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Brian Curtis (Johns Creek, GA USA)
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Give Me Liberty: Freeing Ourselves in the Twenty-First Century
Give Me Liberty: Freeing Ourselves in the Twenty-First Century
von Gerry L. Spence
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 25,62

2.0 von 5 Sternen Intriguing Ideas, Poorly Explored & Incoherently Written, 19. Juli 2000
Spence's writing style gives new meaning to the words "overblown" and "histrionic." His ideas ramble across the page in a seemingly random manner, skipping from era to era and topic to topic as the mood strikes him. There is no organization or consistency to the thoughts he presents--the chapter divisions are almost arbitrary. As soon as he seems to be building up to one point, he jerks you over to another unrelated issue.
That said, he does present some intriguing suggestions toward the latter third of the book. Unfortunately, he presents them as "finished products" instead of the starting points they truly are. This short-circuits the serious consideration and discussion these ideas would otherwise deserve, and Spence evidently isn't aware enough of the loopholes and flaws in some of his ideas to address them.
(For example, restricting candidate's campaign spending to a set amount sounds promising, but what do we do about "friends" of the candidate who choose to air their own commercials promoting the same guy? Apparently, such a dodge hasn't occurred to Spence.)
In addition, his exuberant, over-the-top approach to a lot of complex problems leaves the reader with the impression that the author is just tossing off glib first impressions, rather than thoughtful and workable ideas. The fact that he seems to be advocating a system which combines the most bizarre elements of fascism and communism doesn't help matters, either--it's bound to turn off many people who would otherwise be open to realistic, reasonable reform of our government and societal system.
A well-intentioned effort, but poorly thought out and badly presented.


The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High-tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity
The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High-tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity
von Alan Cooper
  Gebundene Ausgabe

4.0 von 5 Sternen Great Ideas, Not Always Well Presented, 3. Juli 2000
The culture of software development is changing, but grudgingly. The short-sighted notion "It's better to be first with something bad than second with something perfect" has been discredited after too long a reign as the New Paradigm of the Information Age ("It's brilliant because it's counter-intuitive!"), and instead has been exposed for what it is: bad business and a lousy way to treat customers. Alan Cooper's book helps make sense of things as software developers, after decades of coding for each other, are forced to begin acknowledging the cold and strange outside world of Real Life Users.
Cooper's writing is generally clear and easy to follow. He documents his points well and uses numerous true-to-life examples to illustrate the concepts. The ATM analysis, for example, is both effective and memorabl: Why DOES the ATM list account types you don't have, permitting an invalid selection? Why can't you return to a previous screen to correct mistakes, instead of starting over from scratch? Why doesn't the system give you an error message that helps you understand the problem, rather than "Unable to complete transaction"? No one even bothers to ask these questions, Cooper points out, because we've accepted the default structure of ATM screens--which were created for the convenience of coders and system engineers, rather than users.
Cooper also performs a valuable service in demolishing that old standby programmers' excuse: "We don't call any of the shots-it's all management's fault!" Bull. Half the managers in the computer industry are former coders themselves (and laboring under an outmoded and faulty mental model of how software development must occur, by the way). The other half are so non-technical that they're at the mercy of the coders, who are free to decide which features are most important, which will take too long, and ultimately, which will or won't make the cut for the next release. Coders ARE driving this bus, if occasionally from the back seat, and they need to take responsibility for what they produce-and be humble enough to admit that an indispensable part of the development process (interface/interaction design) is beyond their abilities.
That said, Cooper's writing style itself is less than perfect. He presents many compelling case histories, but at times he seems to lean too heavily on insider stories, as if showing off his contacts and expertise in the industry. And, of course, Cooper is far too much in love with his "dancing bear" metaphor; long before you've reached the halfway point, you'll be muttering, "One page...just ONE page without a 'dancing bearware' reference, PLEASE! That's all I ask!"
But the messages and lessons in this book are too important to ignore. As Cooper tries to remind us, it is everyday users-not the power users, not even the "computer literate"-who are the core audience. They're the ones you have to design for: a successful interaction design, rather than a burgeoning list of clever features, is what will determine your product's success or failure.


