Saturday, March 10, 2018

When imagination becomes memory

I think this is terribly important, but I’ve never seen it described. So, in a few minutes, I’ll share what I think.

Almost animals have memory, save perhaps the simplest single celled organisms. We think plants have a form of memory as well. There’s nothing uniquely human about memory.

Imagination is less common. It’s not uniquely human either; crows, wolves, cephalopods, cetaceans, primates — they all have some form of something that looks like imagination. We think humans have much more of it though. We can create memories of things that have not happened or did not happen. Imagination is a form of ‘false memory’ that we know to be false.

Except … when we don’t know it to be false. And there lies a problem — but I’ll come back to that.

When did humans develop the ability to create false memories and know them to be false? We think it is older than what we call “human” now — we think our fellow modern hominids, Neandertal, Denisovan and more had well developed imaginations. We suspect we have more of this talent though, and that we might have picked up additional abilities as recently as 50,000 to 75,000 years ago.

That’s very recent evolution, so it’s not surprising that, like strength and height, imagination might vary among people. It might vary in the ability to create “false” memories, and, perhaps independently, in the ability to know them to be false.

The latter variation is key. We know from research over the past forty years that it is relatively easy to create false memories in many people, but we also know that some study subjects, typically healthy university students, are more resistant to false memories than others. If we consider imagination as the generation of false memories that we know to be false, then similarly some people will be better at retaining the knowledge of what happened versus what they imagine happened.

So we know this ability to divide imagination from memory varies. It is plausible, and it fits my own experience, that people with “connectopathies” and other cognitive disabilities may have not only more limited imaginations, but also more difficulty separating the memory of what is imagined from all other memory.

I have seen this in someone close to me. When he was a child I would be upset that he was not telling me the truth, but over time I have come to believe that for him memory and imagination are inextricably blurred. What he imagines, what he wishes to be or have been, is poorly separated from what has been. There is just enough separation, I think, to create anxiety or agitation around the recall of false memory, but not enough to tell what is true memory and what is imagination.

I don’t think this problem is unique to persons with an IQ below the 5th percentile. I suspect it’s true for very many people, and it may explain why so many today are susceptible to novel kinds of media manipulation.

It’s a problem we need to research and understand both for persons with cognitive disabilities and for our society.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Qustodio "parental" controls for iOS - no longer compatible with modern web

My Qustodio review [1] was delayed because I signed up for the School (professional) version rather than the Home version (long story, not interesting). The two versions seem to have a lot in common, but there important differences. The Home version has an iOS app for managing users, the School version must be managed by a desktop browser (no app, no support for iOS browsers).

Unfortunately I discovered fatal flaws to Qustodio’s approach that mean I won’t be testing their home version. The short version is that they route all traffic through a VPN that isn’t compatible with modern requirements for SSL connections. 

For reference here at the notes I prepared on reviewing school/professional version.


The “School” version of Qustodio is marketed to small schools, non-profits and libraries. I signed up for the 5 device $10/month plan.

Like the Family (home) version the school version manages desktop and mobile devices, but I only looking at their iOS device support. I installed on 3 iPhones, two in active use by my Explorers, one a test phone for my book project. This is what I found.

How Qustodio (school) works

Qustodio uses Apple’s iOS device management technology. They install a “Configuration Profile” that  allows remote configuration of some of Apple’s built-in Restrictions. The installation is simply downloading the Profile from a link. Once installed all net traffic is routed through a Qustodio VPN. 

When Qustodio is installed the iOS VPN setting will be enabled. A user can toggle it off but this is really a UI error, it will turn itself back on.

Customer support and leaving Qustudio: C

I worked with customer support to see if I could switch my account from School to Home. Customer support was responsive but they are not native English speakers. They may be relying on translation software. They didn’t understand my question. (I’m pretty sure there’s no way to do that transfer.)

To leave Qustodio one must first delete the Profiles from each device. To delete one must know the password that was emailed to the account manager during installation. There’s no way to retrieve that password from the management panel (there must be a way for customer support to retrieve it!). [Update: It’s obscure, but if you go to Settings and Devices and delete a device you’ll see a warning dialog that shows the removal password for the device.]

The next deletion step is to find the Profiles. On one device the Profile was under the main Settings menu, in two others Profiles were under Settings:General:Profiles. I have no idea why there were two different locations, it didn’t seem to be related to the installation method.

The uninstall process doesn’t scale to a large number of users, the “school” product is aimed at very small schools.

