July 12th, 2013
07:47 PM ET

Creating a school for autistic adults, one student at a time

Editors Note: Dan Selec is the founder and CEO of the nonPareil Institute, a hybrid software company and school located in Plano, Texas that teaches adults on the autism spectrum to write and develop apps, video games and iBooks. Watch his full profile this Saturday at 2:30p ET on “The Next List.”

By Dan Selec, Special to CNN

"You’re doing what?" asked my wife, ”Starting a new company," I said. “Not in my den you’re not,” she replied as she took in the PCs, monitors and chairs that now filled the room. “But you can have the kitchen.”

And so it began. I started the nonPareil Institute to provide technical training to adults on the autism spectrum. The idea was to mentor them to work in teams, and teach them to produce products that we could take to market. The ultimate goal is to build living campuses where my son, and others like him who are on the autism spectrum, can live fulfilling lives doing what they love.

The core issue I noticed was that there were many programs for spectrum kids, but there weren’t a lot of choices for adults after high school. That when they should begin the most productive times of their lives, but instead the group is plagued by very low employment rates, depression and isolation. After looking at the statistics, I knew it was time to get off the bench and make some new life choices.

We formed the foundations of how to accomplish the organization's goals during those early months in our home. The next year and a half was a blur of holding down a very busy full-time job, and training two students each night for two hours, five nights a week. It was the most exhausting period of my life. My eternal thanks goes to a spouse who tolerated so much activity in and out of our home for so long. As she now says, “It was just our new norm.”

Once the nonPareil Institute moved to a new full-time facility, we talked about how much we would miss the day-to-day routine in our home. It’s funny, I think everyone really missed the kitchen and the nightly bustle of our regular home life. We were one big happy family.

This is a core element I wanted to bring to the campus, where we now have 125 people, called crew members  learning and working. Forget technology. It is important to put the human element first, especially with a group of young people who are struggling to find their way in life, much less while also dealing with autism spectrum issues.

I spent much time mentoring, consoling and sometimes even praying with this early group, as they did their best to cope with the world they faced each day. The first nine crew members proved it was a good idea because they were learning and their lives were better as a result of the time we spent together.

Any parent who has a child with a disability walks around with the same question in their mind: "What happens to my child when I'm gone?"

At nonPareil Institute, we focus on three areas that will answer that question: Train, work and live. We provide technology training to adults on the autism spectrum. We mentor them into becoming functioning members of our working product teams. They build products and release them to the market (we have six apps in the App Store now). With parental, donor and product support, our crew members can live on campuses that are built to meet their needs for a lifetime.

Seeing how most of our crew does not drive, the campus environment solves the transportation issues we struggle with today. Building a community around my child that knows who he is, and lets him work on projects he loves, will allow my child to live a safe, productive and fulfilling life.

It turns out, there are quite a few other families who feel the same way. Simply responding to the massive influx of “requests for information” is an overwhelming and full-time job for several people.

At nonPareil, there is not a lot of theory. What is practical, what moves us forward, and what works are all that counts. We are, at our very core, a working software company. Yes, we do provide training in tools and technology, but the bigger part is helping individuals become functioning members of professional software teams.

For our donors, this is the most compelling kind of gift to give; a gift that, over time, allows an individual on the autism spectrum to no longer need outside support. We provide community and satisfaction for our crew, now at 125 strong. They are seeing real results for their efforts, which will allow them to contribute to their own success.

Ultimately, nonPareil is more a mission of love than technology, and it has to be a solution for the lifetime of our children. This is the one central objective that all of us as parents remain focused on: providing a lifetime answer for our kids.

Next time you bust out your mobile phone, head to the store and search for “npi” to buy an app from nonPareil Institute. Our crew will thank you.


Filed under: Education • entrepreneurs • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • TV • Video
March 29th, 2013
02:52 PM ET

David Peterson and the languages of 'Game of Thrones'

Editor's NoteDavid Peterson is the creator of the Dothraki language used in the HBO show "Game of Thrones." Peterson also is a member of the Language Creation Society.  A 30-minute profile of Peterson will air on CNN's "The Next List" this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.

