Monday, October 07, 2013

Who's Afraid of Peer Review?

I've been thinking about restarting this blog, which has been kind of dormant for a while.  One of the topics I've been thinking about covering is research integrity, both in Japan and throughout the world.  Here is one tidbit along those lines.  Perhaps I'll comment a little more later, perhaps not.
Who's Afraid of Peer Review?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I heard yesterday that Mr. Phillips died on March 13, at the age of 84.  When I heard the news, I cried steadily for half an hour, and am crying again now as I write this.  Mr. Phillips was, outside of my mother and father, perhaps the single person I most respected; he influenced the direction of my life disproportionately.  He was more than simply a high school science teacher, he was a role model in life, a mentor, and a very good friend.  I will miss his quiet voice, warm smile and the light in his eyes, almost conspiratorial with some shared humor but never smug or excluding, until the end of my days.

Jack Phillips was the Williamson High School biology, advanced biology, and physiology teacher during my days as a student.  But that is like saying Magic Johnson was a basketball player -- it is a simple fact, but gives you no insight into his accomplishments, let alone deeper into the person.  This essay won't be able to do him justice, either, but I hope it will give some measure of the man.

Mr. Phillips believed in the intelligence, curiosity and maturity of the students (sometimes in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary).  He treated us all like we wanted to be treated -- like adults.  He found ways to make difficult concepts accessible and lively, even taking us to his farm to study the plants there.

I developed a deep bond with him.  Even as a young student, I would go to his classroom during lunch breaks, before or after school, and knock on his door.  He would always open it with a welcoming smile. We would sit and talk, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for an hour.  He would show me experiments he was setting up for class, and even ask me to help.  Sometimes my best friend, Michael Hensley, would go with me, sometimes I went alone.

Mr. Phillips had been in the Navy for a number of years before coming back to Williamson and becoming a teacher, so he knew much about the world, had been many places and seen many things.  We shared books and magazines -- usually serious, sometimes humorous, sometimes banal -- and video tapes of Nova and Cosmos episodes.  These conversations almost always began with some relationship to science, but no topic was off limits, and we covered much of life.

These visits continued even after I graduated from high school, though they gradually tailed off over the years.  Mr. Phillips moved from educating the students to educating the educators, and I would visit his office at the Board of Education.  Michael and I would also drive up to his farm, twenty minutes up the river, and drop in unexpectedly, on a weekend afternoon or even a weekday evening.  If he was home, I can't remember ever being turned away.  Mrs. Phillips would ply us with lemonade and we would sit and talk, on the back porch on warm days, inside the house evenings or if the weather was either too hot or too cold.  Sometimes we repaid the intrusion by helping in minor ways with farmwork, but most often we just chatted.

His stories of growing up on the farm were wry, often hilarious. Perhaps our favorite was the story of tearing down the barn.  His grandmother (if I recall correctly) had an old barn that was falling down, and she wanted it removed.  Jack and his cousins offered to do it.  Of course, they didn't tell her that they had found a box of dynamite, abandoned by miners or the railroad.  They knew enough about dynamite to know how to set it off, and enough to stay well clear, but not enough to know how much to use, so they used it all.  The explosion not only succeeded in demolishing the barn (to the point where there were few pieces even worth picking up), it blew windows out at the main house, and the chickens that had been quietly going about their business in the yard made themselves very scarce.  After their own ears stopped ringing, the kids had to round the chickens back up, who refused to lay for some time afterward.

More than a talker, though, he was an extraordinary listener.  He weighed everything you said, correcting gently when necessary, but always making you feel that your opinions and ideas were valued.  I strive (but often fail) to emulate his approach.

I can only remember him getting something like angry once.  We were at his house, playing Trivial Pursuit (whether the Phillipses owned it, or Michael and I brought it with us, I don't recall).  Mr. Phillips kept trying for the Science questions, and kept getting questions like, "If you were born on March 18, what is your astrological sign?" His annoyance with such un-scientific claptrap in the science category was palpable.

It was Mr. Phillips's sincere interest in me and his sterling role model that gave me the confidence to pursue a career in science and engineering.  My parents, especially my father, were always supportive of my interest in the sciences, taking me to Saturday morning science classes when I was young, subscribing to magazines, talking about it, taking us to see solar eclipses and space launches.  But without Mr. Phillips's steady presence at just the time I was figuring out who I was, and applying to colleges, I might have drifted off into some other field.  He helped me make the right choices in life, first with his advice and incisive questions, later as a presence in my mind.

