Where randomness is the only certainty


So ridiculously cool: the Dresden Dolls with Richard O’Brien perform “Time Warp” together

I said that I didn’t want to kick off blogging again with a rant about Elsevier (*shudder*). Here’s something that is the opposite of a rant. Yesterday in Auckland the Dresden Dolls performed “Time Warp” with the creator of the “Rocky Horror Show”, Richard O’Brien, and some magnificent person captured it on video and posted it to YouTube:

How much longer will we put up with journals?

I’ll keep this short as I don’t want my first post in almost a year to be a rant about the antiquated notion of publishing that science is insanely reluctant to drag itself away from  – also, Aram beat me to it.

I 100% support Aram’s position.

I am also boycotting Elsevier but that kinda went without saying.


Been a crazy few months

Since I last posted in August there’s been weddings, funerals, multiple countries, a workshop I organized, a conference where I spoke, not to mention all the usual craziness. I can’t even begin to summarize everything, so let’s just skip most of that and focus on recent events.

For most of January I was on the road, I only spent 3 days in Hannover. I was lucky enough to attend QIP in Singapore and then the fantastic Sydney Quantum Information Theory Workshop. Both conferences were pretty amazing in their own ways.

QIP, as ever, was loaded with tons of the best and brightest in quantum information theory. I was really lucky to be given the opportunity to talk. I find talking at big conferences like QIP a pretty humbling experience. There are so many brilliant old heads and bright PhD students that while speaking I find it hard to not feel like the dumbest person in the room. Still, I didn’t actually pass out on stage so that is a big plus. All the talks were taped and can be watched at the conference website, which I think is pretty awesome as I’ve been able to re-watch some of the good ones. Unfortunately, it means that I’ll be haunted by my own talk…

The Sydney workshop was one of the best I’ve been to for ages. The organizers planned a great schedule with a really nice bunch of speakers. There was a lot of interesting math and physics going down in a really friendly atmosphere. It’s been years since I hung out with the Sydney quantum information theory types, so I guess I missed how much that community has developed. It was really great to see how vibrant and active those groups are.

After a hectic couple of weeks conferencing I had a little holiday in Brisbane. That was definitely one of my weirder visits home. Brisbane was pretty smashed in January floods, it was terrible watching it happen from afar. Arriving there a few weeks later I was amazed how much work people had done to clean up the city. You could sense the determination to rebuild and the community spirit absolutely everywhere. Catching up with old friends and family I heard so many stories about the trials they endured and the efforts of the clean up. It’s nice to see that for such a big city Brisbane still is as friendly as a county town.

Well, now I’m back in Hannover writing papers and prepping for teaching in the next semester and hoping that Winter will end soon…

Below are some photos from my travels in the last few months:

QIP 2011

The organizers of QIP 2011 have just sent me the following:

QIP 2011
Call for submissions

14th workshop on Quantum Information Processing
Tutorials January 8-9, NUS, Singapore
Workshop January 10-14, The Capella, Sentosa Singapore

Conference Website: http://qip2011.quantumlah.org
Paper Submission: http://www.easychair.org/conferences/?conf=qip2011

Quantum Information Processing (QIP) is a rapidly developing field of
research spanning both physics and computer science. As the name
implies, the field extends information processing (including computing
and cryptography) to physical regimes where quantum effects become

QIP 2011 is the fourteenth workshop on theoretical aspects of quantum
computing, quantum cryptography, and quantum information theory in a
series that started in Aarhus in 1998 and was held last year in
Zurich. QIP 2011 will feature plenary talks (called invited talks at
previous QIP workshops), featured papers (previously called long
contributed talks), contributed papers, and a poster session.

Submissions of abstracts for contributed papers are sought in research
areas related to quantum information science and quantum information
processing. A small number of contributed paper submissions will be
selected as featured papers. The submission to QIP should consist of
2-3 pages, containing a non-technical, clear and insightful
description of the results and main ideas, their impact, and their
importance to quantum information and computation.  In addition, the
submission should direct the reader to a technical version of the work
(this should preferably be online but otherwise can be provided as an
attachment). The submission should not consist of a compressed version
of the technical exposition of the paper, but instead should
facilitate the reading of the technical version and help the program
committee assess its importance. In exceptional cases, submissions
without technical versions may be accepted.

The 2-3 page abstracts of the accepted contributed papers and featured
papers will be posted on the QIP 2011 website.  More details will be
provided in the acceptance notices.

