Wednesday, March 29, 2006

T-minus 75 Days and Counting...

19 days until I give my thesis to my adviser.
40 days to my first presentation to the faculty on my research.
75 days (assuming that step goes well) to my final defense.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Silk Road's Black River

Right now I'm watching an episode of NHK's Silk Road The imagery of course jaw-dropping, and the culture and history astonishing. Right now they are talking about (and visiting) the Black River area of Inner Mongolia. This is the poster child for desertification; there were a large lake, a roaring river, and cities supporting thousands until the fourteenth century. Then it all dried up for reasons that are still poorly understood. Nothing but desert, ghost cities and canals, and miles and miles of Buddhist monuments and graveyards.

It's a warning, a tragedy and a puzzle.

I would love to follow the Silk Road through central Asia, but the farther west you get, the worse the current atmosphere is for Americans. Some day...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Updated Cherry Blossoms

The Daily Yomiuri reported a couple of days ago on the "cherry blossom prediction wars". The government Kizocho (meteorological agency) is now predicting that in Tokyo the trees will be blooming around March 22 (this coming Wednesday). However, Weather News, a for-profit company that has only been doing this for four years, is predicting that they won't be blooming until about March 25 or later, and around March 29 in Kashiwa (not far from here). Their map is very cool, very interactive and detailed, but how accurate is it? Stay tuned...

I'm going to have to shift my "reference tree" from down near Teganuma to one in front of Abiko Junior High School. I'm just not getting down to Teganuma often enough.

The weather this week is going to be iffy, with rain off and on, and it has been windy enough the last three days to affect the trains, resulting in lots of inconvenienced commuters. If this weather keeps up, we won't get much of a cherry blossom season here around Tokyo this year.

DNA Smiley Face

Okay, this is way past cool. Just a reminder that people in fields besides quantum computing are doing awesome work in ways that may fundamentally change how we build things, including, by extension, how we build computers.

I'm actually most impressed with the world map.

Photos of Kyoto and Himeji

Recently Mayumi took Sophia to Kyoto and Himeji, where they met up with some photographer friends. Mayumi took some fantastic photos.

However, her friend who organized the trip took some even better ones. See especially, if you like technically difficult photography, the second picture here

P.S. Mayumi's in some sort of blog ranking thing, so if you like her pictures click on the animated GIF that says "Kumaneko".

Computer Networks: Heralds of Resource Sharing

[Update: the definitive version of this list has moved to Wikipedia, thanks to Edward. I have also been told that I misidentified Jon Postel.]

This ARPANET film, from 1972, discussed recently on the Interesting People mailing list, features many of the most important names in computer networking. Some of them have speaking parts; some are only shown in cameos. Here is a list of the ones identified so far. It would be better to actually annotate the video for this, or at least put up a wiki, but this is quick...comments encouraged!

Speaking parts:

  • Fernando J. Corbato (Corby), more links here: (voice 0:45-1:15, face 1:00-1:15, 15:10-15:40) Turing Award-winning implementer of multitasking operating systems.
  • J.C.R. Licklider: (1:00-1:40), and many times throughout the film
  • Lawrence G. Roberts: (voice 1:40-2:25) SIGCOMM Award winner.
  • Robert Kahn: (2:25-2:35, 3:15-6:25, 6:55-) Turing Award winner.
  • Frank Heart: (2:35-3:15, 6:25-6:55)
  • William R. Sutherland: (13:50-15:10)
  • Richard W. Watson: (17:34-18:30, 25:05-25:15) Dick is one of the key mass storage researchers of the last thirty years.
  • John R. Pasta: (18:30-19:25)
  • Donald W. Davies: (19:25-21:55)
  • George W. Mitchell: (21:55-24:05, voice only)


It would actually be nice to identify the locations and equipment, too...

Winny: Man Bites Dog

The file-sharing software Winny has been in the news a lot lately here in Japan, none of it good. It has security flaws that cause it to spread private info off of your PC out onto the Internet at large; that's rarely a good thing. Winny has been blamed for the leaks of 2,800 hospital patients, 1,500 crime victims, and, worryingly, door access codes for restricted areas at airports.

