Saturday, September 30, 2006


Keio will be 150 years old in 2008, and the graduate school's first entering class was 100 years ago in February. There have been 300,000 Keio University graduates over that time, including two of the last four prime ministers of Japan, two astronauts, the presidents, chairmen, and publishers of several of the major newspapers and television networks, and the architect of the upcoming remodeling of MOMA in New York. (And probably more than half of Keio's own faculty.)

And me, the 2,630th Ph.D. in Engineering, apparently numbered since the last major reorganization of the schools in the mid-90s.

I owe more than I can say to many, many people. The foreword to my thesis tries to say :-). Thanks for all of your support and love.

More pictures on Mayumi's blog.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Robot Skin

Robot skin from the Maeno Lab at Keio University and Kao Corporation. I wonder if it's warm?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science

I know the name David Cheriton for his seminal work in distributed systems in the 1980s, including the V system he led the development of as a Stanford professor. (I've always been particularly fond of the "triangle RPCs" in VMTP, allowing the reply to an RPC to arrive from a node different from the one that the request was originally sent to. We gave serious consideration to using that model in the Netstation work in the mid-90s.) Others no doubt know his name as a venture capitalist; he made a gazillion (a google?) bucks backing a little startup named Google almost a decade ago.

Now his name will be known to many because of his gift of $25 million to the University of Waterloo, where the CS department now becomes the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science.

Congratulations to UW, and thanks, David, for giving back! Without strong universities, we have no future.

Monday, September 25, 2006

NTT IP Phone Outage

An article in Saturday's Daily Yomiuri, which apparently isn't online, discusses outages in NTT East's systems on September 19 & 20. About 800,000 lines of its "Hikari" (light) service were affected. The principle problem seems to have been in relay servers that move calls between the IP network and the POTS (plain old telephone service) phones. Apparently they received 35,000 complaints about the problem.

Monday was a holiday, and on Tuesday morning traffic was three times normal, according to NTT. A server handling calls coming in from the POTS network became overloaded, and traffic was apparently shifted to another server in Miyagi Prefecture, which was designed to handle 200,000 calls but was given 260,000 calls. Controls had to be activated to limit traffic. The article doesn't say what those "controls" are, but presumably callers get a busy signal or perhaps a message, instead of being connected.

"To prevent the trouble recurring, NTT East on Thursday limited traffic between Hikari telephones and fixed-line phones and between Hikari phones and cell phones by 50 percent." Again, not a lot of details on how this accomplished.

NTT East says about 60 percent of new subscribers to its B-FLETS fiber optic Internet service also subscribe to its IP phone service. There are about 12 million IP phones in the country as of June, up 30 percent from a year ago.

There don't seem to have been any problems between Hikari phones and other Hikari phones. I'm curious about IP phones from other providers besides NTT East; if I had to guess, I would guess that the peering there is done on the POTS network rather than direct IP telephony connections.

The article includes various expressions of regret and government suggestions of more regulations, but no specific timetable for fixing the underlying problem.

Digitally Unable to Repeat the Past

An article in the L.A. TImes by Charles Piller begins,

"Carter G. Walker remembers the day her memories vanished.

"After sending an e-mail to her aunt, the Montana freelance writer stepped away from the computer to make a grilled-cheese sandwich. She returned a few minutes later to a black screen. Data recovery experts did what they could, but the hard drive was beyond saving — as were the precious moments Walker had entrusted to it."

The article goes on to lament the loss of digital data even under the government's care, quoting archivists from the National Archives and citing examples such as priceless lost NASA data, and says that W's presidency is likely to leave a less complete legacy than Lincoln's did.

In the mass storage industry, we have known about this problem for a long time, especially the migration problem as different forms of digital media become obsolete. One key problem is more than just hardware is required to read modern media -- complex software is required, too. Even if you could somehow take apart a DVD player a hundred years from now and recreate the hardware, without the firmware, you're out of luck.

