December 2011 Archives

December 24, 2011

A Merry Christmas to All

I have two favorite traditional holidays:  Hallowe'en, and Christmas.  Christmas to me means spending time with family and friends, eating good food, and focusing on the fun and religious aspects of the holiday.  I continually go back to the German for Christmas, as they originated many of our traditions (thanks to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria).  The Christmas tree, the holiday confections (though I do occasionally make a French yule log), and the idea that it is a sacred night (Weinacht, in German).  The Scots traditionally have had a rather subdued Christmas tradition that focuses on this same concept of a holy, sacred night a long time ago in Bethlehem.  I'm not going to quibble about exact dates, because it doesn't matter.  What matters is the message of the Christmas season.So this Christmas, spend time with your family in a slow, fun night.  Don't worry about presents, going all out with food or dectorating.  Focus on your connection with each other, how much you love each other, and the fun you have together.  Because that, to me, is the true Spirit of Christmas. Frohe Weinacht alle!  

December 20, 2011

The Dickens Festival

In years long past, my family would make the trek to the Salt Lake Dickens Festival at the Utah State Fairgrounds.  We would pay our admission, and enter into Victorian England.  The vendors were all in period costumes, street players would be out and about, and you may even run into Charles Dickens or Qween Victoria on your amblings through shops.  Then, for reasons later explained but then unexplicable, it went away.  There wasn't a Dickens Festival anymore, having moved to Southern Utah, and a family tradition was gone.  Until recently!  While it has now closed it's doors for the year, the Dickens Festival, which started the first weekend in December and ran until just this last Saturday, was everything I remembered.  They had live theater productions of Oliver and Scrooge (both shortened to 1 hour, but done very well), and they were fun to watch.  Even my son, with his Autism, was thrilled with the performance of Oliver.  Of course it helps when you know the directoress, and a couple of cast members, but he still enjoyed it with the crowds and all.  It was a good experience for him.  The vendors were typical fair vendors with slightly higher priced items, but there were a couple that stuck out for me.  The bread vendor had some great artisan breads that were fabulous.  The gourmet popcorn vendor had an amazing assortment of interesting flavors (I really liked the coconut and curry popcorn!).  There was a wooden toy vendor that had a wooden top with a string and a handle for launching that provided so much joy for my son that I had to buy one.  And lastly, there was a vendor for women's dresses that were decidedly Steampunk in nature.  I don't mean glued-on gears or that nonsense, but rather a modern take on the bodice, the length and cut of the fabric, and colors.  I was impressed.  And to top it all off, they had a carriage ride for those willing to brave the foggy air and cold (gee, just like London!), reindeer, and a Father Christmas for the kids. While it has closed down for the year, it's never too late to check out some of the great theater clips kept by the staff.  They can be found at http://dickenstheaterco.blogspot.com/ for those who are interested.  Also, if you would like to volunteer next year, that's the place to look!  There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes as well as on stage, and they are thrilled for any who would like to help make every year a success.  Thanks for everyone who brought this Christmas tradition back for me and my family, and many others across the valley.  The Dickens Festival is a little-known holiday treasure that needs more recognition.

