Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Merry Christmas to All

I have two favorite traditional holidays:  Hallowe'en, and Christmas.  Christmas to me means spending time with family and friends, eating good food, and focusing on the fun and religious aspects of the holiday.  I continually go back to the German for Christmas, as they originated many of our traditions (thanks to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria).  The Christmas tree, the holiday confections (though I do occasionally make a French yule log), and the idea that it is a sacred night (Weinacht, in German).  The Scots traditionally have had a rather subdued Christmas tradition that focuses on this same concept of a holy, sacred night a long time ago in Bethlehem.  I'm not going to quibble about exact dates, because it doesn't matter.  What matters is the message of the Christmas season.

So this Christmas, spend time with your family in a slow, fun night.  Don't worry about presents, going all out with food or dectorating.  Focus on your connection with each other, how much you love each other, and the fun you have together.  Because that, to me, is the true Spirit of Christmas. 

Frohe Weinacht alle!  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Dickens Festival

In years long past, my family would make the trek to the Salt Lake Dickens Festival at the Utah State Fairgrounds.  We would pay our admission, and enter into Victorian England.  The vendors were all in period costumes, street players would be out and about, and you may even run into Charles Dickens or Qween Victoria on your amblings through shops.  Then, for reasons later explained but then unexplicable, it went away.  There wasn't a Dickens Festival anymore, having moved to Southern Utah, and a family tradition was gone.  

Until recently!  While it has now closed it's doors for the year, the Dickens Festival, which started the first weekend in December and ran until just this last Saturday, was everything I remembered.  They had live theater productions of Oliver and Scrooge (both shortened to 1 hour, but done very well), and they were fun to watch.  Even my son, with his Autism, was thrilled with the performance of Oliver.  Of course it helps when you know the directoress, and a couple of cast members, but he still enjoyed it with the crowds and all.  It was a good experience for him.  

The vendors were typical fair vendors with slightly higher priced items, but there were a couple that stuck out for me.  The bread vendor had some great artisan breads that were fabulous.  The gourmet popcorn vendor had an amazing assortment of interesting flavors (I really liked the coconut and curry popcorn!).  There was a wooden toy vendor that had a wooden top with a string and a handle for launching that provided so much joy for my son that I had to buy one.  And lastly, there was a vendor for women's dresses that were decidedly Steampunk in nature.  I don't mean glued-on gears or that nonsense, but rather a modern take on the bodice, the length and cut of the fabric, and colors.  I was impressed.  And to top it all off, they had a carriage ride for those willing to brave the foggy air and cold (gee, just like London!), reindeer, and a Father Christmas for the kids. 

While it has closed down for the year, it's never too late to check out some of the great theater clips kept by the staff.  They can be found at for those who are interested.  Also, if you would like to volunteer next year, that's the place to look!  There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes as well as on stage, and they are thrilled for any who would like to help make every year a success.  

Thanks for everyone who brought this Christmas tradition back for me and my family, and many others across the valley.  The Dickens Festival is a little-known holiday treasure that needs more recognition.

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

Article first published as The True Cost of Autism: It's Not Just Money on Technorati.

Child with a Santa hat on.A lot has been made in the debate about Autism and healthcare, because of the potential burden it will place on insurance companies, who will most likely trickle that cost down to everyone. I'm not going to get into the debate as to whether or not insurance coverage for Autism is right or justified, but rather I want to talk about the costs of Autism. Or, more specifically, the overall toll Autism plays on families.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is the only therapy or "treatment" that seems to work with children with Autism. It uses the Behavioralist method of teaching by encouraging correct behaviors with rewards. It also uses the Environmentalist teaching method, in that practitioners eliminate distractions from the classroom environment, making it easier for the children to learn. It's great, when done correctly, and it can be expensive.

In order for it to work, you need to have a psychologist on staff, your therapist, an occupational therapist (manages sensory needs as well as motor skills), and a teacher. Most often your staff to student ratio comes very close to 1:1, and that's expensive. These are all highly trained individuals that have worked hard, studied hard, and spent a lot of money to get their education customized to work with these children.

Now, many good school districts, much like the one we are currently in, have great programs that provide all this as part of the Public school system. Most do not, from what I understand. Therefore parents need to go to special private schools, often costing them between $28,000 to $50,000 a year per student. If they have two children, it's doubled, and so on for each child on the Spectrum. It's not the most encouraging sign.

And, of course, these schools and supportive school districts are few and far between. That means either driving long distances, or moving to locations that have support for children on the Spectrum. This limits job mobility, housing opportunities, and a feeling of control that many people have naturally. That goes to piece of mind, and is a hidden stress point on families with children on the Spectrum.

But therapy isn't the only thing that is expensive! When the child goes home, they need to continue the same routines that they are being taught at school. Therefore parents need to modify the home environment to match, as much as possible, the school environment. For some families, that means providing a "sensory room", where children can pull out of their fog by being provided the sensory stimulation or deprivation they need, depending on their sensory needs. So dark rooms, soft music, indoor swings, trampolines, full body massagers, and a ball pit are just some of the things that can help children. Some of those things are pretty cheap, but others can be expensive.

Then there are utilities. One interesting sensory need of our child is a need for showers, regularly. He loves the feel of the water on his whole body, and needs that feeling of being encompassed. If we lived by the ocean, he would spend all his time at the beach. But here in the Rockies, we have showers. Of course, living in a desert, all that water is not cheap, and we have resorted to planting low-water plants in order to save as much as we can for our son. Other children may need constant music or massagers working on their whole body, and that uses a lot of power.

Then, of course, there is emotional toll. Putting aside a "judging" public and their need to judge other's parenting skills, it's emotionally draining to chase down a child that doesn't look you in the eye, doesn't want to be touched, and try to get them to perform their tasks. This constant wearing down takes it's toll emotionally on parents, and at one point it was believed that Autism in the family raises the risk of divorce by 80% (I question that personally). While I don't believe it is a threat for marriages as much (particularly since both parents feel needed), it can cause stress with extended family. Add to that the Holidays, and you have quite a stressful situation for parents on the Spectrum.

This isn't a cry for pity, or a call for social "justice" by making other people give money to support the few. It's simply a call to the realities of having a child with Autism. Add to that the satisfaction of seeing your child perform feats worthy of a child twice their age mentally, those fleeting moments of having a child focus on you and smile, and the visions of a child who improves at school every day eventually becoming a successful contributor to society. All these things bring joy to the family, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Apple Predictions: My Wishlist

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

  1. Apple TV for Gaming:  Right now, the Apple TV does video and audio streaming, with some screen sharing when using an iPad 2 or iPhone 4S.  That's nice and all, but I would really like to see the Apple TV do more.  It's got the guts with it's A4 processor, and with iOS, it could provide a nice gaming platform.  All it needs is some sort of controller, be it built into the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad or a new remote control that is WiFi enabled for controlling games.  It would require a whole new thought process in Apple gaming development without multi-touch, but it would bring the set top out of the video/audio only and bring it into the realm of gaming.  It may require a hardware upgrade, but it hasn't been refreshed in a long time. 
  2. iPad with Retina Display:  This is what is keeping me from upgrading to the iPad 2.  If I'm going to invest in something that is an upgrade from what I have, it needs to be a serious upgrade.  Right now, my iPad does everything I want, with the exception of having that Retina display for reading ease.  This is probably a no-brainer, with reports coming in that the next iPad (iPad 3?) will have the Retina display I want.  Good, because it's on my list for this next year.  ^_^ 

  3. Rack-mounted Mac Pros:  With the demise of the Xserve, which concerned a lot of my trainees, Apple no longer has an "enterprise" server for their Server app.  While the Mac Mini has pretty much taken the spot, a really beefy server can be handy from time to time.  Right now, that's the Mac Pro, but it's large, doesn't fit in a rack well, and doesn't look like a rack server.  Make it rack-mountable, and server farms using Apple will be happy.  

  4. Apple Blade Servers:  This one is totally coming from my wish list, but with the miniaturization that has gone into the Mac Mini, is an Apple Blade Server so far-fetched?  It could be something as simple as a bunch of Mac Mini's tied together with Thunderbolt cables, all in the same chassis (so it would look nice).  The potential is definitely there, it just needs the market.  

