Monthly Archives: June 2006

Strongly recommended [Open Thread]

I spent the weekend with a mild cold, which still persists. The worst part isn’t the physical symptoms, but the sense that my brain is fogged up, which led to an interesting series of careless mistakes in the lab yesterday. (Fortunately I didn’t break anything.) On the other hand, my illness gave me a good excuse to spend the weekend with my new video game purchase.
New Super Mario Bros.: It’s really good to have a new side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. game. Of course, the 3D installments Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine are both outstanding games, but the 2D platformers have their own character that is revived in this DS edition. This was the game that sold me on the DS and so far it has not been a disappointment; it’s a worthy addition to the series. Previous games managed either solid level design with some attendant repetitiveness (Super Mario World), or quirkiness but with an uneven feel (Super Mario Bros. 3). This game manages to find a happy medium in which the levels are distinctive but well-balanced. One aspect imported from the Super Mario 64-style is an appeal to my obsessive completist instinct: I haven’t been able to leave a world without collecting all the star coins and opening secret exits. Fortunately these tasks are challenging enough to be interesting but not so much as to be frustrating. I’m now halfway through World 7 and some of the star coins are pretty deviously placed; it remains to be seen how much longer I make it before I give up on completeness and make a run for the end of the game. Rating: 4.5/5
Haruki Murakami: Norwegian Wood: I mentioned this book in an earlier entry, but I want to give it a proper review. One of the things I like about Murakami is his extensive use of surrealism, but this book was different in that there was no surrealism at all; in fact it is the most straightforward and accessible of all of his writings. Despite the lack of this distinctive element I enjoyed it as a beautifully written and resonant love story. Murakami’s protagonists are typically introverts, but Toru Watanabe particularly so, and much of the book concerns his sense of isolation and his search for connection to others. So it’s not hard to see why I identified with this character, although to a lesser extent I saw parts of myself in each of the characters. (In fact, it’s tempting to say “If you want to understand me, read this book,” but Toru and the others are also different from me in various respects, so it might just confuse the issue.) This book also made me realize how unfamiliar I am with The Beatles: the song that’s referenced in the title was central (so naturally I went and listened to it) and many of their other songs are mentioned as well. It’ll be a few years before I get to ’60s music in my ongoing survey, but maybe I should remedy my ignorance sooner than that. Rating: 4/5
Islands: Return to the Sea: I was skeptical of this band with their insular-themed name and lyrics and calypso-tinged music, but this turns out to be one of the best albums so far this year. In fact the calypso elements combine with guitars (and strings and horns) to create terrific pop songs that are sometimes light-hearted and sometimes epic. The best songs come at the beginning: “Swans (Life after Death)”, “Humans”, and “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” are all top-notch. and “Rough Gem” comes in just behind the first three in quality. After an instrumental track there’s a slight departure in style with “Where There’s A Will There’s A Whalebone”, which adds a dash of hip-hop with mixed results. “Jogging Gorgeous Summer” is beautiful, and “Volcanoes” is fun; the last couple of tracks after this aren’t as exciting, but only because what came before was so good. This is a great album for these warm summer days; buy it and take it to the beach. Rating: 4.5/5

Vaporware watch: The Duke Nukem Forever list

If you read Kotaku this is last week’s news, but someone has compiled an amusing list of things that have happened since Duke Nukem Forever was announced. (For the non-gamers in the audience, this is a PC game that was announced nine years ago and is still in development.) They start with video games (75 Mega Man games, I assume that counts remakes) and proceed to more general categories, e.g.:

Movies that were filmed, released in theatres, and have made it to DVD:

  • All three Star Wars prequels.

  • The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, with extended editions.
  • Every Pixar movie aside from Toy Story.
  • Three (possibly four) James Bond films.
  • Every movie, animation, and video game from The Matrix series.

Also note the occasional liberal bias. (“The national minimum wage has remained $5.15.”)

Publication: Quantum theory of three-junction flux qubit with non-negligible loop inductance: Towards scalability

Here’s the latest publication on Clarke group qubit research, which appeared in Physical Review B at the end of May. Normally I give a non-technical explanation in these posts, but this paper is entirely devoted to working out gory technical details. It essentially goes through how to calculate a priori the properties of the flux qubits that I’ve written about previously. This calculation had been done for “small” qubit loops—small being defined in terms of the loop inductance but corresponding to a few microns on a side—our qubits are much larger than this (100 microns) and so we needed to figure out the more general solution.
The vast majority of the work in this paper was done by T. L. Robertson; my primary contribution was checking the math and the Mathematica code.
Quantum theory of three-junction flux qubit with non-negligible loop inductance: Towards scalability
T. L. Robertson, B. L. T. Plourde, P. A. Reichardt, T. Hime, C.-E. Wu, and John Clarke
Phys. Rev. B 73, 174526 (2006)