The True Cost of Autism: It's Not Just Money

Article first published as The True Cost of Autism: It's Not Just Money on Technorati.Child with a Santa hat on.A lot has been made in the debate about Autism and healthcare, because of the potential burden it will place on insurance companies, who will most likely trickle that cost down to everyone. I'm not going to get into the debate as to whether or not insurance coverage for Autism is right or justified, but rather I want to talk about the costs of Autism. Or, more specifically, the overall toll Autism plays on families.Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is the only therapy or "treatment" that seems to work with children with Autism. It uses the Behavioralist method of teaching by encouraging correct behaviors with rewards. It also uses the Environmentalist teaching method, in that practitioners eliminate distractions from the classroom environment, making it easier for the children to learn. It's great, when done correctly, and it can be expensive.In order for it to work, you need to have a psychologist on staff, your therapist, an occupational therapist (manages sensory needs as well as motor skills), and a teacher. Most often your staff to student ratio comes very close to 1:1, and that's expensive. These are all highly trained individuals that have worked hard, studied hard, and spent a lot of money to get their education customized to work with these children.Now, many good school districts, much like the one we are currently in, have great programs that provide all this as part of the Public school system. Most do not, from what I understand. Therefore parents need to go to special private schools, often costing them between $28,000 to $50,000 a year per student. If they have two children, it's doubled, and so on for each child on the Spectrum. It's not the most encouraging sign.And, of course, these schools and supportive school districts are few and far between. That means either driving long distances, or moving to locations that have support for children on the Spectrum. This limits job mobility, housing opportunities, and a feeling of control that many people have naturally. That goes to piece of mind, and is a hidden stress point on families with children on the Spectrum.But therapy isn't the only thing that is expensive! When the child goes home, they need to continue the same routines that they are being taught at school. Therefore parents need to modify the home environment to match, as much as possible, the school environment. For some families, that means providing a "sensory room", where children can pull out of their fog by being provided the sensory stimulation or deprivation they need, depending on their sensory needs. So dark rooms, soft music, indoor swings, trampolines, full body massagers, and a ball pit are just some of the things that can help children. Some of those things are pretty cheap, but others can be expensive.Then there are utilities. One interesting sensory need of our child is a need for showers, regularly. He loves the feel of the water on his whole body, and needs that feeling of being encompassed. If we lived by the ocean, he would spend all his time at the beach. But here in the Rockies, we have showers. Of course, living in a desert, all that water is not cheap, and we have resorted to planting low-water plants in order to save as much as we can for our son. Other children may need constant music or massagers working on their whole body, and that uses a lot of power.Then, of course, there is emotional toll. Putting aside a "judging" public and their need to judge other's parenting skills, it's emotionally draining to chase down a child that doesn't look you in the eye, doesn't want to be touched, and try to get them to perform their tasks. This constant wearing down takes it's toll emotionally on parents, and at one point it was believed that Autism in the family raises the risk of divorce by 80% (I question that personally). While I don't believe it is a threat for marriages as much (particularly since both parents feel needed), it can cause stress with extended family. Add to that the Holidays, and you have quite a stressful situation for parents on the Spectrum.This isn't a cry for pity, or a call for social "justice" by making other people give money to support the few. It's simply a call to the realities of having a child with Autism. Add to that the satisfaction of seeing your child perform feats worthy of a child twice their age mentally, those fleeting moments of having a child focus on you and smile, and the visions of a child who improves at school every day eventually becoming a successful contributor to society. All these things bring joy to the family, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

December 15, 2011

Apple Predictions: My Wishlist

With the end of the year fast approaching, I can't help but think what the new year will bring, particularly for Apple.  With the latest OS release for iOS and OS X, the new field for Apple changes will most likely be hardware.  While I have no connections with anyone that could even remotely speculate as to what Apple is going to release, here is what I would like to see happen for 2012 for all things Apple: 

