Off the Top: Book Review Entries


May 2, 2012

The Data Journalism Handbook is Available

The Data Journalism Handbook is finally available online and soon as the book Data Journalism Handbook - from Amazon or The Data Journalism Handbook - from O’Reilly, which is quite exciting. Why you ask?

In the October of 2010 the Guardian in the UK posted a Data Journalism How To Guide that was fantastic. This was a great resource not only for data journalists, but for anybody who has interest in finding, gathering, assessing, and doing something with the data that is shared found in the world around us. These skill are not the sort of thing that many of us grew up with nor learned in school, nor are taught in most schools today (that is another giant problem). This tutorial taught me a few things that have been of great benefit and filled in gaps I had in my tool bag that was still mostly rusty and built using the tool set I picked up in the mid-90s in grad school in public policy analysis.

In the Fall of 2011 at MozFest in London many data journalist and others of like mind got together to share their knowledge. Out of this gathering was the realization and starting point for the handbook. Journalists are not typically those who have the deep data skills, but if they can learn (not a huge mound to climb) and have it made sensible and relatively easy in bite sized chunk the journalists will be better off.

All of us can benefit from this book in our own hands. Getting to the basics of how gather and think through data and the questions around it, all the way through how to graphically display that data is incredibly beneficial. I know many people who have contributed to this Handbook and think the world of their contributions. Skimming through the version that is one the web I can quickly see this is going to be an essential reference for all, not just journalists, nor bloggers, but for everybody. This could and likely should be the book used in classes in high schools and university information essentials taught first semester first year.



February 10, 2011

January 2011 Books Read

My monthly list of books read is something I have had in mind for a long time. I was inspired by Matt Webb's book list which he was doing for a while years back. Not only is the sharing out with others helpful, but it also helps me finish reading a book.

Books read January 2001 with short summaries.

Shibumi: A Novel by Traviathan
A really good thriller set in Japan and Europe. Not only was the story good, but the details and a good cultural view of Japan during World War II. This book caught and held my attention early and I really enjoyed it.
Halting State by Charles Stross
This thriller set slightly in the future where MMORPGs start intertwingling with life. A bank robbery occurs in the game which starts the whole story rolling. The interplay and storyline between virtual games and physical life interwoven with its pervasive digital layers we depend on today is really well done.
Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
Business Model Generation is a surprise gem in that I had heard very good things about it and a quick skim of it in a bookstore convinced me to pick it up. But, the design, layout, and thoughtful thinking of how it steps through the model for understanding and thinking through business models is nothing short of stellar. The stuffy, staid, and often broken world of business models got tipped on its ear through design and understanding that makes walking through creation of a business model a sane process, but also leads to rethinking existing models for whole organizations or parts. It is a great way to look to see where software and services can have a positive impact when mapping out an organizations model.
Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design by Mike Kuniavsky
Smart Things is a fantastic walk through design considerations and methods for information interfaces for and streams from physical products. This book is very well thought out, well written and augmented with examples and very well produced. Not only is this a great book for designers, but for people working through ideation, iterations, and innovations for improving information use in, from, and with the world of things around us.


October 1, 2010

Where Good Ideas Come From - Finally Arriving

I don't think I have been awaiting a book for so long with so much interest as I am for Steven Berlin Johnson's (SBJ) new book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.

Why?

Ever since I read SBJ's book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software I was impressed how he pulled it together. I was even more impressed with how the book that followed, Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life (my notes from one piece of this book that really struck me is found in the post The User's Mind and Novelty). During all of this SBJ was writing about how he was writing and pulling notes together. On his personal blog he has talked often about DevonThink and how he uses it (this greatly influenced my trying it and purchasing it many years back and is the subject of a recent post of mine As If Had Read). This sharing about how he keeps notes of his own thoughts and works though ideas that go from tangents and turn into solid foundations for great understanding. It was this fascination that I included Steven as one of the people I would really like to meet, with the reasoning, "I like good conversation and the people that have provided great discovery through reading their writings often trigger good conversation that drives learning." (from Peter J. Bogaards interview with me for InfoDesign in July 2004).

The Sneak Preview Webinar

Today (Thursday 30 September 2010 as of this writing) Steven provided a webinar for those who had pre-ordered copies of his new book. It contains everything I have been expecting the book to have and have wished he would right up and put in a book over the last 6 to 7 years of wishing. He brings into the book the idea of the commonplace book, which I have been mulling over since I read it (I may be a bit obsessed with it as it ties in neatly with some other things I have been mulling about for a long time, like the Personal InfoCloud as written up in It is Getting Personal and many presentations going back into 2003, if not farther).

