November 30, 2006

Publication: Solid-State Qubits with Current-Controlled Coupling

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:29 PM

As some of you know, we recently had a paper accepted to Science. The paper appears in the latest issue, and is now available online.

I will try to post something in the next few days that explains these results for the non-physicists in the audience. In the meantime, there's this post from March about these experiments (from before we had the major findings), and here's the abstract:

Solid-State Qubits with Current-Controlled Coupling

T. Hime, P. A. Reichardt, B. L. T. Plourde, T. L. Robertson, C.-E. Wu, A. V. Ustinov, John Clarke

The ability to switch the coupling between quantum bits (qubits) on and off is essential for implementing many quantum-computing algorithms. We demonstrated such control with two flux qubits coupled together through their mutual inductances and through the dc superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) that reads out their magnetic flux states. A bias current applied to the SQUID in the zero-voltage state induced a change in the dynamic inductance, reducing the coupling energy controllably to zero and reversing its sign.

November 29, 2006

Unusual deaths

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:57 PM

While poking around on Wikipedia I found their interesting and macabre list of unusual deaths. Apparently ironic deaths were big in the 20th century, whereas the 19th century is characterized by deaths from trivial accidents. The latest trend seems to be getting killed by bears, which suggests that Stephen Colbert may be on to something. Alexander Litvinenko is the most recent entry.

November 27, 2006

A world of atheists

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:34 PM

There's a really interesting post by Matthew Yglesias from last week that I only got around to reading today. The topic is the argument one sometimes hears that the widespread nature of religious experience is somehow evidence of the supernatural. The whole post is worth reading, but here's the punchline:

There's clearly a significant human predilection for not-supported-by-science beliefs of various sorts -- in the existence of a god or gods, astrology, fortune-telling, alien visits to earth, the healing power of crystals, etc. -- but there's no particular convergence of these beliefs on anything in particular. Meanwhile, on many of the particular question you might ask about religious subjects, atheists are going to be in the majority. Like most people on earth, atheists don't believe that Jesus Christ died for man's sins. Similarly, just like most people, atheists don't believe that Muhammed was Allah's greatest prophet or that the Hidden Imam will return. And, again, like most people atheists don't believe that you'll be reborn on earth after death in a new body.

I'm reminded of the famous quote from Stephen F. Roberts: "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

Lessons learned in Dallas

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 4:47 PM

I've returned from Thanksgiving in Dallas, where I did the typical turkey-and-family thing. It was not especially eventful, although I did learn a few things:

  • The weather in Dallas in late November is actually really good. It was warm and sunny, while Berkeley is now entering its rainy season.
  • I have a friend who claims Dallas is too far north for good tex-mex food. He is crazy (or at least poorly informed).
  • I am an awful pool player. This isn't too surprising given that I basically haven't played in like eight years. I'm finding the game more appealing than I used to, but since none of my local friends play it's unlikely that I'll be getting better at it anytime soon.
  • The only downside to a second viewing of Casino Royale is having to see the same trailers for mostly unappealing movies again.
  • "And that's why you don't use a one-armed man to teach people lessons!"

Readers are encouraged to share their own findings from the weekend.

Permalink | Tags: Life, Travel

November 21, 2006

Pass the Hatchet [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:46 PM

My brain seems to have gone on vacation already, but I want to move the purity balls down the page. So here's another open thread. Tomorrow I'll be flying to Dallas for the holiday weekend, although historically that's an inauspicious day for visiting that particular city.