By David Peterson, Special to CNN

It's now a little over a year from the day when CNN’s "Next List" crew came to Orange County to do an episode on my language-creation work. At the time, I really had no idea what the coming year held in store for me, so I did my best to look busy.

I had recently joined Syfy's "Defiance" as a language creator, but hadn't yet done any serious translation work, and while I'd finished my work on season two of HBO's "Game of Thrones," there'd been no discussions about season three up to that point. I remained hopeful, but that March I didn't really have much going on.

During my first interview on the morning of twelfth, the "Next List" producer asked me if I'd be working on the Valyrian language for the show's upcoming season. Immediately alarm bells went off, as I started to think back and wonder, "Did I accidentally say anything?"

Though there had been no discussions, I and many assumed that some form of the Valyrian language would make an appearance in season three, but at that stage, any such discussion would have been premature, and certainly would have been covered by a non-disclosure agreement. Trying not to look too perturbed, I asked why she would ask that, and she told me that when she'd interviewed executive producers Dan Weiss and David Benioff earlier, they'd said I'd be working on Valyrian this season.

And that's how I learned I'd be creating a new language for season three of "Game of Thrones."

For those tuning in to the "Game of Thrones" premiere this Sunday, you'll still have to suffer through a few subtitles, but the audio will sound a bit different from seasons past. Though there are a number of Dothraki speakers yet alive on the show, there's surprisingly little Dothraki this season. In its place is quite a bit of dialogue in two related languages: High and Low Valyrian.

In George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire," High Valyrian was meant to occupy the place Latin occupies in the Western world. Latin was the language of the Roman Empire, spoken commonly for several centuries in and around the Italian peninsula and beyond. It's the mother language for all the Romance languages spoken today (Italian, Spanish, French, Catalan, Romanian, etc.).

High Valyrian, in turn, was the language of Martin's Valyrian Empire, an expansive domain that existed for several millennia before it was destroyed by a mysterious event cryptically referred to as the Doom. In its purest form, High Valyrian still exists as a language of scholarship and refinement, though its impact on the region was far greater.

High Valyrian was taken up and creolized by the old Ghiscari Empire, where it's still spoken at the time of action in the books and the show. And it served as the mother language for the various Low Valyrian languages spoke in the Free Cities of Volantis, Braavos, Myr, Pentos, Lys, etc.

This season, I worked on two of the Valyrian languages: High Valyrian (the oldest form of the language) and the Low Valyrian spoken in and around Slaver's Bay. To translate sentences into the latter variety of Valyrian, I would first translate them into High Valyrian, and then apply a series of phonological, semantic and grammatical changes to the text. The resulting language is approximately as different from High Valyrian as Old Spanish is from Classical Latin.

If you watch the "Game of Thrones" premiere, you'll hear some of the Slaver's Bay variety of Valyrian. Both Nathalie Emmanuel and Dan Hildebrand do an outstanding job with their lines. I was extraordinarily pleased with their performances, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

And even if languages aren't your thing, I hope the Valyrian won't distract you from what I think is a truly superlative premiere for season three.

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Filed under: Innovation • Language • The Next List • Thinkers • TV • Video
September 28th, 2012
09:27 AM ET

The trash queen of Guatemala

Editor's NoteJoyce Maynard is the author of best selling novels "Labor Day" and "To Die For," as well as the explosive 1998 memoir "At Home in the World." She maintains a home in San Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala.

Susana Heisse is an environmental activist who uses the “eco-brick” to promote recycling and proper nutrition in Guatemalan schools. She will be profiled on CNN's The Next List Sunday, September 30th, at 2 p.m. ET.