The IEEE Technical Committee on Mass Storage Systems (MSSTC), the executive committee of which I'm a member of, sponsors a series of conferences, at which the archival problem is often addressed. Bob Coyne of IBM and Reagan Moore of SDSC are particularly active in this area, especially in being able to find the particular data you're looking for, which starts with tagging it with the right metadata when it's created.

At one conference, we had a presentation from some people interested in creating archival storage in the sense that the Rosetta Stone is archival storage. It was a stainless steel platter with microscopic pits for bits, like a permanent pressing master for a large CD. But it also included a picture visible to the naked eye explaining how to build a reader for the data. Good idea.

"'If we don't solve the problem, our time will not become part of the past,' said Kenneth Thibodaux, who directs electronic records preservation for the National Archives. 'It will largely vanish.'"


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tracking the Gaijin

The Daily Yomiuri reports today that the Japanese government is planning on increasing its tracking of foreigners (gaijin). Apparently different government ministries currently perform different levels and styles of tracking (no surprise), and the data doesn't agree (again, no surprise).

The Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry (Kosei-rodo-sho) says companies have reported to it that they employee about 340,000 foreigners. But the Justice Ministry (Homu-sho), which is probably in charge of visas, says there about 2.01 million foreigners here, of whom it estimates about 800,000 are working, either legally or illegally. That's quite a discrepancy!

Apparently companies aren't required to report on the status of their employees, and reports are only accepted from firms with more than 50 employees.

Getting a work visa here is not fraught with the stress and feeling of fear that some faceless bureaucrat will make an arbitrary decision that ruins your life, as dealing with the INS in the U.S. is. However, it is a lot of paperwork, tedious and time-consuming. Among other things, they want to see your original college diploma. Not a certified transcript from the university listing your graduation date, they want to see your actual sheepskin. The end result is a stamp in your passport (these days, including a 2D barcode that apparently contains either binary or encrypted data) and a gaikokujin torokusho, your alien registration card, which you have to carry at all times. And, of course, you have to register with the local government when you move. (This is true for Japanese, too; they are surprised when they find out that Americans don't have to register when you move inside the U.S.)

And the end result of this bureaucracy is that the government doesn't know to within a factor of two how many foreigners are actually working in this country? The biggest change proposed seems to be requiring companies to report the names of their foreign employees to the government.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Ranking Keio

The Sept. 27 issue of the Japanese edition of Newsweek is out, and features a list of the top 100 universities in the world. I'll post a longer discussion of the list sometime (as soon as I figure out how to criticize it without annoying people :-), but I'm disappointed to report that Keio University, my alma mater for my Ph.D., didn't make the list. Five other Japanese universities (U. Tokyo, Kyoto U., Osaka U., Nagoya U., and Tohoku U.) did.

There are a lot of reasons why it's difficult to rank Japanese universities using an America-centric rating system, but ranking the universities is a big sport here, too, and in most of those lists, Keio comes in third, after Todai (Tokyo) and Kyodai (Kyoto), which by general agreement usually do come in number one and two. Waseda University, Japan's other most famous private university, also usually ranks near the top.

Wikipedia's article on Keio has a short list of some of the prominent Keio alumni. Probably the most famous at the moment is Junichiro Koizumi, the outgoing prime minister (2001-2005), but he's not the only prominent politician. Ryutaro Hashimoto, who was prime minister 1996-1998, recently passed away. Dozens of other alumni have been cabinet members and governors in the post-war period.

Two astronauts, Chiaki Mukai, who has already been into space, and Akihiko Hoshide, who is working on it, are grads. In business, the owners of the Yomiuri and Asahi newspapers, the president of Nippon TV, president of TBS, chairman of All Nippon Airways, and more are grads. Yoshio Taniguchi, architect of the redesigned MoMA in New York, is a Keio (and Harvard) grad, with a B.S. in M.E. (His father, Yoshiro Taniguchi, was also an architect; I'm not sure if he was a Keio grad or not.) Ted Nelson, who coined the term hypertext in 1963, was awarded a Ph.D. in 2002.

