June 2013 Archives

June 28, 2013

Pollution and Autism: Let's Focus on Research

Recent reports have surfaced again, trying to make the claim that pollution is causing autism. This has seen it's research done in the past, often calling for more research to be done (meaning the results look promising, but not yet conclusive). Since then media outlets have been regularly giving their opinions as facts before scientists have a chance to let stand the hypothesis or disprove it.

In answer to these assertions, Forbes posted an opinion piece Autism and Air Pollution Caveats Again, which asks some pretty targeted questions that challenge many of the assumptions made. Now, don't think of this as a criticism of either the researchers working on pollution causality studies or those questioning the link, but rather look at it in the the following framework: autism is a behaviorally diagnosed disorder, not a genetically or medically diagnosed disorder. That means we are looking at what causes the behavior, which up to this point looks like brain development. Anything can affect brain development, from environmental toxin exposure to genetic predisposition, to being dropped on the head. Therefore, note that autism behavior could be caused by multiple factors, not just one.

That being said, the media reports regarding the recent studies seem to be making the case that all autism is caused by pollution. And much like the "all autism is caused by MSG", "all autism is caused by vaccinations", "all autism is caused by gluten allergies", and "all autism is caused by fire retardant chemicals in furniture and carpets", I'm wary of any claim that all autism is caused by any one thing. Autism research isn't anywhere near the point where we can point to a single cause. Perhaps it's time we let the research speak for itself.

I applaud those who are making assumptions and challenging them in the pursuit of knowledge in science. It's a tough job that gets little praise, requires long hours, lots of graduate, post-graduate, and doctorate input, and lots of funds that are not easily acquired in this current economic state. For those of you doing the research, thank you. For those of you who aren't but making the claims anyway, don't you think we should be patient?

June 11, 2013

New Research for Eye Contact and Autism

Eye contact for children with autism is frustrating. We are so used to having people look you in the eye, if only for a brief time, to acknowledge that they are paying attention and not drifting off into some other thought. It's also a known sign of autism to have someone refuse to look you in the eye. I noticed that with my sons, both of which would be hesitant to look you in the eye if they don't know you. For years, those of us in the autism community thought it was because they just couldn't do it.

But, according to LiveScience, kids with autism avoid eye contact because they process more in their peripheral vision. That is, they don't process stuff by looking right at you, but rather from the side.

Brain scans of children with autism vs. neurotypical children have shown that the brain's cortex of a child with autism is more active with peripheral vision, while those neurotypical children are more active with objects in their direct field of vision. So by not looking at us directly, our children with autism have been gathering more information than if they were forced to look at us directly.

For the past five years, I have been working hard to get my oldest to look me in the eye, and at times he can do it. Now I find out that the exercise is less advantageous for him based on this study! The study also sets forth the hypothesis that social withdrawal is a learned process associated with not looking directly into the eyes of those around us. We withdraw from the child with autism because we think they have withdrawn, and it starts a vicious circle of learned social separation.

It's important to note that this is still all hypothetical, and the study needs additional peer review, but it's an interesting development. It could impact a lot of what we think we know about autism and limitations, and could expand a whole new set of skills for those on the spectrum.

June 10, 2013

WWDC Keynote: Impressions

The Apple Keynote just completed at WWDC, and there was a lot of exciting things announced. The Macbook Air will now have all day battery life, which is something I've wanted in a laptop for a long time. OS X will be named Mavericks, having run out of big cats, and has a lot of awesome new features. OS X Server has some new features like Cache Server and Xcode Server, which look very exciting. iOS 7 looks awesome, clean, and has quite a few new services that make sharing easy between devices. And, of course, the new Mac Pro teaser to keep us excited about this new device.

First, let me talk about the few points that I really like that was revealed:

  • iOS 7: Everything about iOS 7 looks awesome. I like the new design, I like the new direction. It's definitely different, more modern-looking, but won't alienate any long time users that I can see. It's an upgrade to make one glad to own an iOS device. The cool thing is that it's compatible with iPhone 4 and later, and iPad 2 and later. That means a lot of people are going to be very happy with this new upgrade.
  • OS X Mavericks: The name isn't that big of a deal, I suppose, but it's odd to think the big cats are gone. Still, the back end upgrades are great, and I'm looking forward to using the new OS.
  • OS X Server on OS X Mavericks: This one was not directly mentioned in the keynote that I recall, but after perusing the website I found a little blurb about it. And while I'm a big fan of OS X Server in general, the Xcode Server was pretty exciting, and the Caching Server caching your app downloads was pretty cool too. I'm looking forward to seeing the server in action.
  • Macbook Air: Performance hasn't always been a concern for my laptop usage. Generally I'm showing stuff either on a server, through a Keynote presentation, or editing documents. Occasionally I'll do some video editing in Final Cut Pro X, but not much. So the real news here for me was the battery life. 9 hours for the 11 inch, and 12 hours for the 13 inch! That's huge battery life boosts, and makes traveling and working on a laptop that much easier. Granted, I've started migrating a lot of my laptop usage to iPad, but it's awesome to see that when it calls for a laptop, Macbook Air will have the juice when I need it.
  • The New Mac Pro: I don't have a Mac Pro. I haven't had a tower since my last beige beast running Linux died. Since then it's been laptops or our iMac, with plans to get a Mac Mini Server should we ever need one. Part of that is because of the cost, I just can't justify a $2500 computer, no matter the performance. But this one, reminiscent of the G4 Cube in a way, gave me pause for thought. It looks awesome, and running OS X it will perform well. The design is radical. I look forward seeing more about it.
  • iWork in the Cloud: Awesome. Just awesome. Finally, editing your documents on the go from any computer, any browser. This is what I wanted in iWork for a long time, and we finally got it.

