Monday, December 29, 2008

Linux Instructor Needed, Again

Another semester is coming soon, and I find myself yet again in need of a Linux instructor.  For those of you who are familiar with the Guru Labs material, this instructor would teach the 275 and the 314 classes throughout the semester on Wednesday nights from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM.  The location of the class will be in the WEB building (built on the old Bunker), in the new Mac lab (208).  The class will be run from virtual machines.  

If you are interested, please feel free to contact Inita Lyon with your resume.  Her email is ilyon at aoce dot utah dot edu.  A degree is not required, but would be nice, as long as you have significant teaching experience.  The job is not a full time instructor job, but rather an adjunct instructor position, so it will not be a replacement for those looking for full time employ.  But it may help take the edge off those still looking for

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dyer's Woad: A New Experiment

This summer I am going to plant woad.  What is woad?  It's a highly prolific plant used to produce indigo.  Utah, it seems, is an ideal place for woad to grow, as Cache County has it listed as a weed and removes around 22 tons of the stuff each year, just to bury in a landfill.  Indigo is a blue pigment that is produced naturally in a number of plants, from the indigo plant to woad.  

For those of you who know your Celtic history, woad produced the blue pigment used by the Picts for painting their bodies.  It also has a very lasting color, one that is resistant to washing, bleach, and pollution.  Unlike synthetic dyes, it is produced using environmentally friendly methods and no toxic residue or wastes.

So it would seem that in the prevailing eco-friendly political environment, processing woad on a large scale would be ideal.  Unfortunately, that's just the problem.  It's not that simple to process at a commercial level, though some farmers in England have had some success.  But what are the ratios of dye to plant matter processed?  That is what I intend to find out.  

So this spring I am going to sow some woad seeds into the space between the road and the sidewalk, which is currently a barren wasteland of deteriorating red lava rock and a hotbed for weeds.  I hope to have enough plant material to produce a significant amount of indigo, to determine the feasibility of producing woad.  But from what I have read, you can only get about 2 grams per kilogram weight of fresh leaves, making it difficult to get a decent amount of indigo from woad.  We will see.

But that is just one part, what about the market?  Is there a market for natural indigo?  I believe there will be, but finding it will be a little more difficult.  Most likely I could sell some on the Internet to those with special interests, and eventually perhaps I could move to the farmer's markets to cater to the local residents that are interested in their own pigments that are natural.  

Then, finally, there is pricing.  How much should indigo made from woad cost?  A cursory cost of indigo pigment comes to $32.95 for 100 milliliters, or about 3.4 ounces of pigment. That is based on a search for indigo pigment, and not necessarily natural indigo pigment.  That price may not be an accurate reflection, and cannot be relied upon.  

Ultimately I see a future for this industry in Utah, as woad grows well here in the dry conditions, and more "green" industries are growing in their significance.  Perhaps one day an effective woad processing plant can be built in the Cache Valley area, providing a place for the County government to dump all the unwanted woad, per

Monday, December 15, 2008

NAET And Autism: Allergy Autism

For those of you who have been following my autism posts, you probably know where I come from and what my biases are.  I believe that Autism, true Autism, is caused by a larger proportion of gray matter to that of white matter in the brain, causing a higher level of synapses firing within the brain.  Such a condition then causes the brain to become overwhelmed by various stimuli, hence the behavior associated with children with autism.

This being said I can continue with my post.  I found a "cure" or collection of treatments listed for autism in the Natural Cures app for my iPod Touch.  One of which was the Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique, or NAET.  According to the complier of this resource, they have had first-hand experience with the success of the technique, with a report coming soon on the clinical trials.  

So, as one that professes to have an open mind, I thought I would check out the treatments and their history.  Apparently the treatment has to do with "allergies" to various vitamins, sugars, compounds, etc. that can be cured by using various acupressure and acupuncture treatments to be resolved, usually within a year by attending treatments once a week.  Delved into more deeply, it seems that the "allergy" is determined by holding pills in the hand and pulling on the hand to see if resistance is met.  This is inline with kinesiology, a technique that has been questioned by the medical field for it's scientific accuracy.  Here are links to the NAET website for a positive description, and a link to the Autism Diva's blog for a more critical view.

I'm not going to comment on the accuracy or inaccuracy of the NAET claim, though I think from my biases presented earlier it may be clear what they may be, but rather on the idea behind Allergy Autism.  Allergy Autism is a theory based around the idea of external stimuli causing Autism, and the elimination of such stimuli curing Autism.  Now, I've mentioned my beliefs about this before, but let me clarify my position. 

Autism is caused by increased brain activity.  This brain activity manifests in the behavior patterns common in all Autism patients, with various stimuli causing the reaction.  Generally it is caused by hypersensitive senses (sight, touch, hearing, etc.) which feed too much information to the brain.  

The logical jump from this to "Allergic Autism" is not as wild as one might think, though it is often misunderstood.  I fully believe that some foods can cause the brain a lot of additional stimuli based on the reactions the child has.  This does not mean that the food/allergy is causing autism, but rather acts as a catalyst for the behavior to occur.  Autism is still related to the brain function, while a food, bright light, flickering light, etc. can cause a meltdown when paired with the brain's wiring.  

Perhaps I'm just trying to explain away the successes of those people who put their autistic children on special diets.  It could be, though I think the logic behind the connection is too strong.  If there are any neuropsychologists out there that disagree with me, I would be quite interested in your input.  Neuropsychology is something I have little practical education in, and rely on articles and news reports to get a better picture.  

So, in coming full circle, I do believe that "allergies" or other stimuli can trigger the symptoms of autism, but I don't believe they are the cause of Autism itself.  So as to the accuracy of the NAET program, I'll let you read the two descriptions and judge for yourself.  As for me, I've removed the natural cures app from my iPod, and I in

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The iPod Touch 2G: 48 Hours Review

Let me preface this review by stating that I have tried PDA's in the past, all of which have not kept my interest for very long.  I often quickly find a limitation that turns me off the platform, and generally it's something that is critical to the reason why I have purchased a PDA.  For this reason, I have primarily used sticky notes for my contacts and notes that I carry around.  But recently, with the growing number of books that I tend to carry around for teaching and the move to produce my own content, I found that I finally need a platform that can cater to my chosen platform and needs.  

When the iPhone was first announced, I thought it would be perfect with several additions.  Those additions were slow in coming, but even with the arrival of the App Store, the cost of ownership was still too high for an iPhone.  Then the iPod Touch was released, and my heart began to race.  Yet again, the lack of VoIP on the first generation was a halting point. 

Then the iPod Touch 2G was released, with the capability of VoIP.  Recently, software was released that consolidated most chat platforms with VoIP, taking it a step further.  So I thought I would jump at the chance to try the platform and bought one.  My wife will be getting hers soon.  ^_^ 

1.  The Platform

The first reason why I have not liked most PDA's is the stylus.  I constantly misplace one, or my son tends to wander off with it, never to be seen again.  The first thing that attracted me to the platform is the fact that you use your finger, and don't have to worry about scratching the pressure film.  

A big concern was the keyboard, as it is not physical and hard to touch-type.  But touch typing is all about knowing where to put your fingers when you type, not necessarily whether or not a key is actually pressed.  I find that I can actually type pretty fast with my thumbs on the thing. As such, I was sold on the touchscreen.  ^_^

2.  The Hardware

The wireless works well with the 802.1x authentication setup at the University of Utah, so I have wireless at work and at home.  This makes VoIP very possible, with only the transit between them (and various other travels) taking me away from my VoIP phone.  More on that when I get to the apps.  

I did want bluetooth in the platform, which is not available.  So much for my bluetooth headset that I have currently with my phone and iMac.  It also would be nice to have a tethered keyboard, essentially making the iPod Touch a Netbook.  

3.  The Apps

All the great hardware in the world wouldn't make up for really bad applications.  Luckily, there are some really decent applications that are available for free in the App Store.  Here are the apps I have on my iPod Touch: 

Calendar:  I'm still not really happy with this.  You can tether your Calendar to a Microsoft Exchange calendar, but not to an iCal Server (or Google Calendar).  Google Apps resolve this as viewing, but it's still not the same.  I ended up having to sync the calendar with my iMac.  Unfortunately, the colors don't match, and it only works if you don't use Microsoft Exchange for a mail account.  So I had to set up my uMail account as an IMAP account.  

Contacts:  Nice to have them, but the same problem as the Calendar.  It's either Microsoft Exchange, or you can use Google and sync from your desktop. 

Photos:  iPhoto for the iPod Touch, let's you use the photos as your "Wallpaper" on the device.  

Go Figure Lite:  Quick figures for every day.  Nice because the formulas are created for you, you just plug in the numbers.

TouchTerm:  SSH terminal for the iPod Touch.  Works very well, makes accessing my web server very simple. 

VNC Lite:  VNC Client for iPod Touch.  

eBay:  Quick access to My eBay, search online, bid or buy it now.  You can't leave feedback, which is too bad. 

PayPal:  You can send money, but it's also a really quick and simple way to check your PayPal balance. 

Files Lite:  Transfer documents, presentations, and other files to your iPod Touch.  This one can display PowerPoint and Word docs without any additional plugins.  Very convenient.  The Lite version, while free, has a limit of 200 MB storage.  The transfer is done by turning your iPod into a WebDAV server.

Bubbles;  A game primarily for my son.  You touch/drag your finger on the screen and create bubbles, then touch to pop them.  My son squealed each time, so it's a keeper.  ^_^

Armado Lite:  Very well designed game, with a very simple and easy gameplay.  I highly recommend it, even though you can only go up to 3 levels in the free version.  

Tap Tap Revenge:  Fun for a time-waster.  

Pac-Man Lite:  Classic game.  ^_^

S.Deadbeef:  I still am out on this one...  It's a side-scroll fly and fight game.  Seems pretty fun, but difficult to get used to the controls.  

SQ Lite:  Same thing, but more like the Chopper game from the old 8088, just with better graphics.  ^_^

The Scriptures:  Very convenient for reading, and better organized than the Microsoft Reader version I had with my previous Windows CE devices. 

Stanza:  This is the best eBook reader I have found in a long time.  Easily reads any non-DRM book in just about any eBook form, it's great!  I can read PDF versions of printed books and have them readily available without having to cart them around.  The only drawback is getting the books from your desktop to the iPod:  It has to be transferred across WiFi in order to get it on.  But you can also download directly from the Gutenberg project website.  That's convenient.  ^_^

WordPress:  Manage my WordPress blog easily from the iPod.  I haven't posted anything yet from the iPod, if only because I don't feel comfortable enough with the keyboard yet to make a decent post.  

