Added March 11, 2012Edit
I’ll update fan art along with the next chapter – I just don’t have time to do it right now.
News #1: I’ve moved to Berkeley, a big change from commuting between Redwood City and Berkeley like for the last several months. (I actually was set up to update Friday before the move, and then somebody pointed out that this was the eve of the SAT in America which is pretty darned important as life events go; then Saturday was the move; but at least I’m squeaking in on the 11th, at the end of the promised period.) Being in Berkeley may or may not speed up my writing; I make no promises, but it sure was tiring the other way. In any case it’s probably better if you treat future installments as novellas that arrive now and then, rather than chapters you expect on a weekly basis. I’m still writing faster than a lot of professional writers, and individual event-chapters will be published as soon as they’re finished.
News #2: Fanfiction.net has disabled links in author’s profiles. As a result, all information previously in the author’s profile (fanart, translations, etc.) has been moved to HPMOR.com, which now also offers one-click, no-login-required email subscription to future chapter updates. If you aren’t already signed up for email notifications, I strongly recommend doing that rather than repeatedly visiting the front page every day at 7pm until the pain becomes too much for you. Overwhelming thanks and kudos to Josh Larios aka RJL20 for programming HPMOR.com, and Lightwave for design work.
News #3: The other reason I’ve been busy lately is that I’ve been working with Anna Salamon (also of my host research institute) and Julia Galef (of skeptic community fame) on launching a new nonprofit – tentatively titled the Center for Modern Rationality – to systematize cognitive-science-based how-to-think training at a much higher level than modern ‘critical thinking’ courses. We are currently seeking test subjects for exercises under development, especially if you reside in the Bay Area; if you haven’t read through the Sequences on LessWrong dot com, that’s fine, we need test subjects like that. We’re exercising the rationalist virtue of empiricism by testing our ideas on live audiences every Saturday, and iterating rapidly – we can never have enough test subjects. We’re also advertising open positions for curriculum developers, executive assistants, a programmer, and some amount of consulting work, though at the moment we’re still in the launch stage and paying relative peanuts. (If you’re not sure whether to apply, please err on the side of applying. We’ve gotten some really awesome people who say that they almost talked themselves out of it.) CMR isn’t set up yet to take lots of small donations, but anyone interested in substantially funding the nonprofit’s initial launch can email myself or Julia Galef – right now we’re operating under my host institute’s umbrella, so all donations need to be specially processed. See the CMR page here for more information. (Yes, we’re working to get a real website set up!)
Oh, and if someone can donate $1.6 million or more to launch the Center for Modern Rationality, I’ll update every two days until I run out of updates. Honestly I am not expecting anyone to cough up $1.6M… unless some wealthy reader is sick of our whole species being insane and wants to fund a nonprofit that can do something about it. But hey, I thought I’d throw it out there, just in case.
Otherwise I’ll just update with spacing determined by some mix of chapter length and tension. Ch. 78 is a rather long one, but considering how it ends…
The next update will occur on Thursday, March 15th at 7PM Pacific Time.
Added March 15, 2012Edit
Contents of this A/N: About the writing; Shannon Friedman is starting up her counseling business; the Quixey programming challenge; P/S/A about programming careers; and the long-awaited fan-art update. Sorry about the length – there’s a lot of accumulated stuff to get through!
Loserthree’s summary of key chapters. (Within the post, these are spoilered, so highlight/select the text to reveal them.)
I was surprised, yet again, by how many people didn’t seem to hate Ch. 78, including the parts I thought were awkward – people seemed to like even Harry’s retrospective of his discovery of the work-in-work-out Potions principle, which I really thought was going to flop. I genuinely suspect that I could write a lot faster if I could just convince my damned brain that my readers enjoy the parts I hate to write – both because I would rewrite it less, and because I would enjoy writing it more. My brain seems to be refusing to update and is generating phrases like “But maybe everyone who hated it just isn’t saying anything,” which is in fact possible, but also seems like something of a Perfect Recovery Error – the evidence should be shifting my opinions somehow. I shall talk to my rationalist friends about this, and see if they have any advice on reconciling my beliefs and anticipations here.
The entire Self-Actualization arc was intended to get to the point where the Wham Line that ends Ch. 78 would make sense to the reader. There are three important lessons I learned from this, over and above the “Never recurse more than once” principle:
1) After all the buildup of Self-Actualization, I still wasn’t at the point where I felt that the Wham Line wouldn’t have readers going “Huh?” And then, more or less as I was writing the last Aftermath, it occurred to me to put in Hat-and-Cloak’s repeated-Obliviation of Hermione. In principle I could’ve done this at the end of Ch. 63! I do like the Self-Actualization arc, but… Lesson learned: Any setup you think you need to accomplish by a major diversionary arc can probably also be accomplished by a single event, if you can find that single event.