  1. Apple TV for Gaming:  Right now, the Apple TV does video and audio streaming, with some screen sharing when using an iPad 2 or iPhone 4S.  That's nice and all, but I would really like to see the Apple TV do more.  It's got the guts with it's A4 processor, and with iOS, it could provide a nice gaming platform.  All it needs is some sort of controller, be it built into the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad or a new remote control that is WiFi enabled for controlling games.  It would require a whole new thought process in Apple gaming development without multi-touch, but it would bring the set top out of the video/audio only and bring it into the realm of gaming.  It may require a hardware upgrade, but it hasn't been refreshed in a long time. 
  2. iPad with Retina Display:  This is what is keeping me from upgrading to the iPad 2.  If I'm going to invest in something that is an upgrade from what I have, it needs to be a serious upgrade.  Right now, my iPad does everything I want, with the exception of having that Retina display for reading ease.  This is probably a no-brainer, with reports coming in that the next iPad (iPad 3?) will have the Retina display I want.  Good, because it's on my list for this next year.  ^_^ 
  3. Rack-mounted Mac Pros:  With the demise of the Xserve, which concerned a lot of my trainees, Apple no longer has an "enterprise" server for their Server app.  While the Mac Mini has pretty much taken the spot, a really beefy server can be handy from time to time.  Right now, that's the Mac Pro, but it's large, doesn't fit in a rack well, and doesn't look like a rack server.  Make it rack-mountable, and server farms using Apple will be happy.  
  4. Apple Blade Servers:  This one is totally coming from my wish list, but with the miniaturization that has gone into the Mac Mini, is an Apple Blade Server so far-fetched?  It could be something as simple as a bunch of Mac Mini's tied together with Thunderbolt cables, all in the same chassis (so it would look nice).  The potential is definitely there, it just needs the market.  
  5. Corporate Apple Cloud:  iCloud is great for providing access to your iTunes purchases and documents.  But many companies would like to keep that to themselves, and setting up a cloud within their network and plugging it into network desktops (virtual desktops?) would be awesome.  Cloud computing has a lot of different definitions, so this is not likely to happen by 2012.  Still, a corporate cloud that will allow access to any corporate licensed software, protected by login and LDAP/Mobile Management permissions and standardized across multiple servers?  I can see that as a huge bonus for corporations looking to move to Apple.  It would also justify an Apple Blade Server, by the way.  ^_^  
  6. Siri for iPad:  I can understand Siri being removed as an app for all iOS devices and being released, integrated, exclusively for the iPhone 4S because it is in beta.  But it would be nice, perhaps with the next iOS update, to give all devices access to Siri.  It would depend on when the beta is over, I suppose, but that would be awesome, particularly for the iPad.
  7. LTE Support:  While I will most likely not upgrade my iPhone 4 unless the iPhone 5 is a killer product (not sure how likely that will be), I would like to see an iPhone 5 with LTE support, as well as an iPad 3 with the same LTE support.  I would like fast, responsive data (preferably with a decent price tag for a lot of usage), and it looks like the best option out there is going to be LTE.  I know there are a lot of problems with offering some 4G technologies (like battery life, for one), so I'm not holding my breath.  But with carriers now rolling out their LTE networks, you would think it would be an easy thing to do.  
  8. Cable-Cutter Apps for Apple TV: Netflix and YouTube/Vimeo are good starts, as are the various "channels" that come with NBA, MLB, NHL, etc. for the Apple TV, but I would like to see other offerings that will, if not exclusively then combined, let me cut my cable connection for TV.  Even it that means signing up with a cable company on a per channel basis for live streaming through my internet connection, so be it!  With the rise of Internet streaming, a cable company has become less critical beyond providing Internet service.  Perhaps with less cable TV, the Internet portion of my Cable experience will improve.  It also reduces the number of set top boxes for my TV to one:  the Apple TV.   That way I only pay for the channels I want, not channels I will never look at ever again.  Another way to accomplish this?  Subscription service per show.  I realize there are a lot of players in this, so it won't be easy, but it would be great for the end user.  

So that's my list for 2012, nothing huge or ground-breaking.  I'm not looking for an Apple HDTV, or an Apple car.  Just some changes that would make me happy professionally and personally.  So, that being said, it's time to hunker down, and look for what the future will bring from Apple. 

December 14, 2011

Passive Marketing

 

I’m not the best person for direct connections, as I mentioned in a previous post.  Yet, in order to get your name out there, you need to make an impression, and that means marketing.  Marketing is, essentially, selling yourself.  But for years, perhaps from various movies or certain comics (ahem, Dilbert), we have been conditioned into thinking that Marketing is a method of selling poor experiences. 

 

While it’s true that good marketing can sell poor experiences, what makes marketing even better is when it grows from good, quality experiences.  This is what I term passive marketing, as it happens without your active participation.  It’s also called word-of-mouth or viral marketing, and is the holy grail of any website or company that is looking to sell goods and services.  

 

So how do you get this holy grail?  It’s not as hard as you think, though it’s definitely time consuming.  It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if you do a few simple things: 

 

  • Provide a Quality Experience:  This should be a no-brainer.  You need to have something of quality to provide before you can hope to have that quality experience shared.
  • Provide Value Beyond the Sale:  If you are part of a community, then you can build your brand within the community by being an active participant.
  • Get Connected:  Websites used to be the key, now they are just a requirement.  You need to go beyond the website to provide value and build your brand.  Social networking is a great way to do that.