Borat: I went into this movie having read various reviews that all called it a brilliant satire on the dark side of American culture. Funny, yes; brilliant satire: not so much. He managed to get some frat boys to say some obnoxious things, and some Deep South types to make some homophobic remarks, but this does not seem like a difficult task. Even his interviews with political figures weren't really that political, just Borat acting bizarre. The movie consists of some disposable plot-related scenes interspersed with footage of Borat walking up to unsuspecting bystanders and generally being a jackass until he wears out their tolerance. Often this is pretty funny, but sometimes he's just being an asshole and you feel bad for his victims. Rating: 3/5

Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid Of You, And I Will Beat Your Ass: Despite the belligerent title, this is a pretty calm and peaceful album. I've been catching up on Yo La Tengo's earlier work through my '90s music project this year—they're now my fifth most-played band, partly because I really like them and partly because there's so much to listen to. This one is a good addition to the catalog, a long, meandering record with a variety of styles and a warm and comfortable feel. It opens with "Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" which runs for about ten minutes with few lyrics and mostly variations on a single theme, but is still interesting all the way through. This is followed by the upbeat, sunny, three-minute pop song "Beanbag Chair", which is one of my favorite tracks. (Both of those can be freely downloaded at the band's website.) My favorite song here is the beautifully assembled "Black Flowers". Rating: 3.5/5

...and if you're new to Yo La Tengo, the compilation Prisoners of Love is a good place to start. I picked it up for some tracks that were previously only on singles, and found the selection to be very good.

November 17, 2006

Religion at its most disturbing

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:50 PM

Could Christian fundamentalism get any more creepy? (Without whispering?)

Exhibit A: "Purity Balls". Kind of like proms, except your date is your dad, and you pledge to be sexually abstinent until your dad gives you away in marriage. There's no equivalent for boys, of course. You can watch a squicky promo video, but you might wish you hadn't. Subtexts: misogyny, incest.

Exhibit B: "Quiverfull". As detailed here, the Quiverfull movement is based on the idea that women should reject all forms of birth control and become baby factories building an army for Jesus. Quiverfull devotees often have upwards of ten children, and the number of kids even becomes a status symbol. What's really sad about this is that many of these families can't afford to raise so many children, and get stuck in crushing poverty. Much of this movement is driven by paranoia about higher birth rates among Muslims or minorities in general. Subtexts: misogyny, racism.

Exhibit C: Ted Haggard's "Spiritual Restoration". This article quotes a Focus on the Family spokesman explaining what this might involve. One gets a certain mental picture from quotes like this:

"I see success approximately 50 percent of the time," said H.B. London, vice president for church and clergy at Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian ministry in Colorado Springs. "Guys just wear out and they can no longer subject themselves to the process."
...
"It will have to become almost a confrontational relationship," he said. "You've got to confess your sins and you've got to have a group of people around you who will not let you whitewash the issue."

And this:
"From the Christian perspective, we think in terms of prayer, we think in terms of what we call godly counsel, where godly men who are clean themselves insert themselves in the life of the one who is struggling," London said.

The symbolic laying on of hands may also be a part of the recovery, London said.


...which suggests something other than a "spiritual restoration". Subtexts: Spanish Inquisition, BDSM.

I recommend reading these articles while listening to The Thermals' album The Body, The Blood, The Machine, a pop-punk indictment of the religious right in America. (I happened to be listening to it when I found the Quiverfull article.)

Party crasher

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:47 PM

This is awesome: a Fairfield University professor registered as the only member of the Connecticut for Lieberman party and promptly elected himself chairman.

According to bylaws established by Orman, anyone whose last name is Lieberman may seek the party's nomination - or any critic of the senator.

Orman seized control of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party this week after registering as its sole member and electing himself as chairman.

...

Orman said the "party" is upset that Lieberman has abandoned it and says he is an "Independent Democrat."

"I want to organize it as a group that will keep (Lieberman) accountable," Orman said. "It will be dedicated to critics, opponents, bloggers. . . . I'm just trying to carry it to the next step."

(Via Shellock.)

November 16, 2006

Voodoo dude curses Bush, frogurt; reports of magic missiles unconfirmed.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:45 PM

Via Josh Marshall:

Voodoo Practitioner Tries to Jinx Bush
BOGOR, Indonesia (AP) - A renowned black magic practitioner performed a voodoo ritual Thursday to jinx President George W. Bush and his entourage while he was on a brief visit to Indonesia.

Ki Gendeng Pamungkas slit the throat of a goat, a small snake and stabbed a black crow in the chest, stirred their blood with spice and broccoli before drank the "potion" and smeared some on his face.

