Black Belt

After 16.5 years of doing martial arts, I finally got my black belt a couple of weeks ago. I am still a little shocked, but it is very exciting. I’ve been very close a few other times and have a collection of brown belts, but I had mostly given up on getting a black belt. I love doing martial arts no matter what color belt I am wearing, but after 12 years of wearing a brown belt, it starts to seem like you have reached the limit of what you can learn.

I am a slow learner. It can get discouraging when you are learning something with other people, and at some point, they all pass you and move on. Sometimes people who you used to teach become your teacher. Sometimes things are extra frustrating because no matter how hard you try, you can never make it to the next level.

After leaving my first school (Tuyê’t Tan dojo in Berkeley, CA) due to a change in medicine making it too hard to go to night time classes, I tried a few other schools. It is the teachers that make the school. There are many styles of martial arts, and people will always argue about which one is “the best”, but I really don’t think it matters in most cases. I think that no matter what martial art you are doing, having a good teacher is the most important thing.

I think if I kept doing Cuong Nhu, I would have gotten a black belt. Cuong Nhu is awesome in so many ways and I am very lucky to have stumbled into such a wonderful dojo with such amazing people. Those people are still my friends and I thank them all for being so patient and helpful to me for so many years.

Had some not so ideal experiences with a few other schools, but didn’t find another great school until we moved to Baltimore a couple of years ago. Palanzo Martial Arts in Pikesville. Seemed random at the time, but turns out that Karen and several of her friends passed through there at some point while they were growing up.

Once again, I was very lucky. Mr. Palanzo’s school is awesome. Mr. Palanzo, aka Mr. Joe, is awesome. Every instructor I have had there has been both a really great martial artist and a really great teacher. That is a very rare combination, even though you would think it would be a requirement in order to work at a karate school.

Mr. Joe thought I could be a black belt, and I did not completely believe him. I didn’t think he was lying, but that he really didn’t have any idea how bad I am at learning. But he found ways to teach me, just like my teachers at Tuyê’t Tan did. It takes a special kind of teacher to figure out ways to teach students who do not learn in the standard way. Just being willing to try to figure it out is a big thing, and the appreciation I feel toward these people for doing that is really more than I can express in words.

Thanks to Mr. Joe, Mr. Chris, Mr. Marcos, Mr. Tom, and classmates at Palanzo Martial Arts, and to Master Allyson, Senseis Amy, John, Raimi, and Anastasia, and Lavina and other classmates at Tuyê’t Tan. Special thanks to Karen, to my family, and to TC for above and beyond extra special awesomeness.

Happy 10th Anniversary WordPress!

WordPress 10th Anniversary

WordPress will be 10 years old on May 27th, 2013. Hard to believe it has been so long! Dougal Campbell had a great idea to start the WordPress 10th Anniversary Blogging Project. I have been using WordPress since v 0.71 and it is still my favorite way to build a website. What better way to celebrate than to write a WordPress post?!

When I first started using WordPress in May 2003…

  • I was 36 years old
  • I lived in Oakland, CA with my partner Karen
  • I had been building websites for 8 years
  • I was an open source PHP/MySQL software junkie
  • My business site was built using a Template Monster template with a Flash header (shhhh… don’t tell anybody) , which was soon to be replaced by Mambo
  • This website (formally called LBnuke) was built with PostNuke, a PHP/MySQL content management system that was forked from PHPNuke
  • I had played around with b2 (project that WordPress was forked from), but liked PostNuke a lot better
  • I was in love with CSS
  • I was a beginner PHP programmer
  • 90% of my client sites were static HTML/CSS/JavaScript

Since I started using WordPress…

  • I moved to Baltimore and legally married Karen
  • I have been building websites for 18 years
  • I am still in love with CSS
  • I am a much better PHP programmer
  • I do a lot of custom WordPress development
  • I went to the WordPress 1.5 Upgrade Party at Matt‘s apartment in San Francisco and he helped me fix my “theme” (aka index.php and stylesheet in root directory)
  • I have been to many WordCamps
  • I am still an open source PHP/MySQL software junkie
  • I converted my business site to WordPress in 2007
  • This website was converted to WordPress in 2006 after being inspired at the first WordCamp in San Francisco (and being jealous of how easy my clients’ sites were to manage compared to my own)
  • I have occasional flings with Drupal and have a huge crush on Laravel, but still like WordPress best for most sites
  • 90% of my client sites are built with WordPress

I am hugely thankful to Matt Mullenweg and all of the other people who have helped develop WordPress over the years, and to all of the awesome people that I have met in the WordPress community!

There will be plenty of celebrating going on all around the world. Find a celebration near you!

Hyperfocus

Hyperfocus | Freelance Freedom

Happy Autism Acceptance month everyone! So nice to read all of the positive posts about autism. I sometimes still have a hard time seeing the positive aspects of autism in myself, but there are at least a few that I am thankful for. I think my favorite one is hyperfocus. Hyperfocus (according to Urban Dictionary) is “a theoretical state of being or ability in which one is able to concentrate and focus on a particular subject so intensely, ultimately becoming oblivious to everything else around”. I do realize that this is not always a positive thing and has been a source of frustration for most people that have spent much time with me, but it has its upsides too.

