Qafblog

“We are in a box,” says me.

“Do you see some radium hooked up to a crazy steampunk device with skulls and crossbones and yellow, definitely yellow, but maybe also neon green or wavey blue?” says Qubitslets.

“No I think we put ourselves in the box,” says me. “I don’t see any radium.”

“Maybe we’re in that branch of the wave function where we’ve transmogrified ourselves into a simulation. And we’re in a box because those post capitalists are too damn cheap to simulate us outside of a small goddamn box. Just like new Seattle townhouses. We’re in the cheap Android version of a tech bros afterlife. Do you see brass?”

“No brass,” says me, “but there is something growing in the corner.”

“A tunnel?” asks Qubitslets, “Remember that tunnel we were digging to the moon? I’ve been thinking about the replica symmetry breaking structure of our many tunnel passages to the moon. Maybe we should leverage quantum effects? Jesus, did I just say that? Have I been infected with Goldman Socks ibank spin 3/2s disease? At least I’m a fermion I guess. Not like those collective Marxist bosons over at Google Vultures.”

“I will remind you of the last time we used quantum effects,” says me. “We ended up changing the vacuum state from suck to blow. Luckily it was an unstable equilibrium, and because we are particle theorists and not cosmologists, we didn’t have to think ‘equilibrium of the Higgs-Anderson-Goldstone field with respect to what?’, so the universe just relaxed back to its current vacuum. I sure do miss the werewolves from that old vacuum, though. No, the thing growing in the corner is in a jar.”

“Crap”, says Qubitslets, “we’ve been quarantined!”

Suddenly the Medium Cryostat materializes from The Void. “There is no virus and if there were viruses they would be foreign viruses with foreign RNA and a sheath of foreignness so tricky in its conformal structure we would need a wall to stop it. Because there is no virus, which there certainly isn’t, we must build walls around us and between us and under us. The Great Walling must begin. And we must stay behind our walls and only go out to visit our grandma if she is in a nursing home but we can only do that if we test grandma for foreign viruses, which don’t exist, and, of course we must stay six feet from any particle in the universe. A foreign virus has a Compton wavelength of six feet, I am told.”

“In light of us not being afraid of viruses, because they don’t exist, we will need to plan for how The Great Economy can survive the foreign viruses, if they existed. Stock buybacks were insurance claims for the future antibodies the corporations of The Great Economy would need during The Great Walling, so we should cash out their claims. Because of the uniform structure of economic strata across our Great County, we can use the base minimum wage to pay the minimum required to sustain minimal substance for those impacted by the viruses. If the viruses existed.”

“But we must also not forget what made this a Great Country, again. Never forget the resilience of our people to the scientific method, again. Of the possibility of our citizens being able to think in terms of counterfactuals, again. And of our dedication to spring break and Easter services and a Latin homily about licentious spring breakers, which no, does not arouse the Medium Cryostat. Amen. Oops, I mean Again.”

“And because we are a generous Medium Cryostat, and we know that living behind walls is hard (but necessary because maybe viruses), we shall provide to every home everywhere a jar of Sourdough Levain. Lactobacilli and yeast for all, because nothing says that you aren’t scared of invisible microscopic viruses like cooking with a self reproducing jar of sticky goo.”

“Hooray!” says Qubitslets, “we get to bake bread!”

“Did I ever tell you about the time my girl forgot to feed the starter,” says me ,”and the starter died, and in the tears that fell into the hooch that was all that remained, I could see that the relationship was over by studying the way the waves spread and reflected off the walls of the jar?”

“I bet we can study the exponential growth of the yeast and use that to model viruses,” says Qubitslets. “As physicists we know that only simple models that use physics concepts can be used for public health decisions.”

“Or maybe in the replication of the yeast, we’ll discover that we are just cellular automata or hypergraphs transforming under some crowdsourced update rule.”

“But no brass,” says Qubitslets.

“Yeah, no brass.”

** This post is a tribute to the best blog that every was, ever will be, and ever could be. Fafblog you are greatly missed.

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Tap. Tap. Tap.

Is this thing on?

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The open access wars

Vox has just published an excellent article on open access scientific publishing, “The open access wars“. While that is too provocative of a title, the article still manages to give an accurate assessment of the current state of play. Although I like the article, I can’t help but nitpick a few points.

From the article,

“We spoke with executives at both Elsevier and Springer Nature, and they maintain their companies still provide a lot of value in ensuring the quality of academic research.”

This is false. Publishers do not add any significant value in ensuring the quality of the academic research. Peer reviewers do that, and even then not consistently. True, the publishers facilitate finding peer reviewers, but this has nothing to do with the actual publishing of the research. The role of the journal itself (sans peer review) is just to market and advertise the research, not to ensure quality. The journal also provides a venue for signaling for the prestige-smitten researcher. It is a personal value judgement how much these other things matter, but they certainly don’t impact the quality of the research.

