Felicity Smoak, My Heroine

And the title of my blog comes from this scene in the CW’s Arrow.  No copyright infringement intended.

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Non-Fiction Textbook Book Review – Adobe InDesign CC Revealed

  • Title: Adobe InDesign Creative Cloud Revealed
  • Author: Chris Botello
  • Subject: Graphic Design, Adobe InDesign, Software
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 04/08/2015

This was my textbook for a recent class in Adobe InDesign, at a local Community College. I liked the textbook, and I’ve bought two more in the series. The book starts with the very basics of InDesign – the workspace and adaptable panels, and precedes, chapter by chapter, to go through major features.

Each chapter includes numerous project-type examples you can do with the software (if you have it) and learn along with the book. The end of each chapter has a Skills Review – usually assigned as homework in my class, for practicing the skills explained in the chapter, a Project Builder – one or more more involved exercises, that can be added to a student portfolio, and the Design and Portfolio Project – which are further examples for building a portfolio or discussion-provoking questions about a design. In order to successfully complete any of the skills reviews, Design Projects, Portfolio Projects, or Project Builders, you must be able to download and access the data files for the textbook. For me, these were found on the school server, from the path my instructor gave me. However, going from the other books in the series, there are publicly-accessible websites from the publisher for downloading zip files of the data files.

The chapters included good information, and the skills review and other exercises reinforced the knowledge of each chapter.

There were a few things to watch out for, however:

  1. Sometimes instructions referred to skills one hasn’t learned yet, and were in the subsequent chapters – this happened rarely, but was annoying when it did.
  2. Following the skills reviews step-by-step often involved using different methods to accomplish the exact same goal. Though I understand why multiple techniques towards the same end might be taught, it often became either annoying or boring (who wants to do the same thing three times using slightly different methods?); on rare occasions it even became confusing (I thought I did X by using tool Y – now you’re telling me to use tool C?).
  3. Format of the book/skills review. Sigh. It’s a rectangler book, which opens on the skinny side – depending on your desk, it can be hard to work with, compared to a standard portrait-style book. (Try picturing a landscaped Excel spreadsheet verses a standard Word doc). The font in the skills review sections is a bit too small to read comfortably.
  4. Every once in awhile the printed instructions and the pictures did not match. My guess is the text was revised but some illustrations weren’t updated.

Finally, just for me, personally, I would have liked at least some chances to do more creative things, rather than blindly following instructions. I mean, I did try various things out anyway, but when someone hands you a playbox – it’s a shame when you can’t creatively use the toys.

Overall, a great textbook, and, like I said – I ordered two other books in the series. Recommended.

Book Review – The Severed Streets

  • Title: The Severed Streets
  • Author: Paul Cornell
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/29/2014

The Severed Streets is Paul Cornell’s sequel to London Falling but whereas London Falling started slow because there was a lot of set-up, The Severed Streets jumps right in. It’s a brilliant novel that I highly recommend, but I also don’t want to spoil it. Simply read this novel.

The plot is three-fold: due to government cuts to salaries and personnel the London Metropolitan Police are threatening an illegal but justified strike. Fed-up with the Coalition government cuts to necessary services, “flash mobs” in Toff masks and costumes are showing up all over London, raising havoc and slowly becoming more and more violent. And, in the midst of all this, James Quill’s special unit is called to investigate supernatural murders in impossible places that superficially resemble the crimes of Jack-the-Ripper.

The novel draws you in to its world and moves fast. Reading the book kept me up late for several nights because I could not put it down. And it’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that was that engrossing.

This is a somewhat depressing book – but it’s a story with hope too. At it’s heart it’s more of a Supernatural mystery or crime story than fantasy – James Quill and his unit are cops – cops with special abilities, which they acquired in an accident in the first novel in the series, London Falling. And, yes, by the end of the novel, like in all crime stories, the crime is solved. But in no way is the story predictable, there was only one detail where I could have predicted something would happen that did – and it happened in an unpredictable way (and my reaction was more along the lines of how series fiction works than anything the author telescoped unnecessarily).