Google Apps:  A quick access center to your Google apps online.  Very nice, except you can't write to a Google Doc.  Huge problem there, as it would be nice to have that functionality.  As there are other Notes apps available, I can live without for now. 

Last.FM:  Invaluable.  I have very targeted music tastes, so an internet radio is ideal.  Steampunk music is my stable for Last.FM.  ^_^

LinkedIn:  Track my connections and their connections for LinkedIn.  

PHD Comics:  I love this comic, as will anyone who is currently or has been in Graduate school.  Very liberal in it's political leanings, the stories are really funny, and frighteningly true.  If one is planning on becoming a Graduate student, sanity comes from this comic. I was so excited when I found they had created an app.  ^_^

2Fat:  Track your BMI and body fat ratio with this application.  As I have started exercising in order to increase my health, this is something that has interested me greatly.  

NaturalCures:  I love real cures that are simple, and this app gives you various options to have.  The only thing I would warn against is trusting this more than your doctor.  And don't ever take "natural" medicines without your doctor's knowledge, or at least your pharmacist's knowledge.  You don't want to have a severe reaction and end up faint, or worse. 

iStethoscope:  If you have the iPhone headphones for your iPod Touch 2G, you can use this app.  It uses the microphone in the headset, which is pressed against your pulse point in your neck, to let you hear your pulse and display your pulse rate.  I love this for checking my heart rate during exercise.  

Fring:  This is the wonder app that clinched my purchase of the iPod Touch.  This app integrates Google Talk, Yahoo! Chat, AIM, MSN Messenger, Twitter, Skype, and an SIP phone together into one communications app.  And the VoIP works fine for the iPod Touch 2G!  Yes, I tested it, and I had no trouble talking and hearing what was going on.  All of a sudden the iPod Touch 2G becomes the ideal VoIP phone.  It's small, and the battery lasts all day and a good portion of the night. 

So, that's been my experience so far.  There were a number of apps that I ended up deleting because of duplicate performance or very poor performance.  While there are a number of other platforms out there other than the iPod Touch or iPhone that work well for many people, this one works for me.  ^_^

Book Review: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

Being a fan of Steampunk, this is a classic read. I've loved each movie that was made, and now I hate them all. The book is far better, as the story is more believable. The prose is, as one would expect from Wells, phenomenal, drawing you into the moment as the Traveller tells of his adventure into the future. 

A clarification that needs to be made about this book is the clear preference to Socialism/Communism to which Wells leans. The "future" is supposed to be the apex of socialism, but instead is the anticlimax of capitalism. That was a little harder to believe, as nature is completely ignored in this exploration. 

I highly recommend this book, in any format.  In this case, I read the book in Stanza on my iPod Touch.  The book was from the Project Gutenberg library.  I'm now working on my next book, which is

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Autism and the FKBP12 Protein: The Significance

Recently the AFP posted this article on the absence of the FKBP12 protein being the root of autism and various other obsessive-compulsive behaviors.  The article outlines the behavior of mice when the FKBP12 protein was removed, resembling those same symptoms associated with the above disorders. 

Essentially, this protein regulates the release of the enzyme mTOR that in turn regulates neuron connections and behaviors between neurons.  Removing the protein increased mTOR amounts, which in turn increases connections and changes of connections within the brain.  Logically, a similar protein within the human brain should have the same effect. 

But is this what autism really is?  Just a missing protein?  I've talked about this with other research that was done for those with Fragile X Syndrome exhibiting autism-like behaviors, as well as the commonly held belief that autism is nothing more than mercury poisoning.  All have the characteristics of children with autism, isn't it all the same?  Yes, if you look at the effected area: the brain.

An increase of neuron communication produces the behavior changes, which in turn cause the Autism symptoms to come to light.  Increased brain activity is the cause of autism.  It's that increased brain activity that the medical community is trying to get a handle on.  What causes it?  How is it created?  Is there a way to avoid it?  Is there a way to treat it?

My personally held belief is that true Autism is the result of enlarged brains and/or more dense gray matter vs. white matter.  This increases the number of neurons that make connections, as opposed to effecting the rate of communication for the individual neuron.  All other disorders that are environmentally manipulated or caused by external disorders (Fragile X Syndrome, mercury poisoning, cassein/gluten reaction, etc.) produce autism-like symptoms, but are not related to those with the autism brain.  

Of course, the problem with this definition is that not many people agree on it because of what little is known about Autism.  Keep in mind that autism was defined originally as a behavioral disorder, focusing on the behavioral patterns of the patients in relation to the "norm".  It was not identified as anything more until recently when neuropsychologists began to delve into the patterns in the brain, synapses, and such.  

So the long and the short of it is:  the field is still really new, so take everything released now in context before you start claiming you have a cure for autism.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Autism and Insurance

You have probably heard me post about this before, but my insurance does not cover the diagnosis of Autism, and as such all therapy for my son has to be paid out of pocket.  While I would do anything for my son, my pockets are not that deep, as the "best" places to take him cost around $28,000.00  year for tuition.  Even the cost of speech therapy is too much for my family to afford.  As such, we have tried to educate ourselves on how to best teach our son at home in these necessary skills.  

The frustration is the inability to get my son the qualified help that he needs.  Why is it that autism is not covered by insurance?  Probably because the support is so high.  It can be much like the cost of having  a live-in nurse, or at least a part time nurse that devotes all their face time with one child.  Couple that with the fact that one in 150 children are diagnosed with Autism, it becomes a very costly aspect.  And health insurance companies are all about reducing costs to increase revenues.  Hence, autism is not covered.

But recently, the State of Illinois passed a bill requiring insurance companies to cover Autism up to $36,000.00.  I don't know if that is yearly, or total, but it's a breakthrough for families who have children with autism.  But is it really a benefit?  Do payments go up in order to cover the insurance requirement?  Is it considered a previous condition, thereby making the move to another insurance company devastating to a family, as they immediately lose their autism coverage?  

If there are any readers out there in Illinois that know more about the law, could you reply with comments?  I would like to know what the ramifications of the bill would mean.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

There is Always Someone: The Friend with Apple Mail Server Issues

A while a go a friend asked me if I would help him set up his office with an Open Directory system, and integrate everything through his Xserve.  It sounded like a simple enough task, as I have done this numerous times in the classroom and for our lab at work.  Boy was I wrong. 

The setup took several hours longer than I would have expected.  He already had the infrastructure, so it should have been simple to set up the server and bind all the clients to the new Directory and establish Kerberos authentication.  The problem ended up being the need to run virtual machines, each of which tried to run remotely on the server instead of locally on the machine (because they were saved in the network home folder).  So, I moved all the virtual machines to the local machines, which fixed that issue.  

Next, preferences within the home folders would get lost all the time.  That it turned out was because the network home folders were taking up too much space, so I moved everyone's iTunes libraries to the local machine to free up space.  I also had trouble with some internal networking running really slow on occasion (I suspect it's a problem with the switch, but he can't replace it), so in order to deal with the flaky network and network home folders, I created mobile accounts on every machine.  If the network goes down, they can authenticate locally and still get what work can be done in an unplugged world.  

Finally, the mail issue.  His office was using Zimbra mail, which was a neat setup, but his version couldn't be Kerberized.  That, and he wanted to migrate to Apple's Mail and Calendar server.  So, I set up the mail server, and set up a script utilizing imapsync to transfer the mail from one server to another.  Why?  Because I couldn't find any documentation on how to move one Postfix database to another while making sure the content was safe and secure.  Anyway, after many attempts (I don't mind pointing out at this point that imapsync is perhaps one of the most poorly documented open source project I've seen), success was made.  Now all I needed to do was redirect the DNS from the router to the new server, and everything should be hunky-dory, right?

The router was using an OpenBSD OS that was extremely limiting.  It took for ever to get the blasted thing to migrate to the right IP's, and then it didn't support alias addressing in the DNS.  There's probably a way to hack the DNS file manually, but I ran into another problem that was really bugging me:  Starting the Mail service in Server Admin didn't actually start Postfix.  That's right, it was running all the features of mail without the actual SMTP client to manage it.  

This blew my mind.  A quick search and help from a friend that was Linux savvy indicated that this is a rare bug that happens, and all you have to do is run Postfix manually.  Seems simple enough, but then you need to set it up to start when the system starts.  Again, not too difficult, and easy to set up by adding it to the rc.local file (you can also write a launchd .plist file to handle it, but that's more complicated than the rc.local step, and I wanted to get this done as soon as possible).

So now Postfix was working, but no one could send or receive mail.  Huge problem, since that's the point of the mail service.  So, again with the help of my friend, we managed to edit both the and the to the right specifications, all of which managed to get Mail working.  

Now, I would like to point out that never in my time as an Instructor have I seen these services fail this badly and completely.  Part of the problem was the strain on his internal network and some bad ports in his router.  Part of the problem was random issues that should never have existed, and yet do because life is never perfect.  And finally, because I have been touting Apple as such as simple solution for a UNIX-based network, it just had to be a problem. 

Has anyone else out there had a similar problem where they have gone into a job with the knowledge that your solution would work, regardless of the platform, and seen it go horribly wrong?  I'm just grateful my friend who asked this of me was so understanding and patient.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting Technical with Learning: Open Curriculum for Children with Autism

Since coming back from leave after the birth of my son, I've been engrossed with developing new learning material for my son with autism.  Currently he is doing well in Pre-School, but there are always additional learning exercises that could supplement his education.  The problem is, there are a lot of resources if you want to pay for them, but not many that are open to all parents that need the help now.  

So, I thought I might try to come up with something myself, and see where it leads me.  In order to meet this daunting task, I needed to outline what I wanted to accomplish.  

  1. The Material Needs to be Modular:  Not all autistic children are the same, and not all children need to focus on the same skills.  Modularity helps address differing skill levels for the learner, and therefore allows the instructor (teacher, parent, etc.) to better target the learner's needs.  

  2. Specific Step by Step Breakdown:  Children with Autism need to learn through a very basic breakdown of the tasks.  This takes jobs, tasks, subtasks, skills, attitudes, and knowledge into a whole new level.  This would also help learners find connections and relationships, which I maintain as the ground work of intelligence. 

