Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tales from the arXiv: Quantum Robot edition

Date: Thu, 25 Dec 2008 16:31:05 GMT (161kb)

Title: I, Quantum Robot
Authors: Paola Zizzi
Categories: quant-ph
Comments: 12 pages
Quantum robots, defined as mobile quantum systems with an on-board quantum computer and any needed ancillary systems, interact with other quantum systems which are part of the environment. The logic which describes quantum robots is not orthodox quantum logic, but a deductive calculus which reproduces the quantum tasks (computational processes, and actions) taking into account quantum superposition and quantum entanglement. The logical object-language cannot be viewed as the reflection of the usual classical metalanguage: a quantum metalanguage is needed. Quantum robots can, in principle, become aware of the environment, take decisions, and make experiments. In principle, quantum robots can become intelligent machines. In this case, it is believed they might learn much faster than classical machines, because of quantum speed-up. Then, quantum robots, once they will be built, might result to be those hyper-intelligent machines which will lead to the so-called technological singularity. Such a singularity might be dangerous if quantum robots become self-aware and take advantage on humans. To avoid such a problem, it would be useful to adopt a quantum metalanguage to control quantum robots in a dialectic way, that is, without lowering their capabilities by quantum measurements. A physical implementation of a quantum metalanguage might be the use of coherent states in brain signals. In this way the external agent virtually acts as he
was in a composite quantum system together with the quantum robot. This is the quantum version of non-invasive BCI (Brain-Computer Interface). In this case the observer can be considered internal by the use of a quantum metalanguage, resulting in an obviously conscious Quantum Brain-Computer.

\\ ( http://arxiv.org/abs/0812.4614 , 161kb)

Or maybe this should be called the spooooooky robot edition? (Actually, some of the papers by this author that he cited in the bibliography seem legitimate even though this paper seems strange.)

New Year's Resolution as determined by iTunes (Take 4)

Just like I did last year, the year before that, and the year before that, I am going to determine my New Year's resolution using the iTunes Oracle. It is a bit early to do this, but it's already the 31st in Oxford, so we'll just deal with the fact that it's still really early morning there.

Here is what the iTunes Oracle says about my 2009:

1. The Covering: Lisa Stansfield, Someday (I'm Coming Back)
2. The Crossing: Madonna, Nothing Fails (Jason Nevins Radio Remix)
3. The Crown: Madness, Baggy Trousers
4. The Root: David Bowie, Golden Years
5. The Past: Icehouse, Don't Believe Anymore
6. The Future: Squeeze, If I Didn't Love You
7. The Questioner: Mariah Carey, To Be Around You
8. The House: Paul Simon, Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes
9. The Inside: Neil Hannon, So Long & Thanks For All The Fish (Reprise)
10. The Outcome: John Lennon, The Ballad Of John And Yoko

Bonus song: Simon & Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water

Last year's prediction that waves would be important to me in 2008 was hardly surprising, given that I study nonlinear waves. Given my musical tastes, the iTunes Oracle has brought me yet another overwhelmingly positive prediction for this year. Apparently, the current issue involves my worrying that something or someone might be coming back and possibly stalking me. (I certainly hope not.) Also, the current problems involve nothing failing. Well that's hardly realistic! Maybe it means that there will be problems if I don't fail any of my students? Also, the best that I can achieve from how things currently are is baggy trousers, which isn't actually so bad. Some aspects of all this have arisen from my skepticism, but it sounds like I'm getting over that. What will replace it are bipolar feelings about something. (OK, you need to know the lyrics of the Squeeze song to see where that interpretation comes from.) The questions around this come from whether or not I am around whatever object or creature is in question, or perhaps they really arise from the fact that I have some Mariah Carey songs on my playlist? Other people apparently view this object or creature as somehow luxurious or possibly (if a person) as having had some sort of privileged background. My hopes for the situation are just that things will go away. (We shall see. Let's see what materializes first.) The outcome will be my railing about others (figuratively) crucifying me---also bloody likely, given how much I care about how others think. ;) And as a bonus, the Oracle ended on a rather melancholy song.