Hyperfocus | Freelance Freedom

I have been obsessed with things since I was very young. Everything from a soft blanket that I could not give up until I was way too old for that sort of thing, to dinosaurs, to the guitar, to martial arts, and to computer programming. By obsessed, I mean that I can focus on these things for very long periods of time, to the exclusion of everything else around me. It is not a choice and it is not something that I always want. It is like being a prisoner of my own brain and almost nothing can set me free. If someone is calling my name or if there is an external sound that I know is important, like a cat meowing or an alarm going off to tell me I have to do something, I can come back, but it is somewhat painful and leaves me in a very confused and uncomfortable state.

Look what a positive post this is! Okay, enough of that. It is not all bad and it is often magical and amazing. When I was first learning to play guitar, martial arts, coding, I could not grasp even basic concepts, though there was something about all of those things that kept me coming back.

With guitar, I was fascinated by the instrument and the way that the vibrations of the strings and the echo of the sound hole made such a wide variety of sounds and that those sounds could be controlled by holding down the strings in different ways. I learned some chords and could play basic songs, but they were stiff, for lack of a better word. I did not connect the sounds I was playing with music. It was all very mechanical. Still, that very mechanicalness was soothing to my brain. It was something to hold focus on that was strong enough to take me away from the chaos and colliding thoughts that were usually happening in my brain.

After a couple of years, I could do the mechanical things without thinking. It wasn’t until that point that I started to hear the music. I started listening to songs and playing along with them. At some point, I could hear a song in my head and envision playing it on the guitar. I actually started learning songs while I was sleeping or spacing out. When playing with other musicians and singers, I could listen to them and my part would almost play itself. I heard the guitar part in my head and my fingers just did it. Thinking was completely removed from the equation. That is where the magic happens.

Unfortunately, martial arts did not work in quite the same way, but it doesn’t matter. Like guitar, I love the mechanics of martial arts. I have been fortunate to have some really great teachers who have been able to explain the reasons for each technique. So much going on in even the simplest techniques. I have been doing martial arts of some kind or other for over 16 years. I do not have a black belt, although I do have a pretty large collection of brown belts. Still, it is not quite the same. My lack of short term memory makes it very hard for me to learn certain things. That, combined with the fact that I am not very athletic, somewhat clumsy, and have an annoying delay between thinking and acting, make it especially challenging. While all of those things make getting a black belt seem like a pipe dream, it doesn’t really matter. Doing martial arts, learning about the mechanics and history, and knowing that someday, some of what I have learned might help myself or someone else escape a bad situation is enough. I look forward to it and it makes me happy. You can’t ask for much more than that! Still, I wouldn’t turn away a black belt.

Coding. Programming. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Code is beautiful to me. It makes sense in a way that nothing else does. Whether the code is good or bad, no matter what language it is written in, it will make sense, even when it doesn’t work. You can troubleshoot code in a way that you can not troubleshoot other things. Line by line, file by file; somewhere is the answer. You can not parse people that way. For some reason, this does not seem to bother most people, but it is a thing that has exhausted and confused me for as long as I can remember. Hyperfocus is an escape from that.

Illogical things make my brain explode. Hyperfocus puts the fragments back together. I know there are many people who hyperfocus on things that are not logical, but I think it is often in search of logic. I used to be somewhat obsessed with World War II and read everything I could find that might explain what could make people do the horrible things that were done. I actually found many answers. I wish I didn’t. Frames of logic differ from person to person. That particular obsession did not make me less confused, but it gave me a frame of reference as to how such horrible things could actually happen. It also taught me that things are not as black and white as “logical = good, illogical = bad”. People can do horrible things that seem completely logical to them, and people can do amazingly kind and heroic things with actions that defy logic.

While hyperfocus has had its ups and downs for me, I think it is something that is needed in this world. It is the thing that allows people to tear things apart and break them down to their core components, until something finally makes some sense. Autistic people are not the only ones who experience it, but it seems to be one of the most common threads all along the spectrum. It is a valuable ability, no matter whether or not people can communicate verbally or hold down a traditional job or assimilate into cultural “norms”. It is a way to go beyond the “box” in order to think outside of it. It is a way to question the reason that the box exists at all.

Autism Acceptance means…

By Karen Hillman

Fully accepting that my partner’s autism shapes her world, but does not define all of who she is – she is autistic and also a web developer, a gamer, a cat lover, a music lover, a brown-belt in karate, a geek, a great listener, a vegetarian, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend. Her autism does not mean that she has no empathy; in fact, she is one of the kindest, most sensitive people I know. It means that I have to rethink the way I relate to and express myself to her – I have to be clear, open and honest more than I ever had to – or wanted to – before we were together. This has been one of the most difficult and rewarding things I’ve ever done and I continue to learn, screw up, relearn, over and over…and she lets me.

Accepting my partner’s autism means that I need to socialize on my own, without her by my side sometimes. I need to watch out for her, to pay attention to make sure she feels included, is not too negatively impacted by sensory input or her environment. It means I need to be patient and understanding and that I need to try to explain things about the neurotypical (NT) world, much of which has no good explanation. Accepting my partner’s autism means that she also fully accepts me with all of my many flaws and idiosyncrasies. It means that I can revel and delight in the things that she shows to only me, because unfortunately, letting them out in an NT world can be embarrassing or detrimental to her.

Autism acceptance means that I have to understand why people who are autistic are angry, feel disempowered, and are sometimes distrustful and suspicious of NT’s. It means I have met many wonderful people with autism who graciously welcome me and teach me things about myself. Autism acceptance means I need to recognize that there are many different ways to communicate and to express oneself. I need to put myself in my partner’s world and not just expect her to live in mine. Autism acceptance has changed my life, exponentially, for the better.

