Raising little Westies, and life as parent of a special needs son

Tag Archives: geekdom

Tech Review: Blackberry Playbook

My mum called me the other day and told me that she had bought a device, but she didn’t know how to use it. So, she said she would send it to me.

That device was a BlackBerry PlayBook, and I’m using it to write this blog post tonight.

Overall though, it is very limited in how useful it can be compared to other, more common tablets on the market. For example, the app store is very limited and it can be hard to find the right app for the task at hand.

I am very disappointed in the Twitter, Facebook and email apps, given the intended market for the tablet. The Web browser, though, is quite reasonable – responding well on most websites, and doing a great job rendering Flash based websites.

Overall, though, I think that I will be handing this over to my kids to use for a combination of Web browsing and media player – because the limited range in the app store will stop them turning it into a glorified games tablet.


Have you used a BlackBerry PlayBook?

Tell me what you think about it. What do you love about it, what would you change?




Ubuntu and Logitech: More of a match than the forums suggest

Magpie turned 9 in December 2012.

He had one real request for a birthday present: headphones with a microphone, so he could both use the computer in the lounge room without causing disturbance, and also, so he could record voiceovers on videos he was uploading to YouTube.

Logitech H600 wireless headset with integrated microphone


With a bit of research… I decided on a Logitech H600 wireless headset. Because, in what I searched for… it seemed that they should work OK with Ubuntu.

I’m very unhappy with that result.

The best I could find on a wide range of Ubunut forums, was unclear information about reported problems. With very little to say “Yay! It worked!

That is the main reason for this post, really – to say that my sons Logitech H600 headset with headphones and microphone, work fine with Ubuntu 12.10 Quantal Quetzal. The only drama being, Logitech seem to have not yet done anything about a utility to allow pairing of the headset with the universal reciever.

I am considering having a bit of a fiddle with both a virtual machine which I already have on the Ubuntu PC, that runs Windows XP, and simply trying to use the pairing utility with WINE. I will have a fiddle with both of those options over the next week, and write another entry about my success or otherwise.

Quantal Quetzal Queerness

For the uninitiated: Quantal Quetzal is the version name of Ubuntu 12.10

My journey with Ubuntu has been pretty good all told. I have run a netbook (which suffered a fault in the charging port), a laptop (which suffered a fault in the graphics ribbon from the motherboard to the lid/display), a media centre/server (which suffered a hard disk failure, from running a “Green” disk in a torrent server 24/7/365), and a desktop.

The desktop is in daily use by my wife and three kids, as well as frequent use by myself when I am home. I mentioned the other day the troubles I had upgrading Ubuntu to Quantal Quetzal. Unfortunately my troubles are not quite over…

My googling tells me there is a bit of a long standing problem with Ubunut users losing sound. And the problem has been around for quite some time with very poor clear concise pointers to how to actually fix it.

My elder son suffered from the issue shortly after my update. But it only effected his profile. To be a bit clearer about the sequence of events:

  1. I installed Quantal Quetzal.
  2. I configured all users with a user ID and a Gnome desktop profile, which worked fully as expected.
  3. At some time, my eldest son’s profile suffered a problem where sound would work from everything except Firefox.
    That is, sound worked from VNC, it worked from Banshee… but not from Youtube or any other online media. Videos would playback fine, but there is no sound.
  4. All other users had no problem.

To solve this, initially, I created a new user profile for my son. This restored him to having a fully working profile and computing experience (including having Minecraft working, and being able to record screen captures with voiceovers, and play them back).

Then a couple of days later… the same symptom occurred to my daughter.

This time my solution was a lot less drastic: I logged off all users, rebooted the PC, and everything worked fine.

Hmm, I thought, I wonder if that fixed Magpie’s problem?

As it turned out, nope it did not. His original profile was still displaying the same problem.


Anyone who knows anything about Ubuntu knows that a lot of per-user settings reside within hidden files, and that hidden files in Ubuntu (and other *nix systems) are simply a file (or folder) where the file (or folder) name starts with a . character. So I figured… seeing as this issue is restricted to a single user profile (at a time) then it’s quite possibly situated in one (or more) of these “hidden” files.

So… I logged into the computer with a different user ID, dropped into a terminal, and used the following commands:

sudo su
cd /home/Magpie
rm -r .*

I then logged back in as Magpie.

Lo and behold! His desktop had reverted to that of a newly created user, but with the files from his /home/Magpie/Desktop folder sitting on it. I fired up Firefox, went to Youtube, and opened a random One Direction music clip (because that’s what’s on my kids shared Youtube account recent files list – YUCK!) – and it worked fine!

