Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Innocent - by Harlan Coben

This is the story of Matt Hunter, a promising college student with a bright future.  His life is forever changed, however, when he gets in a fight at a party and unintentionally kills someone.  Years later, now an ex-con, and despite losing his father, while in prison, and his brother, shortly after getting out, he is putting his life together once again.  He is about to move back to his hometown, in New Jersey, with his pregnant wife, Olivia.  When she goes on a business trip and he receives a troubling picture and video on his phone, however, once again his life begins to fall apart.

If you are familiar with Harlan Coben stories, this novel features investigator Loren Muse and private detective Cingle Shaker.  I am a fan of his books, so I'm a little biased.  I found the pace of this book to match his typical gripping style.  Even though it was 503 pages, I got through it relatively quickly because I didn't want to put it down.  Some may find the plot, as ultimately revealed, a little too complex.  For me, personally, though, this is my kind of read.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Design of Everyday Things - by Donald Norman

In this work, cognitive scientist and usability engineer, Donald Norman, presents many of the concepts that he believes underpin both good and bad "user-centered" product design. He walks the reader through examples of human interactions with everyday things (like doors, telephones, switches, cars, etc.) to illustrate the fundamental principles of functional design.

As this book was first published in 1988, even this "old" reader found the case studies it contains a little dated. Although the ideas presented are principally timeless, they are also largely common sense. Nonetheless, many of these easily understood points, in retrospect, may not be so obvious to the designer, whose viewpoint is biased by his/her inherent expertise with the thing he/she is designing. It can often be hard for this person to recognize cues that might provide the user a misguided conceptual model and, hence, result in difficult or improper usage.

When this book was first published in 1998, it was titled "The Psychology of Everyday Things." In the introduction to the 2002 edition (the version I read), the author explains that he changed the title to avoid the tendency for it to be marketed as a psychology, rather than design, book. From my perspective, though, the time he spends evaluating the psychology of how humans interact with the user interfaces of everyday things and devices was the most insightful.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Defending Jacob -- by William Landay

This novel tells its story in the context of the grand jury testimony of Andy Barber, a former Assistant District Attorney in upscale Newton, Massachusetts.  His testimony is interspersed throughout the more complete version of his story that he tells the reader. He begins his narration by telling about the tragic murder of a 14 year-old boy, Ben Rifkin, who was stabbed to death in the woods near the local school.  The reader sees the crime from both his viewpoint as the ADA trying to find and bring the killer to justice as well as a a member of the community and father of a 14-year-old boy who was a classmate of the murder victim.  When his son Jacob is arrested, he must expose the truth about his murderous ancestry and defend his son.

This book is the blend of a criminal thriller with the drama of a couple (Andy Barber and his wife Laurie) wrestling with thoughts of whether or not their son might be a monster who committed an unthinkable act.  I loved this book and couldn't recommend it more highly.  I can't remember ever before experiencing a page-turner such as this that simultaneously made me empathize with the narrator and ponder what I might do in such trying circumstances.