MaFt

This is me. This is the stuff I find interesting. Like it or lump it, this is what you're getting!

Feb 052014
 

Mini-MaFt, like me, loves watching films; and he, like me, loves going to the cinema. The social ‘norms’ of the cinema, however, don’t really fit with his autism. Things we take for granted like sitting still, not talking, not telling the whole auditorium what just happened (three times a minute… for 10 minutes) are generally frowned upon during cinematic outings. This certainly doesn’t stop us from going to the cinema, we just have different methods to most people. Most people rush to the cinema as soon as a big film is out – we leave it a week or two. Most people like to have an ‘evening out’ at the cinema – we go to the earliest showing.

These methods have a few benefits:

  1. Cinema tickets are cheaper during the day – the prices increase around 6pm
  2. You generally don’t need to queue (even less so if you order online – Tip: Cineworld tickets are 10% cheaper online and have no booking fee)
  3. A week after it’s release a film isn’t as busy – you can pick the best seats without paying extra
  4. Less busy times means much less ambient noise and less physical bodies in the foyer etc
  5. With an average of 10-20 people watching a film it’s easy to pick a seat away from the ‘crowd’ so any questions and/or discussions don’t interfere with other cinema goers

It works for us, and it’s great.

Many cinema chains have what they call “Autism-Friendly Screenings” of certain films. I’ve looked into these and I’m not convinced they would work well for us. I also think they’ve got a few things wrong. The Dimensions UK website (who organise the screenings) state the following items that make a screening more autism-friendly:

  • The lights will be on low
  • The volume will be turned down
  • There will be no trailers at the beginning of the film
  • You’ll be able to take your own food and drinks
  • You’ll be able to move around the cinema if you like

 

The lights will be on low

Once when we were at the cinema there were a couple of technical glitches. The main one for me and many of the other people who were turning round looking at each other, was that the 3D hadn’t been ‘turned on’ – we were getting the duplicated image on the screen but the glasses had no effect. The other glitch, and one that no one else seemed to notice, was that the house lights were still on, albeit only slightly. This set Mini-MaFt off: “Why are the lights on? It’s too bright. It’s going to spoil the film. The lights are meant to be off in the cinema. It needs to be dark.” I don’t think anyone else noticed that the house lights were still on – but it stopped Mini-MaFt being able to relax and enjoy the film. They did sort out the 3D and lights before the film itself started though. So for us, if the lights are on (even on low) then the autism-friendly screening wouldn’t be that friendly – “they’re supposed to be off, everyone knows that!”

 

The volume will be turned down

“People with autism don’t like noise”. That’s actually not true; it’s missing one word: “some” as in “some people with autism don’t like noise”. If you want a broad statement about noise and people with autism then use this, more accurate, one: “People with autism often have different sensitivities to different stimuli”. Some are over-sensitive, some are under-sensitive and some, admittedly rarer, are both over-sensitive as well as under-sensitive at different times. A low volume will be great for someone who is over-sensitive to sound. But what about those who are under-sensitive to sound? Basically, they won’t hear the film. Mini-MaFt’s situation is a difficult one to pin down – at times it seems he is under-sensitive (things need to be loud) but then at times the slightest noise sets him off (as though he is over-sensitive). There are other factors too, such as what else is going on. At times it seems like the TV is loud because it helps him to concentrate on his one task – watching TV. Most people are able to filter out background noise but this is something people with autism often struggle with. So a cinema where the volume is lower will also affect Mini-MaFt in a similar way – if there are any other noises (people talking, whispering, sweets rustling, someone breathing) then this will make it difficult for him to concentrate on the film itself. Mini-MaFt has a thirst for knowledge; he loves to ask questions about everything – especially new things. If he’s watching a film he hasn’t seen before then he will ask questions and want things clarifying. He will also tell me numerous times what happened. With the low volume this is more likely to affect other cinema goers. So for us, if the volume is low, then the autism-friendly screening wouldn’t be that friendly.