  5. Corporate Apple Cloud:  iCloud is great for providing access to your iTunes purchases and documents.  But many companies would like to keep that to themselves, and setting up a cloud within their network and plugging it into network desktops (virtual desktops?) would be awesome.  Cloud computing has a lot of different definitions, so this is not likely to happen by 2012.  Still, a corporate cloud that will allow access to any corporate licensed software, protected by login and LDAP/Mobile Management permissions and standardized across multiple servers?  I can see that as a huge bonus for corporations looking to move to Apple.  It would also justify an Apple Blade Server, by the way.  ^_^  

  6. Siri for iPad:  I can understand Siri being removed as an app for all iOS devices and being released, integrated, exclusively for the iPhone 4S because it is in beta.  But it would be nice, perhaps with the next iOS update, to give all devices access to Siri.  It would depend on when the beta is over, I suppose, but that would be awesome, particularly for the iPad.

  7. LTE Support:  While I will most likely not upgrade my iPhone 4 unless the iPhone 5 is a killer product (not sure how likely that will be), I would like to see an iPhone 5 with LTE support, as well as an iPad 3 with the same LTE support.  I would like fast, responsive data (preferably with a decent price tag for a lot of usage), and it looks like the best option out there is going to be LTE.  I know there are a lot of problems with offering some 4G technologies (like battery life, for one), so I'm not holding my breath.  But with carriers now rolling out their LTE networks, you would think it would be an easy thing to do.  

  8. Cable-Cutter Apps for Apple TV: Netflix and YouTube/Vimeo are good starts, as are the various "channels" that come with NBA, MLB, NHL, etc. for the Apple TV, but I would like to see other offerings that will, if not exclusively then combined, let me cut my cable connection for TV.  Even it that means signing up with a cable company on a per channel basis for live streaming through my internet connection, so be it!  With the rise of Internet streaming, a cable company has become less critical beyond providing Internet service.  Perhaps with less cable TV, the Internet portion of my Cable experience will improve.  It also reduces the number of set top boxes for my TV to one:  the Apple TV.   That way I only pay for the channels I want, not channels I will never look at ever again.  Another way to accomplish this?  Subscription service per show.  I realize there are a lot of players in this, so it won't be easy, but it would be great for the end user.  

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Passive Marketing


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


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


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


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


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


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

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

Article first published as Autism's Big News: There's A Manual! on Technorati.

Boy panning for gold at Mormon Battalion monument.
When my son was born, the hospital (now no longer there) offered a free book on childcare to each new parent. I used to joke that it was his "manual", one that we could refer to when something went wrong. Well, it came in handy as a new father when I would panic about hiccups, or other minor things. The manual made all the difference in giving me the piece of mind a new father really needed.

Three years later, when my son was diagnosed with Autism, the one thing we didn't have was a manual. Autism was mentioned in a lot of books, and under general terms, and the web was (and still is) littered with pseudo-science sites and theories based on anecdotal evidence that confused more than clarified when it came to child care. The books we were given as reference were either too expensive, unavailable, or written for psychologists in mind. It took months of research for me and my wife to sift out the truth and fact from fiction and unknowns, and judge for ourselves what was best for our son. How I longed for that manual to help me understand what it was I needed to do for my son.

Well, recognizing the need, the National Autism Center has published A Parent’s Guide to Evidence-based Practice and Autism, a manual for parents through the murky waters of Autism. It's based on research data that has been peer-reviewed, and written for the parent in mind. And the best part is it's a free eBook, and therefore available to everyone. I recommend you download it now.

What does it cover? Well, it explains what Autism is: a disorder. It outlines the basis of the research, treatments available, the professional findings, the importance of professional judgement in collecting data (not critical for family reading, but interesting), and how treatment can be tailored to the family. I've breezed through it so far, and find the information useful. I hope to have a more in depth review of the book in future.

So, if you are interested in learning more about Autism, this book is an excellent resource. It's accurate in it's data, written well, and free.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

LinkedIn: A Fresh Look at an Old Friend

I'm not a fan of networking for networking's sake.  I don't like trying to build relationships based on a desire to get ahead, but rather to make friends.  That being said, LinkedIn has been a great resource to see what my friends have been doing professionally, and a great way to connect to friends that don't use other social networking platforms.  It also is void of the dreaded games that have become a plague to Facebook (and why I don't look at facebook much if I can help it).  Other than that, I haven't seen a lot of need to use LinkedIn, and it has become an infrequent visit beyond reading update emails. 

But it's expanded, and in a very good way.  Today I got an email from LinkedIn asking me to fill in some skills that I have.  As I went through the skills that they had listed for one in my field, I realized that they were building a job-hunting filter for me based on skills in my now virtual resume.  These skills were then linked to jobs that were posted by companies both within and without my circle of contacts.  These are targeted leads on new positions, and that's a powerful lead for job seekers.  

For instance, if I were looking for a job, I could go to all my contacts and tell them to foward anything on to me that they think I would be good at.  The problem is, they all have a different view of what I can accomplish based on their personal relationship to me.  So while their network may have a list of jobs available for which I would qualify, they are not aware of those jobs or aware of the qualifications that I have.  So it's a fatal problem that personal networking can have.  But with this method that LinkedIn has created, it allows me to find any jobs posted through the social networking site that caters to the qualifications I set.  Therefore I see the jobs for which I am qualified, regardless of the experience my network contacts may have had with me in the past or present. 

Let me be clear here, I'm not looking for a job!  I'm quite happy working for the University of Utah, and see it as a great opportunity to build a great program here.  But should I ever want a new job, it would make sense to use a more efficient method of searching, and LinkedIn provides that service.  Of course it requires potential employers to use LinkedIn when posting jobs, but I think with this innovation LinkedIn has shown itself to be a very effective method to find qualified people, if not the most effective method.  

So for all those out there looking for positions, have you considered looking through LinkedIn?  If not, perhaps it's time you did. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

December 7th: A Day that has Lived in Infamy

I haven't lived long enough to remember that fatal December 7th when so many of our Navy sank in an unprovoked attack.  I can't claim to understand that feeling, though the closest that I can come to is the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11th.  But that doesn't mean I can't feel the impact from that infamous day in my life.  My grandfather, one of 6 brothers, was a welder and was moved to Oregon to build Liberty and Victory ships to carry soldiers and goods across the Pacific.  My other grandfather, unable to join the Army because of health, worked on the land to grow food for the soldiers abroad, and those at home left to support their families with increasing rations.  My father was born during World War II, and grew up with it imprinted by his father in how to appreciate his freedom.  My wife's grandfather served aboard ship during World War II, while her other grandfather fought in Europe.  

So many members of my family, immediate and extended, have served in the military in one way or another because of the failed promise of World War I that was World War II.  The land here in the United States is scarred by the remnants of the internment camps for Japanese Americans, one of which was Topaz near Delta, Utah.  One cannot go to Hawaii and not visit Pearl Harbor, the beginning of the war for the United States, and the awakening of the United States as a major military and economic power in the world.  

There are so many points in history that can tie back to that one fateful day, and so many lives that have been effected.  It's hard to forget such an event, when it penetrates so deeply into your life, and becomes a part of you.  

Was I there for the bombing?  No.  But do I feel it's effect, even 70 years later?  Oh, definitely.  I think of the sacrifice, the courage, and the fear that shaped the emerging United States, and how it developed into the world of which I am now a part.  I am grateful for the sacrifice, impressed and humbled by that courage, and ashamed by the fear that gripped my nation during that period.  Perhaps one day the promise of world peace will be reached.  Until then, I thank those who sacrifice so much for their country's freedom, and the freedom of others.  

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Autism and Medical Check-ups

Article first published as Autism and Medical Check-ups on Technorati.

Great-uncle with his grand-nephew.  Family can help calm a child with Autism as well.
So often we may find ourselves focused so much on one particular disorder or illness, and forget that people can still get common colds and cavities.  And that's the same for my son.  I often find myself so caught up on trying to teach him behaviors, focus on speaking and spelling (he's becoming a wizz on the iPod Touch virtual keyboard), that I forget that he has other needs too.  And, unfortunately for him, he inherited my baby teeth and now has at least one massive cavity. 

Because my son has Autism and is non-verbal, he can't tell us that his jaw hurts when he tries to eat.  So we need to rely on body language to help guide us.  It's not easy, because any behavior caused by continuous pain could also be caused by his need for constant deep pressure.  It's difficult to tell what the problem is, and how to best address it.  It wasn't until I started looking into his mouth that I noticed a large cavity forming.  

Now knowing that my son has a cavity, a new anxiety can take hold: the dentist.  People generally don't like going to the dentist, and people with Autism like it even less.  There is the lighting necessary to see within the mouth, and those who are light sensitive can have problems with that.  There is the physical sensation of someone placing their fingers and objects within their mouths, and those with sensory issues may not like that.  And then there is the need to sit back in a chair for long periods of time, or sit in a waiting room for long periods of time, and that's just not fun at all.  So a visit to the dentist is something I have been dreading. 

