Bravo to the Ford Motor Company

The Ford Motor Company has teamed with the Autism Alliance of Michigan to hire autistics in the Product Development Department. The press release is here.
Bravo, and Thank You Ford.

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Lawsuit against Gardasil dismissed

Last week, Special Master Lisa Hamilton-Fieldman dismissed a suit brought by two sisters, Madelyne and Olivia Meylor, that the Gardasil Vaccine had caused them to suffer premature ovarian failure. The two plan to appeal the verdict. Madelyne suffered irregular periods before she received the vaccine. Olivia received it before her first period, which occurred when she was 15.
Merck was asked for comment. There was a key sentence in their response.

A medical history of POI has been reported by a small number of trial participants who received GARDASIL or placebo; the number of medical history reports of POI is similar for GARDASIL and placebo recipients.

In other words, this looks to be a case of chance.
Reading their stories, I can’t help but be reminded of the course taken by the parents of Michelle Cedillo, one of the test cases in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings. They introduced video of Michelle at 15 months to show she was fine before the vaccine, only for an autism expert to show that she was already showing clear signs of being autistic, and that her parents were unconsciously adjusting their behaviour towards her. Both Meylor sisters had period problems before receiving the vaccine. The Cedillos appealed, with the verdict being upheld twice. I feel that the same will happen to the Meylors.

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Circumcision as a cause of autism? Seriously?

Sometimes, I see something so mindblowingly stupid, my only response is “WTF?!?!” That was my response today when I saw an article on the Time website about a hypothesis that circumcision is a possible cause of autism. To be fair, the hypothesis and not the article is the stupid thing, but the article was not problem free.
One dubious thing in the article is that it mentions that girls are far less likely than boys to receive a diagnosis of autism. There is a lot of discussion about this fact, with some claiming that autism in girls is very underdiagnosed, which sets up a vicious circle. I in fact subscribe to this viewpoint.
A researcher, Dr. Morten Frisch from Denmark, led a study that found that boys who undergo circumcision are more likely to be diagnosed with autism by age 9. To say that this is dubious would be putting it mildly. In fact, to its credit, the article quotes a critic: Professor Brian Morris from Australia. In addition, it mentions that circumcision rates in Australia have fallen but diagnoses of autism have risen.
Bottom line: this is very weak tea.

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P.R.A.T.T.s

If you look at the bar at the top of my website, you’ll see a new page alongside “Home”, “About me” and “Comments Policy”. Namely, “P.R.A.T.T.s”.
A P.R.A.T.T. is a “Point Refuted A Thousand Times”. It is a claim that have been disproved over and over again, but which is repeated as gospel as if it were never shown to be wrong. It lists some antivaccine P.R.A.T.T.s I’ve come across. I’ll periodically update and add new ones as I find them.

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Thoughts on the death of a musical Prince

Earlier this week, Prince Rogers Nelson, the most prolific songwriter of modern times, died at his home aged 57.
Despite the fact that an autopsy is still to be performed, some of the more ghoulish antivaxxers are claiming that he was done in by a flu vaccine. Other gossipmongers are implying that he overdosed on pain killing medication. What is known is that Prince was suffering from various medical problems. A few weeks ago, his plane had to make an unscheduled stop so that he could get emergency treatment at hospital. He also had weak hipbones. The bottom line is, it is not unknown for people Prince’s age to have health issues and to die unexpectedly from them.
Because of his death, people have been downloading his music. Several songs of his featured on the Highveld Stereo Top 40 this week, including “Little Red Corvette”, “Raspberry Beret” and “Diamonds and Pearls”, amongst others. Although I wouldn’t really consider myself a fan of Prince’s music, my favourite song of his was “Diamonds and Pearls”. I was disappointed that it placed as low as it did in the Top 40. In addition, Prince wrote literally hundreds of songs for other artists, including “Nothing Compares to U” for Sinead O’Connor and “Manic Monday” for The Bangles.
I was reading through some of the things written about Prince. Certain things struck me, including the fact that he wrote songs from a very young age, and that he frequently wrote one or more songs a day. While I’m doubtful that he was autistic, I’m quite certain that he wasn’t neurotypical.

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The lessons from eNATIS were not learnt

Nine years ago, an electronic system for license renewals was rolled out in South Africa. It was called eNATIS, and the rollout was a mess. After a lot of money and time was wasted fixing things, it was eventually a success. But numerous principles of proper Project Management weren’t followed.
eNATIS had not been properly tested, configuration tested nor performance tested, and had been rushed out in a big bang approach instead of being implemented on a few pilot sites to make sure everything was working before being generally rolled out. Tasima, who coded, implemented and maintained eNATIS, is currently embroiled in a legal fight over non-payment by the Government.
Last week, we had eNATIS Round Two with the rollout of an online registration system for pupils in the Gauteng Education Department (GDE). It is abundantly clear that the lessons that should have been learnt in the wake of the eNATIS fiasco weren’t.
The first time I learnt of the registration system was hearing about it on the radio while driving to work. A news report said that the system had crashed under the sheer load. It was immediately obvious that the system had not been properly load tested, otherwise this would not have happened. And that was just the start.
I have read reports that the site was buggy and error-ridden. In addition, if a person made an error, there was no way to go back and undo the error. The result is that there are duplicate registrations because one has wrong information. this is a violation of a central tenet of usability: enable users to detect and correct errors.
I test software for a living. Even though I don’t have a project management qualification, I’ve worked on enough projects, both properly and badly managed, to spot the signs of a badly managed project. This has a lot of the signs.
Firstly and most obviously, the project was rushed into live without being properly tested and was riddled with bugs. There should be testing at all stages and the code should not be allowed into the next phase until all the major bugs are found and fixed. This has the appearance of a vanity project, where a go-live date is given and the code is implemented, regardless of whether or not it is ready.
Secondly, the system was rolled out across Gauteng instead of for just a few schools. Unless a project is exceptionally well-managed (and sometimes even then), there are teething troubles on go-live. Deploying the system on a few pilot sites allows errors to be detected and fixed without too much trouble. It also helps users and the people maintaining and running the system in the back end become familiar with it. In fact, operating manuals often include things that were learnt in this phase.
The third sign is the bad usability of the system. A properly specified system should include a good user interface. User testing should have begun in the design phase. Had that been done, the system may have avoided a lot of the duplicate applications.
Fourthly and finally, non-functional testing was not properly done. Good performance testing (incuding load and soak testing) would likely have revealed the system needed recoding or more hardware. Usability testing would have exposed the problems with the interface and led to one that was less likely to cause user error. It also makes me wonder if security testing was done, and if so, how thoroughly.
I mentioned above that this has the air of a vanity project. Reinforcing that impression are news reports that some school governing bodies have said that the system is currently illegal (online registration is currently not an option in the law), and that they’re prepared to go to court if the GDE persists in going ahead with this.
One last thing has me concerned: the articles I’ve read seem to imply that the GDE intends to only use online registration.
I sincerely hope I’ve misunderstood. There are still a great many families in Gauteng who have no access to computers, never mind the internet. Mandating the online route would prejudice them, and any of their children.

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Well this is interesting

So this story appeared on my Facebook Feed.

Forget the proverb ‘opposites attract:’ A massive Swedish study suggests that men and women who have a psychiatric condition such as autism, schizophrenia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder tend to pair up with people who share their diagnosis.

And it’s not just autistics. There’s a fascinating graph in the article. It shows that non-neurotypical people are disproportionately more likely to marry other non-neurotypical people.
If you want to read the study, its here.

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