Friday, March 30, 2007

MC Rove - lame, so very very lame

Jon Stewart sums up the abysmal shenanigans at the White House correspondents dinner last night:


 I couldn't bring myself to actually post the video of the performance, it's just way too crap for this blog. Sorry but it has to be said, KARL ROVE YOU ARE CRAP AND IN NO WAY ARE YOU FUNNY.

Instead, here's a link to Stephen Colbert's speech at last year's correspondents dinner - which is probably the reason why they had such a lame performance last night.

Go UQ go! again...

I just heard that my old frisbee team, the UQ Ultimate Lovers, have won the Dog Cup (Brisbane's elite-level ultimate frisbee competition) for the first time!

Congratulations to Brett, John and all the others involved!

Go UQ go!

My brother (who I am super-proud of) is currently representing UQ and Australia at the "Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition" in Washington DC. I just thought I'd draw people's attention to the fact that his team are totally awesome (they recently won the Australian championships) and that they have made their way to the quarter finals!

Apparently they come up against a team from University College, from the University of London on Friday morning in the quarters. If they beat them then they will face up against the University of Sydney or King's College in the semi's...

Wouldn't it be awesome if you could chant during moot court?

Go UQ go! Woohoo!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Quantum cat posting

Given that posting cute cat pictures pretty much eats up all the internet bandwidth that isn't used for pornography, it was probably only a matter of time before someone started posting quantum cat pictures.

Please, no Schroedinger cat jokes in the comments.

Hat tip to Zarquon who posted a link in the comments at LP.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

For Flic

My friend Flic flagged this Colbert gem:


Policy Pr0n

Cross posted at LP, if you would like to comment please do it there:

Inspired by this thread and the Ruddsters Rampant Rollout I have a question for LP readers of all political persuasions:

In the upcoming election campaign what are the "dream" policies that you would love to hear your political party of choice put out there? More concisely, in the next term what do you want your government to do for you?

This question is pretty vague because I'd like you guys to throw your ideas down, I'm also really interested in hearing why you think that your dream policy should (or could) be delivered by the government? Think big and small, everything from fixing the potholes in your street to delivering on that old-fashioned world peace thing. What is it that you really really want from your government and how does it fit into your vision of Australia's future?

Here is my attempt at getting the ball rolling:

In the upcoming election campaign I want to see the major parties argue over a detailed plan demonstrating how they are going to improve the research standards in Australia to ensure that we remain competitive against the US and Europe over the next 20 years. I don't want to hear the Liberal Party's ideologically driven rhetoric about privatisation. I don't want to hear piecemeal Labor Party lines about creating an "Innovation Nation" without a considered plan. I want to see our government serious about creating an environment that will make the world's industry leaders and the Australian public want to invest in Australian research instead of European or American research. I want to hear Kevin Rudd or John Howard say, "Anything they can do at MIT we will do better", briefly followed by, "and this is how I'm going to make it happen...".

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I'm so hanging to get something with this in it. IBM are officially awesome.

Friday, March 23, 2007

What's this all about?

Apparently the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's navy have captured  15 British sailors and marines and taken them from Iraqi waters into Iranian territory.

Hopefully this situation is just some sort of mistake and doesn't get out of control...

The operating system wars

I'm not usually one to get involved in the operation system wars, but I thought that this clip was pretty funny:


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Where do YouTubers find the time?

Ever since I started blogging I've regularly been asked the question, "where do you find the time to do it?".

I don't know how many of you really keep track of this blog, but there are very few articles on it that take me more than five minutes or so to write. I think the hardest thing about blogging is keeping track of the 'sphere in general. If I drop out for a week or so it can be really hard to keep track of what has been going on out there in the intertubes. It's also hard to keep track of the great new blogs that are emerging all the time.

Nothing however is has hard as keeping up with whatever crazy shite is going down on YouTube on a daily basis. These guys invest some serious time into making their clips, commenting on other people's clips, and basically busting out with the crazy shenanigans.There are some seriously talented, creative, and committed people in that community that I really admire.

Why am I going on about this, well I saw this clip today and I just got to thinking "how the hell does he find the time for this stuff?":


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom

Cross posted at LP.

People have been saying it for months now, Howard thinks that he can win this election by playing the "man of conviction" role and talking up his government's economic credentials. In the past week we've seen him try to play his great international leader shtick, only to have his message drowned out by the Santoro scandal.

You have to hand it to him, the plan was beautiful. Last week he signs the defense pact with Japan, jumps a plane to Afghanistan, and then to Iraq. This is all meant to build a perception that Howard is a leader full of resolve who is serious about victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. More importantly it was designed to look like Howard has control over the situation in these countries.

