Archive for July 25, 2007

links for 2007-07-25

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Comment is free: Harry Potter: the economics

Comment is free: Harry Potter: the economics

The low opportunity cost attached to magic spills over into the thoroughly unbelievable wizard economy. Why are the Weasleys poor? Why would any wizard be? Anything they need, except scarce magical objects, can be obtained by ordering a house elf to do it, or casting a spell, or, in a pinch, making objects like dinner, or a house, assemble themselves. Yet the Weasleys are poor not just by wizard standards, but by ours: they lack things like new clothes and textbooks that should be easily obtainable with a few magic words. Why?

The answer, as with so much of JK Rowling’s work, seems to be “she didn’t think it through”. The details are the great charm of Rowling’s books, and the reason that I have pre-ordered my copy of the seventh novel: the owl grams, the talking portraits, the Weasley twins’ magic tricks. But she seems to pay no attention at all to the big picture, so all the details clash madly with each other. It’s the same reason she writes herself into plot holes that have to be resolved by making characters behave in inexplicable ways.

This matters. If the cost of magic isn’t well defined, how do we know what resources, other than plucky determination, Harry needs to defeat Voldemort? We certainly can’t rely on his mental acumen; he’s spent the last two books acting like a brain-damaged refugee from The Dirty Dozen.

I especially like that last clause – a concise summary of an earlier paragraph:

JK Rowling is not, to put it mildly, known for her seamless plotting or the gripping realism of her characters, most of whom spend the latter books pointlessly withholding information from each other that, if shared, would end the installment somewhere around page ten.

Now begins my impatient wait for the paperback release.

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Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | Ethical shopping is just another way of showing how rich you are

George Monbiot – author of much good work on GCC – has penned a little article worth reading.  The take home message is that we need to emphasize the first word in the holy trinity: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | Ethical shopping is just another way of showing how rich you are

He flicked through it for a moment, and then summed up the problem in seven words: “This is for people who don’t work.”

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A List Apart: Articles: Never Use a Warning When You Can Use Undo

 The article title is poor grammar and misleading – I have corrected it in my post title but make no mistake – this is possible the most important article on software design that y0u will read all year. Please click through.

\A List Apart: Articles: Never Use a Warning When you Mean Undo

What have we learned? That interfaces that dont respect habituation are very bad. Making the warning bigger, louder, and impossible-to-ignore doesnt seem to work; any way we look at it, warnings lead us into a big black interface pit. So lets get rid of the warning altogether.
Undo to the rescueMerely removing warnings doesnt save our work from peril, but using an “undo” function does. Let me say that again: The solution to our warning woes is undo. With a robust undo, we can close our work with reckless abandon and be secure in the knowledge that we can always get it back. With undo, we can make that horrible “oops” feeling go away by getting our work back.

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