"I don't hate Americans, but I don't like Bush," said Pamungkas, who believed the ritual would succeed as, "the devil is with me today."


Not that I know anything about potion brewing, but wouldn't broccoli be more appropriate for jinxing Bush's father? But just to be sure, perhaps Bush should appoint a Secretary of Defense Against the Dark Arts. Anyway, this seems redundant, since the outcomes of Bush's policies in places like Iraq and New Orleans are already indistinguishable from cursed.

November 15, 2006

The T-shirt mix

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:04 PM

An increasing fraction of t-shirts in my wardrobe were acquired at rock concerts, and I often get asked about them since the bands aren't typically household names. This is good, but I feel lame just saying "It's a band" or even something more specific like "It's a British synth-rock band". What I'd really like to do is somehow convey knowledge of what the band in question really sounds like, and why I like them.

I am tempted to burn a "Guide To Travis's T-shirts" mix CD with all the relevant bands represented, which I can offer to people if they're interested. In practice I won't have a copy of the CD at hand in many instances, but it would work at least some of the time. Counterargument: many people don't care that much, they just want to know what the damn shirt means.

Permalink | Tags: Music

Minority Whip

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:23 PM

The best line of the day is this Fark headline: "Trent Lott selected as Senate Minority Whip, because if there's one thing that Trent Lott likes, it's whipping minorities"

November 14, 2006

Suburbs more social

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:18 PM

I was surprised to learn of this study that found that residents of suburbs are more social than urbanites:

A new study says that people who live in sprawling suburban areas have more friends, better community involvement and more frequent contact with their neighbours than urbanites who are wedged in side-by-side. The results challenge the accepted idea that suburban life is socially alienating a notion that's inspired everything from the Academy Award-winning American Beauty to Harvard professor Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone.

The study, released by the University of California at Irvine, found that for every 10 per cent decrease in population density, the chances of people talking to their neighbours weekly increases by 10 per cent, and the likelihood they belong to hobby-based clubs jumps by 15 per cent.


(Via Marginal Revolution.) An urban planning professor interviewed in the news article suggests that this is due to greater homogeneity in the suburbs, so that one has more in common with one's neighbors. That sounds plausible.

Permalink | Tags: Life

Showdown for House Majority Leader

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:27 PM

Soon-to-be Speaker Pelosi is apparently strongly backing John Murtha for majority leader over current Democratic whip Steny Hoyer. Murtha gained national prominence due to his vocal opposition to the Iraq war, but now people are discovering that he's a pretty conservative Democrat. But wait, didn't everyone know this? After all, plenty of people were loudly anti-war before Murtha spoke up, but the reason he got serious attention was precisely because he's not very liberal—the media had treated the anti-war position as a sign of left-wing fanaticism until Murtha forced a change in the narrative. (By that time opposition to the war was already quite widespread.) Apparently that change didn't last, if people are now assuming he's liberal just because he's anti-war.

Personally, I prefer Murtha for majority leader just for the sake of party unity and discipline. He is a close ally of Pelosi (despite their different positions on the political spectrum), while apparently Hoyer is a rival of the new Speaker. Since now would be an incredibly bad time for an intra-party power struggle, Murtha seems like the right choice.

(The second link above uses Keith Poole's congressional rankings to establish Murtha's position on the spectrum; Mason may be able to comment on whether he saw a similar result in his analysis.)

November 13, 2006

Library Anticorrelations

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:47 PM

Like the opposite of Amazon book recommendations, LibraryThing's UnSuggester lists books that are unlikely to be found in the same library as a given title. I entered one of my favorite books, Haruki Murakami's masterpiece of surrealist fiction The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and was amused to get a list of mostly Christian devotional books. It's not that Wind-Up Bird is anti-religious in any way, so I imagine it's a result of demographics more than anything else. (Via Unfogged.)

Last.fm should do a version of this for music.

