Thursday, September 29, 2005

Physicists ruling the world!!!

It looks as though Physicists might be taking over the world. Well, at least central Europe anyway.
Apparently the conservatives in Poland, who won an election on the weekend, are putting an ex-physicist forward as their candidate PM.
This follows the debacle of an election in Germany a couple of weeks ago where physicist, Angela Merkel, led the Christian Democrats to win the largest proportion of seats in the federal parliament. While the final make-up of the government is not yet known, it is looking increasingly likely that she will lead a coalition between the SPD and the Christian Democrats.
After hearing about the Polish election, I realized that there might be more that little truth behind some friendly banter I had with Dave at the Quantum Pontiff about theoretical physicists taking over the world...
Question: Why aren't there any left-wing parties with physicists leading them? I'm happy to volunteer if anyone needs me...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Fun things to do on a Sunday when there is no frisbee training

Alternate title: The hills are alive with...

This weekend I went hiking with one of my flatmates (Karol) and some of her mates. It was very cool, some spectacular scenery and a lot of laughter. Here are the pics:

The crew: Gerard, Karol (being distracted by a mountain biker hurtling down the hill while I took the photo), Martina, and Dani. I should point our that they are all doctors...

The crew without Martina and with me doing the stupid bunny ears thing to my flatmate Karol. I can't remember why I thought this was a good idea. It was in retaliation for something, I swear, I wasn't just being a smartarse.

What Innsbruck looks like from above.

What Innsbruck looks like from above at a slightly different angle.

Cable cars are cool. Don't see them so often in Ozneyland. You might be able to make out the Inn, the river running through Innsbruck in this pic, I think that's what I was trying to take a photo of.
Dani and Gerard. The white building in the top-right corner is called Hoettinger Alm, it's an old shepherd's hut and now it's basically a pub. We hiked to it (it's at about 900m above sea level - at least I think that's right, anyone who knows for sure please correct me!) and ate lunch there. After lunch, and very full of knoedel, we walked down that tiny-little track you might be able to make out going down the hill from the Alm. Going down that track was fun, especially wearing running shoes instead of hiking boots....

Friday, September 23, 2005

Damn damn damn

I missed this article by Greg Sheridan in The Oz the other day. I hate to admit it, but it's a good-un. He gives big props to the former Senator for Doc Martins, and the new senator for shoving it down the throat of right-wing arseholes, Natasha Stott Despoja. He is calling for her to be reinstated as the head of the Democrats. Personally, I think this would be a great thing for the Dems. I also wouldn't mind fellow Bris Vegan and Nick Cave fan, Andrew Bartlett, getting the nod again, however I'm not sure that would poll so well.
The Dems have some great parliamentarians and they have been a balancing force in Oz politics for a long time. Like Sheridan says, it would be a shame to see the Dems disappear from the Australian political landscape, something that could well happen at the next election unless they redress the political tailspin that they have been in since Meg Lees decided to support the GST.

"Loud doesn't mean right"

Apparently leftish talkshow host Phil Donahue was interviewed by Bill O'Reilly on Fox in the US the other day. Apparently it was a hell of an interview. Two talk show hacks, well, hacking away at each other. The transcript is available here.
Anyway, the main reason I'm mentioning it is this classic line from Donahue:

"Loud doesn't mean right"

I hope lefties interviewed on Fox from now untill the end of time use that line whenever they begin to get shouted down.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

We still have a long way to go.

Caolionn O'Connell, a Caltech postdoc in physics, wrote a post yesterday explaining how worried she is about trying to juggle a family with her career. It actually made me feel pretty sad. Feminism, for all that it has given us, still hasn't been able to make it easy to raise a family and have a successful career at the same time.
I hope that someday this is resolved, this is one of the big problems in western society and I don't think it gets enough emphasis.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

And in more good news from Iraq...

Once again I'd just like to congratulate the US and the rest of the coalition of the willing on their brilliant Iraq strategy. Apparently there is now two-way traffic between millitants in Iraq and Afganistan.
Bush's strategy for turning Iraq into the frontline in the war on terror has worked! Now terrorists get training and experience in Iraq that they go on to use elsewhere! We have been successful in drawing terrorists to Iraq - it's just that they are going there, kicking our arses and going other places to teach others how to kick our arse. I wonder if they ever thought through that scenario...