Luckily, within our area there is a dentist that specializes in treating children with Autism.  They are sensitive to their special needs, and can cater to them accordingly.  I'm not sure how, though our first appointment is this week so I will find out soon enough.  It was a relief to my mind to even find a dentist willing to make the effort to work with a child with such sensory needs.  

But what about other check-ups?  The dentist isn't the only place where children with Autism can have a hard time.  What about the doctor's office?  You have the same problem:  long waits in the waiting room, and then again in the exam room.  Then getting poked and prodded by the doctor, injections by the medical assistants (when necessary), and bright lights getting shined in places where bright lights generally don't go (ears, eyes, and mouth among others).  It's a sensory nightmare, and getting an impatient pediatrician can make it all the more frustrating.  

Again, luckily for us we have a pediatrician that understands our child's needs, and can cater to them.  Part of it is because he delivered our son, and part of it is because he works with my wife.  But also, he is a very patient man who is willing to make the effort to make sure our son is comfortable.  

But that doesn't mean every visit has been event-free.  One time we took our son into the Urgent Care for a quick check-up, and he was not handling the experience very well.  He didn't feel well, and wanted to run around and get his energy out.  Another person, someone bringing in their grandchild for something, became disgusted with my son's seemingly undisiplined behavior.  She voiced as much, under her breath, perhaps in hopes what we wouldn't hear, or perhaps wanting us to hear.  I, of course, heard, and just when I was about to explain to her our situation, we were called in.  So, unfortunately, I was unable to educate this person to the trials of visiting such a structured environment with a child on the Spectrum, and what kind of effect it has on his behavior.  

So what is it about the office that makes it so difficult for a child with Autism?  Well, children with Autism generally (not always) have more neurons in their brain than most neurotypical children.  These neurons remain active, and often do not prune at age 2 like most neurotypical children.  As such, when they get a sensory message along those neurons, all those extra neurons fire at once.  Imagine, for a second, someone turned on a strobe light in the room you are in, turned up the stereo and television to a very loud setting, and ran them both at the same time.  Then add some sandpaper for the walls, gravel floors and seats, and painted everything in bright, swirling colors (imagine the 60's, but brighter).  The strobe lighting represents the minute flickering of the florecent lights.  The stereo and television reflect a sensitivity to hearing, and hearing multiple conversations at once.  The sandpaper walls, gravel floors and such represent the sensitivity to touch.  What is perfectly normal to a neurotypical child is amplified x number of times over for a child with Autism.  And add to that a long, unpredictible wait (healthcare professionals can and often do get behind in their schedules), and it becomes almost intolerable.  

So what can you as a parent do to help relieve the situation for your child?  Well, often times finding a provider who is aware of your child's condition can be the best step.  They will do their best to schedule you when it's most convenient, and results in the shortest wait time.  Next, if your child has a sensitivity to light, often sunglasses or dimming the room's lighting can relieve the tension.  If sound is a problem, giving them something to focus on, such as music with headphones, can help calm them down significantly.  Some children need something to chew on (gum, a hose, plastic toys, something), while others just need someone to give them bear hugs (deep pressure on the skin and muscles).  It may be any one of these, or a combination, which is why as a parent we are the best judges as to what works and doesn't work for our children.  That being said, if you work with occupational therapists, they may have ideas you can try. 

So if you perhaps see a parent with a child that seems to be behaving with no regard to that parent, it's quite possible that child has Autism.  Offer to help if they are obviously in stress, otherwise just a smile and a nod to let them know you understand works wonders.  Parents are often more comforted by the nod than by anything else that you can do.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

OS X Lion Server Essentials 10.7 Workbook is Available!

For those of you who are looking for Apple training for OS X Lion, particularly if you have a Server, the classes are now available for registration, and the workbook is available for those classes. And while I am excited that the classes are available and are being taught (some by me, of course), there is another reason: I contributed to the writing of the Workbook. I can share this now with the publication of the workbook, and I'm excited. It's the first time anything I have contributed to has been published, and it's a very good book.

The process was longer than I expected for such a small contribution, but it was a great experience. I was contacted by the project manager/official author of the book to help with the exercises. I chose one chapter, and got to work in my spare time rewriting the exercises to work with the release of Lion. My contributions, with screenshots, were then sent on to the technical editor for review, and he made a ton of excellent suggestions and corrections. I'm not the best at taking criticism, but every one was correct, though not all the suggested changes needed to be made (instead different changes were made). It then went on to editing, where more screenshots were taken, updated, etc. My part ended with the Beta class where Mac OS X experts who had more experience than I did got together and tested out the workbook. More suggestions and corrections were made by the Author, and the final book was compiled.

The publishers and editor at PeachPit were excellent to work with, and the staff at Apple were fabulous. Arek Dreyer, the author of the Workbook and the Reference book, was great to work with, as was Adam Karneboge the technical editor. I loved the experience and would do it again in a heartbeat.

For those of you who are interested in purchasing the workbook, I'm afraid to say the price may be more than you think: It's only available from Apple Authorized Training Centers, and only distributed to students that take the Lion 201 training course ($1500.00). But you get three days of training in the bargain, learn how to use Apple Server to manage a domain, website, file sharing, and Mobile Device Management for Macs and iOS devices. Classes at the University of Utah start in the Spring.  Check them out!  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Kindle Fire: First Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

Schools, Teachers, Autism: Working with the Specialists

Boy with Autism writing on a magnetic tablet.
Article first published as Schools, Teachers, Autism: Working with the Specialists on Technorati.

This week we had our second (and my first) parent-teacher conference with my son's first grade teacher.  She just started, has a Master's degree in Special Education, and is very excited to be working with her group of students.  But this year, so far, she has been struggling with my son.  That struggle has not been because of his inability to learn, but rather her struggle is trying to find ways to connect with him and teach him.  

We discussed how we work with him at home, and what they see as a barrier in my son's development.  It seems that he is highly visual and tactile, and needs a lot of deep pressure stimulation to calm down enough to perform in class.  We talked about strategies for working with him, ideas that would be tried over the next couple of days, and what we can do at home to help him focus and work on learning.  

In the past I had talked about how I get defensive about my son and the work we do with him at home.  But it took a good talk with his Kindergarten teacher and the school psychologist (who tested his IQ and was frustrated, because there was no way to more accurately test him until he is more verbal) to understand that they were there to help us help them.  They were the experts in special education, behavior techniques, and tools necessary to teach him, but needed us as parents to use their methods to reinforce the lessons.  It seems odd to say this, as I teach for a living, but we as parents always want to "know what's best" for our children.  And sometimes, we don't. 

Perhaps that is why so many parents are now quick to blame teachers and schools for their children's failures.  Instead of working with the teacher, they fight them for "judging" their child.  It's frustrating for teachers, coddles children into thinking they don't have to work if they just make a big enough stink about every little grade, and parents are teaching their children that being a bully will get you what you want in the short term.  

So what can we, as parents, do to help our children develop and learn?  Something I learned from my parents, you go to the parent teacher conferences with a goal:  learn what you can do at home to encourage learning.  It's more than just forcing your children to do homework.  It requires discussion about the topics, making games that reinforce learning concepts, and instilling a desire to read.

When we came back from our consulation, we came back with specific goals: 

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

Some of these skills may seem pretty basic for children in first grade, but they are common problems children with Autism have.  But the one thing that got me excited is the fact that my son is getting to the point of being mainstreamed in at least math.  It will make his uncle proud, I'm sure, and it thrills me to know that he is focused on learning as much as he can.  And with our take-aways from the meeting, we have a way forward to help him.  

Autism is a scary business, particularly if you are doing it alone.  Having the support of your child's teacher and the school staff is something you definitely need.  Add into that a supportive family and, if possible, religious or social community, and you can see dramatic changes in your child's development.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

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

It seems I have a lot of traffic coming in to my dual boot process I created with Winclone as the cloning tool. Unfortunately, Winclone is no longer being developed, and it was an imperfect process at best. No, the needed to be a better way to make an image, and I was determined to find it.