2) Anything you think will be completely inexplicable to the readers, probably won’t be - they know less background info than you, so where you see a single huge missing fact you haven’t yet revealed, they see a plentiful bag of possible interpretations. (Discovered when I compared all the reviewers’ interpretations of the Wham Line at the end of 78, to the actual interpretation revealed in 79.) An important corollary is that anything you thinkwon’t confuse the readers, will.
3) The description of the breaking storm over Hogwarts at the end of Ch. 78 probably did more to make the Wham Line “fit” than the whole previous Self-Actualization arc. Setup you think needs to be accomplished by plot events, can also just be done by atmosphere and tension in the immediate paragraphs; but this won’t be obvious when you’re trying to outline the abstract plot.
All of these are corollaries to the key lesson I’m learning as a writer – for yes, this is my first real book-length effort, and I am very much still learning –never divert.
Among the several people who suffered so that you could get your next Methods fix is Shannon Friedman (Chaotic Shannon in Ch. 78), who missed several dates with me so that I could get some writing done. She’s starting up a counseling business, specializing in Internal Family Systems work – if she was talking to Harry, she’d try to talk to his Ravenclaw, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Internal Critic, and dark side separately, find out what they wanted, and try to negotiate a compromise that all of Harry’s parts could agree on. (A chunk of our rationalist community, though by no means unanimously, have been evangelizing Internal Family Systems as the most effective type of counseling they’ve come across so far.) Shannon is currently looking for new counseling clients; she’s located in the Bay Area (Mountain View) but can also do Skype video, and is charging HPMOR readers an introductory rate of $50/hour. Click here for more.
Quixey is a startup founded by LW readers, with a fair number of HPMOR-reading employees. They have funding and traction, are looking for top programmers, and are offering salaries competitive with what you’d get at Google. One year out of college is fine, if you’ve got the talent and you’re a good fit for their culture. To publicize their hiring efforts, they’re also running the Quixey Challenge – if you’re in CS at CMU or MIT, you’ve probably already heard of this – which offers $100 to anyone (in the US) who can solve a programming challenge in one minute or less. The next Quixey Challenge is Wednesday, March 21st. If you’re a superprogrammer, and especially if you’re interested in working for a Bay Area company with a strong rationalist culture and highly competitive salaries, give it a shot! And if you get to the interview stage, be sure to tell them how you got there.
Public service announcement: If you have high talent, programming is extremely easy to learn. The way I became a programmer was by finding an old ZX81 computer with 4K of RAM and no tape drive, meaning that anytime you wanted to use a program you had to type it in from scratch, and pretty soon I was typing in my own programs. This was at the age of 5 or 6. This mysterious Talent doesn’t always correlate to intelligence, but if you did well at algebra and you’re currently making less than $120,000/year, consider installing Python 3, looking at some random Python programs online, and then seeing if you can write programs yourself. College majors are a highly inefficient market, with Computer Science enrollments steadily dropping, and competent programmers are inextreme demand right now – in the Bay Area, companies are paying $10-$20,000 for successful referrals. It doesn’t require a four-year education to start getting paid to do this – if you’ve got enough Talent to learn to program just by reading code, then regardless of what other career you’ve built or costs you’ve sunk, you should definitely try your hand as a modern-day wizard. This concludes the public service announcement.
And now, the long-awaited fanart update!
Audiovisual: Centreoftheselights sings her original Chaos Legion Song on Youtube, and cameos as Ellie Knight in Ch. 78.
Drawn: Cover art by Mike Obee Lay (cameo pending). Wishcat brings us a view of Rianne Felthorne from Ch. 76 – Wishcat, please contact me with your cameo information! Tavoriel shows us an unbearable cute image of Draco with Lucius (circa Ch. 7), and also needs to contact me with cameo info. Sascia brings us another image beneath the stars and cameos as Sophie McJorgenson (Ch. 79). LL depicts a boy unlike the others   and cameos as Lurinus Lumblung. Mad Hatter Lcarol shows us the three generals. Stephanie shows us a declaration of war, aspit-take, and afailed experiment, and cameos as Adam Beringer and Nita Berdine in Ch. 78. Tess Walsh (cameo in Ch. 78) shows us another starscape and a very recent Quibbler cover. Sukamisya reminds us that it’s just a conceptual limitation, and still needs to contact me with cameo info. AndBen Gutierrez takes us out of Azkaban the loud way.
Cameos in Ch. 78: Tess Walsh as herself, Stephanie as Adam Beringer and Nita Berdine, Dylan Vaughan who did that epic cover art, the Darke Lady as a guise of Tracey Davis (it wasn’t easy figuring out how to work that name in there), Raymond Arnold of Patronus fame, centreoftheselights as Ellie Knight, Gingersnap (more about her in next A/N), and Shannon Friedman. Cameos in Ch. 79: Sascia as Sophie McJorgenson, LL as Lirinus Lumblung.
Added March 22, 2012Edit
The Center for Modern Rationality is still looking for applications from excellent teachers (especially those who’ve been quietly experimenting on their own with better teaching methods, or those who’ve taught adults, but also anyone who’s just very good in a classroom) and executive assistants (people who can do moderately complicated work even if it is somewhat boring). We can promise with some degree of assurance that you will learn more working for us than you could learn at almost any other job. Don’t be shy, apply!
