Goodbye friends and family!

Until mid June at any rate! For some reason, all the calls for new research funding bids are open now and have to be submitted in the next few weeks, come Hull, Hell or Halifax! Along with that is the mandatory report on our virtual world study, delayed by Christmas, snow, and participants who would rather go line dancing (who can blame them?) than talk to us. We pleaded for an extension. Computer said no. Resoundingly. So today I went into free-fall over the data for the recent study, had an apoplectic moment over my mean squares while trying to model the design for the next study, and pretty much dissolved into an isotonic puddle over the finance form for our investigation into positive psychology and challenging behaviour. Don’t even get me started on the brain-ache of trying to coordinate two Trusts, two strategic health authorities and two universities at different ends of the country in the interests of the fourth proposal! With any luck, we can circumscribe that one and limit its remit to a smaller care group so that fewer august bodies need to sign up but actually, it would be pretty good if we could pull off the whole shebang.

Panic aside, and as I’m pretty new at this panic is a realistic prospect, the potential of these studies is just breath-taking. Imagine if, in a few years time, we can all log into a virtual world and take a tour of a proposed procedure without scaring the bejabbers out of ourselves. And what if people with learning disabilities whose frustration and distress has always led to interventions designed to prevent these expressions could begin to live their lives with the prospect of increased well-being and positivity instead? Then supposing, when we become vulnerable but want to keep our independence, there’s a whole technology built into our homes to let us do that? If we’re successful in these bids, those are some of the prospects and it will be some of our best NHS clinicians working with some of our best academics that clear the way for it to happen. Worth a few weeks of social purdah, I reckon so keep your fingers crossed. Oh, and if you know why my ‘within groups’ mean squares are bigger than they should be, please put me out of my misery. Two way independent randomised groups ANOVA. Go on, you know you can!

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Michael Gilbert, murdered by the people he lived with

face of Michael GilbertThis is the man whose name I could not find. It was on a news item that preceded a programme I had recorded and I am relieved that I did not imagine it but horrified that the details were far worse than I had thought. here are some quotes from the newspaper:

‘Michael Gilbert, 26, was used as a ‘dogsbody and slave’, shackled to a bed and attacked by the group’s pet pit bulls.’

‘Mr Gilbert finally died after a new form of torture was devised, involving members of the family jumping on his stomach.’

‘They then hacked his corpse into pieces at their home in Luton, Bedfordshire, before throwing it into a lake known as the Blue Lagoon in nearby Arlesey.’

This group of individuals even invented a ‘game show’ in which people were paid to assault him, and they chased him down when he tried to escape. The police apparently felt unable to help Michael because he told them things would be worse for him if they did, an example of the application of the legislation around consent that misses by a mile the spirit that brought it into being.

Vulnerable Victims: a new page to record our shameful society

People with learning disabilities used to be unseen members of our communities, hidden away in institutions with no voice and little contact with their more advantaged neighbours. The changes in philosophy that came with Wolfensberger’s ‘Normalisation’ thrust in the early 1980s led to closure of institutions and the end of inappropriate incarceration for people whose only ‘fault’ was one of intellectual limitation.

I have worked in some of those institutions and I have also worked in services at the leading edge of change. In the 21st century, it is the norm for people to live as independently as possible with support from agencies set up to assist. It gives people pride. It gives them a sense of purpose. It enables families to live as units and not separated entities – one part able, the other not.

Unfortunately, it also brings people into contact with society’s exploiters, abusers, and manipulative psychopathic killers. People who use drugs that obliterate any sense of decency and empathy. People who are so distanced from their humanity that they can imprison, torture, rape, and terrorise vulnerable individuals unable to fight back.

Today I tried to find the details of another death but all trace of it had vanished, due probably to world and national events. A volcano causing travel chaos and our political leaders on the trail of electoral glory. This man has vanished from sight, my sight anyway, and so I am unable to give him just this tiny acknowledgment. It occurred to me that many such deaths and tragedies may go unremarked and so the shame of our society’s behaviour will remain unaddressed because, well, they don’t add up to much do they, if their headlines don’t last?  Well they might if they are all on one page.

This new page will keep a record, a dishonourable record, of the names of people with learning disabilities who have been murdered, raped, or tortured. It starts now, from 2010. I hope it’s short and I hope it gets shorter. If you have details that are reported in the press, please send the link and I will put the person’s name here so that they are never forgotten.

Another man with learning disabilities murdered

The news item appeared a couple of days ago. It reported on the perpetrators of years of abuse and dreadful attacks made on a vulnerable man who was unable to defend himself. This family had taken him in when he was homeless but not, it seems, for his care and protection, more to meet their own needs for a servant who could be scapegoated and beaten for amusement.