Enough rambling. Suffice it to say that Keio is one of Japan's best and most important universities, and, in my opinion, should have made Newsweek's list.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ten Ways to Destroy the Earth

I'm not sure if I'd really call them the top ten ways, but some of them aren't bad. A quibble with the gray goo variant, though -- in relatively short order you end up with a large sphere of von Neumann machines (where did he get that name?), and expansion slows to a polynomial limited by the speed of the machines themselves, rather than staying exponential.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

ERATO-SORST QCI Project, and Hayashi-san's Book

The ERATO-SORST QCI (Quantum Computation and Information) project run by Professor Hiroshi Imai of the University of Tokyo, has revamped their web pages to be a lot more accessible. Their list of journal pubs is still in progress (it's long, I've seen it; 75ish papers). The web site includes a useful list of quantum conferences.

The site also prominently mentions a new book by Hayashi-san, Quantum Information Theory: An Introduction, recently published by Springer. I have seen a short book of his in Japanese, but haven't seen this new one in English. Worth checking out.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Quantum Chaos: Two Papers

Two new papers in Phys Rev E address quantum (computing) chaos for very different purposes. I haven't yet had time to digest them thoroughly, but thought others might be interested.

The first one (PRE 74, 035203) analyzes Shor's algorithm and is heavy on the math and jargon, but if I understand it right, implies that the states necessary for Shor demonstrate chaos, i.e. are sensitive to small perturbations. This would, I think, be bad news for Shor. They simplify the algorithm to the point that they treat the modular exponentiation as a single step, and the QFT as a single step, which of course is not very representative of the way the algorithm will really be run (I believe), but that doesn't mean that their analysis is necessarily off base. I've discussed this issue of real-world perturbations and Shor's alogithm with a number of people in the last couple of years, and I'm not completely satisfied with the answer yet. Probably I'm just being dense, or my intuition is off somewhere, but in my opinion, there is still work to do here, and this paper comes at the problem from a different angle.

The second paper (PRE 74, 026208) analyzes the all-silicon NMR quantum computer being developed by the Yamamoto group at Stanford and the Itoh group at Keio (see PRL 89, 017901 and a whole string of papers both earlier and later). The paper appears to be good news, saying that the strong magnetic fields help suppress chaos. (Disclaimer: I work with the Keio and Stanford people.)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Disturbingly Bad Japanese TV

I'm posting this not because I think it's funny, but because I don't. I hate these "torment the guest" shows. American reality TV has nothing on Japan, where abusing the guests has a long tradition. I've seen shows where guests attempted to stay in a large acrylic tub full of scalding hot water in exchange for the right to promote their restaurant or hair salon, shows where guests drank large quantities of beer and then stood around trying not to be the first guy to break ranks and run for the bathroom, and more. And now this. Say a tongue twister or get, well, punished.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Telecommuting for Soumu-sho

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry (Soumu-sho) on Friday initiated a telecommuting program, the first in the government. They hope to allow up to 20 percent of all workers to telecommute by 2010.

The Daily Yomiuri article (which is apparently not online -- they don't put all content online, and are terrible about archiving it) says that "[w]orkers will be required to use designated computers that cannot record data in their memories, so that they will not be able to remove classified information from the ministry's premises. The ministry also said it would encode all communications." I'm not sure if this is vague because the original in Japanese was vague, or if the translation is bad, but I'd like to know a lot more before I agreed that they had covered all of the bases, especially given all of the incidents in the last couple of years of laptops with government information on them being lost or stolen.

Telecommuters will be allowed to work at home up to three days a week. They have to check in and out with their supervisor via phone or email when they start and end work, and go to and return from lunch.

Security at Narita

Speaking of security, is there really a gaping hole at Narita Airport, here in Japan? When you go to check in for an international flight, the first thing that happens is that your luggage is x-rayed. Then they give it back to you -- and you haven't been scanned yet. Yeah, they put a sticker on it, but who's that going to stop? Then you stand in line for half an hour, give them your luggage again, and it disappears into the bowels of the system somewhere. There would be plenty of time to slip something into your suitcase while waiting; in fact, I've done it (just a book and umbrella I decided I didn't want to carry to the plane). I have asked, and been told that bags are not x-rayed again once they are taken from you; I don't know for certain if that is true or not.