On the fan art front, Karen Dutton brings us the incredible Phoenix’s Fate, for which artwork she was appointed Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot in Ch. 80. Samuel Kleinerrenders Harry descending into his trunk’s cavern level. Ilae shows us Harry weeping at the end of Ch. 79. And Nathan Rehfuss depicts house elves stealing our magic. Another cameo is by Nicodemus Capernaum, the appearance of Mike Obee Lay, who has likewise been appointed Chief Warlock.
Today’s writing tip: In manga or in anime, seeing a character suddenly start glowing as they draw on a previously unknown power is visually impressive; we get to see it happen, which makes it plausible on some brain-level. Watching them beat up on the enemy for five minutes after that, if done well as drawings or animation, is a feast for the eyes. This is not how it works in writing. Your character’s powers must be foreshadowed or they are not believable. The battle scenes must be lawful, attack and defense proceeding according to believable rules, without sudden changes in anyone’s strength or ability (unless justified by a previously introduced mechanic). Otherwise, all the reader sees is the chaos of a set of random attacks and defenses that succeed or fail for no discernible reason except plot. Can you ever remember reading a book where, at the climax of the story, the protagonist pulled a new, unforeshadowed power out of nowhere? This sometimes works as a visual spectacle in a picture, but it almost never works as writing, so for the love of the heavens stop doing it in your fanfiction. This concludes the public service announcement.
Added March 27, 2012Edit
Please do apply for paid consulting work at the Center for Modern Rationality, if you have abilities relevant to designing exercises to teach rationalist skills, or if you have run successful workshops before of any sort. We haven’t gotten many such applicationsyet.
Fan art: Tavoriel brings us a wolf facing a dragon, and Lanthanum produces a small animated trailer for Quirrell’s games. Samuel Kleiner has cameoed as Mr. Kleiner, anddtldarek has cameoed as Totoro (that request took a while to set up).
Well! That was fun, but several readers wrote in to say that their academic performance had suffered due to obsessing about the problem. Apparently this was finals season. My deep apologies for that.
I was amazed that the readership collectively got almost every element of Harry’s solution, except for the monetary payment, and Harry spooking the Dementor instead of destroying it. (Looking up Philip Tetlock’s original experiment on taboo tradeoffs, taking the definition literally instead of reaching, and then reading the relevant section of Ch. 26 while keeping in mind Conservation of Detail, might have solved the monetary part.) This makes me worry that the actual chapter might’ve come as an anticlimax, especially with so many creative suggestions that didn’t get used. I shall poll the Less Wrong discussants and see how they felt before I decide whether to do this again. This was actually intended as a dry run for a later, serious “Solve this or the story ends sadly” puzzle – like I used in Part 5 of my earlier story Three Worlds Collide - but I’ll have to take the current outcome into account when deciding whether to go through with that.
One thing I did notice was that many readers (a) neglected simple solutions in favor of complex ones, (b) neglected obvious solutions in favor of nonobvious ones, and (c) suggested that the correct hints had been put there for deliberately deceptive purposes.
General announcement: I do not lie to my readers. Almost everything in HPMOR is generated by the underlying facts of the story. Sometimes it is generated by humor – I can’t realistically claim that comic timing that precise would occur in a purely natural magical universe. But nothing is there to deliberately fool the readers.
Methods of Rationality is a rationalist story. Your job is to outwit the universe, not the author. If it taught the lesson that the simple solution is always wrong because it is “too obvious”, it would be teaching rather the wrong moral. There are some cases where people have scored additional points by successful literary analysis, e.g. Checkov’s Gun principles. But the author is not your enemy, and the facts aren’t lies.
Of course there are various characters running deceptions and masquerades inside the story, but that is quite a different matter.
My primary, Erin (cameo as Erin the Consort in Ch. 13), would like to make the following announcement: If there are any guys in the Bay Area who like the same obscure black metal bands she does, she may be interested in some no-strings-attached dates. She’s making this announcement here because of the insanely unreasonable difficulty of finding guys who like the same black metal she does. Her favorite bands include: Early Abigor, Blut Aus Nord, Horn, Falkenbach, Njiqahdda, Samael, Vintersorg, Vinterriket, Lunar Aurora, Nychts, Arckanum, and Negura Bunget. Long hair is a plus but not mandatory. Female fans of these bands are welcome to contact her as well. And if you’re in the Berkeley area, she’s also looking for a hiking partner of either gender. Email her alias here.
(Before anyone asks, yes, we’re polyamorous – I am in long-term relationships with three women, all of whom are involved with more than one guy. Apologies in advance to any 19th-century old fogies who are offended by our more advanced culture. Also before anyone asks: One of those is my primary who I’ve been with for 7+ years, and the other two did know my real-life identity before reading HPMOR, but HPMOR played a role in their deciding that I was interesting enough to date.)