Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction’

WE RECOMMEND: Pyongyang, A Journey Into North Korea by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang, A Journey Into North Korea by Guy Delisle
Pyongyang front cover

Guy Delisle’s deadpan graphic memoir of his time working in North Korea is as gentle a reflection on the horrors of totalitarianism as can be imagined. An animator and cartoonist, Delisle is sent by his French employer to oversee cheap fill-in production at a firm in Pyongyang. Most of his time is spent working out ways to alleviate the crushing boredom of life in the panopticon–foreign workers in North Korea are constantly accompanied by guides and translators carefully selected for their party loyalty and overall blandness, exploration beyond obviously and hilariously scripted propaganda events is forbidden and the radio only gets one station.  The art sits solidly in the journalistic/memoir comic fashion, blandly approachable in the style of Marjane Satrapi or Joe Sacco. Detail is sparse but movement and characterization are handled quite well, which helps when depicting a country where too many ill-considered dialogue bubbles could land one in a gulag. The narrator’s interior monologue echoes Art Spiegelman’s wry detachment to a level that can feel almost insensitive when dealing with the forced representatives of the most oppressive regime on the planet. That aside, Pyongyang provides an amusing perspective on a fascinating topic.

- Adam Parker, Learning Technologies Developer

WE RECOMMEND: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Nickel and Dimed coverIn 2010, both the Easton, Pennsylvania and the Bedford, New Hampshire School Districts challenged Nickel and Dimed (by Barbara Ehrenreich) after several parents complained about the book’s “promotion of economic fallacies and its biased portrayal of capitalism.” However, I would argue that the book actually shows the true nature of capitalism; that it creates winners and losers.

As an experiment, Ehrenreich set out to discover if she could survive working low-wage jobs. She waited tables in Florida, cleaned houses in Maine, and worked at a Wal-Mart in Minnesota. She almost always needed a second job, so she often found herself working seven days a week, adding work as a nursing home aide and as a hotel maid at different points of her research.

In all three locations, she struggled to find housing that would be affordable for people who earned six or seven dollars an hour. A couple of her coworkers were actually homeless and living in their cars, because they always lacked enough money for first month’s rent and deposit on an apartment. Also, maintaining a healthy diet was an issue sometimes. When she was lucky enough to find affordable housing with a kitchen, she was able to cook for herself sometimes, but often she had to rely on fast food. And Ehrenreich often notes that the lunches of her coworker’s were unhealthy and insufficient for the back-breaking work they were doing.

What Ehrenreich took away from this experience is that there is no such thing as unskilled labor. None of the jobs were easy; they were all physically demanding and she never had a coworker that she would describe as “lazy.” She also comments that “You don’t need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents are too high” and that when the rich and the poor compete for housing, the poor always lose. She concludes that something is very wrong when people can work as hard as they do and are still barely able to support themselves.

Overall, Nickel and Dimed is a thought-provoking read. For many, the problems of the poor are misunderstood or simply invisible, but Ehrenreich describes the problem of poverty in the United States in a knowledgeable and compassionate way. She also states that poverty is an emergency and I think anybody who would like to understand that statement better should read Nickel and Dimed.

- Kayla Whitehead, Technical Services Assistant/Serials Specialist

Southern Horrors and Other Writings by Ida B. Wells

Southern Horrors coverSouthern Horrors and Other Writings by Ida B. Wells

It’s hard to overstate the courage of Ida B. Wells. She was one of the loudest – and loneliest – voices against the barbaric practice of lynching throughout the American South during Reconstruction. As one of the only writers to undertake a systematic study of the practice, she uncovered grotesque facts (the practice of lynch mobs keeping body parts of the lynched as “souvenirs”), common lies (the most common incitement to a lynching being the allegation of impropriety or sexual aggression against a white woman), and what she saw as the root cause: the expansion of black sufferage, black economic power, and black social mobility.

Anti-lynching certainly wasn’t Ida Wells’ only cause, but it was the one for which she gained the most notoriety, both in the United States and in Europe. It was also one of the darkest chapters in American history, one in which her voice was often the only voice speaking for the thousands of innocent men and women who were tortured and killed. Her writing is urgent, impassioned, and absolutely necessary.

- Phil Rollins, Learning Technologies Developer

Don’t Make Me Think! by Steve Krug

Dont Make Me Think

Krug, Steve.  Don’t make me think! : a common sense approach to Web usability.  Que, 2000.
Call number:  TK 5105.888 .K78 2000.

Only slightly dated, this excellent, easy-to-read book gives some great tips and techniques for improving the ease of use of web pages and sites.

Krug’s First Law of Usability:  Don’t make me think.  Make it easy for users to answer questions about where to start and what’s clickable, use plain, unique and unambiguous language, and easy-to-locate navigation.

How we really use the web:  Users scan pages, find something that looks like what they want; users don’t completely read pages and then think carefully through choices.

Users muddle through.  Pages are like billboards, so design great billboards.

Billboard Design 101:  Create a clear visual hierarchy.  Take advantage of conventions.  Break pages up into clearly defined areas.  Make it obvious what’s clickable.  Minimize noise: busy-ness & background noise.

Krug’s Second Law of Usability: It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice.

Krug’s Third Law of Usability: Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.

Street signs and Breadcrumbs:  Web users like to search or browse, not both.  Browsing requires good navigation.

Searching requires good search tools.  Persistent navigation is comforting.  Breadcrumbs: at the top, tiny type, bold last item.

If given a random page, can you identify:

  • What site is this?
  • What page am I on?
  • What are the major sections of this site?
  • What are my options at this level?
  • Where am I in the scheme of things?
  • How can I search?

Admit your home page is beyond your control.

Some things the Home page has to do:

  • Site identity and mission
  • Site hierarchy
  • Search
  • Teases
  • Timely content
  • Short cuts

And in addition:

  • Show me what I’m looking for
  • And what I’m not looking for (but might need)
  • Show me where to start
  • Establish credibility and trust

But that’s not all!

  • Everybody wants a piece of it
  • Too many cooks
  • Has to appeal to everyone

Problems with rollover menus:

  • You have to seek them out
  • You can only see one at a time
  • They’re twitchy
  • They’re ineffective unless the popup appears near where you’re pointing

Problems with pulldown/dropdown menus:

  • You have to seek them out
  • They’re hard to scan
  • They’re twitchy

Web design team arguments about usability are a waste of time. Everybody has preferences and we think most web users are like us.

Not “do most people like pulldowns?” but “does this pulldown with these items on this page with this wording in this context on this page work for most users?”  Answer with testing.

Usability testing:  Keep it simple to do more. Test early and often, but one is better than none. Not important to get ‘representative users.’  Doesn’t have to be expensive.

Ideal number of testers per round:  3 to 5.

Two types of testing:

“Get it” testing: Show the site, see if they ‘get it:’ purpose of the site, how organized, how it works, etc.

Key task testing: Ask the person to do something and watch how well they do

What to look for:

  • Can they figure out the site or page?
  • Can they find their way around?
  • Head slappers and shocks
  • Inspiration
  • Passion
  • What to do:
  • Brace yourself
  • Don’t panic
  • Be quiet
  • Grade on the curve
  • You’re seeing their best behavior
  • Pay attention to actions & explanations not opinions

Typical problems

  • Users are unclear on concepts
  • Words they’re looking for aren’t there
  • Too much going on

Takeaways:

  • Make web sites as easy to use as possible
  • Do usability testing at every stage of development

To find more books like this one, search subjects web sites-design and web site development.

Jim Hobbs, Online Services Coordinator