The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High-tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity
The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High-tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity
von Alan Cooper
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen Important Lessons Still To Be Learned by Developers, 26. Juni 2000
The culture of software development is changing, but grudgingly. The insane notion "It's better to be first with something bad than second with something perfect" has been discredited after too long a reign as the New Paradigm of the Information Age ("It's brilliant because it's counter-intuitive!"), and instead has been exposed for what it is: bad business and a lousy way to treat customers. Cooper's book helps make sense of things as software developers, after decades of coding for each other, are forced to begin acknowledging the cold and strange outside world of Real Life Users.
Cooper's writing is generally clear and easy to follow. He documents his points well and uses numerous true-to-life examples to illustrate the concepts. The ATM analysis, for example, is memorable and effective; millions of us have learned, adapted to, and continued to use ATMs without the slightest recognition of their failures in user interface design. Why DOES the ATM list account types you don't have, permitting an invalid selection? Why can't you return to a previous screen to correct mistakes, instead of starting over from scratch? Why doesn't the system give you an error message that helps you understand the problem, rather than "Unable to complete transaction"? These are questions no one bothers to ask, because everyone has accepted the default structure of ATM screens--which were created for the convenience of coders and system engineers, not users.
"Computer literacy" is another important concept that too many developers are looking at from exactly the wrong direction. Instead of complaining that not enough users take the time to learn and understand the basics of computers, we should be improving and simplifying computers to the point where they don't have to. "Users aren't reading the manual" is not a valid complaint, it's a simple fact of life that developers-not users-are responsible for working around. Your job is not to get users to read the manual; it's to design an application that doesn't need one.
This is an important concept, and the perception of users in the software development culture must change in order to address it properly. Anyone who sneeringly refers to simplifying and improving the user interaction as "dumbing down" illustrates how completely he has fallen victim to one of the core fallacies of programming: the "user as idiot" image. You may prefer to design for clean, logical hardware requirements, but your project is doomed to failure unless you bring in someone willing to take on the messy, nasty, error-prone real world of genuine user interests, behaviors, and preferences. And for the most part, programmers are not qualified to do that.
The book also does a valuable service in demolishing that old standby programmers' excuse: "We don't call any of the shots-it's all management's fault!" Bull. Half the managers in the computer industry are former coders themselves (and laboring under an outmoded and faulty mental model of how software development must occur, by the way). The other half are so non-technical that they're at the mercy of the coders, who are free to decide which features are most important, which will take too long, and ultimately, which will or won't make the cut for the next release. Coders ARE driving this bus, if occasionally from the back seat, and they need to take responsibility for what they produce-and be humble enough to admit that an indispensable part of the development process (interface/interaction design) is beyond their abilities.
That said, Cooper's writing style itself is less than perfect. He presents many compelling case histories, but at times he seems to lean too heavily on insider stories, as if showing off his contacts and expertise in the industry. And, of course, Cooper is far too much in love with his "dancing bear" metaphor; long before you've reached the halfway point, you'll be muttering, "One page...just ONE page without a 'dancing bearware' reference, PLEASE! That's all I ask!"
But the messages and lessons in this book are too important to ignore. The problem is, too many hardcore programmers take pride in the arcane complexity of their work, and the "elegance" of the solutions they devise; they are unwilling to accept the simple reality that USERS DON'T CARE. They never have cared, they never will care, and like it or not, THEY-not the power users, not even the "computer literate"-are your core audience. They're the ones you have to design for: a successful interaction design, rather than a burgeoning list of clever features, is what will determine your product's success or failure.