  3. Easy Adaptation for Existing Routine:  Stability in the life of one that is on the Spectrum stems from routine.  As long as the routine is not too badly interrupted, meltdowns are kept at a minimum.  In order to successfully integrate the learning material into the routine, it needs to be applied to the routine minimally, which also makes it that much easier for the instructor to apply and evaluate. 

  4. Easy Augmentation:  Think of this part of the goal like adding an API for the material that allows for additional media or exercises to be added to the course.  This would be a natural progression for an easily adaptable program.

  5. Easy, Indirect Evaluation:  Most educational materials require a formal evaluation to determine how well a student is learning.  Perhaps you remember your pop quizzes, final exams, and standardized tests?  As children on the autism spectrum are more likely to suffer panic attacks, a non-intrusive evaluation method would be best.  Practical exams that are not advertised as exams are perhaps the best method.

So those are the goals.  Seems simple enough, one would think.  Now it comes down to the skills that need to be taught.  This is where a good relationship with your State Department of Education would be very helpful.  The Utah State Office of Education has an outline for each subject for all grades from K-12, with a special section for K, 1, and 2.  As most parents of a child with autism are generally interested in the first few years, this is the section I will be focusing on initially.  I hope to continue the development throughout the years.  

Beginning with Kindergarten, there are three cores to the curriculum that are expected to be met:  Language Arts, Mathematics, and Content.  Language Arts focuses on identifying written words, and differences between upper and lowercase letters.  Mathematics focuses on quantity, counting up to 30, and learning how to practically add or subtract quantities, recognizing the changes in quantity.  Content covers the gambit for social skills, social studies, science, health, fine arts, and physical education.  

So I'm in the process of building a reasonable analysis that will help me best meet my goals within the given core curriculum expected by the Utah State Office of Education, and have it be geared directly to those parents or teachers that have children on the autism spectrum that desperately want to be taught.  It's all about finding the learning method they can relate to, and helping them down that path.  

It's not much right now, but at least it's a start. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Events Worth Mentioning: Catching Up

I've been MIA for a while in these past couple weeks, but for good reason.  So let me cover the events of the past couple of weeks in order, based on what I felt was noteworthy.  

First and foremost, my wife gave birth to our son Alistair Scott on November 1st at 10:27 PM.  He was 7 pounds, 11.8 ounces, and was 20 and 3/4 inches long.  Since then he has already gained 3 ounces and grown 3/4 of an inch.  He's doing well, and so is my wife. 

With the birth of our second son, I was worried about how this would effect my first son, who is on the autism spectrum.  He was not really happy with either of us at first when he came to visit, but ended the day giving us both kisses.  For the past week or so, he has barely acknowledged his little brother.  Then last night he stood by the bassinet and watched his brother sleep.  I think he's getting an idea of the change that has come to our family, and is accepting it.  I'm going to be watching him closely, to be sure that the baby doesn't become a problem for him.  

With the birth of another son, and taking into the account that 6% of all boys born are likely to be autistic, and as autism runs in my family, it's very likely that our son will have autism.  So that's something that we hope to catch early if possible.  

The Election on Tuesday was exciting for a lot of people, disappointing for many others, and I didn't follow it at all.  I had voted a week before (because the baby's due date was so close), and as such didn't care much for the results.  Instead I spent my time feeding my new son.  That being said, there is what I think of the results:  

1.  President-elect Obama will do a fine job, particularly if he manages to make a bipartisan cabinet.  I think he is a very intelligent and capable man, though I have yet to see him tested in the nightmare of an administrative job that is the Presidency.  Quite frankly, I think that anyone that want's to be President of the United States has serious issues.  That is why I would vote for General Colin Powell in a heartbeat:  he doesn't want the job.  

But that being said, I've been long burned out politically, and would rather see results on important issues instead of radical wings of both parties trying to push their agendas.  I think the election was good for the Democrats, in that they got what they have long wanted:  another Hoover to run against.  But the election will be just as effective for the Republicans, in that they will do some soul searching to determine why they have been losing so badly.  It isn't because of Sarah Palin, it isn't because of Senator Stevens, it's because they don't have a real direction in their party and have become too reactionary and desperate.

The last thing I hope to see is the issue of Autism taken up by both the new Administration and Congress.  Autism is growing in diagnoses, with more parents needing help in discovering what it is and how to help those on the spectrum lead a self-sufficient life.  I'm not looking for a cure, I'm looking for support from somewhere to help parents like myself and my wife who want desperately to teach our son and help him show the intelligence we have observed in him to others.  

And finally, Apple and the Tablet!  Yes, there seems to be a lot of evidence floating out in the rumorsphere that Apple is building a Tablet pc, and that it is due any time now.  The most logical time to announce it would be in January, which would be ideal.  I hope Apple keeps in mind all the features I had put down, particularly that the device will let one tether a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to it, have a full OS with the ability to install software on it, and a micro-DisplayPort for presentations.  

So, anyway, that's the past week and a few days in review.  Now, it's back to helping my wife with the new baby!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Apple's Vision for the Future: The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good

Every year a whole community seems to develop around the new products Apple has in store.  It's fun, it's exciting, and it can lead to huge feelings of self-righteous pride or crushing disappointment when predictions do not hold fruit.  So earlier this week when Steve Jobs talked about the future of Apple, it was interesting to hear what was said, and what was not said. 

First, the ugly:  really cheap Apple computers are not a market Steve Jobs sees Apple going into.  The cheapest computer Apple designed was the Mac Mini, which had a base purchase of $479 at one point, and is now $599.  This may call the future of the Mac Mini in question, which I hope is not the case.  It's the cheapest server I have ever seen.  For quick and simple office deployment (outside of really high-end uses like video rendering), you can't beat the size of the Mac Mini.  But, don't expect anything really cheap from the Apple anytime soon.  

The Bad:  UMPCs are not a priority.  If you recall, what I was billing as the iPod Slate for the past year and a half would be a similar device.  Perhaps not the same, so there is still a chance, but from what Steve said this is not a priority because there isn't a real market out there for such a device.  Instead, you can use an iPhone for just about everything you can use a UMPC for, and it fits in your pocket.  He did say that should that market start to grow, they have some ideas ready.  Perhaps that is why the iPod Slate hasn't been announced....

Also as part of the bad, the Apple TV is still not being taken seriously.  Steve points to the market and many devices out there like the Apple TV that have floundered.  I suppose there are still a lot of people that use DVD's, and don't have children that break them easily.  Or perhaps it's because there isn't a convenient way to convert their existing library to a usable Apple TV form that looks great.  Either way, Steve still sees the whole thing as a hop

The Good:  Apple is working on a tablet PC!  Steve didn't say anything about it, other than, "It's a policy that Apple doesn't discuss any products in development."  Yes!  This could be a much larger version of the iPod Slate, and essentially be the same thing I was hoping for anyway.  It could be completely keyboard free, using a software keyboard and a touchscreen in place of a hardware keyboard.  It wouldn't be the same (keys would feel different), but it would still do the job, and only take up space on the desktop. 

So, that's what I gathered from Steve's announcement.  Of course a lot of it is speculation, but it doesn't hurt to speculate.  I've been wrong with Apple's development strategy before, and I'm sure Steve will pull something out of his hat that will make the Media drool.  Half the fun is speculation.  ^_^

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Autism Speaks Lobbies for Autism Therapy Coverage

While reading the morning news today, I read this article on a lobbying effort on the part of the group Autism Speaks to get autism behavioral therapy covered by health insurance.  Regardless of the cause of autism, it has been found that early therapy has helped those children become more mainstream in their behavior.  As such, it has become a mantra of the Autism Therapy organization. 

Quite frankly, I think it's great!  Let me share my own experience with you:  We took our son in to be tested for his speech development.  He didn't have any at 3 years, and by now I could dispel the arguments from family members that he was just a "late bloomer".  The speech therapist thought that our son might have autism, and suggested we get him tested.  

We took him to the State department of health to be evaluated by a childhood psychologist that specializes in the Autism Spectrum.  He diagnosed my son with autism, with the possibility of Asperger's.  He wanted to make another appointment to evaluate my son in January in order to firm up the diagnosis.  We were shocked, but were by this time prepared for the diagnosis and asked about what we can do.  He had already started pre-school in an Autism program, and they were going a fabulous job.  

Then we got the bill.  We were billed $350.00 for the evaluation, which I didn't really understand.  I called up to see if this was perhaps one of those informational bills sent before the insurance was billed.  I was wrong.  They said that our insurance does not cover autism as a diagnosis.  I was shocked, because I have never had a diagnosis that was not covered by any insurance I carried.  

Now, my insurance is really great for just about everything else, because I have the University of Utah health insurance.  All co-pays are comparable to other insurance companies if not better, and drug costs are low.  But autism and autism therapy is not supported.  

Now, I understand it could mean an increase in insurance premiums, right when we are talking about healthcare and the burden it already poses many American families.  But look at the costs of autism therapy.  For autism therapy beyond the age of 4 in Utah, it will cost $28,000 a year.  This is the cost to attend the autism school by the University of Utah for my son after a year long waiting list gets around to him.  

Now, I'm being a little selfish here, and I admit it.  My son's welfare is a bit more important to me than the welfare of people I don't know in another country.  But look at it this way, 6% of all boys born will be diagnosed (either rightfully or wrongfully) with autism.  That is a significant number of children (not counting the girls) that will need some sort of support from somewhere.  Autism isn't limited by financial ability.  Assistance of some sort will be needed at some level, whether from health insurance or from another source. 

Whether or not you agree with this approach, it at least ups the profile of the needs of children with autism in this nation.  As the article points out, it will be made a priority of the next administration, regardless of which administration that will be.  It will be interesting to see what the next administration sees as a proper response.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Debate, the Candidates, and Autism

Tonight the candidates completed their final debate before the election in November.  They talked about a lot of issues on the Economy, throwing barbs back and forth about a lot of issues, and how they would do things better than the other candidates.  But one thing in particular stuck in my mind, and I hope it stuck in the minds of all parents who have children with autism:  Only one candidate seemed to show his commitment to the research, treatment, and development of children with autism.  