I don't mean to slight the contributions of my other mentors.  I have had half a dozen older mentors, at least as many peers, and many wonderful teachers who changed the direction of my life.  I owe them all a debt I can never repay.  But Mr. Phillips was there at the right time to guide me.  He was perhaps the first outside of my parents to take me seriously and treat me like an intellectual peer and colleague, if a young and naive one, rather than just a student to be trained.

I think the last time I saw him, my older daughter was a toddler, so it must have been a dozen years ago.  We were visiting my parents, and on a whim I picked up the phone and called.  He was actually living down by the Tennessee border by then, but by coincidence happened to be up at the farm doing some maintenance.  My wife, daughter and I drove up, and had a wonderful chat with him.  I remember we talked about Japan quite a bit (although we were still living in California at the time), though I don't recall any of the details.  I'm not sure I ever even told him that I am now a professor at a university, which I think would have made him proud.

He was loved by all of the students of my generation.  Teachers of his caliber are rare.  So are human beings.  His passing saddens me, but if the measure of value of a life is its impact on others, he made the world a far better place.  I can only hope that I pass on to my own students some of the same intellectual and personal traits.

I'm sorry I'm not there today with you.  My love to Mrs. Phillips and

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Thank You, Endeavour

You friends posting fabulous pictures of Space Shuttle Endeavour's last flyby over California are making me weep.  First, I'm crying because I'm not there to celebrate this valedictory moment with you.  I love you all and miss you terribly, and this reminds me of that because of the space program events we have shared, both triumph and tragedy.  Some of those have been defining moments in our lives and our friendships: watching landings at Edwards Air Force Base; sitting in the shed in the Lloyd House courtyard, mute, staring at the images of Challenger on the big-screen TV, with one friend that evening passing out black strips to be attached to basketball uniforms.

I weep for the machine itself.  A fabulous piece of hardware, one of mankind's greatest technical accomplishments.  I still use a technical paper about the shuttle's software when I teach about real-time operating systems, and it never fails to impress.

Fabulous, but flawed: I weep for Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judy Resnick, Greg Jarvis, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, and Christa McAuliffe.  I weep for Rick Husband, Willie McCool (perhaps the greatest name for an astronaut, ever), Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon.

I weep for the program; from my junior high school days until now the space shuttle has dominated our conception of what it means to fly into space.

I weep for the end of an era.  The step into commercial space travel is fraught with uncertainty.  Perhaps we should have done it twenty years ago, perhaps never; we won't know for another decade.  I stand in awe of the accomplishments that the commercial space companies have already made.  I am hopeful, but apprehensive.

I weep for Apollo, the boldest among many bold things Americans have done.  I weep because we left the job unfinished, and because the day may come again when no American, and perhaps no human, alive has been to the Moon.  As we saw last month, somewhat to our surprise our
heroes are mortal, and the youngest of them are nearing eighty.  To me, the greatest generational dividing line is July 20, 1969: were you born before, or after, a human being set foot on another celestial body for the first time?

I weep for our dreams.  Make no mistake about it -- I am a huge supporter of our unmanned space program, and Curiosity shows once again what we can accomplish when we try, and that it has the power to capture the imagination of people around the world.  But as long as we inhabit these bodies of flesh and blood, part of what it means to be human is to challenge ourselves physically as well as intellectually.  "To boldly go where no man has gone before," captured it perfectly.

Finally, I weep for the little boy who thrilled to every launch, with memories of Apollo 15 and STS-1 in person, to every event and landing, every discovery.  In what seems simultaneously an instant and forever, the boy grew from a dreamer in a hard worker, from a skinny kid with unruly hair to a middle-aged, gray-bearded, balding, slightly overweight man.  The first, the greatest dream was always to become an astronaut.  Indeed, I was worried I had been born too late, that by
the time I was an adult all of the interesting exploration would be done!  But still, just going would be wonderful.  Somewhere along the way, the dream got set aside in favor of easier-to-achieve goals.  I
am proud to be a professor, proud of my research and students, and deeply in love with my family.  But my wife still tells the story that I once said, "If aliens stop by, and ask if I want to go with them,
I'm saying 'Yes!'  Sorry if it means leaving you behind.  Maybe you can come, too?"

The tears are tears of deep emotion, both joy and sadness, tears for ourselves, for all of humanity, for our breathtaking accomplishments, our failures, and for our ability to go on.