One of the great ideas that came out in the webinar was the idea of taking reading vacations to just take time off and read and focus on the reading and the ideas that come out of that reading and the ideas that are influenced by it. Steven talked about companies like Google and their 20% projects. But, what if companies gave employees paid time to read and focus on that. Read, learn, challenge what you know, expand your own understanding, mix what you have known and challenge it with new ideas and challenges and viewpoints. I think this is not only a good idea, but a great idea. Too many ideas have yet to be born and far too many "thought leaders" haven't evolved or challenged their thoughts in a long long time.

Yes, I can not wait to get this book in my hands and read. I am hoping the webinar will be made available more broadly as it is a gem as well.



April 24, 2007

David Halberstam Dies In Menlo Park

I found myself saddened by the death of David Halberstam, who died in a car accident in Menlo Park, California today. It was the Summer of 1987 that I was reading a paperback version of The Powers that Be (about transformation in politics and media around in the 1950s through early 1970s). It was a book that opened my eyes as I was transforming to a real adult, but I was also reading it as I was traveling around Europe that Summer. This book is one that I consider a true favorite for its depth and ability to bring the time and stories to life.

Having rowed I also was a fan of Halberstam's The Amateurs about the quest for four rowers to make it to the Olympics.

I deeply enjoyed Halberstam's editorials and essays when I would run across them. His appearances on television crystallized the aura of a wonderful writer who thought deeply about his subjects and brought history and deeply tangled issues to light. I have yet to read his baseball books, but they are sure to be as wonderful as his other works.

I considered David Halberstam one of the greats and still cherish his works and will pass them along to the kid if he has interest in this wonderful writer.



December 31, 2005

My Book Highlights from 2005

I had been hoping to do a longer post on things I enjoyed in 2005, but the year end has been a little busier than planned (it is a good thing). There are lot of books that I picked up in 2005 (possibly in the 30 to 50 range). Two from earlier in the year I really enjoyed, John Thackara's In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World was a huge favorite. It has brought to mind many changes that we need to address as people who design and build things. The second was Personal, Portable, Pedestrian : Mobile Phones in Japanese Life by Ito, Okabe, Matsuda (editors), which provided insight into the Japanese mobile culture. Some of the cultural aspects to dot translate to the United States, but it does a wonderful job of raising awareness for introspection into one's own culture. The book also does a fantastic job of providing history and technological change and differentiation in use based on product types.

The couple months I have picked up some books that I will really have an impact on me. Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling my be my favorite book of the year (with the Thackera a close second). Shaping things gets to where we are going with design in an innovative way. The design of the book is playful and makes for a quick read (unless it gets your mind wondering in wonderful ways, as it did mine). It is a book I could not more highly recommend.

I finally picked up DOM Scripting: Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model by Jeremy Keith and was pleasantly impressed with the coverage of pages that degrade properly. This book is required reading for anybody doing JavaScript or AJAX so to stop the madness with sites that do not work across browsers or mobile devices. There are far too many sites that have developers that did not learn anything from the mid to late 90s and using JavaScript that are making unusable sites, pages, and applications today. If you are a manager of interface developers this is written in a manner that it should be easy to read and make sure the developers working for you are following these guidelines.

My favorite fun book was recently released book in Britain, Against the Wall by and about Banksy. This is a collections of Banksy's street art and wonderful sense of play. I personally find it a great book to break through conventional thinking and get to the other side. This book is not currently available in America, which is an utter shame.

I may do a posting on music from 2005 I really enjoyed in the next day or so. But on this note, I wish you a wonderful new year and great things.



August 22, 2005

Personal, Portable, Pedestrian in My Hands

I am glad to have my my newest book in my hands finally. It is Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life edited by Mitzuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe, and Misa Matsuda. Last year's trip to Amsterdam floored me at how far behind we in the U.S. are with mobile (as well as broadband, which was really amazing). In talking with others on my trip they were pointing out how much farther ahead Japan is than Europe. What do I mean farther ahead? The trends in personal usage of mobile devices are two or three years ahead of the U.S. How people interact and use their mobile devices (text, web, information interaction, etc.). I have been watching the trends I read about in magazine articles and heard in conversation flow from other countries and after years bubble up in U.S. culture. My interest in the Personal InfoCloud draws me toward deeper understandings on personal devices around the world.