Submission deadlines

Contributed papers: October 14
Posters: December 1

Notifications of acceptance

Contributed talks: November 17
Posters submitted by November 10: November 17
Posters submitted after November 10: December 8

Programme Committee:

Andris AMBAINIS (University of Latvia)
Steve BARTLETT (University of Sydney)
Wim van DAM (UC Santa Barbara)
Daniel GOTTESMAN (Perimeter Institute) (chair)
Pawel HORODECKI (Gdansk University of Technology)
Iordanis KERENIDIS (Universite Paris-Sud)
Hirotada KOBAYASHI (National Institute of Informatics)
Robert KOENIG (Caltech)
Barbara KRAUS (University of Innsbruck)
Mio MURAO (University of Tokyo)
Peter SHOR (MIT)
Graeme SMITH (IBM)
Frank VERSTRAETE (University of Vienna)
Michael WOLF (Niels Bohr Institute)

Steering Committee:

Dorit AHARONOV (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Ignacio CIRAC (MPQ, Garching)
Renato RENNER (ETH Zurich)
Louis SALVAIL (Universite de Montreal)
Barbara M. TERHAL (IBM T J Watson)
John WATROUS (University of Waterloo)
Andreas WINTER (University of Bristol / CQT, NUS) (chair)
Andrew Chi-Chih YAO (Tsinghua University)

Local Organisers:

Cedric BENY (Poster Session)
Rahul JAIN (Local Arrangement and Social Events)
Hartmut KLAUCK (Tutorials)
KWEK Leong Chuan (Sponsorship)
Darwin GOSAL (Webmaster)
Markus GRASSL (Outreach and Publicity)
Ethan LIM (Webmaster)
Tomasz PATEREK (Rump Session)
Stephanie WEHNER
Andreas WINTER (Coordinator)
Miklos SANTHA (Advisor)

QIP is soooooo my favourite conference. So if you have good stuff and wanna show it off hurry up and submit!!!

AQIS’10: Day 1 liveish blogging

Well, I’m looking at everything through bleary eyes this morning after yesterday lasted for about 36 hours, but I’m pretty sure I’m in Tokyo and today is the first day of AQIS’10.

Today’s agenda is a series of Tutorials being given by some of the fancier names in this Quantum Information/Computation business. I’m a big fan of this trend of having a warm-up/tutorial day at the beginning of a workshop where a lot of technical ground will be covered. Good for the newbies and good for us older folk who need an extra day or so to rebound from the jet-lag!

Hopefully I’ll be able to liveblog a bit today, not sure how much wifi we’ll have…

Update: Well, it seems that we do have wifi here!

Intro talk: Charlie Bennett

Charlie is giving a nice talk giving the motivation for considering information quantumly.

Quantum nonlocality tutorial: Harry Buhrman

Off to Brussels – can anyone recommend any good cafes or pubs?

This evening I’m taking the train to Brussels for a day of meetings on Tomorrow. I don’t suppose that anyone can recommend any good cafes, pubs or restaurants? I’m going to be staying in a hotel near the museum of natural sciences. Unfortunately I’ll be in town for less than 24 hours so there isn’t a lot of time to explore…

I’m really hoping that while I’m there I manage to get to the Australian embassy to vote, and that I also manage to down a Chimay!

Abbott’s attitudes are archaic

OK, I wasn’t going to get drawn into the Oz election campaign. Really, I wasn’t. But…

I’m fairly stunned that in the middle of an election campaign that Tony Abbott would make a cheap “no means no” quip about Julia Gillard and the debate negotiations. What kind of creep thinks that this is in any way appropriate phrasing when having a discussion about anyone?

Coincidentally, GetUp have released a new clip on YouTube highlighting some of Tony Abbott’s views:

Faermannsfest 2010

It’s fair to say that my weekend has been dominated by Faermannsfest 2010. This is the first festival I’ve been to where I literally had to walk less than 20m from my front door to the grounds. I’m actually sitting at my kitchen table right now looking at the festival grounds!

For those of you that don’t speak German, a “faermann” is a ferry-man. You know, the guy who pilots a ferry across a river. The Faermannsfest is an annual festival held here in Linden (clearly the funkiest of Hannover suburbs :-)). The location is on two sides of a creek, with a bridge joining up the two sites – hence the association with ferries. Oh, look, the festival promoter was good enough to add a link to google maps.

As ever, the Lindenish crowd was mellow and varied. Lots of hipsters, families, punks and intermingled with the normal folk. For the Brisbane folk – imagine it is something like the old 4ZZZ Market Day, or maybe a small version of the Valley Fiesta.

The best band that I saw was probably Karamelo Santo, they were a ska outfit coming from South America. They really managed to get the crowd moving with a very chilled out vibe.

In between having a bit of a dance and drinking beer, I managed to take quite a few photos. If you’d like to check them out, I’ve put some of them up Facebook (for those of you that are my friends) and on Picasa.

Must. Overcome. Fear. Of. Posting.

Over the last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which I communicate with my friends, family and colleagues.

Looking now at my clock widget, I have clocks telling me what time it is in Singapore, Brisbane, Los Angeles, New York and Berlin covering time-zone difference of 18 hours. The reason for having so many clock widgets is that the people that I want to communicate with on any given day are spread across a pretty wide region and it’s good to have some idea when they’ll be awake.

For the most part, I communicate with people via quick skype/gmail chats, tweets/facebook, or short emails. I’ve been keeping this up for a few years now and I’m realizing that many of those that I’m close to really only ever get to see glimpses of half-thought-through snapshots of the ideas in my head. It’s becoming clear to me that this is a pretty terrible way of keeping those relationships that I really care about.

