Friday, July 28, 2006

Now Available: "Arithmetic on a Distributed-Memory Quantum Multicomputer"

Available as quant-ph/0607160. This is an extended version of our ISCA paper, submitted to ACM's Journal of Emerging Technologies in Computing Systems.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Physics at Work and Play

A friend of mine sent me this, and wondered if it's fast enough to read your email on the surface of the pool...

The End of Moore's Law?

At ISCA this year, much of the talk in the halls was about the end of Moore's Law. Not down the road as we get to atomic structures too small to do lithography, now. Moore's Law ended last year (2005). The CPU manufacturers can't keep increasing the clock speed enough to gain the 2x performance improvement we have come to expect every (pick your doubling time).

The biggest problem is heat. Smaller transistors have higher leakage current, meaning more heat even when the system is idle. Raise the clock speed, and heat goes up. The maximum that can be extracted from a silicon die is about 100 watts per square centimeter. We're already there.

So, what next? Well, it is well know that Intel and AMD are both shipping dual-core processors -- two microprocessors on a single chip, sharing an L2 cache. Both companies have also promised quad-core chips by mid-2007. What is happening is that each processor will now gain perhaps only 10-20% in performance each year, but the number of cores on a chip will double every (pick your doubling time) until lithography really does run out of gas, or quantum effects come into play, in fifteen years or so.

What does this mean to Joe Programmer? It means that if you have code whose performance you care about -- whether it's physics simulations or evolutionary algorithms or graphics rendering -- and your code isn't parallel, you have a problem. Not tomorrow, today. The handwriting has been on the wall for years, with multithreaded processors and known heat problems and whatnot. Now it's really here. Of course, if you have very large computations, you have probably already made that work in a distributed-memory compute cluster.

Haven't you?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mental Soroban

I recently mused about my daughter's soroban (abacus) lessons. Yesterday we had a nice moment over dinner. She and a boy from her class (both second graders) were sitting at the table in a restaurant, and I was challenging them with doubling addition: "What's 1+1? 2+2? 4+4?" and on up. They got as far as 4096+4096, but couldn't do 8192+8192 in their heads.

We got to a certain point (1024+1024, maybe?) and my daughter thought for a moment, then produced the right answer. When I praised her, she said, "I just imagined a soroban in my head and used that." Yes!!! That's the way it's supposed to work! She's actually learning math.

(I once TAed in a gifted program for junior high schoolers, and one of them had memorized a log table and could do not just large multiplications but even exponentiations in his head. That seems a little extreme...)

(Back In The Day when I was doing a lot of hexadecimal debugging on hardware, if I got stuck on a train without something to read, I would run through the hex multiplication tables in my head. I got good enough at it to be useful for work, but I haven't used it much in a long time, so it's mostly gone now...)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Food With Mojo: the Molecular Tapas Bar

This is food with mojo. I'm not talking Texas side-of-steer barbecue mojo, nor am I talking habanero-induced neuronal apoptosis mojo. I'm talking about a chef with I'm-in-complete-control-of-your-sensory-experience mojo: the Molecular Tapas Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo.

You'll find pictures on Mayumi's blog.

This was way more money that we needed to be spending on dinner as we stare at a life of postdoc penury, but it was a combination belated fortieth birthday, thesis defense, and upcoming tenth wedding anniversary dinner, and it was worth it (we had originally hoped to spend part of this summer in Europe, but things haven't all gone according to plan). We probably don't get to go back to the Molecular Tapas Bar until one of you with a large expense account comes to visit, in which case you need to let me know at least a month in advance, so I can get reservations.

The evening started with a stroll through the Ginza, including a stop for sangria (for Mayumi), ice tea (for me), olives and cheese at an open-air Spanish bar. The bar is just a couple of doors from a cheese shop we like, but we were just browsing, since there was a long evening and no refrigeration in front of us. They have fantasic cheese, with prices to match, starting at about eight hundred yen per hundred grams (about thirty bucks a pound) and going to several times that, with photos and biographies of the cheesemakers posted alongside fantastic blues and various wonderful, stinky cheeses imported from obscure corners of Europe.