Organizing the peer review (as opposed to actually reviewing) is the job of a middleman: it may provide a service, but it doesn’t add value to the product and it only drives up prices. This is why non-profit overlay journals like Quantum only cost between 0 and €200 to publish. The average cost per submission for hosting a preprint on the arxiv is less than $7.

Which brings me to my next point: I was also a little disappointed in the article that they failed to mention arxiv.org. They do mention the rise of preprints, but they only mention prepubmed.org, which apparently only came online in 2007. By contrast, the oldest arxiv preprint that I’m aware of is Paul Ginsparg’s notes on conformal field theory, which were posted in 1988!

That might be the oldest timestamp, but the arxiv only started having regular preprint service in 1991. Still, this means that essentially all physics research in the last 25+ years is available for free online. In practice, this means that any time you need a physics paper, you simply find the associated preprint and read that instead of the journal version. This is especially convenient for a field like quantum information, where all but a handful of papers are available on the arxiv.

Any article on open access should lead with a discussion of the arxiv. It’s one of the most important science-related developments of the last 30 years.

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Open Thread for discussing the term "Quantum Supremacy"

This is an open thread in case anyone wants to discuss the merits and demerits of using the term “quantum supremacy”.

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Quantum in the wild

Sometimes quantum appears out of nowhere when you least expect it.

From the September 2, 2018 edition of the New York Times Magazine.

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Quantum Computers Are…

Quantum computers are

  • Blue versions of classical computers [1] [2] [3][4]
  • Blue or grey abstract patterns [1] [2][3][4][5][6]
  • A bunch of connectors [1][2]
  • Blurred out chips [1]
  • What goes inside the dilution fridge [1][2][3]
  • Closed dilution fridges [1]
  • Part of a flag [1]
  • A button near the enter key [1]
  • Icy cold really big atoms [1]

Quantum computers are so many things (and no I will not add “all at once” to the end of this sentence)!  I’d be excited to hear about even more things that are quantum computers.

Posted in Funny Ha Ha, Quantum Computing | 5 Comments

Un-renunciation

Can pontiffs un-retire (un-renunciate)?  I mean, I retired from being a pontiff way before it was cool.  But now the sweet siren call of trying to figure out whether there is really a there there for noisy intermediate scale quantum devices has called me back.   I think it may be time to start doing a little bit of quantum pontificating again.  My goal, as always, will be to bring down the intellectual rigor among quantum computing blogs.  And to show you pictures of my dog Imma, of course.
Cue bad joke about unitary dynamics and quantum recurrences in 3, 2, 1, 0, 1, 2, 3, …
 

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Quantum Advantage

Update (22 May 2017): This Scirate thread seems to have touched a nerve. Since this was previously buried in the comments here, it’s worth promoting to the top of the post. I think that “quantum computational supremacy” addresses the concern. Basically, we use “quantum” as an adjective for our peer group, which makes the analogy to “white” too strong. Adding “computational” emphasizes that it is the computation, not the people, that are supreme.


I’ve had quite a few conversations lately about a comment I left on Scirate. The paper at that link, “Quantum advantage with shallow circuits” by Sergey Bravyi, David Gosset, Robert Koenig, shows a provable separation between analogous classes of quantum and classical circuits, even when the quantum circuit is restricted to nearest-neighbor gates on a 2D grid. This is a fantastic result! My comment, however, wasn’t regarding the result, but rather the title of the paper. I’m just happy that they called it a “quantum advantage” instead of using that other term…
The term “quantum supremacy” is the fashionable name for the quantum experiments attempting to beat classical computers at some given task, not necessarily a useful one. According to current usage, the term (strangely) only applies to computational problems. The theoretical and experimental work towards demonstrating this is wonderful. But the term itself, as any native English speaker can tell you, has the unfortunate feature that it immediately calls to mind “white supremacy”. Indeed, one can even quantify this using a Google ngram search for *_ADJ supremacy over all books in Google’s corpus between 1900 and 2008:

None of these terms has a particularly good connotation, but white supremacy (the worst on the list) is an order of magnitude more common than the others and has, on net, been growing since the 30s. For almost every native speaker that I’ve talked to, and quite a few non-native speakers as well, the taint of this is hard to escape. (For speakers of German or French, this word is a bit like “Vormachtstellung” or “collaboration” respectively.)
The humor surrounding this term has always been in bad taste — talking about “quantum supremacists” and jokes about disavowing their support — but it was perhaps tolerable before the US election in November. Given that there are several viable alternatives, for example “quantum advantage” or even “quantum superiority”, can we please agree as a community to abandon this awful term?
This isn’t about being PC. And I’m not trying to shame any of the people that have used this term. It’s just a poor word choice, and we don’t have to be stuck with it. Connotations of words matter: you don’t say someone is “scrawny” if you mean they are thin, even though my thesaurus lists these words as synonyms. Given the readily available alternatives, the only case I can think of for “supremacy” at this point is inertia, which is a rather poor argument.
So please, say it with me now: quantum advantage.
Update: Ashley Montanaro points out that “advantage” should potentially be reserved for a slight advantage. I maintain that “superiority” is still a good choice, and I also offer “dominance” as another alternative. Martin Schwarz suggests some variation of “breaking the X barrier”, which has a nice feel to it. 