Luckily, I had a comment from another user that put me on the scent to Clonezilla. I had another suggestion from our IT manager about using dd as my imaging of choice. Well, I liked the idea of using built in tools with OS X instead of using another operating system, so I gave it a try. I also tried Clonezilla, which is well documented in a previous post. Which did I like? Let me compare them and then I will give you my conclusion.

dd command

I love the command line. It's clean, it's powerful, and it's the reason I loved Mac OS X when I first saw it. S the idea of using a command line tool to do an image was pretty appealing. So, I took my imaged computer (MacBook Pro 2007 with 100 GB hard drive), and gave it a try. After booting up to target disk mode, I ran the dd command on my computer to copy the entire hard drive and then restore. The copy process took 9 hours, as did the restore. It worked perfectly, but the time delay was just too much to make it worth while. I kept the iso file I had created, but continued my search.


Clonezilla is a boot disk that uses Linux, some very clever scripting, and Partclone to create your images. It's similar to Norton Ghost, but unlike Ghost it supports the HFS+ file system native to Mac OS X. I tried two methods: imaging the entire drive with the partitions, and just the Windows partition. Both worked, though I really like the first method for lab deployment. The drawback is the reliance on an install disk or USB key to start the image process.

But the benefits? Huge time savings, even over the NetBoot solution that Apple uses natively. It's not as flexible, but it does handle unicasting better than Apple's tool. How does it do it? By breaking up the install image into multiple tarballs and delivering them as needed to the image. It seems to be a sort of hacked multicasting method, and works very well.

So my method of choice? Clonezilla. If you want the step by step process, check out my previous post on the subject, and let me know what you think. It worked for me and my lab!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Perspectives in Autism

A boy in the winter garden, his back to the camera.
I find it funny that other parents who hear or notice that I have a child with Autism get emotional. They try to empathize, or feel sorry for me, and often wonder how it is we as parents manage to function with a child on the Spectrum. The truth is, we don't know, because we don't know any different,

I'm writing this post after thinking about perspectives. My train of thought ran thusly:
1. A picture of the Utah desert, with it's beautiful sandstone formations and Delicate Arch.
2. A flashback to a picturesque scene of a desert in China from a favorite movie.
3. Now wondering if one could tell the difference, particularly if only given an artistic close up shot of the sand.
4. A realization I had after living in Germany for a couple years: people and places are basically the same wherever you go.
5. Does that apply to parenting?

You see, I adhere to the old Stoic philosophy that nothing in life is unbearable, and that our trials are individual in that they happen to us and not someone else. Should we receive a trial or stumbling block, we adapt to the changing circumstances as best we can by learning and adjusting.

As such, while other parents complain of very talkative children that tend to say too much, we are eager to hear any word from ours. While other parents are worried about performance in school and doing homework, we concern ourselves with repeatedly teaching our son life skills so he can function as a normal adult when he grows up. It's all about the perspective.

So, for this reason, I don't consider myself an overly tried parent. I have very well behaved children that occasionally melt down at inconvenient times, but otherwise are loving and excited to see the world. I look for the positive side of his gifts with his natural mechanical mind and quick grasp of just about any concept (though I would like it if he didn't try to challenge those concepts for validity quite so often).

Now, there are many parents out there who have a child on the spectrum at is more severely challenged than my son, and I realize that. My problems are my own, and I wouldn't want to wish them on anyone else, nor would I want anyone else's problems. My focus is on my family and their welfare, just as anyone else's focus should be on their families. My trials are my own, and for that I am grateful. To have to deal with the trials of other families on top of my own might stretch my abilities.

But then, “Nothing happens to any man which he is not formed by nature to bear" (Marcus Aurelius Caesar).

Siri: Why It's Great for Private Devices Only

Star Trek has colored all our technological expectations for years.  Before the cell phone, there was the communicator.  Before the iPad there was the PADD.  Now, with the release of Siri by Apple on the iPhone 4S, there is a plausible method of communicating with the computer/television/ship/car/toaster with natural voice control.  It's exciting, it's futuristic, and it seems to be all the rage with tech pundits across the Interwebs.  But there is one problem:  voice control in a public setting, without volume control or voice recognition, just doesn't work with our current technology.

Siri is an innovation in personal computing.  Ask "her" a question, and Siri will respond with an answer.  Ask "her" to adjust your schedule, and she will do so with verbal confirmation.  All this works within the realm of a personal question or personal request, much in the same way a personal question or request of your Personal Assistant would be handled.  But how well does voice commands work within a crowded room, without a way to block all the background noise?  This is the question technical pundits need to ask themselves before they start gushing on the possibility of a Siri-activated Apple TV.  

Case in point:  Our Chevy Traverse came with voice activated commands as part of it's OnStar service.  When the sales person was trying to demonstrate this for us, he couldn't get it to work without rolling up the windows.  To this date it is a feature we rarely use, because the children in the back cannot remain quiet long enough to accomplish anything.  So how is Siri going to work in a crowded family room or living room with chatter going on in the background?  I don't see it happening.  A car I see as being borderline, as you can commute alone occasionally.  But in front of a social experience like the old TV, I just don't see it happening.

You see, Television, since it's inception, had always been a "social" event, in that people would gather together and watch what was on.  Whether it was "Howdy Doody", "Uncle Milt", or "Ed Sullivan", the family always gathered together to share the experience.  Families do that now, to a certain extent, with various programs available now.  The background noise alone becomes problematic without using a microphone or voice recognition.  But, that would mean only one person is in control at a time (just like we are now with the remote), and adds in the initial frustration of imperfect voice recognition (it's getting better, but still not perfect out of the box).  

So when it comes to ideas about a Siri powered TV, I just don't see how anyone can do that.  The technology we have currently limits natural voice commands to a personal experience.  Now, is it possible Apple could have come up with a revolutionary way to get rid of background noise and make it work?  Sure, it's possible.  But is it probable?  I don't think so.  Not to doubt Apple, but I think it's not likely that the tech is ready for the regular consumer.  

What do you think?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Changes in Routine: Challenges with Daylight Savings

Article first published as Changes in Routine: Challenges with Daylight Savings on Technorati.

Sleeping boy with dogDaylight Savings is great for those who look forward to daylight when they get home from work, but everyone dreads the time change in the Fall and Spring. Do we add or subtract an hour? When exactly does it happen? How will I catch up on my sleep?

These are common questions that I have heard from friends and family. But things are a little different with a child on the Spectrum. For those who are not aware, most children like routine, rules, and order (even if they sometimes don't follow them). But children with Autism need their routine. Changes in the routine can send some children into meltdowns, others become wired and are unable to cope with what would otherwise be a normal daily routine. Parents become frustrated, and often lose sleep as their children have a hard time adjusting to a time change on the clock.

For instance, my youngest son, regardless of what the clock says, will almost always wake up at 5:00 AM. Now that Daylight Savings has changed, it is now 4:00 AM he wakes up, ready to start the new day. It doesn't matter what time he goes to sleep because he still wakes up early in the morning. And instead of taking days to adjust as typical children, it's weeks.

My oldest, who likes to sleep in (relatively, you understand, as he gets up by 7:00 AM), now gets up at 6:00 AM, and has to wait an extra hour for the bus to arrive. Because of this breach in his schedule, he becomes hyper and destructive. The change in the routine has disrupted his life to a point where coping is all he can do until he adjusts to the new time change.

Now, I'm not sharing this to complain about Daylight Savings, but rather to share a small window in the life a child with Autism and how different it can be for the parents. It's something to keep in mind when major changes happen in one's life, so you can better prepare a child for that change.

For every change in our family routine, we prepare our children as best we can. For Daylight Savings, we try to adjust the children's sleeping patterns ahead of time. For vacations, we prepare with small road trips ahead of time. For school schedules and breaks for the Holidays and Summer Vacation, we try to fill their time with activities that distract them from the change in routine.

It's all a day in the life of a parent with a child on the Spectrum.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Fun with iWeb

Because I never had a MobileMe account, or a .Mac account, I've never really played with iWeb.  Oh, it looks nice, but I didn't really see a need for it as most of my websites are integrated with a content management system.  But, that being said, I thought it would be fun to take a peak and see what it could do. 

When you first launch iWeb, it presents you with a list of templates.  These templates are pretty static, in that you can't recolor them in the interface, but they all look really nice.  I chose the layered paper interface, as I like the look of good paper.  Then you start with the Home page.  To change the title of the page, you click on the name of the page in the left pane.  Editing fields is as easy as clicking or double-clicking in the text box field. Pictures are also easy to add by either dragging them in from Finder or iPhoto.  

Most themes have image placeholders with preset pictures, waiting for you to add pictures yourself.  To add a picture, you drag your picture from Finder or from iPhoto into iWeb, and drop it on the picture.  You can even adjust the picture to mask parts of the picture you don't want to show (instead of cropping).  