I denounce this linguistic development.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:06 AM

Something that annoys me to an irrational extent is the use of diminutives on certain words that I've been seeing recently. The latest, but by no means only, offender is Cory Doctorow, who recently wrote,

The forthcoming Logitech Alto laptop stand is a nice compromise between a dock and just plunking your lappie down on your desk.

and in a different post:
[Alibi Networks will] also buy and ship prezzies for your lover, provide untraceable phone numbers and manage the rest of your sneaky double-life.

"Lappie"? "Prezzies"? What's with the baby talk? Depressingly, this isn't the first time I've seen either of these two words in blog posts that are ostensibly aimed at adults. Who decided it was a good idea to infantilize words like "laptop" and "presents" in otherwise serious writing, and why on earth is it catching on? I suppose it's an attempt to be twee, but to me it just seems jarring and condescending. Knock it off!

Permalink | Tags: Culture

November 12, 2006

Belated Reviews [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:57 PM

Here's an attempt to take a chunk out of my review backlog, and post an open thread for the first time in a while. I've been seriously neglecting the blog lately, as part of a larger pattern of neglecting most of my personal projects in favor of general indolence. I have ambitions of getting back to posting regularly, but it will depend somewhat on inspiration, and the holidays usually disrupt posting anyway.

Lots of high ratings here, partly because I'm prioritizing items I've really liked recently.

The Prestige: A movie notable for casting David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, and for including the back of Josh's head in the trailer (reports that he appears in the film itself are unconfirmed). The plot itself is centered around two feuding stage magicians in Victorian England who make escalating attacks on each other both within and outside their respective shows. The film opens with Borden (Christian Bale) awaiting a death sentence for the murder of Angier (Hugh Jackman), and the bulk of the story is told in (sometimes nested) flashback. The movie is intricate and clever, but it also telegraphs its secrets so that the alert viewer will figure them out before the final reveal. Still, the ending was well-done even if it wasn't a surprise, and the film as a whole is nicely coherent and thematically dense. Rating: 4/5

Arrested Development - Season Two: Everything I said about the first season applies, only more so: it's even funnier and more cleverly written this time around. The show takes its mastery of the running joke to a new level, and its self-referential humor gets even denser. This show builds up jokes the way a dramatic series builds up the plot, so that it just gets funnier as the season progresses. Rating: 4.5/5

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria: I don't know how Tri-Ace does it but I find every one of their games extremely addictive. (Except for the original Star Ocean, and Radiata Stories, neither of which I've played.) This game is no exception and devoured approximately 100 hours of my free time over a relatively short span of weeks. It's a worthy successor to the brilliant Valkyrie Profile, maintaining the unique feel of the original while adding its own twists on the gameplay. The combat system in particular is much more sophisticated, and makes for very engaging battles. The side-scrolling dungeon exploration mode remains, but with a teleportation mechanic that allows for more complex (and sometimes maddening) puzzles. What it lacks compared to the original is mostly aesthetic: I found the music and art to be mostly inferior (although there are some expections); the beautiful 2D backdrops of Valkyrie Profile have been replaced by more realistic 3D settings (although, true to the profile concept, movement is still restricted to 2D). In certain locations, however, the graphics are truly spectacular and surpass any setting of the original. Overall, my aesthetic complaints are minor, and this is one of the best games I've played in a while. Rating: 4.5/5

Tad Williams: War of the Flowers: A rare standalone novel from Tad Williams, this one starts in familiar territory—present-day San Francisco—and then transports its slacker protagonist into the world of Faerie. Williams has imagined Faerie as having experienced societal and technological changes parallel to those in the human world; consequently his fairyland is an urbanized, deforested place in the midst of environmental and political crisis. An allegorical reading of the setting is straightforward; more interesting is the personal progress of the hero as learns how he fits in to this world. I found the prose a bit cumbersome, and the pace lags at times, but when it picks up it's quite good, and the plot takes some nice unexpected twists. Rating: 3.5/5

