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I wish all my friends and family a happy and prosperous new year.  For many of you, 2011 was quite awful and I hope that 2012 is significantly better.
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Well, this is the end of the holiday.  I haven't taken any extra days off, so that I can have more holidays in the summer and/or when Mrs HtC is away on work trips.  As always, it's sad that the break has to end.

A short review of the xmas break, mainly FMOR )
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Yesterday saw [livejournal.com profile] nonesuchhouse run one of his irregular but excellent roleplaying sessions.  This loosely followed on from a xmas special a couple of years ago that involved temporal anomalies, dinosaurs, zombies and black helicopters.  The twist for yesterday's adventure was that we were all playing versions of [livejournal.com profile] meltroid's character Roland Medmenham (unbeknown to Meltroid himself).  [livejournal.com profile] seaofcats's character was from an alternate timeline, [livejournal.com profile] moz_attics was playing a terminator-style robot dressed as a nun, and I was not a version of Medmenham at all, but merely disguised as his future self in an attempt to make him see the error of his ways.

All the characters arrived at an Abbey in France in 2004 when another temporal event was expected.  After some initial exploration and a few glasses of wine (and repelling some more dinosaurs), we travelled back in time to find an older version of Medmenham running the abbey, helped by a populace of Medenham clones (and more wine).  Two of our party promptly decided that his cloning device offered the opportunity to create a world entirely filled with Medmenhams - although they differed as to which Medmenham should be the template for this plan.  Much confusion and wine-drinking ensued.  At one point the older Medmenham commandeered Seaofcat's Delorean to appear in our future; in response to which Seaofcats summoned some of his colleagues (also Medmenhams) in aid.  Eventually we had at least seven Medmenhams in the same laboratory.  This was a quandary for the robo-nun, who was programmed to protect Medmenham - but which one?

All looked lost, until Meltroid realised that the gathered Medmenhams had depleted the wine cellar so much that only one barrel  remained.  All agreed that by far the best use of the cloning device was to replicate this precious resource.  On returning to the future, we found the abbey had become the Medmenham vineyard, producing excellent and remarkably consistent vintages year after year.  Thus catastrophe was avoided.
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I intend to buy a new desktop PC, which means I'm up to my eyes in details of component specs.  Previously I've bought from Dell, but although their base configurations seem OK, they seem to be charging massively over the odds for even budget graphics cards.  As I don't want to pay Dell £50 or more just to plug a card into a chassis, I'm looking at custom suppliers.  I've never heard of the current set of PC vendors but the PC Advisor web site seems to give them good reviews.

So currently I'm thinking of an Arbico, with an Intel i3 CPU, Radeon HD 6770 graphics, 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM, and a bog-standard 500GB SATA  II disk.  That comes to just under £600 (including Windows 7 & some basic multi-media software).  I've included an upgraded power supply that is supposedly quieter than the basic one and also supports SLI/Crossfire, although I'm not sure that's really worth the extra £30.  I could, of course, upgrade to a quad-core i5 instead of the dual-core i3, or a bigger graphics card, but I doubt I'll really need them.

Does anyone have any advice before I take the plunge and order this?

Incidentally, I found techradar.com really useful as a source of reviews and information, as well as PC Advisor.

The reason for buying a  PC nowis that my existing one has recently started to crash, usually when logging on or off.  I could perhaps reinstall Windows but I've been thinking of getting a new machine for a while.  My current PC can't run the latest games, and I'd like to have Windows 7 to be on the same OS as Mrs HtC's Vaio.  I would also like a 21" screen instead of my 15" one, which will put more load on the graphics hardware.
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We usually take a few walks when we're at home, either locally (e.g. the Blackford, Craiglockhart or Braid Hills), or slightly further afield in the Pentlands.  This year, the gales on Christmas Day were so strong that we didn't fancy braving the outdoors.  Yesterday was a little better, so we went for a short stomp around Flotterstone.  The wind was still up, so we didn't venture any heights, satisfying ourselves with a low-level circuit.  The main hindrance turned out to be thick mud; a combination of slipperiness and stickiness that made a couple of patches a little tricky - nothing serious to hardened walkers, just a minor inconvenience to us fastidious urban folk.  We enjoyed it.
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My son is now the same height as my wife.  Neither of them is prepared to admit that they are not the taller.  These leads to much teasing.  I'm doing my best to stay out of it (honest).