More Random Japan News

(I'm just in that kind of mood.)

Thanks to Schneier's Friday Squid Blogging, squid ice cream (Ika Aisu), squid ink ice cream, and other kinds, including abalone (awabi). Reminds me of the time one of the Iron Chefs tried to make mackerel ice cream (which was not a big success).

Those Japanese centenarians I mentioned yesterday? 24,245 are women, and only 4,150 are men.

The Japanese justice system incarcerates 70,737 people, about 1 in 2,000 residents. In the U.S., the equivalent rate is about 1:140, with 2.2 million people locked up.

Prime minister-designate Shinzo Abe said he has no plans to reform the Imperial House Law and allow Princess Aiko to ascend the throne.

Japan recently launched a spy satellite, and it's creating more discussion about whether the laws restricting Japan's military need to be revised.

Online Social Groups in Japan

Social networking services (SNS) have been growing here in Japan, and have been in the news lately because the biggest, Mixi, just went public on the stock market. According to an article in the Daily Yomiuri, there are 7.16 million people using the services as of the end of March this year, up 550% from the year before. Mixi alone has more than 5.7 million users.

In these networks -- like LinkedIn, or -- you have to be introduced by an existing member. According to a TV show I was watching in a doctor's waiting room yesterday, this makes people feel safer. It certainly doesn't mean it's impossible to set up a scam; just find someone in the group and offer them fifty bucks to endorse you. But it should help a little in that respect. More important, to me, is that it should make it easier to build a real community of introduced acquaintances.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Random Japan News

As long as I'm riffing on Japan, Shoko Asahara, the founder of Aum Shinri Kyo, which perpetrated the sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway system in 1995, has been declared sane and exhausted his appeals, and will be executed. Inpex, which is tied to the Japanese government, is still in negotiations to develop an Iranian oil field, but the current nuclear crisis is muddying the waters. Amid rising privacy concerns, the government will scrap its public list of the 100 oldest people in the country, although there is also news that there are now 28,395 people over the age of 100 in the country, up more than 2,800 from a year ago.

As in America, so in Japan; critics lament the dearth of real news on TV, in favor of infotainment. The critic mentions one piece of actual information from a show about Japan's rising gap between the top and bottom of the economic ladder: in the 1980s, the top quintile made ten times what the bottom quintile did; by 2000, the gap was 168 times. Personally, I'm a little suspicious; perhaps the stats have been revised. If the bottom quintile makes an average of even just half a million yen (nearly five thousand dollars), that would mean the top quintile averaged about three quarters of a million dollars a year. Japan has fewer people making Internet bubble-like insane stock options, and I don't think the high-end top percent or two is enough to pull up the rest of the top quintile that high. Hmm, perhaps there's a missing decimal point, and it's supposed to be 16.8 times? Maybe the bottom quintile is unemployed and has a near-zero income, and those people didn't used to be included in the stats? I'll have to investigate...

Shinzo Abe isset to become the next prime minister with limited input from the people (as an American, I find parliamentary politics strange, and Japan has its own unique brand). Oh, and the fall sumo tournament is wide open, heading into the first weekend, with all of the top wrestlers with at least one loss.

Carter and North Korea

I mostly keep politics out of this blog (there are plenty of places you can pick that up if you're looking, so it would be little more than me venting my own frustrations), but this one deserves wider attention than it is likely to get.

Today's Daily Yomiuri has a review of A Moment of Crisis: Jimmy Carter, The Power of a Peacemaker, and North Korea's Nuclear Ambitions, by Marion Creekmore Jr. The review is by Kenneth Quinones, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding North Korea, and a professor at Akita International University in northern Japan. What makes Quinones interesting as a reviewer is that he was involved in the events described. He asserts in the review that the official documents were carefully sanitized, and that much of the real information was communicated via secure phone calls and face-to-face meetings. Therefore, he claims, the official record is inaccurate, as are other books based on it. Moment is by a man who was with Carter through most of the events, and is also based on access to Carter's papers that had not been granted to others.