Posted in Quantum | 28 Comments

Seattle for QIPers

QIP 2017 is coming to Seattle, hosted by the QuArC group at Microsoft, January 16-20 (with tutorials on the 14th and 15th). If you have some spare moments, maybe you arrive early, or maybe you are planning for the afternoon off, here are some ideas for things to do around the wonderful city I call home.
Be a Tourist!

  • Take a trip up to the Seattle Center (approximately 1 mile walk from Hotel).  There you can take a ride to top of the Space Needle ($22), which has some great views when it is sunny (ha!).  Music or Star Trek fan?  Check out Paul Allen’s collection of toys and memorabilia Museum of Pop Culture ($30), which has two very geeky exhibits right now, Star Trek and Indie Game Revolution.  Or if you are secure in your ability to not knock over stuff worth more than it’s weight in gold, check out the Chihuly Garden and Glass ($22, combine with a trip to Space Needle for $36).  Kids and family in tow?  Can’t go wrong with the Pacific Science Center ($27.75 adults, $11.75 kids) and the Seattle Children’s Museum ($10.50).
  • Visit Pike’s Place Market (about 0.5 mile walk from Hotel).  See them toss fish!  Visit the original Starbucks (sssshhh it was actually the second).  Like your politics off the chart? Check out Left Bank Books which has a seriously eclectic collection of books.  While you’re at it, if you’re playing tourist, you might as well walk on down to the waterfront where you can take a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel ($13) or check out the Aquarium ($50 ouch) (we had a party there a few years back, yes we ate Sushi in front of the octopus.)
  • Architect buff on the cheap?  Check out the Seattle Central Library (a little over a half mile from Hotel).  Sculpture buff on the cheap?  Walk around the Olympic Sculpture Park (little over a mile from the Hotel).  These are in completely different directions from the Hotel.
  • Museums?  Seattle Art Museum has a nice collection ($25) but my favorite these days is the Museum of History and Industry (Little over 1 mile walk, $20).  The MoHaI is located in south Lake Union, a location that has been transformed dramatically in the last few years since Amazon relocated to the area.  Count the number of cranes!
  • So it turns out the Seattle you see today was built over the top of the Seattle that used to be, and, while I’ve never done it, everyone I know who has done it, loves the Seattle Underground Tour.  Note that if you combine this tour with reading about earthquakes in the PNW you might give yourself some anxiety issues.  Seattle is in the middle of boring a long tunnel under it’s downtown to replace the gigantic monstrosity of the viaduct, sadly I don’t think there are any tours of the tunnel boring machine, Big Bertha.

Be a Geek!

  • Ada’s Technical Books is in the Capital Hill Neighborhood (bus or Lyft).  It’s not as crazy as some university town bookstore, but has a good collection of non-standard science and tech books.
  • Elliot Bay Bookstore again in Capital Hill is no Powell’s but it’s still rather good.
  • Fantagraphics bookstore and gallery.  You’ll know if you want to go to this if you recognize the name.

See a Show!

Get Out and About!

  • We’ve a ton of snow right now.  Snoqualmie is closest, great for beginners or if you’re just craving a quick ski or board.  For the more serious, Baker, Crystal, and Stevens Pass are all recommended.  I like Crystal a bit more, on clear days the view of Mt. Rainier is spectacular.
  • Take a ferry over to Bainbridge Island.  This is one of my top recommendations in the summer, but even in the winter it’s a nice trip.  (Other summer recommendation is to rent a Kayak and kayak around Lake Union, but it’s too cold to do that this time of year.)
  • If you’re up for a nice stroll, head over to Discovery Park or take a walk on the Alki beach in West Seattle (both require a ride to get there from Hotel, though you could walk down and take the water taxi on weekdays.)  Closer by to the Hotel, head over to Myrtle Edwards Park.