The New Victorians: A Young Woman's Challenge to the Old Feminist Order
The New Victorians: A Young Woman's Challenge to the Old Feminist Order
von Rene Denfeld
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 18,16

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4.0 von 5 Sternen A Credible Challenge to What Has Become an Orthodoxy, 5. Mai 2000
Rene Denfeld's is one of those books that make you say, "I knew it! It's not just me! I've been waiting for someone to say this!" She presents an excellent post-boomer perspective (rare enough these days, outside of computers and technology) on what has happened to the once-proud and purposeful feminist movement, and an insightful and well-documented description of how it has changed over the past two decades.
As Denfeld illustrates with quotes from today's generation of young women, the official "feminist" movement has, in their eyes, lost its way. It is no longer about fighting for equal treatment under the law, equal pay in the workplace, or equal respect as individual human beings--all worthy goals which some Gen X and Y'ers have admittedly almost taken for granted in these more enlightened times. Instead, it has come to stand for Woman as Victim. The current focus of the core feminist movement in the past few years has been on protecting women, portraying them as helpless (yet noble and virtuous!) little hothouse flowers who need shielding and special treatment to survive against the onslaught of the big bad world and mean ol' men (all of whom are cast as violent, misogynistic predators, of course). Is it any wonder that so many young women who believe in equality nevertheless are reluctant to call themselves "feminists?"
The movement has been hijacked, as Denfeld amply demonstrates with an array of studies, statistics, and--most tellingly--quotes from the most prominent current leaders of the feminist movement today. What was once considered extremist has become mainstream as the cause has rigidified and polarized itself.
In addition, the book's writing style was a pleasant surprise. Too many books on political issues, particularly gender and family themes, are awkwardly and poorly written, mainly consisting of half-formed thoughts strung together with no regard for logic, organization, or thoughtful presentation. Denfeld is no ranter; she has methodically presented a number of well-researched and carefully organized points and concepts, and followed them up with discussion that is clear and thought-provoking. I found myself engrossed with every chapter.
Two minor quibbles:
1. As another reviewer has commented, I'm not sure that the Victorian analogy is consistent throughout the book. I recognize that in our society, "Victorian" represents backward and repressive thinking, and certainly this is an accurate description of what mainstream feminism has become. However, some elements of the current state of the movement are too new to fit the mold, and the analogy (but not the validity of the critique itself) becomes strained at points.
2. In addition to what feminism currently stands for, I would have liked to see some discussion of exactly how and why the feminist movement was transformed--although that could well have doubled the length of the book. The results of the change are clear, and clearly deplorable--but some more attention to the nature and origin of the change might provide some added insights into how to get feminism "back on track" for the future.
But all told, this is an excellent book that cogently presents and discusses some important ideas for modern equality-minded women who don't want the baggage and restrictions (Restrictions! In a movement purportedly concerned with women's freedom to choose!) that accompany modern mainstream feminism. The fact that many mainstream "old movement" feminists would probably hate it, despite its firm stance in favor of independence and equality for all women, illustrates just how far astray the movement has gone.


The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless
The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless
von Elinor Burkett
  Gebundene Ausgabe

4.0 von 5 Sternen Much Needed Opening Salvo, 10. April 2000
Burkett's book provides the opening a lot of people have been looking for--a starting point to re-evaulate our society's obsession with children at the expense of everyone and everything else. Does some anger and frustration show through occasionally? Of course--as it did when other unfairly treated groups spoke up for their rights and more equitable treatment in American society.
Burkett has the courage to point out what many people secretly feel, but has been verboten to publicly state: that children are neither the center of the universe, nor the purpose of existence. They are an option--one that some choose to explore and others do not.
Incredibly, as Burkett documents, too many overprivileged parents who already benefit from so-called "family-friendly" workplaces can only complain that they deserve even more because of their noble "calling" and virtuous sacrifice. Raising the next generation is neither a noble and sacred duty, nor even a particularly valuable service--and that's even assuming that parents try to make such claims of unselfish motive in the first place. If there's one thing we don't need more of on this planet, it's people.
The workplace issue is where such problems are most visible. Does the mother who puts her child first and career second sometimes pay for that decision with fewer promotions and opportunities? Of course, and that's as it should be. Corporations aren't obliged to allow for the difference in professional dedication between employees, still less to somehow "make up" for them. If childfree people wind up with more take-home disposable income than parents do, it's because of the individual choices each person has made; corporations pay for work performed, not mouths to feed. Or should we return to the days when men were automatically paid twice as much as (or more than) women because "Ted has a family to support?"
The anti-feminist slant of our society's current push for increased family friendliness is not lost on Burkett, and the irony would be funny if it weren't so frustrating. Kudos again for opening the door to a long-awaited discussion!