Regardless of your opinion of Carter (he seems to generate less head than any other recent president, but he has both his admirers and his detractors), and whether or not you think that Creekmore and Quinones are spinning things, this will provide a provocative firsthand account of a crisis which has once again reared its head. I'm looking forward to reading the book, and you, too, may want to after reading the review.

Life in a Gilded Fish Bowl

The newborn Japanese prince, Hisahito, and his mother returned home yesterday, to much media attention. He is the son of the Crown Prince's younger brother, and as such stands third in line for the throne. He is reportedly breastfeeding well.

One of the articles in the Daily Yomiuri says that the current Crown Prince's family has a full-time staff of fifty-one people, including four doctors, so there is a doctor on site full time. The younger prince's family has a staff of "only" nine, not including a doctor. With the arrival of the young prince, I wouldn't be surprised if that quietly changed.

Speaking of breastfeeding, in the U.S. healthy babies are usually sent home about 48 hours after birth. In Japan, it's closer to a week. My personal opinion is that the former is too short and the latter too long. Our second daughter developed jaundice, probably partly because she wasn't feeding well, and wound up back in the hospital for a couple of days. More direct monitoring in a hospital environment, and more help with the breastfeeding, might have averted that or lessened its severity. My opinion is that mother and baby should be monitored full time until her breast milk comes in and the baby is feeding properly, before they are allowed to go home. Most of the time, this will be about three days.

Anyway, congrats again to the royal family.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dad, Did You Take a Bath Today?

So, a while back, I blogged about a teapot that keeps track of how much tea is drunk, and emails the data out over a wireless link. The idea is to allow adults to keep track of elderly parents without having to call every day, the theory being that someone drinking a lot of tea is healthy (and the converse). (Reportedly about 3,000 people have signed up for the service so far.)

Now comes word that the Tokyo metropolitan waterworks is going to do the same thing for the amount of water that gets used. If Dad didn't get off the futon to go take a bath last night, maybe we should give him a call...

This is also viewed as a prototype for real-time reporting of water usage and the elimination of the meter reader trekking house to house.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Fiftieth Anniversary of the Hard Drive

Jack Cole points out that Wednesday, September 13, 2006, is the fiftieth anniversary of the shipment of the first hard drive. The IBM 305 RAMAC (Random Access Memory Accounting System) held five megabytes, was about the size of two large refrigerators, and leased for about a quarter of a million dollars a year, in today's dollars.

I wonder what the MB/watt figure is for that puppy? That measure would see a steeper decline than most other measures of growth, I think.

Wikipedia has a photo. You should also check out the Magnetic Disk Heritage Center, run by Al Hoagland, one of the founders of the field.

Books at Narita, and Japanese Currency Exchange

I discovered last week that the new Tsutaya video/book store in Terminal 1 at Narita Airport has a good English-language section of books on Japan. One of the best I've seen, in fact. I picked up You Gotta Have Wa, by Robert Whiting; there were also books on Japanese swords, art, and architecture, to go with guide books and introductory language books (no advanced ones, though). The store is on the check-in level in the recently remodeled mall between the north and south wings, so if you want to check it out as you're coming in to the country, you'll have to work your way upstairs.

By the way, if you're travelling to Japan from the U.S. (say, for QCMC, just to give this posting a dash of quantum computation), change money once you get here, not in the U.S. I brought back some money on this last trip. At SFO (San Francisco), the exchange booths were offering 104 yen/dollar. At Narita, I got 115 yen/dollar, which is as good as you'll get at any bank. Traveller's checks are 2 yen/dollar better than cash. Remember, for the most part, using credit cards (especially American ones, with ever-changing security features) is very iffy outside of major tourist hotels. Mostly you still want to carry cash. Most Post Office ATMs here will accept U.S. ATM cards. I have heard that the exchange rate is good, but I don't have evidence one way or the other.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

It's a Boy!

