When we came back from our consulation, we came back with specific goals: 

  • Work on writing, spelling, and spacing
  • Work on addition (mainstream 1st grader skill)
  • Work on sorting into categories and groups
  • Work on relationship between verbs and their concepts
  • Practice sharing and taking turns
  • Practice coloring
  • Find a deep pressure sensory solution to help him focus

Some of these skills may seem pretty basic for children in first grade, but they are common problems children with Autism have.  But the one thing that got me excited is the fact that my son is getting to the point of being mainstreamed in at least math.  It will make his uncle proud, I'm sure, and it thrills me to know that he is focused on learning as much as he can.  And with our take-aways from the meeting, we have a way forward to help him.  Autism is a scary business, particularly if you are doing it alone.  Having the support of your child's teacher and the school staff is something you definitely need.  Add into that a supportive family and, if possible, religious or social community, and you can see dramatic changes in your child's development.

November 16, 2011

Dual Boot Imaging with OS X Lion and Windows 7 Without Winclone

It seems I have a lot of traffic coming in to my dual boot process I created with Winclone as the cloning tool. Unfortunately, Winclone is no longer being developed, and it was an imperfect process at best. No, the needed to be a better way to make an image, and I was determined to find it.Luckily, I had a comment from another user that put me on the scent to Clonezilla. I had another suggestion from our IT manager about using dd as my imaging of choice. Well, I liked the idea of using built in tools with OS X instead of using another operating system, so I gave it a try. I also tried Clonezilla, which is well documented in a previous post. Which did I like? Let me compare them and then I will give you my conclusion.dd commandI love the command line. It's clean, it's powerful, and it's the reason I loved Mac OS X when I first saw it. S the idea of using a command line tool to do an image was pretty appealing. So, I took my imaged computer (MacBook Pro 2007 with 100 GB hard drive), and gave it a try. After booting up to target disk mode, I ran the dd command on my computer to copy the entire hard drive and then restore. The copy process took 9 hours, as did the restore. It worked perfectly, but the time delay was just too much to make it worth while. I kept the iso file I had created, but continued my search.ClonezillaClonezilla is a boot disk that uses Linux, some very clever scripting, and Partclone to create your images. It's similar to Norton Ghost, but unlike Ghost it supports the HFS+ file system native to Mac OS X. I tried two methods: imaging the entire drive with the partitions, and just the Windows partition. Both worked, though I really like the first method for lab deployment. The drawback is the reliance on an install disk or USB key to start the image process.But the benefits? Huge time savings, even over the NetBoot solution that Apple uses natively. It's not as flexible, but it does handle unicasting better than Apple's tool. How does it do it? By breaking up the install image into multiple tarballs and delivering them as needed to the image. It seems to be a sort of hacked multicasting method, and works very well.So my method of choice? Clonezilla. If you want the step by step process, check out my previous post on the subject, and let me know what you think. It worked for me and my lab!

November 14, 2011

Perspectives in Autism

A boy in the winter garden, his back to the camera. I find it funny that other parents who hear or notice that I have a child with Autism get emotional. They try to empathize, or feel sorry for me, and often wonder how it is we as parents manage to function with a child on the Spectrum. The truth is, we don't know, because we don't know any different,I'm writing this post after thinking about perspectives. My train of thought ran thusly: 1. A picture of the Utah desert, with it's beautiful sandstone formations and Delicate Arch. 2. A flashback to a picturesque scene of a desert in China from a favorite movie. 3. Now wondering if one could tell the difference, particularly if only given an artistic close up shot of the sand. 4. A realization I had after living in Germany for a couple years: people and places are basically the same wherever you go. 5. Does that apply to parenting?You see, I adhere to the old Stoic philosophy that nothing in life is unbearable, and that our trials are individual in that they happen to us and not someone else. Should we receive a trial or stumbling block, we adapt to the changing circumstances as best we can by learning and adjusting.As such, while other parents complain of very talkative children that tend to say too much, we are eager to hear any word from ours. While other parents are worried about performance in school and doing homework, we concern ourselves with repeatedly teaching our son life skills so he can function as a normal adult when he grows up. It's all about the perspective.So, for this reason, I don't consider myself an overly tried parent. I have very well behaved children that occasionally melt down at inconvenient times, but otherwise are loving and excited to see the world. I look for the positive side of his gifts with his natural mechanical mind and quick grasp of just about any concept (though I would like it if he didn't try to challenge those concepts for validity quite so often).Now, there are many parents out there who have a child on the spectrum at is more severely challenged than my son, and I realize that. My problems are my own, and I wouldn't want to wish them on anyone else, nor would I want anyone else's problems. My focus is on my family and their welfare, just as anyone else's focus should be on their families. My trials are my own, and for that I am grateful. To have to deal with the trials of other families on top of my own might stretch my abilities.But then, “Nothing happens to any man which he is not formed by nature to bear" (Marcus Aurelius Caesar).

