The Purpose of This Blog

Oftentimes I’ve been asked what the purpose of this blog is. As if everything in life must have a purpose:pfft, I say! But because an answer is required, what I usually answer is that the purpose of my blog is to slow down my fellow researchers. I mean sheesh, the people in quantum computing are the modern polyglots of science, speaking physics, computer science, and mathematics with ease. And they’re universally a brainy crowd. So what better purpose can this blog serve that to slow these readers down by offering them great opportunities to surf the intertubes and procrastinate.
Along those lines…

go ahead waste your day:

  • Via An American Physics Student in England I’m led to Negative numbers foil lottery players. Apparently there was confusion over whether -8 was colder than -6 or not. Now for something more controversial: the lottery is a tax on those who are bad at math. I always found it ironic that lottery proceeds often go to education. Shouldn’t this arbitrage itself away?
  • Here is an article on what worries the security officials at federal agencies. Turns out Patricia Titus, the Transportation Security Administration’s CISO, is worried about quantum computers. Now if only the TSA would spread some of those airline baggage screening dollars on quantum computing. I know, I know. A quantum computer which can find a terrorist in quadratically faster time!
  • Alan Lightman has a new book out. Lightman is one of my favorite writers. And that’s not just because he is a professor of Physics with and adjunct position in the Humanities at MIT and was a Caltech graduate student (For those of you who do not know, I was an undergrad and postdoc at Caltech, and hold a B.S. in physics and a B.S. in literature from that crazy institution. Yes, those are what we call the “no job majors,” although the B.S. in literature somehow seems….apt.)
  • Deregulation of the energy industry has led to higher energy prices than in states where the energy was not deregulated. The best part is where they discuss the in-favor-of-deregulation version of the report where they say that prices “rose only slightly higher” and then bury the actual data in a footnote. I teach my students that if they are going to fudge something in their homework, they should make the fudge at a page break in hopes that the grader, in turning the page will lose their train of thought. Surprisingly when I tell them this I always catch someone doing this and get to have a heyday in red ink saying “I taught you this trick! It doesn’t work on me!”
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9 Responses to The Purpose of This Blog

  1. Jon says:

    FYI, the name/title of the blog isn’t set in the RSS feed, so it’s showing up as “(title unknown)” in GoogleReader, and probably other mysterious names in other readers.

  2. Jon says:

    (sigh )Nevermind… apparently that was already corrected and I just needed to re-subscribe to the feed.

  3. mick says:

    I don’t know if I can go any slower. In fact I’m pretty sure that I’m going backwards right now.
    Especially seeing as I’ve been spending my last few days grappling with the Bernstein-Vazirani Recursive Fourier Sampling algorithm which is now almost 15 years old!

  4. 601 says:

    My favourite definition of information is “a difference that makes a difference.” But this is a little too philosophical, so I was wondering if you had something better?
    Two people are watching for a flag to be raised that indicates there is a new message. When the flag goes up do they each get half a bit of information?

  5. Did you know that Alan Lightman’s first published poem, which was his only one as of the Caltech reunion where I dined with him (and feared was roman-a-clef’d), won a Rhysling Award for Best Short Science Fiction Poem?
    1983 Alan P. Lightman “In Computers” [Science 82, June 1982], reprinted in The Rhysling Anthology
    The Best Science Fiction Poetry of 1982
    Cover Art: Alfred Klosterman
    Interior Graphics: Robert Frazier, Karen G. Jollie & M.M. Roessner-Herman
    Rhysling Chair: Suzette Haden Elgin
    Published by the Science Fiction Poetry Association
    I tied for that same award in 1987:
    “Before the Big Bang: News from the Hubble Large Space Telescope” by Jonathan V. Post [Star*Line, Nov/Dec 1986; reprinted in Analog, January 1987; reprinted in Nebula Awards Anthology #23, ed. Michael Bishop,
    Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989].
    Physics meets English Literature. They meet cute. They fall in love. 9 months later, a bouncing baby modern polyglot of science.

  6. Joe says:

    It’s working a little too well on me at the moment.

  7. Markk says:

    whoah … other countries can be even worse than the US at math? Alright1 no, wait…
    Lotteries are funny in regard to odds because they show that value isn’t linear. Expected values don’t add up correctly. For example, $20 mil or $100 mil or $500 mil really mean the same thing to me – my life would be transformed if I had them into something totally different than now but similar in each case. So do I value the 20 mil like the 500 mil when calculating expected value or vice versa? If the first way, then suddenly your expected value on a lotto ticket might be positive. The fact that expected time to win is way longer than your lifetime… well that is something else.

  8. Markk: obviously the human perception of money is logarithmic. Psychophysics, in the 19th century, established that our sensory experience of loudness is legarithmic with intensity (hence decibels), and brightness of light, and so forth.
    If I have only $1.00, homeless, on the street, and a passer-by gives me $1.00, then I have doubled my wealth, and I am happy. But if I am a millionaire, then $1.00 is only a ten-thousandth of a percent of my wealth, and has almost no impact on me.
    How many yachts can you water-ski behind at once? Or, to quote from a classic:
    “Why are you doing it?” Jack Nicholson asks the villain of “Chinatown.” “How much better can you eat? What can you buy that you can’t already afford?” The bad guy says it’s about the future, and it’s about power.
    The future is nonlinear.
    In fact, to quote a phrase that I coined at Caltech and promulgated widely in the late 1960s:
    “The Road to Hell is Paved with Linear Approximations!”

  9. Robin Blume-Kohout says:

    Dave: welcome to your new digs! though I’m obviously tuning in a bit late.
    On to more relevant comments: the NYT recently had an expose in which they discovered that the lottery-money-goes-to-schools thing is mostly false. Yes, it’s supposed to — but obviously only the profits can be given to schools, right? Turns out that most state lotteries have giant advertising budgets, which eat up almost all the revenue. So there’s no profit left over for schools. How sad! Leaves me wondering if maybe somebody’s related to the CEO of a marketing agency, or something…
    601: Nope, they each get a bit of information. There’s no conservation law for classical information, so I can give my 1 bit of information to as many people as I want, each of whom gets 1 bit. I like your definition, though — hadn’t heard it before. One of my favorite definitions is “A resource that allows you to predict the future better.” If you think of information as a resource in this way, you see that the 1st flagwatcher’s resource isn’t diminished by the 2nd one seeing it too.
    Jonathan: you’re right that the utility of money is nonlinear — and in most situations, it’s sublinear (meaning $2000 is worth at most twice as much as $1000). However, it’s not logarithmic in general — $1,000,000 is usually worth more than twice as much as $1,000. Econ and psych experiments indicate that different people have different utility functions for money, and they’re hard to characterize (in part because individual irrationality becomes perceptible here).
    Leonard Savage wrote a brilliant paper on “The elicitation of personal probabilities”, and pointed out that if you want a currency with very-nearly-linear utility, you might use lottery tickets. Basically, N chances to win a big prize is worth exactly N times as much as 1 chance to win it. Kinda cool.

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