 

There will be no trailers at the beginning of the film

I can sort of understand the reason behind this – many people with autism struggle with the concept of time, and if something is seen then they often need the instant gratification of receiving it. So if someone with autism sees a trailer then that may play on their mind and cause problems as they would want it there and then. Showing trailers could also interrupt a routine: “We’re going to the cinema to see XYZ”, “So why is it showing ABC on the screen then?”. My main gripe with this decision is that, well, it makes it boring. It also removes an opportunity to plan ahead. If Mini-MaFt sees a trailer for a film and likes the look of it he will ask if we can see it – I learnt a long time ago not to make promises I could not, 100% guarantee, that I could keep – so my usual response is “we’ll see”. When we do get around to seeing it he already has a good idea of what will happen in the film (most trailers these days tell you the whole story anyway!) which limits his anxiousness and can sometimes reduce the number of questions asked during the film. It also works as a good ‘social story‘ to help plan both in advance and to discuss afterwards about ‘how the cinema event works’. So for us, if there are no trailers, then the autism-friendly screening wouldn’t be that friendly (and also removes a great opportunity for parents and carers to teach some new social skills).

 

You’ll be able to take your own food and drinks

Well, we do this anyway and have never been apprehended, chased, expelled or banned… But it’s nice to have permission! Having said that, part of our job as parents and carers bringing up a child with autism is to help our children understand the world as it is. It’s like school sports days where “everyone’s a winner just for taking part” – that isn’t how life works; nor is being able to take everything you want, everywhere you go at all times. Why not use the cinema’s rules on food and drink as a social story to teach children about how different places have different rules and that we need to follow them, even if we don’t agree with them? Let them have the opportunity to practice choosing some sweets – in general the range of goodies is far less than in a local corner shop so the choice will not be as overwhelming. But if you need to, break it down for them into a choice of two or three items. It’ll be a good experience, you can discuss it afterwards about how if someone takes a long time to choose then this gets other people upset because they want their turn – again, social stories using situations they are more likely to be able to relate to. And, if all else fails, you have a bag of Haribo Starmix in your coat pocket anyway.

 

You’ll be able to move around the cinema if you like

On a recent cinema trip there were two families sat together, the parents were chattering away and the kids were running up and down the aisles and along the front of the screen. This was while the film was on. I was reluctant to say anything because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of questions like “can’t you control your child?”. Mini-MaFt wasn’t so calm about the situation though and the children moving about was very off-putting for him – it was a distraction to him. He also got quite upset that they weren’t sitting down; “you’re not supposed to run around at the cinema” – the rules were being broken and, my word, did he need to make it known! So this feature, being allowed to move around during the film, has two flaws; the first that is will likely be a distraction to other autistic people who may already be struggling to concentrate on the film itself and, secondly, it teaches children that they can run around at the cinema. Remember the sports day from earlier? It’s that all over again – to stand a chance of surviving into adulthood we need to help our children understand the world. Most people will have a natural understanding of cinemas when they first visit; they will see other users sitting down and pick up on those social cues and follow them. Those with autism generally don’t pick up on those cues and need to be taught things that others take for granted. I’m not quite sure how this feature helps to promote an understanding of how the world works. So for us, if people are allowed to walk around, then the autism-friendly screening wouldn’t be that friendly.

 

Following on from these features, the autism-friendly screenings are usually once a month, with a film chosen by the cinema. What will happen if the child (or sibling) wants to see a different film, one that is not shown in the autism-friendly scheme? What practice have they had for going to the cinema on a normal showing? Have you ‘practised’ going to the cinema at other times? Have you discussed what will be different from the other cinema trips? Because if you haven’t then it won’t be an easy experience – and chances are you’ll just stick to the autism-friendly screenings. And I’ve already asked if that really helps people in the grand scheme of things…

I don’t want to seem overly critical of what Dimension UK and the cinema chains are doing – far from it, I think it is great that the needs of autistic people are being discussed. However, I think there is great scope for improvement – such as recognising that under-sensitivity exists as well as over-sensitivity. A large part of what I am saying also relates to parents and carers. I know how hard daily life is with an autistic child and I know how often we all want things to be much easier and to just be able to go out and ‘be normal’ without all the extra planning and emotion that goes into daily activities. It’s nice to have autism-friendly screenings like this (if they suit your child’s needs) but it’s also paramount (pun intended) to remember our ‘job’ is to help our children to grow up with a sound understanding of the world around them. Bringing them up in the autism-cinema-ghetto may make things easy in the here-and-now but what are the long term effects? What if a friend invites them to the cinema for a birthday treat? Do you want to have to say ‘no’ to the invitation? I know that I would rather be able to say ‘yes’ because I know that Mini-MaFt is well-versed in cinema-etiquette, even if he still struggles at times. Last year Mini-MaFt got invited to his friends birthday party at the cinema – we said yes, and he survived. And I honestly believe a lot of that was because he had had ‘normal’ cinema experiences and learnt a lot of social skills from it.