Laravel Learning Resources

Laravel logo

Over the past year or so, I have become enamored with the Laravel PHP framework and have a huge code crush on the soon to be released version 4.

After attending Laracon in Washington D.C. a couple of weekends ago, I was inspired to start the Baltimore Laravel meetup group. I am compiling this resource list for our first meeting. If you have any favorite Laravel learning resources that are not on this list, please leave a comment!

Laravel on the web

Official Docs

Tutorials and screencasts

Other Resources

Books

Laracon 2013 Presentations

2012: The Highlights

If I had to pick one word to describe 2012, it would be ‘busy’. If I had to pick 2 words, they would be ‘too busy’. Living in Baltimore is very busy. I don’t think I will ever get used to it. Work was way too busy for a while. It is great to have so much work, but also nice not to have to work every single second. Things have slowed down for the holidays and I have been enjoying the break.

So much has gone on this year, I don’t even think I can remember it all, so here are the highlights…

Karen got a very well-deserved promotion at work 🙂 It makes me very happy when she is appreciated for her awesomeness. I think she will like her new job a lot better and be able to put her many clinical and organizational skills to good use. Go K!

I finally got my Maryland driver’s license! On my 4th visit to the MVA, I finally got the license that had been held up by red tape, paperwork, and ridiculousness for about a year. Luckily my California license was valid until my birthday this year.

I got called for jury duty. I have always dreaded jury duty, but even my worst imagined scenario was better than how it actually turned out. My fears were about being locked in a room all day with no escape, being surrounded by people and noise, and not being able to speak when I needed to, but those ended up being the least of my problems except for the not talking part.

When I got to the courthouse, I found out that there was a “Quiet Room” to wait in. It was great and for the most part was actually quiet. At some point, there was an announcement telling us to report to a judge at the courthouse across the street. Unfortunately, they didn’t actually mention that the courthouse was across the street, but just gave the address and the room number. Somehow I thought the room number was the street address and walked 8 or 9 blocks to find it. When I couldn’t find it, I returned to the original building and asked a guard to help me. He sent me to the right building, but the wrong room. I returned again and was sent to the right room by another guard.

The judge stopped everything when I walked in and gave me a lecture about being selfish and disrespectful because I was so late. Sometime in the middle of the session, she started calling juror numbers, and I stood up when mine was called, prompting her to scold me even louder and longer than the first time. After more than an hour, the jurors were chosen and I was called up to the bench. My brain was too uncooperative to talk at that point, but somehow I managed to get a pen and paper to write on. I wrote that I couldn’t talk and that I thought that the room number was the building number and got lost. At some point, she stopped talking to me like I was a criminal and started talking to me like I could not understand English. Eventually, she sent me back to the first building to sign out. I never want to do jury duty again.

Snow. It has snowed a few times and even stuck to the ground and cars for short periods. I missed snow. It is so nice to see it and to be outside in the cool crisp late autumn/early winter air!

Karate. I still love my karate school. It is a great space and the instructors are all excellent. Since last summer, I have been especially lucky to have Mr. Joe Palanzo for a teacher. He is a great martial artist and a really amazing teacher. I have not liked a school or a teacher this much since my first dojo. It is 16 years later and I still feel lucky to have been a part of that school. I will always miss it.

WordCamp. I volunteered at WordCamp Baltimore in September and WordCamp Philly in October, and had an awesome time at both. I got to meet some really great people, and even pick up a few new jobs. Looking forward to next year when I also hope to make it to WordCamp NYC.

Laravel. I have been learning to use the Laravel PHP framework for the past few months and am really enjoying working with it. I am especially excited for the release of Laravel 4 and will be attending Laracon in February to learn more and to meet some folks in the Laravel Community, including my favorite web dev tutorial guy, Jeffrey Way.

Those are the highlights; at least the ones that I can remember at the moment. Thanks to all the great people here who continue to be very welcoming and warm. Thanks also to K’s parents who have treated me like part of the family and been so good to me.

Happy 2013 everyone!

Second Annual ASAN Gala

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Last night Karen and I went to the 2nd annual ASAN Gala at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. It was even nicer than last year’s event, which was also very nice. There was a reception with excellent food and drink, followed by the opening speakers.

First to speak was the evening’s host and MC, James Weisman, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the United Spinal Association. I like him. He is a great speaker and tells funny jokes. Mr. Weisman has been doing amazing things for disability rights for many years.

Next, Ari Ne’eman spoke. Simply put, Ari is awesome. He is easily one of the best speakers I have ever seen. His passion for disability advocacy is infectious (in a good way) and I could see it spreading across the room as he spoke about how all autistics must be included in conversations about the autistic community, and not just those who are verbal and/or seen as “high functioning”. He is an inspiration to many people, including myself, and an example of how much can be done by self advocates. Ari was appointed by President Obama in 2009 to sit on the National Council on Disability and is the President and co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Kathy Greenlee, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Aging and Administrator of the Administration on Community Living spoke next, followed by Kathleen Martinez, Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Office of Disability Employment Policy. Both women spoke about how important it is for disability rights activists to work together and not just for their own particular disability. They made the point that when organizations work together, they have more power to create change.

We had a very good dinner of stuffed acorn squash for the vegetarians and chicken and green beans for the non-vegetarians, followed by dessert, which resembled a triangular brownie.

Madeleine Will was presented with the Ally of the Year Award, which is an award given to individuals who go above and beyond in serving as allies of the Disability community. Next, Steve Kapp was presented with the Award for Services to the Self Advocacy Movement, an award given to those who have helped to build the Autistic community through exceptional advocacy, ingenuity, or service.