Neighborhoods

  • Seattle is a city of neighborhoods, each of which, believes that they have their own style!  Each of these except Belltown or Downtown are a bus, cab, or rideshare away.  Really there is too much to cover here, but here are a few short notes:
    • Belltown: This is the neighborhood just north of downtown where the Hotel is located.  Used to be sketchy but now has lots of luxury condos.  Shorty’s is a dive with pinball and hot dogs.  People seem to love Tilikum Place Cafe though I have not been there.  If you want a traditional expensive steakhouse, El Gaucho is great, though I think the Metropolitan Grill in downtown is better (both pricey!)  Since this is a quantum conference, I would be remorse to not point out that Belltown is the site of Some Random Bar, which I believe has good crab nachos.  If you crave a sweet donut, Top Pot Donuts is literally just up the street from the hotel.
    • Fremont: Is still an eclectic neighborhood, though not quite as far out as it used to be.  It’s annual solstice parade is the only day it is legal to ride your bike nude in Seattle.   Tons of places to eat and drink here, I recommend Brouwers (great beer selection, frites), Revel (Korean fusion, no reservations), and Paseo (cuban sandwiches OMG delicious) but there are a ton more in the neighborhood.   Theo’s chocolate does factory tours and also supplies a great smell to the neighborhood (along with another smell from the nearby dispensaries!)  Also if you’re up this way you can see a huge troll under a bridge, a rocket ship, and a statue of Lenin (who sometimes gets dressed in drag).
    • Ballard: Originally a Scandinavian fishing community, these days it’s hip as Seattle hip gets.  Sunday year round farmer’s market.  When many people think of the Pacific Northwest they think of fish, but really I think where Seattle really shines is in shellfish.  The Walrus and the Carpenter is a great place to affirm this claim.
    • Capital Hill: East of downtown, Seattle’s most vibrant district.  Fancy restaurants: Altura, Poppy.
    • University District: Lots of cheap eats for UW students.  In the summer I recommend renting a kayak from Agua Verde, a Mexican restuarant/kayak rental joint
    • South Lake Union: Amazon land, totally transformed over the last few years. I’ve had good luck at re:public.  Shuffleboard at Brave Horse Tavern.

Morning Run
I’d probably head over to the Sculpture park and run up Myrtle Edwards Park: here is a mapmyrun route.
Seattle
Enjoy Seattle, it’s a fun town!  I recommend, generally, shellfish, thai food, and coffee.  Also you can play the fun people guessing game: “software engineer or not” (advanced players can score points for Amazon or Microsoft sub-genres).  Also: if you don’t want to look like a tourist, leave the umbrella at home.  You know it rains more every year in New York city, right?

Posted in Quantum, Seattle | 5 Comments

5 Years!

Five years ago I (it’s me Dave Bacon former supposed pseudo-professor and one time quantum pontiff) jumped off the academic ship, swam to shore, and put on a new set of clothes as a software developer for Google. Can it really have been five years? Well I should probably update this blog so my mom knows what I’ve been up to.

  • I helped build and launch Google Domains. From quantum physics professor to builder of domain name registrar. I bet you wouldn’t have predicted that one! Along the way I was lucky to be surrounded by a team of software engineers who were gracious enough to tell me when I was doing silly things, and show me the craft that is a modern software development. I may now, in fact, be a real software developer. Though this just means that I know how much I still need to master.
  • We built a cabin! Well, we worked with wonderful architects and buiders to construct “New Caelifera” over in the Methow Valley (about 4 hours east of Seattle).
    New CaeliferaI have to say that this was one of the funnest things I’ve done in my life. Who knew a dumpy software engineer could also be an aesthete. Even cooler, the end result is an awesome weekend place that you have to drive through a National Park to get to. I’ve been super spoiled.
  • Lost: my sister, Catherine Bacon, and my dog, the Test Dog. Life is precious and we should cherish it!
  • Gained: a new puppy, Imma Dog Bacon. Imma dog? You’re a dog! Imma Dog!
    Imma Dog
  • Hobbies. arXiv:1605.03266. The difference between being a hobby scientist and a professional scientist is that when you’re a professional it’s “Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Success!” and when you’re a hobbiest it’s “Fffffffaaaaaiiiiiillllll. Fffffffaaaaaiiiiiillllll. Fffffffaaaaaiiiiiillllll. Fffffffaaaaaiiiiiillllll. Fffffffaaaaaiiiiiillllll. Fffffffaaaaaiiiiiillllll. Fffffffaaaaaiiiiiillllll. Fffffffaaaaaiiiiiillllll. Success?” Yes I’m that guy that reads your quantum computing papers at night after work for fun.

So maybe I’ll write another blog post in five years? Or maybe I should resurrect the Pontiff. I saw the Optimizer the other day, and he suggested that since it’s hard for me to blog about quantum computing stuff what with Google involved as it is, I could blog about stuff from the past. But I’m more of a promethean than a pastoralist. It didn’t occur to me until later that there is an alternative solution, one that is particularly appealing to a quantum dude like myself: maybe I should start blogging about an alternative universe? I’ve always liked Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

Posted in Self: Meet Center. Center: Meet Self., Where's Dabacon? | 5 Comments