Princess Kiko, wife of the Emperor's younger son, has had a boy. This, at least for the moment, ends the imperial succession crisis. No child eligible to ascend the throne had been born since 1965; now there is one.

The New York Times says "[t]he birth may also end the psychological drama surrounding the royal family," but in my opinion, it just makes the intrigue worse. If the child had been (another) girl, everyone would have been forced to face the idea of a woman emperor; there was no other choice. Instead, with a boy, there is the potential for the argument to continue, with some supporting the crown prince's daughter, Princess Aiko, and others arguing for the new boy (third child of the emperor's second son; he has two older sisters).

I don't have any particular insight into the royal family's internal loves, likes, and frictions, but I wonder what is going through the heads of the emperor, his sons, and their wives.

At any rate, congratulations to Princess Kiko and Prince Akishino on the birth of a healthy baby boy!

(I've blogged about this before, here and here.)

Japanese Home Construction

The Daily Yomiuri reports that the government will study measures aimed at increasing the popularity of constructing more durable houses. At first glance this is a head-scratcher; why isn't this just determined by the market? But cheaply constructed housing is so pervasive here, that we're probably in some sort of meta-stable state where durable housing can't get a foothold in the market.

In the U.S., it's not uncommon for people to live in houses that are a hundred years old; you need to update the electrical system and maybe the plumbing, and if you want central heat/AC that's an expensive upgrade, but it's all doable. Twenty- or thirty-year-old houses are the heart of the U.S. real estate market (maybe the avocado green appliances get looked at askance if you haven't upgraded, though). Although scrape-and-bake McMansions have been the trend for a decade or so, fundamentally U.S. houses are built to last (though I have my doubts about the recent trends in big-chip particle board and some of the materials in the new large-house movement).

In Japan, it's different. I'm not old eough (forty) to associate Japan with cheap, flimsy goods, but that stereotype is really in evidence in the housing industry. Anything over ten years old is "old", and by the time it's twenty you probably don't want to live in it. When I first arrived here in 1992, I thought it was a legacy of the post-war poverty and housing shortage, but Japan has now been prosperous for several decades, and I see no changing trend. Perhaps it goes back several hundred years, to when the working assumption was that a fire would roar through Edo every thirty years or so and obliterate everything, so there was no point in overbuilding.

The average lifetime of a house, according to the article, is thirty years. The government hopes to raise the lifespan to forty years within the next decade, and up to 200 within the next fifty years. It's an admirable goal, but will have a negative impact on the construction industry, so likely will be opposed, I'm guessing.

In a Japanese house or apartment, interior and exterior doors and cabinet doors are often made of flimsy material. Within a decade, they are chipped, the paint is flaking, the hinges are iffy, they may even be delaminating. Flooring is cheap and dents easily, carpets are thin and wear and stain (even without shoes on them). Countertops are either cheap vinyl or unattractive stainless (which does have its benefits).

One of the biggest reasons things age so quickly, IMHO, is the lack of central heating/AC. It's still very rare in houses and nonexistent in apartments. When you move in, you buy a wall-mount unit for each major room. This leaves hallways and entryways unregulated. In our current apartment, for example, they are on the north side and never get sunlight, so they are damp all the time. Cardboard boxes stored under the stairs disintegrate, papers go limp and mold or mildew, and shoes mold. It's startling and disgusting to pull out a pair of shoes you haven't worn lately and find them covered with a fine fuzz, even if you last wore them on a sunny day. This inevitably has to affect the structure of the house itself, and you can see it as wallpaper peels.

Japan is incredibly humid, and hot for much of the year, but this isn't the tropics. People in the southeast U.S. have dealt with this fairly successfully. I wonder how they manage in, say, Singapore, which is fairly wealthy and very tropical?

The most recent houses are sided with some sort of artificial material, often pressed and painted to look like brick or stone. I have no idea how long that will last, but I'm not optimistic. The only positive trends I see are that walls often have some insulation (usually 35mm of polystyrene foam), and double-pane windows are very gradually gaining popularity.