Ethnographic insights interest me, particularly for cultures and interactions with technology that I can not witness first hand. This book has come highly recommended and having met Mimi this past Spring I really have been looking forward to this book.

Wired has an overview of Personal, Portable, Pedestrian. You may also want to look at the publisher's MIT Press, page for Personal, Portable, Pedestrian.



April 12, 2005

Entering the Bubble

Today my copy of John Thackara's In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World arrived. I have read through 10 pages so far and it seems like it may live up to what I had hoped it would, my next book I obsess over. The last book was Digital Ground. Digital Ground took rough edges off many of the ideas I had been working through for a few years. It also extended me limited view to a much broader horizon. It is with this expectation that I read In the Bubble.

I will keep you apprised of my adventure through the pages.



December 31, 2004

Books Read in 2004

I bought and read one standout book this year, Malcolm McCullough's Digital Ground mixed in with many more that I enjoyed. Digital Ground stood out as it combined a lot of things I had been thinking about, but had not quite pulled together. It brought interaction design front and center in the ubiquitous computing and mobile computing spectrum. I have been working on the Personal InfoCloud for a few years now and this really moved my thinking forward in a great leap. I considering better questions and realizing there are many next step, but few of these next steps the design community (in the broad user experience design sense) seems ready for at this time. One of the key components that is not was thought through is interaction design and the difference place makes in interaction design. It was one book that got my highlighter out and marking up, which few books have done in the past couple years.

I greatly enjoyed the troika of books on the mind that came out in 2004. The first was Mind Wide Open by Stephen Berlin Johnson, which was a relatively easy read and brought to mind much of how we use are minds in our daily lives, but also how we must think of the coginitive processes in our design work. Mind Wide Open focussed on improving one's attention, which is helpful in many situations, but I have had a running question ever since reading the book regarding focus of attention and creative problem resolution (I do not see focus of attention good for creative problem resolution).

The second book was On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. On Intelligence is similar to Mind Wide Open, but with a different frame of reference. Hawkins tries to understand intelligence through refocussing on predictive qualities and not so much on results based evaluation (Turing Test). I really like the Hawkins book, which throws in some guesses in with scientifically proven (unfortunately these guesses are not easily flagged), but the predictive qualities and the need for computing to handle some of the predictive qualities to improve people's ability to handle the flood of information.

Lastly, for in the mind book troika I picked up and have been reading Mind Hacks by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb. This is one of the O'Reilly Hack series of books, but rather than focussing on software, programming, or hardware solutions these to gents focus on the mind. Mind tricks, games, and wonderful explainations really bring to life the perceptions and capabilites of the grey lump in our head. I have been really enjoying this as bedtime reading.

Others in related genres that I have read this year, Me++: The Cyborg Self in the Networked City by William Mitchell, which was not a soaring book for me, mostly because Ihad just read Digital Ground and it should have been read in the opposite order, if I had cared to. Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Meands by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi was a wonderful read, once I got through the first 20 pages or so. I had purched the book in hardback when it first came out and I was not taken by the book in the first 20 pages. This time I got past those pages and loved every page that followed. Barabasi does a wonderful job explaining and illustrating the network effect and the power curve. This has been incorporated into my regular understanding of how things work on the internet. I have learned not to see the power curve as a bad thing, but as something that has opportunities all through out the curve, even in the long tail. On the way back from Amsterdam I finally read Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, which was quite a wonderful end to that trip.

I picked up a few reference books that I enjoyed this year and have bought this year and have proven to be quite helpful. 250 HTML and Web Design Secrets by Molly Holzschlag. CSS Cookbook by Chris Schmitt. More Eric Meyer on CSS by Eric Meyer.

On the Apple/Mac front the following reference books have been good finds this year. Mac OS X Unwired by Tom Negrino and Dori Smith. Mac OS X Power Hound by Rob Griffths.

Two very god books for those just starting out with web design (Molly's book above would be a good choice also). Web Design on a Shoestring by Carrie Bickner. Creating a Web Page with HTML : Visual QuickProject Guide by Elizabeth Castro.

The year started and ended with two wonderful Science Fiction romps. Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow. Jennifer Government by Max Barry.