The Loud Hands Project video was shown. It was so great that I embedded it into this post. The Loud Hands project is organized by Julia Bascom.

The night was a great success all around and we left feeling excited after hearing about all the accomplishments by ASAN and other advocacy groups and individual advocates this year. So many people working so hard and so continuously to make the world a better place, not only for people with their own particular disability of interest, but for all disabled people.

It was also wonderful to get to meet so many of the people that I have worked with or known only online and to get to see friends who I do not get to see very often.

Thanks so much to ASAN for another great gala!

Autism Is Gray

Autistics Speaking Day 2012

Once again, it is Autistics Speaking Day. I want to write a post about the positive aspects of autism, but at the moment, it is hard. It has been almost 8 years since I found out that I was autistic. At first, it freaked me out because there is no cure. Eventually, I started to see the positive aspects and realized that I would be a different person if I had a neurotypical brain. I do not want to be a different person, at least, not for the most part. I used to wish there was a magic pill that I could take to make me “normal”. I still wonder if I would take it if one existed.

Even though things have improved quite a bit over the years due to medicine, learning coping skills, and most of all, help from people that love me, there are still times that I want that pill. I want it so bad. Sometimes I hate being autistic. I am not sure that it is okay to say that in the part of the autism community that I participate in most.

Over the past few years, the autism community has become divided. A VERY simplified explanation is that there are organizations like Autism Speaks, that do not have any input from autistic people and are very invested in searching for a cure. There is much more than that. Please do not support them.

On the other end are self-advocates who do not believe that autistic people need to be cured and who advocate for legal and societal change that will help them receive the services and accommodations that they need. As a perspective for people reading this post, I would definitely consider myself a self-advocate.

If there were a cure, I think individuals should have the option to choose for themselves if they want to be cured or not. That is a slippery slope when it comes to children, so honestly, I have no idea how something like that could actually work.

I am sometimes discouraged by the rift in the community, and sometimes confused by it. Sometimes, I wish that the conversation was more civil. I don’t think it is “us against them”. I don’t think that parents desperately looking for a cure for their child are evil, even if they hate autism. I do think that they need to be educated by autistic people and hope that there will be time when that will not be necessary anymore.

Autism can cause pain for both the autistic person and for their loved ones. It can be horrible and seem impossible to deal with at times for both the autistic person and their loved ones. There are also many positive things about autism and autistic people. We are a necessary part of the world. We think differently. Someone has to. It is hard to navigate a community where things sometimes seem so black and white. I think autism is gray.

My life is usually pretty good. Even when I was younger and things were so much harder, I was still lucky to have parents who loved me. In the 70’s, autism was not a common diagnosis. My problems were blamed on bad behavior, antisocial attitude, being lazy, not trying, whatever. In the 80’s, these diagnoses changed to things like schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorder, etc. It wasn’t until the 90’s that someone suggested to me that I might be autistic and until 2005 for me to accept the idea as a possible reality. I think autism education, especially by the self-advocacy community is changing the way people think about autism in a good way, and that it will make it much easier for people to be diagnosed early and to get what they need. Maybe someday when parents get the news that their child is autistic, they will not automatically panic, fear the worst, and do everything they can to “cure” their child. Maybe they will accept it as a part of who their child is.

When I was younger, I would have done anything to be cured. I think my parents would have too. Even now when my life is so much easier, there are times when I just can’t stand it. I can’t stand being a prisoner of my own brain. I can’t stand not being able to socialize normally, read regularly, think clearly, and sometimes even speak at all. I do not know how to explain what that is like. A while back, I read a post by Savannah in which she used the phrase “A thousand hard things”. That is a good description of what it is like.

I really wanted to write a post for today. I think these posts and this day are very important. I hate that part of me had to think about the possible negative reaction from the people I consider part of my community, but I realize that the fact that I did makes it even more important for me to post it.

Unsolicited advice to NTs out there with partners on the spectrum considering a giant life change

By Karen Hillman

Uprooted by PurpleLorikeet @ flickr

Note from LB: This article was originally published on the Autism Women’s Network website and is reprinted with permission from the author. It is about Karen’s and my move here last year from Oakland, CA. We are both still learning to adapt to our busy lives here, and for the most part, we have both managed to find ways to recharge and have fun along the way.

As some of you may know, last year my partner Lori, who is on the autism spectrum, moved with me from Oakland, CA to Baltimore, MD so we could be closer to my aging parents. There have been a lot of ups and downs. The biggest “down” that has had lasting repercussions was that Lori lost her SSI (Supplemental Security Income). With everything going on, we didn’t think about the fact that co-owning our house would be considered an asset. What this has meant is that she’s had to work more than full time hours to expand her freelance web business. That has put immense pressure on her to take on way too many things at once. For those of you on the spectrum, you can imagine how difficult this has been. It’s way too much for her to handle and yet she is handling it probably way better than she (or I) thought she could. I think the “up” is that she sees how capable she is of running her business despite the challenges. That said, it’s still way too much. With SSI she was able to work more or less as she needed for the most part. I don’t think things are sustainable the way they are – she’s working too many hours without getting time to relax and turn off. Her brain needs a break. The other “up” is that now people in this area are starting to value her services and get to know her and I think that is a good thing. Sometimes I have to (almost literally) drag her kicking and screaming to things I know she will enjoy, even when she is overwhelmed. Fear not, this rarely happens and I try hard to pay attention to whether I can push or not – sometimes I’m wrong and I blow it.  I just know it’s important for her to sometimes be around people she can relate to whether it’s others on the spectrum or other web developers.