So if they work for you then great but, from experience, I’d highly recommend going to ‘normal’ cinema screenings and using the opportunity to develop a load of life-skills. Perhaps my tips in the opening paragraph will help ‘break you in’?

Jan 292013
 

I used to view Apple as a company that cared about the finer details but today’s update to iOS6.1 is making me change that view. Before I go on, let me just say that yes, I know how trivial this will seem when you read it, but it’s just one of those little things that is going to annoy the crap out of me now that I have noticed it!

iOS6 added a somewhat pointless feature whereby the volume knob would ‘reflect’ light depending on what angle the phone was being held at – as though you were looking at an old HiFi knob:

reflect

I’m not a fan of skeumorphism (making digital apps look like real-life objects like a leather-bound book etc) but this ‘reflection’ is a nice little touch without being too over the top – athough still, essentially, pointless. iOS6.1 has added this reflection to the lock-screen music controls and given them a bit of a refresh. And this is where I get annoyed…

See, they have updated the lock-screen audio controls but they’ve forgotten about the details – instead of the widely recognised ‘two arrows and a vertical line’ for skipping to the next/previous track Apple have replaced it with ‘two arrows’. ‘Two arrows’ is widely recognised as winding or scrubbing, NOT for skipping tracks. However, when you double-tap Home to pull up the app-tray the music controls are ‘correct’ – i.e. it shows the icon for skipping tracks and not for quickly scrubbing through the track. So now Apple have 2 different icons for exactly the same function – one of which I would argue is used incorrectly.

Swipe to the side in the app-tray and you get the volume slider – the plain, boring volume slider without the reflection-animation… It just seems odd to me that they add these new designs in one place but don’t use them again elsewhere for the exact, same function. Apple make a big thing about developers using recognised icons and consistency etc in their app but then here they are ignoring their own guidelines.

music-controls

Yes it’s something and nothing. Yes it’s petty. But it isn’t half annoying me already! And don’t even get me started on the totally different placement of ‘edit’ and ‘compose’ between the e-mail and SMS apps…

Dec 182012
 

This is getting longer than the Star Wars Saga now*… Following on from my initial moan about BT and my second blog post about it I thought I’d give an update seeing as they have annoyed me yet again. And I still have no Internetz.

On Saturday morning (5 days after BT should have installed my broadband) I submitted a support request to @BTCare who had already said that if I didn’t hear from someone by Friday at 8pm to get in touch directly with them. This is what I sent:

Hi. Still waiting for my Broadband to be connected and not happy with being lied to multiple times with promised call backs that don’t materialise. Also been billed for broadband when you haven’t even installed it yet!

Full details can be found here: http://maft.co.uk/musings/2012/moving-to-bt-not-the-best-start/ and here: http://maft.co.uk/musings/2012/bt-bloody-terrible/

Sorry, it’s too much to rewrite it all again!

Hope something can get sorted. I am really not happy.

 

That same afternoon evening I received this reply from ‘Paul S’ of @BTCare:

Hi,

Thanks for getting in touch and sorry to hear about the problems, I’ve checked this out and the what happened is that the broadband part of the order was cancelled by Wholesale meaning it had to be reissued, if you have been told anything other than this then I apologise. The order has now been replaced and an expedite request issued, a response to that should be received on Monday and at that point we will know when the service will start.

I am hopeful that the response on Monday will be a good one based on the history here so I will let you know what’s happening then, you may also be contacted by another team that are monitoring the issue for you but that’s just so you know. Sorry this happened in the first place but chat soon, one last thing, we are aware of certain restrictions on dates so that won’t be a problem, take care.

Paul
BTCare

This actually got my hopes up. It was as though someone at BT actually cared that customers we being ignored, lied to and being treated like poop. The promise that there would be a (hopefully good) response by Monday actually meant I stopped thinking about it for the rest of the weekend and all day yesterday (Monday).

