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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On Autism Awareness Month and Vaxxed

Yesterday was Autism Awareness Day.
I did not “light it up blue”. Instead, I had what for me was a typical Saturday. I did my laundry and went shopping for groceries. Life doesn’t stop just because there’s an advocacy/awareness day.
I’m also a bit uneasy with “Light it up blue”. It’s the brainchild of the organisation Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks is notorious among the self-advocacy community for its maintaining the “autism as tragedy” narrative, for using only four cents of every dollar to help autistics and for not listening to autistic people. In November 2013, it put out a “call for action” that denigrated autistics. As a result, John Elder Robison, the only autistic board member of Autism Speaks, resigned. As far as I know, Autism Speaks currently doesn’t have any autistics on their board.
The Andrew Wakefield “documentary” Vaxxed: From Cover Up to Catastrophe was shown at the Angelika Theatre in New York on April 1 (how appropriate). I’m not going to bother commenting. It’s a pack of lies. You know it and so do I. Sadmar’s comment here links to a bunch of reviews and articles if you’re interested.

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UPDATED: Robert De Niro misguidedly gives a podium to Andrew Wakefield

UPDATE

Tribeca has taken “Vaxxed” off the schedule.
The following statement was released yesterday:

My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.

The Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. However, we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program. We have decided to remove it from our schedule.

Original Post

A few days ago, I learnt from Orac that the Tribeca Film Festival in New York will be showing the “documentary” Vaxxed, which was made by Andrew Wakefield.

Yes, THAT Andrew Wakefield. The one who was hired by lawyers to find evidence against the MMR Vaccine, who subjected 12 autistic children to unnecessary medical procedures, who tried to create his own Measles vaccine, who cooked the data when it pointed away from MMR causing autism, and who, after the longest trial in the General Medical Council’s history, was found guilty of three dozen charges and struck off the Medical Register.

And now we know why. Robert De Niro, the founder of Tribeca, has an autistic son, and intervened to have it placed on the schedule. The following statement was released:

Grace and I have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening Vaxxed. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.

No. Sorry, but no. Giving a podium to a man who:

  • Subjected autistic children to unnecessary and invasive medical procedures (blood draws, lumbar punctures, enemas and colonoscopies) to gain data against a vaccine;
  • Cooked the data when it pointed away from the MMR causes autism hypothesis;
  • Set up businesses to profit from the scare he created;
  • Failed to disclose his multiple conflicts of interest as required, and;
  • Lied repeatedly and is still lying today

…is not “providing the opportunity for a conversation”. It is spreading propaganda. Tara Haelle’s Forbes article nails it.

Providing an opportunity to discuss misinformation does not help the conversation about autism or vaccines — or autistic people. For nearly two decades, funding for autism research has been continually diverted away from study into treatment and supports for autistic individuals and instead toward debunking a fear that has been debunked dozens of time. That harms autistic people. Misinformation that leads parents to skip vaccines harms their children and their communities, leaving both more susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases that can maim and kill.

De Niro has blundered. Not only did he interfere in the scheduling of a festival, he has helped give exposure to a liar telling lies about vaccines causing autism. He would do very well to reconsider.

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It is done

So I presented my talk “Autism and Software Testing – A good fit”.
I started by explaining what autism was, and what the most up to date science says causes it. I then went on to the attributes of autism that make autistics good software testers. The next slide dealt with the attributes of autism that can hinder autistics as software testers.
I was originally going to talk about two cases where autistics had been employed to great effect as testers (SAP’s internship program for autistics and the Australian Governments Project Dandelion), but after the talk was announced, I’d learnt that Microsoft was also introducing a program to hire autistics, so I updated my talk to include it. Interestingly enough, the Danish company Specialisterne, which specialises in placing autistics, was involved with all three programs.
After the presentation, the floor was opened for questions. The SIGiST had wished to record it, but that plan fell through. A bit disappointing, as I feel the Q & A at the end was the best part. I took questions on what it feels like to be autistic, on how it affected me at work, and so on. One of the people on the floor thought he may be autistic.
All in all, it was a good talk.
Thank you once again to Rob Kerrich-Walker and the rest of the SIGiST Team for accepting my presentation.

EDIT

If you wish to view my presentation, it can be found here.

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SIGiST Event – Autistics and Software Testing: A good fit

Abstract

Employment Equity is law in South Africa, but those with learning impairments are still underrepresented in the workforce. One way to narrow the gap is to find areas where the attributes of the conditions are strengths, not weaknesses. With autism, one field is IT in general, and software testing in particular.
This presentation is about autism, and how its attributes fit well with software testing. It will mention two cases where autistics were hired as programmers and testers (SAP and Dandelion). Afterwards, the presenter will hold a question and answer session.

About the Presenter

Julian Frost
Born in 1976.
Obtained diagnosis of autism in 1997.
Holds BSc from UNISA.
Working in Software Testing since 2004, first at Test and Data Services, then at iLab.
Tested for RMB, ABSA, Standard Bank, and numerous other clients.

Venue
Accenture, Building 19 Harrowdene Office Park Kelvin Drive Woodmead, Sandton

When
February 24th 2016 at 5:30pm

Full details here.

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