As long as I'm ranting about house construction, it's worth noting that few Japanese people have a clothes dryer. Hanging your clothes out works many days, but many days it doesn't, and your clothes are left damp, with a "sour" smell. We acquired a dryer, which we use probably a third of the time, but it takes hours to do a decent job. The dryer isn't vented to the outside, so it's really just heating up the water in the clothes rather than extracting it. In the U.S. it has been common to plan your laundry room on a wall so the dryer can be vented, but here in Japan they haven't crossed the social hump in popularity of dryers that would make that desirable, and so the machines are stuck in this inefficient mode, which of course hurts their desirability and adoption.

Enough ranting for today...

Reproductive Ethics in Japan: Frozen Sperm

There have been three recent court cases here in Japan concerning control and use of sperm of men who have died. In the most recent case, a woman used in vitro fertilization after her husband died and had a baby, and had asked the courts to recognize her deceased husband as the father. The courts refused. The three cases differ in length of time since the death, the details of the actual sperm storage contract, and whether the husband had agreed to a poshumous birth.

This is a complex issue. But it isn't exactly alone in reproductive issues. Who has the right to terminate a pregnancy, is it a decision of the woman alone? What rights do sperm donors have with respect to their children, and what responsibilities? Genetic testing is opening all sorts of ethical issues, from gender selection to genetic illnesses; before long it may be possible to take a stab at the baby's adult height and other characteristics, allowing the parents access to a very crude form of genetic engineering. Science recently ran an article on the questionable success of prenatal surgery.

The world is changing rapidly, and the laws and mores of society aren't keeping pace. We should all do a lot of reading and thinking about these topics.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Origami Conference

Just heard about the Fourth International Conference on Origami in Science, Mathematics, and Education (4OSME) taking place at Caltech this week. Seventy papers, and an exhibition session. Worth checking into if you're in the Pasadena area (walkin registration available), and even if you're not...

Implementing Shor's Algorithm

Two papers, one brand new and one I had missed earlier in the year:

  • Sandy Kutin's "Shor's algorithm on a nearest-neighbor machine" may clear up some of the lingering details of composing adders into the full modular exponentiation needed for Shor, and offers an elegant, efficient overall algorithm. It also appears to call into question (rightfully) some of the simplifying assumptions I made about data movement to combine intermediate results when you do multiple additions in parallel on a very large nearest-neighbor (what I call NTC) machine. Nearest-neighbor is the worst possible architecture, as far as communication costs are concerned. Analyzing it is important in that it sets a floor for performance, but we all hope that for large machines we aren't really limited to NN. The question is, how much richer can we really make the topology, and what effect will that have on performance?

  • Christof Zalka's "Shor's algorithm with fewer (pure) qubits" shows how to do Shor for an n-bit number using only 1.5n qubits. I haven't read anything but the first page, but it looks intriguing.

Both papers are potentially important advances toward realistic, efficient implementations of all quantum algorithms using binary integer arithmetic, not just Shor's algorithm. Without this kind of work, we will never know what kind of machine we actually need to build to meet some given performance goal.

I haven't yet read either paper in detail; both are for tomorrow's plane ride.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Geek Press recently had a link to a Discover article about "extreme origami", mostly focusing on Robert Lang and Satoshi Kamiya. I'll throw in a couple of links: Devin Balkcom's origami-folding robot and the New York Times' article on David Huffman's curved-crease origami (which appears to still be freely available, though registration might be required).

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"Gedo Senki" Review

Warning: Plot spoilers

This morning we went to see "Gedo Senki", Studio Ghibli's anime film based on the third and fourth books of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series. (See my earlier post for some useful links.) There are things to like about the film, but on the whole it's a bit disappointing, and I suspect that LeGuin won't really be happy with the result. (Indeed, after seeing the film, I agree pretty much completely with her assessment.) It is a beautiful film, and has many positive features, but in some ways fails to capture the spirit of the books.