Okay, those are general impressions, now let's talk about iOS 7 specifics. I mentioned that I love the clean design, which I do. With less visual clutter, it lets you focus on the task at hand. But what's more, the new features that I love are Control Center, changes to Multitasking, AirDrop, and iTunes Radio.

  • Control Center: One frustration I have had for a while is trying to quickly change WiFi settings in iOS. You can't, unless you are already in your Settings. Control Center changes that, and it looks great. It's obviously an answer to "what about sound/brightness/audio controls with the new multitasking tools?", and it's better than what we currently have. I like the swipe up from the bottom for access, I like that it takes up a lot of room so you have more room for tools. All in all, it's a great piece of work. Well done Apple!
  • Multitasking: This is definitely way better than prior iterations. It's somewhat reminiscent of WebOS in a way, if anyone remembers. I liked the way WebOS handled multitasking, so it's exciting to see something similar show up here. I can't wait to see it in action.
  • AirDrop: This is huge, this is what makes an iOS device more like a computer, and less like a phone or tablet. Sending files from any application to someone else using AirDrop changes a lot, simplifying the process of sharing files with others. Granted, they need to have a compatible iOS or Mac device, but still, it's a huge step forward. Next, AirDrop for Windows/Linux maybe?
  • iTunes Radio: I love music, and I love a lot of music, I just don't much care for most of the popular stuff out there. My tastes are very specific, so I've been relegated to apps like Pandora and Last.FM to listen to new music. It's been great, but makes a wish list for that music more complicated. iTunes Radio fixes that, simplifying the process of marking music for purchase later.

So that's it for first impressions. But what about my disappointments?

  • Apple TV: I didn't see anything about the Apple TV. Perhaps I'm just anxious, and any new news about the Apple TV will come in the Fall with the new iOS devices, but I wanted to hear some news about the Apple TV getting an app store. Here's hoping!
  • New Server Hardware: Still no new server hardware. To date it was pretty much left up to the Mac Pro and the Mac Mini, but with the new design of the Mac Pro, it's clear Apple doesn't want it in a rack, but on a desk. That leaves just the Mac Mini, which requires third party hardware to mount in a rack (though three in the same rack, so that's something). There's so much more that could be done, but I guess it's just not meant to be.

June 9, 2013

Apple Wish List 2013

Apple is about to announce their latest and greatest OS and, possibly, new hardware at WWDC. Normally, at this time of year I would be listing out expectations about upgrades, releases, and add to the speculation. But this year, I want to focus on things that I really want to see done, and done well with what is already available. Apple TV This is perhaps the one constant update I have wanted to see in years. The Apple TV has been out since March 2007, and I have owned each generation since. The first generation was an answer to a prayer, providing a way for us to move away from DVDs, which were very brittle and easily broken in a child's hands, and into the realm of digital streaming. But since it has come out, I have wanted this one device to do so much more. Sure, you can play music, watch videos, and even *almost* replace cable through Netflix and Hulu Plus, but it's still limited. Here is what I have wanted, and that for which I'm still waiting: Individual Channel Apps: we have them on the iPad, and can, sort of, through the magic of AirPlay Mirroring, show those shows on the Apple TV. But why should we have to do that? Why don't we have channel apps for the Apple TV? Granted, this means that there would need to be an Apple TV App Store, but that's cool with me! Give me something cable Tav can't: the opportunity to have only the channels I want. Gaming: again, with the magic of AirPlay Mirroring, it's possible to, sort of, play games that show up on the TV like a gaming console. But why do I need to do that? With a little imagination, a WiFi game paddle or an iPad or iPhone/iPod Touch controller app, the Apple TV has the potential to be a decent gaming console. New Apple Server Apple moved away from server hardware when they killed first the xServe RAID and then the xServe itself. Since then there has been fearful rumors of a dying Mac Pro, which became the heavy hitting server by Apple, with the Mac Mini being the small office server. Don't get me wrong, I have always loved the Mac Mini as a server, and saw it as one when they were first released, but it would be nice to see Apple move toward a hardware platform that would be welcomed and envied in data centers everywhere. The Mac Mini's technology, which is big computing in a small package, could easily be converted into blade server technology. Add to this an Apple managed virtual environment, like Xen, KVM, and the like, and you have a killer setup that would allow for virtual servers to run within a small space. Linux and Windows, and other *NIX platforms have had this for years, and it's time Apple made the leap. It would reassure the enterprise community that Apple is taking this environment seriously, for those businesses that cannot, or don't want to, trust the "Cloud" to run their businesses. So what about wearable computing, new iOS or OS X updates and design? That doesn't matter to me that much. Mobile computing in the post PC world is still fleshing out, and development of new technology will always be up and coming. Home servers are giving way to the cloud, HTML5 is fleshing out nicely in the World Wide Web, and a watch, glasses, or implants would all be an enhancement. But there is so much opportunity with the current tech Apple has that isn't being properly exploited that I want to be sure, in our rush for the next big thing, that the current things are not left half-complete. The Apple TV is actually a really nice piece of work. And Server on OS X is a great bit of software. But both could be so much more if a little bit more effort were put into it. I hope to see these things show up eventually. In the mean time, I'm looking forward to the updates to iOS 7, and see what's new with OS X 10.9. What would any of you like to see?
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