In sum, the Oracle has made about as little sense as usual. :) But it's a fun exercise nonetheless. Happy New Year!

Online Steve Strogatz Lecture on Synchronization

Courtesy the website of the Society for Industrual and Applied Mathematics, here is a online lecture on synchronization by Steve Strogatz that has been posted on the Exchange Morning Post website. I haven't watched the lecture yet, but it is intended for public audiences, and Steve is one of the most inspiring speakers I've ever watched. (By the way, as some of you know, he was on my Ph.D. thesis committee.)

Anyway, enjoy!

Monday, December 29, 2008

This is why I am "awesome"

I had another bout with awesomeness today...

I am at my parents' house and wanted to order from a local Chinese place that I really like but from which I hadn't ordered in several years.

My parents had a menu at home, but I knew what I wanted and I stubbornly just googled to find the phone number so I wouldn't have to leave my room and deal with their ill-tempered dog who would attack me (when it's not contained) if I left my room. I also didn't want to bug someone else to get the menu even though that was offered. I called the place and they no longer carried what I really liked, but it had been a few years, so I shrugged and ordered something that offered as an alternative. When they came to the door, I realized my mistake and paid a small delivery charge because this place is much farther than the other one. Ah well, at least I ordered from a place with the same name (which is apparently owned by the same people, if I understood correctly).

I'm such a champ.

(Oh, and the other place still has the menu item I really like...)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Observation of the Day

I love having a career in which many of my colleagues respond to e-mails within about 15-30 minutes of my sending them even when it's the day after Christmas, it's Friday night, and it's 8pm their time. :)

How about those Republicans?

I just read this story on CNN.com.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New to the Blogroll: Science Groks

I have added a link to the blog that goes with the Groks Science Radio Show and Podcast, which is brought to you by the creative energies of Charles ("Chuckles") Lee '96 from Lloyd House and Frank Ling '97 from Page House.

Last week, we recorded another show with a guest appearance by me. As usual, I made a few "awesome" comments. :)

2008: The Year in Review

OK, so here is my year-in-review blog entry.

I've gotten increasingly lazy about these blog entries over the past few years and, frankly, I'm not particularly interested in writing them at the moment. (They're very long, not usually that creative, and if I'm going to finish the final one in March like I did for 2007, there doesn't seem to be much point in dragging them out.)

So let me just summarize 2008 with the catchphrase of the year: And that happened!

By the way, I will still be doing my iTunes New Year's resolutions this time around, but I'll write that blog entry in a few days.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes from the art submission guidelines from the J!NX catalog in their solicitation (with potential monetary reward) for new t-shirt ideas:

"3. We have disabled BMP files in the art upload. If you are using MS Paint, you probably don't need to be submitting art."

Comment: I approve! (As a side note, some of you reading this may be aware of my numerous rants at students who submitted drafts of papers to me in which the figures were in .bmp format. In the MTBI REU program in particular, that a was well-known way to make me go ballistic.)

Did I mention that I hate the Yankees?

Apparently, the Yankees just signed Mark Teixeira. Fuckers.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sliding up that hill...

Here is an awesome video (complete with Benny Hill music) of cars attempting to make it up an icy slope in Portland. It's funny in general, but if you look closely, you can find some pretty hilarious things in there. Also, some of the cars were really persistent.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Names for my children?

This comment comes from one of my former Caltech SURF students:

P.S. One last random comment--I always thought your name should be a type of beer, like a porter that you drink out of a mason jar? (I'm still working out the kinks) so I tried googling "Mason Porter" but all I could find were your websites and some mediocre folk band. Anywho, when you have children I think you should name them so that it matches with your last name, something like "Stout" or "Double" or maybe "Telly". During rotation this year I found an unused nametag at a Ricketts lunch with the name "Ernest Lee". It made me really happy.