Adding pages was easy, just by clicking on the Add Page tool at the bottom left.  There are quite a few pages to choose from, including a built-in Blog.  It's not as robust as Wordpress, but it works for a news area or general posting tool.  Though it can only be updated through iWeb that I can see.  Pity, as it has a nice design. Podcasts can also be added the same way, making it easy to set up a podcasting website using iWeb.  

But when you try to Publish, it will automatically try to submit to MobileMe.  Not a good thing, particularly as MobileMe is no more (or will be shortly).  Luckily, if you click on the Site itself, you can edit it to publish to an FTP site, and change your FTP settings to use SFTP.  Configuration was simple, setup was easy, and publishing at that point is one-click. 

The main drawback to iWeb that I can see is the lack of ability to edit the HTML that is getting published.  Each page is a set HTML page, with backup files assigned per page.  Also, it's not geared to very complicated websites with lots of navigation (I wouldn't run a storefront from iWeb).  If you are looking for something of that calibre, you may want to stick with the tried and true Dreamweaver.  But if you are only looking for a simple webpage creator that is not very complicated, it's a great tool.  

iWeb is no longer avialable from Apple, as it represents the older software from the iLife suite.  I hope it has not been killed, just held back as iCloud rolls out and MoblieMe fades away.  I look forward to a phoenix rising of iWeb to combine it's current ease of use interface for building websites with access to the code.  If that happens, you will have one sweet HTML editor on your hands!  

For an example of what iWeb can do, check out my main website at

What is your favorite website creator tool?  

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Pontifications about an Apple Television Set

There have been quite a few predictions that have been drooled over in the technology media about a pending Apple branded HDTV, all stemming from a comment Steve Jobs' made about cracking the TV interface.  It has gone viral from mockups to declarations about Siri being the interface of the future TV.  The predictions are exciting, all sound great, but I often wonder just how much is actually just pie in the sky dreaming, and how much is practical.  

Apple currently has the Apple TV, which gives you access to your iTunes media on your computer and in iCloud (for music and Television shows), as well as access to YouTube, Vimeo, and Netflix.  There are even some premimum channels for Sports fans, which each have their own subscription (though it's really nice to have the scores for free!).  The menu is easy to update with new features as they come, and there is a lot of potential with the Apple TV and it's iOS operating system.  But how would it work with traditional television sets?

One solution is to have Apple create an interface that is universal for all cable companies and their offerings, with only slight differences in what options are presented based on the cable company being used.  It's a great idea in principle, but becomes problematic in practice.  Apple doesn't have a strong history of being friendly to the dictates of other companies, but to provide their services with the same clean interface as the rest of their offerings they would find themselves in that spot.  They would need to work with every cable provider in the US and other countries they provide this "Apple HDTV" experience in order to get them to standardize their receiver interface, or create plugins that will allow Apple to set the interface while correctly accessing the cable companies content.  It's possible, but risky if jailbroken Apple HDTV's will allow free viewing of cable content.  That becomes a hurdle, and a big one for the cable companies. 

Another solution is to bypass the cable companies completely and work directly with content providers with a subscription based service for their offerings.  Instead of purchasing a "package", users would subscribe to the channels they want, and only the channels they want, and it would all be done much the same way as Netflix, MLB TV, NBA TV, etc.  It's a great concept in principle, because the consumer wins by only having the channels they want, and only paying for the channels they want.  But would it work?  It would mean increased pressure on bandwidth if it became widespread, as well as cutting cable companies profits from those "cutting the cord" on cable and satellite.  That means broadband internet prices could likely go up, and some companies not to fond of competition could, perhaps, start "filtering" specific content or sources.  There are a lot of legal issues that would come into play in this scenario, where the customer could ultimately lose.  

And then there is the issue of local network television access vs. access to the syndicated content they provide.  Will a local channel be able to provide their content on an Apple HDTV with the subscription model with the blessing of the studio?  How would it be provided?  And what about all the money they have just recently sunk into the new HD broadcast infrastructure?  Would they embrace an internet delivery method?  One huge issue I can see coming down the pipe is studios no longer sitting on a collection of shows to please everyone, but rather being merited by each show they do provide.  It's scary water to be navigating with some well established studios (like NBC and CBS) reaching the brink of bankruptcy.  They may be too afraid of breaking anything up for fear of losing valuable advertising. And that brings up another major issue:  advertising.  Who gets to advertise in this new internet delivery system?  Who gets the revenue?  How can it be monetized?  These questions would need to be answered. 

The fundamental question I ask is, how can current television viewing be made better?  Not just in what you see, but how you find what you want and how you access it at the right time.  That's the question we as consumers should be asking, because that is the same question Steve Jobs and the developers at Apple asked when they looked at a project.  It's what those currently working at Apple do every day.  They worry not about what features to add, but what features to remove in order to increase usability and fluid design.  That's what makes an Apple product, well, an Apple.  

Personally, I like the idea of subscribing to individual channels.  And I can see this as, well, Apps in the Apple TV App Store (which would need to be created, of course) that would allow you to browse for your favorite channel and subscribe.  Not sure you want the entire channel, but just a show?  Subscribe to the show instead, and have it stream through iCloud.  I see it as the most viable option for Apple, particularly if they can tie in a subscription based service for iTunes in the bargain.  But to do so would mean Networks placing their futures into the hands of Apple in a way that even Music didn't, which is scary for so many reasons.  

I would like to see someone work out a deal with Networks to provide their materials as a flat-rate subscription, and have users only pay for the channels they are going to watch, or even only the shows they would like to see.  Do that all with a simple interface, clean design, and a free update to existing Apple TV boxes, and in my mind Apple would have truly created something revolutionary and magical.  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Creating an External Windows Volume

This process I took while trying to create a imaging and restore procedure for our MacBook Pro lab for both Windows and Mac bootable partitions.  The technique will be geared to the Mac side of things, but can potentially be applied to any OS using UNIX and has access to the dd command.  

The dd command is a very powerful tool.  You can make a bit by bit copy of data from one media to another without any problems by using this technique.  The only drawback is the time it takes to make the copy and the backup, which is why I have ultimately chosen to not use this method.  But, as a side effect, it made it possible to restore a bootable Windows image to an external hard drive. 

##CAUTION!!  Any misstep in this process can destroy your drive completely, making it difficult to restore back again.  That's why I don't recommend it as a restoration process.  I'd highly recommend you use another process for backing up your Bootcamp volume.  You can use Winclone 2.3, though only if you turn just about everything off, or CloneZilla Live (which I am still testing, though they say it can be done).

  1. First, start with a prepared computer/drive.  In this case, I had a MacBook Pro with OS X Lion on one partition and Windows 7 on another.  
  2. Mount the computer/drive as an external drive.  Macs are able to boot into Target Disk Mode, which turns it into a very expensive Firewire or Thunderbolt drive.
  3. Open Terminal (or your command line) and run the command to identify your hard drives on the computer.  For the Mac, this command is: 
    diskutil list
  4.  Identify your drive.  Most often drives on a UNIX system would be in the /dev/ directory.  On the Mac, they are identified as /dev/disk1.  For other UNIX computers, you will probably see them as /dev/hda. 
  5. Run this command to back up your drive to an ISO file:
     sudo dd if=/dev/disk1 of=image.iso conv=noerror
    1. sudo is for super user do (run it as root)
    2. dd is the command
    3. if is the input file, or the drive (or partition) you are going to copy
    4. of is the output file, or the location the copy will go.  In this case, we are copying the drive as an ISO file in the current working directory
    5. conv=noerror will check for errors
    6. Expect this command to run for a long time.   It took 9 hours for a 100 GB drive with two partitions for me!
  6. Mount your new drive.  For me, I unmounted the MacBook Pro, and mounted an external hard drive.  The new drive needs to be equal or greater than the previous drive in order for this process to work. 
  7. Wipe the drive, for convenience sake.  I'm not sure if this is required, but I would still recommend it.  To do so, run the following command: 
    sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/disk1 conv=noerror
    Again, expect it to take a long time to run.  
  8.  Once finished, you can restore the image using the following command:
    sudo dd if=image.iso of=/dev/disk1 conv=error

After a long imaging process, about as long as it took to copy and wipe out, you should have a fully restored system to an external drive that will boot to Mac or Windows.  

