Sunday, April 15, 2018

What I'm up to these days - Smartphones for all

This blog is quieter than it used to be. There are a few reasons for that, but mostly I’m spending blogging time slogging away on the Smartphones for All book project — which is now iPhone specific. I publish chapter excerpts on a blog there every few weeks. Here are a few recent examples:

You can follow that project on twitter, by blog feed, or on Facebook or visit the blog to see all the recent posts.

I no longer make predictions as to when I’ll be done. I know the topics to cover, I write and revise, one day it will be finished. I plan to do the Amazon self-publishing thing.

Adventures in Special Needs travel: Hawaii

The family went to Hawaii. Two special needs adults, one neurotypical daughter and two parents. There was a lot of planning work and a lot of on-the-fly adjustment. We chose Honolulu/Waikiki because our Explorers are more comfortable with concrete than with nature. The trip was a success, in part because, by sheer luck, the atypical rainfall spared both golf outings with #1. 

Luck aside — some things that worked well:

  1. Direct flight. A five hour mechanical delay (Delta) was stressful though.
  2. Single residence located in Waikiki with kitchen and good parking. We ate most meals there. Nearby groceries. Many things we could walk to.
  3. Fairy detailed advanced schedule that we then swapped around based on weather.
  4. Copious research.
  5. Explorers now independent enough they could stay in hotel room or go off on their own in many settings.
  6. Private tour (“Oahu Private Tours" <jason@oahuprivatetours.com>). We got lucky with our guide too; #1 is on his best behavior with young women.
  7. We rented a van (very expensive in Hawaii by the way).
  8. Good attractions for our Explorers: Zoo, Aquarium, Waikiki beach, Paradise Cove snorkeling (quiet, no Hanauma stress), Foster Botanical Gardens (tranquility), Diamondhead hike, “Edge” restaurant hotel table that was near beach so we could mix food and sand…
  9. English language generally worked, McDonalds and Subway ubiquitous.

It was a very big expense of course few families could afford it. We did it this one time because we could manage cost and the children are leaving school settings, entering work, moving out soon, etc.

It’s perhaps useful to know this can be done — and the general approach might work for others. It’s a long way from our 2010 family trip to a nordic ski resort and 2008 road vacations but I don’t think we’re quite ready for, say, a week in Korea.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

When imagination becomes memory

I think this is terribly important, but I’ve never seen it described. So, in a few minutes, I’ll share what I think.

Almost animals have memory, save perhaps the simplest single celled organisms. We think plants have a form of memory as well. There’s nothing uniquely human about memory.

Imagination is less common. It’s not uniquely human either; crows, wolves, cephalopods, cetaceans, primates — they all have some form of something that looks like imagination. We think humans have much more of it though. We can create memories of things that have not happened or did not happen. Imagination is a form of ‘false memory’ that we know to be false.

Except … when we don’t know it to be false. And there lies a problem — but I’ll come back to that.

When did humans develop the ability to create false memories and know them to be false? We think it is older than what we call “human” now — we think our fellow modern hominids, Neandertal, Denisovan and more had well developed imaginations. We suspect we have more of this talent though, and that we might have picked up additional abilities as recently as 50,000 to 75,000 years ago.

That’s very recent evolution, so it’s not surprising that, like strength and height, imagination might vary among people. It might vary in the ability to create “false” memories, and, perhaps independently, in the ability to know them to be false.

The latter variation is key. We know from research over the past forty years that it is relatively easy to create false memories in many people, but we also know that some study subjects, typically healthy university students, are more resistant to false memories than others. If we consider imagination as the generation of false memories that we know to be false, then similarly some people will be better at retaining the knowledge of what happened versus what they imagine happened.

So we know this ability to divide imagination from memory varies. It is plausible, and it fits my own experience, that people with “connectopathies” and other cognitive disabilities may have not only more limited imaginations, but also more difficulty separating the memory of what is imagined from all other memory.

I have seen this in someone close to me. When he was a child I would be upset that he was not telling me the truth, but over time I have come to believe that for him memory and imagination are inextricably blurred. What he imagines, what he wishes to be or have been, is poorly separated from what has been. There is just enough separation, I think, to create anxiety or agitation around the recall of false memory, but not enough to tell what is true memory and what is imagination.

I don’t think this problem is unique to persons with an IQ below the 5th percentile. I suspect it’s true for very many people, and it may explain why so many today are susceptible to novel kinds of media manipulation.

It’s a problem we need to research and understand both for persons with cognitive disabilities and for our society.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Qustodio "parental" controls for iOS - no longer compatible with modern web

My Qustodio review [1] was delayed because I signed up for the School (professional) version rather than the Home version (long story, not interesting). The two versions seem to have a lot in common, but there important differences. The Home version has an iOS app for managing users, the School version must be managed by a desktop browser (no app, no support for iOS browsers).

Unfortunately I discovered fatal flaws to Qustodio’s approach that mean I won’t be testing their home version. The short version is that they route all traffic through a VPN that isn’t compatible with modern requirements for SSL connections. 

