Apr 24

Autism, Fine Motor Skills, Art, and the Power of Undo

The power of Technology as an aide for Art

If you’ve ever had anything to do with art, you know the frustration of making a mistake. Those talented few whom we call artists, can take a mistake, and make something of us. The rest of us gnash our teeth in frustration.

A Picture made in Windows Paint with a WACOM IntuosFor some with Autism, however, art and fine motor skill challenges go head to head in mortal combat, like Mas Oyama fighting a bull with his bare hands. Add in a stroke of perfectionism, mix in some added stress by imposing a time restriction to complete the project and you have yourself a recipe for disaster.

But, what if there was a way to practice fine motor skills, and still have an undo button? Believe it or not, such an option exists, and it’s called a Graphic Tablet.

A Brief History of Graphic Tablet Technology

Surprisingly, you’ve actually seen similar technology around for quite some time. In popular media, the original Star Trek series frequently featured someone approaching Captain James T. Kirk with a digital device and a pen with which to sign. You’ve since seen similar devices from UPS and Fedex to sign for deliveries, then in the grocery stores to sign your credit card receipts, then with Personal Digital Assistants from companies like Palm Computing. Then we moved onto laptop computers that had large screens with a stylus pen with which you could write, and then the number of uses went crazy, from touchpads on laptops to smartphones to ipads and android tablets and so on. But, unless you were a graphic artist, you probably never knew about a quietly developing piece of technology called a graphic tablet. Today, however, these devices have reached the level of affordability, and technical function, that I can comfortably recommend them to just about everyone.

Rest your hand

Perhaps the most significant development in graphic tablets is the ability to rest your hand on the tablet as you’re drawing. For most of us, this is a more typical style of writing and drawing. Since the tablet responds to the stylus itself, it’s very much like using a mouse. For someone with fine motor skills problems, this can be a critical factor because the only place the image appears is where the stylus is touching the tablet, much like the only place a pen writes, is where it touches the paper. And, did I mention, no inky hands! 🙂

Sizes, shapes and Options

ECLATT Wacom Intuos Connected to Windows 7 LaptopA wide variety of sizes, shapes, connection styles are available for graphic tablets. If you’re just using it to sign electronic documents, then a small tablet is probably fine. If, however, you are planning on doing any drawing, look to something that is about half the size of a regular piece of paper or larger. This will be even more important when considering fine motor skill issues, but anyone who has used a mouse and run out of space on a mouse pad, or has run out of room on a piece of paper, is familiar with the need for a larger surface area.

There’s also an option to have an embedded screen on the tablet, allowing you to see what you’re writing or drawing where you’re writing or drawing, just like you would on a piece of paper. In fact, with some Android and Apple Tablets you can purchase a stylus to work with your device for the purpose of signing documents and working with graphic arts programs.

No special graphic art software

While programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and CAD have some spectactular capabilites, graphic tablets are not restricted to these high end products. Because the graphic tablet acts like a mouse, as long as you have matched the tablet with the correct driver for your computer, you can use any built in graphic software, like Microsoft Paint on a Windows computer, or Paintbrush for Mac OSX. What’s more, many tablets are sold with software you can install, some even gearing themselves for anime and cartoon production.

Electronic Signatures

Signing electronic documents is a topic worthy of its own post, and I will write one. Suffice it to say, however, that if you can put pen to paper, you can put stylus to tablet and produce the same result.

That’s about it. If you have more questions about tablets, technology or Autism, feel free to get in touch.

Cheers!

Jan 24

Yes – Gmail was Down – including Google Apps for Education and Business

If you are a Gmail, or Google Apps for Business or Education user, you likely noticed a problems accessing your email accounts starting at around 11:00 AM Pacific time. It should be back up by the time you find yourself reading this.

During the downtime, access to Gmail from mobile devices, via the web, and Google Apps Sync would have been down. This also would have affected access to contacts, Google Voice and Google Talk, and features of the Google Apps Dashboard.

