Category: Reading Room


Spring Reading

May 12th, 2008 — 10:44pm

The other day, over a hot corned beef sand­wich from the 2nd Avenue Deli, some­one asked what I’m read­ing now. As usual, I ended up mum­bling a few half com­plete book titles (not sure why, but I always have dif­fi­culty remem­ber­ing on the spot — prob­a­bly because I’ve got four or five things going at once…).
To help fill out the list, and because I’m still doing most of my writ­ing via other out­lets, here’s a snap­shot of the books scat­tered around my house. It’s divided into help­ful cat­e­gories, includ­ing ‘Books I’d Like To Start Read­ing Soon, But Shouldn’t, Because I’m Still Read­ing Other Stuff’, and ‘Books I’ve Been Mean­ing to Read Some­time Soon, But Prob­a­bly Won’t Won’t Get To In The Near Future.‘
Books I’m Read­ing Now

Books I’d Like To Start Read­ing Soon, But Shouldn’t, Because I’m Still Read­ing Other Stuff

Books Recently Finished

Books I’ve Been Mean­ing to Read Some­time Soon, But Prob­a­bly Won’t Get To In The Near Future

Bonus: Things I’m prob­a­bly Never Going to Start / Fin­ish Reading

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Discount Code For Rosenfeld Media

March 17th, 2008 — 9:32am

Use the dis­count code FOJOEL10 to receive 10% off Rosen­feld Media books pur­chased online. Every­one loves a bargain!

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New Books: 'Tagging' and 'Mental Models'

March 12th, 2008 — 11:00am

If you’re inter­ested in tag­ging and social meta­data, social book­mark­ing, or infor­ma­tion man­age­ment, be sure to check out Gene Smith’s Tag­ging: People-Powered Meta­data for the Social Web recently pub­lished by from New Rid­ers. I reviewed some of the early drafts of the book, and it’s come together very nicely.
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Tag­ging takes a very prac­ti­cal approach, and pro­vides an ample set of exam­ples in sup­port of the insight­ful analy­sis. After an overview of tag­ging and its value, the book addresses tag­ging sys­tem design, tags in rela­tion to tra­di­tional meta­data and clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tems, and cov­ers the user expe­ri­ence of cre­at­ing and nav­i­gat­ing tag clouds.
Gene likes to build things, so Tag­ging includes a chap­ter on tech­ni­cal design com­plete with sug­gested tools and tuto­ri­als for cre­at­ing your own tag­ging apps.
All in all, Tag­ging is a wor­thy intro­duc­tion to the sub­ject, and a guide for deeper explo­ration.
While we’re talk­ing books, kudos to Rosen­feld Media on the pub­li­ca­tion of their first book, Men­tal Mod­els; Align­ing Design Strat­egy with Human Behav­ior, by the very tal­ented Indi Young!
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Men­tal Mod­els is richly illus­trated, filled with exam­ples, lucid, and accom­pa­nied by a con­sid­er­able amount of addi­tional con­tent from the Rosen­feld Media web­site.
Indi has con­sid­er­able expe­ri­ence teach­ing oth­ers the tech­niques and meth­ods behind cre­at­ing insight­ful men­tal mod­els for audi­ences and cus­tomers. Cog­ni­tive / frame­worky meth­ods can feel a bit heady at times (espe­cially how-to’s on those meth­ods), but Men­tal Mod­els is straight­for­ward read­ing through­out, and an emi­nently prac­ti­cal guide to using this impor­tant tool for user expe­ri­ence design and strat­egy.
Men­tal Mod­els is avail­able elec­tron­i­cally as a .pdf for indi­vid­ual and group licenses, or in hard copy; it’s choose your own medium in action.

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A Good Primer On Simplicity and Complexity In Designs

July 27th, 2007 — 1:28pm

Dan Ward has cre­ated a nifty primer on the bal­ance between sim­plic­ity and com­plex­ity in designs that is worth a look. It seems espe­cially use­ful for design­ers fac­ing chal­lenges with sta­bi­liz­ing the vision, fea­tures, require­ments, or other design dri­vers for a prod­uct, ser­vice, expe­ri­ence, etc.
The Sim­plic­ity Cycle, is “a graph­i­cal explo­ration of the rela­tion­ship between com­plex­ity, good­ness and time. It explores the nat­ural devel­op­ment of sys­tem design, and high­lights both the impor­tance and the dan­gers of com­plex­ity. …has prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tions for artists, teach­ers, engi­neers, archi­tects and any­one else who cre­ates.“
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A quick read, The Sim­plic­ity Cycle is nicely illus­trated (replete with poten­tial pre­sen­ta­tion­ware for har­ried con­sul­tants…), has engag­ing nuggets like quotes from Charles Min­gus, and is free to download.