It began with a discussion on running mates, and Senator John McCain talking about the focus Sarah Palin has for children with special needs.  He specifically mentioned autism, focusing on the needs of children on the autism spectrum.  Senator Obama then countered by saying that if there is a spending freeze in the government, then you can't fund research for autism.  I think he was referring to the earlier comments by Senator McCain on a proposed spending freeze for all new legislation, in order to root out any fiscally irresponsible spending.  

The problem is, when hearing it, it sounded as though Senator Obama was in favor of cutting any planned spending for autism research.  At least that is how my wife heard it, and how it read in the transcript at a cursory glance.  He then never mentioned autism again, not even when he covered his education policies and proposals.  Instead he focused on sending people to Charter schools in order to get them out of their traditional public school.

But Senator McCain again focused on the needs of children with autism in his education policy, focusing on caring for these children.  I was amazed, because the issue in the debate was even brought up.  Senator John McCain seemed to even be energized by the topic.  He seemed genuinely dedicated to the research and dedicated to taking care of these children.  Senator Obama seemed to almost write it off as a foot note by saying it's " an example of, I think, the kind of use of the scalpel [referring to government budget reform] that we want to make sure that we're funding some of those programs"(emphasis added).

Perhaps it is because Senator Obama felt it was not worth the time and effort to focus on the issue.  Perhaps, because his daughters are not on the Autism Spectrum, it's not an important issue for him.  After all, it is more likely to be found in boys, as in one in every ninety-four boys born are now diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.  Perhaps he hasn't met one of these boys, or one of the less common, but just as important, girls.  Perhaps he doesn't understand the challenges parents go through with their child on the autism spectrum.  Or perhaps it just wasn't a priority for him that night.

No matter the reason, it disappointed me on several levels.  First, as it looks likely by the last polls taken, he may very well be the next President of the United States.  A President that didn't take the issue of autism seriously, where does that place me and my family?  Perhaps we are just not as important to him as the rich people he would rather tax, the middle class he wants to give the money to, or Joe Plumber that has issues with healthcare and taxes.  I'm glad Joe Plumber at least got some attention from the candidate.  Someone needed to, I suppose, since the growing silent epidemic of autism was largely ignored by Senator Obama.  

Secondly, education and autism are almost intertwined.  You can't have one without the other, because every school district in this great country of ours has the need to educate, by law, children with autism.  Senator McCain made it a large proportion of his education policy.  He announced his dedication to help all Americans with special needs, with special emphasis on autism, and to be sure the research into discovering the cause would be found.  

And yet it didn't seem to be a concern for Senator Obama.  Instead he worries about getting every child to College, using charter schools as a way to prepare them.  Are there charter schools for children with autism?  I am not aware of any, and therefore his plan excludes my child.  How can my child make it to college without a proper primary and secondary education that helps him retrain the neurons in his brain?  

Perhaps that was covered when he called all parents to get off the couch and help their children.  Perhaps he feels that parents whose children are on the autism spectrum are just not doing enough for their kids.  After all, it was a commonly held belief during the 70's.  Of course, I am just inferring here, but as this was the only part of Senator Obama's education plan that could even remotely focus on my child as I understood it, it's all I have to go by.

And lastly, I posted previously that I emailed the campaign regarding Senator Obama's position on autism and his plans for the future of children with autism.  Instead of a reply that even feigned interest in my concern, I got a thanks for supporting Senator Obama, and have sense been spammed by everyone and their dog in the campaign.  So not only did I get blown off, but I have since been receiving unwanted emails from the very source that felt my concerns did not warrant a response.

I would like to mention that I also emailed Senator McCain's campaign about the same issue.  And while I also have not received a reply (and no spam at all, I might add), it seems that Senator McCain has the same issues on his mind.  That impressed me, it touched me, it made me feel like he understood my position.  Sure I have economic issues, and sure I am part of the lower middle class that is getting squeezed hard by the economy:  but right now my son's future is more important.  Senator McCain made me believe that he too had my son's best interests at heart.  It was the first time I felt like a candidate of any election had reached out to me and my family. 

So, in case you have been unable to discern my mood after the debate, I was very disappointed in the apparent apathy Senator Obama had for parents who have children on the autism spectrum.  I have admired the man for his calm and reach to the people, but he lost any possibility of a vote from me this night.  Perhaps I am over reacting, perhaps I'm getting too emotional.  Most likely Senator Obama will blow me off yet again as one of those that "angry people that cling to their guns and their religion".  But with no significant funding forthcoming from the Obama Administration, it seems religion will be all I can cling to as I strive to help my son through his autism.  

Senator McCain, on the other hand, actually connected with me.  I could tell that he had real conversations with parents with children on the autism spectrum.  He knew their fears, he understood their concerns.  It was almost as though he read my email the day of the debate, and wanted to talk to me directly.  Sure it's just one policy, but it's a policy that deeply care about.  

This isn't just a research project for me, and it's not referring to children without a name, this issue is my family.  It's my son, it's the promise that he will have a place in society if I get hit by a bus tomorrow.  It's a promise that he will be able to share his intelligence in a way that is constructive to society, instead of being seen as "weird", "crazy", or "dumb".  

Anyway, my rant is through.  I want to leave with these words:  Autism should not be a back burner issue.  Just because the majority of Americans don't know about Autism, or don't care about Autism because it hasn't happened to them, doesn't make it any less important than Cancer, AIDS, or Roe Vs. Wade.  I would have hoped that if one candidate had brought up his plan for helping special needs children, the other candidate would have said something more than just it's " an example of, I think, the kind of use of the scalpel that we want to make sure that we're funding some of those programs."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Taking the Deep Breath: Accepting the Financial Meltdown and Moving On

There has been a lot of coverage about the panic of the financial meltdown, and how panic continues to drive more panic.  It seems that the Media found their big story, and they are milking it for all it is worth.  Perhaps we should be grateful, after all the content of the media is no longer being driven by political campaigns.  Honestly, I'm not sure the political campaigns really know what to do, judging by the reactions of the candidates during the meltdown.  

Regardless, there is a very real problem going on within the world economy.  Credit is drying up, or banks are fostering a crazy belief that raising interest rates will actually benefit them more in the long run then keeping lower interest rates.  I've never really understood that, outside of the idea that banks expect you to default on the loan and want to soak you for everything they can before that happens.  At any rate, the end result is that no one is borrowing money, either because they can't or because it's too cost-prohibitive.  

For corporations, this means less liquid capital to work with as Corporate paper is no longer good for 24-hour short term loans.  Therefore they have trouble with their day to day operations, which leads the market to believe that all businesses going bust, and so leads to massive stock sell-offs.  The spiral continues to pull us down into the abyss where nothing is solid, all is black, and people are jumping out of windows.  

But let's take a step back, and a deep breath.  Is life really so glum?  I'm looking at sections of the economy with which I am concerned to determine whether or not it's time to start investing in apples to sell at 5 cents a piece:

1.  Retirement:  A lot of people have their nest eggs invested in the stock market, particularly through a 401k.  These have been tanking.  The same thing happened to me during the beginning of this decade when the .com bubble burst.  I lost thousands in stock value, and it took 10 years for it to come back.  Luckily, I'm not concerned with this too much because I have another 3 decades before I think about retiring.  That gives the economy plenty of time to come back, and it will.  But I do feel for those who have retired or were just about to retire and now do not have the funds necessary do to so.  

2.  Debt.  Everyone has debt, more than we want and many of Americans have more debt then they can afford (which started this mess in the first place).  Debt in and of itself is not necessarily bad, as long as you know where that debt is placed.  

3.  Savings.  My savings are well below the $100,000.00 FDIC insured level, so I'm not concerned here.  What does concern me is savings for those businesses that fund their employees to come to my classes.  With little liquid funds to pay for training, training suffers a cut.  I love the proposal made by both campaigns and whole-heartedly endorsed by the FDIC to raise the insurance level to a higher amount.  Of course, beyond proposing it a week ago, I haven't heard of any progress.

4.  Jobs.  Most businesses are still running rather well, though they may be in a credit crunch.  Unless you are worried about a lay-off, you should be fine.  If you are concerned about your job (and many are), check with a supervisor, or better yet someone higher up.  Test that "open door" policy and see if they are willing to talk openly and honestly with you.  Perhaps it's a good time to update your resume, if for nothing else than to keep it up to date.  But don't do it at work (or tell anyone).  You don't want to start a panic within the company.  

So those are the four main concerns that I have regarding my own personal economy.  Sure some products will become too expensive to purchase, but as long as the essentials are covered I'm not concerned.  While it may feel like it based on world-wide coverage of the market meltdown, the world isn't coming to an end.  Supermarkets are still open, clothes can still be purchased, and we can all still go back to work.  

So perhaps we as a nation just need to take a deep breath, take stock of what is going down hill and what you can control.  That's going to be the only aee

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Candidates and Autism

While we spend what precious little time we have on this planet listening to one political party or another tell us what the other parties are doing wrong, we can at least rest when it comes to one position:  Autism.

Yesterday I was checking out resources from the CDC on Autism, and found that there was currently a Presidential committee dedicated to the development of and support for persons with developmental disabilities.  Of course, when you think about anything Presidential during the election year, you start to wonder what the candidates positions would be on such an important issue.  So, I started a little research. 

At first, I couldn't find anything on autism on their websites, though I admit I only ran a cursory search.  Then I went through the "Contact Us" links and emailed them.  The easiest candidate to email was John McCain, whose email setup was pretty straight forward.  I'm still waiting for a reply from the campaign, but I don't expect email contacts are really that high on any candidates priorities right now.  

Barack Obama's website was a little more difficult to navigate when it came to contacting the campaign.  It took several wrong clicks to get the right link, but I finally got the email sent off.  Within minutes, I got an automated email thanking me for my support of the candidate and my desire to campaign for him, with another note that the campaign doesn't have the time to personally reply to every email sent to them.  Hmm.  Interesting.  

So I did some more digging, and found that both candidates actually do have positions on their websites regarding autism and the current concerns the increased diagnosis rate has raised.  Essentially, they are the same.  Both candidates call for more funding for research to understand autism, and for early detection and support for families that need to help their child with autism reach their full potential.  Admittedly Barack Obama's position was more verbose than John McCain's position, but as many of you who read my long posts know, verbosity doesn't necessarily mean better content.  ^_^  

So at least for those parents who have children with Autism, the choice doesn't matter:  Both John McCain and Barack Obama will make the same commitment to the discovery, treatment, development, and overall welfare of people with autism in our society.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Understanding my Son with Autism

If you are reading this, you most likely received a card from myself or my wife, after we perceived some misunderstanding regarding our son.  We thought you should know a little more about him before you pass judgement on him or our parenting skills.  


