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The personal site of Jamie Knight, a slightly autistic web developer, speaker and mountain biker who is never seen far from his plush sidekick Lion. View the Archive

Topics: Autism Development

"How to contribute to Open Source" sessions. An idea.

One problem with breaking into the web development industry, is that, you hit a chicken and egg situation when it comes to Experience. You need experience to land a role, but you cannot get much experience without a role. This situation is magnified if you happen to have a disability. If that disability effects social or communication skills, then frankly, its pretty much a brick wall.

Here, is my modest proposal to try and break down the barrier.

I’m thinking of running some events, a bunch of people, in a room with computers. At the start of the event I will show everyone how to do branching and Pull Requests in Github and then help people to make their first contribution to open source.

My idea is that open source is a skeleton key to experience. Do some good work, and it leads to stuff. Do something not so great and generally the feedback with be swift. Ultimately, it is fertile ground but that first step, the first inch, the first pull request. Well. That. Is. Killer.

For the first event, I would like to focus one specific group, people on the autism spectrum. This is because thats the group I know and the group I can empathise with best. But if it works, then I would like to open the doors wide. If you want to run it for a different group, then please copy the idea.

If you like this idea or if you’re an open source project and you want to take part, please email me or tweet at me. I will see what response this gets and from there; figure out what sort of space I need in order to make it happen.

Published: 19 September 2014 | Categories: , Permalink

iOS Apps, Autism and Anxiety.

Many people on the autism spectrum suffer from Anxiety. The feeling that things are wrong, out of place or that something bad could happen. Often the anxiety can be brought on by feeling out of control, or not knowing how to deal with a specific situation.

I get anxious often, and in order to better deal with specific situations have taken to adapting mainstream iOS apps to fit my needs. In this post, i’m going to write about two adaptions which reduce my anxiety around way finding and location.

How do I get home?

Here’s the scenario, your in the office on a Friday afternoon and the team is heading out for drinks with a colleague who is leaving. You like the person who is leaving and would like to join in with wishing them on their way, however the pub which has been chosen is not known to you.

For me, this situation would trigger intense anxiety, fears about getting lost, or not managing the situation well. If I am having a bad day, I may also manage to get all the way to assuming that if I do go, and I don’t cope I would be fired or something. Normally I slam the brakes on before then though. (see, worry chains)!

In this scenario I have two approaches which have worked well. The first, is to “make it someone else’s problem”. I am fortunate enough to have very understanding colleagues who are often willing to help me find my way home (or travel back to a known station with me). I also have a partner who is willing to come into the city to pick me up should I feel overwhelmed.

However, both of these solutions are not true independence. I would prefer an independent solution, and this is where an iOS app comes into play.

MayMyRide is a workout and bike ride tracker. Its normal use case is tracking the route taken for a bike ride, it provides stats (distance speed, climb etc) and a map. For this scenario I don’t care (as much) about the stats, but I do care about the map.

I use MapMyRide as a digital equivalent to a ball of string. I map the walk to the venue as a new route, then simply follow the route map back staying on the blue line.

The application works well enough, I’m still experimenting with the best method, but the simplest is to simply use the map and street names. However, I’m going to try other methods such as setting the route as an activity to see if it will then give me something easier to use.

This has worked well, I have used it twice when before I would have felt unable to go for after work drinks. Its simple, reliable and it is discreet.

Low jacked, the good kind.

The iPhone has a feature called find my iPhone. It allows you to find lost iPhones, it also allows you to find lost people should they have an iPhone in their pocket.

My partner can log in to “find my iPhone,” select my iPhone and find me if he needs too. I don’t think we have used it in anger yet, but knowing that he can locate me without issue should I get completely lost is very reassuring. If I get horribly confused, or spaced out on the tube, I just need to surface and give him a call. Very reassuring.

These little applications, used in this way, provide me with reassurance and in turn, that reassurance gives me the confidence to go do things that I would otherwise find to cause unbearable anxiety.

