Michael Connelly and Hieronymous Bosch

The series covers at least 20 years. They are solid police procedurals with a side of noir. I’ve been reading them out of order and it’s gotten a little confusing. Harry was a detective with the LAPD, he retired, then he unretired, then he was forced back into retirement. He’s been suspended at least twice just in the books I’ve read. He’s the man who goes down the mean streets following his own strict moral code, “Everyone counts or no one counts.” I have been enjoying these, especially after seeing the Amazon series. That cast all the characters perfectly.

Angels Flight is the earliest in this batch and sixth in the series. The deputy police chief asks Harry and his team to investigate a politically charged murder. The book is set shortly after the Rodney King civil suit and LA is still ready to go up in flames. A police brutality suit complicates the investigation. Connelly’s writing perfectly evokes the seamier side of LA politics and the frustration of poorer, black neighborhoods. I’m almost always surprised by who the killer is.

Nine Dragons. Nine Dragons refers to Hong Kong where a third of the book is set. A shopkeeper Harry met at the end of Angels Flight is murdered. The triads are the initial suspect. When Harry’s daughter disappears in Hong Kong, Harry suspects the two events are related. A shocking event in Hong Kong cuts short Hary’s stay there. There’s an equally surprising resolution to the shopkeeper’s death. The twocases are more tightly woven than has been the case in other Bosch books I’ve read.

The Drop is set two years after Nine Dragons. Harry gets two cases to investigate, one through the Cold Case squad and one a political hot potato. DNA found in an old murder case traces back to an eight-year old boy. An LA councilman’s son has died – was it murder, suicide, or accident? Harry fears betrayal by friends and coworkers. He sees betrayals in these cases he’s investigating. There are some nice moments with his daughter Maddy. The politics, or as Harry calls it “high jingo,” are believable.

The Brass Verdict. Harry meets Connelly’s other series character, Mickey Haller. Haller comes back to work after a long hiatus when he inherits another attorney’s cases. Harry is investigating the death. The dead attorney had been working on a high profile Hollywood murder. There’s jury tampering and possible federal involvement. It’s interesting to see Harry through another’s eyes. We find out at the end the two men are related.

WordPress MeetUp: Theme Reviews and Colors

Leland Fiegel discusses theme reviews

Leland Fiegel discusses theme reviews

Leland Fiegel discussed “Passing Theme Review With Flying Colors”

My top three takeaways: Repurpose failed client design as a WordPress theme. Reviewers just look at code, not prettiness. GPL compliance is essential.

Beth Soderberg discussed “All the Colors of the Internet”

My top three takeaways: Perception of color is personal, not universal. Colors render differently with different technical tools. Using color as cues to action is cruel.

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Fundraising 101

1776, the business incubator, offered a sneak peek at its 12-week class on fundraising.

My Big Three Takeaways: Show traction. Be persistent. Showcase strategic thinking.

Overview from Steve Grauber
Roadmap
1. Bootstrap – yourself
2. Friends and family round – dentist, etc
3. Seed round – micro funds and angels
4. Series A – bigger
5. Series B – biggest

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Italian Mysteries for the Summer Heat

The Inpector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri, trans. by Stephen Sartarelli. Inspector Montalbano has a caustic wit, a susceptible heart, and a fondness for seafood prepared the Sicilian way. He has a flexible attitude toward the truth but manages to solve the most bizarre crimes in Sicily. This series also represents the perfect partnership between author and translator. The author is skilled at telling the story through interior monologues and dialogues with coworkers, and the translator captures the nuances of slang and politics.
The Smell of the Night. Retirees in the area have fallen victim to a Madoff-type scheme. The perpetrator vanished, but when his body is found the investigation picks up speed.  Mimi is getting married and Livia and Montalbano are having problems. Montalbano’s character is not the most likable. He’s awful to superiors and subordinates alike. Somehow the author makes it work. The killer’s identity was a surprise.
The Wings of the Sphinx. The sphinx referred to here is a moth. The tattoos are an important clue. The story as always is carried through internal monologues by the Inspector and conversations with the squad. The plot concerns a murdered Russian prostitute.  There are the usual lush descriptions of meals. Very enjoyable and a quick read.
August Heat. Rather a melancholy offering from Camilleri. He’s feeling trapped – in Vigata, in his relationships. He’s feeling his age and the weather isn’t helping. Montalbano’s susceptible heart really gets him into trouble this time. It’s a good summer read.
Angelica’s Smile. Another instance of Montalbano thinking with the heart instead of the brain. A series of robberies convince Montalbano there’s a mastermind at work. One of the victims, a beautiful young bank teller, interferes as much as she helps. The plot is more intricate than usual. The author said it’s based on real-life Italian robberies. The quotations from Ariosto are apt and the ending surprised me.

Librarian’s Recs for July

From my local librarians, plus a mystery from a favorite writer.