Now we have a case where crime was brought to light by Winny, a kind of "man bites dog" story: an illegal in-house betting ring was revealed at Kintetsu Railways because of a Winny data leak.

Most of these events that are making the news are cases where employees have used their private personal computers for work purposes. (I presume the reason it's not happening to more work PCs is that most companies here don't allow users to install software on their PCs; you have to use just what your IT folks provide.) This appears to be because, despite years of tax incentives for Japanese companies to buy IT equipment, many companies are still under-automated, leading people to bring their own PCs to work and use them. (They may also be finding this desirable because they're not allowed to install SW.) So, the government's solution to this (besides asking people not to use Winny) is to pony up money for the Self Defense Forces (which have also been hit by leaks) to buy 56,000 more PCs.

While it's not a bad thing that organizations will be improving their IT infrastructure, it's pretty busted when your solution to some form of malware is to buy more hardware. Just another reason to be angry about the state of the world of software today...

My memory tells me that the author is currently in jail and has offered to fix the problems if he's released, but at the moment I can't find a story on that...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Mobile Africa

An article in the Daily Yomiuri today, cribbed from the Times of London, talks about the explosion in mobile phones in Africa. In 2000 there were 8 million subscribers on the continent, now there are more than 100 million -- one for every nine people. 25% of those are in South Africa, but places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo have a million (compared to just 10,000 land lines), and Chad has gone from 10,000 to 200,000 in three years.

One of the bedrock premises of the mobile business is that it makes people more productive. In the case of Africa, it's not just mobile v. fixed, it's mobile v. nothing. Here's a chance to test that thesis. Will Africa's economic growth show a big boost in the next few years? It's hard to imagine the answer to that would be no.

And there's the human element -- the need to communicate is powerful. Analysts underestimated the demand for mobile phones in Africa, probably because of both the human element and the obvious business needs.

Of course, communications isn't Africa's only problem -- lack of infrastructure, poor education, infectious disease, and weak governance are all very serious issues. But I'm an optimist. The mobile phone has the ability to help overcome some of these other obstacles, if people demonstrate the initiative, including increasing citizen monitoring of governments, which has to be good (a la the Phillipines).

The Media Lab $100 laptop is a great thing, don't get me wrong. But my money is on the mobile phone as the Great Enabler in Africa, at least over the next one to two decades.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

10th Red Planet Pojmanski Enceladus

Astronomy tidbits...

I've been getting up between 4:30 and 5:00 to look for Comet Pojmanski, but have failed to see it -- either cloudy or too hazy.

The announcement that Enceladus has liquid water was on the front page of the Daily Yomiuri yesterday. I wonder where it ranks on American newspapers -- I didn't even see it in the New York Times headlines at all, but maybe I just missed it.

The best news of the day is that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully inserted into orbit around Mars.

And, as we speak, I'm watching Mike Brown's Watson Lecture on the discovery of the 10th planet.

Traffic Pattern Analysis via Cell Phone

As long as I'm cranking up the posting meter...

A friend of Ted's spotted this one. The idea's been around for a while, I think, and someone finally got around to implementing it: count the number of handovers and number of phones in a particular cell, and you can estimate the traffic on the roads. Piggybacks on existing technology, doesn't require new hardware, and doesn't have to raise privacy concerns if done properly, either. It's a win. Without more directly tapping into the (rapidly increasing) ability to track the exact location of specific cell phones, the granularity of data and location is a little large, but this is such a straightforward hack (in the original, best sense of the word) with clear benefits for almost no effort that it should be a no-brainer.

Teganuma Cherry Blossoms, 3/11

One of the joys of living anywhere is the rhythm of the seasons, and the Kanto area has a very agreeable climate with wonderful changes. You'll lose few arguments staking out a position on the flowering of spring as the best here. If I were a poet, I'd be in heaven today, with a beautiful, warm, truly sublime spring day (my father-in-law said it felt like May).

It seems consistently slightly cooler here in Abiko than in Tokyo itself, so I'll bet on cherry blossoms around March 28. Here are two pictures taken today at Teganuma, the local lake. You can see there's a big range in how far they have progressed; most of the trees are at the slower end of this range. I'll try to post regular pictures here so you can see the progress.

