Photo of a woman holding a finger in front of her lips by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Quietly Silencing Autistic Voices

I want to share a conversation I once had with a business representative who was interested in me contributing to their autism awareness efforts:

Me: I’d be happy to help with your efforts. I and my daughter are both on the spectrum, and I’m happy to help out with Autism Acceptance Month. I’ll help how I can, except for promoting anything to do with Autism Speaks. I don’t personally support that organization.

Them: Thanks. April 2 is Light It Up Blue Day. Would you like to help us coordinate that?

Me: Thanks for reaching out. I’m sorry, but Light It Up Blue is an Autism Speaks-associated event. They have done a lot of damage to the public perception of autism and fail to accurately represent autistic voices to the public. I would be happy to do other things to engage autism and neurodiversity acceptance, like a Q&A about growing up with autism, talking with your HR or Facilities departments about creating sensory-friendly work environments, discussing how to better accommodate neurodiverse employees and candidates, etc.

Please note that I edited this conversation for brevity and anonymity.

I heard nothing after that. I actually didn’t expect to. Sometimes, people don’t understand when we in the autism community say that we feel silenced at times. It’s not that anyone is pointing at us and saying, “Be quiet!” (Well, except occasionally on Twitter.) Instead, the issue is that we end up marginalized when the way we want to contribute to the conversation doesn’t fit a predefined pattern — conventions of engagement that have been defined by non-autistic people.

We silence people when we simply don’t include them in the conversation — or when we drop out of the conversation when it becomes uncomfortable. Imagine a panel on women’s health that included no women, a community event on race issues that featured no minority voices, a symposium on accessibility that had no disabled participants. These seem ridiculous (even when a couple have indeed happened), but that’s the way we still handle autism. The conversation is about us rather than with us.

When it comes to autism “awareness,” we have culturally become comfortable with a shallow definition of the word. We have events showing that we acknowledge autism is indeed a thing. We can quote statistics and figures. But awareness isn’t enough anymore. Unfortunately, awareness has brought with it stigma and misinformation. We have to move past awareness to acceptance and cooperation, and the only way that will happen is by bringing autistic voices into the conversation.

 

Advertisements

New iPad with Pencil Support

Apple: Apple Introduces New 9.7-inch iPad with Apple Pencil Support

Chicago — Apple today updated its most popular iPad with support for Apple Pencil plus even greater performance, starting at $329. The new 9.7-inch iPad and Apple Pencil give users the ability to be even more creative and productive, from sketching ideas and jotting down handwritten notes to marking up screenshots. The new iPad is more versatile and capable than ever, features a large Retina display, the A10 Fusion chip and advanced sensors that help deliver immersive augmented reality, and provides unmatched portability, ease of use and all-day battery life.

“iPad is our vision for the future of computing and hundreds of millions of people around the world use it every day at work, in school and for play. This new 9.7-inch iPad takes everything people love about our most popular iPad and makes it even better for inspiring creativity and learning,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of Product Marketing. “Our most popular and affordable iPad now includes support for Apple Pencil, bringing the advanced capabilities of one of our most creative tools to even more users. This iPad also has the power of the A10 Fusion chip, combined with the big, beautiful Retina display, advanced cameras and sensors that enable incredible AR experiences simply not possible on other devices.”

These are good updates to the iPad, but they still fall short of creating a truly compelling computing device. I can’t help but think that a Smart Connector for a first-party keyboard and support for legacy input devices (like a trackpad) would go farther into getting more iPads into classrooms and homes.

The iWork updates are nice too, and I think it makes a lot of sense to roll iBooks Author into Pages. But I’m still waiting on a couple of my wish-list items — user-defined templates and fonts. The Mac versions of the iWork apps have pretty much always supported these because of the nature of macOS. iOS sandboxing creates barriers to this, but I’m sure it’s not impossible to overcome while retaining system security.

Facebook Container for Firefox

Mozilla: Facebook Container Add-on for Firefox

What does it do?
Facebook Container works by isolating your Facebook identity into a separate container that makes it harder for Facebook to track your visits to other websites with third-party cookies.