So: I have narrowed my response from the generic (reboot) or the outright avoidance (create a new user profile) to a slightly smaller sledge-hammer (delete all configuration files and let them all be recreated). I’m sure that the actual files which I needed to delete were only a small subset of what I deleted. I hope that if this problem comes back again, I will take a bit more time to study and narrow down exactly which hidden file or folder I need to delete, to solve this problem of “no sound in YouTube on Mozilla FireFox on Ubuntu version 12.10 Quantal Quetzal.

Autism. Aspergers. You tell me the difference?

It’s been coming for some time now. DSM-IV is to be replaced, by DSM-V.

Along with the deprecation of the term “retarded” as a description of intellectual capability, so to will “Aspergers” be deprecated, to become simply a superfluous means of describing a person on the Autism spectrum. For those lining up to paediatricians to have children either born already or yet to be born, seen and assessed, labelled for the convenience of the education system, this represents a simplification of a complicated ecology of service providers.

However, for those who have grown up over the last forty or so years, and the parents of those who are recently diagnosed… being Aspergian is as important (or more important?) than being male or female, asian, african-american, indigenous or white, athiest, christian or wiccan.

Far be it from me to have too much opinion here, because my own experience is as a parent having a son be diagnosed in an inconsistent manner, clearly told “well for want of a distinct diagnosis lets use PDD-NOS – it’s vague enough to cover anything.” That made way for “Classic Autism” which seemed quite appropriate at the time, however, some of the descriptors for Classic Autism are tied to very specific moments in the persons life.

Lately, Aspergers seems to have become a highly visible description for a set of behaviours and preferences. I wonder, if this description loses official status and predominance… how many people would line up to be diagnosed on the Autism spectrum as an adult?

Are you effected by this change? Do you feel strongly about it? I’d be overjoyed to hear your opinion.

The Lost Continent

Book cover art thanks to Wikimedia

Sometime in 1996 or so, it was all over Usenet: Terry Pratchett was writing a novel, set in the mythical land of Fourecks. And so a couple of years later, with much fanfare, it was written, and published, and launched – here in Australia.

Being massive fantasy fiction geeks, my wife and I thought this was fantastic. Our favorite author, writing about a fantasy version of the country where we live. I was working in the Sydney CBD at the time, and found that Pterry himself would be attending a book signing at a major bookstore.

So, off I set one “lunch-time” (assuming a public servants definition of lunch-time being some flexible time between about 10:30 am and 3:30 pm), to line up, buy a book, and get it signed. I got there, just at the beginning of my lunch “hour,” to line up for – well it can’t have been more than 55 minutes or so, given I was only on my lunch break for one hour – as long as it took – to get The Author to sign this magnificent work of fiction.

Nullus sanguine — Terry Pratchett

Three hours, to get the book signed in about two minutes.


Then I get home, give Bec the book and she says… “but it’s hardcover?”

The things we do for love, and it gets no recognition.

Welcome to November: the 30 day challenge

Thanks to know your meme, I’m going to head down a 30 day challenge for November. The list of topics provided there is:

Day 01 — your favorite song
Day 02 — your favorite movie
Day 03 — your favorite television program
Day 04 — your favorite book
Day 05 — your favorite quote
Day 06 — whatever tickles your fancy
Day 07 — a photo that makes you happy
Day 08 — a photo that makes you angry/sad
Day 09 — a photo you took
Day 10 — a photo of you taken over ten years ago
Day 11 — a photo of you taken recently
Day 12 — whatever tickles your fancy
Day 13 — a fictional book
Day 14 — a non-fictional book
Day 15 — a fanfic
Day 16 — a song that makes you cry (or nearly)
Day 17 — an art piece (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.)
Day 18 — whatever tickles your fancy
Day 19 — a talent of yours
Day 20 — a hobby of yours
Day 21 — a recipe
Day 22 — a website
Day 23 — a youtube video
Day 24 — whatever tickles your fancy
Day 25 — your day, in great detail
Day 26 — your week, in great detail
Day 27 — this month, in great detail
Day 28 — this year, in great detail
Day 29 — hopes, dreams and plans for the next 365 days
Day 30 — whatever tickles your fancy

I’m rather annoyed that I am turning to sources of inspiration such as this to provide me with topics to write about, however, I am going to feel free to substitute my own thoughts at random as they present themselves. Indeed, some of those topics above – not just the topics, but also the sequence – seem to jump out at me as being boring as all hell. A whole month worth of topics is quite an effort to attempt to list, given such a generic term of reference. My inspirations for blogging stems much more from time spent with my own family, rather than time spent away from home, at work in Canberra. See you next month!

