Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

I've never been a big fan of fanfiction. I think that the alternate storyline presented in the fanfic intereferes with and contaminates my perception of the fictional universe as presented by the original author. Perhaps it matters so much to me only because I think too much about how fictional universes work. But I am a person who doesn't believe that thinking too much is a problem.

In my view any fictional universe is like a parallel universe governed by natural laws specified by the original author. But no living author can completely write down every single detail of the natural laws and physical occurrences in their fictional universe. It is impractical and will probably detract from the entertainment readers will get out of the book. So when, at the end of the last book in the Harry Potter series, J.K Rowling adds a section preceded by the statement "Nineten Years Later" we have to fill in with our own imagination how exactly Harry grew up in those 19 years and how exactly he got married, what job he took up, et cetera, et cetera ..
Until the original author fills in those details they are mysterious, unknown.

But if you really stop to think you'll realize that nothing actually happened in those 19 years. The fictional universe has no  real  existence. It's not like a biography of Albert Einstein in which the biographer says "Einstein spent his time in the Swiss patent office working on physics he liked." and we know for certain that this happened and there was a specific way in which it happened, a specific way he wrote, an expression on his face as he thought. In a fictional story no detail in the story actually exists until the author writes it down. And to me only  the details specified by the author are actually part of the fictional universe everything else not directly deducible that was imagined by the reader (or fanfic writers) are variables. They are just one possible way in which it could have turned out but not the way it actually turned out. So when I read fan fiction I ususally feel as though I am reading a fake story. I constantly fear that the real Harry Potter or the real Tom Sawyer is going to burst into my mental reading room to claim that all those things never really happened and that the fanfic is a big fat lie.

However Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is a rare exception. I have never been more impressed by fan fiction. In fact, I think it would be completely unfair to call this story fan fiction. I think it has evolved into something more. It is more accurate to say that HPMoR is a fantastic tool that teaches the principles of rationality that merely uses the framework and characters of the Harry Potter universe as a basis. I have never been more engrossed in a book before. The first time I discovered HPMoR I read for about five consecutive hours completely absorbed and never once getting bored. In the end I had to tear myself away from it after realizing that pulling an all nighter probably wasn't going to help me with writing that pesky exam I had the next morning.

Trust me, this is a story you should NOT miss. You can start here: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5782108/1/Harry_Potter_and_the_Methods_of_Rationality In a few days I will post a more detailed review of the Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Arduino

About a week ago I bought an Arduino, a single board micro controller as part of my venture into hobby electronics. It is an amazing tool to work with. And it's completely open source! I just have to connect it to the computer using a USB port and upload a program using the IDE freely available on the Arduino website and I'm good to go.

Here's a little demo. I wrote a basic program which plays a melody.

I tried to add in some chords as well but it turns out that the Arduino can only generate one frequency at a time even if you have two speakers. So you can't use it to generate elaborate musical pieces. It works well for old 8-bit music from the legendary 1990s game consoles though.