The evening air was perfect, and clouds provided a spectacular sunset as we wandered down the street, ogling the people who can afford to shop in the Ginza's Prada, Mikimoto, Louis Vuitton, Apple Computer, and other emporia. Mikimoto has opened a new building with oblong, rounded windows at a cant, and an exterior color that seems to have been chosen by a committee determined to find just the right shade of elegant pink that would appeal to the largest number of unapologetically feminine shoppers. Louis Vuitton is redoing the exterior of their building, and went to a great deal of trouble to create a scaffolding that doesn't give the appearance of a construction zone. It's white-painted I-beams, with a high ceiling and lighting better than the interior of many stores, giving the sidewalk out front the feel of a mall.

When we arrived at the hotel, we had a little trouble finding it. The hotel is in the top half of a 38-story building, and not well marked at street level. We entered the elevator, and were joined by a group of men in black suits and white ties, and a woman in a formal kimono: guests at a wedding. One white-haired gentleman looked up at me from a stature that started some twenty centimeters below mine and was further compromised by his state of inebriation. "Where you from?" he asked in thickly-accented English. "California," I replied. "Ah, Kariforunia, hai, hai," he mused. He gestured vaguely at his companions. "Wedding." "Hey, are you speaking English?" someone asked him, to much tittering from the rest of the group. He waved his hand in front of his face as if shooing away flies, in that Japanese no-no-no gesture. "Katakana da yo. [I'm speaking in katakana.]" (Katakana is the Japanese syllabary used to spell out foreign words, and pronunciation probably bears as much resemblance to real English as our approximation of Chinese does to the real thing.)

The lobby of the Mandarin Oriental is on the 37th and 38th floors, with floor-to-ceiling windows and somewhat vertiginous views. The lobby is well done, elegant and modern without being intimidating. First stop was the facilities, and in the men's, you perform your business looking out and down, which is a tad disconcerting.

The Molecular Tapas Bar is through the cigar bar. They ask you to be early, since all six people at each of the evening's two sittings will eat the same food at the same time. Dinner was scheduled for 8:30, and ran two hours. You sit at a combination sushi and liquor bar, with two chefs in front of you, a bartender in the background, numerous waitresses hovering nearby, and at least one sous chef schlepping material to and from a kitchen when ordered by the chef with the wireless headset.

The meal started with a kampai (toast) of a small shot of beer topped with whipped Yakult, a viscous yogurt-based drink. (I had ordered the alcohol-free meal when I made our reservations, but that must have gotten lost somewhere.) Then, the food began: twenty-two courses approximating what was printed on the fixed-course menu, with a couple of surprising and delightful deviations. Sato-san, our lead chef for the evening, explained everything, and fancies himself a comedian. He looked at me and asked (in Japanese), "Are you okay with Japanese?" "Yes," I replied. He turned to the rest of the diners and said, "I'm okay with Japanese, too."

The experience is two parts Tokyo, one part "Iron Chef", one part Harold McGee, and one part Terry Gilliam. We were served various gases in several forms, and food from test tubes, syringes, and pressure vessels. Ingredients were mostly identifiable, including numerous vegetables, a couple of types of fish and some beef, but combined in startling ways.

The first courses, some form of extruded and deep-fried risotto and crispy floss of beet, could conceivably show up in a California restaurant. After that, as they say, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. Next up was a bottomless test tube with orange material inside: ikura (salmon roe) and passionfruit. Tip it back, suck on the tube, and a burst of flavor hits you, salty and sweet and unexpected. This course was fantastic, my favorite of the meal.

Throughout the entire meal, Mayumi took pictures of every dish, the utensils, the staff. At first I was vaguely concerned that it might annoy some of the other diners, but no, four of the six of us were taking photos constantly -- two using cell phones, one with a small digital camera, and Mayumi with her digital SLR. And the chef/comedian tried to get into every picture, with a "V" sign up. Japanese people are born with some gene that makes them tilt their head to the side and make a "V" (peace sign) whenever someone points a camera at them. You can take pictures of practically anything in this country and no one will blink, and these days a decent fraction land on someone's blog.

