Thursday, October 06, 2011

Review Day

There are no spoilers in these reviews.

UML Distilled by Martin Fowler:
Unified Modeling Language is the specification that allows you to model your complex code designs through diagrams, for the illiterate in your audience. The full specification is heavier than I am, but Fowler successfully pares it down in this book to 200 pages of "the parts he finds most useful". This is more than sufficient for an overview, and his perspectives are very sensible. Fowler sees the power of UML as way to relate a design through whiteboard diagrams, and not as a rigid blueprint for generating code, and his successful distillation makes a dry topic pretty bearable.

Final Grade: B

Koop Islands by Koop:
This is one of those weird jazz CDs that's part nightclub combo and part dinner music, but it's effective and enjoyable to listen to. I first heard the song, Koop Island Blues on Pandora.

Final Grade: B

Deathspank:
I picked up this bargain bin indie action RPG because of the design participation of Ron Gilbert, the creator of the Monkey Island series. It mixes Diablo-style action with humorous dialogue trees and a minimum of puzzle-solving, and seemed like it'd be worth a playthrough. The base action of fighting monsters and gaining loot are pretty standard (and mildly boring), and what sets the game apart is the Monkey Islandesque humor when talking to characters in the game. Unfortunately, funny dialogue isn't as effective as it was when I was 12. I think that the problem I have with this game (and other funny-dialogue games like the new Sam and Max episodes) is that I read too fast. The dialogue isn't as funny when I've already read it before the characters actually speak, and I'm too impatient to sit through a bunch of voice acting with or without the text appearing onscreen. I played this game for about four hours total and then drifted back to replay Portal 2 again.

Final Grade: C-

The Corner by David Simon and Edward Burns:
This nonfiction book about urban problems in Baltimore doesn't directly drive the plot of The Wire, but all of the components that make The Wire a successful show can be seen germinating here. At times, the book feels like Les Miserables set in Baltimore, as the authors focus on a few sympathetic characters against a backdrop of many faces, occasionally interjecting diatribes about the state of society that run on for a few pages before returning to the characters.

It is also like Les Mis by virtue of the fact that it's about 20% too long. It's definitely worth reading and makes a compelling case, but white guilt fatigue will set in fairly early on, making the remaining 500 pages a grim chore to slog through. It could have used a bit more time in the editing room, both to make the narrative tighter and to correct the noticeable level of misspellings and grammar issues.

Final Grade: B-

Swiss speedster trapped by his own mobile phone
Qualify first, drink later: Advocaat tells Russia
U.S military to field-test "throwable" robots in Afghanistan

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