Some unsolicited advice to you NTs out there with partners on the spectrum considering a giant life change: do your research – financial stuff especially but also what supports are available where you are moving? What can you do to make things as comfortable as possible? If your partner is on medication and diagnosed “officially” or not and gets some kind of services, what can you do to help ensure your partner can continue to get his/her needs met for meds, counseling, etc? What resources are available in the new area? Be extra gentle, compassionate and understanding that uprooting may have an especially big impact. Get support for yourself – of course, this is a big life change for you too and you have needs as well. Try to find breaks in the action – do some things together that aren’t about pre or post-moving tasks, regroup. Help your partner find his/her way around the new place in the way your partner learns best. Spend some time exploring together. Try to build new routines as soon as possible if your partner finds that helpful. Help your partner understand and become accustomed to the norms of the population in the new area. Remember that your partner also has a lot to offer. Be honest and communicate clearly about your own stress and what you need. Most of all, give yourself and your partner time to settle in.

Please feel free to post about your experiences with life changes and what has been helpful/not helpful for you.

Favorite Mac Tip of the Day > Rename Files from the Title Bar

Rename a file from the title bar

Rename files from the title bar

Thanks to Devir Kahan for the tip!

Rename a file from the title bar
Rename a file from the title bar

Instead of having to locate the file in the Finder to rename it, you can now just click on a filename in the window’s title bar to rename it. This same sort of thing works for bookmarklets too. You can also move a file to another location from the title bar by clicking its name and choosing Move.

Disable Save Password Prompts in Safari 6

Safari 6

Safari 6 has a feature that prompts the user to save passwords. A window pops up with the options to save the password or to never save the password for that site. I am pretty sure this feature has been around for a while, but in Safari 6 it seems to enable itself.

1PasswordI am a huge fan of AgileBits 1Password, an awesome password manager for mac, windows, iPhone, iPad, and Android that syncs saved passwords and other sensitive data across devices and seamlessly integrates with Safari, Firefox, and Chrome. I prefer to use 1Password in place of the Safari password manager.

I found it annoying that the ability to disable the Safari 6 password manager is not very obvious. I had been through the preferences several times without successfully disabling it when I finally googled and found the solution here: Safari 6.0 Tweak – Turn Off Save Password Prompts

The setting is not in the Passwords preferences, but rather in the AutoFill preferences. To disable it, you need to uncheck the ‘Usernames and passwords’ checkbox next to ‘AutoFill web forms:’. It seems logical now that I know where it is, but I had passed over that preference several times because I was looking for a way to disable the prompts without necessarily disabling the entire password manager.

Favorite Mac App of the Week: Boom

Last October, I got a shiny new 15″ Macbook Pro and have been using it as my main work computer ever since. It is much faster than my iMac, and other than watching movies and working in Photoshop, I find that I prefer using it over the iMac.

The only thing that has really bugged me about this computer is that the sound sucks. In many cases, the volume is too low to hear anything above the outside street noise. At least it was until yesterday when I discovered an awesome little app called Boom.

Boom is a volume booster and equalizer for macs. From the moment I installed it, the volume on my system has been quite a bit louder. After turning on the built-in equalizer and setting it to ‘Vocals’, the sound was even better while watching a video podcast that I had not been able to hear earlier. The app is $6.99 and can be purchased from the seller’s website or from the Mac App Store.

One day I woke up and I was 45…

I remember when I was younger, thinking that 45 was very old. The past few days, I have been thinking about what it means to ‘get old’. Is 45 old? 40? 65? 85? Does it matter? I don’t think it is a bad thing, and considering the alternative, it is an awesome thing!

I am not one of those people that wishes that I could be young again. It was hard enough the first time. There is definitely something to be said for ‘older and wiser’. There is no way to be younger and wiser because much wisdom comes from experience, and experience is something that is accumulated over time. I think age does matter, but somehow the reasons why have been strangely twisted.

It makes me sad that being old has to be such a bad thing in our society. Our culture is one that values youth over experience. There is a multi-billion dollar industry built on the idea that being old makes someone less valuable as a person. There are creams and treatments and washes and spas and even surgeries that can help people appear younger. The fact that it does not actually make them younger does not seem to matter. This is something I have never understood and something that really drives me insane if I think about it too much. Other cultures honor their elders and value the contributions they have made and the experiences they have to share. Why don’t we do that?

Going to stop thinking about that now. I had a great 45th birthday yesterday! Karen and I walked around at the harbor and saw lots of boats and big Navy ships. After that, we had birthday cake and played Skyrim for a while. Later, dinner of wine and pizza at Joe Squared. Awesome day, awesome night 🙂 I think I am the luckiest person in the whole world.

2011

In a word, 2011 has been CRAZY! I’ve had some crazy years in my time, and while this year is not nearly as crazy as some have been, it definitely holds a place on the “Craziest Years Ever” list.

A Brief Summary of 2011:

Moving

Karen and I gave up hopes of selling our house after waiting 3 years for the economy to improve so we could move to Baltimore to be closer to K’s parents and help them out. Lorena and Tess offered to live in our house, pay mortgage, etc. so that we could move. Thanks Lorena and Tess! Karen quit her long time job that she really loved (and found a new one in Baltimore), and in April we drove approximately 3007 miles away from Oakland, CA to Baltimore, MD to live in an awesome apartment that K’s friend Lisa found for us. Thanks Lisa!