Comment: I'm amused.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dodgers resign Rafael Furcal

The Dodgers have apparently resigned shortstop Rafael Furcal to a three-year contract. It was reported a couple of days ago that Furcal had signed with the Braves (his original team), but apparently there were some shenanigans (on the part of his agent) involved in those negotiations.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Some words from Vin Scully

Courtesy Rob Neyer's blog, here is a short video blurb from Vin Scully in which he talks about past, present, and future.

Dali, Topology, and Catastrophe Theory

Courtesy Cat, I just found out that Dali had some connections with Rene Thom and put some catastrophe theory and topology into some of his art. In particular, he pointed out The Swallow's Tail and Topological Abduction of Europe - Homage to René Thom.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tales from the arXiv: Online and Offline Gangs

Here is a new paper--just posted on the arXiv preprint server--by one of my collaborators that you might find interesting:

Title: Human group formation in online guilds and offline gangs driven by common team dynamic

Authors: Neil F. Johnson, Chen Xu, Zhenyuan Zhao, Nicolas Ducheneaut, Nicholas Yee, George Tita, Pak Ming Hui

Abstract: Quantifying human group dynamics represents a unique challenge. Unlike animals and other biological systems, humans form groups in both real (offline) and virtual (online) spaces -- from potentially dangerous street gangs populated mostly by disaffected male youths, through to the massive global guilds in online role-playing games for which membership currently exceeds tens of millions of people from all possible backgrounds, age-groups and genders. We have compiled and analyzed data for these two seemingly unrelated offline and online human activities, and have uncovered an unexpected quantitative link between them. Although their overall dynamics differ visibly, we find that a common team-based model can accurately reproduce the quantitative features of each simply by adjusting the average tolerance level and attribute range for each population. By contrast, we find no evidence to support a homophilic version of the model, nor does conventional time-aggregated network analysis help unravel the dynamics.

Based on the format of the paper, it may have been submitted to Nature or Science.

Friday, December 12, 2008

History Repeats Itself

I was googling myself and found a December 2008 article about Christmas cards that some little kids had made in an art class. The reporter asked the kids who they were going to give their cards to and other things like that. And then came the following indication that perhaps history repeats itself.

The reporter asked one particular student about who he was going to give his cards to. Here is what the article says about how he reacted:

Mason Porter, 7, hadn't thought that far ahead. He was too busy thinking about what he wants for Christmas.

"I want a Nintendo," he said. "My brother broke mine."

If you substitute the specific names of the video game systems involved, that could have been me (especially the way I was back then)! Wow!

What happens in the Greater LA Area stays in the Greater LA Area

I am flying home to Los Angeles tomorrow and will be splitting my time between Caltech and Beverly Hills to visit friends, family, and collaborators. I arrive tomorrow evening and my plan for Sunday is to hang out with friends and eat meat.

Ooh.... Matlab is a place on Earth!

Over twenty years ago Belinda Carlisle insisted that Heaven is a Place on Earth.

Maybe that's true, but thanks to a tidbit of information I just received from my collaborator Peter Mucha, I have just found out that Matlab is also a place on Earth. (Come on: You know you want to record this parody.) I approve!

I can't wait until the long-awaited Where in Bangladesh is Carmen San Diego? game finally comes out! (It will presumably be before this game does.)

This just totally rocks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Money, Money, Money

I recently got some money to continue my research on network analysis in U.S. Congressional networks. This grant, which comes from the McDonnell Foundation's complex systems initiative, is joint with James Fowler of UC San Diego's political science department. The funds are awarded in units of Boeing stocks.

Life Imitates Weird Science (and Buffy)

Every so often there's a news story that reminds us how life sometimes imitates the things we see in movies and television.

Well, this time around life seems to be imitating Weird Science (and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if you prefer), as a Japanese inventor has built his own girlfriend.

