Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"Enjoy Your Failures": Akira Furusawa

Nine-twenty or so on Valentine's evening, and Mayumi is putting the girls to bed. I flip on the TV,looking for the Torino Olympics, and whose voice do I hear? Akira Furusawa's! In a minute or so, it becomes clear that I have stumbled into an hour-long show about Akira and his lab on NHK, the national network. It's part of a series on inspirational professionals.
Prof. Furusawa, of course, is one of the planet's leading experts on quantum optics and one of the experimentalists who first performed quantum teleportation. He's now a professor at Todai, the University of Tokyo.
What follows is the raw notes I typed during the last forty minutes of the show. I also have that part on tape. I'd like to have the whole thing.
Talking about enjoying failure. Science is like a sport. You challenge yourself, measure yourself against the best.
Saying "I'm busy," really, more than in body I'm busy in mind. I try to eat dinner with my family.
He even brought a teleportation setup into NHK's (stark black and white) studio. The announcer is amazed at him routing a laser through a half a dozen mirrors and lenses.
How much does this cost? Well, that piece is about three thousand dollars... total setup, could be millions? Yeah, runs into that range.
He said when he's working on a problem, he likes to go to sleep early. While he's asleep, (during REM sleep), he gets good ideas and wakes up with the solution.
Akira likes to ski (video of him on the slopes -- they went to a lot of effort to make this show)
He was a regular salaryman until 33. Then, seeing Nomo sign with the Dodgers, he decided he wanted a shot at the big leagues, too. He goes to Caltech, joins Jeff Kimble's lab, and immediately runs into a wall: his English isn't good enough. One frustrating day, he goes to Dodger Stadium, and sees Nomo hit his first home run in the majors. He comes back, thinking of sports, and takes up tennis with Kimble. Kimble says it helped their relationship.
"Enjoy your failures"
Talking about failures, didn't you ever fail? Well, really only walls you put in front of yourself. I did fail the driver's test three times.
How can you believe you're going to succeed when 99% of people fail? Everybody has the power to hit home runs, just not everybody believes in themselves.
Heck, they even went to his lab's bonenkai (year-end party).
Takahashi is experimenting on doing multiple teleportations at the same time (in a chain?) and is stuck. My students are actually doing outstanding work. Sometimes they don't think so, but compared to what we were doing eight years ago, this is great.
Home for dinner, nice looking family...
Another day, back to the lab. It's a month to a major international conference, and they're worried that they might not make it. Another try. Got it! Takahashi's face lights up. Akira at Narita Airport, "I'm looking forward to the conference, I think our results will surprise people."
"Being a professional means being able to enjoy what you do."
Ends with uplifting music.

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