Sunday, May 30, 2010

User Interface Design for Programmers

Title: User Interface Design for Programmers
Author: Joel Spolsky
Genre: Non-fiction
Published: 2001

Recommendation: A very simple introduction to UI design with amusing anecdotes.
Rating: 6.5/10

Summary: An 18-chapter explanation of various UI design principles with examples.

Reactions: This is the first book review on this blog dealing with a computer science publication. I don't necessarily think this would be interesting for the general readership, but the blog is all about what I read, so I decided to include the technical reading.

It actually amazed me that this is the first computer-related book I have actually read from beginning to end in last year and half. There are two reasons for it. First is that I get bored half-way through many books and stop reading them and if applicable start using them as references instead. Second is that it's much faster to learn whatever you are trying to learn from Internet articles, code samples, and documentation than by reading a book from cover to cover.

I was only able to finish reading User Interface Design for Programmers because it's thin, has high picture to words ratio, and has plenty of amusing anecdotes. On the other hand, I am straining to think what I learned from the book that I didn't know about before and I am coming up short.

There is some useful information on UI design in the book, but it's very very basic. Rules such as "A user interface is well designed when the program behaves exactly how the user thought it would" and "When you try to use metaphors, try to make them behave in predictable ways like objects in the real world." are not exactly earth-shattering revelations. In many situations the rules are just difficult to implement for your current problem.

Overall, if you've read about any basics of UI design, you can probably pretty safely skip this book unless you are interested in Joel's anecdotes about how various Office UI features and mishaps came around. It might be almost worth reading the book just for that.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Prince of Mist

Title: The Prince of Mist
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Genre: YA horror
Published: 2010

Recommendation: Good read primarily for those who enjoy YA novels.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: It's 1943 and Max's family decides to relocate out of Madrid into a small town where his father buys a house that stood empty for years. Very soon some very strange things start to happen...

Reactions: My first reaction on receiving this book was surprise in how short it is. Unlike The Shadow of the Wind, it's a shorter novel of about 200 pages in a large-ish print. Upon reading the introduction, I found out that this is the first novel Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote for young adult target audience. This was surprising only because I bought the book on the strength of the author's name alone without learning much about it beforehand.

The young adult target readership is noticeable in the writing style of the book. While Zafon attempts to create an atmosphere surrounding the events of the novel, the language is much simpler and there's less depth to the descriptions. But the language flows quite well and I don't know whether to thank Carlos Ruiz Zafon or the translator Lucia Graves, but the book reads very well.

The plot of the novel is somewhat simple. The action takes place within a few days of the family's arrival to the town and quickly progresses to the end. In parts, I felt the plot and the actions of a few characters weren't quite rational or justified, but overall the plot read well. Do expect it to be much simpler than any previous plots. The character development wasn't a large part of the book either, which was slightly disappointing. Throughout the book the main character Max makes several allusions to not understand anything about his sister, but at the same time his actions show that he understands her just fine.

To sum it up, The Prince of Mist is a pretty entertaining read directed at YA audience. I would only recommend it to those who like YA novels or readers like me, who cannot pass by a book written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Magicians

Title: The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2009

Recommendation: An adult version of Harry Potter you shouldn't miss.
Rating: 8.5/10

Summary: Quentin Coldwater is an academically gifted junior, but unhappy about his bland life. Until one day he gets invited to participate in entrance examinations to The Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. This day he discovers a new dimension to his life and his adventures as a magician begin.

Reactions: The Magicians has topped many of 2009 favorites lists and I found myself immersed in the book from the very first pages. Quentin is a bright, but unhappy teen who spends his time reading and re-reading Fillory books. Fillory story is analogous to Lewis' Narnia -- a bunch of children discover a new magic world beyond their own where they have adventures.

One day on the way from school, Quentin gets plunged into the magical world of his own, where he becomes a student at a prestigious school of magic. I very much enjoyed the part of the book dealing with Quentin's time at Brakebills. There is a coming of age story and reader's introduction to a set of characters who will be important for the rest of the novel.

Quentin comes off as somewhat goofy and unsure at the start, but grows with the story. The supporting cast is diverse, each with a strong back-story. Their nature get revealed through various events throughout Quentin's school career. No one is perfect and the novel goes into somewhat gritty details of the students' lives at school.

