Review: Barrayar

Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga, #2)Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Someone said that this book was a lot better than Shards of Honor. I thought it was much worse. The first half of the book was pure political drama setting up for the action-packed last quarter of the book. Unfortunately, because of the way the author chose to name all of the lords and lordlings, things get very confusing.

My main beef with Barrayar was personality changes that both Vorkosigan and Cordelia went through. Cordelia in the first book was a strong-willed, clever woman who wasn’t hung up on gender roles. Cordelia in this book was a whiney, stubborn woman who’s only goal was to first have a son, and then later, to save this unborn son, even at the cost of her close friends, lots of death, and extended political turmoil.

Vorkosigan in this book turned into some no-direction, one-dimensional character that seemed to be hiding in the late emperor’s shadow. Maybe that’s what the author was trying to convey, but I rather liked him in Shards of Honor, and was just annoyed with him in this book.

To make up for my dislike of the two main characters, I found myself gravitating to the supporting cast this time. Koudelka and Drou’s attempt at flirting was entertaining and I was relieved when they finally found a way to resolve their relationship.

I’m still torn about the Bothari character. The author takes great pains to point that he’s mentally unstable. Funny how he always manages to find his stability to save the day in any situation that requires brawn. In fact, it’s annoying how Cordelia *always* succeeds. There’s just no tension at all because she always gets what she wants.

Perhaps I’m cold and I have no mothering instinct at all, but I was annoyed at Cordelia’s reaction to the whole baby situation. She was willing to cause more political strife to try and save one unborn life. It seemed incredibly selfish to me, and I was hoping Cordelia was beyond that. Because of my annoyance of the central plot, I was disengaged from the entire book. Not sure if I want to read the rest now. I guess I should at least give the actual Miles books a try.

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Review: The Design of Everyday Things

The Design of Everyday ThingsThe Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 stars.

The book has a handful of solid arguments when it comes to general designing and lots of examples (albeit dated examples) to back it up. The previous title of this book (the Psychology of Everyday Things) is a better fit because most of the book is about how the user’s mind works when faced with a product or object.

It’s an okay design book, but I have to say that the way the book’s formatted is confusing. For being a book about design, it sure makes it hard to figure out why whole paragraphs are italicized (are they anecdotes from other people? examples? excerpts from other papers??) and which section headings have hierarchy over others.

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Buckwheat Pillow = a good night’s sleep

I have no idea how this idea formed in my mind, but a few months ago, I decided that I had to have a buckwheat pillow.  After some internet research, I was even more convinced that I needed one.  My usual preference for a pillow is something firm, but not too high, and a buckwheat hull-stuffed pillow sounded right up my alley.

I ordered a twin-sized pillow from which I found through Amazon. Strangely enough, their price on Amazon including free shipping was more than their price on the site with non-free shipping, which is why I ended up ordering directly from their site.

When the pillow finally came, I understood why the shipping was so much. Buckwheat hulls are heavy. As many reviewers noted, the pillow came over-stuffed, so I had to empty about 1/3 of the buckwheat out of it. These, I keep in a ziplock for refilling the pillow later, when the buckwheat in the pillow has been polished down.

My first couple of nights on the pillow weren’t as restful as I had expected. This is the first pillow I’ve come across with a learning curve. First, there’s the noise. It’s pretty crunchy when I move my head around it. I think it’s only loud to me because my head is directly on it, but luckily it doesn’t seem to bother Will.

Then there’s the firmness. I’m all for a firm pillow, but this pillow is really firm. Like plopping your face on a mound of sand firm.  I’ve found that if I smush the part of the pillow where my head usually rests down before I actually put my head there, it makes a perfect cavity for where my head would be, while still giving me neck support. It’s awesome. I can move around as much as I want on the pillow and it still seems to hold its shape fairly well.

The pillow also works well for when I want to sleep on my side. It’s hard to explain, but the way the pillow supports the side of my face and my shoulder is really comfortable.

I was afraid that the pillow would be all hype because all the raving reviews I’ve read of buckwheat on The Internets, but here I am, adding to the hype. It really is a great pillow for people who like firmer material. It’s pricier than all the other pillows I’ve owned, but it’s certainly cheaper than some $100 ergonomic foam pillow.