So, what I learned from this was finding a great way to back up and restore a hard drive using an ISO.  What I also learned from this is that bit by bit copying takes forever, and is not time effective enough for mass deployment.  So the search continues for a usable deployment system for a Mac with a Bootcamp partition. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Two Weeks with iOS 5

It's been two weeks since iOS 5 had been officially released to the public as a free upgrade for all compatible iOS devices.  Since I upgraded my iPhone, iPad, and children's iPod Touch devices, I've come to really appreciate the new features that come with iOS.  Here is my list of favorite features: 

  1. Notifications:  Both the Notification center and the new way notifications are managed in iOS 5 are a huge upgrade for the OS.  I can see why it was so popular in the Android platform, and I'm glad to see it on my phone.  Features like the stock app and weather app are more useful as they are published to the notification center, and I can view them regardless of the app I am using.  For instance, one game I like to play while commuting on the train is Civilization Revolution.  But I also need to know the time.  Previously, I would need to either check my watch or close the app to view the time (just to make sure I don't have to run to catch the train).  Now, with two swipes from the top of my game, the notification center will tell me what I want to know.  I can also see current emails waiting for me, and texts I may have gotten that are waiting, etc.  I look forward to more apps using the notification center instead of badges, as the latter are very annoying to see on the screen.
  2. Personalized Texting Tones:  It's a minor thing, but now you can personalize your text tones per person with ringtones, instead of using the default text notification.  Very handy when identifying who sent you the text, and how important it may be. 
  3. iCloud:  This is huge for me, because I have a bad habit of wiping computers and repartitioning them to test theories.  As such, I don't always backup my data properly, like pictures, much to my wife's annoyance.  With iCoud, those documents I want to keep get backed up and synced to all my devices, so I always have a copy of them somewhere.  It works well with Photo Stream and the iWork suite.  I'm looking forward to more apps using iCloud, like, say, an iOS version of Office?
  4. Find my Mac/iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch:  Last month, my youngest, in his excitement, managed to misplace both of the boys' iPod Touch devices.  We took the house apart looking for them, and was unable to find them until recently when we had our carpet replaced and they took the grill off of the return vents in the hallway.  There were both of the iPod Touch devices, none the worse for wear other than having completely drained batteries.  I immediately upgraded them, synced them to my iTunes account, and turned on Find my iPod Touch.  Now, should they go missing, I can quickly an easily find them using the wireless network by sending a loud tone.  While this feature was available for the iPod Touch in iOS 4, it's easier to enable in iOS 5.  I also will be getting any pictures my sons take with their devices in my Photo Stream, which will then be shown on the Apple TV.  That's just cool. 
  5. Newsstand:  I've never been a huge fan of newspapers and magazines, mostly because they take up a lot of space when you save them, and even more space when you try to get rid of them.  And digital copies on an iOS device using apps was cumbersome.  Newsstand does simplify the process of getting and reading your subscription media, and though not all subscription apps support Newsstand, many do, and that has got me actually thinking about getting subscriptions.  If only The Highlander would create an iOS app for Newsstand..
  6. Increase Volume Button for Taking Pictures:  It's just awesome to use the native camera app and take pictures with the increase volume button. 

So those are six things that I have enjoyed since I started working with iOS 5.  There are other features, of course, that are just as awesome, but some I can't take advantage of without having newer hardware, and others I haven't discovered.  There was one issue I experienced after upgrading though:  my battery on my iPhone 4 drained faster than ever before, until I let it drain completely and then recharged it completely.  After that, the battery has worked as well as ever, and sometimes even performed better. 

How do you find iOS 5? 

Imaging a Mac Computer with Bootcamp using Clonezilla

Creating an image for a Macintosh computer that includes both a Macintosh partition and a Bootcamp partition for Windows is complicated at best with the release of Lion and the demise of the old standby: Winclone.  Since twocanoes stopped developing Winclone, I've been looking for another method to create an image that will be, well, reliable.  While it is possible to use Winclone 2.3, it's not supported and it's very buggy.  And that's just the Windows partition, not the entire drive, and I want the entire drive.  So, based on some suggestions I got with previous posts and lots of online research, I decided to give Clonezilla a try.  
Clonezilla is akin to Norton Ghost, as it grabs a complete image of a hard drive, partitions and all, and will restore it.  Unlike other ghosting software though, Clonezilla supports HFS+, the Mac OS X Extended filesystem, as provided by the core utility, Partclone.  That means it can image both a standard NTFS partition with the Mac partition.  It sounds great, assuming it would work, so I thought I would test it out and see if it were a viable option for mass deployment of Mac with Bootcamp.  Going through the motions, I was impressed with the repository settings that were available.  Much like Acronis, the Clonezilla Live CD boots up into it's own OS platform.  With Clonezilla, though, it's Linux, and it shows.  There are a lot of options to select, and it doesn't have a very friendly UI.  But, really, UI is secondary to performance in my case (because I'm used to a command line UI that it presents), so that wasn't much of a consideration.  
The first neat experience I saw with Clonezilla was it's flexibility.  You can select just about every language and keyboard setup that Linux supports, which makes it handy to deploy.  Unfortunely, you need to do it every single time you boot.  Perhaps there is a way to build a custom CD, or perhaps settings would be kept with the USB boot, but I didn't see it off hand.  The other flexibility option that impressed me was the method of finding your repository.  It's actually very easy to find a connection method that will work for you.  I really liked the idea of having an SSH repository, making images easy to deploy to and from a remote server if necessary.  The only thing to change performance at that point would be the speed of your connection.  Internally, if you are on a Gigibit switched network, it will come as close to that speed as possible.
Then we get to the image tool.  I only used the beginner options, which probably has a lot of settings that are defaulted, but I wanted to make this as easy as possible.  That, and after spending a good 5 minutes on choosing my keyboard and setting up the repository information, I wasn't much interested in spending more time configuring when default settings should work just fine.  Apparently you can back up just partitions, or the entire disk.  I chose the entire disk because that was what I am looking for, but I kept the partition idea in mind for future projects (assuming it worked, of course). 
Below are the steps I took while creating an image, and deploying that image to a computer. 
Steps: Booting from the CD
  1. Boot to Clonezilla Live CD
  2. Select boot option for Clonezilla.  The default works great at 800 x 600.
  3. Select Language (default is US English)
  4. If you are not using a USB keyboard, select the keymap from the arch list, otherwise continue with "Don't tuch keymap"
    1. If you selected to select the keymap, select your keyboard type (default is most common, QWERTY)
    2. Select the Keyboard layout (starts with Brazillian)
    3. Select your keyboard variant, either Apple USB or Standard
Now you are ready to set up the repository for your image. 
  1. Select Start_Clonezilla
  2. Select Device-Image, as you would want to create an image from a device.  
  3. Select your repository method. 
    1. If you have a local device, like a USB drive or internal drive, you can use Local_dev
    2. If you have an SSH server you want to publish the image to, use ssh_server
    3. If you have an SMB server (Samba, or Windows server), this will be best for you
    4. If you have an NFS server (common in UNIX networks), nsf_server will work for you
  4. Depending on what you selected before, you need to verify your network connection (or not if it's local).  I selected the Ethernet network (for speed), and then used DHCP.  This will probably be the most common setup for everyone. 
  5. Since I chose SSH, I entered in my SSH server IP (can use DNS name too), confirmed the port number, and entered in the user ID for the login.
  6. Then enter in the absolute path for the repository.  I put it on my Desktop, so I put in  /Users/userid/Desktop.
  7. It will then ask you for authentication information to mount the connection.  Follow directions (hopefully you already know all this information).
You are now ready to start the image.
  1. Select Beginner mode.  It's easy to use, and you don't have to mess with the expert stuff.  If you already know what you are doing, then expert would be great.  But then, if you already know what you are doing, why are you reading this?
  2. Select Action
    1. savedisk:  Will image the entire hard drive as an image, with all partitions.  This is what I chose for creating the image of my Mac with the bootcamp drive.
    2. saveparts:  Will image partitions of the drive for restoration.  If you don't need everything, just a single partition (like your Bootcamp partition), this will back up just the partition.  Obviously this will save you time over the entire disk if you have more than one partition.
    3. restoredisk: Will restore the drive from an image.
    4. restoreparts: Will restore individual partitions.
    5. recovery-iso-zip: Will create a recovery disk of Clonezilla Live for either CD or as a zip for a bootable USB drive.
    6. chk-img-restorable:  will check to see if an image is restorable or not.  This is an option you can turn on while creating the image, so it will be checked after the image has been created.
  3. Input the name you want for your image.
  4. Select the disk or partition you want to back up
  5. Choose to either check the image as it's saved, or skip the check.  I recommend letting it check the image (increased my image time by 15 minutes, but well worth piece of mind)
  6. Press enter to continue. 
At this point, you are all set!  Clonezilla will create an image of each partition in the hard drive (or just the one you selected), and notify you how long for each partition it will take to back up and restore.  It took, for my two images, a total of about an hour and a half to back up and restore the image using SSH and the options I selected above on a Gigabit network.  
To restore, it's much the same process.  Boot to the drive, select your language, etc., and set up your device repository. To restore, you would use these steps:
  1. Select Beginner mode.
  2. Select restoredisk (or restoreparts, if you backed up a partition)
  3. Select your archive as displayed
  4. Select the drive you wish to image.
  5. Press Enter to continue. 
  6. It will then ask you if you want your hard drive partitions overwritten, type Y to continue.  It will then verify that you are wanting to replace your hard drive partitions, type y.
  7. The system will not restore.
The restoration process is done partition by partition, with each partition taking less time to reimage than it took to create the image in the first place.  And the results?  Success!  The restore booted without a problem, with all settings in tact.  That is better than could be said for the previous imaging tools I have tried.  
So it looks like I have found a useful cloning tool for imaging my Macintosh computer lab, and pretty much any lab for that matter.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Parenting a Child with Autism