Up next was cotton candy. Well, cotton candy foam, which is even more like eating air than regular cotton candy (the chef would prove to be fond of his Williams-Sonoma hand whipper). Then, glass noodles topped with parmesan cheese. Correction: glass noodles made from parmesan cheese. How on earth did they make them transparent? They certainly retained that characteristic parmesan flavor. This was followed by probably my least favorite course of the meal, the uni (sea urchin) with apple, maccha (green tea strong enough to take the enamel off your teeth, the kind they use in the tea ceremony) and twenty five-year old balsamic vinegar. The uni had a strong flavor, and I'm sure it was good uni, it's just not tops on my list.

(The staff wasn't actually in complete control of our sensory experience; our elevator acquaintance was seated about three meters behind us at a bar table, and was still riffing on the America theme.)

One of the most fascinating dishes was pink gazpacho soup, served over a chunk of watermelon and garnished with...something. He's dipping it out of a styrofoam cooler with clouds of vapor coming out. It looks like very fine bread crumbs, and it creates clouds of vapor when it's in the soup. Explanation: olive oil frozen using liquid nitrogen! Now there's an easy way to spiff up a dish! Oh, and tasty, too.

The unagi (eel) with pineapple and whipped avocado was nothing spectacular. Good thought, though. A couple of well-done but mundane dishes (including miso soup mousse and beet ravioli that Mayumi referred to as the first time she had ever had a positive experience with a beet) were followed by more air, a palate cleanser of sorts. Large tumblers are placed on the bar, with metal straws in them. The bartender comes over and shakes a cocktail shaker, which rattles, runs through her whole mixing routine, then pours air into each of the tumblers, which are then passed out and we are encouraged to drink them. I suck on the straw. A burst of cold sherbert with enough liqueur in it to give it a real punch blasts into my mouth. (This was the one time I regretted not having pushed the non-alcohol thing, but even so, it was an experience.) (Part of the cleverness of this one is the surprising delivery, but I assume the menu rotates often enough that, even if you get the chance to try the restaurant, something else will have taken its place.)

The carrot caviar was created using numerous syringes, dribbling drops of carrot juice into an acrylic container filled with some liquid (which I think he said included calcium) that caused the juice to congeal and take on the texture of caviar. Vegan caviar!

The sizzling beef was beyond amazing. The chef brought out a pressure vessel something like a stainless steel seltzer bottle. He bled off the pressure with a blast, retrieved a roll of beef, sliced and served it. The beef sizzled! Not because it was hot, but because it was outgassing -- a cow with a MAJOR case of the bends. Put a bite in your mouth, and you can feel it fizzing in your mouth. The meat is spongy and moist, cooked just right and very tasty.

The desserts are like something from Willie Wonka. First up is one titled "Blue Hawaii" on the English side of the menu and "kuuki-gori" on the Japanese side. It's a pun on "kake-gori", or shave ice; "kuuki" means "air". It is blue, and it is indeed air: dry ice apparently misted with some blue flavoring. Clouds roll out of the dish. Put a spoonful in your mouth, and clouds billow out of your mouth! I remember as undergrads we drank mad scientist-like glasses of Coke foaming and steaming and boiling thanks to chunks of dry ice, but the thought of shaving it and eating it directly apparently didn't occur to us, I'm ashamed to admit.

Several more desserts follow, including one that looks like a sunny-side up egg and bacon but isn't, one candy wrapped in cellophane that you eat cellophane and all, and a microscopic cake in a glass bubble. Finally, it's time for the fruit course.

A tray with two strawberries, and two slices each of grapefruit, orange and lemon is placed before me. I'm suspicious. Just fruit, from these guys? We're instructed to eat one strawberry, then a slice of lemon, which of course is sour. Then we are each given a magic fruit, a berry of some sort with a large pit, which has a mild, fruity flavor. We are told to keep that in our mouths for a full minute (he uses an egg timer), then return to the next slice of lemon. It's sweet! The magic fruit has changed our perception of taste (I told you, these guys manage the entire sensory experience). Return to the strawberry, and it's almost too sweet to eat. Better eating through chemistry.