Afghanistan

Dec. 7th, 2011 10:09 pm
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I have lots that I could post about and not enough time to do so, but I do want to mention that one of my American nephews was deployed to Kabul with the National Guard last week.  He took part in his first convoy on Sunday.  The family all wish him good luck on his tour, which is due to last ten months.
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[livejournal.com profile] sidheag wrote this in a comment to my post about Aspie kids on TV:

My suspicion - and I'd be seriously interested in hearing what you think - is that there are some people who clearly do have Asperger's, some who clearly do not, and some who TBH might get or not get a diagnosis depending on their circumstances, who does the diagnosing, what day it is when they see them, etc. etc., and where that isn't a question of whether they've been misdiagnosed but really of which side of a socially constructed line you choose to put them.

I only know a little, from our own experience, from that of friends, and from people we've met through the Lothian Autistic Society.  How it appears to me is that there is a great variety of developmental symptoms, which the medical profession tries to classify in a number of ways in order to get a handle on what provision is needed.  Whenever you look at a classification system, you need to remember the range of symptoms and the huge number of ways they manifest in different children.  The real world is much messier than our map of it.  (I'm not arguing that the maps are useless, just that they mustn't be mistaken for the reality).

This contrasts with a certain subset of physical ailments, for which we know causes and can use those causes, rather than symptoms, to classify the diseases. 

Against this background, there is plenty of scope for interpretation in any particular case. 
I think this falls into two parts. 
One is whether a particular child receives a diagnosis at all.  The second is which diagnosis (or set of diagnoses) is most appropriate.
  The diagnosis will depend on who is performing it, how the child is behaving when observed, and what is reported from other parties (such as schools).   If treatment or support is available that seems suitable for the particular child, that may also motivate one diagnosis over another.  Conversely, some doctors may stick to the exact set of symptoms required for a particular diagnosis, which may lead to some children falling through the cracks created by the classification system.

In many cases, there is clearly something wrong and the question is which diagnosis applies.  AS is just one option.  There are many others, some of which may seem to be medicalising the extremes of personality.

Then there are cases where parents see something wrong but schools and/or medics do not.  I know of cases where a diagnosis was given several years after the issues were first raised.  Conversely, I wouldn't be surprised if medics see examples of the "worried well".  As we discussed in the earlier post, a diagnosis is more likely if there is some reason for it. If the child is distressed, or disrupting others, there will be more motivation to seek a diagnosis.    On the other hand, if the amount of treatment is limited, then the medics or schools may be under pressure to limit the number of diagnoses they make. 

Schools play an important part in this process and we've seen massive differences between schools in the same city.  Ours was keen that M should be diagnosed, so that they could get the support he needed.  On the downside, if they and we hadn't managed to get a diagnosis, M would have faced exclusion for his disruptive behaviour.  We know of other cases where schools have actively resisted diagnosis, presumably so they didn't have to accept the responsibility (and would just blame the parents or even the child concerned). 

Sadly there are cases where the diagnosis is clear but the provision is lacking.  We know of one kid who is hugely disabled by Asperger's and cannot possibly attend a mainstream school, but who is way too bright for the special schools.   He can't be left alone and his parents haven't been out together for years, yet
he has an IQ of 150 or more.

For the geek-minded among us, it's tempting to wonder whether we would have been diagnosed as Asperger's had the condition been more widely recognised.  But some of us were/are just introverted, bright and socially awkward, whereas people with Asperger's typically have more problems than that, such as obsessive rituals, particular physical sensitivities, extreme reactions to social situations, or a combination of smaller symptoms.  Which isn't to say that AS would never apply to the geek-minded, or to the very bright child, just that the symptoms include more than just a little social awkwardness.
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This is weird.  In order to network the new router without trailing cables all round the flat, I bought a couple of devices for running internet over the electrical mains wiring.  This seemed to work fine; my desktop connected to the outside world without any problems.

The day after, our Nintendo Wii crashed.  This happened a couple of times, with different games.  It looked like the console had developed a fault.  Then I wondered whether the powerline devices were somehow interfering with the Wii.  We couldn't find anything on the WWW that suggested this might be a problem - the only interference noted from powerline devices was with DAB radio - but trials suggest that the Wii does crash when the powerline devices are switched on, and doesn't crash when they're not.  It's an intermittent problem and we can't be certain of the correlation, but it certainly looks like this is the cause.