By Joyce Maynard, Special to CNN

I first met Susanne Heisse in the fall of 2001, when I traveled to Guatemala with the plan of spending a few months in the astonishingly beautiful little Mayan village of San Marcos la Laguna, on the shores of the clear blue waters of Lake Atitlan.

It would have been hard to miss Susanne: at six feet tall, she towered over every indigenous person in the village, and most of the gringos, striding down the narrow stone paths of the village in her flowing skirts, with her flowing hair, and her big, commanding voice. She'd talk — in somewhat unconventional English, or her native German, or Spanish — about a subject few of the rest of us (at our yoga classes, and drumming circles, or taking our daily swims) chose to think about: The unromantic topic of trash. FULL POST


Filed under: Environment • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • TV
April 9th, 2012
05:54 PM ET

Recap: Language creator David Peterson on 'The Next List'

For linguist David Peterson, inventing a new language is “like creation itself.”

Peterson is the inventor of the Dothraki language, spoken in the HBO hit series, “Game of Thrones.” (Disclosure: HBO shares a parent company with CNN). And just as J.R.R. Tolkien’s languages infused “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogies with an authenticity rarely seen in fantasy fiction, “Game of Thrones” writers and executive producers Dan Weiss and David Benioff say Peterson’s Dothraki brings a depth to their savage warrior culture beyond that found even in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.” FULL POST

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Filed under: Innovation • Language • The Next List • TV • Video
April 6th, 2012
09:53 PM ET

A history of Hollywood's invented languages

Editor's NoteDavid Peterson is the creator of the Dothraki language used in the HBO show 'Game of Thrones.' Peterson not only created the language but also served as translator/dialect coach for select cast in 'Game of Thrones.' He is also a member of the Language Creation Society.  A 30-minute profile of Peterson will air on The Next List on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on CNN.

The full history of language creation is a fascinating and varied one, but for now, I want to focus on the use of created languages in television and film. As a starting point, it's useful to examine the usage of "foreign languages" in television and film. Though it's hard to imagine at this point a Russian character speaking something other than authentic and grammatically appropriate Russian in a feature-length film, that hasn't always been the case.

Consider, for example, the film adaptation of Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). Moviegoers are familiar with the racism inherent in casting the "other" in older films. For the film, if an actor looked "Asian" that was good enough. That same attitude extended to the use of language in the film. Even without knowing Chinese, you can watch Thoroughly Modern Millie and tell that the "Chinese" spoken is complete and utter gobbledygook. That, though, was simply a detail: as long as it sounded "Asian", that was good enough. And mind, this was 1967. FULL POST

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Filed under: Art • Books • Innovation • The Next List • Thinkers • TV • Video
YouTube exec: We're heading for 'third wave' of TV
February 1st, 2012
10:27 AM ET

YouTube exec: We're heading for 'third wave' of TV

By Mark Milian, CNN

Laguna Niguel, California (CNN) – In YouTube's vision of the future, television will look a little like video games.

According to Google video head Salar Kamangar, connected TV will usher in an era of programming that will allow viewers to interact with content on their screen. He discussed his thoughts on where video entertainment is headed Tuesday at News Corp.'s D: Dive Into Media conference here.

The changes will constitute TV's "third wave," in which smaller groups of people gravitate toward thousands of niche channels, Kamangar said. The first wave refers to broadcast networks (few options, huge audiences), and the second to cable channels (hundreds of options, each with smaller audiences). FULL POST

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Filed under: Tech • TV
TV's next killer app: Weather
Comcast is testing a new version of its cable box, which has a weather app.
January 20th, 2012
04:39 PM ET

TV's next killer app: Weather

By Mark Milian, CNN

(CNN) – Of all the digital bells and whistles that Comcast put into its next-generation cable box, executives were surprised about one hum-drum feature that was most popular during testing.

"They love being able to check the weather," Tom Blaxland, a senior director for the company's Xfinity TV digital platform, said in a recent interview. "That's actually the most popular app we have."

"They say it's amazing," he added. FULL POST

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Filed under: Innovation • Tech • TV