What does a frisbee tournament look like?

Warming up on the first morning:

The party:

Where we all slept:

The team that came 2nd and played savage (no reserves!) all weekend:

The winners:

Thanks Georgie

Just when I couldn't think of anything to post today, along comes Cardinal George Pell (for some great photos look here) with a diatribe against relativism in the classroom.
I'm not the biggest fan of relativist teaching in the classroom. However I think there is a case for at least some relativist influence. Students need some grounding in reality and an understanding of societal norms. However, they also need to learn to question and to realise that those societal norms are a controlling force whose influence should always be questioned.
George Pell, and other conservatives like to argue that there are absolutes in the world. That our morality and decisions are based on some underlying truths. What if these truths were something different from those that they believe in? They like to believe in absolute truths because they think that the dominant social norms are evidence of the existence of absolute truth. At the same time, however, they are worried that relativist teaching could eat away at the "accepted" norms of our society.
Pell worries that Australia is rejecting it's moral principles,

"it was hard only 50 years ago to believe we would abort 100,000 babies a year,
contemplate men marrying men, killing the sick, experimenting on human

it doesn't seem to occur to him that maybe Australia is developing a more refined set of moral principles. He tries to argue that the rejection of his principles as the rejection of all. In reality I think he just fears that his principles will be superseded and that he would prefer classroom teaching to be a tool for reinforcing the dominant social structures (that is Christian teaching and Anglo-American traditions).
Oh yea, "100 000 babies" aborted. The 100 000 figure is extremely disputable, and the use of the term "babies" is completely emotive...
Lets turn his quote on its head:
It was hard only 50 years ago to believe that we would no longer have a white Australia policy, would no longer take Aboriginal children from their families, that women might one-day achieve equality with men on all levels....
Take your pick Georgie boy, there are plenty of examples in history where challenging the dominant societal norms has led to a progression in society. Teaching from a critical, relativist, perspective is an important part of this process. Sometimes your beliefs will be attacked, sometimes they will be reinforced.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Spirit prize

My new team, the Flying Circus, recently won the spirit prize at a tournament. I was just thinking about this and came up hard against this age-old question:

What should mean more to an ultimate player, winning the spirit prize or the

If you think winning the spirit prize is more important than winning the tournament, then is that bad spirit because you aren't focusing on playing competitively?
If you think winning the tournament is more important, are you then willing to do anything to win, including things that are against the spirit of the game?
Incidently, the games in which I think we played in the best "spirit of the game" were those where we played our hardest, and best, ultimate.
I think there is a tendency among some ultimate players to associate good spirit with uncompetitive play. Actually, that isn't quite right. I think some players associate competitive play with bad spirit. I absolutely believe that if you are to play in the proper spirit of the game you have to try your hardest, within the rules, to win. That doesn't mean you have to act like an asshole. But it dies mean that sometimes you have to exploit weaknesses in other teams and do your best to hide your own deficiencies.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Totally priceless

Courtesy of Antony Loewenstein's blog. Geez I hope this makes it into a newspaper... Brendan Nelson's media people must be freaking out.

A weekend disconnected

The weather turned real bad here over the weekend. A lot of snow was dumped on the mountains and there was a lot of rain down in the town. As a result of this I had zero motivation to make the trek into work to get connected to the net. Boy did I choose the wrong weekend to stay disconnected...
We've just had the weekend of the too-close-to-call elections. The NZ and German elections have resulted in practically non-results. Everyone seems to be claiming victory left, right, and center. On top of all that there is still all sorts of vitriol pouring out of the Latham diaries.
Oh yea, and this morning comes the announcement that North Korea has abandoned their nuclear program. That's the best thing I've heard in ages.
I really have a lot of reading to catch up on...

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Latham debacle

Ok, I'm beginning to think that the Latham Diaries should be re-named the Latham Debacle. Why, well according to debacle means:
  1. A sudden, disastrous collapse, downfall, or defeat; a rout.
  2. A total, often ludicrous failure.
  3. The breaking up of ice in a river.
  4. A violent flood.

