Thursday, August 03, 2006

computers & interactivity

Partly due to a request from Sarah K (thanks for the awesome letter, sweetie!) and partly due to my largely-unfulfilled intentions of making this blog more meaningful than a journal to keep track of what I did when (which is mostly how it's been used as of late), I thought I'd write a book review (in hopes that it would inspire me to write more, in the future).

(Also, I feel the need to quickly point out that 1. Sarah didn't want me to review this book, so I'm sorry I'm starting with it! But it's freshest in my mind! And 2. there is no need for anyone to read this if they are not interested in the book and/or the subject matter. Please feel fee to skip this post entirely, if you have no interest. No worries!)

Wow, I like parentheses a whole lot.

In any case, I just (finally!) finished up reading The Art of Interactive Design. I can't say I was completely satisfied with the book. Here's my take:

TITLE: The Art of Interactive Design
AUTHOR: Chris Crawford

I liked the concept of the book a whole lot -- I really do agree that there needs to be more interactivity in computer programs, although you can argue that we've already come leaps & bounds since the early days. But to be honest, Mr. Crawford didn't really convince me any further. I had hoped he'd have some great explanations of the concept, and why we need it, and how it might work in the future, and while he seemed to cover all those aspects, the book itself didn't leave me all pumped up to get going on the latest & greatest in interactive technology.

To which it seems that he would reply that I am clearly not one of the computer geniuses that we need at the moment -- one of my problems with the book was that he was a big disparager of everyone else, particularly towards the end. In a half-assed way, he tried to act like he was including himself in that group, but it was clear he thought himself above all of the "petty fights" between artists and programmers. With comments like "[Programmers] are the object of some disdain -- after all, if programming were that noble, would you admit to being unable to program?", he really lost me. Um, is it okay that I revere some surgeons for the noble work they do, but would freely admit that I myself cannot do their work? Certainly.

In the beginning, I was excited because I thought he was funny & that the book would zip along, and promised a quick read. But in the end, "the funny" got old. As you can tell from the length of time I've had it posted in my "Currently Reading" area, Interactive Design didn't really grab me & run. Mr. Crawford's funny tended to fizzle as he tried to push certain jokes, and his cheesy humor in general, more & more. It was rather disappointing, and sometimes downright annoying -- when trying to make a point in a story: "Human females don't walk, they kind of galumph along." Ooookay, sure. That really won me over. In the next sentence, he talks about how men find women attractive because of their rather uneven gait, but it was already too late, for me. (He was headed towards my bad side already by implying earlier that those who are inclined towards science & engineering are emotionless clods who don't read literature, but I digress.)

Now, I don't sit in either camp, but clearly Crawford is a Macintosh boy, as he continually rams down the reader's throat. I found his assesment of the programs and the specific people who use each to be narrow-minded and ignorant. I won't get into it further, but I just feel like he clearly had an agenda up his sleeve, most of which I think I was able to identify & ignore.

And despite numerous typos, Crawford's book did read pretty well overall, with an impressive vocabulary & breatdh of knowledge (while trying to keep the tone light & the refereces current) underscoring his arguments. (The phrase "as aliens are wont to do" almost even won him a place back in my heart, later on.) But his proposals and suggestions for ways to tweak software into more "interactivity" didn't really convince me. They just didn't seem all that practical to me. The ideas were there, and I feel like in the beginning of his theories I'd agree with him, but would feel like he was way off base by their conclusion. I wish I could think of a more concrete example, now.

On the plus side, Crawford made a great point about how we do have enough memory & storage these days to allow for the comptuer to remember & undo every single action the user makes (although I'd have to see it in action to believe that only a few bits would be needed to store each state). And I really did like his suggestions on how to make software sound more like it was a tool for the user (error boxes that explained the computer's limitations and offered ways to get around them), instead of accusing the user of making bad choices (error boxes that say "You cannot do that!"). But that was most of what I got out of the book. Oh, well. It was an interesting read, and I learned a lot about what I will & won't do with my software.

I just felt like the book was a really long, underhanded promotion of Mr. Crawford's software, and his not-so-subtle push for people to recognize the genius of the ideas that he has been working on for the past 10 years. But, that could have just been me....

NB: By the way, I should be back to my usual smattering of weekly posts by tomorrow -- I just clearly had more time to spend on posting today!

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