 

These are just a few of the things you can do to passively build your brand, build your marketing presence, and encourage viral praise and interest in your goods and services.   

December 13, 2011

Autism's Big News: There's A Manual!

Article first published as Autism's Big News: There's A Manual! on Technorati.Boy panning for gold at Mormon Battalion monument.When my son was born, the hospital (now no longer there) offered a free book on childcare to each new parent. I used to joke that it was his "manual", one that we could refer to when something went wrong. Well, it came in handy as a new father when I would panic about hiccups, or other minor things. The manual made all the difference in giving me the piece of mind a new father really needed.Three years later, when my son was diagnosed with Autism, the one thing we didn't have was a manual. Autism was mentioned in a lot of books, and under general terms, and the web was (and still is) littered with pseudo-science sites and theories based on anecdotal evidence that confused more than clarified when it came to child care. The books we were given as reference were either too expensive, unavailable, or written for psychologists in mind. It took months of research for me and my wife to sift out the truth and fact from fiction and unknowns, and judge for ourselves what was best for our son. How I longed for that manual to help me understand what it was I needed to do for my son.Well, recognizing the need, the National Autism Center has published A Parent’s Guide to Evidence-based Practice and Autism, a manual for parents through the murky waters of Autism. It's based on research data that has been peer-reviewed, and written for the parent in mind. And the best part is it's a free eBook, and therefore available to everyone. I recommend you download it now.What does it cover? Well, it explains what Autism is: a disorder. It outlines the basis of the research, treatments available, the professional findings, the importance of professional judgement in collecting data (not critical for family reading, but interesting), and how treatment can be tailored to the family. I've breezed through it so far, and find the information useful. I hope to have a more in depth review of the book in future.So, if you are interested in learning more about Autism, this book is an excellent resource. It's accurate in it's data, written well, and free.

December 12, 2011

iPad as a Laptop Series: Floor Plans

I'm constantly looking for new and better ways to design something.  Lately I have had an interest in Tiny Homes by Tumbleweed Houses, and have thought about building a camping and traveling trailer as a tiny home.  But the thing is, I would need to design it to fit up to 8 people (four adults, four kids).  That's problematic with the existing plans at Tumbleweed Houses (most cater to up to 2 people), so I am down to designing my own.  Usually this means pulling out the graph paper to draw it to scale.  But I thought, shouldn't I be able to do this on my iPad?  Apparently someone else thought that too, as I found several apps for iPhone and iPad that will let you create, edit, and view floor plans and blue prints right from your iOS device.  The one that interested me the most is iPlanit ($19.99) and it's free version, iPlanit Lite, which lets you build in each element you are planning on.The interface is pretty clear, as it's just drag and drop for each element.  Once placed, you can rotate the item with some difficulty, resize easily with a pinch, and place items quickly.  Within a few minutes I was running through some designs that I thought would work on paper, but clearly didn't work in practice.  It's a great little app, and one well worth it.  The free version has all the functionality of the paid version, but when you export your plans, it includes a watermark over the image.  Of course, you can use it for more than just planning out trailers!  It's ideal for any kind of building or layout planning within rooms, porches, or even some landscaping.  I would recommend it highly for your iPad.  