As the day drew on and I still had no call from BT I was beginning to revert back to thinking that they just don’t care… It’s now 8am the morning after I was supposed to hear back from BT and still nothing…

Last night I had a little whine on The Twitter:

To which @BTCare replied:

Forgive me for being cynical, but wasn’t I promised this before? You know, someone actually getting in touch with me about the service I’m paying for that STILL hasn’t been installed??!!

It’s getting beyond a joke now, I’m only sticking it out as I probably have enough ammunition now for a fairly hefty discount for the best part of a year!

 

*Footnote:  By my calculations the entire Star Wars saga is 797 mins (all 6 episodes). As of 8am Tuesday 18th December 2012 187 hours have passed since BT should have installed my broadband. In that time I could have watched the entire Star Wars saga 14 (fourteen) times.

Dec 142012
 

Follow on from this post

So 8pm came and went, I called them and spent 40 minutes on the phone to India but couldn’t actually get anywhere because the orders and billing departments were both closed. So they have requested a call-back for me between 10-11am tomorrow… I wonder if THAT one will materialise?

As you can guess, I’m pretty mad – even more annoyed at the number of broken promised from BT. I mean, really, how hard is it to activate a phone line before an engineer comes?! They managed to get the hub to me on time… not that I can use it…

Dec 142012
 

On Friday 23rd November we exchanged contracts and agreed a moving date of Friday 30th November. On that day I also ordered BT’s Infinity 2 60MB Fibre Optic Broadband Package as my previous supplier of 60MB broadband, Virgin Media, don’t do our new address. After ordering I was told they couldn’t connect it all up until Monday 10th December. A bit annoying, but I could live with tethering on my phone.

Monday 10th came and my son had been admitted to hospital the night before however Mrs-MaFt was at home for when the engineer arrived at 8.45am. This is when the problems started… The engineer couldn’t do anything because, it turned out, BT had not activated the phone line. He had another job to get to but said he would try get back later in the day or, at the latest, he would come the following day and get it all done. Slightly more annoying but I could live with a one day delay. So, later in the day I get a text message and an email confirming the phone line is now up and running… but no broadband engineer was to be seen. That’s OK, he said he would come back the next day.

The following morning I get this text message from BT:

BT SMS 1

What?! I missed the appointment? And you expect me to wait another 2 weeks??!! I was, as you may expect, pretty fuming. I could maybe understand having to wait another 2 weeks if we had actually missed the appointment, but considering someone was in all day even while our son was in hospital I think we did pretty damn well at keeping the appointment! So, I phoned them up to see what they were playing at. Basically they admitted it was their fault and they don’t expect me to wait two weeks until the engineer can come back. So they said they would fast-track it and try get someone out in the next few days – I confirmed that any day that week would be fine. They said they would check with the engineering people and get back to me later in the day.

‘Later in the day’ came and there was still no call returned – this was about 6pm. So I phoned them back. After going through the whole story again I was told that it was on my account that they would phone me the following day (Wednesday) so I queried why I was told it would be the same day when they called back. He also said there’s nothing he could do as it’s been escalated already.

The next day I got this:

BT SMS 2

Guess what? I was a little bit annoyed… Actually, no I wasn’t, I was VERY annoyed (with capital letters). As I was told not to phone them I went to The Twitter to have a bit of a moan to @BTCare who, to be fair to that department, seemed to be trying to be helpful. However as it had already been escalated and I’d been given a date/time that they would contact me by they couldn’t really do much else.

Yesterday to rub some more salt in my wounds they sent me a bill for my broadband services. You know, the one they haven’t actually provided me with. Remember I’m still not allowed to phone them so I went to their online chat to ‘discuss my bill’. Here’s the conversation I had (click to enlarge):

BT Billing Query

 

Five o’clock came and went with no return call from Syed Saaduddin. To be honest, I’m used to being let down by BT now that it didn’t actually annoy me that much. Perhaps this is their super new business idea – annoy their customers so much that they just drop dead in exasperation!

So now, here I am, sitting, waiting for BT to call me. They currently have just over 3 1/2 hours left to call me and give me a new installation date. And explain why they haven’t done anything that they promised. And why they are charging me for a service they aren’t providing. And why they seemingly don’t understand that the ‘T’ in ‘BT’ is, basically, for ‘COMMUNICATION’ – which they seem inept at.