Edo Castle

Mayumi and Sophia are off to Himeji Castle tomorrow, so I'm jealous, but I did get to snap this photo of a swan in the moat at the Imperial Castle here in Tokyo on a gray, drizzly day. It shows the limitations of the camera in my cell phone pretty clearly.

Cartoons: Quantum and Geek

User Friendly isn't exactly your average comic strip, hey, it's still not that often that quantum computing shows up in a strip. The main gag isn't quantum, and the strip refers to uncertainty but not any of the phenomena such as superposition and entanglement that we know and love, but hey, any publicity is good publicity, right? Thanks to Ross for the pointer.

On the topic of comics, Thaddeus turned me on to PHD Comics a while back, and as I struggle to finish my thesis, I find it side-splittingly funny.

Cherry Blossom Predictions

Looks like predictions for when the cherry blossoms arrive are now posted. There's a map as well as more detailed lists, like the one for the Kanto (Tokyo) area. We are apparently scheduled for about March 24 in Yokohama and March 25 in Tokyo. For Tokyo, that will be three days earlier than "average" and 6 days earlier than last year, when they were late. Sendai will be announced (the prediction will be made, that is) mid-March, and Sapporo in early April.

I'd love to know how they calculate that average; I seem to recall reading that it was some like the average from 1975 to 2000? Have to dig the data back up...

Monday, March 06, 2006

MS+S: David Awschalom

Man, Santa Barbara is the place to be. David Awschalom has been there for years, and they just added John Martinis to the physics department. In CS, they have Wim van Dam (a quantum computing theorist), and have just added Fred Chong, who is a computer systems architect, strong in both classical and quantum. (There are more groups listed here, too.)

Anyway, David's talk at MS+S...I'm not going to have time to give a thorough accounting of David's talk (and probably couldn't do it justice anyway), but wanted to post a few tidbits. It was titled "Imaging spin Hall effect and current-induced polarization in 2DEG".

David is one of the world's best at imaging spin in semiconductors, among other things. David and his group have shown that it's possible to control spin electrically. This has the possibility to eliminate the need for large magnetic fields to control qubits, which would be a plus because the magnetic fields require a lot of power and hardware, and more importantly, are hard to confine to areas small enough to affect only a single qubit.

The spin is controlled electrically by moving electrons through an electric field at relativistic speeds. This motion changes the field felt by the electron from electric to magnetic, affecting the spin. This is done, generally, by taking advantage of the electrical field created by the epitaxial strain, the strain caused by mismatch of the lattices at the boundary between two materials, and is therefore a static phenomenon.

They are creating spins electrically and monitoring them optically. Numerous other schemes for creating spins electrically have been proposed; two that David mentioned that I managed to catch are Edelstein, Solid State Comm. 73, 233 (1990) and Aronov and Lyanda-Geller, JETP Letters 50, 431 (1989).

One truly startling image (to me, at least) was spins precessing in part of a wire. Moving in one direction, they are fine, turn a 90 degree corner and all of sudden they are moving perpendicular to the B field and begin to precess; turn another corner and they stop precessing. I don't see this image in the couple of papers I'm looking at; it might not be published yet.

The spin creation efficiency is largely temperature-independent, which is good news, and appears to be limited by classical gate speeds rather than any physical process.

A couple of very good papers in conjunction with his student Kato (who did his undergrad under my physics professor Kohei Itoh) are this Science paper and this PRL one.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Softbank to Buy Vodafone K.K.?

The Japanese government was supposed to auction off two bands for new wireless services sometime soon. I think the use of the bands was going to be less restricted than in the past, but the assumption was that they would be used for 3G services in the short run, and maybe something more exciting in the long run.

Softbank is one of Japan's most entrepreneurial companies. It had announced its intention to bid on one of the licenses. Apparently, they have decided that the Japanese market for basic wireless voice services is saturated, and that the only way to build a decent use base is to buy one. So, they are negotiating to buy "a controlling stake" in Vodafone K.K., the Japanese arm of the Vodafone group, for one trillion yen (almost ten billion dollars).