Update: I knew I would miss one or more books. I am very happy that 37signals published their Defensive Design for the Web: How To Improve Error Messages, Help, Forms, and Other Crisis Points, as it is one of the best books for applications and web development on how to get the little things right. The tips in the book are essential for getting things right for the people using the site, if these essentials are missed the site or application is bordering on poor. Professionally built sites and applications should work toward meeting everything in this book, as it is not rocket science and it makes a huge difference. Every application developer should have this book and read it.



September 26, 2004

Preview of Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World

I went on a little book buying spree this past week as I am finishing reading the last binge buy or two. I picked up a couple O'Reilly reference books (will review them later) and a few books from the interaction design, cogsci, and information design arena. The one that is standing out in as I preview them is the Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World : A Critical Sourcebook by Carolyn Handa. This book is a collection of essays and articles from various well quoted and referred to designers, writers, and academics. Looking through the references and end-notes the heros of communication research are used for the foundations of those chosen to write. Visual Rhetoric is focussed on the academic world, but if we are not learning every day we will never get better, and this book could fill in the gaps.

The book is broken into five sections: Toward a Pedagogy of the Visual, The Rhetoric of the Image, The Rhetoric of Design, Visual Rhetoric and Argument, and Visual Rhetoric and Culture. The names of the writers that jump out are Gunter Kress, Catherine L. Hobbes, J.L. Lemke, Rudolph Arnheim, Roland Barthes, Scott McCloud, Jeffery Keedy, Jessica Helfand, Keith Kenney, Michele S. Shauf, Richard A. Lanham, Robert Horn, and Bell Hooks drew my attention. I have a very strong feeling this will be a great resource. I don't think it will bump Digital Ground by Malcolm McCullough from my vote for the best book I have read this year, but it is proving 2004 is a very strong year for books.



June 17, 2004

Malcolm McCullough Lays a Great Foundation with Digital Ground

Today I finished reading the Malcolm McCullough book, Digital Ground. This was one of the most readable books on interaction design by way of examining the impact of pervasive computing on people and places. McCullough is an architect by training and does an excellent job using the architecture role in design and development of the end product.

The following quote in the preface frames the remainder of the book very well:

My claims about architecture are indirect because the design challenge of pervasive computing is more directly a question of interaction design. This growing field studies how people deal with technology - and how people deal with each other, through technology. As a consequence of pervasive computing, interaction design is poised to become one of the main liberal arts of the twenty-first century. I wrote this book because I ran into many people who believe that. If you share this belief, or if you just wonder what interaction design is in the first place, you may find some substance here in this book.

This book was not only interesting to me it was one of the best interaction books I have read. I personally found it better than the Cooper books, only for the reason McCullough gets into mobile and pervasive computing and how that changes interaction design. Including these current interaction modes the role of interaction design changes quite a bit from preparing an interface that is a transaction done solely on a desktop or laptop, to one that must encompass portability and remote usage and the various social implications. I have a lot of frustration with flash-based sites that are only designed for the desktop and are completely worthless on a handheld, which is often where the information is more helpful to me.

McCullough brings in "place" to help frame the differing uses for information and the interaction design that is needed. McCullough includes home and work as the usual first and second places, as well as the third place, which is the social environment. McCullough then brings in a fourth place, "Travel and Transit", which is where many Americans find themselves for an hour or so each day. How do people interact with news, advertisements, directions, entertainment, etc. in this place? How does interaction design change for this fourth place, as many digital information resources seem to think about this mode when designing their sites or applications.

Not only was the main content of Digital Ground informative and well though out, but the end notes are fantastic. The notes and annotations could be a stand alone work of their own, albeit slightly incongruous.



October 1, 2003

Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver gets a referance site

My first edition copy of Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver arrived yesterday. I flipped through it yesterday and was very impressed with the craftsmanship of the book. The paper and typography are very impressive. I read the intro this morning and I am very much looking forward to digging in.

Also to note, Metaweb, an annotated reference for Quicksilver. The annotations are provided in part by Neal himself along with others. There is a need for this reference as this is a historical novel with fact and fiction interwoven. The reference provides a guide background and what is real.



August 13, 2003

We only thought we were home

We had a good week at the shore, not quite relaxing enough or long enough. I have been truely enjoying The Discovery of Heaven, which reminds me of a cross between a Neil Stephenson and Milan Kundera styles with cross currents and bon mots for those who are well read in classical lit and philosophy.