December 8, 2011

LinkedIn: A Fresh Look at an Old Friend

I'm not a fan of networking for networking's sake.  I don't like trying to build relationships based on a desire to get ahead, but rather to make friends.  That being said, LinkedIn has been a great resource to see what my friends have been doing professionally, and a great way to connect to friends that don't use other social networking platforms.  It also is void of the dreaded games that have become a plague to Facebook (and why I don't look at facebook much if I can help it).  Other than that, I haven't seen a lot of need to use LinkedIn, and it has become an infrequent visit beyond reading update emails. But it's expanded, and in a very good way.  Today I got an email from LinkedIn asking me to fill in some skills that I have.  As I went through the skills that they had listed for one in my field, I realized that they were building a job-hunting filter for me based on skills in my now virtual resume.  These skills were then linked to jobs that were posted by companies both within and without my circle of contacts.  These are targeted leads on new positions, and that's a powerful lead for job seekers.  For instance, if I were looking for a job, I could go to all my contacts and tell them to forward anything on to me that they think I would be good at.  The problem is, they all have a different view of what I can accomplish based on their personal relationship to me.  So while their network may have a list of jobs available for which I would qualify, they are not aware of those jobs or aware of the qualifications that I have.  So it's a fatal problem that personal networking can have.  But with this method that LinkedIn has created, it allows me to find any jobs posted through the social networking site that caters to the qualifications I set.  Therefore I see the jobs for which I am qualified, regardless of the experience my network contacts may have had with me in the past or present. Let me be clear here, I'm not looking for a job!  I'm quite happy working for the University of Utah, and see it as a great opportunity to build a great program here.  But should I ever want a new job, it would make sense to use a more efficient method of searching, and LinkedIn provides that service.  Of course it requires potential employers to use LinkedIn when posting jobs, but I think with this innovation LinkedIn has shown itself to be a very effective method to find qualified people, if not the most effective method.  So for all those out there looking for positions, have you considered looking through LinkedIn?  If not, perhaps it's time you did. 

December 7, 2011

December 7th: A Day that has Lived in Infamy

I haven't lived long enough to remember that fatal December 7th when so many of our Navy sank in an unprovoked attack.  I can't claim to understand that feeling, though the closest that I can come to is the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11th.  But that doesn't mean I can't feel the impact from that infamous day in my life.  My grandfather, one of 6 brothers, was a welder and was moved to Oregon to build Liberty and Victory ships to carry soldiers and goods across the Pacific.  My other grandfather, unable to join the Army because of health, worked on the land to grow food for the soldiers abroad, and those at home left to support their families with increasing rations.  My father was born during World War II, and grew up with it imprinted by his father in how to appreciate his freedom.  My wife's grandfather served aboard ship during World War II, while her other grandfather fought in Europe.  So many members of my family, immediate and extended, have served in the military in one way or another because of the failed promise of World War I that was World War II.  The land here in the United States is scarred by the remnants of the internment camps for Japanese Americans, one of which was Topaz near Delta, Utah.  One cannot go to Hawaii and not visit Pearl Harbor, the beginning of the war for the United States, and the awakening of the United States as a major military and economic power in the world.  There are so many points in history that can tie back to that one fateful day, and so many lives that have been effected.  It's hard to forget such an event, when it penetrates so deeply into your life, and becomes a part of you.  Was I there for the bombing?  No.  But do I feel it's effect, even 70 years later?  Oh, definitely.  I think of the sacrifice, the courage, and the fear that shaped the emerging United States, and how it developed into the world of which I am now a part.  I am grateful for the sacrifice, impressed and humbled by that courage, and ashamed by the fear that gripped my nation during that period.  Perhaps one day the promise of world peace will be reached.  Until then, I thank those who sacrifice so much for their country's freedom, and the freedom of others.  

