During the new years in

During the new years in Idaho, I relaxed by consuming media. I read two books and watched a handful of movies, the following are short reviews of each.

Books
Survivor – I read Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club before the movie came out, and was impressed by the originality and the dark humor. I remember many people saying Fight Club (the movie and/or book) was troubling, but I felt Survivor affected me much more. In the first part of the book, the narrator is pretty much a Tyler Durden type. The second part satirizes the road to fame, and the last bit deals with death. Overall, I liked it even more than Fight Club, but came away with a feeling of despair about death.

Don’t Make Me Think – I heard good things about this book, but was skeptical after reading other books and websites on usability. I hated Jakob’s book. It was overpriced and filled with hard rules of how to design according to Jakob, with little talk of intended audience, and very little data to support his bold claims. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug was refreshing in comparison. I highly recommend it to anyone building sites that isn’t strictly in the IA (information architecture) area (I could see IAs thinking the book covers beginner stuff), and especially to designers wanting to build sites anyone can use. Krug presents reasons for certain layouts and some basic style guidelines, and most of it is backed by empirical evidence of past sites and usability tests. He also presents a range of solutions for several common elements of page design. Instead of saying “all instances of X need to look like Y” he explains how users would interact with different options, and how they can range from being obvious to being obscure to users. It’s a short book, and the author states why, so anyone can get through it in just a few hours. Even though I’ve been designing for a long time and thinking about all the issues raised in the book, I still came away with quite a few useful tips and ways to think about layouts.

DVDs
Galaxy Quest – making fun of star trek is still quite funny.

Ronin – watched only for enjoying the car chases on the surround sound system, I forgot how badly the spy-thriller storyline fell flat.

Toy Story 2 – 3D rendering and animation has come so far. Funnier than the first movie and with plenty of eye candy to look at.

The Conversation – supposedly a classic, it just felt slow, aimless, and altogether pointless. If it were done today, the film’s 113 minutes could probably fit within a half hour. Nice to see early 70′s San Francisco though.

Rushmore – still one of the funniest movies of the 90′s for me.

Wallace and Gromit – great claymation, though I forgot to bring the remote so we were stuck with Grand Day Out, probably Nick Park’s weakest outing.

The Player – I’ve always loved this one. Watching it this time, I was taken with the camera work. There were some great long shots (going several minutes without a cut), and interesting use of variable focus/perspective shots.

Usual Suspects – great writing and acting, I’m still amazed this one cost only about six million to make. It looks so much better.