Money quote: She has all senses except for smell.

Money quote #2: Aiko actually means "love child" in Japanese but the software engineer denies he has created the robot for sex.

As some of you will no doubt recall, this didn't exactly work out well for the character in Buffy. We'll see what happens in this case.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

BCS Declares Germany Winner of World War II

Courtesy Justin Howell, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has declared Germany to be the winner of World War II. You know, this wouldn't have happened if they had used random walkers instead.

Dodgers sign Mark Loretta

It's not exactly world-breaking news, but the Dodgers have apparently signed free agent Mark Loretta. Loretta is a solid spare part who knows how to get on base and can play all over the infield. He should no longer be an everyday player (though he had a couple of excellent seasons as a starter back in the day), but as a part-timer and occasional platooner he's a good player to have around. Also, he's one of the best baseball players ever whose last name is a woman's first name.

There is an article on epsn.com that seems to be about the Dodgers general manager claiming that C.C. Sabathia wants to play for us. Ladies and gentlemen, this means it's a slow news day. We'll see if that changes. Baseball's winter meetings are going on right now, after all, so something interesting could happen.

Update: The Dodgers have apparently resigned Casey Blake to a 3-year deal. I approve! (By the way, you can use this as a hint to try to figure out the rest of the woman's-first-name-as-last-name all-star team.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Spread of Acne, Headaches, and Height in Social Networks?

One of my collaborators, James Fowler, has been in the news lately (yet again!) for his work on the Framington Heart Network. This time, he and his collaborator Nicholas Christakis (who is an excellent speaker and a nice guy, by the way) have looked at the spread of happiness in social networks. They previously published papers about the spread of smoking (and non-smoking) and obesity in these networks. (I was thanked in the obesity paper, as I had read and commented on a draft of it a year before the final version came out. When Nicholas gave this talk, I loved how the obesity level of a person was indicated by the radius of the corresponding node.)

One thing I just found out by taking a look at improbable.com is that another relevant study, that gives a warning about the dangers of overinterpretation, appears in the same issue of the British Medical Journal. As improbable.com states, it's highly amusing that the journal issue includes [a] strange juxtaposition of a study and a study mocking it. You can read the BMJ's editorial here.

The social networks literature from the social science side of things is extremely interesting, but one thing that I do see in a lot of that research is a tendency towards overinterpretation. My side of the scientific literature has its own set of faults, and in all of these cases, it's good to be reminded about these dangers now and then. We all need to make sure to keep our feet on the ground. (By the way, I am in no way denigrating the study. I think that it's a very nice piece of social network analysis. I'm just pointing out the need for vigilance and the excellent point also made by the other paper.)

I couldn't find a link to get this individual blog entry from improbable.com, so I have copied the text below:

Much excitement in the news about a study just published in BMJ (British Medical Journal):

“Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study,” James H Fowler and Nicholas A Christakis, BMJ 2008 337: a2338. The conclusion: “Peoples happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected.”

Which, of course, is a causal conclusion.

But lesser attention appears to have been paid to another study published simultaneously in the same issue: “Detecting implausible social network effects in acne, height, and headaches: longitudinal analysis,” Ethan Cohen-Cole and Jason M Fletcher, BMJ 2008;337:a2533

They found that a friend´s acne problems increased one’s own acne problems, a friend’s headaches increased one’s own headaches, and a friend’s height increased one’s own height. Given the first two, it seems one is better off without friends.

Their conclusion: “Researchers should be cautious in attributing correlations in health outcomes of close friends to social network effects, especially when environmental confounders are not adequately controlled for in the analysis”

Now see the first study again.

The same issue of BMJ also contains an editorial that gives further insight into this strange juxtaposition of a study and a study mocking it.

CNN article on Oxford and Cambridge admissions questions

CNN has posted an article on Oxford and Cambridge admissions questions. Personally, I think the following one is pretty awesome:

"How would you poison someone without the police finding out?"