Then comes this week and the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Howard, having been seen to be micromanaging the Australian involvement in the previous week, quite obviously has "a plan" and so is immune from all sorts of sticky questions like "what do you think of the fact that George Bush didn't say the word 'victory' once during his address to the American people?". Then, Howard gets the opportunity to get back on the front foot against Labor by  giving a speech marking the occasion. He puts on his "great leader of the nation" face and suggests that Iraqis need "our resolve, not our retreat" and "patience, not political positioning". The whole speech is designed to build the perception that Labor's withdrawal policy is confused and to push the line that victory in Iraq will come with conviction. He leaves it unsaid that obviously he has plenty of conviction and resolve all sorts of really great leadership qualities.

Howard asks Australians to leave aside any issues that we might have had about going to war in the first place and to focus on the future. However, what we don't hear is anything about what his brilliant strategic vision for success is. His only attempt at addressing this key issue is to presume that "the surge" will actually work if given enough time. What happens to Iraq if the surge is a failure? Do we put in more troops? Do we pull them out? Do we re-deploy? Do we stay the course and hope that things will change? None of these questions are discussed.

Howard's speech is all about perception and has little substance. That's the take-home message. It will be interesting to see who in the media realizes that nothing in Howard's speech is new, it has just been framed with a whole lot of new rhetoric. His language is designed to give Australians the sense that victory in Iraq requires nothing but grit and determination, that somehow the Iraqi civil war is simply a test of our nation's character. Behind his words he is pushing the mythical message that Kevin Rudd and the Labor party do not have the strength to lead Australia because they do not share his conviction.

Howard's whole game reminds me of this classic line of Kodos' (masquerading as Bill Clinton) from the Simpsons:

"My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball, but tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!"

Awesomeness in a movie

"Pirates of the Caribbean 3 - At World's End" is being released in a couple of months. Awesome.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Should I publish research ideas on my blog?

(Note: The ideas in this article aren't strictly my own. I'm borrowing most of this from discussions I've had with various people including: Dave Bacon, Jennifer Dodd, Mike Nielsen, Aram Harrow, Caterina Mora, Joe Renes, Andrew Hines, Gavin Brennen, Frank Verstraete, and Scott Aaronson.)

I've been thinking a lot lately about the ways in which us quantum information geeks discuss and disperse ideas. Traditionally, academic discourse has been via published journals and conferences (that often have conference proceedings where people have the opportunity to formalize whatever it was that they talked about in their talk or poster). There are a lot of downsides to both of these processes. Leaving aside the very large issues of the sometimes prohibitive cost of journals and conferences and the general worth of the refereeing process, there is the very physical problem of time.

Writing, refereeing, and ultimately publishing papers is a time intensive process - as is the process of reading, understanding and categorizing the relevance of research results. The birth of the arXiv saw scientists realize that many of the tasks of discussion and dispersion of new research results could be done in parallel. People began to put unpublished preprints on the arXiv which sped up the process of scientific discussion. Scientists who are confident in their abilities can "sort the wheat from the chaff" and can proceed to use non-refereed results to further their own research. In essence, for many papers that hit the arXiv there is little necessity to wait for the published version to appear in a journal before using the results.

Obviously, this whole arXiv experiment has its downsides. Once someone has permission to post papers on the arXiv the only moderation that exists is to prevent potentially offensive material from being published. There is little to no control over the validity of the content of any papers. If you want to use a result that you see on the arXiv that hasn't been refereed you are doing so at your own risk. Fortunately this has not proven to be a huge problem for the majority of arXiv users however as science is driven by reputation.

If you've ever spent much time involved in the "climate change wars" on the interwebs you will have seen endlessly the argument that science is not a democracy as opinions are always weighed against authority, experience and reputation. This reality about the nature of science provides a measure of control over the content of the arXiv - if you throw a lot of junk up then you will eventually end up with a reputation as a junk scientist. Not unlike the tale of "the boy who cried wolf" no-one will notice if you publish quality material as they will simply cease to read your work and your scientific credibility will gradually dissolve.

So far, the arXiv has worked pretty well as a way of speeding up scientific discourse and making the job of searching for relevant results simpler. The big question is whether the arXiv will continue to be useful with the passage of time and in the face of a growing number of contributed papers?

My experience is with the quant-ph subsection of the arXiv. The quant-ph arXiv has in recent years seen a gradual increase in the average number of papers posted daily. This has been due to the explosion of interest in the fields of quantum information science and quantum and atom optics. As the number of daily articles increases it becomes harder to notice important new results especially from relatively unknown authors. The problem of increasing field popularity has always existed in science. Traditionally it is dealt with in a number of ways. Physics journals have normally managed this problem by dividing popular fields up into sub-specialties and by providing new journals and sections for emergent fields. However, for a field like quantum information science, which draws it strength from being at the intersection of many fields, this approach could be seriously flawed. In addition to this we have always used conferences as a way of dispersing new ideas. The thesis has always been that the really good ideas don't get missed, they might take a while to surface but eventually they will be noticed by the field.