Baltimore Life

Living in Baltimore has been a challenge to say the least. When we got here, we went to the local SSI office to officially switch from California to Maryland. While filling out the paperwork in the office, we found out that I am no longer eligible to receive SSI because we no longer live in our house. It is only okay to own a house if you live in it. Surprise! That was a pretty huge blow which has been hard to recover from. So hard, that we have not recovered from it yet. Karen had to take a large pay cut as well because jobs generally pay less here than in CA.

I still do not have a Maryland driver’s license, even after going to the Maryland MVA 3 times and waiting 12 weeks for New York State to clear my record in the National Driver Registry for something that was taken care of in 1984. One more trip to the MVA should do it.

Next was The Dentist. In August, I had an appointment for a “simple root canal” that would take 1/2 hour. Maybe I should have taken it as a sign that the day started with an earthquake, but I went anyway. It did not take 1/2 hour. It is 4 months, 9 dentist/endodontist appointments, and one emergency room visit later, and I am still dealing with the aftermath. I have 2 more appointments in January to (hopefully) finish the job. Some damage may be permanent.

Work has been pretty good. Luckily, my business is portable, and I can still work for my clients/colleagues in the bay area. Even more luckily, before moving here, I met an awesome woman on LinkedIn who has hooked me up with some jobs, introduced me to some people, and let me share her office. Thank you M!

It is not all hard. I love living here. I love the city. I even like the people. K’s friends are awesome and it is good to live near her parents so we can visit them and help them out. In general, I find that people are much more down to earth here than in the bay area. I like that. Our apartment is a block away from EVERYTHING, and I found a great place to do karate. I missed the east coast. It took me 20 years to miss it, but I am glad to be back. I love the changing seasons and the chill in the air. I am comfortable here. It is also nice to be so much closer to my family!

No year is complete without a few bulleted lists:

Favorite Apps 2011:

  • Komodo IDE 7 – I have been using Komodo as my main code editor/IDE since 2009. Both the free editor and commercial IDE get better with every version. Komodo 7 is in RC1 right now and should be released soon. Some bugs that were in the alpha and beta are fixed in this version and performance is improved. This version also includes my chalkboard color scheme as a system default called Dark_Chalkboard 🙂
  • Dropbox – There are not enough good things I can say about Dropbox. Now that I am working with 3 computers and an iPhone, it is hard to imagine getting along without it.
  • Moom – A relatively new window management app for mac. I have used several of these apps over the years, but Moom is my favorite one yet. Customizable keyboard shortcuts like the others, as well as a nice visual popup when hovering over the ‘maximize’ button on any window. Definitely worth $5.

Favorite Websites 2011:

  • WPCandy – Early last year, Ryan Imel relaunched WPCandy and it has quickly become my favorite place to keep up with the crazily fast moving world of WordPress news. Thanks Ryan!
  • Facebook – There are many things to hate about Facebook, but no matter what annoying things they do, it has still allowed me to have more human interaction than ever before in a way that does not overwhelm me (or if it does, closing a browser window fixes it).
  • Pinterest – I have recently discovered Pinterest and have been using it as an alternative to Tumblr. I like that it is limited to visual things.

Favorite Places in Baltimore:

  • Baltimore Harbor – I miss the San Francisco Bay more than anything else since we moved. It is really great that Baltimore has such an awesome harbor. Great place to walk around aimlessly and lots of fun things to do.
  • Charles Village Pub – One thing that always seemed to be missing from various places I lived in the bay area was a local pub. Now, we have one down the block. A great place to stop in and have a beer or to meet people at.
  • ETC – AWESOME place for the local tech and business startup communities. This is the place where the local WordPress and PHP meetups are held, as well as the place where I share office space. It is also the home of Beehive Baltimore, “… a coworking community of freelancers, entrepreneurs, and other creative professionals sharing a common workspace in Baltimore, Maryland”.

I am hoping that 2012 will be an easier year for us. I am happy to be here and glad we made this decision and finally got to make it happen. For the most part, we are very lucky! We have jobs, an awesome apartment to live in, a great city to live in, close proximity to our families, and are surrounded by great people.

Happy New Year everyone!

The Autistic Freelancer :: Autistics Speaking Day 2011

I have been running my freelance web development business for over 15 years, the last 8 of which have actually involved a business license, paying taxes, and making money. Each year, I do a little  better than the last.

Running a business can be challenging to everyone, and as with most things, can provide extra challenges for autistic people. Also, as with most things, we may have skills and abilities that give us a greater chance of succeeding despite the extra challenges.

In honor of Autistics Speaking Day 2011, I will write about my personal experience of running a business with these challenges and benefits. I have been very lucky and have had a lot of help along the way and would be very happy if I could help someone else looking to follow a similar path.

First, a  few words about luck:

I do not have the business skills to run my own business. Before Karen was my billing manager, I often forgot to bill people and could not keep track who had paid even though I use software to keep track of such things. Software is useless if you forget to supply the needed data. Every month, Karen makes sure that clients are billed and follows up when someone has not paid. Needless to say, this has had a huge impact on the success of my business!

I have also been lucky to have a community of web designers and developers that send work in my direction. Most of this community is in the San Francisco Bay Area and I miss them a lot. I have not yet met that community in Baltimore, but I have met some really great developers at local PHP and WordPress meetups. I have been especially lucky to meet one woman who has welcomed me to Baltimore with open arms, sent great jobs my way, and shares her office space with me!

