There are some good people out there. Some of them are at Pixar.

So, I haven't posted in forever.

Alex, like most kids with autism, tends to fixate on things. For the last few months, he has been fixated on the Pixar lamp. He watches the movies on Youtube. He loved the Pixar lamp. He drew it in Microsoft Paint. You knowm, Luxo Jr, the hyperactive young lamp.

And for Christmas, he wanted the Pixar lamp.

Well, you can see the snag here. To wit, the US economy has put very little resources into the production of lamps that actually dance and run around and play with balls.

So, I applied my google-fu skills and discovered that there WAS in fact a Pixar lamp toy.


However, it was only sold at the Pixar store to Pixar employees. Not to the general public.


That's when MT stepped in. She has a blog at and discusses a lot of Alex's autism issues, the gluten-free casein-free diet, and her stance on mandatory vaccinations. (Don't get her started, either.)

So she started a campaign to try and find someone who could help us get a Pixar lamp. Turns out there are still some decent people in the world. The first person was a fellow who worked for Pixar and had a child with Asperger's. Unfortunately he wasn't in California. Then another fellow stepped up and we discovered that the lamp was out of stock at the company store.

Oh, crap.

Well, apparently they brought it up to the attention of the executive team. And they found one. And they sent it to Alex along with a DVD of Pixar shorts. And in the meantime, someone ELSE at Pixar found the blog and offered to help get it.

MT's blog archive for December is chockablock full of the Story of the Lamp. She even made a video. It's here. I do want to say thank you publicly to everyone at Pixar who helped make it happen. It was definitely the high point of his Christmas; that was what he played with the most. (Oddly, he gathered his Wall-E robots and a stuffed EVE and gathered them around the Pixar lamp toy. It looks like some sort of religious ritual. "Although the robots knew that they had been manufactured by Buy and Large -- knew it deep within their ROM chips -- they could not shake the belief that there was another, greater creator." )

To everyone who helped make this happen, thank you. You made his day.

On Location-Based Apps

Lately I've been playing with location based stuff, stuff that tells you where other people are and where you are. I use samecell which works well but is only for blackberries. I liked that it could share proximity OR proximity and location, and that it didn't kill the battery. It also has a search function, a sort of yellow pages, which is nice. I'd like to see a version that let you pick Google Maps instead of the default BlackBerry Maps.

Tried Brightkite too. Brightkite is a microblogging site a la twitter, but with built in geolocation and picture posting. The website was able to guess my location quite accurately through Firefox. Very nice. If anybody could knock Twitter off its microblogging throne it's Brightkite. Oddly, they don't have a native Blackberry app yet which is baffling, and the BB Browser can't guess my location either. They've said one is in the works for a while. They do have one for the iPhone. Now sure, the iPhone is shiny and new but there are a lot of blackberry users out there (more than there are iPhoners) and in software like this, being first on the scene is a huge advantage. Brightkite has a lot of built in stuff (pictures, location) that Twitter doesn't, but Twitter was first. I hope they come out with something soon; I'd hate to see Brightkite settle in as a niche iPhone app.

Speaking of Twitter, Twibble is my bar none favorite Twitter client. It has geolocation and built-in posting pictures to twitpic. I can't get it to do what I want it to do though; I want a Google Maps link that I can see all my geocoded tweets with my smiling mug and where I was when I tweeted them. It seems to either overwrite past tweet locations or, as of late, insist that I am off the coast of Africa. Hmmm. It finds me just fine on the phone, but the API doesn't seem to get it right. Still, it gets good marks for having geolocation before anyone else ever even THOUGHT of it, and including twitpic integration.

I wonder if Twibble could be adapted for Brightkite. I think it would make an outstanding BK client. But that's not my call, it would be the decision of Dr. Horstmann at Spider Labs.

Loopt is very good but makes heavy demands on my battery. They have a lot of phones that work with their app. They also have Twitter integration and built-in journaling. Nicely done. Only a few things I'd like to see from Loopt. 1) Stop beating up on my battery, maybe by making the GPS polling time user-selectable. 2) The bouncy balls are a little silly and 3) please come out with a Symbian version.

I also tried Dimdix. Now maybe I'm making too much of a big deal about the name but I maintain that a social network should not want to be thought of as dim dicks. That aside, the UI was designed for mobile phones, not blackberries, and consists of software emulated softkeys. Dimdix wouldn't install on my work cell phone (sony ericsson Z310a.) The softkeys are fine for most mobile phones, but blackberry users are likely to be disappointed. Also, the 'back' button often ended up over the hang-up button -- and on a Blackberry, pressing that button while an app is running will either push the app to the background or kill it entirely! Still, Dimdix has its good points: it works with or without GPS, which is a factor for those whose phones aren't smartphones, and it's got Twitter integration. A little UI polish, maybe a blackberry version, and this app could go a long way.