Thank you, Endeavour.

Reach for the stars.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Paper Dance: Recursive Quantum Repeater Networks

I've been neglectful of this blog lately, but this paper has what I think are some ideas that are a good fit for quantum networking.  We're just beginning the discussion about QRNA (Quantum Recursive Network Architecture), though, and comments are very welcome!

Our paper Recursive quantum repeater networks is part of a special issue of Progress in Informatics on quantum information technology.

Thanks to Joe Touch (and his Recursive Network Architecture (RNA) project), and Clare Horsman for their work on the paper.  Wouldn't have happened without them.


"2:46" is now available on Amazon.  100% of the proceeds go to the Japanese Red Cross.  Buy your copy today!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Abstracts for Systems Papers

Generic advice on abstract writing for systems papers:

6 sentences in an abstract:

1. Define the problem you're solving
2. Give the key idea for how you solved it
3. Describe how you demonstrate the success of your solution
4. Give key results, preferably numerically
5. Describe how this impacts the world/industry/whatever (big picture)

Next, go back and reread it, and figure out which of those topics
needs a second sentence, and fill that in. Most often, it's the data
or experiment. Viola! Six sentence abstract! go back and think about whether you really need that first
sentence. Often the first two can be combined, if what you are
working on is a well-understood "hot topic". But be *very* careful
about eliminating it, lest you appear to be doing empty-headed "cool
prototype" building. This is also one of the key places your paper
needs to be timeless; people will hopefully read your abstract for
years to come, but they won't read the paper if they don't like the

The abstract *must* be clear about whether your results are analytic,
simulated, or measurements of a real-world system or lab prototype.

Not a perfect formula, and formulas shouldn't be over-used anyway, but
it's a pretty good way to do it. The abstracts of 90% of the papers I
read could be improved by following this approach.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Diary From the Last Couple of Days in Japan

Dave, others:

This is a collection of notes, lightly edited, compiled over the last
two days, so the voice and time line move around a bit.  Apologies.

OK, first impressions:

1. The earthquake was by far the biggest I've ever been in (or hope to
be in), but the building we are in is brand new and very well built,
so it swayed a lot but never felt dangerous.
2. Being a refugee is both stressful and boring at the same time, even
when you're with friends in a place you know is safe.  The biggest
thing, of course, is the lack of reliable information; several
people around me have 1seg keitai which give a *very* poor TV image,
enough to be scary but not provide a lot of detail.


1. It's a rule of mine not to leave the house without clothing warm
enough for the possiblity of being stuck outside for hours; I think
I'll keep that rule.
2. I carry millions of transistors in my pocket, billions in my
backpack.  One would be enough for an AM radio, but no one around me
seemed to have one.

Rolling back to 14:45 Friday...

"Earthquake," I said quietly.  Nobody noticed, Kei-san kept on
talking.  Even I wasn't completely sure at first, and I'm pretty quick
to pick up on them.

"Earthquake, we're having an earthquake," I said, a little louder.

Kei-san said, "Earthquake?...You're right..."

Osamu-san said, "Earthquake?  Really?"

By this time, it had already been swaying for several seconds.

"It's getting bigger," someone said.

Kusumoto-san got up and walked across the room and peeked through the
blinds.  "Electric poles are swaying," he said.  I got up and walked
across the room to join him.

"It's getting even worse," someone said.  "Better get away from the

"Wow, it's big...this is far away and big..."

Comments like that continued for what seemed like two minutes, before
it calmed down.  The electricity went out.

Shortly, the announcement came to evacuate the building, so we grabbed
our jackets and went out.  Several of us helped a man in an electric
wheelchair, lifting him down the stairs.

This building includes a gym and pool; dozens of kids in speedos and
googles were forced out into the cold.  I handed out a shirt and
fleece I was carrying (which haven't come back, but if that's my
biggest loss, I'm fine).

While we were outside, I got email on my cell phone (DoCoMo mail)
from my wife, letting me know that she was okay, had one of our
daughters, and was getting the other.  It would be fifteen hours
before we would be able to connect via voice or SMS, but DoCoMo mail
and their 3G packet service operated sporadically from the beginning.
I was able to access Gmail, Facebook and Twitter, enough to get a
message to friends who relayed it to my parents.

Eventually, they announced that they would inspect the building top to
bottom, starting on the 7th floor, before we were allowed back in the
building.  A few minutes later, it started to rain, and a stream of
people went back into the building -- with permission or without, I
don't know.