The book was awesome, and the last line is an “OMG!” moment that stuck in my head for days. I highly recommend this novel, and I dearly hope there will be another book in the series.

Non-Fiction Textbook Review – The Non-Designer’s Design Book

  • Title: The Non-Designer’s Design Book
  • Author: Robin Williams
  • Subject: Graphic Design, Technical Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/22/2015

I bought this book for an advanced Technical Writing class, then ironically had to drop the class because I got a full-time job. I just picked up the book again and read it all the way through.

The good points – this is a quick and breezy book with a lot of examples. I felt most of the examples clearly illustrated the points that the author, an experienced graphic designer, was trying to make.

The bad points – the section on website design was extremely out of date. Recent research on how people use the web emphasizes two things: for websites, san serif fonts are easier to read, especially for large blocks of print (the opposite is true for printed books – where serif fonts are easier to read); and second, although customers hate horizontal (or back-and-forth) scrolling on websites, vertical scrolling is OK. In fact, with the phenomenal growth of tablets and smart phones, vertical scrolling is not only OK – it’s expected.

The author repeats the out-of-date, graphic design advice that “everything has to fit on a standard screen size for a webpage”. That simply isn’t true anymore, in part because there is no standard screen size – a flat-screen monitor may be large and square – or thin and rectangular (widescreen). And then there’s screens which are very small and vertical (smartphone), or vertical and larger (tablet), or even medium sized and horizontal (tablet in landscape mode). Since you have no idea what the viewing screen will be – deciding the “optimum” screen size and designing for it isn’t possible. The latest marketing tools talk about “flowable” screens and “design for mobile”. However, that’s really only one chapter of this book – and the basic design principles probably haven’t changed, especially when designing for paper (books, magazines, newsletters, print ads) etc.

My other gripe was the Mac-Centered nature of the book. Yes, I realize that graphic design was one area that has been traditionally dominated by Apple computer products – but I use a Microsoft Windows PC, and when I use Adobe products (Acrobat, InDesign, Photoshop) it’s the Windows-versions of those products that I use. It was annoying for most of the sample typefaces to be Mac-specific fonts, or the Mac version of fonts because that makes it hard to figure out the specifics of some of the lessons. At least a comparative list of Mac vs. Window fonts would have helped.

Still, I enjoyed reading The Non-Designer’s Design Book and I felt I learned something from it. It also wasn’t overwhelming at all, which is perfect for an introductory textbook.

Here are three recent blog posts all declaring that for on-line use san serif fonts are more readable (serif fonts still rule for paper publications).

What’s the Most Readable Font for the Screen?

Screen Readability

The Best Fonts: Print, Screen, Email

The concept of designing, without design, that is – to allow a website site to flow correctly on any screen size from an extra-large PC Monitor to a small smart phone is known as Responsive Design.

 

Book Review – London Falling

  • Title: London Falling
  • Author: Paul Cornell
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 04/02/2014

“You with the tentacles, you’re nicked!” ~ Paul Cornell ~ London Falling

The first fifty pages or so of London Falling read like a gritty British police drama. Four cops are working their last night on a long complicated case to catch a gangster. One of the cops is dirty, and the others are just exhausted – knowing if this last desperate try doesn’t work, their funding will be pulled and they won’t be able to continue to pursue Toshack. It’s all or nothing. They catch him, but he dies in police custody in mysterious circumstances. Circumstances that have nothing to do with the usual suspects of bent coppers. The investigation quickly changes everything as the four cops (one’s an technical analyst) develop The Sight, and end up on a much stranger case.

Technically, I would give this book three and a half stars. It reads more like horror than fantasy. And, although I liked it – the story was SO dark, at times I just didn’t feel like picking up the book. However, the story does move at a good clip, once it gets going, and I loved the last few chapters.

The end of the book sets up a sequel, which is apparently coming next May. I’ll look forward to it. Much of this novel felt like set-up and introduction, and a full story set in this world with these characters could be really cool.

Oddly enough, when I was reading the book, I thought it would make a great television series. Paul Cornell is nothing if not a visual writer. In the afterword, the author mentions it was originally a television series pitch from “decades ago”.