I found out about this place through a column in the Daily Yomiuri in which the writer used it as evidence that Tokyo has gotten its mojo back, like in the days of the Bubble. An evening in the Ginza and dinner at the Molecular Tapas Bar would certainly convince you that you're in a wealthy, bold country. The food was very good, but it's the presentation and delivery that really makes it a unique, almost science fiction-esque experience. All in all, we got our money's worth. We'll use these stories for a very long time. And if any of you come visit, I'll be happy to serve as interpreter while you add to your own personal stock of food stories :-).

I know I promised you a report a while ago, sorry to be so long getting it written up!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Age of Spiritual Machines, Part II

[Part II of a long review. Part I is here.]

One area where I am deeply skeptical of Kurzweil is in the idea of scanning a living person's mind and reinstantiating them on the Net somewhere. While I think the principles of intelligence and consciousness are fairly robust, the instantaneous state of an individual's mind indeed seem to be ephemeral and delicate, dependent on the Brownian motion and diffusion of neurotransmitter molecules and the electronic state of individual neurons. Samuel Braunstein (a well-known quantum computing researcher) gave a casual talk a few years ago in which he estimated that teleporting a human being would require 10^32 bits of information. Even lopping off a couple of zeroes and doing just the brain, that's still eight or nine decimal orders of magnitude larger than the biggest data archives I know of. Braunstein is estimating at the atomic level, but at the molecular level might be adequate for much of the data; Kurzweil would abstract away a bunch of that data, but the scanning process would probably require that level of detail to capture the state of mind of a person, and it would have to be done in some small time slice. I'm not convinced that this will ultimately prove to be within the bounds of the laws of physics, let alone be technically practical. I certainly don't foresee that we'll have a brain scanner whose data rate is, say, 10^33 bits/second within fifty years.

But Kurzweil talks about an interesting "back door" to getting your mind on the Net that borrows from the cyberpunks. We already have retinal and cochlear implants, pacemakers, and experimental systems (both invasive and not) that transform neuronal impulses into mechanical movements. It seems that brain implants to help control seizures are on the horizon. It's certainly plausible that we will eventually develop implants with other capabilities -- the direct network (and starship piloting) links of science fiction, maybe trackers and immobilizers for violent felons, spinal cord bridges for those with damage. Maybe some sort of memory augmentation for those with a particular form of dementia? Then what's to stop an aging chess master with strong reasoning but fading memory from getting a memory implant that happens to have Modern Chess Openings in ROM? Kurzweil seems to hit a very important point that defining who remains human (and who becomes human -- ask Andrew of Isaac Asimov's "The Bicentennial Man") will become an interesting task over the next century or so. Baseball players can use contact lenses, weight machines and special diets but not steroids. As wearable computing becomes more unobtrusive and blends into implants, what is acceptable for professional go players, and for that matter what is detectable?

The creation of these technologies will take a long time, in my opinion; I very much doubt that any time during this century some human will abandon a physical body and move completely onto the Net. Instead, I foresee a century full of gradually more useful and interactive tools, some of which will begin to exhibit enough "intelligence" that they appear to think both strategically and spontaneously. Kurzweil talks about these personal virtual assistants, and how people will become more and more attached to them. I saw a remarkable example of this with Sony's Aibo robot dog. A friend bought one and brought it to the office. It had no real facial expressions, but when it tilted its head to one side and cocked an ear, everyone within sight said, "Oh, how cute!" projecting a personality onto a bit of clever programming. That phenomenon will undoubtedly accelerate as the behavior of computer systems becomes more complex; we will become emotionally attached to those that are helpful or friendly or clever or meet our biologically and culturally preconceived notions of cute. (Kurzweil doesn't really seem to consider deeply the possibility that the artificial intelligences we create will be *different* from us. If computer chess has taught us anything, it's that there's more than one way to be good at chess; what if the same turns out to be true of many other intellectual endeavors?)