Vodafone K.K. is profitable, but not growing. Vodafone bought Japan Telecom, which owned J-Phone, in 2001, and in 2003 renamed it Vodafone K.K. and sold off the wireline part of the business. For their 3G service, they use standard W-CDMA and the same handsets as in much of the rest of the world, reasoning that the efficiencies gained in development, management, etc. would be worthwhile, and that people the world over wanted the same kind of 3G experience. But, they've been unable to convince most of their Japanese customers to switch from their 2G network to 3G. In the beginning, they had coverage problems and got bad press; surely that's corrected by now. But their handsets are still viewed as clunky, bulky, short on features, and not appropriate for Japan (as a former Nokian, it pains me to say that, since Nokia supplies many of their handsets).

So what does this mean? Is Vodafone giving up on its vision of a single worldwide network and single worldwide wireless experience? I'm not sure. What will Softbank do with the network? Well, as adventurous as they are, my guess is that they will have creative, very Japanese services running quickly, though better handsets have a long development cycle. I would also bet that Softbank will find a way to deploy a faster network within a few years, too.

In other words, this will probably be good both in the short and long run for Japanese customers. Whether it will be good for Japanese handset and wireless equipment makers depends on Softbank's ability to work in the world standards market, both as a customer and standards-maker, which will affect handset costs inside Japan and competitiveness of Japanese companies outside Japan.

For those of us who want a single worldwide phone number and cheap international roaming service, it's probably a push; I used to think that was a big deal, but I now believe we are more likely to get that through something like Skype over WLAN than directly from our 3G phone provider.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Cherry Blossom-Flattered Castles

It's still a little early for the annual "cherry blossom front" maps to be appearing on TV and in the newspapers, but Nikkei (Japan's Wall Street Journal) published a poll in their life section today on castles and cherry blossoms. I think the poll is just taken over the Internet, so not very scientific, but in this case plenty good enough to be useful. Readers' votes for "Cherry-Blossom-Flattered Castles" (in order):

  • 1) Hirosaki Castle (Aomori Prefecture, up north): 2600 cherry trees of 52 varieties; will bloom late April-early May
  • 2) Himeji Castle (Hyogo Pref., out west between Kyoto and Hiroshima)
  • 3) Takato Castle (Niigata, Japan Sea side of the mountains)
  • 4) Aizu-Wakamatsu (Fukushima, north-central): 1000 cherry trees
  • 5) Hikone (Shiga): 1200 cherry trees
  • 6) Tsuyama (Okayama): 5000 cherry trees
  • 7) Oka (Oita, Kyushu (down south)): 2000 cherry trees
  • 8) Goryokaku (Hokkaido, up north): 1600 trees
  • 9 (tie)) Osaka (Osaka): 4000 trees
  • 9 (tie)) Takada (Niigata): 4000 trees

They also took a poll just on readers' recommended castles:

  • 1) Himeji
  • 2) Matsumoto (Nagano, up in the mountains)
  • 3) Osaka
  • 4) Hirosaki
  • 5) Kumamoto (Kumamoto, Kyushu)
  • 6) Hikone
  • 7) Odawara (Kanagawa? Shizuoka? A couple hours south of Tokyo)

I've been to Himeji, Matsumoto, Kumamoto, Goryokaku, and Aizu-Wakamatsu, and I've walked past Osaka-jo. Himeji is undoubtedly one of the most spectacularly beautiful castles in the entire world; it's the canonical Japanese castle you see on guide book covers. Catch the small museum nearby, too. Himeji-jo is still the real thing; Japanese castles are wooden, and have a tendency to burn down during uprisings or aerial bombardment, so most of them, including most of the ones on this list, are now concrete replicas. The concrete ones often have nice museums inside, but still... Goryokaku is in a five-pointed star of stone walls, definitely go to the top and look out if you visit.

The picture is plum (ume) blossoms near our house.

Visited Countries

This is actually sort of pathetic. I may eventually visit all fifty states, but they're making countries faster than I'm visiting them.
Moreover, a short visit may be fascinating, but gives you only the most superficial understanding of a culture. Personally, I think it would be fun to live in several more countries over the next couple of decades, but we're tired of moving and want the girls to have some stability...