My son is on the Autism Spectrum.  His behavior is often the result of over stimulation, particularly in loud, visually rich, or poorly lit environments.  All children with autism have some reaction to their environment, because they process the various stimuli their senses give them differently than most of us.  This can result in random crying, screaming, yelling, singing, jumping for joy, climbing, or other reactions that may not appear "normal".


For most children on the Autism Spectrum, this is the result of an increased amount of gray matter and a decreased amount of white matter in their brain.  They tend to have larger brains than most people their age, with increased neuron synapses that fire randomly between the two hemispheres.  As such, their brain doesn't know how to process all the information coming in and leads to a melt down. 


Teaching a child with autism is no easy task.  It requires constant focus on one topic until mastered, and then moving on to cover another skill.  Unlike many "normal" children, those children with autism do not learn from imitation.  Instead they need to rationalize the behavior, understand all the aspects of it, and the limitations before they can embrace it.  Therefore their development in many of the "normal" behaviors (such as social behaviors) are very slow.  But do not assume that my son is slow or stupid.  Most children with autism have very high I.Q.s, representing high intelligence and grasp of details that most "normal" people miss.


Please note that children with autism are not "tuned out", but rather more "tuned in" than a "normal" person.  Autism increases the processing of all information being absorbed.  Notice how my son doesn't return eye contact for long?  The sheer amount of information contained in the human face overwhelms him.  Every word you speak, every phrase uttered under your breath, he hears, understands, processes, and contributes to his world view.  Comments about "tantrums", "poor discipline", or "beat the kid" is heard.  And he knows what you are saying.  


My son feels joy, anger, sorrow, pain, excitement, and other simple emotions as do other children.  He is not a monster, but very human.  He can be hurt by your comments, by your looks, by your disgust and distain.  He can also be encouraged by a smile, a kind word, or an encouraging look.  


Chances are we may never meet you again, and chances are you may never know the damage each condescending stare, each snide remark, each half-spoken rebuke of his behavior has done.  But I do want you to be aware of those on the Autism Spectrum, so that others you meet will not receive the same judgement.  After all, about 1 in every 145 children are diagnosed with Autism, with 1 in every 94 boys being the average.  Chances are you will meet another child with autism that will react in a different way than my son, but have the same condition.


So as you go through life, I hope you think about the impact you have with the world, instead of what you think the world should give you.  While you may expect one set of behaviors from those around you, keep in mind that there is an increasing number of people in this world that are unable to meet to your expectations, but rather require you to change and see them for who they are:  special people that have a lot to give in the right environment.  Are you able or willing to help create that environment?

Trying to Understand the Financial Crisis: And What To Do

I've been pretty silent on the recent decision for a Federal injection of cash into the financial system by purchasing old securities, mostly because I don't have a lot of understanding of the financial system as it currently stands.  How can one really comment on whether or not a program will work if they don't know what the actual problem is?  So, like most Americans, I have been silently watching and waiting, looking for (a) some reason to panic, and (b) some reason for hope.  

In the mean time, I have been looking for some good references on how the economy works.  Then, on UEN's channel 9, I watched an economics professor hand the answer down.  It was so brilliant in it's simplicity, and yet so scary to see it happen.  All of a sudden, I understood how it worked, but that understanding scared me to death.  

Essentially, we have three levels of value in the financial markets.  There is the (1) actual value, or the value of a product, commodity, or service in real terms, then the (2) projected value, or the value of that same product, commodity, or service in the foreseeable future given calculated growth (algebraic of course, so there is no estimated plateau in growth that naturally happens), and the (3) speculative value, or value of the product, commodity, or service in the unforeseeable future, or the long term, with continued geometric growth (i.e., a bubble).  

The Bank, at the base level, manages the actual value and the projected value.  These are the base values that your home is sold to you, purchased through a loan (yes, the banks purchase it for you, you don't buy it until you pay off your loan), and so on.  The bank purchases the property at the actual value at the time, based on the conditions of the market.  Whether or not that actual value is realistic or not is part of another discussion.  It then creates a projected value for the property based on the price you paid plus the interest that you will be paying on the property.  

In order to spread risk and better remain solvent in the financial sector, the bank now sells your loan out to financial investment banks, who pay the projected value.  This assumes that you remain in your home and do not default on the loan.  It also assumes that you do not pay off the loan early, because that shorts the investment of the projected interest that would be paid.  Now that the investment banks have them, they need to make their money off of the deal, and so package the loans out with other securities, and sell them at the speculative value, or the value that such properties could make given geometric growth in the market, and so on. 

The speculative market now drives actual value, because those that create the original value (i.e., developers building houses) can drive the market up.  Whether it's real demand or imagined speculative demand, prices go up, or better products are provided at the same price.  Older products are devalued, and so on.  Eventually, we get into a continuing spiral of constantly needing something new to replace the old.  Houses, electronics, vehicles, toys.  Everything is built upon these growing spirals, which eventually peak and then fall again as popularity wanes, or the next big thing comes along that takes consumer capital.

Now, I could be wrong in how I understood the professor explain these three levels of financial value.  If anyone out there has a better understanding, please feel free to post in the comments!  I would like to have a firm grasp of the problem so that I know what the eventual solution would be, whether in the end it is to do nothing.  

So now banks are put under pressure to loan out money to pay for this growing consumer economy that has it's roots in a speculative financial environment, and as such they start taking larger and larger risks.  I then heard about the culture of the traders on wall street in this interview done on NPR (listen to it to get the real impact).  It turns out that the culture of traders on wall street is focused around testosterone, where big risks and big money is a show of "manhood".  Interestingly enough, women in the same position tended to be more rational in their speculation.  

So what does this all really mean in the end?  Adam Smith was right.  We will have a growth period, and a bust period in the economy.  What's the best thing we can do in the mean time during this bust period?  Watch our finances.  Do we really need that plasma screen TV?  Is HDTV really all that necessary?  What about that trip to Europe?  Should we be eating out so much?  Is public transportation really that bad when compared to the expense of keeping your 10 mpg SUV running on the highway?  

It's time we as Americans started to think rationally.  Stop worrying about what we can't control.  If we have money in the markets and the markets are failing, there isn't a lot we can do.  We can't even sue, because those that are "responsible" are either broke as well, or they probably have jumped out of a window by that point.  Ultimately, we need to be realistic, understand that the world hasn't ended, and find more effective ways to invest capital.  

In the mean time, focus on those actions in the market that actually benefit people.  I'm not talking about bailing out people that purchased homes they couldn't afford, but insuring larger sums of cash by the FDIC would be a good move.  It provides solvency for the bank (increased capital that is protected by the FDIC), and increases confidence in the bank by savers.  If a bank is solvent and has confidence, it can make prudent investments that will grow again.  These investments will continue to grow and expand, and our economy will be back on it's feet.  How quickly is still the Million Dollar question.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Eye Contact and Autism: An Early Marker?

Any parent with a child with autism knows that eye contact is a key identifier of the condition.  Children with autism tend to give little to no eye contact to anyone.  The less eye contact, often the more severe the autism.  Well, a group of researchers from Yale University decided to test a theory regarding eye contact patterns in the early diagnosis of autism in children.  There findings are published in the journal Archives of Preferential Psychiatry.

They took 15 children 2 years old with confirmed autism and showed them 10 videos with a person looking right into the camera and interacting as a care giver.  They also used 15 developmentally delayed but non-autistic children, and 36 children who were typically developing as the control.  These groups had their eye patterns traced to determine whether or not eye contact was being made, and to what degree.

As expected, the children with autism focused less on the "caregiver's" eyes than the other children.  What was interesting is that they (the children with autism) focused instead on the mouth of the "caregiver".  

But why should this even matter?  What does it mean, all this focus on eye contact?  Well, the context of the study focuses on the need for eye contact to interact socially with the world.  This same behavior has been seen in social animals, and this same phenomenon has been confirmed to happen with infants within the first week of life.  Generally infants will focus on the eyes of their caregiver, and even give preferential attention to their eyes.  

The focus of this study was to prove that decreased eye contact in infants could be a conclusive method of identifying autism in children at a very early age.  This is great for researchers, because they can focus on genetic markers from children confirmed to have autism at an early age, and gives more credibility to the genetic focus of autism.  The next phase of this study would be a long one, focusing on infants with decreased eye contact to determine if they do indeed grow to have autism.  

But there is another benefit, if this becomes confirmed for infants:  parents will be able to educate themselves early on before their child gets too far behind, and help to retrain their neurons while still developing.  Quite honestly, if this study proves to be a marker with infants, parents will be better prepared to meet this challenge head on.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Autism, Brain Overgrowth, and Pruning

For many families that have children with autism, they live in a frustrating fog of uncertainty.  They don't know what "causes" autism, nor do they know what people are doing about it.  In fact, as with the case of my wife and I, many have no clue what autism is until faced with the challenges and joys of having a child with autism.  My first question was what caused it, and then what I could do about it.  

Well, recently (within the last 12 months), a study was completed and presented to the neuropsychological community that suggests an overgrowth of brain neurons could contribute to autistic behavior.  Basically, this is what happens from birth to age 6:  A child's brain will grow a lot of neurons that are randomly connected.  This allows the brain to absorb and record a lot of information at a very young age.  Once that information starts to process, children begin to go through a "pruning" process, which is accelerated at age six.  This pruning process removes many of the random neurons in the brain, leaving those that have developed.  

But with some autistic children, the brain tends to "overgrow", developing more random neurons than most "normal" children.  This means they are processing more information from visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory or gastronomical inputs.  Often this input is so overwhelming that they need to "unplug".  This presents the bulk of autistic behavior.  Your face is too detailed for them to take in, so they can't look you in the eye.  They get overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, and smells in a store, so they need to cling to you or start to scream.  Often they will just lay down on the floor to try to get sense of their surroundings, or focus on one object very intently, trying to block everything else out.  

If that were not enough, children with autism tend to either have a delayed pruning period, or do not prune at all.  Those children with more severe autism would most likely fall within this group, with Asperger's children having an overgrowth in the brain, and those with PDD will have a delayed pruning period.  At least, that makes the most sense to me.  It will be interesting to see if that is confirmed with subsequent studies.  