The future of the product: D-

Google is slowly rolling out their own web based device management platform for families. They are responding to pressure from regulators. This could be a big deal, because Android’s built-in parental controls were lousy. Apple, again responding to pressure from Europe and even large investors, may also provide a web based way to manage devices. Even if Apple does a poor job these two developments may kill the home user market and Qustodio’s school solution is pretty limited.

Alas, there’s an even bigger problem - see Usage.

Installation: B

Installation isn’t too bad as long as you don’t try following the directions for the Home version! Create  user in the web management console, then either send an email to their device or use a browser on their device to navigate to Then click the links and complete the install. Just be sure not to save the management console password to their device when prompted.

Usage: F

Alas, the Qustodio VPN doesn’t handle SSL connections correctly. Google treats it as a “impersonating” connection, other sites produced an ERR_SSL_PROTOCOL_ERROR message. OS X parental controls had similar issues 5 years ago; since then SSL connections have become standard. Today nobody would consider this acceptable. The final nail in the coffin is Qustodio’s web site doesn’t address the problem. That suggests a limited future for their iOS product.

- fn -

[1] I’ve been spelling it “Qustudio”. It’s actually Qustodio. I wonder how they came up with that name. I’ve gone back and fixed up my old posts. 

Update 2/17/2018: Qustodio never responded to my questions about their VPN service. In addition to the issues above #1 son was being routinely asked for his VPN password. I removed all the phones from the service, and found when you delete a device you are given the device password. So it’s available, but obscure. Then I removed all accounts and closed my account. Account closure seemed to work, now I have to see if billing stops.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Vulnerable user support: Qustodio review and PC Magazine parental control page

It’s been a while since I reviewed MMGuardian and similar parental control apps. The last time I did this I promised to took at Qustodio, but life got in the way. Now I’m back to the topic, preparing to update one of the tougher chapters in my book - Smartphones for All.

I signed up for Qustodio and quickly ran into some issues with possibly outdated documentation. I say “possibly” because there may be some quirks related to my subscribing with an old test account they gave me. So I’ll get to evaluate their user support too. I’ll put that post out after I get things fixed.

In the meantime I’ve put out a call for feedback on use of “parental control software” to support vulnerable iPhone users of all ages. I’d particularly like to hear from users of Qustodio and MMGuardian with iPhones.

PC Magazine (I remember their glory days!) did a pretty thorough review of Qustodio, through it I found their “parental control and monitoring reviews” stream. The latter is a good general resource, but they should have included MMGuardian.

The Qustodio review makes much of how ‘old’ the Qustodio site looks. I didn’t bother me, but having an ‘old’ looking site can be a marker for weak financials. The review is Android-centric, that makes sense because there are effectively no parental controls with Android. If you want something you need to pay. iOS devices have built in restriction abilities so they get less attention. They still hit most of the key points for an iOS users, but my review will be more extensive.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Down syndrome traits -- many also true of non-Down low IQ adult

Recently I had the privilege of taking about smartphone support for special needs adults for the Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota. As a speaker I could attend the conference for free, including a talk by a psychologist, Dennis McGuire.

I don’t have a child with Down Syndrome (John Langdon Down’s syndrome has become Down Syndrome) but #1’s IQ is in the typical Down Syndrome range. So I was curious how much of Dr McGuire’s talk applied to my son. I decided about 80% or so — even though #1’s temperament is very different from the Down Syndrome athletes I know from Special Olympics and Minnesota Special Hockey. I suspect that overlap is primarily a result of cognitive disability rather than something unique to Down Syndrome (Trisomy 21). (By way of reference #2 is classic autism spectrum disorder but has a normal college range IQ. This list would not apply to him.)

For the parent of a child with a cognitive disability this is valuable stuff. I thought nobody studied these behaviors — but it turns out they are studied in Down Syndrome. We’ve figured most of it out by now, but it would have been good to have had this list 8 years ago.