PS: This movie has nothing whatsoever to do with the recent (2014-2016) apocalyptic disaster film with the same title.

Non-Fiction Textbook Review – Spring into Technical Writing for Scientists and Engineers

  • Title: Spring into Technical Writing for Scientists and Engineers
  • Author: Barry J. Rosenberg
  • Subject: Technical Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/22/2012

Update: – Read this for a technical writing class, back in 2012, per the date on GoodReads.

Spring into Technical Writing is a textbook, however, it is useful and even amusing at times. Some of the examples are a bit overwhelming but I like a challenge, and they weren’t so dense as to be completely off-putting or to cause me to put the book down.

This was a very readable textbook. It kept my interest and was a quick read. It also seemed to be full of good advice. I really liked the “bad”, “better”, “good”, “best” examples throughout the book and it could have used even more. I did at times find that the book was a bit simplistic (I do know, believe it or not, the difference between a serif and sans-serif font) and throughout the book often the starting point for a section or chapter was too easy. On the other hand, the chapter on HTML was very difficult for me. Yes, I realize this wasn’t a manual on learning HTML, but that seemed to be the only section in the book that assumed some pre-knowledge that I didn’t have. (The web is like a car, I can use it but I don’t know or care how it works. I know more about how a server and a network “serve” web pages, and the meaning of terms like “caching web browser” than I do about HTML – and I’ve learned more HTML from the Goodreads website than any web design book I’ve read or class I started then quit). But I digress. Other than the HTML section, which I intend to re-read, I found this textbook to be light-hearted, useful, and fun to read. The humor and examples helped.

Second Update: Since reading this book, I’ve learned more HTML by using WordPress, and from my four-month stint as a knowledge base writer/editor. So I should probably re-read the HTML section and see if it’s less confusing.

Book Review – Captain VorPatril’s Alliance

  • Title: Captain VorPatril’s Alliance
  • Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/02/2014

I’ve been a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels since a friend handed me a well-worn paperback copy of Shards of Honor and said “Read this,” and I did, then read my own copy many times. I’ve eagerly devoured every new novel in the series since. Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, however, isn’t about Miles, but rather his cousin, Ivan, the one often referred to as “that idiot Ivan”. However, this novel is entirely from Ivan’s point of view, and it is extremely funny.

The end of Chapter 6, literally had me laughing out loud. I know it’s common to describe something very funny as LOL, but seriously – I laughed, out loud, as Ivan manages to get himself accidentally married to get himself and a female friend out of a spot of bother, as well as her “maid”.

The rest of the novel follows Ivan and his new spouse, Tej back to Barrayar. Just as they are getting used to their new life, Barrayaran politics, and Ivan’s family and extended relatives, the novel’s second surprise arrives – which I won’t spoil.

I finished this novel late last night, or should I say, early this morning, and it’s been a long time since I’ve stayed up that late to finish a book.

Needless to say, it’s a brilliant, funny, fun, adventurous, wonderful tale, and I highly recommend it.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Chicks Dig Comics

  • Title: Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comics by the Women Who Love Them
  • Author: Lynne M. Thomas,  (eds.)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/11/2015

Chicks Dig Comics not only covers Marvel and DC Comics, but independent comics, magna, graphic novels, even French comics. The essays are thought-provoking and intelligent, well-written and fun. Many of the writers are feminists, but don’t let that put you off – these women have something to say, and it isn’t entirely telling DC and Marvel off.

One point brought up several times was something I realised myself when I read comics (DC) in the 90s – Comic books are soap operas for boys. And just like boys might be teased for liking traditional afternoon soaps, girls were often not simply teased, but bullied, harassed etc. The women in these essays tell stories of comics’ shops with actual or virtual “No Girls Allowed” signs, playboy magazines next to comics racks, or even in the industry being treated as everything from a sex object to “one of the guys”.

Yet at the same time, the women in these pages tell of their love for comics, including traditional superheroes comics.

The collection also includes interviews with comics professionals – male and female, about women audiences for comics.

This light and breezy quick read is highly recommended.