Monthly Archives: November 2006

Publication: Solid-State Qubits with Current-Controlled Coupling

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.

Unusual deaths

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.

A world of atheists

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

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.

Pass the Hatchet [Open Thread]

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.

Religion at its most disturbing

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

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.)

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

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.

The T-shirt mix

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.