For the most part, when I work with other internet professionals (designers, developers, consultants, marketing people, copywriters, etc.), I have much less client contact than I do when I am working directly for a client. If I had my way, I would have a partner who takes care of the business and non-technical client management side of things all the time.

Challenge/Benefit #1 – Communication

When I was a new freelancer, I did not yet know about the client phenomenon known as “one more thing”. “One more thing” is when a client thinks a task is very simple, when in fact it may take several hours or days to complete. “Can you just [insert complicated time-consuming job here]?”. I am often expected to do this for free, because it is part of the website that I am building for them. No, I can not just do that. It will add 3 days to the project time and cost $1000.

It is a skill to communicate to clients what is involved in creating the things they are asking for. In most cases, it is best not to be too technical because most people do not understand the jargon of web development. Why should they? By attempting to simplify things into terms that a client can understand and relate to, the amount of time and work necessary to complete a project can seem like it would be much less than it actually is.

I like to have honest relationships with my clients. I do not generally ‘read between the lines’ and I never speak between them. I am autistic. My communication skills are limited, yet for the most part, my clients seem to like and respect me a great deal. Some will become frustrated with me at some point or other due to a communication (or lack of communication) issue, but all have appreciated my honesty, attention to detail, and dedication to giving them the best site possible within their budget.

Challenge #2 – Organization

Every morning, I look at my todo list, get overwhelmed, and start my work day. The list is always long. I use software to prioritize tasks and to view them in very focused ways. Otherwise, I would not have any idea what to do first. If I have to think, I am doomed to spend hours in a state of confusion while rapidly alternating between hundreds of things for 30-60 seconds each. Very bad for productivity to say the least.

Challenge #3, Benefit #2 – Hyperfocus

When I am not serially uni-tasking at rapid speeds, I can usually be found doing the exact opposite, hyper-focusing on one thing for hours at a time, usually code. In general, this serves me well, but sometimes there is a need to come out of the code and attend to something else. I find this very hard to do at times, to the point where I can not give my full focus and attention to something because I can not let go of the code. The amount of confusion that occurs while trying to shift can be very painful and disorienting to me and very annoying and frustrating to a person trying to pull me back.

Hyperfocus can also be a benefit when learning new skills. I work in an industry where there is a need to be constantly learning new technologies and keeping up with older ones. The ability to become so engrossed in something that it becomes all-consuming makes it much easier to keep up.

Benefit #3 – Helping Each Other

At some point, I would like to work with an autistic intern/apprentice and teach them the skills that I have learned in a way that they can understand and in an environment that they can be comfortable in. I have a similar wish to teach karate to autistic people someday.

In the past 5 years, the autistic community on the internet has grown exponentially and brought thousands of people together. This has expanded to “real life” communities, government action, education, and many other areas, but it is still not enough. It is our voices that will lead the way to a better future, whether those voices be vocal or assisted by a device or person. It is our voices that will allow us to reach out to one another, help each other, and share our unique views of the world with the people who’s world is sometimes a mystery to us. It is our voices that will tell the world that we have voices.

RIP Steve Jobs, Derrick Bell, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth

Derrick Bell, Steve Jobs and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth
Derrick Bell, Steve Jobs, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth
Derrick Bell, Steve Jobs, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.
(Photo: David Shankbone/Wikicommons, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

I am sad that Steve Jobs is gone. I didn’t know him, but like many other people, he changed my life. There have been many tributes to Mr. Jobs in the past week and it is easy to see how widespread his influence was. There is also some negative sentiment in which people are furious that so much attention and honor is given to the death of a corporate billionaire while the deaths of race scholar Derrick Bell and civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who died on the same day, were much less prominently noted. I definitely agree that the deaths of Derrick Bell and Rev. Shuttlesworth deserve at least as much attention as the death of Steve Jobs, but it is Steve Jobs’ influence on my life that I will write about here.

Apple IIe
Apple IIe

Like many computer geeks, Steve Jobs was a hero and an inspiration to me. He changed ‘thinking different’ from a reason to get beat up to a reason to be respected (at least as far as nerdy computer geeks go). I have been in continuous awe of the things he has created since the day my dad brought home an Apple IIe in 1983. That, along with a Commodore 64 and a VIC-20 that we used in the high school Computer Club, were the first places I learned about programming. BASIC. Loved it!

To a person who thinks of things in a very literal way and finds it hard to get along in a world where logic does not always dictate reality, programming provides a comfort, a world where actions and consequences are dictated by logic alone.

Aside from learning some PASCAL in college, I was out of the computer/media loop until 1995, when my dad told me about Windows 95. I got my first PC, a Compaq Presario 100MHz mini-tower with 8KB RAM, and read “Windows 95 For Dummies” from cover to cover. Over the next 10 years, I learned to build and fix PCs. I learned to build websites using FrontPage Express, a program that was included with Internet Explorer 4. It had a split view where you could look at the visual web site on one side and the code on the other, making it very easy to see how changing one would affect the other. I also learned more than I ever wanted to know about the Windows operating system.

By 2004, I was sick of the constant problems with Windows and had decided to switch to Linux. 2004 was also the year that the San Francisco Apple Store first opened. Lured by the promise of shiny electronic things, I wandered into the store and was completely blown away by what I saw. The operating system of the time was OS X 10.3, aka Panther. It was simple and beautiful, yet had the power, stability, and security of a UNIX based operating system behind it. That was it. The bar was raised forever. My first mac was a 12″ PowerBook 1.33GHZ PowerPC with 256MB of RAM. Somehow, that little thing ran circles around my 3GHz Pentium 4 PC with 1GB RAM.