Siri: Why It's Great for Private Devices Only

Star Trek has colored all our technological expectations for years.  Before the cell phone, there was the communicator.  Before the iPad there was the PADD.  Now, with the release of Siri by Apple on the iPhone 4S, there is a plausible method of communicating with the computer/television/ship/car/toaster with natural voice control.  It's exciting, it's futuristic, and it seems to be all the rage with tech pundits across the Interwebs.  But there is one problem:  voice control in a public setting, without volume control or voice recognition, just doesn't work with our current technology.Siri is an innovation in personal computing.  Ask "her" a question, and Siri will respond with an answer.  Ask "her" to adjust your schedule, and she will do so with verbal confirmation.  All this works within the realm of a personal question or personal request, much in the same way a personal question or request of your Personal Assistant would be handled.  But how well does voice commands work within a crowded room, without a way to block all the background noise?  This is the question technical pundits need to ask themselves before they start gushing on the possibility of a Siri-activated Apple TV.  Case in point:  Our Chevy Traverse came with voice activated commands as part of it's OnStar service.  When the sales person was trying to demonstrate this for us, he couldn't get it to work without rolling up the windows.  To this date it is a feature we rarely use, because the children in the back cannot remain quiet long enough to accomplish anything.  So how is Siri going to work in a crowded family room or living room with chatter going on in the background?  I don't see it happening.  A car I see as being borderline, as you can commute alone occasionally.  But in front of a social experience like the old TV, I just don't see it happening.You see, Television, since it's inception, had always been a "social" event, in that people would gather together and watch what was on.  Whether it was "Howdy Doody", "Uncle Milt", or "Ed Sullivan", the family always gathered together to share the experience.  Families do that now, to a certain extent, with various programs available now.  The background noise alone becomes problematic without using a microphone or voice recognition.  But, that would mean only one person is in control at a time (just like we are now with the remote), and adds in the initial frustration of imperfect voice recognition (it's getting better, but still not perfect out of the box).  So when it comes to ideas about a Siri powered TV, I just don't see how anyone can do that.  The technology we have currently limits natural voice commands to a personal experience.  Now, is it possible Apple could have come up with a revolutionary way to get rid of background noise and make it work?  Sure, it's possible.  But is it probable?  I don't think so.  Not to doubt Apple, but I think it's not likely that the tech is ready for the regular consumer.  What do you think?