There is a video version of the report that also has some interesting questions. Some of them are definitely pretty weird. Questions I have used and plan to use won't be discussed in this spot, but let's just say that I can be pretty evil. (This year I'm not interviewing anyway, which is why I can fly home this Saturday.)

Joe Gordon elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall-of-Fame Veterans' Committee has elected former Yankee second baseman Joe Gordon to the Hall of Fame. They probably did this because the Yankees are underrepresented in the Hall.

The results of the regular ballot (which, notably, includes Rickey Henderson) will be announced in January. I'll make two points here: (1) Bert Blyleven better fucking make it this year. I know I rant about this every year, but it's criminal that he's not in the Hall yet! (2) I am really looking forward to Rickey's acceptance speech (and I bet he is too).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Mobiüs Transformations Revealed

In November, the Notices of the American Mathematical Society published an article by mathematicians Douglas Arnold and Jonathan Rogness describing how they made their fantastically successful YouTube video called Mobiüs Transformations Revealed. (The article shares the video's title.) The video has now been viewed by 1.5 million people, becoming an inspiring and absolutely stellar success in mathematical education. (It was this effort that inspired me to contact the editor of Chaos to convince him--successfully--to put the video portion of the Nonlinear Science Gallery that the journal runs on YouTube. Unsurprisingly, there haven't been close to 1.5 million viewers in this case, but the more YouTube is used for creative endeavors in scientific education, the better!)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Greg Maddux to Announce Retirement

I'm sorry to have to report this, but I have just read a headline on ESPN.com that Greg Maddux will shortly hold a news conference to announce his retirement.

Just look at these Hall-of-Fame numbers. Greg Maddux was an absolute pleasure to watch. He was an artist on the mound, and I'm glad to be able to say that he spent a short amount of time pitching for my team. I know he's not what he used to be, but I was hoping he'd stick around for another year so that I could continue watching him pitch.

I have two important things to say to close this entry:

(1) Maddux finished with more wins than Roger Clemens, and I am very pleased about this.

(2) Not that Maddux will ever read this (and this is a ridiculous cliche), but thanks for the memories! This is simply an irreplaceable player who I got a lot of pleasure in watching over the years.

End of Term!

I had my last tutorials of the term today, and now that my lecture and tutorial teaching for the term are both over, I feel like an incredible load has been lifted. I still have some admin to do, but that falls off the table as well with the end of Week 8. (We count the term of term by the week number. The main weeks are 1-8, but Week 0 usually has a lot of work and Weeks 9 and 10 often do. This time around, most of the non-research stuff is done for me. I have seen people refer to labeled weeks as low as -3 and as high as 13.) In celebration, I had a party at my flat tonight.

Now I'm going to concentrate on some paper-writing and research. I'll be mark up a student's draft tomorrow---she's writing her first journal article with us (this is a three-headed monster DPhil advising team) and she just finished the rough draft---and I also have other papers at stages where I am going directly through LaTeX files. (My student's paper is not yet at that stage.) Physical Review Letters just bounced one of my papers without review because it apparently doesn't count as physics (except for the fact that it is). My vote is to attempt to submit it to PNAS instead (with only adjusting things for the format and to add the type of polished cover letter that this venue requires), but we'll see what my coauthors think.

Additionally, when I did my last asymptotics lecture of the term on Tuesday, I got applause from my audience. Many students at Oxford will applaud their lecturers for classes that they feel are well-taught. Thus far (with my admittedly-limited sample size), I always get applause when I teach the asymptotics course and I never get applause when I teach any other course. I'll keep you posted on whether this trend continues.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Tracking Diseases Using Web Search Engines

Courtesy Nick Jones, here is a commentary on a very cool new article on using web search engine data to see trends such as influenza outbreaks before other indicators (such as the stuff from the CDC) can catch it. This is a sweet application of network science!