Raising money for autism research

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Every fall, my family participates in a fund-raising walk to support autism research. My seven year old son Jay is severely autistic and unable to talk. When we tell people he can’t talk, they often assume that he must still understand things fairly well, but this is not the case. Sometimes I want to explain that Jay has no language, but this is a hard concept to get across quickly. In a practical sense, it means Jay is profoundly apart from the rest of us, and likely always will be. The good news is that, as far as we can tell, Jay doesn’t suffer any mental anguish as a result of his separation. He’s generally a pretty happy kid. His parents had to mourn the passing of the child they thought Jay was. This caused real pain, but crucially this child that did pass away wasn’t Jay. He was a fiction, a projection of the hope that imagines the future can be predicted. When you look into a child’s eyes, what do you see? It’s hard to see the child, so often cloaked by heavy layers of expectation and projection. That is one gift Jay has given me: I have learned the importance of seeing Jay when I look at Jay. It’s a hard lesson to learn.

Dealing with Jay has taught me many valuable lessons, but all the same, I’d rather that you never have to confront autism in your own family. Unless we can understand more about how and why autism happens, there is the increasing and disturbing possibility that you will encounter it in your extended family some day. Research is the only way forward, and research costs money. That’s why I’m asking for your support. Go to the “Walk for Autism” web site and pledge some money for our walk. I’ll thank you right now for doing it.

I am also including below my wife’s annual fund-raising letter.
Continue reading “Raising money for autism research”

HP photo slimming

I need your help on this one. Is this a feature or a terrible omen for our deranged times? HP has introduced a digital camera effect called the slimming feature. Here’s their ad copy on the topic.

They say cameras add ten pounds, but HP digital cameras can help reverse that effect. The slimming feature, available on select HP digital camera models, is a subtle effect that can instantly trim off pounds from the subjects in your photos!

When I saw someone had linked to this from a blog I was reading, I was convinced it was a fake. I kept looking at the HP URL trying to work out if it was a hacked address of some kind. But no, this is a real feature on real cameras. I can’t figure out if I’m off base being astonished by this. I’ve talked to people who can’t figure out why I find this so disturbing. I guess slimming your photo is better than sticking your finger down your throat after brunch, but it seems dishonest in some very damaging ways.

If it takes off in the marketplace, though, I’m thinking about selling a JolieCam. It’s a camera that, no matter who you point it at (your dog, your grandma, your half-eaten tuna sandwich), always spits out a glamorous photo of Angelina Jolie. Why look frumpy when you can look vampy?

So what’s your verdict on the slimming feature: funny harmless feature, or one more sign that the apocalypse is near?

Stellarium stargazing software

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I’ve been on a good run with free software lately. As part of some recent work I’ve been doing with my Sky Clock, I wanted to check my accuracy against a web site that showed the current sky. Was Saturn where I said it should be? As part of my Google search for such a web site planetarium, I came across a mention of Stellarium, a free open-source stargazing program for your computer. It looked pretty, and the fact that it was free made it a simple decision to install it and take a look at it. And lo and behold, it’s very good. Long ago I owned a copy of Red Shift from Maris, and it wasn’t a great experience. The interface was bulky and there was all kinds of weird content that I didn’t really need. Stellarium by contrast is very simple. Its interface feels a little Unix-y and text heavy (lots of single-letter accelerators that expert users can memorize), but it does exactly what I needed, it’s beautful, and it’s free.

As a professional software developer, this last part always gives me pause. I’ve lost count of the number of really useful really good programs I use that are completely free. Not ten minutes ago I downloaded the free Eclipse-based JavaScript/HTML editor Aptana along with a nice free font (Proggy Clean) to use with it. Last night I downloaded a free genealogy program called Personal Ancestral File. Again, it’s pretty basic, but it does exactly what I need. I don’t need and I don’t want to pay for all the fancy-pants features they cram into Family Tree Maker, another product I once spent money on.

Commercial vendors can charge for new features, but they must eventually run out of meaningful novelty. Their free competitors, who by definition can’t be run out of business, will ultimately swallow all features worth copying.
So I wonder: in the long run, will all software be free? I have become convinced that the answer is very nearly yes. In the long run, all software will be free, or hosted as a service, or both. Money will still pour through the system, but by a very different set of sluiceways.

Rube Goldberg is alive and well…

… and making videos in Japan.

Please, please don’t start this if you don’t have nine minutes to spare. This is the sort of thing where people usually say “This guy had WAY too much time on his hands.” But the commercial nature of these videos makes it clear that the creator was a pro. He’s getting paid to have that much time on his hands. Good for him, I say. We should all be so lucky.

Can’t… stop… watching…

If you can tear yourself away from the gadget videos, here’s a Rube Goldberg-ish Flash game. Ride down a doodle of your own design. Can you build a successful loop-the-loop track? Check it out: Line Rider by ~fsk on deviantART. (via tingelinde)