It's odd, because I'd have expected radio interference to just affect the pickup of the Wii remote temporarily, not to completely freeze the system.  Also, the nearest powerline device is at least 15 feet away with an intervening wall.  So I'm wondering whether the interference is actually via the mains cabling itself.  We've put the Wii on a surge protector to see if that helps.
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I'd appreciate comments on your experience with e-mail services.

I recently did something that I hardly ever do - I accepted a sale offer from a phone call.  Usually I just tell salespeople that I don't make deals in response to them phoning me, partly because I don't make financial decisions that lightly and partly because  I get fed up with them hassling me in the first place.  (We are on the Telephone Preference Service, but organisations with whom we already have an account are not covered by the TPS).  As it happened, Orange offered a good deal on phone+broadband at a time when our Virgin service has been unreliable and rather expensive.  So we now have two broadband connections (one ADSL, one Cable), pending a final switchover.

As Virgin also provide our current e-mail service, we'll also have to find a new e-mail provider.  Orange do provide e-mail and I may just try that.  They do limit the incoming mailbox to a thousand messages (covering everyone in the house), which will normally be plenty, although I have a nagging worry in case we receive a flood of messages while we're on holiday sometime.  Also, they give instructions only for Outlook Express; I'd probably use Thunderbird so I'd have to make sure that everything worked for that.  They have a slightly odd way of managing multiple e-mail addresses.  (Actually I'm still using Eudora, but I should move to a client that is actively maintained).

It occurs to me that an option would be to use Gmail or Hotmail.  How well does that work with POP or IMAP? 

Is there anything else I should be considering?
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I'd appreciate comments on your experience with e-mail services.

I recently did something that I hardly ever do - I accepted a sale offer from a phone call.  Usually I just tell salespeople that I don't make deals in response to them phoning me, partly because I don't make financial decisions that lightly and partly because  I get fed up with them hassling me in the first place.  (We are on the Telephone Preference Service, but organisations with whom we already have an account are not covered by the TPS).  As it happened, Orange offered a good deal on phone+broadband at a time when our Virgin service has been unreliable and rather expensive.  So we now have two broadband connections (one ADSL, one Cable), pending a final switchover.

As Virgin also provide our current e-mail service, we'll also have to find a new e-mail provider.  Orange do provide e-mail and I may just try that.  They do limit the incoming mailbox to a thousand messages (covering everyone in the house), which will normally be plenty, although I have a nagging worry in case we receive a flood of messages while we're on holiday sometime.  Also, they give instructions only for Outlook Express; I'd probably use Thunderbird so I'd have to make sure that everything worked for that.  They have a slightly odd way of managing multiple e-mail addresses.  (Actually I'm still using Eudora, but I should move to a client that is actively maintained).

It occurs to me that an option would be to use Gmail or Hotmail.  How well does that work with POP or IMAP? 

Is there anything else I should be considering?  Is it really worth using Thunderbird over Outlook Express?
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The last episode of Educating Essex including a storyline about a child in the final year of school who has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.  The programme showed the special needs teacher teaching him about basic social skills and meeting with his mother.  We also saw some of his interactions with the other kids and his use of the special needs facility when he needed some space.  He seemed a friendly kid and the other pupils seemed to get along with him.  He clearly needed his teaching assistant.  Apparently he used to live in Spain and the Spanish school held him back in primary school, so he was having a hard time keeping up with the rest of the class.

Another documentary showed a different Aspie kid.  The programme's title, The Growing Pains of a Teenage Genius, pretty much summed up the story.  This kid was obsessed with maths and had passed his A-level at 11.  The programme showed him taking an OU maths degree at 13, and beginning to lose confidence in this self-definition because he was sruggling to keep up.  (From my own experience, I'd say that can be a valuable lesson to learn, but it isn't a pleasant one).  As with the first programme, we saw some of his attempts to make friends with other kids.  He seemed generally less socially successful, because his oddities tended to push people away.  By comparison, although the child in Educating Essex was still socially awkward, he was more endearing to his peers.

Both documentaries showed the importance of having a sympathetic school with some provision for AS support.  Taken together, they showed some of the range of people who have Asperger's.  I have the feeling that the "teenage genius" notion is quite widely held (perhaps as a result of films like Rain Man); the Educating Essex episode showed that academic success isn't a defining notion of Asperger's.  Both showed the difficulty that the essentially good-natured children had in fitting in to the complex social world of school.