One fix to this problem is, I guess, to hit that little green call button more often. Unfortunately, the times when I can freely call someone rarely fit with the times that they can take that call.

Of course, I could spend a lot more time writing long emails to people. I actually did this for a while. The problem that I found is that as the time between emails drags on, those emails get longer and longer and I get less and less likely to actually ever send it. On top of that, the absolute social awkwardness that is me makes me feel weird whenever I email someone out of the blue. Especially when you haven’t spoken to that person in years.

One of the things that I find very strange about becoming an increasingly old physicist, is that I regularly butt my head up against some new problem for a while only to realize that I knew the solution years ago and had completely forgotten that I knew anything about it.

When I lived in Austria I really struggled with my poor German speaking skills. My inability to speak the language meant that many of the conversations that I had were either short, or I couldn’t convey full essence of whatever it was that I was trying to communicate. I guess people probably felt the same way whenever they spoke to me in English.

I found that while I was in Austria I increasingly turned to the internet to get my daily fix of communication. For the most part this began through my old blog, Quantumbiodiscs, and then later as part of the LP hivemind.

While blogging didn’t always help me to keep in touch of others, those that new about the blog could easily keep tabs on me.

So, why did I (effectively) stop? I guess there were really 2 things that, together, cut down my blogging activities.

The first was that I moved to Bristol. In Bristol it was a lot easier to communicate with people on a daily basis – so much of my ranting was done to my colleagues and others in the lunchroom as opposed to random folk on the intertubes. Also, as time went on in Bristol I became much more involved with my work. Increasingly I found that I was more likely to read a paper or to think through some whacky QI thoughts than to spend time putting together a good blog post.

The second thing was that I began to develop a bit of a fear of posting to LP. Now, don’t get me wrong interwebs, I really enjoyed writing for LP and working with all those involved. They really are a fantastic bunch of people. I also think that the LP collective worked wonders during 2007 Oz election campaign. Unfortunately, it seems that this was clear to many other Australian political tragics.

By the time I joined LP it was already getting pretty big. That didn’t bother me so much, in fact I thought it was a great thing (hell, I still do). But at some point after the 2007 election I made that horrible mistake that Wile Coyote always made, I had run out over the edge and then looked down.

After the 2007 campaign there was a lot of academic analysis of the effect of the new interwebish media. It became clear from this work that LP was very widely read and also had a large influence on the media at that time. While this might seem like good news, to my addled brain it made me think that maybe I should spend longer than 15 minutes writing a blog post and actually put some serious work into my blogging.

I guess gradually, the realization that I was throwing some fairly raw thoughts out there spooked me. The net effect of the spooking, work and life in general pushed my output down to zero.

Now, as time goes on and I realize that moving home every couple of years is actually taking a toll on my relationships with people that I care very much about I realize that, possibly, my writing can help the situation. I’m reluctantly realizing that I’m rarely ever going to be able to spend long afternoons chatting with my dearest friends over (good) coffee. But maybe if I keep this blog up to date then at least they might have some chance of keeping track of what’s going on with me.

New paper: Classical simulation of commuting quantum computations implies collapse of the polynomial hierarchy

Yes, I am still alive. I hope the 3 of you that still subscribe to my RSS feed weren’t too shocked this morning when you saw “Brissie to Brizzle” highlighted in Google Reader.

Why have I come out of hibernation? Well, it’s because today I have a new paper together with Dan Shepherd and Richard Jozsa out on the arXiv (SciRate link):

Title: Classical simulation of commuting quantum computations implies collapse of the polynomial hierarchy

Abstract: We consider quantum computations comprising only commuting gates, known as IQP computations, and provide compelling evidence that the task of sampling their output probability distributions is unlikely to be achievable by any efficient classical means. More specifically we introduce the class post-IQP of languages decided with bounded error by uniform families of IQP circuits with post-selection, and prove first that post-IQP equals the classical class PP. Using this result we show that if the output distributions of uniform IQP circuit families could be classically efficiently sampled, even up to 41% multiplicative error in the probabilities, then the infinite tower of classical complexity classes known as the polynomial hierarchy, would collapse to its third level. We mention some further results on the classical  simulation properties of IQP circuit families, in particular showing that if the output distribution results from measurements on only O(log n) lines then it may in fact, be classically efficiently sampled.

This paper is a sequel  to a paper that Dan Shepherd and I wrote back in 2008, Instantaneous Quantum Computation.

For those of you that attended QIP in Zurich this year you might have seen our poster on these results (which was very kindly advertised by Scott Aaronson during one of his talks).

Those of you that are really keen will notice in the references of this paper that there is another related paper by Dan Shepherd that will appear imminently… It’s well worth a read if you are interested in the classical simulation of quantum systems!

Oh, and while I’m at it Dan’s PhD thesis (SciRate link) is available on the arXiv today as well!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: