February 2012 Archives

February 28, 2012

iPad Wish List: iPad 2

So Apple is going to announce their new iPad next week on the 7th. It's not a surprise, as it's been about a year since the last announcement, and that seems to be a pretty consistant release schedule for Apple so far (of course anything is subject to change at this stage of the game). There are a lot of release announcement predictions, but I'm not going to make any. What I've heard has been pretty consistant with expectations, so let me tell you what I expect:

  1. Retina Display: It's about time the iPad had a retina display. This is what kept me from trying to convince my wife to get an iPad 2. Sure there were a lot of awesome features that I could have used up to now, but I wanted a display that was easy on the eyes. The Retina display (from my experience with my iPhone 4) is very easy on the eyes.
  2. More Memory: This sounds pretty intuitive, but I would like to see more memory on the iPad 3. Not storage, but RAM memory (processing memory). It will boost performance without sacrificing too much battery life.
  3. More Battery Life: I really want to see more battery life come out of the iPad 3. It's already killer in it's performance, so I'm not worried about it slumping down behind other tablets. Rather, I'm hoping for more distancing from the rest of the pack. Apple's delivered killer battery life thus far, and it's a trend I would like to continue. It's definitely a good thing considering the huge piece of mind it gives me while traveling.

So that's pretty much it. I'm not expecting a lot, because that's all I really need. That being said, let me tell you what I would want:

  1. New Connector: Sure, to date I've had no trouble connecting my iPad and my iPhone to the same cable I've used for my iPod Touch, but I want something that can move more data faster with a smaller connection point. The 30-pin connector that is currently used seems so fragile to me, I'm always afraid I'm going to break something. What with syncing over the Air and iCloud for our iOS devices, perhaps a data connection isn't even necessary.
  2. LTE: I wouldn't use it a lot, and I wouldn't want it on all the time, but when I'm traveling and happen to stay at a hotel that doesn't have wireless access (only wired? Really?), having an LTE connection for Netflix, web work, and email would be very handy.
  3. Digital Hub: The iPad is a powerful device that has the potential to be a digital hub for all your devices. For now, I'm just looking at perhaps a built-in VNC client for controlling your Mac remotely, a better-designed Remote app for the Apple TV, and perhaps a way to report on other iOS devices registered in your name. It would be great to keep track of what the kids are doing on their devices, then control what's on the Apple TV, and then switch over to the Mac for some quick work that can't be done otherwise on the iPad.

So that's about it for the wants. Now, what about the wishes?

  1. Waterproof: I would LOVE to see an iPad that was waterproof. I don't know if it can be done within the price range of the iPad and still have it be a money maker for Apple, but I would just about kill for a waterproof iPad. And when I say waterproof, I mean survive a tumble in the bathtub from a wandering toddler. Not very likely, but that would be KILLER!
  2. OS Lion Server Admin Tools: There are some tools out there by third party developers, but I would love to be able to manage my server remotely from my iPad easily, while also pulling up data points and setting alerts on critical data. It's probably not something that would be widespread considering the market for iOS devices, but it would be nice.
  3. Calendar and Photo Book Publishing: With iOS 5 Apple released a Cards app for creating and printing high quality greeting cards. They need one for calendars and photo books too. Do that, and my wife will never let her iPad out of her sight again.
  4. Command Line/SSH: There are a lot of third party tools out there, but I would really like to have a command line tool on my iPad. It doesn't have to be a command line tool to access iOS, but rather a built-in SSH console that will allow me to access my computers at home and at work for quick code updates and HTML changes that are minor.
  5. iBooks Author for iPad: I know it was just released, but as it's just another iWorks app (more or less), it would be nice to see an iBooks Author app for the iPad.
  6. Xcode for iPad: This is definitely pie in the sky type stuff, but I would love to have Xcode for the iPad. A chance to get some real development done on a very mobile device that doesn't need a clamshell open while working: that would be awesome. If you need help with the special character set for programming, look at the way iA Writer has their keyboard set up, I think you would be very happy with that setup.

That's about it. Honestly, only Xcode and iBooks Author keep me on a laptop for right now, which is probably why at least Xcode will remain only a desktop app (and probably for the best). Still, it would be awesome to have, if not Xcode Express (all the coding and code check, none of the compiling or virtual environment testing).Also, notice I didn't say anything about a quad-core processor. Honestly, as long as the graphics chip screams, why waste power on multiple cores? Tablet computing doesn't take a lot of processing power, so why have all those cores sitting idle? I also didn't say anything about SD slots for extended storage. With the expected iCloud improvements, SD cards will be less useful than getting data through the cloud. Even now I find that using Dropbox does more than enough for transferring files back and forth.What would you like to see in the new iPad?

Autism: The Evaluation

Article first published as Autism: The Evaluation on Technorati.Youngest son riding a zebra on the zoo Carousel This was a day we had looked toward for a long time. Partly it was a day of anxiety, but mostly it was a day of vindication and relief. It was the day our youngest was evaluated for Autism.Our oldest son has Autism, and since the youngest was born we had thought that he might have it as well. But things were different, because he was more free with eye contact than our oldest, and more likely to interact and smile with you. What he didn't get was speech. Sure, he could talk a little bit, and learned a couple of phrases, but he was also losing words and the phrases didn't make any sense. We therefore were concerned that his behaviors were not learned from his older brother, but rather inherent.The Granite School District in Salt Lake City, Utah, is the largest school district in the State. As such, they have a lot of funding that they can then apply to evaluation and special education. It was at their offices our evaluation took place. We took Scott in after getting Jonathan on the bus for school, and started with filling out paperwork. The speech pathologist came in and started working with Scott as we ran through behavior ratings. The school psychologist observed him here with us, as well as tried to give our son an intelligence test. It didn't work, however, as our son refused to attend at all to the task at hand.We then filled out an Autism Spectrum survey, as the psychologist saw the signs we had believed we saw. The survey was pretty straightforward, without a lot of detail to cover with which we were not already familiar because of our oldest son. After two hours of evaluations and questions about Scott's behavior at home and at school, they took the evaluations back and started to score them. It took about an hour or so, during which I got to play with my son up and down the hall in a quiet section of the offices. We then had Scott's hearing tested (just to be sure), and they returned with their evaluations.For some reason school officials seem reluctant to use the word Autism. Perhaps they are concerned that parents will get defensive, offended, or otherwise be annoyed. Whatever the reason, they talked about why it wasn't just a developmental delay, or other mitigating circumstance that would cause his behavior, and decided to classify his educational stance as "Autism". They made it clear that it wasn't a medical, official diagnosis, as it doesn't clearly outline where on the spectrum he sits.Honestly, it doesn't matter much, because the ABA techniques work across the spectrum, and we could tell what his level of comprehension is on the various subjects. Nope, we just wanted to hear that our son would be benefiting from the special needs IEP (Individual Education Profile) that would guide his education, and have access to the right kind of environment to best help him. And that we got.Getting evaluated for Autism is primarily a Parental evaluation, as parents fill out the forms that describe their child's behavior. But, of course, they have the teaching staff of the child's class fill out the same forms so as to evaluate behavior in the classroom. Why? Well, sometimes children will behave differently in class than at home. This way the psychologist can get a more clear picture. It also provides vindication for both sides of the evaluation, as most often the evaluations are very close in their results. We did show more development in our results than did the teacher's, but our son does perform much better at home in a familiar environment than at school.So that is that then. We currently have two children on the Autism Spectrum, our only two children. I started thinking about that: both my children have Autism. Both my children are special needs, and will have a rough go of it when they get into school. Sure, they may have their own classes, but I can just imagine how some of their peers will behave as they get older. It's a whole new dynamic, as athletics are going to take a back seat to behavioral analysis and occupational therapy. Speech therapy will take the place of things like the Drama club. The only thing I hold out hope on is music for my children. But even that is not a guarantee.You would think I would be depressed, angry, or hurt. But the thing is, I'm not. I already suspected that my youngest had Autism, and as both my wife and I have no idea how to raise a child other than on the spectrum, it actually simplifies the home dynamic for us. We don't have to worry about a child feeling alienated because we spend more time focusing on one son's behavior than on the other. It also means that we can work with them both at the same level (essentially), even though they are 4 years apart in age. I'm already used to having a child with Autism, it holds no fear for me.If you have any questions about whether or not your child has Autism, I suggest you get them tested. Most school districts that have a school child psychologist will have the necessary test procedures in place, and should be willing to do it for you. If your school doesn't have the resources (and some less well funded schools will not), then check with your child's doctor and see what they would recommend. If you catch it early enough then Autism can be treated. But if you wait too long, it becomes exponentially more difficult to change their behavior.

February 27, 2012

Learning C

I've made it a goal to learn the C programming language.  Why, you may ask?  Why am I subjecting myself to the pains of learning a language that was replaced by so many other Object Oriented Languages like C++, C#, or Objective-C?  Well, I'm glad you asked!  I've had several people ask me how they can learn to program for the iPhone or iPad.  Generally they don't have any programming experience (though some may have HTML coding experience), and they just want to write the next app that will allow them to get out there.  The thing is, if you go to learn Objective-C, every tutorial, self-taught book, and whitepaper assumes you have already learned an OOP language, and just need to port your skills over to Objective-C.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  You see, in my experience, there are a lot of people that now have a platform that fits their imagination, and want to learn to program for this platform.  Generally they will either be graphic designers, educational professionals, or even just writers.  They have never had a programming class, or at least nothing beyond learning to write up a web page.  How are they supposed to wrap their heads around objects, structures, strings, arrays, etc. if they haven't had any formal training in the basics of programming?  So I made it my goal to teach an introduction to programming class.  Great, but what language?  If you are not familiar with the programming world, you may not know that there are several languages out there that could do the job as a primer.  There's C (of course), Java, Lua, Ruby, Python, Perl, and several others that I didn't consider.  So the question then became, how do I want the students to learn to program for the iPhone?  I first thought Java would be a no-brainer, as it's pretty standard for cross-platform programming, and the basis of the programming language for Android.  I figured I would just kill two birds with one stone!  But Java has a lot of built-in short-cuts that end up being bad practice when you try to learn Objective-C.  The same goes for all the other languages out there, except for C. C is unique because it is the basis of Objective-C.  All the tools you can use in C are there in Objective-C, plus additional tools that we could cover when we got there.  And as I took Objective-C primer classes from Apple, I found that starting from a language like C can help you develop a better memory-managed and optimized program for an iOS device.  Things were looking up. But how does one learn C?  Most programming books I found out there focus on C and C++ (another Object-Oriented Programming language like Objective-C), and they are not the same thing.  So I started scouring the Internet for some good tutorials, and started going through them.  While I went through them, I started writing my book.  Not to copy, obviously, but to make sure I understood the concept.  I would test it in Xcode to make sure everything worked.  If it didn't, I would start hitting up the Internet again to find out why.  So at this point I'm almost done with the content of my book, and I think I have a great foundation for anyone looking to learn how to program in Objective-C: learn C first.  As I went through the C tutorials, things in Objective-C that I just had to "accept" as right made sense.  I finally started to understand what the developers of Objective-C were thinking when they went that direction (instead of C++).  It's like learning Latin to get a better understanding of Spanish or Italian.  Or learning Latin and Ancient Greek to better understand Celtic, Sanskrit, or German.  It's all about seeing the basis, the foundation, and seeing how it grows from there.  Once I finish this workbook, my next project is to learn to program in Objective-C for the Mac desktop.  Again, it's just a stepping stone to move from there to the iPhone, and so many programs are now integrated through iCloud that it makes sense to be able to code for both.  I'm really looking forward to offering these classes!

February 23, 2012

Outings and Autism: The Zoo

Article first published as Outings with Autism: The Zoo on Technorati.Boys at the San Francisco Zoo, and stranger in the backgroundFinding things to do with your family when you have a child on the Spectrum can be a daunting task. You want to find a good place that will keep their interest, while keeping the number of people to a minimum to control any meltdowns. During the summer there are quite a few parks to visit, but winter time can be a little different. So where do you go?One place that we as a family have found to be perfect during the winter time is the Zoo. During the summer time it can be a bear, as there are so many people that go. But during the winter time the zoo has few visitors, making the experience less stressful for our kids. This last visit our youngest started naming some of the animals, which was awesome.At Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, there are several exhibits that are worth attending. First, the Elephant Encounter is always popular, and well built. You can see the animals from less crowded spots that are still shady in the summer and somewhat sunny in winter. Next is the Highland Terrace exhibit, which houses the tigers, snow leopard, leopard, pallas cat and the lynxes (three brothers). There is also the carousel that is a favorite, kiddie play land with train ride (a staple at the Zoo for as long as I can remember), and opening this summer the new Rocky Shores exhibit.But don't think it's just the zoo in Salt Lake City that we enjoy! Our second favorite zoo that the kids enjoy is the San Francisco Zoo. The price is right, it's part of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, so as members of Hogle Zoo we get a discount on admission there. It's just a little larger than Hogle Zoo, and has plenty to do. If you are in San Francisco you probably already know about the zoo, but if you are visiting and want to avoid a lot of the crowds and tourists, visit the Zoo.In San Diego, we visit Sea World, and if you avoid the shows, you can have a very Autism-friendly experience. In fact, I highly recommend you get into the park early (before it officially opens), and head over to the "Breakfast with Shamu" area, where you can see the killer whale pod swimming in their large holding tank, no show. Our kids would have stayed for hours if they could just to watch the killer whales. Other great exhibits are the Shark exhibit, the penguin exhibit, the Arctic exhibit (take the non-motion ride, because you have a place to sit if the kids need a break), and the tide pool exhibit. The Ray exhibit should be reopening soon, which is also a very popular place, though I will reserve judgement after I see the remodel. The only drawback of Seaworld is timing your meals to coincide with the show next door, and not after (it gets almost unbearably busy). If you get the meal deal there, you can eat as many times as you like. Just KEEP YOUR KIDS WRISTBANDS ON HAND!!! If they take it off and throw it away, you are SOL.The San Diego Zoo has been a popular one in the past, but if your kids are not good at walking and don't like to ride on a bus, you may want to skip it. It's huge, and walking can take a lot out of the kids. But if they don't ind walking, or don't mind riding around, the zoo is great! Just be sure you take it at your kids' pace, and not your own.Anyway, those are a few of the places that we have found to be great to visit. The zoo is a very educational experience for children of all abilities, so keep it in mind. Just time your visit when it is most likely to be light on visitors.

February 20, 2012

The Evaluation Process

Article first published as The Evaluation Process on Technorati.Brothers with Autism watching sealions at Seaworld.Currently our youngest son is going through the Autism evaluation process. With our oldest, this took months between appointments with a State psychologist. This time around we are going through the school district. The process is basically the same, though the financial impact is less (the school is evaluating our son for free). This is important, as Autism is still not a covered diagnosis for our health insurance in Utah.This last week, on Tuesday (yes, Valentines Day), the school psychologist came out and evaluated our son in preschool. The report they sent back was that his speech is delayed by a year (of which we were well aware). The rest of the findings will continue on to his final evaluation in a couple of weeks. The process seems to be taking a long time for us, though I’m sure the school district is working as quickly as they can. It’s not surprising they are busy, as the current estimates of children with Autism in Utah is 1 in 77 (that’s almost 25%!). That’s a lot of children to get evaluated, tested, and placed in school.Luckily for us, we have gone through this process, and know what to expect. Our first son, though not diagnosed through the school initially, was the real shocker for us. The impact was quite high, sending us through bouts of anger and depression while trying all we could to get our son started on the right path. It’s not something I would want to go through again, and so far this process with our youngest son has had less of an emotional impact.And yet, it seems the school is unwilling to give him the Autism diagnosis, let alone mention the term. Perhaps they are fearful of scaring us with the prospect of having a child on the Spectrum. After all, I’m sure most parents would be devastated when they hear those words. I know we were the first time. But as we already have one child with Autism, it runs through my family (or rather gallops, it seems), we would be more relieved to know that our son is in a program that can best teach to his needs.That being said, I have to say I am very impressed with our school district. They provide this service free of charge to make sure our son is best placed to succeed in his learning experiences. I can’t speak for other school districts, but from the horror stories I have heard from friends of family in other school districts both here in Utah and in other States, our school district is pretty impressive. I’m very grateful these services are provided, and think they should be more wide spread.

February 17, 2012

OS X Mountain Lion 10.8: Early Impressions

Yesterday I got a shock:  Apple was planning on releasing OS X 10.8 a year after Lion was released.  The development process for OS X has accelerated, which comes with it's own share of problems when it comes to training and Certification.  That being said, I couldn't wait to download and install the OS to give it a try!DownloadingOnce I got my voucher from the Apple Developer's website, I was taken to the Mac App Store to download and install the OS.  This isn't surprising, as Apple started this process with OS 10.7.  It took about 30 minutes to an hour to download, it being a large file in and of itself.  I then quickly backed up some critical files on my computer (always a good idea before upgrading!), and started the install. InstallationNothing changed much from the Lion install here.  It was pretty straightforward in upgrading.  Once installed I did get one update (which surprised me), but the update was for an HP printer driver.  Within 40 minutes I was looking at my new Mountain Lion Mac. ChangesThe first major change that I saw was the Notifications button in the top right hand corner.  This is something that has been sorely needed on the Mac, though Growl has done a decent job with notifications to date.  But I like the iOS feel of notifications, and how they are accessed.Next, Messages.  I have to say, I'm glad that Apple has opted to add their iMessages into iChat.  It's a move I hope will be seen in iOS soon, because I'm all about centralized communications.  It helps me keep connected when I need to be, and that's a good thing.  There is a potential to be too connected, but I think that's more of an issue with how you use your messages.Then I needed an update, and instead of opening Software Update, it opened up the Mac App Store!  It seems that all system updates will now be coming through the Mac App Store, as clicking on Software Update from the Apple menu launched the App Store as well.  It was a surprise, but seems logical given the installation process.  Of course, this begs the question: will you need to authenticate to an Admin account AND to the App Store to update your computer?  If so, it looks like mass deployments of updates may need to be rethought.  I might have a better idea once I get a chance to play around with Mountain Lion Server.Contacts surprised me a little bit, as it took the place of the Address Book.  Though, technically, nothing changed really that I can see other than the name.  It took me a little while to find the Contacts app, as it is not in alphabetical order in Launchpad. But, the new search tool in Launchpad helped narrow that down.  That, by the way, is very much welcome.  I tend to have more than three pages worth of apps on my Mac, and the search tool in Launchpad definitely helps me find the app when I'm thinking about it.  Technically I can use Spotlight to find it as well, but if I'm in Launchpad already, it's nice to be able to search at that point.I'm excited about Reminders and Notes being their own apps in OS X 10.8.  Previous to this, Notes was in Mail, and Reminders in iCal.  Not that it's bad to have them in there, but separating them out makes it easier for me to focus on that aspect.  It's another feature of iOS that is very welcome on the Mac.The minor change in Safari that I didn't notice until today is definitely a welcome change!  Now, there is no longer a separate search box.  It seems Safari has finally updated to take the same feature of both Chrome and IE 9 and integrated the search box into the address box.  Not a critical, game-changer when it comes to browsing the web, but it's a nice change.  Here's hoping in the new iOS release the same will come to the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch.The updates to the Mail, Contacts and Calendars preference pane were great, but I started to see some bugs at this point.  It appears that selecting an account doesn't necessarily select that Account:  it may still have a previous or next account selected and you are editing preferences for it instead of the intended account.  Again, this is a Preview release of OS X 10.8, so bugs like this are expected (hence why I didn't install it on my main production computers).The one thing that I was disappointed with was AirPlay Mirroring, if only because I couldn't get it to work.  When I got home, I looked for the AirPlay Mirroring display option to show up, just to see how it worked.  But it never did.  Now, it could be that I have my Apple TV wired to my router and the computer is wireless, but they were on the same network so it shouldn't have been a problem.  I'll keep playing with it and see if I can get it to work.  To date I'm not sure what use I would have for it at home where I have an Apple TV, but I could see a benefit in the workplace for a quick and easy remote monitor solution without needing dongles for VGA or DVI. Assuming, of course, you have an Apple TV box hooked up to your projector/HDTV.Anyway, those are the features that I had a chance to play around with.  Notifications, I'm sure, will start to grow up as more apps start to utilize the process.  Game Center is nice, but doesn't interest me a lot right now, though I do like the connection between the Mac and iOS for similar titles.  To me it shows a level of growth and maturity in the Mac App Store to parallel the iOS App Store, and that's a good thing for the Apple ecosystem.  Gatekeeper, at least for now, doesn't seem to have a lot of application for me.  I can definitely see the benefits of it, and for anyone concerned about security in a fairly public arena (Office computers, family computer at home), it's definitely a good idea, though I can see one option missing: only identified developers (no Mac App Store).  I'm not sure that's going to happen, as all the updates come from the App Store, but we shall see.Has anyone else had a chance to play around with Mountain Lion?  What are your thoughts?

February 9, 2012

OS X Lion Support Essentials First Class

Today I finished teaching my first full class of OS X Lion Support Essentials.  And barring the slight network issues and the fact that I had a server completely die on my this morning (and it was sitting in the server room), it was a pretty good experience. My class size was larger than usual, and the students were extremely bright.  All of them caught on quickly and easily, making it possible to cover a lot of topics faster than usual.  We even had time to run a certification exam that afternoon (the student passed!).  For those who have not taken the class before, we cover the necessary essentials in managing an OS X Lion computer.  We cover installation, configuration, accounts, file systems, Directory binding, providing network services, printing and the boot process.  There's more and if you are interested in learning, feel free to register!  I call this certification the phone support cert, as it prepares someone to work at the help desk for Mac computers.  If you pass the certification exam then you receive your Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP) certification, which is an accomplishment.  Ask anyone that had to take the exam, and I'm sure they would agree.  I really enjoyed the class today, and I'm looking forward to this April for our Server Essentials class.  That will be a blast as well, particularly since I got to contribute to the Workbook on that one!  

February 3, 2012

Review: Treehouse Training and Badges

Having finished all the available badges on the Treamtreehouse.com website, I thought I would provide an evaluation of what I thought of the website, the learning method, and the delivery.WebsiteThe website is very well put together, even though there is a feeling of "start-up" on the site. The feeling comes from the three badges (as of this writing) that are incomplete (JavaScript Foundations, Photoshop Foundations, and Ruby Foundations). Also, there is generally a delay in getting to certain pages (like the Profile and Dashboard). When you take the quizzes to get your badge, occasionally some will blank out for no obvious reason, meaning you need to go through the questions again.But the organization is very well done. It's easy to navigate through the course materials, from one badge to another, and the Dashboard makes it easy to follow up on what your next badges would be. Over all, I really like the website.Learning MethodThe badges are organized by topic, which build upon each other to show which skills you have accomplished. You know you have accomplished the skills, because most badges have challenges and final challenges that require you to show your knowledge by accomplishing a task. It's well built, and equates to a classroom Topic then Quiz learning method to establish skills. I've mentioned the incredible motivating factor that comes from earning a badge.Straight video lectures with demos are not for everyone. They are great for those who learn in a visual and/or auditory, but those who are tactile in their learning (needing to get hands-on) will find the speed of the videos a little frustrating. Another frustration I experienced was the number of videos or length of videos that will precede a quiz. It requires the student to retain a lot of information. Without more practice for each video, quizzes can get frustrating. In particular I'm thinking about the Introduction to Programming badge and the iOS 4 badge.  Both badges had videos that lasted 11+ minutes, and had several in succession, making it harder to retain information for the quiz.  And I find that it's the test that helps you learn more than just the lecture.Overall, I think this is a great way to learn. Video lectures can work well when quizzes are appropriately spaced, and most of these badges do really well.DeliveryI found the most effective learning experiences with Treehouse were those that had videos lasting no more than 7 minutes, badges (modules) that had no more than 4 or 5 videos, and challenges that preceded a small selection of modules. From there the retention was optimal, while also giving me plenty of content on which to work.ConclusionOverall, I would definitely recommend using Treehouse, or any similar badge-based learning method. The motivation you get from earning badges that build into more badges is intense, the ability to show your knowledge in such a clear cut form is refreshing, and the knowledge that you know what you know is even better. Overall, badges are looking like a very viable new way to qualify learning at an incremental level.

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