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Reality TV Revisits Its Origins

November 3rd, 2005 — 2:35pm

Appar­ently, if you wait long enough, all cir­cles close them­selves. Case in point: I’ve always thought Golding’s Lord of the Flies nicely cap­tures sev­eral of the less appe­tiz­ing aspects of the typ­i­cal amer­i­can junior high school expe­ri­ence.
And I’ve always thought that much of the real­ity tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming that was all the rage for a while and now seems to be pass­ing like a Japan­ese fad, is sim­ply a chance for peo­ple on all sides of the screen to revisit their own junior high school expe­ri­ences once again — albeit with a full com­ple­ment of adult sec­ondary sex­ual char­ac­ter­is­tics. When I do chan­nel surf past the lat­est incar­na­tion of the pri­mal vote-the-jerk-off-the-island epic, Golding’s book always comes to mind.
Then a friend rec­om­mended Koushun Takami’s Bat­tle Royale as recre­ational read­ing. Bat­tle Royale is, as Tom Waits says, ‘big in Japan’ — it being a Japan­ese treat­ment of some of the same themes that drive Lord of the Flies.
The edi­to­r­ial review from Ama­zon reads:
“As part of a ruth­less pro­gram by the total­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment, ninth-grade stu­dents are taken to a small iso­lated island with a map, food, and var­i­ous weapons. Forced to wear spe­cial col­lars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one “win­ner” remains. The elim­i­na­tion con­test becomes the ulti­mate in must-see real­ity tele­vi­sion.“
And so the cir­cle closes…

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Who Says User Research Can't Be Funny?

September 24th, 2005 — 6:39pm

User Research can be so relent­lessly earnest and pur­pose­ful that it gets to be a bit sti­fling. After a few dozen well-crafted per­sonas work their way pur­pose­fully through a set of mildly chal­leng­ing but inevitably suc­cess­ful sce­nar­ios for the tenth time in one week, a dili­gent user researcher is likely to be hun­ger­ing for some­thing a bit more sat­is­fy­ing; some­thing akin to the per­sona, but more fully-rounded; some­thing that con­veys the ambigu­ous com­plex­ity of human char­ac­ter with hon­esty; some­thing not only insight­ful, but con­sis­tently forth­right across a mul­ti­plic­ity of aspects. Per­haps even some­thing that is gen­uinely mala­pert.
Food Court Druids, Chero­hon­kees, And Other Crea­tures Unique to the Repub­lic is that some­thing. Writ­ten by Robert Lan­ham, it’s a hilar­i­ous col­lec­tion of idio­types — stereo­types out­side the design world, per­sonas within — couched as the out­come of seri­ous sci­en­tific inquiry whose method is called idio­syn­crol­ogy.
I advise read­ing with humil­ity close at hand, since it’s likely you’ll find your­self inside, and it’s only fair to laugh at every­one if you’re included…

Here’s the descrip­tion:
Lan­ham, author of The Hip­ster Hand­book and cre­ator and edi­tor of the Web site www.freewilliamsburg.com, extends his anthro­po­log­i­cal exam­i­na­tion of Amer­i­cans beyond trendy Brook­lyn neigh­bor­hoods to the entire coun­try, where Yank­necks (“rebel-flag-waving red­necks who live out­side the South”), Sig­mund Fruits (“peo­ple who insist on telling you about their dreams”) and oth­ers have existed thus far with­out being for­mally stud­ied by “idio­syn­crol­o­gists” like Lan­ham and his team. Pre­sented with the author­i­ta­tive tone of a seri­ous anthro­po­log­i­cal study, com­plete with an Idio Rank Scale that assesses the weird­ness of each type, many of Lanham’s pro­files are hilar­i­ously accu­rate descrip­tions of co-workers, fam­ily mem­bers, friends and other acquain­tances that almost every Amer­i­can has encoun­tered at some point in their lives. There are the Cor­nered Rabid Office Work­ers (CROWs), who “claim to be poets or play­wrights” when dis­cussing their work with strangers, “even if they just spent the last nine hours doing data entry on the McFlan­nery acqui­si­tion,” and Hex­pa­tri­ates, Amer­i­cans who decry every­thing about Amer­ica yet never actu­ally leave the coun­try (and who “refer to the Loews mul­ti­plex at the mall as ‘the cin­ema’ and the Motel Six by Hard­ees as ‘the pen­sione”). Illus­tra­tions by Jeff Bech­tel, depict­ing the fash­ion sense of Holi­dorks (peo­ple who wear holiday-themed cloth­ing) and Skants (women with shapely butts who always wear span­dex pants), enhance Lanham’s characterizations.

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Sartre's "The Age of Reason"

June 16th, 2002 — 12:46pm

Slow to begin, and very, very French, my imme­di­ate reac­tion to this open­ing novel in Sartre’s Roads to Free­dom tril­ogy is pos­i­tive. It is an oddly obvi­ously organic lan­guage, full of ref­er­ences to the flu­ids, flesh, smells, and tex­tures of human­ity; per­haps a con­se­quence of the trans­la­tion? The con­clu­sion took me by sur­prise, again per­haps an after effect of los­ing sub­tleties in the trans­la­tion — or the fact that most of my read­ing was done late at night while about to fall asleep.

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