Fortunately, Google’s response to this was swift, and everything was restored quickly – just a 30-40 minute downtime for most people.

If you’re still having problems, they are likely unrelated to the downtime itself, and you should seek technical support.

Click here to see Google Apps Status

Jul 19

Look Ma – no Gmail Inbox Tabs!

For the most part, I really do like Gmail. True, the interface takes a lot of getting used to, and whether any of it is truly intuitive is up for debate, but it’s fast, readily available across multiple platforms (mac, pc, phone, tablet etc), has lots of space, and is pretty configurable. So, once you learn how to do things in Gmail, it really does do a pretty good job. That said, this Inbox tab thing really had me rankled. I mean, why on earth would I go through all the effort of creating filters that allow me to organize email my own way, for someone else to come along and throw them up on the screen in some arbitrary way?

Gmail has introduced inbox tabs

Well, if you’re like me, and one whole day of those tabs was more than enough, then you probably want them gone. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to make that happen, and I’ll show you how.

Step 1 – Click the Gmail Settings Cog. Gmail Settings Cog
Step 2 – Click “Configure Inbox.” Gmail Configure Inbox
Step 3 – Uncheck social and promotions, and anything else that is checked except primary. Gmail Uncheck Tabs to disable them
Step 4 – With the boxes unchecked, it should look like this. Then just click Save. Gmail tabs deselected then click save
You’ve done it! There are no longer any Gmail Inbox Tabs. You can now resume your normal inbox browsing! Gmail Inbox back to normal - no tabs

 

May 07

Keyboard and Command Line Shortcuts for Windows

Here you can find a list of commands that can be run in Windows via the run line. If you cannot see the run line already, use the windows key keyboard plus the letter r to bring up the run line.

Over time I will be updating this list, so check back often for more handy tips :

CommandWindows 8Windows 7 and VistaWindows XPUsed For
dcomcnfg.exenot yet testedYesYesBrings up the Microsoft Management Console Window for Component Services
msinfo32YesYesYesOpens the System Information Window with details about the computer including Operating System Version, computer name, BIOS info, hardware and installed applications.
msconfigYesYesYesUsed when troubleshooting to enable and disable services and programs that run when the computer first boots.
controlYesYesYesOpens the Control Panel
services.mscYesYesYesOpens the Microsoft Management Console Services Snap-In for enabling, disabling and restarting services.
conf.exeYesYesOpens Microsoft Netmeeting
WindowsKey+LYesLocks the computer. Keeps user logged in, but returns to the login screen.

Apr 09

I love my car – and all of its 200 thousand original miles

1996_Infiniti_I30There shouldn’t be anything emotional about it. It’s a horseless carriage, an automobile, a vehicle, and, finally, a car. It is a bunch of aluminum, steel, plastic and rubber all arranged into a complicated piece of technology whose sole purpose is transport me, and up to 4 other people, safely from place to place. Why, then, should I have an emotional attachment to this tool?

Well, for one thing, it’s mine. I own it. It’s one of a handful of things I do own. I saved up, sold my Harley, and finally paid for it in cash. It has seen me through good times and bad. It saw me through a job, the birth of my son, a layoff, the entire life span of three businesses, and the beginning of a 4th. It has helped me through a whole lot of projects, and helped me advocate for Autism.  When everything else is going wrong, when I had to sell my house in a short sale, and file for bankruptcy, I could, at least, go and sit in my car.

And it has personality. Oh, yes; surprising as that sounds, it does have personality. The ignition doesn’t quite work, so you have to know HOW to turn the key to get it started. The trunk is bent from being hit from behind, and there is a sea-sickening like vibration from a mis-fire on one of the cylinders. The CD Player had already stopped changing CDs by the time I bought it, and now it doesn’t even play CDs. The tape drive, well, it’s a tape drive. And the stereo display only works when the car is about to die; which it has done from time to time. Still, the radio plays, and I can use the bluetooth via the stereo, after an arduous process of manually scanning channels, and suburban life does offer a wide range of stations without needing to replace the antenna, which was broken by low lying bushes at the Zoo’s annex parking lot. I won’t even talk about the transmission, but as soon as I get past first gear, it keeps going in the direction I want it to go.