First off, it's important to note that the film is more violent than the books. If you're thinking about showing it to your young children, think again. This isn't Totoro, it's more along the lines of Princess Mononoke, which certainly has its rough spots. My seven-year-old daughter was rather taken aback, and I missed much of the last half hour of the film taking her out to the lobby and calming her down. It has always struck me as a bit odd that she (and others her age) can completely slough off the violence of "Pokemon" and various robot/mechanical anime TV shows. Of course, the big screen is a different experience, and it didn't help that the showing started with ads for "X-Men" and some black comedy about a dead guy, but still. I think the main reason is that this film has a true emotional heart; she became involved with the characters, and cared about their fate, which isn't true for many of the violent superhero cartoons.

Mayumi, who hasn't read any of the books (though their Japanese translations are reportedly popular) found the film confusing. I was handicapped by language (I can still catch maybe only seventy-five percent of movie/TV Japanese, and the missing quarter is important), but somewhat helped by loving the books. However, it is many years since I have read the earlier books. Some of the sky scenes of a hawk, for example, are probably intended to represent Ged taking a hawk's form and spying on the evil sorceress, but are never explained. Likewise, the fact that Teru is in fact a dragon essentially turns up at the end, with little justification; we are vaguely given to understand early in the film that she is an unusual child, but Ged never pursues her nature and it is never explained. Most mystifyingly to non-initiates, the importance of true names is not adequately detailed, and the distinction between "Haitaka" and "Ged" is obscure.

The biggest problem with the film is that it turns Ged's quest to right what is wrong with the world, caused by misuse of magic, into a wizard-versus-wizard battle. In classic kid's film fashion, the kids have to rescue the adults in the end. Although the film has its quiet moments, the undoubtedly hard-to-film parts of the pursuit of knowledge suffer, and the thoughtful, emotional core of the books is hard to find in the film. Fixing the world, it seems to me, would allow for some great visuals, so I think they passed up a good opportunity there and misconstrued the spirit of the books at the same time. In this sense, it's like some of the things I disliked about David Lynch's version of Dune, where an important practice or mystical power was reduced to a high-tech hand weapon.

Among the things I would have done differently, but don't necessarily dislike, are the color palette and the city design. Le Guin declines to comment on what race the various characters appear, citing uncertainty about how they appear to Japanese. My wife (who is Japanese), when I asked her what race Ged was, said, "Hmm, Norwegian? The city feels Roman..." The differences among characters are awfully subtle, and none appear to equate to Earthly dark-skinned islanders or Africans. Instead the correspond to what seems to be conventional anime types, rather than a stereotype-bending set of choices. The colors of the city and its design are not what I have in my mind's eye, but not necessarily wrong.

I think this film, standing alone, is reasonably successful, but I don't think it lives up to the source material. Like Le Guin, I would have been happier to see the father (Hayao) direct, rather than the son (Goro). It's a good first film from Goro, but a better script would have helped. Like all Ghibli films, it's visually rich and the music is powerful, but around Tokyo it's possible to be over-exposed to Teru's theme song.

Le Guin says it's tied up in rights trouble and won't be seen in the U.S. until 2009. Too bad, because it is worth seeing, despite the flaws. A subtitled version exists; it was shown to Le Guin. It wouldn't surprise me if that made it out to the gray market somehow before a fully-authorized version does.

Headin' My Way?

News on Super Typhoon Ioke is a little sparse at the moment, but it may be heading toward Tokyo. It reached Cat 5 for a while, but inevitably would be weaker by the time it arrived here.

It apparently flattened Wake Island yesterday, and should be pounding Minami Torishima about now, way southeast of Tokyo. Yesterday's path prediction showed it likely to pass through the Ogasawara Islands, toward Shikoku & Kyushu. As of 6:00a.m. this morning, though, the projected path has shifted far to the north, with a probable passage just east of Tokyo and landfall in northern Honshu, according to the most recent typhoon map from the Japan Weather Agency.

This might interfere with my plans to fly to the U.S. on Wednesday...

An article in today's Daily Yomiuri says that monitoring of hurricanes crossing the International Date Line to become typhoons began in 1951. Only six were recorded up to 1990, and ten have been recorded since then. The article quotes a meteorologist from the University of the Air, which is a wonderful name for a school.