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September 2011



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Archive for September 15th, 2011

10 September 2011 by MacGregor Campbell


Allowing anyone to design compelling video games and characters could open up a new world of gaming


CONQUERING a video game can be bittersweet: glory soon fades into the sad realisation that there are no more frontiers to explore, no more demons to battle. But that could soon change, with the creation of a game that turns gamers into game developers.

Called Storybricks, the game, developed by London-based Namaste Entertainment, uses artificial intelligence software to allow people to program their own characters and storylines – some of which may continue forever.


The popularity of social games like LittleBigPlanet, which allow players to design their own puzzles, have shown that gamers enjoy manipulating virtual environments and like to share their creations. But building characters at home is difficult because it requires planning for almost endless minutiae. Want to make a character fetch something from a house? First it has to walk to the house, check if the door is open, open it if it’s closed, walk in, and so on. Dealing with rules and conditions like these isn’t fun.


To get round this, Storybricks splits behavioural software commonly used for games into user-friendly “bricks” that can be connected together. Instead of defining the details of how to walk into a house, for example, a player can define character traits in advance so that a character “wants” to be “inside the house” and the software takes care of the rest.


This is all made possible by behaviour trees, linked sets of actions and conditions, such as “if the character is near the house, hide inside”. Behaviour trees are used in many games, like Halo, but Storybricks builds on the idea by giving characters the capacity to “remember” how a player interacts with them, for example, and change their mood accordingly. The more bricks a player assigns to each character, the more actions and behaviours are open to them.


Such bricks include a number of drives that can be programmed into any character, such as “want” or “fear”. These are in turn influenced by more general traits that players can assign – such as “dishonest”, “flirtatious” and even concepts like “love”. All of these modules are then associated with actions – like “steal” or “give” – that become available depending on game events. Players can use these to build specific action sequences and dialogue to drive the story along.


For example, a player might create a scenario in which a queen has left her crown at her lover’s house and asks the player to retrieve it. At the same time, the king sends a spy to follow the player. In a typical game, this scenario would be the set-up for a duel, but in Storybricks players are free to create all sorts of ways – like lying to the spy, say – to get the crown back without being caught.


This goes for any in-game scenario. “If you really want to seduce the tavern wench or whatever, you can. We can add depth to characters on the fly,” says lead designer Stephane Bura.


The game’s designers hope Storybricks, due to launch early next year, will inspire players to devise characters, scenarios and emergent stories that Namaste’s staff could never have envisioned. If the concept is successful, it could spawn a vast landscape of bespoke, user-generated games – any of which could be endlessly tweaked by a group of friends.


Alexander Shoulson, a PhD student studying game AI at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, finds the idea intriguing. By hiding much of the detail involved in programming character behaviour beneath intuitive modules, Storybricks could provide a new kind of playing experience, he says.


Playing by social rules


“Social gaming” usually means games with basic interactions, but Namaste Entertainment hopes its new game, Storybricks, will change that. In it players work together to solve challenges that involve social rules – using tact, charm or coercion to gain an item from an adversary, say.
“We’re actually talking about social game play here, literally playing with social rules,” says Phil Carlisle of Namaste.

Such play could be useful for more than just entertainment, says Justine Cassell of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who has used virtual characters to help children with autism learn to socialise.




On Wednesday AmericanIdol’s James Durbin Working on Debut Album was a top story. Here is the recap: (hennemusic) American Idol rocker James Durbin now has his record deal. Wind-up Records announced Tuesday it has signed Durbin and that his debut album will be released in November.


The 22-year old Santa Cruz native rocked thestage of Idol every week with his signature high-pitched scream and touched the hearts of America throughout the season as he opened up about his Asperger’s and Tourette’s syndrome. Fans and critics alike flocked to Durbin in praise and inspiration as his love of rock prevailed, despite Idol’s producers attempts to influence a change in his course.James is mid-way through recording his debut album with Grammy nominated producer, famed rock producer Howard Benson (Daughtry, P.O.D, 3 Doors Down). “Wind-up Records isn’t a label, it’s a family and I wanted to be a part of that,” says Durbin. “They are true music fans that want to see me have a long career as an artist. I couldn’t have asked for more when signing a record deal.” – more on this story




Chronicle & Echo, latest news, website logo



A DISABLED data expert from Northampton will be handed £25,000 in compensation after a judge found he was refused a job in the NHS because of his Asperger’s syndrome.