How does it work?
Installing this extension deletes your Facebook cookies and logs you out of Facebook. The next time you navigate to Facebook it will load in a new blue colored browser tab (the “Container”).

You can log in and use Facebook normally when in the Facebook Container. If you click on a non-Facebook link or navigate to a non-Facebook website in the URL bar, these pages will load outside of the container.

Clicking Facebook Share buttons on other browser tabs will load them within the Facebook Container. You should know that using these buttons passes information to Facebook about the website that you shared from.

Taking Control of Your Facebook Privacy

The Verge: How to Use Facebook While Giving It the Minimum Amount of Personal Data

Facebook has found itself embroiled in yet another colossal controversy related to how its sprawling, multibillion-person social network has been abused by bad actors. This time, the culprit is Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm used by President Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2016 US election to target election ads on Facebook. It turns out, Cambridge Analytica misused the user data of as many as 50 million Facebook users via its affiliated behavior research firm Strategic Communication Laboratories, which violated Facebook’s terms of service by acquiring said data from a third-party app and reportedly lying about when that data was deleted and how it was used.

So now is as good a time as ever to remind you that — beyond deleting your Facebook account for good — there are some precautions you can take to protect your privacy and make use of Facebook as a utility without compromising your personal data. No single user can prevent a company like Cambridge Analytica from lying to the public and lying to Facebook about where its data came from and how it’s using it. But you can make sure that a significant chunk of your data is never out there in the first place.

Since I help manage a couple of business pages, it’s impractical for me to delete my Facebook account. These tips are helpful for increasing privacy while still using the platform.

Facebook Collecting Call Data on Android

The Verge: Facebook Has Been Collecting Call History and SMS Data from Android Devices

Facebook has been collecting call records and SMS data from Android devices for years. Several Twitter users have reported finding months or years of call history data in their downloadable Facebook data file. A number of Facebook users have been spooked by the recent Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, prompting them to download all the data that Facebook stores on their account. The results have been alarming for some.

While the recent prompts make it clear, Ars Technica points out the troubling aspect that Facebook has been doing this for years, during a time when Android permissions were a lot less strict. Google changed Android permissions to make them more clear and granular, but developers could bypass this and continue accessing call and SMS data until Google deprecated the old Android API in October. It’s not yet clear if these prompts have been in place in the past.

The same call record and SMS data collection has not yet been discovered on iOS devices. While Apple does allow some specialist apps to access this data in limited ways like blocking spam calls or texts, these apps have to be specifically enabled through a process that’s similar to enabling third-party keyboards. The majority of iOS apps cannot access call history or SMS messages, and Facebook’s iOS app is not able to capture this data on an iPhone.

This is compounded by the fact that there are still a lot of phones out there running older versions of Android with its less strict app permissions. I think Android has a lot of things going for it, but it’s still a bit of a mess when it comes to privacy and security. And Facebook has surpassed creepy.

 

How Trump Conquered Facebook

Wired: How Trump Conquered Facebook — Without Russian Ads

This is a fascinating, and frankly disturbing, look into how advertising on Facebook caters to our echo chambers in a way radio and television ads could never hope to.

LIKE MANY THINGS at Facebook, the ads auction is a version of something Google built first. As on Google, Facebook has a piece of ad real estate that it’s auctioning off, and potential advertisers submit a piece of ad creative, a targeting spec for their ideal user, and a bid for what they’re willing to pay to obtain a desired response (such as a click, a like, or a comment). Rather than simply reward that ad position to the highest bidder, though, Facebook uses a complex model that considers both the dollar value of each bid as well as how good a piece of clickbait (or view-bait, or comment-bait) the corresponding ad is. If Facebook’s model thinks your ad is 10 times more likely to engage a user than another company’s ad, then your effective bid at auction is considered 10 times higher than a company willing to pay the same dollar amount.