So what does this mean to the parent that is uncertain?  It means that there is hope!  Children with autism can "rewire" their brain by going through intensive training.  Going through tasks at each step, each sub-task, each skill that is required to complete the entire task.  As such, even if pruning is delayed or fails to happen, the neurons can be directed and merged into those tasks, allowing the autistic child to operate at a more functional level.  

For a more detailed explanation of the Pruning portion of the neurological studies on Autism, check out this article I have on my website from the Department of Neuropsychiatry, University of South Carolina, as published in the Brain and Development, The Official Journal of the Japanese Society of Child Neurology.  It outlines the impact of pruning, and the discoveries found in classic autistic children.

Fragile X Syndrome Treatment And Autism

This morning NPR ran a story regarding the effects of the Fragile X syndrome that can cause symptoms of autism and mental retardation, and a treatment that could potentially reverse those symptoms.  The story is fascinating, but is billed as a treatment for autism in general.  Let's understand the effects of the condition.  

Fragile X Syndrome is a mutation on the X chromosome that effectively disrupts the system in the brain that regulates synapses, which can cause mental retardation and symptoms on the autism spectrum.  This happens because there is an increase in these synapses, but no regulation to reduce them.  Therefore synapses are running out of control.  

Until recently there has been no treatment for this condition, but that has now changed as the recent study has begun human testing.  There are some risks, in that not all on the autism spectrum will respond to the treatment, and the drugs are potentially dangerous.  The tests are going forward with caution, and I hope they find an effective treatment for this syndrome.  

But I also want to point out that this condition isn't the only cause for autism.  Recent studies (such as those I have previously posted) point to an overgrowth of neurons during the developmental ages, with a decreased, delayed, or lack of pruning at age 6 as a primary cause of autism.  The effects are the same, because you have either a system that doesn't slow down synapses, or increased synapses caused by an overgrowth of neurons.  Both have increased synapse activity, and therefore cause the same symptom.  

So while I think the treatment is ground breaking and definitely worth praise, I want to caution parents out there that this is not the silver bullet for autism.  Autism can be caused by a number of conditions, only one of which has been found to have a treatment.  Not all children with autism will have the Fragile X Syndrome.  

The really positive thing is the focus on genetic mutations that are the cause of autism, as opposed to environmental effects.  Hopefully this study will lead to more funding and focus on other genetic causes that lead to the majority of those on the autism spectrum.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chelation Study Cancelled

While reading the daily news this morning, I came across this article by Reuters regarding a clinical study in chelation as an autism treatment.  The treatment was deemed too risky in relation to the potential benefits, and therefore considered an overall hazard.

What is chelation?  It is a therapy given to those with a heavy metal poisoning, such as mercury poisoning.  A man-made amino acid, EDTA, is added to the blood to purge out the heavy metals causing sickness.  The treatment is based on the belief that the rising cause of autism in children is due to the increased levels of mercury that come from childhood vaccines, such as the Flu vaccine.  As such, the patient is treated for mercury poisoning.  

The controversy behind this is that many physicians have dismissed this theory, believing rather that there are genetic causes for the condition.  Of course this wouldn't necessarily account for the rising number of diagnoses, but then psychologists are more sensitive to autism now, and the entire autistic spectrum.  My older brother has all the signs of Asperger's, but was never diagnosed.  Why?  They didn't diagnose that condition in the 70's, and there was another condition that he had that was used as an excuse.  

But if the study was to be the final proof to debunk the theory behind mercury poisoning, why would they cancel it?  That was the question I had.  How was it dangerous?  What did this amino acid do if it didn't find significantly high levels of heavy metals to purge?  

I checked the old reliable:  Google Scholar.  I found an article outlining the death of one child because of a medication error, causing a calcium deficiency.  The potential for permanent damage to the child was so high, and the perceived benefit of the study so low, that the risk was just not worth it.  So where do parents go from here? 

Well, in the case of my own child, I work with the condition.  I know that my child is special, with special needs.  I know that he is also very brilliant, able to work out mechanics very quickly and has a gift with music.  All I need to do is help him train his brain to work within the accepted "norms" of society so that he can share his gifts and talents.  

Now, I don't claim that this will work for every child with autism.  I'm blessed with a child that is very high functioning.  Some children with autism are not high functioning.  It's scary, it's frustrating, and no parent wants to believe that their genes caused this condition.  All I can say is the levels of grief will be travelled, and at the moment all you can do is make it through another day.  

The good news is that geneticists are working on the theory that Autism Spectrum Disorders are linked to a multi-gene condition, as opposed to a single gene condition.  Perhaps there will be a gene therapy that will come from these studies, perhaps not.  At any rate, the more they work to understand the cause of autism, the less parents will feel like there has to be blame associated with it, whether on themselves or on an "industry" that is "heartless and greedy".  Remember, every company out there has real people working for them, and I bet some of them have children with autism as well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Future of Higher Education: Tighten Your Belt

On October 28th at the University of Utah, President Young will be talking about the future of higher education.  I'm not sure what he will talk about, but I thought I would mention what I found out looking at the current state of affairs in higher education (particularly with state funded schools).  

Essentially, the future is to tighten your belt.  What does this mean?  This means that the current economic climate has put funding into a lockdown.  You have whole states that are looking at huge deficits across the country, and as such they need to start cutting funding somewhere to bring themselves into a less bright color of red (if not in the black).  Traditionally, in periods of economic stress, the first areas to go are education and parks.

So educational facilities are generally asked to be more judicious in their spending.  Some schools are asked to cut as much as 15% from their overall budgets, which generally means that people are let go and departments are consolidated.  I lived through that at the Salt Lake Community College, where my department was essentially wiped out, and people were leaving (or asked to leave) in order to come under budget.  Outsourcing becomes the new standard for many services for which the school couldn't or wouldn't pay.

Currently, from what I have heard through the grape vine, that will not be happening at the University of Utah.  But budgets will still need to be tightened, and costs slashed for all divisions.  Running lean and mean is something that needs to happen in order to better service the student and offer the right programs at the right time to the right people.  

One way to save in the costs of doing business is to develop curriculum in house.  This means creating a class environment from scratch, including all the teaching materials.  I wouldn't do this with Certification courses, such as Linux, Mac, or CCNA (after all, they are specifically designed already, and high income classes), but all of our one-day classes could be redesigned.  

So what is the benefit of curriculum development over purchasing external course materials?  One is your control of the course.  Students are given a guided list of skill sets that are most important for them to know and/or build upon to get to the next level.  It means utilizing the ADDIE process extensively.  I've blogged about this before, and now I'm going to be spending a lot of significant time focusing on these steps as I redesign some of my courses away from expensive books.  

For those of you working in higher education, what have you seen as the future?  Do you see a lot of belt tightening, or are your programs well funded and see no decline?  How about those in private institutions vs. State institutions?  How many of you develop your own course materials in lieu of mainstream published materials?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My Child with Autism Starts Preschool

Today my son starts his first full afternoon in preschool.  The Granite School District has a preschool specifically for children with autism, and I must say I am impressed with what they are doing.  The teacher is currently working on her masters degree in Special Education at the University of Utah, and there are 3 aides working with her in the class of 10 students (they cap the class at 10).  

We attended the Open House yesterday afternoon to meet the aides and the teacher.  All of them were well prepared for Jonathan, and were actually quite impressed with his abilities.  Of course, nothing brings pride up higher for a parent than to hear their child praised.  

The techniques they use in class are pretty standard when it comes to Special Needs.  They focus on backwards chaining and targeted, consistent requests.  

Backwards chaining is pretty self-explanatory.  Children are helped through their tasks until the very end, when they are then able complete the rest of the task by themselves.  A couple of successful completions later, they are then left to do more of the task on their own, always at the end.  This progresses until they can complete the task on their own without any help or prompting for initiation.  

This process is actually very effective overall when working with children of all abilities.  It's the easiest way to feel accomplished while learning a process in that they complete the process each time on their own, while progressively learning how to complete each step of the task.  The child is able to remember more of the task because they have completed the end of the task more times than the beginning, meaning that end of the task becomes second nature.  I've even used the same process while trying to memorize speeches, lessons, or lines in a play.  

The next technique they focus on is one I can't quite remember, at least not what it is called.  The process is pretty clear though.  You make your request in as few positive words as possible (Jonathan, please sit down).  You then count 5 seconds in your head, waiting for the request to register.  If it does not, then you make the request with more urgency (Jonathan, I need you to sit down please), and then wait another 5 seconds.  The final time you make it urgent and let the child know you will help them complete the task (Jonathan, I need you to sit down now and I will help you).  Every request is made within 3 to 5 feet of the child for their comfort, and every request is made positive.  

The distance is necessary, particularly for children with autism.  Autism is usually accompanied with highly acute senses, usually visual or auditory.  As such, children with autism tend to see and hear everything.  You have over 20 people talking at once?  A child with autism can hear them all, often distracting them from a conversation.   As such, it's necessary to help the child focus on one thing.  If you are trying to talk to them from across the room, they will be too distracted to understand, and ignore your requests.  Too close, and they will feel threatened (little tip I got from Super Nanny!).  3 to 5 feet is ideal for children with autism as it keeps them comfortable and allows for focus.  

And then there is the positive aspect.  Children with Autism will often not hear the "don't" or "won't" of a statement.  You can't tell a child with autism "Don't run!" because they just hear "Run!".  This has been the most difficult thing for me to work on.  I'm pretty relaxed in my parenting skills, generally letting my son explore his surroundings and learn without interference.  If it means a little bit of cleanup, that's just part of the experience.  So when I do step in, it's usually to keep him from doing something that could be destructive, damaging, or hurtful.  That usually means saying, "don't".  I've had to rethink my statements for my son, which has been a challenge.  So far, in my one half day of trial, it's been very effective.  

So all in all, I'm very impressed and excited about my son attending a Public school.  The teacher knows what he needs, and I've seen her interact.  We know what his lesson schedule is, and how to help him learn along with the class.  I'm looking forward to working more closely with the classroom, and even taking some time off to see them at work with all 10 students.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Shotgun Principle: Development at it's Best

While listening to NPR this morning, I was thinking of the basic principle of development.  Whether it's new technologies, new processes, or new products, it all seems to be developed through the same principle:  The shotgun effect.  