Are you on the autism spectrum or do you use apps in unexpected ways? If so let me know in the comments.

Published: 15 September 2014 | Categories: , Permalink

Late 2013 13" Retina MacBook Pro First Impressions

My last MacBook was an 2012 11” MacBook Air purchased in early 2013. It was purchased after I tried the first generation 13” retina MacBook Pro. I returned the MacBook Pro it as it was deeply flawed

I sold the MacBook Air a few months ago. A friend needed a Mac in a hurry and I was not using it to heavily. I hoped I could just use the Mac mini instead. That didn’t work out so well. So it was time to survey the landscape again.

After looking around online, I found a beauty of a machine. A late 2013 13” retina MacBook Pro, with 8GB of RAM and a huge 512GB SSD and Iris Pro graphics for a little less than 35% off something of a bargain.

The Hardware.

Apple MacBook Pro hardware has been pretty consistent for the last few years. The main body is milled from a lump of aluminium, with ports down either side. The trackpad and keyboard are integrated into the shell, and there is a microphone and web camera integrated into the screen bezel.

The main advantage of the Air when it comes to ports relates to screen connectivity. This 13” Pro includes 2 thunderbolt ports and a HDMI port. This greatly simplifies media playback. The dual thunderbolt ports also allows for running a screen and an ethernet adaptor at the same time.

Beyond the ports mentioned, there are a couple of USB3 ports, an audio port and an SD card reader. The integrated reader is a nice advantage over the Air. It very handy for writing images to SD cards intended for the Raspberry Pi.

The overall feel of the pro is very positive. It feel sturdy refined and well built. It makes most other laptops feel a bit crap.

Internally, this model is the mid spec version, with a 2.6ghz i5 Dual Core processor and 8GB of RAM. The big selling points for this specific model is the large SSD and the retina screen.

The SSD.

Back in early 2013 I commented

“Given the cost of the rMBP this is disappointing, I would happily spend a little more for a larger drive but a £550 premium for a 512gb drive is way to much.”

That premium has now come down to less than £220 over the base model once the upgrade CPU is taken into account. Much more reasonable. The large SSD is what attracted me to this particular model when I saw it come up for sale. At 512gb the SSD is large enough to house my entire media library. Granted, it has less room for growth than on the Mac Mini, but it fits and that is a great starting point.

With this macbook, I don’t need an external drive or a separate mac for media duties. The Mac can handle the lot.

The Screen.

Much has been written about the retina screen before. It really is simply gorgeous and a pleasure to work on. The IPS display does not strain my eyes and the extra screen space is much appreciated. On a couple of occasions I have used the retina scaling to run the screen at 1680 × 1400. This gives me a little extra space when its needed. (in this case, having a webpage and my Voiceover Audit notes side by side).

It’Is not all perfect.

This MacBook, while a big improvement over my last laptop still has flaws. In using it pretty much daily for the last two weeks a few issues have cropped up once or twice. The main functional complaint is heat; and the main philosophical debate is the sealed nature of the MacBook.

When pushed this MacBook gets very warm. Everyday computing is generally fine. Bit sitting it on my lap on a warm day is uncomfortable. The cooling fins to the side must be kept completely clear, so placing it on soft surfaces invites overheating. The MacBook has never cut out completely, but I can certainly hear the fans going. Once moved to a hard surface the issue is vastly reduced.

My main non functional complaint is that this macbook is a completely sealed unit. The only upgradable part is the SSD and they are not readily available. Everything else (including the RAM and battery) is soldered down to the logic board.

I can see how this acts to enable the form factor. However, it does make me worry about the lack of future upgrades and the effect that has on the lifespan of the product.

Final words.

Unlike my first attempt with a retina MacBook I am really satisfied and impressed with this one. The quality is good, the price more reasonable and the retina screen brilliant. I hope it will serve me for many years to come.

Published: 14 September 2014 | Categories: , Permalink

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