Well, we can kinda discount the last two, though a violent flood is a good description of the abuse and ramblings that have poured out of his pen and mouth over the last few days. Mark Latham's fall from grace has been hard, and ludicrous. It seems that he had real problems connecting to the realities of his own shortcomings.

It seems that Latham had a great vision for Australia. He had a vision of an egalitarian society that was strong and independent. Unfortunately, his vision was obscured by a hatred of the forces that he saw as being impediments to a better society.

It seems that his own hatred led to some of Labor's policy disasters in the leadup to last year's election. This is especially the case with Labor's divisive school's policy and the Iraq "troops home by Christmas" policy.

In today's Weekend Oz, Paul Kelly paints Latham as a character who increasingly sought to lash out at those around him throughout his tenure in the Labor leadership. The people Latham criticizes seem to be exactly those that he should have been listening to. Beazley, Rudd, Whitlam, Keating,... the list is a who's who of intelligent policy thinkers and strategists in the Labor party. It seems that Latham was himself a divisive character in the party, unable to work within a team, who believed that the only way forward was his.

I guess it was lucky for the ALP that he didn't win last year. Well, at least that's the line being spun by the Murdoch press. I'm not so sure I believe that. If Latham was so dangerous and divisive after an election win, then I'm sure we would have been given the boot by caucus. Anyway, this argument is purely academic, it's about events that never happened (in fact, that didn't really even come close to happening).

What I think should be speculated on a bit more, is whether there really was any divisive behaviour among the federal ALP leadership, and whether there still is? As Julia Gillard has pointed out, some of this should be looked into. Labor needs a united team to take on Howard, they need to get over their own ambitions and beliefs and take the fight to Howard.

Talk like a pirate me hearties!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I've updated my links in the sidebar a bit. Check out some of the new political blog links, some of them are pretty cool.
Boltwatch is great, they tear apart Andrew Bolt's columns every week. For those of you that are new to my blog, I think Andrew Bolt is so much of a tool that I'm not going to even hyperlink his name. I also especially like Larvatus Prodeo as the level of debate is high and the people who contribute don't take themselves too seriously.


Find out what it means to me.

Natasha is definitely keeping it real.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Crazy conspiracy theories...

*For anyone reading this, I'm not being very serious in this article (if you didn't already realise that). I'm absolutely wearing my tin-foil conspiracy theory hat - the one that keeps the aliens from reading my mind... I don't seriously think any ideas I have written here are true, I'm just playing with ideas for the hell of it and basically because I think it's funny. I do however think that The Pontiff's article that I'm referring to is important and should be discussed seriously.*
For anyone who didn't realize this before, I am by occupation a theoretical physicist who works in the field of quantum computing. Quantum computing is arguably the largest sub-branch of a relatively new field of science dubbed quantum information science.

On of my mates (and scientific colleagues), "The Quantum Pontiff", recently posted an article talking about the fact that quantum information science is largely funded by 3/4 letter defense agencies that are extremely interested in Shor's Factoring algorithm. Shor's factoring algorithm can only be performed on a quantum computer that can factor large numbers in polynomial time (this is computer-speak for "damned fast"). Factoring large numbers quickly is important because if you could do it you could probably hack most available public key cryptosystems, that is most of the cryptosystems used on the net at the moment. Anyway, in this article "The Quantum Pontiff" discussed what might happen when we actually do build a quantum computer (which, incidentally is probably many years and many millions of dollars away). Who will control it? What will it be used for? These are good questions to ask and as a community, quantum information scientists need to have this discussion.

On a lighter (or not) note, some of my old workmates and I used to have a bit of fun wondering what you would do if you had discovered an efficient CLASSICAL factoring algorithm? That is, an algorithm that can be performed using the computers that we have right now.

Well, we used to debate about this a bit. I notice actually that David Poulin (another old friend and workmate) has raised this question in the comments on the Pontiff's page. We used to talk a lot about whether you should put it up on the net, tell the government, defense agencies etc... Most of the talk actually centered around two main issues:
  1. The impact of such a discovery on the world's economy
  2. Keeping yourself and the information safe

Like I said, this debate was normally just a bored group of physicists throwing around some big ideas for a bit of a laugh.