Although Dale Morgan, aged 28, was already working on a temporary contract as an information analyst, he was offered the permanent job by an NHS Northamptonshire interview panel in 2009 before the offer was later withdrawn.


A tribunal judge has now found that, despite Mr Morgan discussing his Asperger’s in the interview, the health bosses were influenced by an unfavourable reference from a previous employer that mentioned his condition. As a result, the trust has been found liable at an employment tribunal of discriminating against Mr Morgan on the grounds of his disability.


Mr Morgan said: “After more than two years of stress in dealing with this case, I am relieved that the tribunal has found in my favour.


“After the job offer was withdrawn, I attempted to open a dialogue with the trust to ascertain why this was the case.


“But they completely shut down and wouldn’t speak to me. With all the resources at the trust’s disposal, I am shocked that they chose to handle the situation in the way they did.


“I hope that by speaking up about this it will help other disabled job seekers who have or will face similar discrimination.”


NHS Northamptonshire was found to have failed to make reasonable adjustments for Mr Morgan’s Asperger’s syndrome, which is a condition on the autistic spectrum.


Paul Quinn, of the law firm Stephensons, which represented Mr Morgan, said: “Instead of unswervingly adhering to their own ‘two satisfactory references policy’ the trust should have also given consideration to their own guidance on this issue. If they had, they then could have considered a whole host of adjustments that were not likely to be expensive, time consuming or difficult to arrange.


“It is unfortunate that an NHS trust would discriminate against an individual based on their disability and this cannot be ignored.”


An NHS Northamptonshire spokesperson said: “NHS Northamptonshire is committed to equality and diversity. This commitment goes far beyond just meeting statutory obligations.


“The lessons learned from this case have already been incorporated in the way we continue to deliver our equality and diversity commitment.”





Pupils from the NAS Helen Allison school for young people with autism and Asperger syndrome have unleashed their ‘inner Spielbergs’ thanks to a special film-making course, the first of its kind to empower children with autism and give them a voice whilst improving their ability to work with others.

The students from our school in Meopham, Kent, were split into two teams of six and worked together to create storylines, act parts, operate a camera, edit footage and add soundtracks. The end result was a set of two minute-long films, which were then screened to parents, carers and teachers.


Dian Buckley, Performing Arts Teacher at Helen Allison, and Kashif Nijabat, Film Director at iMedia, were the brains behind the project, and are now hoping to raise funds to enable it to continue and benefit other children with autism.


Dian said: “The whole process has been amazing and really inspiring. The students have come on leaps and bounds in their confidence. We now desperately need more funding to enable this project to continue. It is so vital that children and young people with autism are given the same educational opportunities in life as others, but this will only be possible if we can raise funds to take this forward.”


Pupil Daniel Burrow, who took part in the course, said, “It was the best experience ever” and fellow student Cameron Carr added, “It was inspiring creating the film and working with the other students, and I want to become a film director”.


Helen Allison School supports and encourages students to reach their full potential in life, providing education for children from 5 to 19 years old. The school has an excellent understanding and awareness of autism and Asperger syndrome and using this personal and specialist knowledge they have designed a curriculum that meets the specific learning needs of each individual child.


For more information visit www.autism.org.uk/helenallison



Sondra Williams

Sep 10, 2011


LANCASTER — As the number of children diagnosed with autism continues to increase, a local organization is gearing up to provide more information to the community about how to better assist and educate people with the developmental disorder.


For the second year in a row, the Southeastern Ohio Center for Independent Living will offer a series of free educational programs beginning next week and continuing through May that deal with various topics related to autism.


