Sunday, February 12, 2017

Accidentally Perfect

Letting things happen, as opposed to making them happen, has its share of magical moments.  Last week, the Natural History Museum had another free homeschool day on a day we happened to have free.  We hadn't been in a while, so we grabbed our TAP passes and headed out to the Metro train station down the block.

Liam listened to the announcer and decided to re-announce each stop as if it were a bumper for a TV show.  "Hollywood and Highland, coming up next - part of the Red Line family of stations."

When we got to the museums, the rose garden approach to the NHM was closed and we were closer to the Science Center.  Since the California Science Center is always free, I had planned to visit the NHM first, but decided to take advantage of proximity instead.

As we entered, we were greeted with signs announcing a special exhibit of the art of Pixar animation.  Holy crap - how perfect could it get?  The exhibit cost extra, so we hurried to the ticket booth and threw down for two tickets.  Let's just say, we never made it to the Natural History Museum.

Liam stopped to play at every station.  Digital animation incorporates math, science and art.  Liam doesn't think about the mechanics, but he intuitively grasps visual concepts.  At each station, there was a visual puzzle to solve and he was in Heaven.



Designing a virtual set

Programming the visual effect of grass



Making robots from various shapes

In this simulation, the visual effect of Miranda's hair was added and taken away, which Liam found to be endlessly funny.
Here, Liam plays with lighting colors, effects and sources in a scene from "Finding Dory."


Playing with extruded 2D shapes to create 3D objects


Listening to descriptions of the various character models

Working at the stop-motion station to create the video below
video

At the end of the day, we exited through the park and back to the subway, taking a moment to enjoy a natural wonder.
Proving once again, that the most beautiful discoveries are often made by accident.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Pimple of Doom (or Autism and Adolescence)


My son got his first pimple.  "Well, here it comes," I remember thinking.  And it did.

If you asked an adult if they wanted to go back and relive any part of their early life, I'd be willing to bet nobody would choose the middle-school years.  Nobody.

I knew that pimple wasn't just a blemish, but a bright, red sign, signalling the start of the Hellscape known as puberty - new interests, new passions and new hormones making everything more dramatic.

Life was about to get. . .exciting. . .

It started in a way which would annoy anyone - an operating system update.  I'd been pressing the "remind me later" message for a few weeks on my own phone.  It never occurred to me to tell Liam that he might want to do the same.

A few days ago, I heard "IT'S UPDATING THE SYSTEM!!!!" from my son's room.  I thought he was upset because the iPad wouldn't respond while the system was updating.

"It's OK," I said.  "It will work again as soon as it's done."  I removed it from his room for the update and then returned it when it had finished.

A few moments later I heard, "It's OS 10.2 - I don't like 10.2!  MAKE IT 9.4!" 

"It's just a system update.  There is nothing wrong with your iPad.  Try it like this for a while!"

"Put it back to 9.4 please, put it back to 9.4 please, put it back to 9.4 PLEEAAASSEEEE!" With each "please" he was getting more and more upset.  I even went online to see if it was possible.  I tried the suggestions I found.  I tried three different suggestions.  None of them worked.

"I'm sorry, buddy, but I can't change it.  It can't be put back."

"FUCK you!"  he shouted.  My husband spirited him away to his room, letting him know it was not OK to say that to Mom, but afterwards, we smiled.  Why?  Because it was a clear, direct expression of how he felt to the person he needed to hear it.  He didn't say, "through the park," an expression of discontent he uses, by equating his least-favorite way of getting to Urban Homeschoolers with whatever unpleasantness is happening at the moment.  He dug deep and let me have it in the way every 10 year old has (at least under his breath), for all time.  It showed that there were new connections to us and to his own emotions.

To be clear, I don't relish verbal abuse from anyone, and we made it clear that it wasn't OK to scream that at people, but we did acknowledge his frustration - something I'd have to do for the rest of the week, because he's also holding onto things longer.  The difference between his childhood meltdowns and now seems to be his attempt to manage it - himself.  He does keep trying to get me to fix it, but after each rebuttal, he goes muttering off, then finds something to cheer himself up.  He's learning.

Now we jump off of the big cliff.  The precipice of adolescence, where most people start to use justification and rationalizations to handle the bigger problems that come with a more complicated relationship to the world.  But for Liam, those concepts of "justification," "rationalization,"  and sometimes even the more general "cause and effect" are meaningless.

He posts his visual effect video clips on YouTube where there is a whole community of kids modifying and re-posting the same clips.  And he's even learned to write descriptions for others to read (he didn't realize there were other people watching for the longest time). But he doesn't understand the difference between posting his own work and re-posting someone else's work (and why that might piss someone off).  I still have to monitor his channels and moderate the comments and explain some angry responses to him.  He's started to add new channels, but originally, he just hijacked mine (with permission).  Most of the effects were created in Sony Vegas Pro: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCV2lCvbfWcq50_OuZbSK0lQ?view_as=public

Now we have to help him grow his talents, grow his new-found communication skills and find new ways to bridge the gaps in his understanding to allow him, if not empathy, then at least a sense of the "rules" of the game.

Music is also helping him forge some bonds.  He "gets" music and how to listen and be a part of a musical dialogue - much more easily than engaging in a verbal one. Band rehearsals have been bumped up to once-a-week and they even entered a video audition for "America's Got Talent."  I never dreamed he'd be writing songs and playing in a rock band.  Here's the "official" band picture included with their audition.
All of the kids picked their own outfits for the photo shoot.  Liam picked a graphic tee and wore a necklace I let him choose on Etsy (it's imprinted with the coordinates of our house).  It looks like he's found his "cool." Usually, when we take a picture, he fixes a goofy grimace. We also set up a YouTube channel for their songs, so the producers could hear them playing in front of an audience: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGGbqqtQ4tykh3D_3frSN7w?view_as=public

While puberty scares me, it also holds the seeds of adulthood and I'm very excited to see what kind of man my son will be. 

In the meantime, I guess it's time to get him some facial cleanser.  It's going to be a "bumpy" ride!