Beyond411 didn't work with the GPS on my BB Curve, and from what it seems the developer has stopped work on it since about April of this year. I found Tellme filled the gap nicely. It's more graphic intensive and has more pretty UI elements, but also has built-in directions and calling right from the app, and it works with the GPS on my BB. Definitely one to try if Beyond411 doesn't work or you prefer some flashy stuff in lieu of Beyond411's focus on performance.

Rock Up Your Blackberry with Free Apps

So once I got the Blackberry, I discovered that there were many, many free apps for it that you could get. There's location software (GPS tracking), twitter clients, RSS feeds, and pretty much everything you can think of.

This review is the apps that I have found that work best. I have no connection with any of these apps other than as a user, and all of them are free. Your Humble Narrator doesn't like to pay for software.

So, in no particular order....

Viigo. An RSS reader, which formats well to the Blackberry. Comes with a lot of channels already pre-subscribed, and you can add your own RSS feeds. I have my wife's blog right next to USA Today. I found the already included newsfeeds to be overkill, but it does work out of the box.

Google Mobile App. Includes Google Maps (which lots of other things use anyway, Google Search, Gmail, and Google Sync to sync your Blackberry calendar to your Google Calendar, if you use it. Google Maps is generally better liked than the Blackberry Maps software, and it does include route-by-route directions, so those whose plan does not include GPS routing will find it does everything but talk to you. The Gmail client is nice and convenient to use, and the dedicated search is easier to use than firing up a browser and going to google because you don't have to fire up a browser.

Twibble. Twitter and Blackberries go together; the better keyboards (full or the SureType keyboard on the Pearl) make Twitter a much better experience than trying to type out a post on a regular phone keypad. Twibble is by far and away the most feature-rich Twitter client out there. Its main features, in addition to the regular Twitter we all know and love, are location awareness (uses the GPS to make it possible to geocode your location) and integration for Twitpic (allowing you to post pictures via Twitter.) Twibble does come with a somewhat higher learning curve than something like Twitterberry, and it seems to take longer to get a GPS lock than other apps, but the end result is worth the effort. Twibble will also run in the background if you want, fetching new tweets automatically, making Twitter into a sort of SMS-like device. It will ask constantly if you want to let it access, but it's still in development and hopefully the author can address these small annoyances, since he's done a great job of including some really cool features.

Twitterberry. Why am I including a second Twitter client? Because not everyone is going to want all the bells and whistles. If you want a straight Twitter client with nothing else, Twitterberry is your client. Also useful as a baseline to see how your twitters look to the rest of the world.

Auto Lock This is a feature that is sorely necessary for the Blackberry, especially for style-less geeks like myself who carry their BB in a holster or case. Auto Lock will automatically lock your Blackberry when you set it (10 seconds after the backlights go out, upon holstering, whatever). This is something RIM should have built into it at the factory, in my opinion, but Auto Lock is an elegant and problem-free solution. No more getting out of the car to discover your seat belt and blackberry have colluded to call someone they believe to have the phone number *#**12. Thank you for providing such an elegantly simple solution.

Instamapper. Location-based social networking (i.e, letting your friends know your location and knowing theirs) is apparently the latest and greatest big thing to hit mobile phones. From services like Loopt to the unfortunately named Dimdix, there are different ways to do it. Loopt is good but makes it exceptionally difficult to find friends (but that's understandable); they also had some privacy issues apparently spamming everyone in your address book. If you just want to keep track of yourself or share your location and nothing else, Instamapper is free and has a very small client to install.

Vlingo. Voice command your Blackberry; much better than the voice dialing app it comes with. You can even send text messages via voice. You can open the standard Blackberry apps (but not ones you install yourself, regrettably.) While it gets confused sometimes like all voice apps do, Vlingo is a great app to have if you are in the car a lot or just prefer to voice-command your BB.

Antenna and fic

About a year and a half ago, the antenna broke on the Honda. It got konged by a lowering gate. So I'd gotten a replacement off ebay. Thing was, the old antenna had broken down so low that I couldn't get it out of the motor unit. Wouldn't come up, and there wasn't enough surface area to grab onto it with pliers and get it out. And the motor assembly has four screws, two of which had rusted shut, so I couldn't disassemble it.

So for a while I just drove it; I could still get my satellite radio and my Transpod (which plays my ipod through the radio.) But it always bugged me.

A week ago I was poking around online and found an entire replacement assembly -- motor, mast, the whole nine yards -- for fifty bucks. Aftermarket rather than OEM, but who cares? So I ordered it and it got here today. Took about half an hour to get it in just right (there's not a lot of tolerance and the aftermarket unit took some jiggling. But it's in, and it works. I like it; the car looks better. And I'll just turn off my radio before going through that gate.

ALso had something I haven't had for a while; the stirrings of Lecter fic. It would basically fit a revamped version of the granddaughter fic into the Lecter universe. (A separate one from any of the other ones I've done; this would be fun, and would feature Starling trying to set things right while the GD amuses himself by working at cross purposes to her.)