The programs are for everyone, including parents, caregivers, educators, child-care providers, social workers and resource specialists.


This is the second year SOCIL will offer an autism series to the community. Linda McDonald, community outreach coordinator for SOCIL, said the previous series proved to be informative and well-attended.


“Last year, we had 35 to 40 people in attendance on average for each program,” McDonald said. “There were just so many people wanting to learn more about autism.”


McDonald said the goal of the series is to provide attendees with resources and information that will give them direction and encouragement and also put their minds at ease.


The topics for the programs range from toilet training to dealing with stress to applying for funding and find services.


Each of the programs is led by educators, therapists or parents who have expertise in the field of autism.


“We thank the speakers for their time and efforts — many are helping with research and teaching, and we appreciate them sharing their information to help people here in Fairfield County and surrounding counties,” McDonald said.


Among the speakers who will present a program this year is Sondra Williams, a Columbus woman with high-functioning autism who has four children with Asperger’s syndrome.


Williams will kick off the series Thursday when she speaks at the Ohio University Lancaster Campus about adaptations and building foundations in the classroom and at home.


McDonald said Williams was a popular speaker last year — more than 180 people listened to her share her story at OU-L.


“People are still talking about that one, I think because she’s been there,” McDonald said. “She talks about her everyday experiences and about raising kids with Asperger’s.”


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November 16, 2011.


Autism made its mark on Westminster last week with several MPs championing both autism and the work of The National Autistic Society in Parliament.


On Tuesday, Liberal Democrat Annette Brooke raised her concerns about the provision of special needs education by independent special schools. Her speech recognised the “excellent” work of our schools.


Graeme Morrice, Labour MP for Livingston, put two questions to Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, asking what progress was being made in developing a quality standard for children with autism, and pressing for health professionals to receive training so that they can identify the early signs of autism.


Conservative Richard Fuller used a work and pensions debate to discuss Work Capability Assessments. Mr Fuller asked what steps were being taken to help people with mental and behavioural disorders into work.


And finally, Wednesday saw Liberal Democrat Stephen Lloyd securing a Westminster Hall debate on support for disabled young people as they move from childhood into adulthood. Using statistics from the NAS, Mr Lloyd highlighted how only 34% of students in mainstream schools had received transition plans during the course of their education, despite it being a legal obligation; 45% of those who participated in transition planning were dissatisfied with the whole process.






Sign Petition on Welfare Reform


Don’t let disabled children pay the price for welfare reform. We are supporting a campaign to make sure that the Government doesn’t cut benefits to children with disabilities and their families.


There are concerns that planned changes to welfare support may result in families living with disabilities (including autism) receiving less money. We are using the Government’s new e-petition website to let them know how important this issue is to us.


Sign the petition here


The petition argues that cutting support for children with disabilities and their families may be removing a vital lifeline for them, and that as a result more people may struggle financially to care for their children.


Families living with disabilities already face additional costs caring for their children and it is unfair for them to be targeted in this way. The new system could cost children with disabilities £27 a week in lost benefits, which is a substantial amount of money for them and their families.


Along with 24 other charities, we are calling on the Government to change these plans for the sake of children with disabilities and their families.


You can get involved by:


Let’s work together to make an important difference to the lives of disabled children and young people.





Published: Friday, August 19, 2011, 5:00 AM


In 1999, urban planner Andres Duany visited Syracuse for an intensive process of analysis and consultation that resulted in the Onondaga County Settlement Plan — a revolutionary blueprint that paradoxically focused on traditional neighborhoods to create a model for pleasing, sustainable environments in Central New York.


In 2005, the citizens group F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse produced an Action Plan for a Sustainable Community. Its advice to local government: Create a sustainability plan.


In 2010, the county’s Development Guide echoed the Settlement Plan’s emphasis on limiting suburban sprawl. Now the county has taken up F.O.C.U.S.’s suggestion and is working on a Sustainable Development Plan to guide operations and engage municipalities and citizens.