The three-junction flux qubit (quantum bit) consists of three Josephson junctions connected in series on a superconducting loop. We present a numerical treatment of this device for the general case in which the ratio betaQ of the geometrical inductance of the loop to the kinetic inductance of the Josephson junctions is not necessarily negligible. Relatively large geometric inductances allow the flux through each qubit to be controlled independently with on-chip bias lines, an essential consideration for scalability. We derive the three-dimensional potential in terms of the macroscopic degrees of freedom, and include the possible effects of asymmetry among the junctions and of stray capacitance associated with them. To find solutions of the Hamiltonian, we use basis functions consisting of the product of two plane wave states and a harmonic oscillator eigenfunction to compute the energy levels and eigenfunctions of the qubit numerically. We present calculated energy levels for the relevant range of betaQ. As betaQ is increased beyond 0.5, the tunnel splitting between the ground and first excited states decreases rapidly, and the device becomes progressively less useful as a qubit.

Shyness and reward

Tyler Cowen notes an fMRI study of shyness, which found that:

Shy children… showed two to three times more activity in their striatum, which is associated with reward, than outgoing children, the team reports in the 14 June issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. “Up until now, people thought that [shyness] was mostly related to avoidance of social situations,” says co-author and child psychiatrist Monique Ernst. “Here we showed that shy children have increased activity in the reward system of the brain as well.”

It’s not clear what this means, although the PI for the study speculates: “One interpretation is that extremely shy children have an increased sensitivity to many types of stimuli–both frightening and rewarding.” Now, my natural impulse is to wonder whether this is true about me (as an extremely shy person), but it’s not obvious, for the simple reason that I don’t have any direct experience of anyone else’s internal sensitivity to success or failure. On the other hand, I’ve noticed lately a tendency for my mind to inflate the importance of trivial social interactions if they have a sense of success or failure about them. (For example, individual conversations that were particularly comfortable or awkward.) But I think everyone does this to some degree—we all obsess over embarrassing moments even if they were totally inconsequential. (Dave Barry once wrote a column on this.)
Regardless of whether this is really a hallmark of shyness, one thing that I’ve found useful in my efforts to be less shy has been to take a very analytical look at my past interactions and try to put them in the proper perspective. So instead of getting worked up about a particular conversation that went really well or really poorly, I’ll realize that it was basically an unremarkable event either way. The end result (when this works) is that I stop seeing every interaction as the latest major test of my social skills, and this removes some of the attendant anxiety.

Site goes up, site goes down

I apologize for the increasingly frequent site outages. The network infrastructure in this building isn’t so good, and if this persists I’m going to look into moving the blog to a different host (probably something easy like Typepad).

Planetary infestations

Stephen Hawking proposes that humans need to begin colonizing other planets in order to ensure the survival of the species. Now, I don’t normally approve of beating up a man in a wheelchair, but I definitely enjoyed the verbal thrashing delivered to Hawking by Chris Clarke:

Let’s say you had a horrible cockroach infestation, and the bugs were trashing your house, spreading filth and eating the bindings of your irreplaceable antique books and breeding profligately and an electrician came to you one day and told you that they were eating your circuit breaker insulation, and you needed to do something about it or your house would burn down.
I don’t know about you, but my first reaction would not be to put a bunch of roaches in a Tupperware container and then release them into a neighbor’s house so that the species would live on.
We are the problem here.

The whole post is definitely worth reading.

Incarnations [Open Thread]

First: Today’s Dinosaur Comics strip is excellent.
I have several books to review but I’ll do one per week to spread them out a bit.
John Burdett: Bangkok 8: I don’t read a lot of mystery novels, so I’m trying to remember what led me to pick this one up. I think it was an Amazon recommendation. The novel is set in Bangkok’s 8th precinct and revolves around a U.S. Marine who is killed by snakes that were planted in his car. (Snakes In A Car!) Ultimately I found the mystery aspect less compelling than the novel as a cultural study; the city of Bangkok is a rich and interesting setting, and the protagonist, a devout Buddhist working in a thoroughly corrupt police force, was a nice twist on the usual detective hero. This was a detective who saw everything in terms of Buddhist mysticism, detecting the past incarnations of the souls he encountered, and for much of the novel it’s an open question whether he really has some supernatural insight or if this is just the way he sees the world. In the end this question is settled somewhat more definitively than some of the central plot points. Rating: 3.5/5
Ellen Allien & Apparat: Orchestra of Bubbles: This is some very good German techno, taut and ominous, evocative of alien landscapes or city lights viewed from far off. It’s a fairly coherent album, good for playing all the way through late at night. “Metric” is one of the standout tracks. Rating: 4/5