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown. The story alternates between Margie in Paris in 1924 and Maddy in the American South in 1999. Men in both eras have much more freedom, while women are expected to marry and let husbands rule the roost. Maddy and Margie each try traveling to learn about life’s possibilities. Margie goes to Paris, but Maddy returns home.  In 1924, the two main male characters are given five years with family support to wander Europe. Margie barely gets three months on her own. All three must return to fulfill family wishes. Both characters give up their dreams but Madeline breaks the cycle and eventually recaptures hers. The alternating POVs worked for me. I started out annoyed at the privileged characters but learned to see past that. That was one point of the book, that we can be trapped by certain class expectations.

My Organic Life by Nora Pouillon. An interesting memoir/autobiography from the premier chef of the organic food movement. Chef Nora was born at the end of World War 2 in Austria and learned the value of fresh food. She and her husband moved to Washington DC in the late 60s and she was horrified at the lack of fresh food in American supermarkets. The narrative covers the evolution of her ideas on fresh, organic food for restaurants and also making it available through farmers markets. She had an unconventional private life and discusses it straightforwardly. It was an interesting read.

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott. I had a hard time at first with this book. I thought the protagonist was a little too Mary Sue. Midwestern girl, through spunk and perseverance, lands a job as Carole Lombard’s assistant while Clark Gable is filming Gone With the Wind. She eventually become a Hollywood scriptwriter. The book covers Gone With the Wind problems, the Lombard-Gable relationship, and the runup to World War 2. The writig did eventually suck me in, and I enjoyed the book.

The Graveyard of the Hesperides by Lindsey Davis. The fourth installment of the Flavia Albia series. Flavia is marrying Tiberius but has one last case to resolve before the wedding day. The wedding preparations are interspersed with the criminal details and both are done beautifully. The writing is witty, the research is meticulous, and the characters are authentic. Highly recommended.

 

How I Lose Interest in Mystery Series

This series is almost a textbook example as to why I stop reading authors. Cynthia Riggs’ series is quite popular, but I’ve given up on it. Here’s how it happened.

Deadly Nightshade by Cynthia Riggs. The first book in a nice cozy series with Victoria Trumball, an older woman sleuth, set on Martha’s Vineyard. The book has lovely descriptions but the plot is a little unnecessarily convoluted. Still, I will read the next in the series.

 

The Cranefly Orchid Murders. The second book on the series and it’s quite different. The cast of characters has changed, though Victoria is still the main character. The plot is interesting. A woman has a prime piece of real estate on Martha’s Vineyard. Several groups would like to purchase it for different reasons. Several deaths ensue. She provides extensive descriptions and I like reading about Martha’s Vineyard. The ending is the disappointment. Victoria doesn’t solve the murders. She listens while the murderer conveniently explains everything.

 

Jack and the Pulpit. The fourth book in the series. I wasn’t pleased. The main story was predictable. The author would abandon it for several chapters at a time, for a secondary, rather boring, story. I listened to the audiobook. I don’t think mysteries are best-suited for audiobooks, as there’s too much to keep track of. The vocal presentation was annoying. The reader seemed to be channeling Kathryn Hepburn for Victoria Trumbull. She didn’t have much vocal variety for the male characters. This is supposed to be the fourth book in the series, but this is where she gets a badge and hat, which appeared in earlier books.

 

Death and Honesty by Cynthia Riggs. Part of the Victoria Trumball series set on Martha’s Vineyard. Tax cheats in City Hall, porn producers, murder. I think I’m done with this series. The notion of a 92-year-old deputy isn’t credible, especially when the police chief is aiming for professionalism. The author veers off into long descriptions that don’t further the plot. I found it a little hard to believe that City Hall employees could cheat taxpayers for 39 years and not one taxpayer noticed.

 

I’d rather read Philip Craig’s series, also set on the island.

Designing for Offline Experiences

My takeaways from the first meeting of UXDC, hosted by agencyCHIEF, covering design for offline experiences and using technology to improve assessments.

 

Using Technology to Improve Assessments

 

Cynthia Parshall does usability testing for computer-based standardized testing. When users are taking a timed test, the interface can actually hurt them. Good design for the interface can reduce test-taking anxieties. She presented practical examples of user interfaces and pointed out issues to be aware of. Iterations of screens revealed problems with fonts, colors and styles. The use of color can be problematic for low-vision test-takers. Highlight current steps. If the user can’t answer one section of a test, they have to be able to move to the next section. Most important is the question of validity. Does the test measure what it is supposed to?

 

Designing for Offline Experiences

 

Steven Trevathan (@strewat) made a persuasive argument for designing the offline experience first. Apps that just tell us we are offline or unsynced aren’t helpful. It’s all about context. Some of the problematic environments include traveling with limited connectivity, low battery, or users with a prepaid plan. There are also users who are mobile, e.g. trying to process payments at different trade fairs. There are users who are connected but see only a blank screen. Error codes don’t mean much to users.

 

Consider designing for the most constrained and difficult environments first. What works? Focus on your core instructions. Instagram is good at using an optimistic response, but that should be used carefully. Another approach is a Placeholder/Skeleton UI to show what’s coming. The process would be to show core interaction and core value, and then add contextual design.