At a public workshop in June, participants addressed three interlocking elements of sustainability — “environment,” “economy” and “social equity.” They reaffirmed the need to curb sprawl and endorsed government consolidation and cooperation, renewable energy and conservation, improved transit and bike trails, and protection of open space.


County residents have three more chances to share their “core community values” — 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday at the Salt Museum in Liverpool; 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Marcellus Town Park; and 3 to 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Manlius Village Centre. Make your voice heard.


Protecting the vulnerable


The state this week took a big step forward in protecting its most vulnerable citizens. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced an agreement between the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) and the state police on guidelines for reporting possible crimes against the disabled.


The move is the latest policy change in response to a New York Times investigation that pointed to a pattern of secrecy and cover-ups of sexual and physical assaults of group home residents. The Times reported that some group home employees had bullied, neglected and assaulted people with conditions such as Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy.


For years, OPWDD has handled potential criminal investigations internally, despite state law that requires that incidents in which a crime might have been committed be reported to law enforcement.


Under the agreement that went into effect Monday, staff must report to law enforcement cases that involve “intentional hitting, slapping, pinching, kicking, hurling, strangling or shoving of an individual receiving services by a staff member.” It also requires reporting of sexual contact between an employee and a resident, or between two residents if force is involved, and of deaths when the cause is unknown.


Read in Full:



, Albuquerque Judaism Examiner

Branding victim’s healing only beginning as tormentors head to prison


ALBUQUERQUE – On Aug. 18, 2011 the public finally got to hear hate-crime victim Vincent Kee, who was branded with a swastika in an April 29, 2010 incident in Farmington, New Mexico, and his words pierced the heart. “Why, why would they, why would they hurt me?” he said to television reporters outside the federal courthouse in Albuquerque.


What brought Kee to Albuquerque this last week was the announcement that two of the three defendants crime were to be sentenced after pleading guilty to violating the federal law against crimes based on prejudice.


Kee, who is mentally disabled as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome, waited outside the courtroom as his adoptive mother, relatives and victim advocate attended the hearing on the ninth floor of the federal courthouse at Lomas and 3rd. As the press flooded out of the courtroom, he held the door open with a laughing gesture as if he were host of ceremonies, clearly enjoying the attention. But later outside the building, as he stood with his family and answered a few questions put to him in front of television cameras, tears began to stream down his face. When asked what he felt about the defendants at the hearing, he said he wished they had said more about what they did to him.


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By Bill Johnson
Denver Post Columnist


Donald and Raiko Johnson detest what happened to their son. They still do not understand it fully, yet they came to me to speak out about it, to maybe prevent another autistic or special-needs child from also ending up in handcuffs. The Johnsons​‘ son, the oldest of their three, is 9 years old. He was born prematurely at 26 weeks, and in 2009 was diagnosed with autism. He was on the school bus returning to his parents’ Green Valley Ranch home last May 4. He is a little guy, about 4-foot-2 and 50 pounds, so every day on the bus he wears a harness that secures him to the seat, much like a safety belt. On this day, though, he had either slipped out of it, or someone hadn’t put him in it. Though the Johnsons, no relation to me, live 10 to 15 minutes from the school, the boy had been on the bus for nearly 45 minutes. According to the Denver police report, the boy began using profane language and was throwing things before he started running up and down the aisle. Finally, he kicked in the shin the male paraprofessional who was on the bus to control such outbursts.
The driver, less than a mile from the boy’s home, turned the bus around and drove back to Maxwell Elementary School. There, the boy was met by school security, who put him in handcuffs. “When I arrived, he was seated in a chair, handcuffed, with security, Denver police, the principal, teachers — about 10 people in all,” Raiko Johnson recalled. “He was so scared.” Denver police ultimately decided to place him on a 72-hour psychiatric hold, and transported the boy, his hands cuffed behind his back, to Children’s Hospital Colorado. When Donald and Raiko Johnson arrived, attendants were attempting to take their son’s blood pressure, but they couldn’t get a reading.
Read in Full:http://www.denverpost.com/billjohnson/ci_18696227