With power out, we had some emergency lights; our local blackout
continued until 11pm, eight hours after the first shock (but when it
got dark, we could tell that surrounding areas still had power).  We
grabbed our stuff, and were herded into a few rooms on the lower
floors, where sat on classroom chairs or stretched out on the floor.
Decks of cards and various drinks, including Dad's Root Beer (which
some student literally mistook for a type of beer -- to her disgust
and my delight) and some sort of avowedly foul Korean liquor, and
snacks materialized, and the students and younger folks quickly
settled into a social mood.  I'm fighting either allergies or a bit of
a cold, so I stretched out on the floor to rest.

About a half a dozen faculty were in the early part of an overnight
retreat, here on Keio's Hiyoshi Campus rather than at SFC, so I had
extra shirts and some bread and cheese on hand.

Most of the other faculty that I came with have gone home to check on
their own families, moving via car, but none were going in my
direction, so I elected to stay here.  Some of the faculty and staff
and a fair number of students from this campus remain; some live close
enough to walk, but have no power or simply prefer to be with friends

Fighting a cold and stress, and with nothing but emergency lights,
didn't feel like reading.  Little information coming in; we were safe,
with nothing particular to do.  No one around needed immediate help,
and simply adding people to the streets and stations was clearly a bad
idea.  I now understand the empty look on the faces you see in refugee

Eventually, the campus security and general affairs folks came around
and handed out canned water, crackers, and rather musty blankets.

Some people had keitai (cell phones) with one-seg (1seg) receivers,
very low-bandwidth digital TV.  The images we could see were
appalling, with fires burning across broad areas, in the dark.

About 10pm, the Toyoko Line reopened to Shibuya, and people began
filtering out.  I stuck with my resolution to stay put until morning,
or JR began running again.  (I later heard that some faculty took more
than ten hours to get home; those of us who stayed warm, fed and
comfortable certainly didn't regret that decision the next morning.)

Overnight there were a number of aftershocks, and the second major
quake in Nagano, which they asserted was not related.

I was beside myself with worry about the possibility of tsunami coming
to Kamakura.  Our house sits 800 meters from the beach.  A couple of
years ago, they handed out a community disaster handbook that included
a tsunami map, which suggested that 7m is a high enough altitude.
Friday's events clearly show that to be false.  Our house sits right
on the isoline at 7m, but clearly would have been swept away.

The lights came back on at 11pm.  About 1am, I laid down to sleep for
a while; when I woke up at 2:30, many of the students had gone.

More earthquakes, more worries, watching NHK on a big projector screen
until 430am, then slept until 6.

When they announced the reopening of some of the JR lines at 700, I
left.  Getting to Yokohama was easy, from there was slow as they kept
trains running at 35km/hr and stopping at every intersection.  The
platforms and trains were crowded, but not intolerably so.

From Kamakura Station, it's a ten-minute walk home.  I detoured
through the area I think my family should use as an escape route in
the event of a tsunami.  The official map recommends that we make our
way to one of the nearby junior high schools, on higher ground, but
their recommended route passes through a stretch of very low ground
several hundred meters long, and crosses the river.  I'm revising ours
to what I think is a less-exposed route, though we have to cross a
branch of the river somewhere and there's still one low stretch in

That takes us up to the start of the nuclear reactor concerns, which
will have to be a separate post.  I'm struggling with the technical
explanations in Japanese, anyway, so those reading the
English-language press may be better informed.

Over time, as the information flow peaks, my posts will probably lack
originality and insight, but I hope this gives you some idea of what
it's like here on the ground, for a typical family in the Kanto area,
well away from the most seriously hit areas.

Will mine my FB posts and tweets for further material at some point.

Comments and reassurances always welcome; if I seem abrupt via email,
it's just trying to handle the flood of check-in emails from both
people here locally and those from outside asking about us.

We *definitely* appreciate the concerns!  Keep us in mind not just
today but over the coming months; recovery here is going to take time.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

New Paper Dance

Austin G. Fowler, David S. Wang, Thaddeus D. Ladd, Rodney Van Meter, and Lloyd C. Hollenberg,
Surface code quantum communication, arXiv:0910.4074 [quant-ph], accepted to Phys. Rev. Letters!  Congrats to Austin and the rest of the team.  We are gradually illuminating some of the possible corners in the space of quantum repeater system design.