The Court was shown mobile phone footage of this man being hit in the face, seeing the blows coming but having neither the wit nor the will to protect himself. He died, it seems, after a particularly vicious assault, the details of which escape me. I have searched for news items – this was only two or three days ago – but there are none. It would appear that this man’s death has been lost to a combination of volcanic ash and the novelty of seeing our political leaders in hot debate live on the telly. I can’t even remember his name.

I remember the video images though. I won’t forget the images.

What Havok and Smurfs can do for you

Remember my post about Havok7 and things tumbling about in virtual worlds? Well this week, events in my real world have been tumbling about too! First up, I played football in Second Life with Dave Taylor (Our Man at Imperial College ) using an on-the-spot created ball by way of a demonstration of what the current version of Havok can do. We already have bump, jiggle, and dislodge, it seems so next time we can maybe incorporate it into our build. That’s the value of teams – Dave knew what could be done but not that it might be useful, and I knew what might be useful but not that it could be done.  One short game of footie later and we’re both clued up although I doubt I’ll be troubling Fabio any time soon.

Then there was our meeting as a nascent research community with Dame Sally Davies, Director General of Research and Development and Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and NHS, who set up the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). This was a huge compliment to the efforts of our director of research and to the Trust itself for having the foresight to place research at the heart of its activity. This meeting also gave us an oppportunity to discuss directly some of the glitches and anomalies that seem to beset applications and the positive response we received to those was extremely encouraging. I’ll say more about that when we have tangible results about which we can wave flags.

Well if all that wasn’t mind-boggling enough, I just participated in a seminar in Second Life, touring a group of post graduates and medical specialists from Imperial College around our Brighton simulation. It is quite a bizarre experience, knowing that there are unseen others ‘out there’  listening to me sitting here in Sussex (with the dogs safely stowed out of bark and holler range) but seeing ‘me’ in my SL representation. Dave was also in-world and so I was not alone although it’s an interesting notion that the presence of one bunch of pixels is reassuring to the driver of another bunch when neither is actually there. The authenticity of the engagement was illustrated for me when Dave said goodbye and took his audience off to another part of the simulation and I stood in our empty waiting room wondering whether to go home or not. What if there were stragglers?

The power of 3D experiences is likely to become increasingly apparent as this is introduced into film and TV with greater sophistication and ease of popular access. Interactive 3D will then be such a short step away as to be almost an essential in the process of information giving by services and organisations wanting people to understand their product. What the giant smurfs started…!

James Cameron's Avatar

Electro-wetting: no, not an embarrassing disorder!

screenshot of e-reader Most of us have heard of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, Sony’s alternative product, and the various other challengers for the electronic library market. If you set aside the disadvantages of being largely monochromatic, generally wedded to particular publishing outlets, and not much cop in the bath, this tech seems to be on the verge of mass indispensability.

BBC ‘Click’ highlighted Dutch firm, Liquavista, which is bringing that position closer to reality by not only developing colour and video capability, but also working on incorporating the oil-based system into flexible plastic sheets. Imagine, your whole library+ mag and newspaper subscriptions rolled up and slotted into the gap in your bag between the Volvic and the organic Pret butty!

A Luxurious indulgence? Maybe, for now. But with tech buzz about advancing the use of 3D environments and integrating virtual environments into what today are graphic intensive, interactive but standard internet fare, you start to see how pervasive this might eventually become. Add to this the Havok7 development that allows simulated impact effects and suddenly the potential for sophisticated virtual interactivity in your pocket starts to look like a runner.

How does this affect research and clinical practice? Two ways right off the top of my head: I could stop lugging hefty folders of documents or the tech to display them from site to site and still have what I need right to hand, and we could equip patients, clients, participants with highly mobile, less fragile, and more interactive devices that they can use anywhere cheaply and safely.

The downside? No idea where your Volvic or your sarnie’s going to go if you ditch the bag. Whatever happened to those pill-only diets we were all going to be on in the 21st century? Same place as the silver suits and the domestic robots that look like maids? Oh! Well, while we’re talking bots

You Tube for Grownups

screenshot of YouTube EDU siteYouTubeEDU. Why didn’t I know about this before? It’s what I’ve been looking for – a legitimate video upload site that caters for professional communities and allows dissemination of graphically driven visual information. Many of us struggle with organisations whose IT systems block what they see as primarily social sites but, increasingly, relevant information is being put out in video format. For some, this is absolutely the best medium – think of the psychological phenomena of visual illusion and confidence trickery, for instance (see Richard Wiseman’s site for much more on this) – and for others, it provides compelling support for otherwise less accessible text.

University College, London has its own TV channel there (and it’s thanks to their rss for this post). It can’t be long before other major players in the research, education, medicine, and business worlds see the potential for their own output. I hope the NHS gets to grips with this quickly, the possibilities for staff and patients seem unending.