November 11, 2011

Changes in Routine: Challenges with Daylight Savings

Article first published as Changes in Routine: Challenges with Daylight Savings on Technorati.Sleeping boy with dogDaylight Savings is great for those who look forward to daylight when they get home from work, but everyone dreads the time change in the Fall and Spring. Do we add or subtract an hour? When exactly does it happen? How will I catch up on my sleep?These are common questions that I have heard from friends and family. But things are a little different with a child on the Spectrum. For those who are not aware, most children like routine, rules, and order (even if they sometimes don't follow them). But children with Autism need their routine. Changes in the routine can send some children into meltdowns, others become wired and are unable to cope with what would otherwise be a normal daily routine. Parents become frustrated, and often lose sleep as their children have a hard time adjusting to a time change on the clock.For instance, my youngest son, regardless of what the clock says, will almost always wake up at 5:00 AM. Now that Daylight Savings has changed, it is now 4:00 AM he wakes up, ready to start the new day. It doesn't matter what time he goes to sleep because he still wakes up early in the morning. And instead of taking days to adjust as typical children, it's weeks.My oldest, who likes to sleep in (relatively, you understand, as he gets up by 7:00 AM), now gets up at 6:00 AM, and has to wait an extra hour for the bus to arrive. Because of this breach in his schedule, he becomes hyper and destructive. The change in the routine has disrupted his life to a point where coping is all he can do until he adjusts to the new time change.Now, I'm not sharing this to complain about Daylight Savings, but rather to share a small window in the life a child with Autism and how different it can be for the parents. It's something to keep in mind when major changes happen in one's life, so you can better prepare a child for that change.For every change in our family routine, we prepare our children as best we can. For Daylight Savings, we try to adjust the children's sleeping patterns ahead of time. For vacations, we prepare with small road trips ahead of time. For school schedules and breaks for the Holidays and Summer Vacation, we try to fill their time with activities that distract them from the change in routine.It's all a day in the life of a parent with a child on the Spectrum.

November 2, 2011

Fun with iWeb

Because I never had a MobileMe account, or a .Mac account, I've never really played with iWeb.  Oh, it looks nice, but I didn't really see a need for it as most of my websites are integrated with a content management system.  But, that being said, I thought it would be fun to take a peak and see what it could do. When you first launch iWeb, it presents you with a list of templates.  These templates are pretty static, in that you can't recolor them in the interface, but they all look really nice.  I chose the layered paper interface, as I like the look of good paper.  Then you start with the Home page.  To change the title of the page, you click on the name of the page in the left pane.  Editing fields is as easy as clicking or double-clicking in the text box field. Pictures are also easy to add by either dragging them in from Finder or iPhoto.  Most themes have image placeholders with preset pictures, waiting for you to add pictures yourself.  To add a picture, you drag your picture from Finder or from iPhoto into iWeb, and drop it on the picture.  You can even adjust the picture to mask parts of the picture you don't want to show (instead of cropping).  Adding pages was easy, just by clicking on the Add Page tool at the bottom left.  There are quite a few pages to choose from, including a built-in Blog.  It's not as robust as Wordpress, but it works for a news area or general posting tool.  Though it can only be updated through iWeb that I can see.  Pity, as it has a nice design. Podcasts can also be added the same way, making it easy to set up a podcasting website using iWeb.  But when you try to Publish, it will automatically try to submit to MobileMe.  Not a good thing, particularly as MobileMe is no more (or will be shortly).  Luckily, if you click on the Site itself, you can edit it to publish to an FTP site, and change your FTP settings to use SFTP.  Configuration was simple, setup was easy, and publishing at that point is one-click. The main drawback to iWeb that I can see is the lack of ability to edit the HTML that is getting published.  Each page is a set HTML page, with backup files assigned per page.  Also, it's not geared to very complicated websites with lots of navigation (I wouldn't run a storefront from iWeb).  If you are looking for something of that calibre, you may want to stick with the tried and true Dreamweaver.  But if you are only looking for a simple webpage creator that is not very complicated, it's a great tool.  iWeb is no longer avialable from Apple, as it represents the older software from the iLife suite.  I hope it has not been killed, just held back as iCloud rolls out and MoblieMe fades away.  I look forward to a phoenix rising of iWeb to combine it's current ease of use interface for building websites with access to the code.  If that happens, you will have one sweet HTML editor on your hands!  For an example of what iWeb can do, check out my main website at http://robbclan.com.What is your favorite website creator tool?  