We are home 15 minutes and we are off to the emergency room to have somebody's foot x-rayed from a mis-step in cruddy shoes. Yes, the misses has a small fracture in her foot and will be on crutches the next few weeks, laying down, or hobbling during her last 8 weeks of pregnancy. I will be helping her get to an othopedist tomorrow to get the final judgement on her foot.



August 3, 2003

Earl Morrough's helpful Information Architecture book

This past week I started reading Earl Morrogh's Information Architecture: An Emerging 21st Century Profession, which is a great short book that looks are communication technologies and their impact on society and how information in each is structured and each of their information architectures. It is a wonderful quick read that draws on what has come before the Web and building upon how information is structured in each of the mediums for best communication purposes.

One thing that surprised me early on in the book is I am quoted. It is odd to be reading along and find yourself quoted in a book that is bound. The quote comes from a discussion in the comments on PeterMe's site, actually it is the same discussion that sprung the void, which in turn inspired the Model of Attraction.



June 13, 2003

Zeldman's DWwS is a can't put down book for many

Today in my short drive to the Metro (about a mile) I saw two folks walking with Jeffery Zeldman's Designing With Web Standard in hand. One of these folks was walking and reading it. I wanted to reach into my backseat and get my copy to hold up and honk (not a good safety move so I held back by show of oneness).

I personally think this book rocks. This book helps prove I am sane as there are many discussions at work that this book will easily help support the decisions we made to incorporate standards-based Web development. We do not have a user base that permits the use of full XHTML and CSS2, like this site, but it has made maintenance of pages (45,000 to 55,000 pages in all with 8,000 or more done while moving to standards based validation or actually validating).

Jeffery does a wonderful job writing about the whys and hows of Standards based development and design. He also make understanding the benefits very easy to grasp.

This may be the one starter book for Web developers to help them sell Standards-based development or to learn why they should be embracing it and moving forward with learning and using it.



April 16, 2003

Time theories and information gathering

Ftrain's accordian time I found to be enjoyable. I enjoy time theories and find this to be close to my own personal favorite as accordian time accounts for the percieved difference in time. Some folks have a, so called, strong inner clock that is in step with metered time.

Chronological time is problematic for many as their lives feel wholly out of step with the beating minutes regulated to 60 seconds. Time seems to move in spurts and is quasi-random. My personal time theory to account for the difference in perceived time is that everybody is on a different time pace and some folks do have time moving faster for them, while others have time moving far more slowly. These differences are synched at night so that we all can work and play together. This is just an unsubstantiated theory on my part, but I am happy to find others thinking of other time measurements that can account for perceived differences in time.

Alan Lightman has a collection of time scenarios in his Einstein's Dreams. I found ED a wonderful quick read that added a wonderful collection of time theories to my existing stack. It has been a few years since I read ED, but it seems about right to pull it off the shelf and have another go.

Time, or perceived time, is important to understand when developing applications and information structures. Different individuals will become frustrated if they can not find the information they seek when they desire that information. This is partially dependant on the persons perception of the passage of time or their relation to metered time. A person who normally has time passing slowly may find most information is easily found, but if they are trying to trackdown the address for a date or interview in a relatively short time before the event the persons perception of time may increase. This impacts the perceived ease of finding information or re-retrieving that information. The frustration for this person may increase as they can feel the minutes or seconds slipping away. This cognative element is helpful to understand as we test and build interfaces.



April 13, 2003

Perl for Website Management book site

The Perl for Website Management book is helpful, but even more so are the samples found at the book site. There is even a Perl for Website Management book Wiki that has some of the samples and some other related info.

I have found the book to be very helpful for giving ideas and means to approach dealing with Web access logs.



March 30, 2003

Pattern Recognition over

I finished William Gibson's Pattern Recognition this morning. This was up there with the Neil Stephenson Snow Crash and Cryptnomicon, but a much shorter read. It was a very quick read that sucked me in for the ride. The book seemed to have been written in the last few months as it was just behind the pop meme that was current just a few short months ago, or so it seemed. A very fun book.