A canny marketer with really engaging (or outraging) content can goose their effective purchasing power at the ads auction, piggybacking on Facebook’s estimation of their clickbaitiness to win many more auctions (for the same or less money) than an unengaging competitor. That’s why, if you’ve noticed a News Feed ad that’s pulling out all the stops (via provocative stock photography or other gimcrackery) to get you to click on it, it’s partly because the advertiser is aiming to pump up their engagement levels and increase their exposure, all without paying any more money.

During the run-up to the election, the Trump and Clinton campaigns bid ruthlessly for the same online real estate in front of the same swing-state voters. But because Trump used provocative content to stoke social media buzz, and he was better able to drive likes, comments, and shares than Clinton, his bids received a boost from Facebook’s click model, effectively winning him more media for less money. In essence, Clinton was paying Manhattan prices for the square footage on your smartphone’s screen, while Trump was paying Detroit prices. Facebook users in swing states who felt Trump had taken over their news feeds may not have been hallucinating.

 

Much of a Universe

NPR: Stephen Hawking, Who Awed Both Scientists And The Public, Dies

There aren’t very many scientists who achieved rock star status. Stephen Hawking, who has died at the age of 76, family members told British media early Wednesday, was definitely a contender.

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years,” the family statement said, according to The Guardian. “His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him for ever.”

One of the things that always impressed me about Hawking was his future. Despite any physical limitations he faced, despite skepticism for his ideas from some corners of the public, and even occasionally ending up in political crosshairs, Hawking never let bitterness or cynicism take over. He was funny, likable, and brilliant.

Choosing Between Android and iOS

Gizmodo: Why Choosing Between Android and iOS Still Matters

Gizmodo has a nice overview of most of the basic difference between Android and iOS devices that still matter. It’s a good read if, like me, you’re finding yourself torn between the benefits and drawbacks of each platform.

Android and iOS might have borrowed enough features from each other over the years to make the superficial differences not so great any more (iOS even has widgets these days), but dig a little deeper and you’ve got three main ways that Apple’s mobile platform differs from Google’s. This is what you need to know about them, and why your pick of smartphone OS still matters.

One of the big differences in choosing a mobile device platform rather than a desktop or laptop system is that the mobile choice is a far smaller commitment. With the ability to upgrade your device after a couple years, it’s not as daunting a prospect to jump from iOS to Android (or vice versa) as it is Mac to Windows.

Designing Windows 95

Socket 3: Designing the Windows 95 Interface

This link contains a recovered paper that Microsoft UI Researcher Kent Sullivan authored regarding the development of Windows 95’s now famous interface. Two notes about this paper:

  • It’s fascinating to see the evolution of elements — like the Start Menu and the Taskbar — many people have taken for decades.
  • Stick around for the comments after the article. The original author joins in and responds to a few questions.

Although we abandoned the idea of a separate shell for beginners, we salvaged its most useful features: single-click access, high visibility, and menu-based interaction. We mocked up a number of representations in Visual Basic and tested them with users of all experience levels, not just beginners, because we knew that the design solution would need to work well for users of varying experience levels. Figure 5 shows the final Start Menu, with the Programs sub-menu open. The final Start Menu integrated functions other than starting programs, to give users a single-button home base in the UI.

iOS 9 Boot Source Code Leaks

Six Colors: iOS 9 Boot Source Code Leaks

In what one writer called “the biggest leak in history,” someone posted the source code for the part of iOS that is responsible for booting the system on GitHub…

Jiminy.

Fortunately, the code is already gone at Apple’s request, and it doesn’t sound like the initial impact is terribly significant.

Security researcher Will Strafach told TechCrunch that while it gives hackers some hints about how iOS boots that might become useful vectors of attack, it probably doesn’t mean much to iPhone owners:

“In terms of end users, this doesn’t really mean anything positive or negative,” Strafach said in an email. “Apple does not use security through obscurity, so this does not contain anything risky, just an easier to read format for the boot loader code. It’s all cryptographically signed on end user devices, there is no way to really use any of the contents here maliciously or otherwise.”

I think the biggest fallout is going to happen at Apple HQ. Someone on the inside had to let this out, and I can’t imagine Tim Cook and team are going to just let that slide.