So, okay, I understand that there are lots of stories in this car, and that it is those stories that make me sentimental about this car. And, sure, it would be really, really, really nice not to stop the car and see smoke whisping out from under the hood. But I do love my car, so  I guess it’s okay to celebrate its recent milestone. It has earned it. After all, I’ve been behind the wheel for more than 104,000 of its now more than 200,000 miles.  I guess you could say, we’ve earned it, together.

Odometer from Infiniti I30 Shows 200K Miles

Mar 25

Humanoid Robot Helps Train Children with Autism | News | Scientific Computing

Read about NAO Robot on Wikipedia

NAO Robots

You may find it surprising that something as complicated as a robot could be an asset for helping children to develop Social Interaction Skills. And yet, as reported in this Scientific Computing article “Humanoid Robot Helps Train Children with Autism | News | Scientific Computing,” that is exactly what is being developed by a team of researchers from Vanderbilt University. Their goal – to test whether intelligent adaptive systems can make an impact on ASD.

 Simple Shapes

As I’ve worked with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), one of the principle lessons I’ve learned is to seek ever more simple solutions. In practice, this paradigm shift has turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated, especially when there is such a stark contract between chronological age and developmental stages. Ultimately, my inspiration for simplicity came from the 2008 movie “Wall-E,” which broke down human interactions into physical movements and either eliminated, or dramatically simplified language. As this concept sunk in, perfectly obvious images, like the TeleTubbies came flooding to mind, and I realize I’ve seen this before.

People Complicate Learning

If you really think about it, we’ve long recognized that people complicate learning – all the way back to ancient Greece, in fact. Over the years we’ve come up with sock puppets, hand puppets, string puppets,  and people dressed like puppets. A robot, then, is simply one more technological extension of a trend that started eons ago. NAO even has a simply shaped face and body, much like its puppet counterparts. So, the NAO robots being used in this project seem a perfect fit. After all, if you’re trying to focus on learning something as complex as human social interactions, the fewer complications and distractions the better. In a room, that can mean turning off televisions and radios, and removing clutter. In the case of removing humans, we’ve long used puppets. Think of a robot, then, as simple puppet with no visible strings.

 

Rules and Predictability

That said, robots do offer one significant advantage over the traditional puppet – simple sets of rules. When a human puppeteer handles a puppet, they may be inclined to move or act quickly, or to introduce concepts or language. A robot, on the other hand, is limited to a particular set of programming. That makes a robot very, very predictable, which eliminates a lot of fear and confusion on behalf of a person interacting with it. A robot won’t suddenly stand up and leave the room, even to use the bathroom. It won’t have bad days, or be inexplicably very happy. Its voice, if used, has a finite amount of modulation, and there are specific word choices available to it. Almost everything about a robot is predictability – a state well known to reduce anxiety in children. Less anxiety, more learning.

Robot Teachers

Robots as puppets, then, are great tools for helping to reduce anxiety in children and helping them to learn. Of course, a robot’s ability to interact and learn a person’s skill, and advance through stages of mastery are minimal at best. Thus, human monitoring and guidance are a must. So, while I don’t expect that you’ll see robots replacing your a 5th grade classroom teacher, they are certainly a great example of how we can continue an age old tradition of using puppets in a contemporary manner to advance education. The possibilities here are endless, but the implications for facilitating the process of learning social skills amongst children with Autism Spectrum Disorders is a concept with considerable potential, and merit.

Mar 16

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Leprechaun Girl Wishes You a Happy St Patrick's Day from  ECLAT TechnologicallyTo all the ECLAT Technologically fans and customers, I raise my glass to you and wish you a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
May the leprechauns be near you,
To spread luck along your way.
And may all the Irish angels,
Smile upon you St. Patrick’s Day.

Oct 15

A Tribute to Lois Black, Ph.D.