March 27, 2003

Powells Books Booty

Okay, here is the list of booty from Powells Books... Metarepresentations: a multidisciplinary prespective edited by Dan Sperber, a description of this Cog Sci overview book help understand it better. Kunstler's The City in Mind. Feynman's Six Easy Pieces, which I started this morning on the train and really enjoy. William Gibson's Pattern Recognition that I started reading on the plane and has really pulled me in. A string of tech books, MySQL Cookbook, Perl and XML, and Java and XML, and based on Peter's recommendation Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy. This and yesterday's mentioned Hofstadler book should about cover it. I really wish there were a Powells Books where I lived, but my wallet does not wish the same. It is great to be able to see the books and evaluate how helpful the book will actually be to you before buying.

I also added Information Architecture: An Emerging 21st Century Profession by Earl Morrogh while at the IA Summit. It seems to be a very good overview on first pass and it comes very highly recommended. I met Earl at the Summit and he is purely delightful and very much a part of the IA community.



March 14, 2003

Goodbye glasshaus and Wrox

Owen broke the news today that glasshaus books is gone. So is its parent company Wrox books and all the other imprints from this publisher. Matt has very kind words to say about glasshaus and I will concur that they were wonderful to review books for. I looked in to my work bag and found two of my five reference books that travel from home and work are glasshaus (Cascading Style Sheets: Separating Content from Presentation which is a great book to get to understand CSS1, CSS2, and the box model, and Constructing Accessible Web Sites a great reference book on accessibility). I have a few others that I get great use from also, including Usability: The Site Speaks for Itself as an overal inspiration book for redesigns and understanding the use of various pages.

A few years ago I was picking up Wrox books left and right. I have a few ASP, PHP, UML, and XML books (some that have migrated to boxes in the basement as I do not use or prefer that language at the moment. On the whole Wrox and glasshaus had great authors that really communicate well and create books that are very useful as resources and good reads.



March 7, 2003

Favorite IA Books

The NY IA Salon offers their favorite books, as captured by Mike Lee. Most of my favorites were captured, but I would have to add John Cato's User-Centered Web Design, Jesse James Garrett's The Elements of User Experience, the Second edition of the Polar Bear, and possibly Accessing and Browsing Information and Communication (on of my current reads that I am in the midst of) upon my completion of the book I may add it to my permenant IA favorites list.

There are two books I hand out to novices in the IA realm The Elements of User Experience and Christina Wodtke's Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web. These two are easy to jump into and have a very good idea where things will be goind and why. This greatly eases the communication and understanding

Mike Lee points to a great snippet concerning dumb people with too much energy, which is from Mike's favorite Make it Bigger.



February 24, 2003

Information Accessing and Browsing book

I am really enjoying Accessing and Browsing Information and Communication by Rice, McReadie, and Chang from MIT Press. I am less than 100 pages into this academic review and assessment of how people approach, find, assess, and retain information. The book is wonderful as it takes an cross section of academic disciplines and the research from them on browsing information and information use. The book is uncovering new pools of information in the library sciences, organizational communication, and knowledge management fields that help one better understand how people find and process information. There is a lot of information that is echoing the Model of Attraction approach to user and information relationships as well as helping to better refine the approach (there are some updates to the MoA that I have clarified in the last three weeks, and this reading is helping gell).

I may write a full review when I finish the book. I am reading the book on the train to and from work at the moment. I may need to read at home so I can check information that is being referenced.



December 23, 2002

BayWolf at home

An early Christmas gift arrived yesterday and brought much pleasure. The BayWolf Restaurant Cookbook is a gem that is a good read and I am sure will provide a pleased palate. I am already looking for the prime ingredients needed to recreate the wonderful meals.



Emergance finally makes my reading list

My other reading on my quick trip to Spokane, Washington included Stephen Johnson's Emergence, which I am finally getting around to. It is a wonderful book that cuts across many fields of expertise and ties them together in a well thought through manner. Not much in the book is really new, but the connections of the cross-currents makes a fun read. It has sparked the Alan Turing interests in me again and has me looking for my Metamagical Themas by Douglas Hofstadter, which must still be in a box. Metamagical opened many of the doors Johnson opens in Emergence, but is a more approachable manner. I will hopefully finish Emergence on my next quick jaunt.



December 14, 2002

Accessible persona

I was reminded today of Marcus a persona in Mark Pilgrim's Accessibility tutorial for Weblogs (and anybody else interested). Marcus is actually a real person (as pointed out by Mark), which drives the persona home. This may be my favorite example currently for accessibility.