December 6, 2011

Autism and Medical Check-ups

Article first published as Autism and Medical Check-ups on Technorati.Great-uncle with his grand-nephew.  Family can help calm a child with Autism as well. So often we may find ourselves focused so much on one particular disorder or illness, and forget that people can still get common colds and cavities.  And that's the same for my son.  I often find myself so caught up on trying to teach him behaviors, focus on speaking and spelling (he's becoming a wizz on the iPod Touch virtual keyboard), that I forget that he has other needs too.  And, unfortunately for him, he inherited my baby teeth and now has at least one massive cavity. Because my son has Autism and is non-verbal, he can't tell us that his jaw hurts when he tries to eat.  So we need to rely on body language to help guide us.  It's not easy, because any behavior caused by continuous pain could also be caused by his need for constant deep pressure.  It's difficult to tell what the problem is, and how to best address it.  It wasn't until I started looking into his mouth that I noticed a large cavity forming.  Now knowing that my son has a cavity, a new anxiety can take hold: the dentist.  People generally don't like going to the dentist, and people with Autism like it even less.  There is the lighting necessary to see within the mouth, and those who are light sensitive can have problems with that.  There is the physical sensation of someone placing their fingers and objects within their mouths, and those with sensory issues may not like that.  And then there is the need to sit back in a chair for long periods of time, or sit in a waiting room for long periods of time, and that's just not fun at all.  So a visit to the dentist is something I have been dreading. Luckily, within our area there is a dentist that specializes in treating children with Autism.  They are sensitive to their special needs, and can cater to them accordingly.  I'm not sure how, though our first appointment is this week so I will find out soon enough.  It was a relief to my mind to even find a dentist willing to make the effort to work with a child with such sensory needs.  But what about other check-ups?  The dentist isn't the only place where children with Autism can have a hard time.  What about the doctor's office?  You have the same problem:  long waits in the waiting room, and then again in the exam room.  Then getting poked and prodded by the doctor, injections by the medical assistants (when necessary), and bright lights getting shined in places where bright lights generally don't go (ears, eyes, and mouth among others).  It's a sensory nightmare, and getting an impatient pediatrician can make it all the more frustrating.  Again, luckily for us we have a pediatrician that understands our child's needs, and can cater to them.  Part of it is because he delivered our son, and part of it is because he works with my wife.  But also, he is a very patient man who is willing to make the effort to make sure our son is comfortable.  But that doesn't mean every visit has been event-free.  One time we took our son into the Urgent Care for a quick check-up, and he was not handling the experience very well.  He didn't feel well, and wanted to run around and get his energy out.  Another person, someone bringing in their grandchild for something, became disgusted with my son's seemingly undisiplined behavior.  She voiced as much, under her breath, perhaps in hopes what we wouldn't hear, or perhaps wanting us to hear.  I, of course, heard, and just when I was about to explain to her our situation, we were called in.  So, unfortunately, I was unable to educate this person to the trials of visiting such a structured environment with a child on the Spectrum, and what kind of effect it has on his behavior.  So what is it about the office that makes it so difficult for a child with Autism?  Well, children with Autism generally (not always) have more neurons in their brain than most neurotypical children.  These neurons remain active, and often do not prune at age 2 like most neurotypical children.  As such, when they get a sensory message along those neurons, all those extra neurons fire at once.  Imagine, for a second, someone turned on a strobe light in the room you are in, turned up the stereo and television to a very loud setting, and ran them both at the same time.  Then add some sandpaper for the walls, gravel floors and seats, and painted everything in bright, swirling colors (imagine the 60's, but brighter).  The strobe lighting represents the minute flickering of the florecent lights.  The stereo and television reflect a sensitivity to hearing, and hearing multiple conversations at once.  The sandpaper walls, gravel floors and such represent the sensitivity to touch.  What is perfectly normal to a neurotypical child is amplified x number of times over for a child with Autism.  And add to that a long, unpredictible wait (healthcare professionals can and often do get behind in their schedules), and it becomes almost intolerable.  So what can you as a parent do to help relieve the situation for your child?  Well, often times finding a provider who is aware of your child's condition can be the best step.  They will do their best to schedule you when it's most convenient, and results in the shortest wait time.  Next, if your child has a sensitivity to light, often sunglasses or dimming the room's lighting can relieve the tension.  If sound is a problem, giving them something to focus on, such as music with headphones, can help calm them down significantly.  Some children need something to chew on (gum, a hose, plastic toys, something), while others just need someone to give them bear hugs (deep pressure on the skin and muscles).  It may be any one of these, or a combination, which is why as a parent we are the best judges as to what works and doesn't work for our children.  That being said, if you work with occupational therapists, they may have ideas you can try. So if you perhaps see a parent with a child that seems to be behaving with no regard to that parent, it's quite possible that child has Autism.  Offer to help if they are obviously in stress, otherwise just a smile and a nod to let them know you understand works wonders.  Parents are often more comforted by the nod than by anything else that you can do.  

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