What is the shotgun effect?  Well, let's say you go hunting for water fowl (duck or goose), and want to be sure you get one.  Say you and your buddy each take a gun, you have a rifle, your buddy has a shotgun.  You split up and start shooting.  Who gets more fowl?  The shotgun.  Why?  Because the shotgun, instead of firing one projectile in a (relatively) straight line, fires a collection of projectiles (shot) in a close group.  As such, it increases the likelihood a hit will come from a shot.  

So what does this have to do with development?  Let's say your company is new to the market.  You have one killer product that is great, and you pour all your investment into this one project.  Then the Economy changes, and your product is no longer a necessary product.  Your company will most likely fail, and the product will go the way of the Turnip-flavored ice cream.  

But let's say your company has that one killer product, but your development team has a number of other ideas to which they would like to devote time.  You give in, allowing your development team to have a small portion of their time to work on their own projects (sound familiar, like Google?).  Because they are developing on Company time their projects provide value to the company depending on whether or not it pans out.  

Now the economy changes again, and your killer product is no longer relevant, and as such goes the way of the beet-flavored popcicle.  All of a sudden you have a collection of products that you can fall back on, because you allowed your development team freedom to work on their own ideas and projects.  Given now the full investment capital from your company, one or several of these little projects become all killer products.  

This same principle is followed by Biology.  Genes have set codes that allow some variation without significant changes.  Yet they also mutate while being copied, and eventually significant variations start to show.  As one set of codes become too limiting in a given environment, another set may thrive, and those genes become dominant.  Whether you believe in Evolution or not, this concept of adaptation and genetic variation has been proven, within species.  Genetic codes follow the shotgun effect in their development, and only those viable characteristics that are the result dictate which codes work.  

So why was I thinking about this?  Because Energy policy and the Economy has been very prevalent in the political spectrum for this shining moment (who knows how the political landscape will change in a few weeks).  We can either put all our eggs in one basket, or allow the shotgun effect to work and invest in all technologies out there that can grow our energy production.  Only those that are the most viable in the given environment will succeed, while others may be waiting in the wings should the environment change.  

Perhaps it's my bias showing through, but I see this happening again in Air travel.  Soon airlines will realize that airships will become less expensive to maintain for passengers than current airplanes, though it will take longer for someone to travel from one place to another.  It will probably start in the small communities that are currently losing airlines because of the low rate of return.  But soon I do see it becoming a more common method of travel and shipping.  After all, it's just one more bit of shot from the gun.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Dark Side of Politics: Us Against Them vs. Responsible Voting

I've always wondered where the taboo in political and religious discussion came from.  It seems that when people start talking about these two deeply held beliefs, they get defensive and are quick to personal attacks. And this year is no different with the political posturing of both parties (again, I say parties instead of candidates).  

Perhaps it is because of the inherent need for Americans to "win".  We live in a very competitive society for which rewards are only seen in a complete and overall domination in a desired area.  As such personal victory is the only thing that matters, whether or not one is actually part of the process.  For example, sports fans are dedicated to their team, often cutting down the fans of other teams because of their "loyalties".

But it doesn't stop there, many a flame war is driven by someone's need to be right, and another's need to prove that they are more knowledgeable.  And so it continues through to other aspects of life.  The need to "race" against each other to see who is the best is deep-rooted in the human psyche, it seems.  

But sports fans and others like them are willing to accept their teams flaws and understand why they didn't win.  And yet this doesn't happen in a political pundits are unable to accept the loss of their candidates.  Why?  What makes the process so difficult to understand?  

The first reason is the process in which elections are held.  People have the right to vote, and people make the decision.  Because it's not really in the power of the candidate to win based on a set guide of criteria, often a defeat can be crushing.  Hence (at least in my mind) the reason why Democrats have been so bitter the past 8 years, and Republicans the 8 years before that:  They just couldn't understand why they lost.  Generally 3rd party candidates are blamed for the loss.  It kind of makes you feel sorry for Ralph Nader and others like him. 

The second reason is because "better" and "best" is such a subjective definition when it comes to politics.  Politics reflect a person's base value system.  One votes for a person based on their perception that the candidate best reflects their values.  Some of these values are based in real issues (i.e., war, economic needs, etc.), and others are based on superficial concerns (gender, race, age, wealth, eye color, etc.).  Either way, the candidate needs to prove to the majority of people around them that they are more likely to rule in their favor.  

Us Against Them
One popular method of getting the support from people is to turn them against "THEM".  No, not the giant ants in a popular 50's horror film, but rather the ambiguous "them" that are against us.  How are they against us?  They don't have our values.  They don't care about us.  They want us to lie in the gutter and die as they manage to steal our money, land, children, and kidneys.  "They" are determined to see us dead and dance merrily on our graves while our children are slaves to their will.  In short, everything we hate they are, and everything we are they hate.  

Is there really a "they"?  I don't think so.  People, in general, are good.  They want to do what is best for all persons, including themselves.  And so they look for ways to do that.  What is the saying?  "The road to hell is paved with good intentions?"  Everyone wants to believe they are doing something for the good of all.  

Politicians (and people in general) have seemed to tap into the fear of a "them" in order to generate more votes.  Talks about "being out of touch with the average American", or "they are just too popular to really know what is going on" merely feed into that concept of a "them" out to destroy us.  It is all based on fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  

Responsible Voting
So how do we combat the FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) around political pressures and make informed decisions?  Educate ourselves!  Get to know the candidates, the parties, and the platforms that are being bandied about.  Use resources to see track records of candidates, look at the issues that are best for you, and who better embodies those issues based on real results.  

Resources that are best are those that are the least biased (notice i say leased biased.  No person can claim they are not biased, nor that their products are not biased).  I find that actual roll call votes from the Congressional sessions are ideal, because you can see how people voted at a given time.  Likewise the same roll call votes from the Senate are just as useful, particularly if you are looking at the candidates.

Next, look at each party individually.  Filter out the partisan bickering and finger-pointing, and get down to the core values that they hold.  Remember that "I'm not another Party" is not a position.  Just because they oppose another party doesn't make that party responsible.  Look at the goals they are trying to accomplish, as well as those that are absent.  Which are the most important to you?  

Finally, I find that it is by far more important to be unaffiliated to a particular party.  This is my personal choice, but it gives me the freedom to look at both parties without worrying about potential loyalty guilt.  Of course there is a drawback:  I can't participate in the primary elections for many parties, and as such have little control over who does end up representing me.  

So, I hope this post has made some sense.  Hopefully I can convince someone out there to look past the rhetoric and look at the real issues at hand.  Don't look at the person, look at the people they will hire to get the job done.  Who will be their staffers?  Who will be in the Cabinet?  Who do they support in Congress, or the Supreme Court?  All these issues are just as important as whether or not they will be the oldest person to sit in the Oval Office, or the first person of their race (or gender).  After all, in this day and age, isn't is time we got b

Saturday, August 23, 2008

New House in Second Life: Two Buildings for Sale

As my neighbors in Second Life have noticed (and been amused, it seems), I have been rather fickle with the the various buildings for my home.  Most of the time I have purchased low-cost structures built by someone else.  All of them have looked great, but none have been what I wanted:  a building that would allow me to cover all the goals for my property while being low-prim enough to meet the requirements of my plot.  

Lately I have been interested in building my own homes.  I wanted to target a more commercial aspect (hoping against hope that my efforts would pay for the land I have purchased).  In order to do so, I would need to build something that is all my own, yet looking professional.  This is also important for me as I wish to have a learning environment for my students to visit for "extra credit", and for office hours.  

I started with an idea for an English Country Pub.  From the many pictures I have pulled from the Internet, I came with a very well constructed approximation of a pub as my first home.  It's currently for sale in my new digs for a price I think reflects the level of construction.  I also built a number of low-prim accessories for the building, which I will have up for sale soon.  

But it was too small for what I wanted, and I didn't feel that it fit in the neighborhood in Caledon Downs.  That, and I didn't have enough room for everything I wanted in the house.  I tried a parachute platform, but since you can fly in Caledon, why would someone want to parachute around the land?  It just didn't make sense.  

So, I found some nice textures for a Victorian Brick building, and set to work.  I built a new Victorian Department Store that is just large enough to fit in my land, and gives me 4 floors to provide a store (first floor), a Cinema currently showing the 1916 version of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (second floor), a third floor with a whiteboard and slideshow viewer for online courses, a fourth floor Restaurant with Fish and Chips and Tea for all, and finally an attic for changing clothes without anyone looking in on me.  

I've since had two neighbors who have not talked to me before comment on how much they like the new building, and are quite impressed with it.  As such I posted it for sale inside for the benefit of anyone else that would like the building.  

Now, I have heard some people mention the fact that they find Second Life a "game" that equates to something similar to Facebook or MySpace.  And all I can say is many Universities are using Second Life as a solution to their physical classroom problems, and there is a reason.  Soon I hope to have a solution for some Technology Education classes to be taught in the new medium.  And this new building is large enough to provide for those classes, and provide a fun environment for students to enjoy.

So if you are new to Second Life, or have land and want a

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rainwater Collection Plans Part 2: New Legislation Allowing Collection??

Again, like with many of my other governmental inquiries through email, I have as yet received a reply from the Water Resources board regarding the avenues available for rainwater collection on an urban farm.  And then, a few weeks ago, I heard a report (or a followup at the very least) that legislators here in Utah are looking into reforming the Water Rights laws to allow for residential rainwater collection.  

So why did it take me so long to reply?  Because I can't find any reference to the followup report on KSL, nor can I find a reference online from any legislator that is taking up the fight.  So in spite of the total lack of references, I'm reassured that someone somewhere is willing to take up this fight.  

Perhaps that is why I am not getting a reply from the Water Resources board.  Perhaps... or perhaps it is because I made the inquiry via email.  Either way, it looks as though sometime in the future it may be possible to build and collect rainwater for use on an urban farm.  Unfortunately I don't know when or who is fighting for this.  Perhaps it's time I contact my local legislator again.  Maybe I'll get a reply.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Fog of Politics: Looking at the Parties

For those of you who have not seen, heard, or read anything regarding news lately, the US is currently in a dead heat for the Presidential election.  The Republicans are getting desperate to hold on to some branch of the government that will give them some leverage as their hold on government slips from their grasp, while the Democrats are feverishly trying to win back what they feel is their right to govern.  Both sides are attacking each other on policy points, and promising the world to potential voters.  