At work we constantly get outside developers turning over non-accessible sites or applications. The client I work for is put through the painful task of explaining what needs to be done to meet Section 508 requirements. The teeth pulling the client goes through is shameful as the outside contractors want every single item spelled out and they want to know why (they usually have built the application or site through reusing a previous product built by somebody that is no longer there and that way they can do the job cheaply and make a better profit, had they built from the beginning knowing and understanding the requirements it would have been easy and inexpensive to do). Often times I am asked to help define what needs to be done and why something fails compliance, usually as a sanity check (accessibility has been an area of strength for four years or more). The regulations are very broad and do not define the exact actions that should be avoided (this is the correct approach to allow for technological improvements).

Marcus is a great example to have on the shelf as much of the information I work with during the day is public information that the taxpayers paid for, whether they are sighted, physically able, have their hearing, or not. We know that there is a decent number of users that come to government sites from publicly available systems (like in libraries) that have technology that is nowhere near current. These people should be able to get to the information and use the information and applications around it as others can use it. Marcus is usually what we see as worse case scenarios using Lynx, but also what we think of as our baseline. Knowing Marcus exists and is really helps greatly.

There is also a benefit side to building accessible information, it is future ready information. The information that is fully accessible is ready to use with no (or is rare cases slight) modification on mobile devices. This is the wonderful thing about building accessible information. One of the first steps is building information that validates to a standard. The next thing is separating style from the content by using style sheets, which make it easy to over ride any style that is problematic or to easily allow for scalable styles. This two helps create information that is future compatible. Accessible information can also be easily reused in from its presentation as it is built to standards that ease.

Accessible information is also structured properly. Structuring information properly is far more than how it looks, it is how is marked up. A header on a Web page has an "h1, h2, etc" tag around it, which eases the ability to build a table of contents or use that header as a contextual aid to summarize the information below it (that is if headers are tagged properly and the content in the header is properly descriptive). Structuring the information helps the information be reusable out of the Web page as that is what HTML does, provides structure elements in the markup tags. If information to be reused has needs (including structure and context that is easily discernible), which validating HTML provides as a basic foundation -- of course there is much that can be improved upon the basic HTML markup, but it addresses the information needs. Building accessible information applications (Web sites included) keeps money from being wasted in the future and it does not require buying a third-party application, which are often cause more problems than they solve where accessibility is concerned (this will not always be the case).

As Joe Clark's book, Building Accessible Websites points out accessible does not mean ugly or plain. Joe walks the reader through how to make beautiful sites that are also wonderfully to folks like Marcus (side note: Mark Pilgrim edited Joe's book). Another excellent book on accessibility, and is my favorite book on accessibility, as it works very well for Web application developers (and I agree with its approach to information in complex tables more than Joe's approach) is Accessible Web Sites. These are two great resources for leaning how to do things properly. I will be working on longer reviews of each in the near future.



November 6, 2002

DC-IA book club

Those of you in the DC area the DC-IA group has their book reading tonight at Barnes and Noble in Bethesda at 7:30pm. The book for this month is Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 2nd edition (the polar bear). Dan Brown who organizes the book club is reminding folk of the free coffee.


November 3, 2002

Books to get us through

I have been working on a few interface changes around here. I have found two books to be very helpful today. Cascading Style Sheets: Separating Content from Presentation, which has been helpful with the interface foundation tweaks. The three writers really knocked themselves out to put together an incredible resource. Normally I turn to the Web to find the answers, but to have a book that has a few bookmarks in it at the time of coding, was quite a change and very nice.

The other book, Usability: The Site Speaks For Itself has been bedside reading for a couple months while we were going through our move. This was one of the few books I kept careful track of as it has been great downtime inspiration. This book, unlike the "Guru" usability books, teaches you how to approach Web interface design and development with the user in mind. The hard fast rules some espouse do not always work well with our own users. This book does a wonderful, teaches us how to think through the process and provides examples of six varied sites and their developers approaches to creating usable sites for their audiences. This books is a joy to look at as well as read. There are many nuggets tucked in the pages that make it worth the price. When building Web sites the one constant is "it depends" and we can always use help learning how to think through these situations.



October 23, 2002

Wahoo, Books

What a wonderful week in books. I just received Christina Wodtke's Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web today and it looks fantastic. I have only leafed through it briefly, but it seems to cover the basis wonderfully and provide excellent guidence on how to get through IA successfully.