For reference here at the notes I prepared on reviewing school/professional version.

—————————-

The “School” version of Qustodio is marketed to small schools, non-profits and libraries. I signed up for the 5 device $10/month plan.

Like the Family (home) version the school version manages desktop and mobile devices, but I only looking at their iOS device support. I installed on 3 iPhones, two in active use by my Explorers, one a test phone for my book project. This is what I found.

How Qustodio (school) works

Qustodio uses Apple’s iOS device management technology. They install a “Configuration Profile” that  allows remote configuration of some of Apple’s built-in Restrictions. The installation is simply downloading the Profile from a link. Once installed all net traffic is routed through a Qustodio VPN. 

When Qustodio is installed the iOS VPN setting will be enabled. A user can toggle it off but this is really a UI error, it will turn itself back on.

Customer support and leaving Qustudio: C

I worked with customer support to see if I could switch my account from School to Home. Customer support was responsive but they are not native English speakers. They may be relying on translation software. They didn’t understand my question. (I’m pretty sure there’s no way to do that transfer.)

To leave Qustodio one must first delete the Profiles from each device. To delete one must know the password that was emailed to the account manager during installation. There’s no way to retrieve that password from the management panel (there must be a way for customer support to retrieve it!). [Update: It’s obscure, but if you go to Settings and Devices and delete a device you’ll see a warning dialog that shows the removal password for the device.]

The next deletion step is to find the Profiles. On one device the Profile was under the main Settings menu, in two others Profiles were under Settings:General:Profiles. I have no idea why there were two different locations, it didn’t seem to be related to the installation method.

The uninstall process doesn’t scale to a large number of users, the “school” product is aimed at very small schools.

The future of the product: D-

Google is slowly rolling out their own web based device management platform for families. They are responding to pressure from regulators. This could be a big deal, because Android’s built-in parental controls were lousy. Apple, again responding to pressure from Europe and even large investors, may also provide a web based way to manage devices. Even if Apple does a poor job these two developments may kill the home user market and Qustodio’s school solution is pretty limited.

Alas, there’s an even bigger problem - see Usage.

Installation: B

Installation isn’t too bad as long as you don’t try following the directions for the Home version! Create  user in the web management console, then either send an email to their device or use a browser on their device to navigate to www.qustodio.com/pro/downloads. Then click the links and complete the install. Just be sure not to save the management console password to their device when prompted.

Usage: F

Alas, the Qustodio VPN doesn’t handle SSL connections correctly. Google treats it as a “impersonating” connection, other sites produced an ERR_SSL_PROTOCOL_ERROR message. OS X parental controls had similar issues 5 years ago; since then SSL connections have become standard. Today nobody would consider this acceptable. The final nail in the coffin is Qustodio’s web site doesn’t address the problem. That suggests a limited future for their iOS product.

- fn -

[1] I’ve been spelling it “Qustudio”. It’s actually Qustodio. I wonder how they came up with that name. I’ve gone back and fixed up my old posts. 

Update 2/17/2018: Qustodio never responded to my questions about their VPN service. In addition to the issues above #1 son was being routinely asked for his VPN password. I removed all the phones from the service, and found when you delete a device you are given the device password. So it’s available, but obscure. Then I removed all accounts and closed my account. Account closure seemed to work, now I have to see if billing stops.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Vulnerable user support: Qustodio review and PC Magazine parental control page

It’s been a while since I reviewed MMGuardian and similar parental control apps. The last time I did this I promised to took at Qustodio, but life got in the way. Now I’m back to the topic, preparing to update one of the tougher chapters in my book - Smartphones for All.

I signed up for Qustodio and quickly ran into some issues with possibly outdated documentation. I say “possibly” because there may be some quirks related to my subscribing with an old test account they gave me. So I’ll get to evaluate their user support too. I’ll put that post out after I get things fixed.

In the meantime I’ve put out a call for feedback on use of “parental control software” to support vulnerable iPhone users of all ages. I’d particularly like to hear from users of Qustodio and MMGuardian with iPhones.

PC Magazine (I remember their glory days!) did a pretty thorough review of Qustodio, through it I found their “parental control and monitoring reviews” stream. The latter is a good general resource, but they should have included MMGuardian.

The Qustodio review makes much of how ‘old’ the Qustodio site looks. I didn’t bother me, but having an ‘old’ looking site can be a marker for weak financials. The review is Android-centric, that makes sense because there are effectively no parental controls with Android. If you want something you need to pay. iOS devices have built in restriction abilities so they get less attention. They still hit most of the key points for an iOS users, but my review will be more extensive.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Down syndrome traits -- many also true of non-Down low IQ adult

Recently I had the privilege of taking about smartphone support for special needs adults for the Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota. As a speaker I could attend the conference for free, including a talk by a psychologist, Dennis McGuire.

