Archive for June, 2009

Therapy chickens and dead hard drives

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28, 2009 by quantummoxie

We all have seen dogs, cats, horses, and other assorted animals used for therapeutic purposes, but has any of us ever seen chickens used in this capacity?  If you haven’t, fear not, because therapy chickens could be coming to a town near you.  Too bad no one thought of this a few hundred years ago.  A therapy chicken might have been therapeutic for Mary, Queen of Scots, assuring her that indeed she might still accomplish something after her beheading (albeit not much more than a little twitching).

In any case, I suppose I could use a therapy chicken or goat or something at this point as I may have lost years of work partly due to my own stupidity and partly due to the unreliability of modern technology.  Last Monday the hard drive on my laptop died.  I have tried everything to extract some data from it (including the old refrigerator trick) to no avail.  I am left hoping the college will cover the cost of data retrieval (which runs between $1k and $2k and is thus unlikely).  Some things were backed up (notably my course materials – I keep paper copies of everything) but, sadly, not the past month’s work on the book proposal I had been preparing, nor the neat short story I had recently completed.

It turns out my HDD was not one of the bad Seagate drives.  It’s a Fujitsu and it’s at least not rattling so there might be some hope that something could be salvaged from the drive platters themselves.  The Seagate drives and potentially mine highlight the need for solid state hard drives.  My motto is that the fewer moving, parts the better.

David Rohde escapes Taliban

Posted in Uncategorized on June 21, 2009 by quantummoxie

I was relieved but also shocked that New York Times reporter David Rohde escaped from the Taliban on Friday.  I was not shocked as much by the escape as I was by the fact that he’d been in captivity.  Why?  Because I know him.  His father Harvey and stepmother Andrea are close friends of mine (I just saw Andrea on Thursday).  We had no idea he’d even been captive.  I vaguely remember hearing he was over there writing a book.  However, I suspect this amazing silence has helped save his life.  Apparently all the experts say keeping it under wraps is one of the best ways to ensure the safe returned of someone who has been kidnapped.  In any case, three cheers for David and his family.

Update: Yes, Harvey told me that they were told to keep it under close wraps the entire time.  I am amazed and impressed at how well they hid it.

Open Source Physics

Posted in Uncategorized on June 20, 2009 by quantummoxie

After nearly pulling my hair out in frustration over the problems I have had with my Cerf-Adami/second law paper over the past three years, I have decided to take a different tack.  I have decided to put everything up online, including comments I have received over the years (both official and unofficial) and turn it into a collaborative project for anyone to contribute to.  If it ever reaches a point at which submission is yet again warranted, significant contributors will receive co-authorship.

As for how this is all going to work, well, I’m still hashing that out, but I’ll take suggestions.  At this point, I figure the basic idea has clearly – and somewhat infamously – been attributed to me even if it hasn’t been officially published under peer-review, so what do I have to lose?

The paper that just can’t get published

Posted in Uncategorized on June 12, 2009 by quantummoxie

Yes, it’s that paper again – the one Terry Rudolph spent all of last summer helping me improve; the one I’ve been working on for three years.  This time Proc. Roy. Soc. A has rejected it but for the exact opposite reason all the other journals have.  The other journals thought it was too radical since it proposed some connection between the Cerf-Adami inequalities and irreversibility in thermodynamics.  I can’t win!

I proved Cerf & Adami were wrong about a major point in their original paper – violations do not necessarily have anything to do with conditional probabilities. How is that not novel???


Jens?  Perhaps you’re perusing this blog?  Pretty please with sugar on top (it’s a stupid American expression, in case you haven’t heard it before)?  There has to be someone out there who thinks this is a worthy enough idea.


Why a national initiative in quantum information is needed

Posted in Uncategorized on June 10, 2009 by quantummoxie

I recently read an article on cyberspying in The Week and it got me thinking again about the need for advancement in quantum information science.  Back in November I wrote about legendary cyber security expert Bruce Schneier’s pronouncement about quantum cryptography.  Schneier believes present security protocols such as RSA are secure enough to ward off any attack using existing technology.  If that were true, why are such things not addressed in the article on cyberspying?  At the close of the article, British computer scientist Ross Anderson is quoted as saying “It takes a professor of computer science to have the confidence to say that some things simply should never be put on a computer.”  (In itself, this is an argument against the push toward cloud computing.)

In other words, while RSA may be nearly perfectly secure against attacks by classical computers (and assuming quantum computers are still a ways away), there are other factors that come into play when dealing with electronic security such as human nature, economics, etc.  For instance, a few years ago (2007) there was a classic man-in-the-middle attack on a data stream containing credit card information for customers of a major supermarket chain here in New England.  The data stream wasn’t encoded.  When this was leaked a lot of people wondered why, in this day and age, it wouldn’t be.  The answer is that, when transmitting huge chunks of data, it is often impractical to encode the whole thing since it tends to increase the size of the data chunk.  Now, a quantum system won’t necessarily solve this particular problem, but it can help.

In terms of quantum cryptography, which is more accurately known as quantum key distribution (QKD), the quantum part is used to create the key that is used to encode the data.  As such, this does not necessarily solve the problem, by itself, of reducing the excess data in order to make it more easily transmittable.  In fact, technically, it is impossible to encode any more than one classical bit in a single qubit.  However, if an entangled pair of qubits is shared by the sender and receiver, it is possible to actually increase the efficiency.  This process is known as superdense coding.  “Ah, but,” you say, “that requires a noiseless channel!”  OK, so now you see the need for a greater understanding of fault-tolerance and error-correction.  In other words, all the little sub-sub-fields of QIS are interrelated.

“Alright, alright,” you continue.  “I get that all this QIS stuff goes together.  But quantum computing is so far off that I can’t see investing heavily in it just yet.”  Ah, but you have fallen into the trap of assuming that ‘quantum information’ is synonymous with ‘quantum computing.’  It isn’t.  More appropriately one should think of the latter being somewhat like a branch of the former.  While we may be decades (or maybe only years – who knows) away from a practical quantum computer, we already have usable commercial quantum crypographic devices.  There is much more progress that needs to be made before this stuff can be used in day-to-day situations such as the supermarket fiasco, but enough technology and associated knowledge exists that a national initiative could make some major technological progress possible in the near future.  In addition, quantum cryptography is perfectly suited to fiber optic communications, something that is increasingly overtaking traditional electronic techniques worldwide (specific capacities are proprietary, but as of 2002 there were supposedly 250,000 km of undersea fiber optic lines).  It is also being tested in free-space transmissions (i.e. satellite uplinks, etc.).

So, in summary, while present encryption methods may be perfectly secure against classical attacks when used properly, they suffer from a number of implementation problems related to economics, existing technology, and plain old human nature.  In other words, Bruce Schneier’s comment was a bit simplistic.  Quantum processes overcome some of these problems and with a strong national investment in quantum information science such as that discussed at a recent meeting Virginia, we can achieve truly, reliably secure data transmission and storage while mitigating some of the problems associated with the usual classical methods.

An Irish wake for a classic building

Posted in Uncategorized on June 8, 2009 by quantummoxie

They do things a little differently in my hometown of Buffalo. The venerable War Memorial Auditorium was recently demolished to make way for a massive new Bass Pro Shops store. The Sabres have played in HSBC Arena for over a decade now, so the Aud, as it was affectionately known, was just taking up space. Appropriately, an Irish wake was held as the final pieces were taken down, complete with a coffin filled with pieces of rubble amid hockey paraphernalia.