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.



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