My question is, can we use communications technology to improve the nature of our scientific discourse? A very relevant, and very useful example of how "web 2.0" ideas can be adapted directly to science is Dave Bacon's recently launched website ( which uses the idea of "digging" and applies it to the daily quant-ph feed. This website works by letting you "scite" a paper that you like, then it is hoped that with time popular articles will become noticed as they will be "scited" often. In addition to this, Dave has launched through his blog "The Quantum Pontiff" and the "SciRate blog" a monthly article discussing the months most "scited" papers. It is important to note that such services are designed purely to simplify the task of sorting through papers, not to replace it.

SciRate has been developed on the back of a trend for people in the field of quantum information science (I'm picking this as an example, it is more than apparent in other fields as well) in the last couple of years which has seen people increasingly use the internet to discuss current research. While physicists have been using email since it began to discuss work, this process is essentially one that is done behind closed doors. What we have seen emerge in recent years, especially with the advent of blogs and wikis, is the public discussion of current research.

Anyone who has hung out with physicists knows that "shop talk" can almost never be avoided. So it isn't surprising in the slightest that when people like Dave, Scott, Mike, Aram, and to a much lesser extent people like me (and the many others that I've left out) began to blog that work discussions would become unavoidable. More and more we are seeing Scott and Dave post articles that are relevant to very recent papers and we are seeing real-time discussions between various leaders in our field taking place in a very public forum. Such discussions aren't normally available to people who aren't working at the premier institutions in quantum information theory and as such I think that these blogs are becoming an invaluable asset.

I have often mused, as have many others, as to whether we'll see blogs or some other form of technology take over from the old process of writing and refereeing papers. While my mood on this seems to change with the week, I'm currently of the opinion that this won't happen. Papers give people the opportunity to carefully think out and refine their ideas over a relatively long period of time. A good paper can be the compilation of years of work, carefully condensed to produce a particular result. While there's nothing stopping people from doing this in a blog article, it seems that blogs are, for the most part, about the rapid discussion of ideas. In my own head I see a blog as being more like a chalkboard in the middle of a discussion with twenty people than a well-reviewed PRL. Blogs, in the quantum information context, seem to me to be developing into a form of media for commentary on our own field. While blogs since their inception have been a way of commenting on events in the news media. We are now seeing the development of a alternative media culture within the quantum information community. I guess my experience within the political blogosphere has biased me to think that this has to be a good thing for the community, but I guess time will tell.

Finally, I guess I should get around to the topic the title of this post. In my discussions with other physics bloggers one question frequently arises, "should I post new research ideas on a blog?". For the most part, this question is asked out of a fear of losing credit for your idea. As I've had it put to me, "I don't have enough good ideas to give them away for free". Personally, I'd like to see a culture develop where people are credited for their ideas no matter the forum where they are presented. However, being a postdoc who is finding it hard enough to get employment as it is, does it make more sense for me to hoard my knowledge and use what I can of it to publish papers to further my career? Or should I put all my ideas out here for the world to see in the hope that if they are useful to someone they will give me the credit (and that there is some way of showing a prospective employer that I got the credit for that idea)?

I'd really love to hear people's ideas on any or all of the things that I've mentioned in this post. So if you have some thoughts, please post them.

The Democrat primaries are getting nasty


I just saw this on YouTube:


Obviously I don't know if Obama's team planned this, but even if they weren't involved it demonstrates that there is a lot of hostility among many Democrats towards Hillary Clinton. I guess we have one hell of a primary season ahead of us.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Howard reeks of desperation

It seems that John Howard has decided to take a play right out of the Republican handbook - when you are getting hammered in the polls pay a token visit to your troops in a combat zone.

Apparently Howard has flown to Afghanistan on the way back from Japan (I don't really see how that is "on the way back") in order to gather information about the possibility of increasing the Australian troop deployment there. This reeks of absolute desperation, why would Howard ever need to go to Afghanistan to gather information?

This is quite simply a political stunt which is designed to make Howard look more like a leader and less like the mud-flinging desiccated coconut that has occupied the national stage in the past few weeks. I don't think that the public will fall for it. Indeed, I think that they will be outraged that Howard has wasted money on such a obviously useless escapade.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Stuck in Chicago

I'm stuck in Chicago right now. My plan was to fly from Munich to Albuquerque via Chicago and then to catch a bus to Santa Fe on Saturday. That plan came unstuck when there was a big-ass storm in Chicago about the time I was scheduled to land. This storm threw the airport into chaos mode and everything got delayed by hours.

Anyway, my original flight was cancelled and I was offered a flight on another airline leaving a couple of hours later. I only have about 1 day in my schedule on this trip to catch up with my mate Steve and some of his coworkers in Albuquerque. Well, I've been waiting here for hours watching my new flight's times getting pushed further and further back. What's the bet that I won't be flying out tonight?

At least there is a consistent supply of caffeine here to keep me going.

I've now been traveling for about 18 hours and God knows when that will end.

Update: Still waiting. 19 hours. American Airlines says that we are leaving in a little under 2 hours. Apparently our plane is on the way.