I dunno. I have so many unfinished stories, but it takes a lot to get them running again -- I just feel like the urge isn't there. My Voyager fics have stalled, although I have another idea for a Voyager fic. And with Lecter fic, I found myself thinking 'Daddy's Girl' and 'Alternate Strings' were the best things I'd ever done, and didn't know if I could get there again.

Does the idea of Clarice rushing around desperately trying to track down a young woman estranged from her family (and to add to the fun, a life is at stake) while the GD plans to create a symphony of destroyed faith sound like something you'd want to read?

Alex's Army

April is Autism Awareness Month. And, the kick off for the Walk for Autism, which we did in September of last year when it came to Point Pleasant, NJ. So, if you'd like to walk with us, join Alex's Army, donate, or see a few pics, here is the link to our team:

And my own page:

Isabelle's birthday party

was this weekend. Since her actual birthday took place over Super Bowl Sunday, we rescheduled it. Not that I cared. I am probably one of the maybe six straight men in the world who doesn't give a crap about watching sports. That's probably because I just never got into it as a kid, and then my mom dated a guy for 10 years who was a sports nut. Specifically the Mets. If the Mets lost a game, he would be impossible to live with for a few days. But I know that I am odd in this respect, so we rescheduled Isabelle's birthday party so as not to conflict with the Super Bowl, which proved to be good because the Giants won, which as you can imagine was cause for much rejoicing across the land. (This IS Jersey.)

She had a good time, of course. We had it at Baby Power. This is a baby gym. Basically it's got padded play equipment all over the place, the walls are painted retina-scarring bright colors, and it comes equipped with two (2) perky young girls who do the party activities. (Me, I think these girls get force-fed Prozac every ten minutes like I think they do with the Disney princesses. No one can be this perky naturally.)

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fun at home

So we got Alex a new bed. A nice one. A bunk bed with a built in desk on one side, and a dresser and shelf on the other. And the lower bed isn't attached to the frame, so when Isabelle is big enough for a big-girl bed (she currently occupies a pink little Dora the Explorer bed with a crib mattress) we can put it in her room, buy a mattress, and voila.

We bought it online. Now that meant we had to carry it in -- they just do curbside delivery. That wasn't so bad as I might have thought -- it came in five pieces. Each of them was heavy, but not so heavy it was impossible. It was also self-assembly. No big deal there, right? As a daddy I have put together many things, and I have put together furniture in the past.

Except...they forgot to include the instructions and the bolts and screws.

Instructions were online. However, the technology to transfer screws and bolts over the Internet isn't working yet. The company is sending it, but it means Alex's room looks like a lumberyard exploded.

Even so we could deal with that.

Then one of Alex's hermit crabs died.

We got Alex hermit crabs for his birthday in December. Well, actually MT did, because I really don't want anything to do with the damned ugly mollusks. They're not exactly exciting pets; occasionally they go and eat but most of the time it looks about like you put a tank in your kid's room and filled it with shells. But they made him happy.

Well, apparently one of them got stuck molting, or maybe was horrified by the results of Super Tuesday, because it up and died. MT noticed a smell, tried to see if it was in its shell, and its leg fell off when she picked up the shell. I don't think she's making that up, because that's the sort of thing I might make up, but my wife finds much less entertainment value in severed limbs than I do, particularly rotted off severed limbs.)

She got him another one. (Another crab, not just the leg. Pet stores insist on selling the entire crab.) Alex cried when she told him. While I wasn't exactly heartbroken over the death of a hermit crab, I did feel bad about my son crying, so I didn't make any reference to Monty Python's Whizzo Butter sketch (Nine out of ten British housewives can't tell the difference between Whizzo butter and a dead crab, don't you know.) The one she got was lively enough to pinch her before she put it in the tank before I got home. So she showed it to me. Well, then she took it out and wanted me to pet it, which I refused to do (see: don't want anything to do with the damned ugly mollusks). Then it pinched her AGAIN. Methinks Mr. Hermit Crab isn't going to get paroled again anytime soon.

Isabelle turned three last weekend. Her party is tomorrow. Last week she just had cake at my mom's and got her presents. She's undergoing potty training now. A few accidents, but she'll get there. Now she's upstairs with MT baking her cake.


Sometimes I think James Lileks and I have an abusive relationship.

Oh, he doesn't know me from Adam. He has a website that I read. I listen to his podcasts. (Even though he isn't using iTunes anymore, which means his podcasts are buried amongst my iPod's collection of 80's schlock instead of separated out with the other podcasts.) I like his sense of humor. MT got me his book 'Mommy Knows Worst' for Christmas. (Bad parenting advice from the Golden Years. As it turns out, according to this book, I should put Isabelle in a box hanging from the window and spank Alex with a hairbrush for refusing to take laxatives on command.

But then...he does things like this to me.

The Sears catalog. From 1973.

Dear God. The colors. The..."fashions". The plaid. All the nightmarish memories of my childhood...on the web.

Please, James? Not any more. I'll be good. I promise.