Finally, but critically, Kurzweil seems to happily ignore the real world. Luddites make a cameo or two, mostly to serve as foils for explaining his technical notions more thoroughly, but society as anything other than a substrate for the growth of the technology itself seems to play no role in his thinking. We will all adopt the technology as soon as is feasible, and eventually we'll all move onto the Net (it'll be wonderful there). In particular, the developing world never appears in Spiritual. What will become of people in Bhutan and Tibet? Will this accelerate the disparity in birth rates between the developed and developing worlds, and what will that do to the world economy? Who will mine the coal that keeps the machines running? Does a world of physical isolation and idleness await us, and who will fix it when it breaks (as in E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops")? Will this inflame ethnic, cultural, and religious tensions? What will Muslim and Catholic societies think of artificial intelligences that demand rights, let alone implants that mess around with any bodily function viewed as something core to being human? The Dalai Lama recently had some interesting speculations on the possibility that a true AI would have a soul, which must be drawn from the pre-existing, fixed pool of souls -- hmm, a grasshopper reincarnated as an AI?

In the end, even the predictions I agree with I find simplistic, and likely optimistic by a factor of two or more in time frame. I'm not sure if his unbridled optimism does more good than harm to the important ideas of AI, and the future of technology.

This is recommended reading, especially if you haven't spent any time thinking about the topics involved -- but fill your salt shaker first.

You'll find Kurzweil's timeline (created circa 1998, and continuing seamlessly from the birth of the Universe to the end of the twenty-first century) here.

The Age of Spiritual Machines, Part I

[Part I of a long review. Part II is here.]

Ray Kurzweil is a salesman, and a True Believer. I just finished reading his The Age of Spiritual Machines, in which he shares his faith in neural networks, evolutionary algorithms, Drexlerian nanotechnology, and Moore's Law, which leads him to conclude that a "strong" AI (a true intelligence, more than just a program capable of passing the Turing Test) will emerge around 2019 (indeed, will be runnable on a single PC), and that progress will continue to accelerate toward the point where human and machine intelligences merge on the Net before the end of the twenty-first century (an event which he calls the Singularity).

I have many problems with the book, though there are broad areas of agreement on fundamental principles -- I'm a believer in strong AI. If carbon-based matter can think, I see no reason why silicon-based matter can't think -- and no reason to believe that we can't build it, and that it will improve over time. But that's a very far cry from agreeing with the major themes, let alone details, of Kurzweil's book.

The first, and biggest, problem is his Law of Accelerating Returns. While Henry Adams was mulling this concept for human society a hundred years ago, Kurzweil goes far beyond Adams (whom he doesn't appear to cite, though maybe I missed it; in general, the footnoting in the book is good, but the prior literature including science fiction is certainly vast) and asserts that the evolution of the Universe itself has as a goal the creation of intelligence, and that evolution runs at an ever-accelerating pace, unstoppably. He treats this as some sort of vaguely-defined physical law, which I find implausible and poorly supported, at best. (Perhaps he has a more technical argument in a paper somewhere? After all, this is a pop "science" book.) He pays a bit of lip service to punctuated equilibria (misreading Gould, in my opinion) and the possibility of catastrophic societal meltdowns, but doesn't really put much stock in them. He doesn't deal with the fact that dinosaurs seemed quite comfortably in control of the planet until catastrophe befell them -- without any archeological or paleontological evidence that dinosaurs needed intelligence to maintain their dominance, or indeed that their evolution over much of their dominant period truly constituted "progress" as we would define it.

Likewise, Kurzweil extends Moore's Law to some sort of supernatural phenomenon, arguing that computational power starting with mechanical calculators and continuing through the end of the nominal VLSI-relevant Moore's Law in 20-30 years, then continuing through some ill-defined nanotech computational substrate, continues to accelerate. Not just stays on Moore's Law, but that the performance-doubling time will continue to shrink! While his twentieth-century chart is fascinating, I doubt very much that some sort of fundamental principle is in evidence, and that the rate of computation will continue to advance until we are computing with individual quarks. Kurzweil mentions S-curves and the end of exponential growth, but simply has faith that we will find some way around it -- that as each individual S-curve begins to tail off, there is another waiting in the wings to pick up the baton and run.