Stay safe from the Superstorm

As a child, I lived alongside the Murrumbidgee River and being evacuated a couple of times a year or so was a pretty regular thing. With that in mind… if you are in harms way right now, I wish you all the best and that you are with somebody important to you during this difficult time. For the rest of us…

Look classy, dance cheesy, even if you’re in water up to your waist

Bullyed out of the blogoshpere?

As I mentioned the other day, there has been some controversy regarding “the R-word” which reverberated around the sepecial-needs-blogosphere quite quickly. Some woman seems to be the female American television equivalent of Australia’s own Alan Jones. All this in way of background to what has occurred since.

I find it ironic that a bunch of parents of special needs children – including say children who are on the Autism spectrum – have such difficulty in understanding that many of the parents of children with similar needs to their own children, themselves potentially have limited communication skills. Limited empathy. Limited perception in language. All of this is on top of the usual issue that in writing down our verbal language, nuance of intonation can be totally lost.

This issue has come to a head during a Presidential election campaign. Which means, feelings are running high enough. So that when one person with a particular political persuasion comes head to head with another person of the opposing political persuasion, the opportunity to misunderstand or misrepresent goes through the roof.

I have found it really challenging to see how quickly people take their interactions from discussing the words of a political candidate, to their opinion of the effect of those words, to swearing at each other or using terribly derogatory names about each other.

Considering that all this started with one person using the R-word as a term of derision, that’s pretty ironic.

And when it reaches the extent that people “take a break” from Twitter, or Facebook, or writing a blog. It’s pretty terrible.


The Internet is a big place. If you disagree with me, feel free to tell me politely, then move on. I’m too busy to engage in a shit-fight.

More success!

Here I am at post number 140. Quite a few of those were directly copied from a now closed community.

And I now have 50 followers here on my blog on WordPress.
Thanks to each of you for following me! I’d love to see you drop along to my Facebook page or my Twitter feed if you aren’t already “liking” of “following” me on each of those. I’d also love to hear from more of you about what you think I could post about. I know some of you invite guest bloggers, or ask your followers to pose questions to be answered on a blog post, I’d be happy to hear any of your questions, or requests for a guest blog post – particularly if you would like to blog about your definition of “success”.

Ten Day Challenge Day Seven… Unforgettable

Day Seven: Four memories you won’t forget

I’m sappy, and I’m scary. I’m also going to cheat and do todays challenge twice.

My memory also sucks, so to be truthful I may well actually forget any one of these moments. My memory relies heavily on external stimuli – photos, letters, items. I’m not sure how regular that is but my memory seems poor compared to most people I know.

But everything in this list seem memorable to me.


  1. I sorta remember my wedding day. I’m not giving much away to say, I probably don’t remember as much of it as I should, but I remember being at the front of the church, I remember Bec walking in the church and down the aisle, and going to do the wedding day photos. I also remember, stealing the best mans’ thunder and mentioning everything he was supposed to talk about.
  2. There was one particular exercise I attended with the Australian Army where there were fighter jets flying overhead, howitzers, mortars, tanks, machine guns, armoured personnel carriers, and infantry pushing there way up a hill. It was incredible and I was so glad to be in amongst it, and equally glad to have never had to do it for real.
  3. Births of my children. They were all special moments and cannot be seperated. Helps that one of them ended with a nurse going to get a camera to take a photo of what was going on, because “that doesn’t normally happen.”
  4. Passing my drivering test. This was as close to a rite-of-passage as we have in Australia, especially for non sporty kids who go to an all male boarding school. I went along to a police station in a rural village, drove about half way around a block with a police officer in the car, turned the car around and went back to the police station. It was great.

Less Great

  1. At the end of a course I attended, the Course Sergeant Major stood directly in front of me, and read out all my “constructive criticism” regarding how the course had been run. It was the first effort within the Australian Army at running that course in a particular way, and it seemed that they had succeeded in not making anyone happy – not the course management, not the course participants, not the course staff. Yet they still did not want to hear actual constructive critique of how things had been run.
  2. My son’s assessment for Autism.
    It was wonderful to get some actual answers to what my wife and I had been facing.
    But it was confrontational, it was terrible, it was the death to a whole future which had never had a chance to exist.
  3. Car accident, age 4-ish.
    When I was very young, I was in a terrible car accident. It involved too many children, farm impliments, a head-on collision, a person who died, and my mother being trapped well beyond the time I was packed into an ambulance and driven off to hospital.
    There is nothing positive in this memory, that I have managed to bring with me through 35 years.
  4. My last day as a public servant. This is about twelve months ago right now. At the time, it was an incredibly confronting moment. A year on, it has not been all negative.
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