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Doing Your Homework, With Style

As usu­al in all pro­gram­ming list­s, ev­ery once in a while some­one will post a ques­tion in the Python Ar­genti­na list which is ob­vi­ous­ly his home­work. To han­dle that there are two schools of thought.

  1. Telling the stu­­dent how to do it is help­ing them cheat.

  2. Telling the stu­­dent how to do it is teach­ing him.

I tend more to­wards 1) but I think I have dis­cov­ered a mid­dle road:

1.5) Tell the stu­dent a so­lu­tion that's more com­pli­cat­ed than the prob­lem.

That way, if he fig­ures out the so­lu­tion, he has done the work, and if he does­n't fig­ure it out, it's go­ing to be so ob­vi­ous­ly be­yond his skill the teach­er will nev­er ac­cept it as an an­swer.

As an ex­am­ple, here's the prob­lem for which help was re­quest­ed:

Giv­en an un­sort­ed list of two-let­ter el­e­ments (une low­er­case, one up­per­case), for ex­am­ple:

['eD', 'fC', 'hC', 'iC', 'jD', 'bD', 'fH', 'mS', 'aS', 'mD']

Sort it by these cri­te­ri­a:

  1. Cre­ate sub­sets ac­cord­ing to the up­per­case let­ter, and sort them by the num­ber of mem­bers in as­cend­ing or­der, like this:

    ['fH', 'mS', 'aS', 'fC', 'hC', 'iC', 'jD', 'bD', 'eD', 'mD']
  2. Then sort each sub­set in as­cend­ing or­der of the low­er­case let­ter, like this:

    ['fH', 'aS', 'mS', 'fC', 'hC', 'iC', 'bD', 'eD', 'jD', 'mD']

Ig­nor­ing that the prob­lem is not cor­rect­ly writ­ten (there are at least two ways to read it, prob­a­bly more), I pro­posed this so­lu­tion, which re­quires python 3:

from collections import defaultdict
d1 = defaultdict(list)
[d1[i[1]].append(i) for i in  ['eD', 'fC', 'hC', 'iC', 'jD', 'bD', 'fH', 'mS', 'aS', 'mD']]
{i: d1[i].sort() for i in d1}
d2 = {len(d1[i]): d1[i] for i in d1}
print([item for sublist in [d2[i] for i in sorted(d2.keys())] for item in sublist])

This produces the desired result: ['fH', 'aS', 'mS', 'fC', 'hC', 'iC', 'bD', 'eD', 'jD', 'mD'] but it's done in such a way that to understand it, the student will need to understand roughly three or four things he has probably not been taught yet.

A Few Problems with A Song Of Ice and Fire

I read all of it, one book af­ter the oth­er, and end­ed a month ago. And since then, I have had a cou­ple of things about it both­er­ing me. Let's see if they make some sense. Mind you, I am go­ing to read vol­umes six and sev­en, be­cause these books are ad­dic­tive as crack in ebook-­for­m.

But, just like crack, they have some wor­ri­some fea­tures.

There May Be No Plan

We are five books (and a cou­ple of chap­ter­s) in­to it. It's sup­posed to be a sev­en book se­ries. And noth­ing has hap­pened. You may say a lot has, like "this char­ac­ter got killed" and "that oth­er char­ac­ter got killed" (and a hun­dred oth­er char­ac­ters got killed), yeah.

But what has changed in the five king­dom­s?

It's start­ing to feel, these many pages lat­er, as if ... well, who cares what hap­pen­s? The five king­doms will have a king, or an­oth­er. There will be drag­ons (which will sup­port a king or an­oth­er), there is war and ev­ery­one is hav­ing a crap­py time, but hey, all that hap­pened five times in the last hun­dred years or so al­ready.

The hand of the king was killed? Well, so were five of the last sev­en hand­s.

A Tar­garyen may come, lay waste to all the armies of the realm and be crowned? Well, that al­ready hap­pened in the field of fire, and they had Tar­garyens for a while, un­til they ran out of drag­on­s.

The Iron­men may con­quer the north? Well, they al­ready had con­quered it a cou­ple cen­turies ago, and then they lost it.

And so on: any of the pay­offs of the book se­ries has al­ready hap­pened, some of it more than once. So, what's spe­cial about this time around?

Does the au­thor have a plan, some­thing up his sleeve that's go­ing to be a shock? I don't know, but the tricks are start­ing to get repet­i­tive.

What would hap­pen if, af­ter sev­en book­s, it turns out that there's noth­ing spe­cial?