I’ll update later tonight or tomorrow with whether or not they actually call me before 8pm. If you want a sneak peak though you can follow me on The Twitter via @MaFt where no doubt I will be doing some suppressed swears shortly after 8pm. When BT’s lines are probably closed…

 

FOLLOW UP POST: “BT: Bloody Terrible

 

Dec 142012
 

I received this email ‘from’ a colleague the other day:

Subject: We invite you to work in your spare time for 100 Eur per hour

We invite you to work in the remote assistant position.

This work takes 2-3 hours per week and requires absolutely no investment.
The essence of this work for incoming client requests in your city.
The starting salary is about 2500 EUR per month + bonuses.

You get paid your salary every 2 weeks and your bonuses after fulfilling each task!

We guarantee work for everyone. But we accept applications this week only!
Therefore, you should write a request right now. And you will start earning money, starting from next week.

Please indicate in the request:
Your name:
Your email address:
City of residence:

Please send the request to my email Benito@neweurowork.com,and I will answer you personally as soon as possible

Sincerely,
Benito Dailey

 

I wasn’t very impressed with his maths though so I replied:

Your maths is terrible…

€100 per hour, 2-3 hours per week. Even if we assume the full 3 hours a week that’s €300 per week, multiplied by 4.33 weeks in a month takes us to €1300 per month. So where do you get you 2500 EUR a month that you quote?

I think this is a scam and you’re trying to rip me off.

MaFt

Obviously the email wasn’t actually from my colleague, they just used his email address as the ‘from’ address to make it look a bit more normal. Seriously though, if they want to try and scam people they need to work on their maths – no sensible person would take them up on their offer until they get that sorted.

Dec 142012
 

I’m just transferring all the media over for new client who is moving from WordPress.com to a self-hosted WordPress site (using my hosting company Salt & Light Solutions) and it reminded me to write this post…! The photos that had been uploaded to the WordPress.com blog were approx 4MB each (4272 x 2848 pixels!) – this causes a few problems when you transfer to self-hosted. 1) space issues, 2) bandwidth issues and 3) visitor experience – more info:

1) Space – each photo is 4MB – on WP.com this doesn’t matter, you get as much space as you need. As soon as you pay for hosting space costs money. On a self-hosted WP site too the image you upload is duplicated 4 times – you have the original photo and then 3 or 4 different sized versions of the image so a 4MB photo ends up taking up about 6MB of space once WP makes the different versions of the file that it needs.

2) Bandwidth – if your photo is 4MB then each time the full image is downloaded it uses up 4MB of your bandwidth (the data-transfer allowance, so to speak). Most browsers will resize huge images so they fit on the screen nicely BUT you must remember that the full 4MB image will need to be downloaded before the browser will do that. Again, on WP.com, bandwidth isn’t an issue but self-hosted: bandwidth costs money!

3) Visitor experience -  if your photos are 4MB each then this means that people with slower connections will have to wait a loooooong time to see an image. Multiply that by 20 times if you have loads of images loading on your home page and you will quickly turn people away from your blog.

So, taking all the above into account, what can you do about it? One option is to resize each photo before you upload it but, let’s be honest here, we’re all busy people and isn’t it just so much easier to select 10 photos from your digital camera to upload as a gallery than to mess about resizing each one? What if the magical WordPress fairies could do all this for you once you upload the photo? Yep – much better!

As such I heartily recommend installing a plugin called ‘Imsanity‘ (just search in the plugin installer and you will find it) which basically resizes any photo you upload and removes the original massive photo. This then gets rid of all three issues mentioned above: space (the 4mb file no longer exists and will be reduced to about 0.3MB), bandwidth (each time the photo is loaded it uses 10 times less bandwidth) and the visitor experience (smaller file sizes means the site loads much faster).

Another advantage of Imsanity is that it can resize any photos already on your self-hosted WP site! One client who I recommended the plugin to freed up about 1.2GB of space!

I hope this helps some WordPress users who have made the switch from WP.com to self-hosted.

Jul 042012
 

This was a great one – I got the caller so wound up he actually told me to f-off! Sadly my mobile got a call so the last minute or so wasn’t recorded. I paraphrased the missing audio though at the end of the video.

Other highlights were going through every letter on the keyboard until I found the ‘flag’ key he wanted me to press.