Ok, time for a random paragraph to another not quite so related (but soon will be) topic: Regular readers will know that I'm pretty into politics. I spend a lot of time reading plogs (politics blogs) and this blog is sometimes pretty much just about politics. Often the physics part of my brain is quite divorced from the politics part of my brain. I don't know why this is, probably has something to do with taking physics and politics courses at the same time back in school. I kinda had to get good at switching my brain from the Schroedinger equation to the class struggle in short periods of time in order to pass exams.

Anyway for some reason a few weeks ago I started to use my politics brain to think about the whole "efficient classical factoring algorithm" question. Here is what I came up with:

Imagine you are person who has just discovered, or is on the verge of discovering an efficient classical algorithm for factoring, or something to hack public key cryptosystems.

Who are you? Well, to begin with it goes without saying you are a math nerd.

Who are you professionally?As most of the money in this sort of field comes from the 3/4 letter agencies you are probably either directly working for them or are getting some sort of funding from them. It's hard to find mathematicians/physicists or whoever working on cryptosystems that aren't somehow involved with the 3/4 letter agencies. Often people would prefer not to, but it's just a fact of life that it's these agencies that dole out the dough.

Do you give the agencies the information you have discovered? Almost definitely. You are probably legally (and debatably morally) obliged to give them the information before it goes public. So, you do your job, because in reality you are just some math nerd and decisions like this shouldn't be made my you because you aren't qualified to make this call on your own.

What happens next? Well, they (the agency) panic a bit. This is BIG NEWS. Big news can be dangerous. For instance, what happens if you have such an algorithm and you don't have a public key cryptosystem that is invulnerable? I'm sure the thought would go through someone's head "if we can find this, why can't someone else?". The world is full of smart math nerds, often results are proven independently and simultaneously by mathematicians all over the world. Surely any defense agency would begin to get pretty worried about how to control who has access to such an algorithm.

A good analogy would be nuclear proliferation. There is no power in having nuclear weapons if everyone else has them. All you have then is a seriously dangerous situation.

If you have the biggest stick, you want to make sure no-one else gets a stick as big as yours.

What do you do about it? Well, this is where my political head kicked in. Politics 101 tells you that if you don't want someone to see something, give them something else to look at. Is quantum computing that "something else"? In the mid 90s did someone get close to finding a way of breaking public key cryptosystems? Is the influx of money into quantum information science just a really clever way of diverting a bunch of really smart mathematicians, computer scientists and physicists away from something big?

I mean, it's pretty easy to see that quantum computing would absorb a lot of people for a long time. Everyone has always said that building a quantum computer would be really hard to do. There is a lot of interesting science to be done in the meantime, with a lot of potential for spin-offs which are also interesting. As far as basic science is concerned, quantum computing is a great way of advancing science. Maybe "they" realized that they could easily get people to work on quantum computing (because as far as science goes, it's interesting), but is it also a good way of distracting scientists from the "main game"?

By publicly announcing support for QC, and not really making any secret of the fact that you want it for Shor's algorithm are the 3/4 letter agencies really doing the scientific equivalent of pointing over someone's shoulder and yelling "hey, look at that!" ?

In politics it is always hard to hide information. It is always easy to make a lot of noise about something that isn't such a big deal...

Monday, September 05, 2005

More lazy blogging

I could write something serious here, lord know's there is plenty of seriously nasty stuff going on in the world at the moment. Instead, I'm going to post a bunch of photos I took of an amazing sunset here in Innsbruck the other day....

By the way, can anyone tell me why sunsets are so amazing after thunderstorms? I'm guessing it has something to do with high humidities and subsequently larger amounts of refraction in the atmosphere. I can't quite put my finger on it... Something to do with the red light being refracted more than the blue... Okay, that is probably the answer, but if someone has something better (i.e. they have thought about it for longer than it took me to write this sentance) I'd like to hear it.
Just before sunset there were these two amazing rainbows arcing over the whole valley. It was totally amazing, I couldn't get the whole thing into the one shot. What I wouldn't give for a fish-eye lens...