Article first published as Parenting a Child with Autism on Technorati.
Boy playing on an organ stool.
Early this morning, at about 2:00 AM, my son climbed into bed with us. Unlike other mornings, I was aware of this because I was awake, though normally I don't notice him climbing into bed with us. There was no sound, no crying, just a quick jump, flip under the covers, and he was out like a light on my pillow.

Later this morning, as my son woke up earlier than usual, he started to dance around and play with the dog. After a few calls for him to get dressed, he looked into my eyes for a second and smiled, his giggle infectious and infuriating, as he doesn't do as I ask for the fourth time this morning. I help him on with his shirt, hand him his pants, and he gets dressed.

While I'm still trying to get ready for work myself, I savor the eye contact. That shining moment that acknowledges my son's affection for me, and his acceptance of me in his life. It's fleeting, because of my son's Autism. It's savored because I'm one of a handful of adults with whom he will share eye contact.

Parenting is a scary business. It's full of stress as you worry about how your child will grow up and impact the world. Some parents take it easy and just expect their children to do well. When they don't, they look for scapegoats for causes and blame the world (or at least their teachers). Other parents are the diligent type, dedicated to giving their children the best of everything so they will excel in the world and bring honor and glory to the family name. Either way, there is stress, and it's put some people off having children at all, let alone more than one.

Autism is also very scary, in that no one knows what causes it or how it impacts the child's learning. Children can range on the Spectrum from very low functional (highly autistic with low IQ) to very high functioning (often Aspergers, with high IQ and mild Autism), so advice from parenting doesn't work. Generalities can be given, but the devil is truly in the details as you as a parent work to find a way to connect with your child consistently.

Other parents don't really know what to say when you explain the head-butting, hand flapping behaviors as ways your child expresses his emotions. Many offer suggestions, help, criticisms, and even sympathy, but only you as a parent can really connect with your own child. Parents who are truly interested look for the rules you govern your child, and try to emulate them. Some parents in an educational or religious environment, will attempt to apply their own methods in contrast to yours, causing confusion and regression in some behaviors.

To be a parent of a child with Autism is to parent from day to day, looking for every possible sign of success, and expecting regression when it comes. Instead of focusing on long-term plans like financial success or brilliant educational or recreational accomplishments for your child, you look for a successful day without spilling food or drink on the floor on purpose, dumping the dog's water into his food bowl, or pulling out all the marshmallows from the cereal box.

To parent a child with Autism is to place all the anxious future planning of traditional parenting into your daily routine. Effort cannot be diluted with incidentals about which Ivy League schools you want your child to attend when you are still focused on their using utensils while eating. Athletic scholarships are the furthest from your mind while trying to teach your child the necessary hand-eye coordination to write his name. It's too much effort to think beyond the day, the daily successes, and looking after the little things while hoping beyond hope it's true that the big things will actually take care of themselves.

It's scary, not having a well-planned life. I'm the type that likes to have things planned out in sequence in order to provide a smooth transition between two states. With Autism, you don't have that luxury. Development depends to so many variables that having future plans beyond perhaps special things like vacations have too many variables to make a successful plan.

I've voiced some of these frustrations before, so why bring them up now? Well, I read Notes from a Dragon Mom in the New York Times this morning about a mother with a child who has Tay-Sachs, a genetic disorder that will slowly kill her infant child. I found myself identifying with her descriptions of a lot of things, though my son will not pass away because of Autism. But the same loss of concern about the future and focus on the day to day is vary similar to what I experience with my son on the Spectrum. I have the same disconnect between the son carrying that degree from Harvard she had, though for completely different reasons. My heart went out to her because I could, in some ways, to her situation. Dragon parents are amazing, and deserve the admiration of us all.

I'll never be a tiger dad, nor would I think of considering myself a dragon father. I'm just a father of a child with Autism. I see the bark of the tree, and perhaps the tree, but I can't afford to look at the forest because it's changing too drastically to be relevant to what I'm doing. But some times, in those strange moments when I connect with my son, I can see a bright, glorious wooded mountain that is just waiting to be discovered.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Autism Insurance Coverage

Article first published as Autism Insurance Coverage on Technorati.

Children enjoy a magician at the Utah Autism Carnival for Autism.California recently passed, and Governor Brown recently signed, SB 946, a bill requiring health insurance companies to cover behavioral, vocational, and occupational therapies for those diagnosed with Autism. The Insurance companies were firmly against it, as they claimed it would increase insurance costs in California by more then $850 million a year (an independent commission estimated the increase at only $98 million a year). David Lazarus, from whose article I received these numbers, sees it as a good argument for a national healthcare system where risk is more evenly divided amongst all tax-payers, thereby lowering costs even more.

Government intervention in the healthcare system is a huge political hot topic right now, with the "Obamacare" issue for the Republicans, the single public "Medicare Plus" plan issue for Democrats, and in the middle are patients that are in need. Right now children on the Spectrum are struggling in schools to learn, not just their three R's, but how to be social. They learn things like why it's important to brush your teeth, look someone in the eye, reply when a question is asked, and how others are reacting based on body language queues with which children who are neurotypical have no problems. In some States, such as my home State of Utah, Autism is not covered at all as a diagnosis. So even getting your child screened for Autism is an expensive proposition if schools are not willing to provide that service themselves through a school psychologist.

There have been numerous genetic links to Autism, showing that Autism is more than just a result of poor parenting as was originally believed. The idea that Autism is anything but a physiological issue has been ruled out. The argument still rages on between genetics and environmental triggers, but cause doesn't invalidate treatment. Regardless of the cause, these children are in need of help. And as such, we as parents are doing everything we can with the meager resources provided.

As a parent of a child on the Spectrum, I spend as much time as I can trying to prepare him for the world. At a tender age of 6 I'm trying to teach him things he would normally have picked up naturally by 4. Things like brushing his teeth, using the toilet appropriately, keeping clean, and using utensils when eating. On top of that are his academic needs, which he tends to excel at when prompted, but still needs prompting in order to keep him on task. All the while I worry about his social skills, and work to help him focus on eye contact and social rituals like shaking hands and high-fives.

The problem is, I'm not there all day to instruct him because of work. My wife isn't either because she works as well. He is currently in school all day (which is very nice), but even then his classroom has other children that are in need. Some have even more need than does my son. That, and with meager resources as well, the school is doing the best they can with what they have.

I'm not complaining about the school, as our school district is better equipped than many others in the State to assist children on the Spectrum, but rather I am concerned about the lack of funds. Governments cannot afford to provide the funds for the needs of those children and adults with Autism, particularly in this economic climate. Parents generally are not in a financial position to fit all of the bill either, for the same reasons. It's become an impasse that few are willing to address, because no one wants to take the burden of cost, leaving individual families to bear the heavy weight for therapies.

We talk so much about research, causes, cures, etc., that we often forget the human aspect of Autism. Parents are struggling and siblings feel neglected because of the attention their sibling with Autism currently receives through family-based therapy. But eventually Governments will start to feel the pinch as parents pass away and siblings (if there are any) are unable to care for an adult on the Spectrum that didn't have the opportunity to receive the important therapy now available. It's no wonder both parents and government entities are looking to Insurance, now mandated because of the recent Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to provide funds for therapy for this biological condition.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Passing of Steve Jobs

Last night I heard the news that Steve Jobs, the co-founder and former CEO of Apple, had passed away after finally succumbing to his long battle with cancer. The news was a shock and very sad, though I didn't fear for Apple. Having met many people at the Cupertino based hardware and software company, I'm firmly convinced that the company is in very good hands and will continue to innovate for years to come. But the passing of Steve Jobs is a sad milestone.