One year ago today, the world lost a treasure of incalculable value. She was a woman ahead of her time, an academic who lead with her heart, an author, a scientist, a friend, a wife, a mother, and an amazing human being.

I’ve spent considerable time pondering this post. Truly nothing I can ever write, will ever accurately portray Dr. Lois Black, and she was taken from us before I could even begin to comprehend the few things she had time to teach me.

And yet, as I think about it now, even in her absence, she teaches me still. Scarcely a day goes by when I don’t think about how short each day really is, and how I mustn’t wait to reach out to people, lest they depart before we have the chance to spend quality time with them. I’ve taken to heart her wish to spend more time in schools, and that strikes me as particularly poignant since I have, by necessity, spent so much time in my son’s classroom this year.

Perhaps most of all, however, I think of how I still wrestle to implement even those few small lessons, as I find myself drawing yet another day to a close, a full year after her passing, with so much left to do, and so many people I should have liked to connect with, to sit down with over a cup of coffee or a meal, or out on a hike. And yet, today, one year has gone by, and today went much as this day went one year ago, busily rushing around, trying to accomplish as much as possible, and yet, having yet to really reach the people most important in my life.

Lois M. Black, Ph.D was a teacher, almost her entire life. She had a zest for life, she survived so much, she contributed so much. She left behind her husband, Jan van Santen, an amazing scientist in his own right, a talented and potent daughter, and a legacy of contribution that can scarcely be measured.

Lois M Black, Ph.D - Remembered ForeverDear Lois,
Thank you for everything you gave us, and for all your lessons continue to do for us. The world is a better place because of you. You are missed, and will be remembered, always.
Sincerely,
Your friend and lifelong student,
Dan

Sep 12

26000 email address and password combinations found published on French Website

ECLAT Technologically IT Security AlertOnline security is the name of the game, but just how secure are you when you browse the web? There are a multitude of ways to protect yourself, but TOO many people do little if anything to secure their information on the internet. The consequences can be profound. Consider, for a moment, the implications for losing control of your email address and password. Do you get emails from your bank, there? Bingo. Your bank account is now accessible by the bad guys. How about your stock portfolio? Confidential medical or other financial data? Customer data? Loans? Credit Cards? Business advertising accounts. How about really embarrassing personal data? Plus your name, date of birth, list of family members… the list goes on. If you’re not securing your data, there is a world of hurt waiting to come your way, and your life can lay in ruins in its wake.

Now, in case you’re wondering just how accessible your email address and password are, consider this. Earlier today I was trying to decipher a hand written note and typed in an email address from that note into a Google search. I clicked a few links and imagine my surprise when I found was a list of 25,970 email addresses and passwords. How long have they been out there? Who put them there? How did they get the list? It’s really hard to say, though some of the contents of the page make it look like these were from phishing sites, possibly made to look like the user was logging into their own email, or a similar site. But the cleanup from that kind of theft has got to be immense.

Here’s what I did to address the issue when I found their data:

  • I copied the list and the url of the site I found the list on
  • stripped the passwords
  • parsed the domains
    • 1572 Gmail Accounts
    • 16572 Microsoft customer email accounts including Microsoft Live, Windows Live, hotmail.com and MSN.com
    • 3620 yahoo email accounts
    • 400 AOL.com and aim.com accounts
    • thousands of others from private companies and educational institutions alike
  • contacted the security from most of those domains (the full list is impossible)
  • provided them with the list of compromised accounts and the source (as I have it)
  • contacted a few individuals who were not part of big lists (like gmail, hotmail, yahoo etc.)
  • and now I’m telling you.

This is a big list. 25,000 accounts. That’s a lot of people. And it’s just a drop in the bucket of the list of accounts that have been compromised. Are you one of them? Are you doing all that you can to secure your data? Do you even know if you are? These are all points that may keep you up at night if you haven’t consulted someone to ensure that you are properly protected. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Call someone now!

Jul 09

Sprocket Rocket

Older posts «

» Newer posts