Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Inmates are Running the Asylum

Title: The Inmates are Running the Asylum
Author: Alan Cooper
Genre: Non-fiction
Published: 2004

Recommendation: An interesting read for software developers who do user interface design.
Rating: 8/10

SummaryThe Inmates are Running the Asylum spends most of its pages expounding on the importance of interaction design and provides insight into some interesting techniques interaction designers use to create user interfaces.

Reactions: I've been highly recommended this book, and to my surprise actually found the reading going at a good pace, whereas I tend to drag my feet a lot with non-fiction books. This book is a bit repetitive in its message, but since it's written in a fairly entertaining manner, the reading goes smoothly.

Beware, if you are a software engineer reading this book. The author does not take kindly to programmers in this tome despite being one himself. His stereotypical approach to programmers did rub me the wrong way as I was reading the book for being overly stereotypical and condescending. Cooper calls developers "Homo Logicus" for seeking complex problems and insists that most programmers emphasize with the computer they are programming rather than with the users. Certainly there are grains of truth to both of these statements, but I would certainly not agree with all the claims presented in the book to the extent they have been expounded.

Most of the book goes to show how programmers are the last people who should be designing the software interaction and how programmers have fostered a lot of unusable software on the poor humans already. The last fact is hard to argue as there IS a lot of bad software out there, but I would personally claim programmers get affected by bad software just as much as anyone else and I would have really liked a little less vilification on that point.

The author's primary suggestion in the book is to institute a mandatory design phase for each software project that happens before any programming is done and is completed entirely by a team trained in interaction design. This idea does seem to have merit and I found it fairly interesting to read the 3 chapters where Cooper describes the types of techniques interaction designers use to create interaction specifications. In particular he goes into detail on specifying personas, goal-oriented design, and creating scenarios.

The book is a bit dated, having been published in 2004. Some particular references are especially amusing as they are forward looking. For example, he bemoans a lack of a mail system that would thread pieces of mail together based on replies and speaks of Apple needing that one good product to turn its luck around. Overall though, the book presented some food for thought and I feel that reading the book made me question how I approach certain design decisions myself. I would definitely recommend it to others interested in the subject of user interaction design.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Royal Blood

Title: Royal Blood
Author: Rhys Bowen
Series: A Royal Spyness Mystery, book 4
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2010

Recommendation: Fun and funny whodunnit set in a Transylvanian castle. Enjoyable!
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Lady Georgiana, 34th in line to the English throne and penniless is sent to Romania to represent the royal family at a wedding between a Romanian princess and Bulgarian prince. Only a murder occurs on the second night in the castle where everyone is snowed in and one of the guests must have done it, but who?

Reactions: I've enjoyed previous books in this series and this was a refreshing quick read after Acacia. The 30's atmosphere and English humor make the book enjoyable, so I read the whole thing in about two sittings. I certainly do like this style of whodonnit, especially with all the suspects in an ancient Transylvanian castle and jumping at each noise.

There is a good dose of mystery, though unlike the main heroine, I didn't consider the supernatural explanations for the murder. There's plenty of humor with a maid who just cannot get anything right. There's some romance as Darcy appears and prince Siegfried from the previous book continues his advances. The strangest inclusion in this book is Belinda who doesn't belong and doesn't really contribute much to the plot. And while I did figure out the killer ahead of our heroine, I still enjoyed the antics in the castle. Will definitely be picking up the next book in the series when I need some more enjoyable diversions in my reading.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Title: Acacia: The War with the Mein
Author: David Anthony Durham
Series: Acacia, book 1
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2007

Recommendation: Good series for those who enjoy political epic fantasy with swords, wars, and betrayals.
Rating: 6/10

Summary: For hundreds of years, the Akaran family has ruled over an empire of nations. However, a plot is hatched in the far northern lands inhabited by the Meins to end the Akaran's rule and begin a new empire. Leodan Akaran, the King, and his four children will have to follow their destinies to resolve this conflict.

Reactions: Acacia has been sitting on my bookshelf for awhile now since I was avoiding epic fantasy and the massive scale of the book intimidated me. However, I have been talked into reading the book recently and I do hate having unread books on my bookshelf.

At first the book was going really slowly for me. It takes a really long time to get to the meat of the plot and two hundred pages in, I was still slowly wading through the back story, hoping that the main plot will finally take off. It does around page 300 or so where I could finally read more than a chapter at a time without an irresistible desire to doze off. And once it starts going, it actually continues at a pretty good pace. I definitely enjoyed the second half of the book better than the beginning.

My biggest issue with the book is that it's really the standard epic fantasy stuff that I am tired of reading. There are children with destinies, mirroring plotlines that have way too much symmetry to them for me to find it believable and a pretty obvious distinction between the good and evil characters. There is plenty of idealism and some of the plot points were poorly motivated or I found them hard to believe (e.g. Corinne's side of the story towards the end of the book).

On the other hand, I did think some aspects of the world building and the characters themselves were rather neat. The concept of island people revering a sea eagle was pretty interesting. I also found it fascinating to have a King character whose primary focus were his children. He ended up being a much better parent than a King and I thought that was pretty unusual and rather interesting to see. There are also quirks in various other characters that I tended to like.

Altogether, Acacia took me over 3 weeks to finish reading and sadly the 700+ pages served to just lay the foundations of the story. While I am somewhat curious about the rest of it, I don't feel like the book was interesting enough to spend another two months reading the sequels. Off to some pacier reading now.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April Recap

My big hopes for reading a ton in April just didn't come through. Despite a week's vacation that included lots of travel time, I only finished two books. Both were installments in the series I've been reading, so I guess this blog is not a very exciting place at the moment.

  1. Master of Heathcrest Hall by Galen Beckett
  2. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
I can't even pick a favorite book this month since I enjoyed both of them, but wasn't swept off my feet by either.

In my defense for abandoning the blog and the books, I just had too much fun on this beach to spend too much time reading.

And now I am off reading Acacia which is a pretty hefty tome. So my reading goals are flailing behind, but the summer is still young and hopefully the blogging rate will pick up later. Until then, adieu!