Steve and company developed some of the most innovative technology advancements that have changed the way those on the Autism Spectrum learn. With the introduction of the iPhone, iPod Touch, and finally the iPad, many parents have had affordable tools with which their children can communicate. Their dedication to those with disabilities has made devices that are accessible to the blind, deaf, and those with mental conditions that make communication difficult. And for that, Mr. Jobs, I salute you.

While he was known to be very opinionated, brisk, and abrasive at times, I have always found that the culture he fostered to be very open to all with ability. The campus was always busy with those who sought to improve the experience at every level for the user, and with their broad proliferation within the consumer market, they have succeeded. I had never met the man personally, though I had seen him once before the launch of the iPhone with the men who brought us that very unique and game-changing device. He was focused, determined, and seemed in a hurry. From all accounts of those closest to him this first impression I had of him was a very telling one, and very true to his nature and his drive.

My heart goes out to the family of Steve Jobs, as they mourn his passing. Know that we mourn with you.

Thank you again Steve, for all that you have done for a growing, often confused Autism community. You will be greatly missed, and remembered as one who, whether intentionally or not, enabled so many of us to help our children.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Autism and Siblings

Article first published as Autism and Siblings on Technorati.
Brothers on an amusement ride together.It seems these days everyone is looking for fault in the behavior of children. I hear complaints about "learned" behaviors, mimicking, and lamenting that the behaviors are difficult to "undo" in the best of families. I hear it even more so with my son, who, as part of his Autism, vents his frustration and excitement by head-butting. As such, I get complaints about potentially hurting others, or even worse, others mimicking his behavior.

I can understand how frustrating it is when your child starts to behave in a way that is deemed socially unacceptable. It's a constant vigil for most parents of children on the Spectrum as they try to help their children overcome these behaviors to better assist them in their social development. But nothing is more frustrating than having a sibling mimic the older child with Autism.

My youngest of two boys is almost 3, and therefore is about the right age to start to see signs of the Spectrum. He has some signs, such as avoiding eye contact, ignoring his name when called, and seems to be between 6 months to a year behind in his speech development. He also head-buts when frustrated or excited. The problem is, we can't tell if this is a learned behavior from his older brother, or if it is a genuine sign of Autism.

If it is Autism, then he most likely will fall under the Asperger's syndrome umbrella, and will be very high functioning. But he seems to be so high functioning that he may not have Autism at all, which merely adds to the conundrum. The only real solution is to have him tested by a specialist to be certain one way or another. The numbers don't look to be in his favor, with recent reports showing siblings of older children on the Spectrum are more likely to be on the spectrum themselves. Not that it will change much, other than give him a head start with preschool Applied Behavior Analysis (and his brother's preschool teacher will get him, which will thrill her).

The thing is, another diagnosis in the family doesn't have the same impact as the first diagnosis. We have since learned a lot about the Autism Spectrum, developed a routine that caters to the spectrum while still demanding appropriate social behaviors, and in general have a good knowledge of what is needed. Basically, as we have already been through this once, we are prepared the second time around. The question is, are we prepared for a neuro-typical child?

Monday, October 03, 2011

Apple iPhone Announcement: The Anticipation

Tommorrow, October 4th, 2011, Apple will be making their iPhone announcement.  Much anticipated is the new iPhone, the iOS 5, and iCloud as fit for release. There are some other rumors about some features, and that's what I want to talk about.  Why?  Because it's fun to speculate, and fun to dream.  And who knows?  Perhaps one day some of these wishes will make it into a future iOS release.  

First and foremost is iCloud.  Not a lot has been mentioned here, as most people tend to write off iCloud as a file sharing/email/contacts service that lets you download stuff you have already purchased from iTunes at any time.  Doesn't sound too exciting, does it?  But there is a whole lot more.  First, there are backups of your phone, allowing for quick and easy restoration should something happen to your phone.  That alone is a great feature, and well worth the new iOS release (which is expected to be free, I might add).  Backups are in general rarely made, particularly photos and documents.  We as computer users have been lulled into a false sense of security with better performing software and hardware.  Hard drive journaling with Mac OS Extended (Journaled), ext3 and NTFS for Mac, Linux and Windows respectively, have all presented us with fewer corrupted files.  The death of the floppy drive and the prolific use of the USB thumb drive have given us more storage that takes up less space.  We think our data is secure.  That is, until we have a hard drive failure.  Then we curse ourselves for not backing up our data. With iCloud, at least for iOS devices, photos, and documents, backups are happening automatically for us.  We still need to burn purchased movies and various other applications, PDFs and Downloads, but all in all iCloud will take care of our precious memories and important documents. That is a feature worth talking about.

For iOS 5, there are lots of rumors that voice control and voice activation will become deeply ingrained into the OS.  This is huge, because for right now most voice activated apps are narrowed down to taking quick dictation and needing a copy/paste procedure to keep it. While I don't know the depth of the integration, knowing what I do know about the development team I would speculate that voice acivation and dictation could very well be in the cards.  And I'm not talking just speech to SMS as Android has, or even speech to text for documents.  I'm talking voice control for apps.  This may yet be a pipe dream, but I can see a whole host of Assistive apps growing from a core module that allows for voice control.  For instance, suppose you wanted to help a child learn to speak clearly?  How nice it would be to have an app that would use speech recognition and translation to help them focus on their pronounciation, word usage, and speech.  Speech therapists would love to have something like that to help augment their teaching, and parents would injoy it just as much.  Not to mention language practice!  That would be huge.  Yes, that kind of depth would be fabulous.  Do I expect it?  Not really, I'm expecting some common voice commands and speech to text/SMS.  But that is just a stepping stone, in my mind. 

Specs for the iPhone have been bandied around, and I'm all for a faster processor when it's necessary or needed, but for right now I don't see that need for the iPhone.  I also don't see the need for a more powerful camera, etc.  Hardware for me, as the iPhone already has a display that is so highly resolute that the naked eye cannot identify the pixels, is more just icing on the cake.  Until the software demands a better phone, I don't see me upgrading the hardware.  The software, on the otherhand, is what will drive upgrades for me.  Luckily, from the declaration at WWDC, iOS 5 will be supported on the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 as well as the new model.  

But specs for the new iPod Touch could be interesting.  If, as according to some rumors I have heard, Apple places a 3G/4G chip in with the WiFi chipset, effectively making the iPod Touch a mini iPad, then that will be an amazing upgrade.  It will effectively broaden the number of devices that can be truely used anywhere and anywhen, allowing for those who do not see the need of a phone to use their web-enabled device for anything they want.  And suppose they don't want a cell phone and all the texting/minutes/data issues that carriers tend to add to accounts, yet still want to have mobile phone access?  the iPod Touch will support Skype, as well as a number of other VoIP apps (many for free) for calls over the 3G/4G network as well as WiFi.  Carriers, instead of being phone companies, could quickly just become mobile Internet companies, providing data usage.  I wonder if the carriers would be happy with that?  

Another rumor that has since been dismissed is the release of the iPad 3.  It's really soon after the iPad 2 had been released, so I don't imagine the iPad 3 will be coming out now.  But if it did, the one and only thing I would really be looking for is a retina display.  That's what held me off from purchasing an iPad 2 when it came out, and sticking it out with my iPad.  I want to see the iPad with a retina display, thereby making it easier to read whatever app is on the screen.  For now, the display is still great, and the old iPad still does exactly what I want it to do, when I want.  

Finally, there is the rumor of the Assistant, which is a combination of a lot of speech control.  The demo circulating the Internet looks really cool, allowing for speech control in a number of OS-level functions (voice calling, searching, web searching, Twitter, etc.).  But the rumor also said it will only be available on the new iPhone model, and not any of the previous models.  That is disheartening, as I've had my iPhone 4 for over a year (has it really been that long?), and I can't imagine having to give it over to upgrade to the new phone.  I'll have to see which way this goes, and whether or not it's a feature I could or could not live without.  

So, lots of exciting things to expect from Apple tomorrow.  I think it's pretty safe to assume iOS 5 and a new upgrade to Lion (and possibly Snow Leopard) to support iCloud will be available tomorrow after the presentation, and I think there will probably be a new iPhone getting released.  I would also expect that a new iPod Touch will be announced with similar iPhone specs, and we may even see the final demise/retirement of the iPod Classic.  With iCloud, you no longer really need to have that much storage space, so I think it's pretty clear what's going to happen.  As for the other aspects of iCloud and iOS, that's what will keep my attention tomorrow.