But what exactly are they promising?  It's hard to understand what the Candidates are promising, as they do change either their positions or the flavors of their positions slightly to appeal to the group to whom they are talking.  So what does this mean for the average voter?  What can we do as voters to evaluate the positions of the parties and their candidates? 

One great thing about the modern election system is the use of websites for both truth and propoganda.  The Web is now a very powerful tool a voter can use to evaluate the documented positions of the candidates, and their specific policies.  Below I am going to list the policies and positions of the Republican and Democratic National Committees.  Please note that the decisions to post one party over another is not based on personal preference:  I am unaffiliated, and prefer to remain so.  I am just posting their positions, and someone needs to come first.  

Also note that it is the responsibility of the reader to sift through the promises and look at what is actually possible.  Can the promise be kept?  Are the obstacles, and if so have they been accounted for?  Are the ideas just ideas, or are they realistic?  What helps over the short term, and again in the long term?  What past experience does the candidate, party, and entourage bring to each unique problem?  All these questions and more should be asked by the reader as they go th

Author Note:  I don't like mud-slinging politics, and hate watching ads, read speeches, etc. that attack other candidates.  As such, I will not post such attacks made by candidates to prove their position.  As I told a good Democrat friend of mine back in 2004:  "I'm not Bush" is not a position.  I need substantive policies to look at, and the minute a candidate attacks another candidate on a policy I stop listening.  

The Republican National Committee: 
The RNC website is  On the main page, they have a menu item that covers Issues.  Here are the Issues, as seen by the Republican Party: 

  1. Faith and Values:  Providing support for Faith-based community organizations, Support of the New Freedom Initiative, which provides support of freedom and independence for individuals with disabilities, and Support of Partial Birth Abortion Ban and "Connor's Law".  

  2. Education:  A new high school initiative to help states hold high schools accountable for teaching all students and to provide effective interventions for those students who are not learning at grade level, Increasing reading skills for America’s striving readers by providing a focus on improving the reading skills of high school students who read below grade level, Accelerating mathematics and science achievement dedicated to support projects to accelerate the mathematics achievement of all secondary students, and especially low-achieving students, Accelerating student achievement with Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, and Promoting Scholastic Achievement with State Scholars.   

  3. Energy:  The President's Advanced Energy Initiative promotes America's four main sources of electricity: coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewable sources, Nuclear Power is abundant and affordable, clean, and safe, President Bush is encouraging the research and development of Clean-Coal technologies, which is by far America’s most abundant and affordable energy resource, and President Bush's FY2007 budget proposed $44 million in funding for wind energy research and other alternative and renewable resource.  

  4. Healthcare:  The President's plan will help more Americans afford health insurance by reforming the tax code with a standard deduction for health insurance - like the standard deduction for dependents, and The Affordable Choices Initiative will help make basic private health insurance available and will provide additional help to Americans who cannot afford insurance (These two policies will work together to help more Americans afford basic private coverage), and The President's proposal will lower taxes for millions of Americans who now purchase health insurance on their own, making their insurance more affordable.  

  5. Jobs and Economy:  Restraining spending by the Federal Government, Working with Congress to pass legislation that promotes economic growth - including making his tax cuts permanent, Reforming the institutions fundamental to American society, so that they can meet the realities of our new century, and Strengthening high schools and the secondary education system.  

  6. Legal Reform:  Securing the ability of injured patients to get quick, unlimited compensation for their "economic losses," including the loss of ability to provide unpaid services like care for children or parents, and Ensuring recoveries for non-economic damages do not exceed a reasonable amount ($250,000), Reserving punitive damages for egregious cases where they are justified, and limiting damages to reasonable amounts.   

  7. Safety and Security:  Strengthening our Military, Deploying a missile defense system, Strengthening our ties NATO, and Protecting the homeland and acheiving a sustained level of success and progress in Iraq.  

  8. Social Security:  In 1950, there were 16 workers to support every one beneficiary of Social Security. Today, there are only 3.3 workers supporting every Social Security beneficiary, In 2008 - baby boomers will begin to retire, and Under the current system, today's 30-year-old worker will face a 26% benefit cut when he or she reaches normal retirement age.    

  9. Tax Reform:  Restraining spending by the Federal Government, Reforming the tax code, as the President believes that America's taxpayers deserve, and our future economic prosperity demands, a simpler, fairer, more pro-growth system, and Taxes should be applied fairly, and reform should recognize the importance of homeownership and charity in our American society.  

Those are the published issues the Republican National Committee are dedicated to accomplishing.  The Democratic National Committee, located at, has their own agenda: 

  1. Honest Government:  The Democratic Party is committed to real ethics reform and meaningful campaign finance reform that protects our rights and ensures that elected officials act ethically -- not just within the law, but within the spirit of the law. To do so, we will create and enforce rules that demand the highest ethics from every public servant, sever unethical ties between lawmakers and lobbyists, and establish clear standards that prevent the trading of official business for gifts.  
    Please note that I have cut whole sections out of their original paragraphs due to irrelevant comparisons to another party (as in both parties have struggled with ethics in government, not just one).  

  2. Real Security:  [Democrats] will protect Americans at home and lead the world by telling the truth to our troops, our citizens and our allies. We believe in a strong national defense that is both tough and smart, recognizing that homeland security begins with hometown security.  Democrats have a plan that is comprehensive-- from repairing our military, to winning the war on terror, to protecting our homeland security, to ensuring success in Iraq and freeing America of its dependence on foreign oil--and it will finally prepare America for the security needs of the 21st Century. And we honor the sacrifices our troops, their families and veterans by making sure we take care of them when they come home.Democrats are unwavering in our commitment to keep our nation safe. For Democrats, homeland security begins with hometown security. That's why we led the fight to create the Department of Homeland Security and continue to fight to ensure that our ports, nuclear and chemical plants, and other sensitive facilities are secured against attack and support increased funding for our first responders and programs like the COPS program so we keep our communities safe. We want to close the remaining gaps in our security by enacting the 9/11 Commission recommendations. 

  3. Energy Independence:  [Democrats] will create a cleaner, greener and stronger America by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, eliminating billions in subsidies for oil and gas companies and use the savings to provide consumer relief and develop energy alternatives, and investing in energy independent technology.  By clearing the pathways to innovation, investing in our workers and infrastructure, and providing American consumers with broader, more responsible choices, the Democratic plan will provide the tools to help move America forward, toward real energy security for the 21st century.  
    Again, this was edited, though not for partisan comparisons.  Much of the statement here is simply stating the obvious.  For a full version of this agenda item, visit the page. 

  4. Economic Prosperity and Educational Excellence:  We will create jobs that stay in America and restore opportunity for all Americans, starting with raising the minimum wage, expanding Pell grants and making college tuition tax deductible. We also believe in budget discipline that reduces our deficit.  Democrats believe that the most effective way to increase opportunity for our families is a high quality, good paying job. The Democratic Party supports fair trade agreements that raise standards for all workers here and abroad, while making American businesses more competitive, and we don’t believe in tax giveaways that reward companies for moving American jobs overseas.  We also believe in balanced budgets and paying down our national debt, [partisan attack edited out]. We want to restore the budget discipline of the 1990s that helped eliminate deficits and spur record economic growth.  Democrats know that the key to expanding opportunity is to provide every child with a strong foundation of education. We will also help expand educational opportunities for college by making college tuition tax deductible, expanding Pell Grants, and cut student loan interest rates.

  5. Affordable Healthcare:  We will join 36 other industrialized nations in making sure everyone has access to affordable health care, starting by fixing the prescription drug program and investing in stem cell and other medical research.  Democrats are committed to making sure every single American has access to affordable, effective health care coverage. We want to fix the disastrous Medicare Part D and ensure our seniors can afford their prescription drugs.  We also believe in investing in life saving stem cell and other medical research that offers real hope for cures and treatment for millions of Americans.

  6. Retirement Security:  We will ensure that a retirement with dignity is the right and expectation of every single American, starting with pension reform, expanding saving incentives and preventing the privatization of social security.  Democrats believe that after a life of hard work, you earn a secure retirement. Our commitment to protecting the promise of Social Security is absolute.  Democrats also recognize that Americans rely on more than just Social Security for a secure and dignified retirement. Democrats will continue to fight for genuine pension reform that protects employees’ financial security from future Enron-style abuse. We also want to work on new ways to help hard-working Americans create retirement savings.

  7. The Environment:  The Democratic Party believes that it is our responsibility to protect America's extraordinary natural resources. The health of our families and the strength of our economy depend on our stewardship of the environment.  We reject the false choice between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. Farming, fishing, tourism, and other industries require a healthy environment. New technologies that protect the environment will create new high-paying jobs. A cleaner environment means a stronger economy.  Far too many Americans live with unhealthy air or water quality. Democrats will fight to strengthen the laws that ensure we have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. And Democrats will make sure these laws are enforced.  Democrats know that a sensible energy policy is key to a strong economy, our national security, and a clean environment. Democrats are committed to the next generation of affordable and renewable energy for the 21st century and to conservation measures that will immediately reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

  8. Civil Rights and Justice:  Democrats are unwavering in our support of equal opportunity for all Americans. That's why we’ve worked to pass every one of our nation’s Civil Rights laws, and every law that protects workers. Most recently, Democrats stood together to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.  On every civil rights issue, Democrats have led the fight. We support vigorous enforcement of existing laws, and remain committed to protecting fundamental civil rights in America.

  9. Election Reform:  A fundamental tenet of our democracy is the right to vote and have that vote counted. We must be vigilant in protecting this right and ensuring that our voting system is fair for every American.  Democrats are determined to reform the voting system in this country so that it includes verification, accountability, and accuracy. It is imperative that we modernize election equipment, and guarantee access to polls with common sense reforms such as Election Day registration, shorter lines, and early voting. The Democratic Party is committed to election reform and will fight for federal standards that restore confidence in our voting process.

  10. Immigration:  America deserves realistic solutions to address border security and immigration reform, consistent with American values. That means reform that is comprehensive, tough and smart but also fair.  Democrats are fighting for laws that will:
    Secure our borders
    Protect all U.S. workers and their wages & prevent exploitation of immigrant workers
    Reunite families
    Allow immigrants who pay taxes and don't have trouble with the law a path to earn the opportunities and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.

That was the list of the Democratic National Committee agenda items.  I have a lot to say about some of them, but I'll leave it for another post.  Due to the length of this article, I'll leave the candidates to next week.