I'd love to see maps for Paul, Bill, and Suz...

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

Visited States

Okay, I'm I geek, I think this is cool. Thanks Dave.

create your own visited states map
or check out these Google Hacks.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Japan News: Shinkansen, A-Bombs, and MOX

Several tidbits from yesterday's Daily Yomiuri and Japan Times:

JR East has tested a new shinkansen (bullet train), which they call "Fastech", at 366 km/h (229mph) in northern Japan. This isn't major news; the train has already run 398 km/h in previous tests, and has run 30,000km. But this might have been the first time the press was on board, and the first time it was tested on the tracks where it will run in service. It's scheduled to go into service in 2011. Currently, the fastest trains in operation are the TGV and the Sanyo shinkansen at 300km/h, so this one should claim the title.

45% of hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) have developed some form of thyroid disease, according to a JAMA study. Most had only chronic inflammation; only 2% had cancer. The younger you were and the greater your exposure to the blast, the higher your chances of disease.

A pluthermal nuclear power plant that will burn plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel cleared another hurdle on Wednesday. It's down in Shikoku, and there have been several stories about the plant in recent months as various agencies issue their opinions. I think the 890 megawatt plant is already in operation; this would just be a change in fuel. They want to use MOX as up to 25% of their fuel. I don't know much about atomic power, but I think this will burn some waste from other plants. I'm not sure what it does overall to concerns about proliferation or the environment. The government has claimed it wants to have 16-18 pluthermal plants by 2010, but according to the article the others have "hit snags".

Finally, the central government is considering implementing what it calls the doshu system, doing away with the 47 prefectures (states, more or less) and creating 9-13 administrative blocs instead. Can you imagine someone seriously proposing eliminating U.S. states? I doubt very much that this proposal will be adopted, it hits too many power bases of people who will scream. The central government claims it will decentralize power and promote efficiency.

MS+S: John Martinis

John Martinis (UC Santa Barbara) talked about high-fidelity measurements of a Josephson junction flux qubit. Their device is Al wires, SiNx insulators, an external SQUID for measurement.

They have two qubits coupled through a capacitor. They think they have proven entanglement between the two via tomography on the |10>-i|01> state.

They have done four years' work on materials. A major part of the dissipation is from the on-chip capacitor. The cap is amorphous material, sometimes atomic bonds can oscillate at uwave freq that cause problems. At high power, SiO2 looks like a good dielectric,
but at very low powers, loss is ~1%, way too high. SiNx is 20x better, they think they have some materials that might be better still. Their current device uses SiNx.

Currently at a T1 of 110nsec, hoping 500ns or more with better caps.

John had wonderful animated data on the decay of a qubit.

John is very optimistic about systems of 4-10 qubits. One of his people (sorry, I didn't catch the name) has built a very scalable, distributed control system in software, 50-100KLOC (kilo-lines of code) to do the qubit initialization, tuning, and control.

Through their coupling system, each qubit can in theory be connected to maybe 3-4 others, over moderate distances. In other words, I think it's time for me to get involved :-).

They have also done work on improved dil fridges and getting the wires in and out of the fridge, which concerns me, so I'm happy to see that.

I'm planning on visiting Santa Barbara in October, looking forward to it.

Wikipedia on QC

Not only has Wikipedia just passed its one millionth article in English, but I noticed while pulling up a URL for that last post that the entry on quantum computing has improved dramatically since the last time I looked at it. Check it out.

Kudos to whoever did the work.