I don’t have a child with Down Syndrome (John Langdon Down’s syndrome has become Down Syndrome) but #1’s IQ is in the typical Down Syndrome range. So I was curious how much of Dr McGuire’s talk applied to my son. I decided about 80% or so — even though #1’s temperament is very different from the Down Syndrome athletes I know from Special Olympics and Minnesota Special Hockey. I suspect that overlap is primarily a result of cognitive disability rather than something unique to Down Syndrome (Trisomy 21). (By way of reference #2 is classic autism spectrum disorder but has a normal college range IQ. This list would not apply to him.)

For the parent of a child with a cognitive disability this is valuable stuff. I thought nobody studied these behaviors — but it turns out they are studied in Down Syndrome. We’ve figured most of it out by now, but it would have been good to have had this list 8 years ago.

From my notes …

  1. Often do better with written word than spoken word, even if reading level grade 2.* This includes texting.
  2. A minor misfortune that a neurotypical might quickly forget may produce a strong aversion or phobia. These can be lasting and may be very hard or impossible to verbalize. Re-exposure to the context or even attempts to describe it may reproduce the emotional response (PTSD-like)*. They may result in quitting a job that had been going well or dropping a favorite activity. These can sometimes be addressed over a period of a year or so — if the root cause can be determined.
  3. It is common to make poor word or phrase choices — perhaps for lack of a range of phrases. “Kill that SOB” for “I’m really made at him”. Some will response to a (written) list of alternative and more acceptable phrasings.
  4. “Self-talk”, monologues with gestures and dialog, are common ways to process events. They may include imaginary friends. They may be mistaken for psychotic delusions. Person with Down syndrome often need training to understand self-talk should be done in a private space.
  5. When doing “self-talk” may act out roles — consistent with a fondness for theater.
  6. “Stuck groove” - McGuire's name for repetitive behaviors with a compulsive aspect. Topics and phrases that must be repeated many times with minor variations. Arranging a desk to be “just so”.
  7. A preference for ordered environments and routines. “Stubborn” is the “S word" in the Down Syndrome community.
  8. A resistance to being hurried or made to move quickly — “slow” and “slower”. (FWIW #1 does not do this, but my #2 (autism) does. I’ve seen this a bit in special hockey, but I’ve also seen Down skaters race for the puck.
  9. Anger as a common response to not understanding, feeling pushed.
  10. Reactive “No” when asked if want to do something long desired.
  11. Strong orientation to place — often very good sense of direction.
  12. Love of food and food places.
  13. Strong visual memory but poor at time sequencing. May speak of things in present tense that occurred years ago. May have difficulty with timing of routines — not able to manage “15 minute” guide for shower.

I’ll ask my Down parents whether they think this list will be helpful in coaching our Down skaters. I know it would be helpful for managing my #1.

* Dr McGuire ascribed the asterisk items to a strong visual memory, even “photographic” at times. That seems plausible, but I don’t know if there are MRI studies to go with it.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Apartheid in Minnesota: Disabled need not apply

This shocked me:

West St. Paul, South St. Paul restrict housing for disabled

West St. Paul and South St. Paul have taken steps to restrict housing options for people who receive state assistance for being both low-income and disabled…

…. “We have enough of these properties in the community,” said Tom Seaberg, a South St. Paul City Council member. “It’s not a discriminatory thing, it’s an economic issue.”…

… West St. Paul passed an ordinance in November prohibiting people who get government rental assistance and support services, a category the state calls “registered housing with services,” from living in the city’s apartments unless they’re already residing there….

People receiving assistance may be mentally ill, physically or mentally disabled or elderly. The services they get range from transportation and nursing care to help with cleaning or money management.

South St. Paul approved an ordinance last month allowing just one unit, or 5 percent of a multifamily building, whichever is greater, to be occupied by people receiving both rental help and support services….

… Kori Land, the attorney for both cities, said that “registered housing with services establishments” is simply a land-use classification in state law. She denied that the ordinances discriminate against any specific group…

 

How is this not like banning people by race or religion?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Minnesota adoption assistance and disability support

We have been told, and I think this is true, that if a Minnesota child with a cognitive disability receives state adoption assistance, which includes medicaid coverage it’s not possible to get disability support until the adoption assistance ends at age 21. 

It appears to be an unwritten rule. I wonder if in some cases it would be better, with a special needs adoption, to forego the adoption assistance and take the disability path instead. I’m sure this exclusion is an unintended consequence.

The transition from medicaid coverage under adoption assistance to medicaid coverage under the disability program is not instantaneous. There will be a gap. Moving from childhood disability to adult disability is not fun.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Smartphones for all has a new web site

I’ve created a separate blog for my book project on smartphone support for special needs and autism spectrum teens and adults. I replaced an older static site with a wordpress site with blog (feed) and static pages. 

I’ll post links to the best stuff here. This site will continue with non-book posts focused on supporting special needs persons. They are less frequent now because I’m focused on the book work.

I’m also refreshing companion Facebook pages and a Twitter account; I’ve put that into an intro blog post over on the book site. Check it out!