Kurzweil spends a few pages discussing quantum computing, and while it's not very good, it's also not terrible for a layman's understanding circa 1998. He does conclude (correctly, IMHO) that quantum computing is likely to be a special-purpose tool, rather than a true replacement for all computation.

Kurzweil has worked on voice recognition. I don't dispute that he dictated the bulk of Spiritual to a voice recognition system, but the assertion that keyboards would practically disappear by 2009 must have seemed a reach even in 1999. Likewise, it seems to me that he has substantially oversold the capabilities -- both contemporary impact and future breadth of applicability -- of neural nets and evolutionary algorithms. I have a little experience (more as a user than developer, in collaboration with another researcher) with both evolutionary and neural nets, and in my experience, they take a lot of care and feeding, and getting them to scale reasonably with the problem size is difficult; they tend to need fairly structured guidance, rather than simply turning them on and letting them go. Let me hasten to add that I'm a believer in the value of these technologies -- but they certainly are not yet some silver bullet that allows us to dispense with understanding problems ourselves before instructing a computer how to solve them for us.

Kurzweil believes that simple (ultra-)Moore's Law growth in computation will allow us to scale up these two technologies to the point where it's possible for us to just turn them loose (maybe with a dash or two of learning about the human brain's structure) and we'll get intelligent beings; we already have abstracted the neuron adequately, and only need to evolve large enough and correctly connected neural nets and the structures themselves will take over from there. While it's a beguiling scenario, my opinion is that we are likely to actually need new insights and will have to actively guide their development. Simply creating some sort of neuronal evolutionary soup leaves us in a combinatorial space beyond all comprehending in size -- waiting for a human brain to evolve in that environment is going to require eons, in my opinion.

Kurzweil takes on Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind, which was already old news when he was writing but is still an influential book. I read TENM shortly after it came out, and while the details have long since faded, I was unconvinced by Penrose's arguments, which seemed to amount to the assertion that intelligence (or consciousness?) requires some non-physical phenomenon -- or at least new physics that we don't yet understand. In the end he comes to the suggestion that intelligence is derived at bottom from quantum processes. Let me stress that my IQ is probably half of Penrose's, and finding my accomplishments if stacked up next to his would require a microscope. I'm also not a consciousness researcher (and neither is Penrose). But I don't yet see any reason to invoke new physics (beyond possibly deepening our understanding of nonlinear dynamics and complexity). There is still a lot of wiggle room for well-understood physics to generate poorly-understood macroscopic phenomena.

So here, at least, I agree with Kurzweil: I'm not convinced by Penrose's anti-strong AI arguments (many of which, according to John McCarthy, were already well refuted before TENM was published). If intelligence is a property exhibited by matter, I see no particular reason to believe that we will always be unable to create matter that thinks.

On to part II

Monday, July 17, 2006

Inflatable Space Station

This article talks about the success of an inflatable scale model of an inflatable space station. The full-scale thing, funded by a dude named Bigelow, is supposed to be taking guests in orbit as a hotel by 2015.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Now Available: My Ph.D. Thesis! "Architecture of a Quantum Multicomputer..."

My Ph.D. thesis, "Architecture of a Quantum Multicomputer Optimized for Shor's Factoring Algorithm," is now available from my publications page or from the arXiv as quant-ph/0607065. The arXiv version uses three slightly modified figures to dramatically reduce the size of the PostScript file. As a result, the pagination also changed. Otherwise, there are no differences.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Soroban v. Barbie

My older daughter's in second grade, and takes soroban lessons twice a week after school. That's right, abacus. People (well, Americans, anyway) look at me like I'm insane when I tell them that. "Do they teach her how to chip flint, too?" seems to be the thought running through their heads.

A toy she has mostly outgrown is her Barbie laptop computer (she's not really into pink and flowery, but the computer has some cool games, and talks). But lately she's been playing an addition game and some of the other math games. One of them is timed -- the faster you are, the more points you get. Recently, she was playing and getting frustrated with her ability to keep up -- so she grabbed her abacus! She's faster and more accurate at two- and three-digit addition with the abacus than in her head, and seemed to do better at the computer game with her abacus by her side!