The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family
The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family
von Dana Mack
  Gebundene Ausgabe

2.0 von 5 Sternen Bizarrely Contradictory, 14. März 2000
"~Mack's book takes a curiously myopic perspective on family and cultural issues. Over and over, we hear the refrain that American culture is unfriendly to children(!), and that parents are helpless to do anything about it in the face of Big Bad government, coporate advertising, popular culture, TV, secularism, etc., etc. This thesis, in the midst of the most youth-oriented and child-obsessed society this planet has ever SEEN, strikes me as fatuous at best. several arguably valid directions, however. Many child welfare and social-services policies _are_ bizarre, impractical, or excessively paranoid, and innocent people's rights _are_ occasionally violated. The same holds true for public education and some workplace policies. However, she approaches these topics from a monolithic perspective that there is still One Right Way to do things, and we need to return to the comfortable 50s culture, where Mom stayed at home, Dad worked to bring home the"~ bacon, and everybody who counted was a white, God-fearing Christian. When divorce happened, the mother always got custody. Hey, so it was unfair to fathers--so what? At least it made the process short and simple for the sake of the kids. The fact that our society is broader and deeper than that now goes unrecognized--except perhaps unconsciously, as fear."~ focus on basic skills and knowledge has been fading, and needs to be restored. But what does she propose, other than home- and private schooling for the kids whose parents can afford it (in both time and money)? Again, the fact that society has changed seems to be lost on the author. to good ol' Whitebread America--is not the answer. Nowhere in this volume dedicated to restoring treasured ideals and principles will you find the one that matters most to kids: "parental responsibility."


The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family
The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family
von Dana Mack
  Gebundene Ausgabe

2.0 von 5 Sternen Bizarrely Contradictory, 7. März 2000
Mack's book takes a curiously myopic perspective on family and cultural issues. Over and over, we hear the refrain that American culture is unfriendly to children(!), and that parents are helpless to do anything about it in the face of Big Bad government, coporate advertising, popular culture, TV, secularism, etc., etc. This thesis, in the midst of the most youth-oriented and child-obsessed society this planet has ever SEEN, strikes me as fatuous at best.
Mack is very free with the blame in several arguably valid directions, however. Many child welfare and social-services policies _are_ bizarre, impractical, or excessively paranoid, and innocent people's rights _are_ occasionally violated. The same holds true for public education and some workplace policies. However, she approaches these topics from a monolithic perspective that there is still One Right Way to do things, and we need to return to the comfortable 50s culture, where Mom stayed at home, Dad worked to bring home the bacon, and everybody who counted was a white, God-fearing Christian. When divorce happened, the mother always got custody. Hey, so it was unfair to fathers--so what? At least it made the process short and simple for the sake of the kids. The fact that our society is broader and deeper than that now goes unrecognized--except perhaps unconsciously, as fear.
Likewise, Mack bemoans the value relativism and "socializing" emphasis of public schools--and she definitely has a point that the focus on basic skills and knowledge has been fading, and needs to be restored. But what does she propose, other than home- and private schooling for the kids whose parents can afford it (in both time and money)? Again, the fact that society has changed seems to be lost on the author.
Our society faces a lot of problems, many of which are working against the best interests of American children. But this approach--blaming everything and everyone but the parents themselves, and seeking a return to good ol' Whitebread America--is not the answer. Nowhere in this volume dedicated to restoring treasured ideals and principles will you find the one that matters most to kids: "parental responsibility."


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