I found this first part of the book to be the most enjoyable. The book continues on when Quentin and his friends graduate. This takes up the larger part of the book, but I liked the story less as the time went on. Perhaps the perpetual bleakness of Quentin's outlook wore down on me. His actions take toll and I found him a lot less likable later on.

The book is well plotted, except for the ending which I found rather anti-climatic for my taste. There just isn't enough feeling of resolution. Nevertheless, The Magicians really stands out from other fantasy books due to the captivating writing, gritty characters, and the wonder of magic all in one.

I definitely would recommend this as an excellent read and would pick up any sequels if such should appear.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Title: Soulless
Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Alexia Tarabotti, book 1
Genre: Steampunk
Published: 2009

Recommendation: As a combination of Victorian era, urban fantasy and humour this book is very good.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Alexia Tarabotti is a spinster of 26 years who doesn't have a soul in a society where vampires, werewolves, and humans all live together under Queen Victora's rule. Her only wish is to enjoy a cup of tea when she is attacked by a rogue vampire and becomes a part of Lord Maccon's investigation.

Reactions: Having seen positive Soulless reviews all over blogosphere, I was looking forward to seeing what the fuss is all about. I kept my expectations pretty low and ended up enjoying the book more than expected.

I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek humour throughout the book, e.g.
Ivy Hisselpenny was the unfortunate victim of circumstances that dictated she be only-just-pretty, only-just-wealthy, and possessed of a terrible propensity for wearing extremely silly hats. This last being the facet of Ivy's character that Alexia found most difficult to bear.
The humour extends to the characters, whereby Alexia's family is portrayed as rather stupid and much laughing is done on their expense. Alexia is also friends with a gay vampire. And of course, to fill the cast there's a werewolf Alpha and crazy scientist types.

The overall plot of the story is not particularly new or unpredictable. The love story is completely transparent as for the rest, the heroine gets into trouble, solves the mystery, and gets out of trouble in the nick of time.

Still, the overall reading experience is pretty good and the humour makes up for somewhat cliched characters and a fairly straightforward mystery plot. I might even pick up the next book in the series.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Calculating God

Title: Calculating God
Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2000

Recommendation: Interesting read on theological arguments for and against God's existence wrapped in a character-oriented story.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: An alien shuttle lands outside of Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Hollus, an alien from Beta Hydri III, walks into the museum and asks to see a paleontologist. He makes first contact with Thomas Jericho and together they begin to explore the questions of evolution and whether God really exists.

Reactions: I did not enjoy the last book I read by Sawyer (Flashback), but the premise of this book seemed promising and I decided to give it a chance. And I am glad I did since for the most part it was a fascinating read with enjoyable characters.

The two characters that the novel focuses on are Thomas Jericho, a head of paleontology department at ROM and Hollus, a visiting alien from Beta Hydri III. A third alien race is also introduced, but never ends up playing as large of a role within the book.

Hollus is interested in examining the collection of fossils at ROM and together the scientists develop a theory on how life on different planets evolved and prospered. The two visiting alien races are convinced of God's existence, but not in a traditional context, but following the creationist arguments. The dialogue between strongly atheistic Thomas and believer Hollus was the most interesting and enjoyable part of this book.

At the same time there are several other plot threads that develop towards the end of the novel. Several rather unusual events occur closely together, and to me the final events of the book seemed unnecessary and overdone. It's like the author decided that he needed more plot at the last minute and after months of discussions and character development it's suddenly all action and explosions.

I didn't particularly enjoy the ending or thought it made a whole lot of sense. It seemed somewhat forced and I didn't care for the conclusion. But since the first 3/4 of the book were very enjoyable, I finished it up with an overall favorable impression. I would certainly recommend the book as a good read.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

April Recap

April is already over. The weather was surprisingly rainy this year, but it tended to stay pretty nice on the weekends, so reading was on the slow side. I also finished Final Fantasy XIII this month. When I say finish, I mean I beat the final boss and watched the game ending. However, I still have plans to go back and do some side missions I skipped during the main game play.

I am looking forward to a number of new books arriving in May that I've been waiting for. On the other hand, my already-bought better read this pile dropped to 10 for the first time in ages and all the new arrivals are not going to help that to stay low.

Regardless, I am looking forward to sunny weekends with some awesome books.


Books Read: 3

  1. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  2. Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand by Carrie Vaughn
  3. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
Favorite Book: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel


Male: 1
Female: 2

Posts: 4