She's also learning to multiply using the soroban, ahead of learning it in her actual second-grade class. (She can also ride a unicycle, a common hobby for grade-school girls here, and read and write several hundred kanji (characters Japan borrowed from China) already. But her English is almost non-existent at this point.)

The company that I worked for here in Japan in the early 1990s still kept its books on paper, and much of the arithmetic was done by clerks with abacuses (abaci? okay, sorobans). We also had rotary-dial telephones. And we built some fantastic technology that way.

I'm sure Japanese see just as many idiosyncracies when they move to the U.S...

PGP CTO on Crypto

Jon Callas, who is CTO (and CSO) at PGP Corp., posted a great message to the IP (Interesting People) mailing list today on the difficulty of cracking crypto. It's brief but thorough, eye-opening, and very grounded in reality.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Seventy Cents per Megabit per Second (or Less)

There was a tidbit in the paper yesterday that said that Japan has the lowest average price for broadband of anywhere in the world, at an average of about seventy cents per megabit per second. We are actually paying less -- I think about fifty bucks for 100 Mbps. This is the "gigabit family type", which means that the second hop is gigabit, which I think is shared among a maximum of 32 houses, if I remember right.

The article also said that South Korea has the best availability -- the largest percentage of households could get broadband if they wanted to.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Asian Conference on Quantum Information Science

The deadline for submissions to AQIS is July 15, so better get it done soon if you're submitting. I'm afraid I don't have anything ready at the moment...

AQIS is the successor conference to the EQIS series, which has been very successful here in Japan, with a strong program committee and excellent speakers over the three years I've been following it. This year it's in Beijing, so get your visa lined up, too.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Discovery is up, and so are the North Koreans (sort of). CNN says that the Taepodong, which is supposed to be capable of reaching the U.S. from North Korea, failed after forty seconds and fell in the Sea of Japan, outside of Japan's exclusive economic zone.

With the Yasukuni Shrine visits still causing friction between Japan and Korea and China, relationships in East Asia are tense at the moment. It seems possible that Koizumi will visit Yasukuni on the anniversary of Japan's surrender on August 15, which falls a few weeks before the end of his term as LDP president. Much of the jockeying to succeed him as president (and presumably prime minister) centers around the opinion of the contestants about the Yasukuni issue.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

From the Ministry of Irony

As long as I'm cribbing from the Sunday morning Daily Yomiuri, can't resist this tidbit: a man was trapped in a Schindler elevator in the building in Sendai (northern Japan) that houses the branch office of Schindler itself. He was only stuck for forty minutes or so, but the fire department had to pry the doors open to get him out. The building contains residences and other offices besides just the Schindler office; the man apparently was not a Schindler employee.

Teen Mobile Phone Use in Japan

The Daily Yomiuri has another blurb citing a MHLW study. According to this one, 92 percent of high schoolers, 48 percent of middle school students, and 24 percent of fifth and sixth graders have mobile phones. A prior survey in 2001 found 27 percent and 9 percent for the latter two categories, but the blurb in the paper doesn't say about high school students.

It also says that more than 30 percent of high schoolers use their keitai (mobile phone) more than two hours a day. I suspect this includes voice, email, i-mode browsing and games, all rolled together.

This report ought to be on MHLW's news page (in Japanese), but I'm not seeing it; it may be rolled into another report...

Japan Molecular (Nanotech?) Health Study

Today's Daily Yomiuri has a blurb from Kyodo News that says that the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry (Kouseiroudoushou, or MHLW) has started researching the safety of "molecular substances" used in IT, cosmetics, and more. I suspect this is a nanotechnology survey, but I'm not sure; I certainly can't imagine that no one has bothered to investigate the safety of chemicals used in chip making or makeup. There's no matching news release in Japanese or English on the MHLW website, maybe on Monday.

Hubble Camera Okay?

I had missed the news that the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys went offline two weeks ago with some sort of power supply problem, but the ops staff apparently managed to fix it from the ground, by switching to a backup supply. Whew!