At first, I was surprised the "teenage genius" kid had only recently been diagnosed.  Obviously, we only saw edited extracts of his life, but I'd have thought anyone with any experience of Aspie kids would have hazarded a diagnosis within five minutes.  Although on reflection, parents often need an incentive to seek a diagnosis; it's only when something starts going wrong in their child's life that they look for a way to deal with it.  Also, it can be quite hard to accept that your child is sufficiently un-normal that their behaviour constitutes a medical condition and that they may face problems for the rest of their life.

I hope both kids manage to find their way in adult life.  I think they both have a good chance of doing so.
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Tonight is Bonfire Night, it's a clear night, and we've been out to Hopetoun House to celebrate.  First, we sat in a long traffic queue.  It took an hour to get to the car park from the the Forth Bridge roundabout, which must be less than 5 miles.  Then we stood in a queue to buy some haggis.  Then we joined the queue out of the car park, which took about half-an-hour.

While we were queuing for the haggis, there was a rather nifty firework display.  It include some shapes that I hadn't seen before from fireworks, including spirals and hearts, and also long ribbons falling from very high up.  The whole show lasted about twenty minutes and was pretty good.

So, we enjoyed the fireworks and the haggis.  We're not sure we'd go there again though, because the journey was too long and boring.  The Meadowbank display that we went to last year was only a little bit more basic and was much easier to get to.

Lurgi

Nov. 2nd, 2011 07:32 pm
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Meh
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If you didn't see Code Breakers, about the Colossus and the decoding of the German Lorentz code during WW2, it's well worth catching.  I think it is still on the BBC iPlayer for a couple of days.  I'd read some of the history of Bletchley Park before, but I hadn't realised the effects of breaking the "Tunny" code (as the Brits called it).  According to this programme, MI6 were able to forewarn the Soviets about the German plans for the Battle of Kursk, which was the single largest tank and aircraft battle in history and a hugely significant loss for the Germans.  The BBC programme focussed on two of the key people involved and included interviews with people who worked with them.

In a completely different vein, Educating Essex is classic fly-on-the-wall TV (as all "reality TV" was before the advent of Big Brother).  In Episode 6, the school's Deputy Head showed astonishing patience with a stroppy teenager.  When he said, in an interview, that we should never give up on any child, it brought a tear to my eye.  The next (and final?) episode will include the school preparing an Aspie kid for leaving school, which will make that episode essential viewing for us.  All the episodes so far are available on the Channel 4 web site.
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M is looking forward to the clocks going back.  He doesn't like getting up and walking to school in the dark.  I'll be interested to see whether he will mind the lack of daylight in the evenings.

Heartlife

Oct. 28th, 2011 09:25 pm
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In the hospital for a check-up today and I was told that the battery that powers my heart has another 173 months before it has to be replaced.  This is pretty good, because when it was installed I was told it might have to be replaced after 10 years.  That was over four years ago, so I seem to be getting double the the originally expected life.

Since replacing the battery involves cutting the old one out from under my skin, so the longer it lasts, very much the better.
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M is working hard to produce three pieces of writing for The Pushkin Prizes, which is a writing competition for kids in S1 and S2 in Scottish schools.  I think this is the first year that Boroughmuir have taken part, so the timing is fortunate for M.  I'm really pleased to see him trying for this.  He seems quite motivated - he doesn't usually like doing ordinary homework, let alone extra work, so he must be keen!
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Is there a particularly strong culture of physical theatre in St. Petersburg?  I've admired Derevo several times when they have visited the Edinburgh Fringe, and tonight M and I went to see Slava's Snow Show, which could be viewed as a sort of family-friendly version of Derevo.  Although that might be a rather idiosyncratic and personal view.  The official programme explains that Slava Polunin dropped out of his engineering degree in Leningrad to purse his love of clowning and street performance. 

I find this sort of visual theatre really hard to describe, as there is no plot or narrative, just a series of sketches, images and anarchic-seeming play with the audience.  The characters are absurd clowns but the show is nothing like a stereotypical circus act.  Sometimes the humour is in the small interactions between the characters, sometimes in stage-filling images such as a bedstead becoming an imaginary boat complete with sail, and sometimes in spraying the audience with water or fake snow.  The performers movements are precise and their timing is excellent.

We both enjoyed it and I'd recommend it to others.  Although it's family-friendly, you don't have to take children with you.  It's billed as unsuitable for children younger than 8.



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I'm probably behind the curve in that I've only just heard about this.  A good European citizen, from Austria, has lodged several complaints against Facebook with the Data Protection Officer in Ireland.  This could be interesting.

Kim Cameron's summary

The Campaign's website

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