It's Too Earth-Like

The five king­dom­s. Scot­land, Eng­land, Wales, Ire­land and which one? Isle of Man? Be­cause, come on. There's these peo­ple who are al­most ex­act­ly Mon­gol­s, ex­cept they have bells in their hair. There's the pseu­do-viking, the pseu­do-s­cot­s, the er­satz-irish, the fake-i­tal­ian­s, the I-­can't-­be­lieve-it's-not-chi­nese and so on.

There are knight­s, whose ar­mour is ex­act­ly me­dieval ar­mour. There's the sea­far­ing raider­s, on their long­ship­s. Etceter­a, etceter­a, et-f­reak­ing-ceter­a. It's like when­ev­er the au­thor needs to add an "ex­otic" char­ac­ter, he just throws a dart at the map, then an­oth­er, cre­ates a mix 80% one, 20% the oth­er, makes up some sil­ly or­tog­ra­phy rule for names, and that's it.

The Magic is Lazy

So, drag­on­s. And of course, drag­ons cre­ate mag­ic (y­ou can see how lots of mag­i­cal giz­mos start work­ing since the drag­ons came).

So, let's make mag­ic ev­ery­thing. Want to have leg­endary sword­s? Then they are made of Va­lyr­i­an steel. That's mag­i­cal steel, which is why it seems to nev­er need sharp­en­ing. That's why you can have fam­i­ly heir­loom sword­s. Be­cause they are mag­i­cal.

And there's a mag­i­cal door, made of mag­i­cal wood. The mag­i­cal wood comes, of course, from mag­i­cal trees.

And there's fake mag­i­cal sword­s, made by re­al east­ern mag­ic. And there's mag­i­cal as­sas­sin­s. And mag­i­cal coin­s, mag­i­cal can­dles. And so on, and so forth. You can't paint your­self in­to cor­ners when you can count on there be­ing a mag­i­cal paint­brush that lays down paint that does­n't stain the mag­i­cal shoes of the painters of the mag­i­cal land of Painthe­ri­a, whose names al­ways have a dou­ble la­ryn­geal con­so­nant in the mid­dle.

More is More is More is Less

The first book man­ages to tell rough­ly a (earth) year of sto­ry. The fourth and fifth, to­geth­er be­cause they hap­pen si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly, cov­er per­haps three month­s. And there are char­ac­ters we have not seen since book three, when they were just about to say some­thing. We are cur­rent­ly en­ter­ing the third book wait­ing to know what the maid­en of Tarth said at that mo­men­t.

There are books that are about one char­ac­ter, there are those that are about a dozen, there are those that are about one hun­dred. None of the lat­ter is any good. The sto­ry keeps ex­pand­ing and slow­ing down. At this step, all of book sev­en is go­ing to be about a sin­gle day in the lifes of 50 first-per­son char­ac­ter­s, and each one will de­scribe their break­fast, be­fore we un­ex­pect­ed­ly get promised (very soon now) an eight book which will cov­er their post-break­fast craps and clear ev­ery ques­tion we may have had about the sub­jec­t.

Fan Service

You, who know what was in the pies served in the feast at Win­ter­fell in vol­ume 5, you are be­ing spoon­fed that kind of thing to make you feel smart and knowl­edge­able. If you don't know what was in that pie... well, YOU MISSED IT.

And how is it a good idea to write three pages that (if you have a good mem­o­ry) shout what was in that pie, when it's a sto­ry about a third-­line and fourth-­line char­ac­ters whose names noone will re­mem­ber?

Well, it's a good idea be­cause it's fan ser­vice, and fans love be­ing served. But it's a cyn­i­cal, cal­cu­lat­ing move. You are be­ing served bad pie there, fan­s.

So, Are the Books Good?

They are awe­some. I can't wait for the sixth vol­ume. George RR Mar­t­in, here's my mon­ey. Tell me a sto­ry.

Twitter Off

A week ago, I took a de­ci­sion I had not seen com­ing. I shut down com­ments on this blog un­less the post was tech­ni­cal. Be­cause I could not stand some of the com­ments any­more. I said "com­ments down for a mon­th, and then I'll see if I miss them".

Well, so far I don't, as you can see by this post hav­ing com­ments dis­abled.

To­day, I am re­mov­ing the com­ment track of my life. I an shut­ting down my twit­ter ac­coun­t. Some au­to­mat­ic posts will go out, but I am not read­ing it and am not no­ti­fied of any­thing. Again, it's "twit­ter down for a mon­th, and then I'll see if I miss it΅.

Hope­ful­ly I will not.

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