From my notes …

  1. Often do better with written word than spoken word, even if reading level grade 2.* This includes texting.
  2. A minor misfortune that a neurotypical might quickly forget may produce a strong aversion or phobia. These can be lasting and may be very hard or impossible to verbalize. Re-exposure to the context or even attempts to describe it may reproduce the emotional response (PTSD-like)*. They may result in quitting a job that had been going well or dropping a favorite activity. These can sometimes be addressed over a period of a year or so — if the root cause can be determined.
  3. It is common to make poor word or phrase choices — perhaps for lack of a range of phrases. “Kill that SOB” for “I’m really made at him”. Some will response to a (written) list of alternative and more acceptable phrasings.
  4. “Self-talk”, monologues with gestures and dialog, are common ways to process events. They may include imaginary friends. They may be mistaken for psychotic delusions. Person with Down syndrome often need training to understand self-talk should be done in a private space.
  5. When doing “self-talk” may act out roles — consistent with a fondness for theater.
  6. “Stuck groove” - McGuire's name for repetitive behaviors with a compulsive aspect. Topics and phrases that must be repeated many times with minor variations. Arranging a desk to be “just so”.
  7. A preference for ordered environments and routines. “Stubborn” is the “S word" in the Down Syndrome community.
  8. A resistance to being hurried or made to move quickly — “slow” and “slower”. (FWIW #1 does not do this, but my #2 (autism) does. I’ve seen this a bit in special hockey, but I’ve also seen Down skaters race for the puck.
  9. Anger as a common response to not understanding, feeling pushed.
  10. Reactive “No” when asked if want to do something long desired.
  11. Strong orientation to place — often very good sense of direction.
  12. Love of food and food places.
  13. Strong visual memory but poor at time sequencing. May speak of things in present tense that occurred years ago. May have difficulty with timing of routines — not able to manage “15 minute” guide for shower.

I’ll ask my Down parents whether they think this list will be helpful in coaching our Down skaters. I know it would be helpful for managing my #1.

* Dr McGuire ascribed the asterisk items to a strong visual memory, even “photographic” at times. That seems plausible, but I don’t know if there are MRI studies to go with it.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Apartheid in Minnesota: Disabled need not apply

This shocked me:

West St. Paul, South St. Paul restrict housing for disabled

West St. Paul and South St. Paul have taken steps to restrict housing options for people who receive state assistance for being both low-income and disabled…

…. “We have enough of these properties in the community,” said Tom Seaberg, a South St. Paul City Council member. “It’s not a discriminatory thing, it’s an economic issue.”…

… West St. Paul passed an ordinance in November prohibiting people who get government rental assistance and support services, a category the state calls “registered housing with services,” from living in the city’s apartments unless they’re already residing there….

People receiving assistance may be mentally ill, physically or mentally disabled or elderly. The services they get range from transportation and nursing care to help with cleaning or money management.

South St. Paul approved an ordinance last month allowing just one unit, or 5 percent of a multifamily building, whichever is greater, to be occupied by people receiving both rental help and support services….

… Kori Land, the attorney for both cities, said that “registered housing with services establishments” is simply a land-use classification in state law. She denied that the ordinances discriminate against any specific group…


How is this not like banning people by race or religion?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Minnesota adoption assistance and disability support

We have been told, and I think this is true, that if a Minnesota child with a cognitive disability receives state adoption assistance, which includes medicaid coverage it’s not possible to get disability support until the adoption assistance ends at age 21. 

It appears to be an unwritten rule. I wonder if in some cases it would be better, with a special needs adoption, to forego the adoption assistance and take the disability path instead. I’m sure this exclusion is an unintended consequence.

The transition from medicaid coverage under adoption assistance to medicaid coverage under the disability program is not instantaneous. There will be a gap. Moving from childhood disability to adult disability is not fun.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Smartphones for all has a new web site

I’ve created a separate blog for my book project on smartphone support for special needs and autism spectrum teens and adults. I replaced an older static site with a wordpress site with blog (feed) and static pages. 

I’ll post links to the best stuff here. This site will continue with non-book posts focused on supporting special needs persons. They are less frequent now because I’m focused on the book work.

I’m also refreshing companion Facebook pages and a Twitter account; I’ve put that into an intro blog post over on the book site. Check it out!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Configuring an iPhone for special needs users - the summary table

I've been using Facebook to share my book work (still ongoing!). It has limitations though so sharing today's update here.