MS+S: Bob Clark

Bob Clark represented 150 people, funded by both the Australian and U.S. governments. The overall effort in Australia is major, including theory, semiconductor, and optical. He talked mostly about progress in fabbing their solid-state devices. They are famous for the Kane model, of course, but Bob says they have "moved on" from that somewhat.
In one sense, these guys set themselves a difficult task. Although it's based on standard silicon, the fabrication of their devices is complex, compared to the superconducting teams. The superconducting folks have their own problems, of course, including (for some devices) some issues with aligning structures to a particular axis of the crystalline lattice, but I think overall the superconducting devices are a little easier to fab.
In the Australian system, the idea is to implant phosphorus atoms below the surface of silicon, and the P will localize an electron that can then be used as a qubit. They have to put in the P, layer some more Si over it, then build standard CMOS gates aligned to the P atom. Their fab approach is to cover the Si with a protective layer, etch small wells down to the Si surface, sputter P atoms so that they get one into each well, then strip off the protective layer, put down some more Si, then build the gates.
One part of their fab uses an idea that had never occurred to me before: they build electrical structures on the chip that are then used during later steps of the fab. We're accustomed to passive alignment markers on the wafer to get proper registration between layers, but not active elements. In particular, when a P atom impacts the Si surface, it generates about a hundred electron-hole pairs, and they put a detector near each of the wells so they can know with absolute certainty when an atom has made it into the well. Bob says they have ideas that may scale to allow them to reliably implant a million atoms in precise locations (plus/minus a few nanometers) on the surface of a wafer.
Their first experiments are aimed at creating a charge qubit, and Bob expects that moving from charge to spin will be straightforward. They are currently doing experiments on a two-atom device, with the atoms placed 50nm apart, each coupled to an SET (single electron transistor). For this setup, T1 is 10msec. As the atoms are brought closer together, the lifetime will go down, but if they can make the spin device work, lifetimes will be very long; tens of msec, maybe hundreds of msec.
They have also been doing a lot of work on integrating various important control structures directly into the device, which will reduce the need for signal generators and whatnot outside the dil fridge. To me, this is critical work, and I hope they are successful, and that some of what they learn can be applied to other solid-state technologies.
Bob's talk included a number of fantastic pictures of their data; I wish the talks were online. One paper is this one by Schofield et al.
They don't really have a working qubit yet; hope to in a few months.

Overview of MS+S2006: Mesoscopic Superconductivity and Spintronics

I just got back from MS+S2006 (Mesoscopic Superconductivity and Spintronics). Over the next couple of days, I'll digest some of my notes and post my impressions. If you gave a talk and I don't cover your work, it's not because it wasn't impressive; I'll run out of blogging steam at some point.
This conference is held every two years at NTT's Basic Research Laboratory in Atsugi, organized by Dr. Takayanagi, and sponsored by NTT and JST. I went in 2004; it was the first experimental physics conference I attended.
The conference is medium-sized, probably 125 or so total participants; I counted around 100 in some of the sessions.
The program was fantastic; the organizers get a large number of world-class invited speakers, in addition to the submitted talks and posters. We heard Tord Claeson (Chalmers), John Martinis (UC Santa Barbara), Bob Clark (U. New South Wales), Charlie Marcus (Harvard), David Awschalom (UCSB), John Clarke (Berkeley), D. Esteve (Saclay), Prof. Tarucha (U. Tokyo), Per Delsing (Chalmers), Dr. Nitta (NTT), Dr. Semba (NTT), Y. Nakamura (NEC), Hartmut Haeffner (apologies, I'm not sure how to type an umlaut in this system), Andreas Wallraff, and more.
Of course, much of the physics is still beyond me (since I'm a computer systems guy), but there was exciting work presented. Although some of it was basic physics, I'll stick to the quantum computing-related parts of the conference, which were the majority.

Greek Wire Tapping

Hey, looks like I was right. Bruce Schneier is now reporting that the tapping of the Greek PM's phone was done by hacking the lawful intercept mechanism, not hacking the conference call controls.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Beer-Pouring Robot

Apparently I'm the last person in Japan to know this, but Asahi is running a promotion. They are giving away 5,000 robots that pour your beer for you. Follow the link, and click on "PLAY" at the top (written in English), and it will pop up a Real Player video of the robot doing its thing, or the "PLAY" next to the smaller images will run short clips.

The robot has a refrigerator built into its body, big enough to hold six cans of beer and two mugs. When you push the button, it gets out a beer, pops the top, and pours it for you.

I don't even drink beer, and I want one of these.

The comments here and here are hilarious.

If I have this right, you need 36 seals from "participating cans", send them in, and they'll pick the winners by lottery.

Apologies for the low-quality pics, they were grabbed with my cell phone from an ad hanging in a moving train.