The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America: Although it's no secret that I like this album, my review of it is overdue. It's excellent, just a notch below last year's Separation Sunday (which was my pick for album of the year). This album is less like a story than its predecessor, with Craig Finn actually singing instead of just talking most of the time, and the songs relating individual vignettes rather than a single overarching narrative. The album starts out very strong with "Stuck Between Stations"; this and the next two songs are among the best on the record, along with "You Can Make Him Like You" and a surprise acoustic turn on "Citrus". ("Chips Ahoy!", which follows the first track, can be downloaded here.) The slower ballad "First Night" fell a bit flat, however, and I'm not wild about "Chillout Tent". Even with these weak moments, though, the Hold Steady have once again recorded one of the best albums of the year. Rating: 4.5/5

Rolling back the Military Commissions Act

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:53 PM

Now that Congress has changed hands, some of us are wondering: when can we get habeas corpus back? I'm pleased to see that Patrick Leahy is on the case:

An effort to restore habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants could be the first test of the Democrats' resolve to change course in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who is expected to become chairman, confirmed Thursday that he is drafting a bill to undo portions of a recently passed law that prevent terrorism detainees from going to federal court to challenge the government's right to hold them indefinitely.


(Via Unfogged.) Realistically, the earliest something like this could get passed is 2009. Bush can be expected to veto anything that reinstates habeas, and before reaching his desk any bill would have to pass a Senate whose median vote is the pro-torture, anti-habeas Joe Lieberman. Still, it's good that Leahy is working on this.

November 7, 2006

So this is what victory feels like

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:05 PM

Yes! Despite my dire predictions the Democrats have finally proven that they can win elections, and have broken the GOP's lock on the House of Representatives. The last couple of years of GOP governance have been worse than I had imagined, with the loss of the Geneva Conventions, habeas corpus, and the city of New Orleans, but the end of one-party rule should keep things from getting much worse.

Fire away with the subpeonas, Speaker Pelosi! (The Bush Administration is going to ignore the subpeonas, but it's a start...)

Election Day Thread 2006

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:21 PM

I am heartened to see that my precinct has replaced their Diebold touchscreen voting machines with a non-Diebold optical scan system. Of course, here in California's 9th district I don't have to worry about the outcome depending on the voting machines, but it's reassuring to know that my vote will be counted and that a paper trail exists. (I could get this by voting absentee, but I typically don't since I like the experience of voting at the polls.)

Here's an Election Day thread. Any stories from competitive districts? How's CT-04 looking?

November 6, 2006

Use PowerPoint for good, not evil

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:14 PM

Chad Orzel offers advice on PowerPoint lectures, all of which is very sound. The closest thing we have in the Clarke group to hazing new members are the multiple rounds of "practice talks" that grad students must survive when preparing a talk for a conference. These sessions consist of ten minutes of actually practicing the talk, followed by at least an hour of going through the talk slide-by-slide while the rest of the group provides merciless criticism. This tends to instill the student with deep knowledge of the principles of effective presentation, along with some idiosyncracies passed on from senior group members, like putting titles in red and using Times New Roman everywhere. (I am a dissenter who uses black for titles and Verdana for everything on the grounds that sans-serif fonts are more readable on slides. A few people unaccountably use the dread comic sans, which I have tried in vain to discourage.)

Thanks to today's colloquium speaker, I can offer some further advice: Dark purple text on a light purple background is a spectacularly bad color combination. If you want to be even less legible, use green as your alternate text color. This was one of those talks where I had to listen very closely to the speaker, because his slides were useless.

Election 2006 Endorsements

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:54 PM

My neglect of the blog continues but I really should post something about the election.

(Image via Pharyngula.)

My endorsements: Recently the Republican Congress passed a bill which legalized torture and suspended habeas corpus. I am endorsing every Democrat running for any office anywhere.

In California, we have the usual assortment of dumbass ballot initiatives. I am voting no on everything except 87 (taxing oil companies) and 89 (public election financing). I could perhaps be convinced otherwise (but you'll need to do it before about 10am tomorrow).

I predict that Republicans will keep both houses of Congress. I think there's no way the Senate will switch; the House seems more likely, but I think dirty tricks and rigged voting machines will put the GOP over the top.