Turn “Ask to Join Networks” Off to reduce noisy prompts. I dislike the way Apple does automatic WiFi connections, but if you turn WiFi off completely location finding becomes less accurate. So leave WiFi on.
Off to simplify use until needed
See “Controlling data use”, above
AMBER alerts may be upsetting and are certainly disruptive. Turn them off. Emergency Alerts are much less frequent and may be valuable in tornado country. Application Notifications are disruptive, turn of all but the ones that your Explorer needs (example: Messages, Calendar).
Control Center, Access controls
To reduce confusing screen popups turn off the “Lock Screen” and “Within Apps” options.
Do Not Disturb
If an Explorer sleeps with their iPhone nearby a Guide may schedule “Do Not Disturb” for evening hours. Calls from “Favorites” or “All Contacts” may be allowed to go through.
General, About, Name
It’s a good practice to give an Explorer’s device a meaningful name.
Spotlight Search
Turn off most options here to keep things simple. Do leave Calendar and Contacts as searchable.
Disable. Any Explorer who can benefit from this will know to turn it on.
See “Accessibility”, above.
See “Restrictions”, above. This is also discussed in later chapters.
Consider disabling the Emoji keyboard if it is confusing — but many Explorers will enjoy using Emojis.  Most of the spelling and correction options are helpful to most Explorers and can be left alone. Dictation can be disabled for most, it can be confusing if accidentally activated and it uses up keyboard space.
Display & Brightness
Auto-Lock should generally be set to 5 Minutes. Display Zoom is helpful for Explorers who may benefit from larger controls and icons. Weirdly this is different, and more useful, than “Zoom” in Accessibility. Text Size appears here and in the Accessibility settings, it’s discussed in the Accessibility section above.
Ringer and Alerts, Change with Buttons should be disabled. Otherwise Explorers will accidentally silence their ringer and alert. Really, everyone should turn this one off! May Explorers will want to choose a Ringtone they like (and will tolerate). Keyboard Clicks can be either irritating or helpful and should be reviewed with an Explorer.
See “Siri”, above.
Touch ID & Passcode
See “Touch ID”, above.
iTunes & App Store
See Store accounts, above.
Wallet & Apple Pay
Disable this for most Explorers, especially the double-click home button shortcut.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Autism - updating my thinking

This blog is about two very different people with atypical minds connected by family. One is now an adult, the other is almost there. I call them #1 and #2.

#1 wants to be independent. He does less with me now, and more on his own. That’s a sad thing for me, but I’m hardly the first father to miss time with an adult son. #2, at the moment, wants Dad time even as he takes on new things that test his limits. Things like joining a neurotypical high school mountain biking team [1].

Seeing him in that setting I have more insight into how his world looks. When he’s stressed I see him move into a mode where the world fades away to only two people — #2 and Dad.

It’s a kind of extreme focus, a tunnel vision. Even the environment fades away. In cold rain, on a muddy dirt road, surrounded by a team I’m responsible for, I need to stop and give him full attention for an extended discussion of my inadequacies. I see him enter ‘full aspie’ mode, then respond to a threat of decreased screen time by resuming motion, followed by the  beginning of a stereotypical dialog. The dialog begins with me accepting responsibility for my faults, then I provide a structured apology, then he performs an analysis of what went wrong, followed shortly by an often perceptive self-analysis, then a return to the world.

Over time the cycle seems to go more quickly. The progress is encouraging, even though the journey is longer than he yet realizes.

#1 carries the autism label. He meets criteria and it helps with services. Autistic is not a great description of him though. He’s more complex. Greene’s “Explosive child”, (see my 2007 reading list) might have the best description of #1.

For #2 autism is a helpful label, and books on “autism” feel relevant. Including one I first read in 2013; and recently reread (emphases mine) …

Autism, Inside and Out - Download The Universe (review and exposition by Steve Silberman of the NeuroTribes blog)

… Harmon … published “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World," an account of the search for employment by a young artist named Jason Canha. While dozens of news stories a week speculate about candidate genes, environmental factors, and other possible causes for the condition, Harmon zeroed in on the practical issue that all families face when their kid “ages out” of services: How are they supposed to support themselves and learn to live independently?…

… The controversy over the term mindblindness -- and its relationship to compassion and empathy -- is one of the most yawning abysses in autism discourse, and too deep to do justice to here. Suffice it to say that Baron-Cohen made things worse by muddying the distinction between an inability to parse social cues in real time — which seems to be the cognitive issue unifying all points on the spectrum — and empathy, which is more like a capacity to care about how another person is feeling...

… Anyone who has spent time with autistic people can tell you that they're intensely concerned with how other people are feeling, to the point of being overwhelmed. But they often can't piece those feelings together from the usual clues of facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. At the same time, however, autistics are often adept at reading each other’s emotional states from signs that would be opaque to their typical peers…

The thing missing from this short essay, a thing I see in #2, is how dynamic his autism state is. At peak performance he has low-normal perception of his surroundings including some social cues, under stress that falls away. There’s great variability. The essay does capture #2’s empathy and compassion for other people.

- fn -

[1] The mountain biking community has quite a few people on the spectrum. In retrospect that makes sense. There’s a rhythmic swing/bouncing motion to trail riding, especially on flow trails. There’s a social aspect of doing things together, but mostly one is riding the bike and managing the terrain. Conversation is limited and one can always talk about the bike. For #2 most exercise is excruciatingly boring, but mountain biking demands focus and attention. It’s a good spectrum sport.