Saturday I picked up Jesse James Garrett's The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and have read it in little snippets and have made it through a very good chunk in no time. Much of what I have learned over time, from experience, or from great thinkers like Jesse, which leads to successful Web sites or information applications is in this book. Knowing the steps and phases of approaching development will help you greatly. Jesse has it down for all to read and it is wonderfully written.

I am very glad to not only know these to folks, but that they are sharing what they have learn for others to gain from their experiences. This sharing is what the Web was build upon and will keep the Web improving into its next generations and incarnations. Congratulations guys!



October 21, 2002

Helping hand to accessibility

The GlassHaus Constructing Accessible Web Sites book has been a great find. I began working to build sites and applications for use in Web browsers that had to be used by individuals with disabilities in 1997. Over these years I picked up a lot of hard won knowledge and experience, but have never run across a resource that fully backed what I had gathered. The GlasHaus Accessibility book not only echoes what I have learned, but has provided new insights to improve upon what I already have. The best part of this book is that I can point others to it and I am assured they will be able to build an accessible site or Web applications that can meet high standards.

Many folks think accessibility is a great inconvenience, but it takes a little thinking and planning to do it right from the beginning. Having a great resource at hand makes the process a cake walk. Not only are the processes and guides helpful for creating sites that are accessible for those that are disabled these steps outlined also make the information in the site future ready. Sites that are accessible are much easier to use with a handheld PDA device or from even a cell phone browser. Accessibility for everybody in more situations improves with structuring the information properly, which is all making Web enabled information really requires to get it ready to be consumed. Is your information ready to be consumed by everybody?



August 29, 2002

Polar Bear Arrives

A great day here, the O'Reilly's 2nd edition of Information Architecture arrived today. I have only perused it lightly, but will spend a little more time with it in the next few days. It looks like Lou and Peter really knocked themselves out. I have two other books that I am really enjoying and will write reviews of in the near future: the wonderful Constructing Accessible Web Sites and Usability: The Site Speaks for itself, which is great for learning how to think about making usable sites and not just following commandments from guru that do not apply to all situations.


July 23, 2002

Chiam moves on

I learned a great deal about art and myself from reading My Name is Asher Lev, which is now ingrained in my senses. The author, Chiam Potok passed away today. It is days like these that you wished you had reached out and said thank you, at the very least.


July 14, 2002

Glasshaus developers books

A stop in to the local bookstore today has been strongly considering Constructing Accessible Web Sites and Usability: The Site Speaks for Itself both are Glasshaus imprints and seemingly very well written and well produced. The accessibility book covers a topic that is tough to get ones mind around initially and the book handles the topic wonderfully. I have been working with the accessibilty issue for a few years now and the book points out some areas that were of a help to me.

I balk a little at the hefty price of the books, which means I will be buying them on discount or sale. I know some of the folks that have contributed to the books, which helps me justify the costs, but not everybody is me. If the cost were a little lower, say a 30 U.S. dollar price point, it would be easier to buy a couple or more and hand them out to folks that really need them. The accessibility issue book is one that really needs a lower price point, but I know there are solid methods for pricing the books just under 50 U.S. dollars.



May 10, 2002

PHP and MySQL for managing images on the Web

Managing Images With a Web Database Application with PHP and MySQL and nothing up the sleeves. The folks from O'Reilly Net offer this one, which is not in the Web Database Applications with PHP and MySQL. The book is one of my favorite information application development books at the moment for a variety of reasons: ease of coding principles, explaining application development, explaination, then using what is learned and implementing it.


January 4, 2002

Digital Web Magazine has its fresh issue out. This month's focus is business, but also includes a solid review of HomeSite 5 and review of Web ReDesign: Workflow That Works, by Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler. This is wrapped in my favorite cover to date.


December 29, 2001

Things have been quiet here you say? Yes, the holiday season has been a busy one. My parents swung through beginning on Christmas Day for a quick visit, it has been wonderful to see them so much this holiday season. I have been battling a cold and possibly allergies, which have really worn me down. I have also taken some time out for life to read (Lance Armstrong biography, which is wonderful, and pick through Patrcia Wells, "The Paris Cookbook" a fantastic journey through recipies and restaurant insights of Paris) and watch movies on DVD.

I am still very worn down and in need of some serious sleep, exercise, and relaxation. Hopefully that will come in the next week or two.


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