November 1, 2011

Pontifications about an Apple Television Set

There have been quite a few predictions that have been drooled over in the technology media about a pending Apple branded HDTV, all stemming from a comment Steve Jobs' made about cracking the TV interface.  It has gone viral from mockups to declarations about Siri being the interface of the future TV.  The predictions are exciting, all sound great, but I often wonder just how much is actually just pie in the sky dreaming, and how much is practical.  Apple currently has the Apple TV, which gives you access to your iTunes media on your computer and in iCloud (for music and Television shows), as well as access to YouTube, Vimeo, and Netflix.  There are even some premimum channels for Sports fans, which each have their own subscription (though it's really nice to have the scores for free!).  The menu is easy to update with new features as they come, and there is a lot of potential with the Apple TV and it's iOS operating system.  But how would it work with traditional television sets?One solution is to have Apple create an interface that is universal for all cable companies and their offerings, with only slight differences in what options are presented based on the cable company being used.  It's a great idea in principle, but becomes problematic in practice.  Apple doesn't have a strong history of being friendly to the dictates of other companies, but to provide their services with the same clean interface as the rest of their offerings they would find themselves in that spot.  They would need to work with every cable provider in the US and other countries they provide this "Apple HDTV" experience in order to get them to standardize their receiver interface, or create plugins that will allow Apple to set the interface while correctly accessing the cable companies content.  It's possible, but risky if jailbroken Apple HDTV's will allow free viewing of cable content.  That becomes a hurdle, and a big one for the cable companies. Another solution is to bypass the cable companies completely and work directly with content providers with a subscription based service for their offerings.  Instead of purchasing a "package", users would subscribe to the channels they want, and only the channels they want, and it would all be done much the same way as Netflix, MLB TV, NBA TV, etc.  It's a great concept in principle, because the consumer wins by only having the channels they want, and only paying for the channels they want.  But would it work?  It would mean increased pressure on bandwidth if it became widespread, as well as cutting cable companies profits from those "cutting the cord" on cable and satellite.  That means broadband internet prices could likely go up, and some companies not to fond of competition could, perhaps, start "filtering" specific content or sources.  There are a lot of legal issues that would come into play in this scenario, where the customer could ultimately lose.  And then there is the issue of local network television access vs. access to the syndicated content they provide.  Will a local channel be able to provide their content on an Apple HDTV with the subscription model with the blessing of the studio?  How would it be provided?  And what about all the money they have just recently sunk into the new HD broadcast infrastructure?  Would they embrace an internet delivery method?  One huge issue I can see coming down the pipe is studios no longer sitting on a collection of shows to please everyone, but rather being merited by each show they do provide.  It's scary water to be navigating with some well established studios (like NBC and CBS) reaching the brink of bankruptcy.  They may be too afraid of breaking anything up for fear of losing valuable advertising. And that brings up another major issue:  advertising.  Who gets to advertise in this new internet delivery system?  Who gets the revenue?  How can it be monetized?  These questions would need to be answered. The fundamental question I ask is, how can current television viewing be made better?  Not just in what you see, but how you find what you want and how you access it at the right time.  That's the question we as consumers should be asking, because that is the same question Steve Jobs and the developers at Apple asked when they looked at a project.  It's what those currently working at Apple do every day.  They worry not about what features to add, but what features to remove in order to increase usability and fluid design.  That's what makes an Apple product, well, an Apple.  Personally, I like the idea of subscribing to individual channels.  And I can see this as, well, Apps in the Apple TV App Store (which would need to be created, of course) that would allow you to browse for your favorite channel and subscribe.  Not sure you want the entire channel, but just a show?  Subscribe to the show instead, and have it stream through iCloud.  I see it as the most viable option for Apple, particularly if they can tie in a subscription based service for iTunes in the bargain.  But to do so would mean Networks placing their futures into the hands of Apple in a way that even Music didn't, which is scary for so many reasons.  I would like to see someone work out a deal with Networks to provide their materials as a flat-rate subscription, and have users only pay for the channels they are going to watch, or even only the shows they would like to see.  Do that all with a simple interface, clean design, and a free update to existing Apple TV boxes, and in my mind Apple would have truly created something revolutionary and magical.  

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