I knew almost nothing about my new mac, which was a little disturbing considering that I could troubleshoot Windows in my sleep. Luckily, Karen knew how to use a mac and showed me the way. Before long, I realized that I was so confused at first because everything was so easy to do! I expected everything to be more complicated and unstable like Windows, but it was not. There was no need to troubleshoot in my sleep anymore. Like programming, macs made sense to me.

I currently use a 24″ iMac, a 15″ MacBook Pro, and an iPhone to do my work, learn new things, play games, and communicate with the world in a way that was not possible for me in the past. I am thankful to Steve Jobs for thinking differently and for the amazing contributions that he has made to the technical world. I am thankful to him for his inspiration and vision. I will miss him and the contributions he surely would have made in the future had his life not been cut so short.

Steve Wozniak remembers Steve Jobs

Change Admin Post/Page List Color By Status

Favorite WordPress tip of the week:

This snippet will change the background colors of posts, pages, and custom post types in the administration post/page lists based on their status, i.e. draft, private, pending, etc.

Note: Draft color changed to a slightly lighter yellow than original.
Update on 5/18/2016: Changed pending color to lighter blue.

Five Ways A Root Canal Can Ruin Your Day

Root Canal
  1. It is preceded by an earthquake
  2. It takes 2.5 hours
  3. It involves numerous shots of novocaine and other random things that burn
  4. It can not be completed and you need to go back again.
  5. Your face swells to the size of a grapefruit and you spend the next morning in the emergency room.
Root Canal
Monkeyface

Numerous thanks to Karen for picking me up at the dentist last night and accompanying me to the emergency room this morning even though she has about 10 schmillion other things going on right now!

Don’t get_the_permalink()

get_the_permalink() does not exist. Use get_permalink().

Note to self: Debug my own site like I would debug any other site.

I have used that function an uncountable amount of times, but got confused anyway because of having get_the_title() on my brain.

This tip was brought to you by the half hour of my life that I will never get back.

Get the Current Page URL

I am working on a site now where I need to use the current page URL as a condition to determine where the main menu links will lead. This function has made an easy task of it:

Komodo Snippet for Comment Banners

I like to keep my code organized and easy to read, but since I am almost always working on a tight deadline, I do not always have time to organize and comment my code as well as I would like to. Shortcuts that aid in keeping my code organized are more likely to get used than their longer counterparts. Comment banners are one way to keep code organized, especially in large files.

In Komodo, the following snippets will turn highlighted text into a comment banner, or if no text is selected, pop up a dialog box asking for the Banner Title. After inserting the banner, the cursor will be be positioned below it. These snippets will work for any code editor, IDE, etc. if you leave out the [[%(s:orask:Banner Title)]] or replace it with whatever works for your software.

You can set a key binding for this shortcut in the ‘Key Binding’ tab of the snippet properties dialog window.

To create a new snippet in Komodo Edit or IDE, open up the Toolbox pane (View > Tabs & Sidebars > Toolbox), and either click on the gear icon and choose ‘New Snippet’, or right-click on a folder where you want to store the snippet and choose ‘New Snippet’.

The snippet dialog box will appear. Give the snippet a title, and place the following text into the larger text box:

PHP, C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, ActionScript, etc.:

PHP, JavaScript, CSS, ActionScript, C, C++, C#, Java, etc.:

Small Banner:

HTML, HTML5, XHTML:

The important part is the interpolation shortcut ([[%(s:orask:Banner Title)]]). You can make the banner look however you like as long as the text is wrapped in code that denotes a comment. Make sure to position the cursor a line or two below the banner.

Check the box for ‘Maintain selected text or cursor position after insertion’. The second check box is optional, but recommended. When you are finished, the box should look something like this:

Komodo PHP Comment Banner Snippet
Komodo PHP Comment Banner Snippet

Click ‘OK’ to save the snippet.

To use the snippet, highlight or enter the banner text and double-click on the snippet in your Tools pane or type your keyboard shortcut. Your banner will be inserted and the cursor will be positioned and ready for the next line of code.

Customize the WordPress Login Page

Custom Login Page
Custom Login Page

I love WordPress and am personally very happy to see the WordPress logo when I log into a site, but when building sites for some clients (and on my own development site where I build sites for clients to preview), it is nice to use their own logo for the login page. It gives a more professional look and fits in with the rest of their branding.

This snippet will use a custom logo instead of the WordPress default logo.

1. Upload your logo to the server, either manually or through the WordPress media library. It is best if the logo image is 326px x 82px or smaller.

2. In your theme’s functions.php file, add this code:

Replace PATH_TO_IMAGE/YOUR_IMAGE.png with the path to your logo image, i.e. images/logo.png.

To customize the entire login page (including the logo), you can use a similar function to call a custom stylesheet for the login page:

My Children Want You To Know

My children want you to know that being of few words does not mean being of little intelligence.

My children want you to know that being socially awkward doesn’t mean they cannot be wonderful, kind, loving and loyal friends.

My children want you to know that they stim because they need to, not because they are brats with little self-control who wish to irritate you. My children want you to know that they are not “picky”, “wussy” or “incorrigible” because they cannot tolerate certain lights, sounds, fabrics or foods. They experience the world quite differently than you do from a sensory standpoint, and they are doing their best to process and handle all of it. Think of having the volume turned up on every one of your senses at all times.

Read the rest of this article…