Shared posts

12 Jun 13:53

Fueling a deep-sea ecosystem

Miles beneath the ocean's surface in the dark abyss, vast communities of subseafloor microbes at deep-sea hot springs are converting chemicals into energy that allows deep-sea life to survive -- and even thrive -- in a world without sunlight. Until now, however, measuring the productivity of subseafloor microbe communities -- or how fast they oxidize chemicals and the amount of carbon they produce -- has been nearly impossible.
14 May 16:07

The Big Idea: Rose Fox and Daniel José Older

by John Scalzi

When editors Rose Fox and Daniel José Older started out to create their anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, they did so with a mission: To offer stories with more than the “usual suspects” of fantasy characters and tropes — to give space to stories and people outside of the expected. Here’s how they went about doing it, and how they went about getting the means to make the anthology happen.


How do you transform a longstanding vacancy into an opportunity? How do you take an empty, unfriendly space, air it out, and make it welcoming? These are the challenges we faced when we set out to edit Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History.

The vacancy, of course, exists in the hallowed halls of fiction—specifically historical and speculative fiction. Here we find one dominant narrative, that same singular narrative that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned us about: the story of the anointed white heterosexual cisgender man saving the world. We’re over it. We’ve seen it countless times. It’s boring. And what good is a solitary thread to depict a world that’s a vast, complex, multicolored quilt?

Where one story reigns supreme, thousands and thousands of others languish untold. This is not accidental, though it’s also not always conscious. Marginalization of people and stories doesn’t come out of thin air. It’s created by a thousand decisions on the part of writers, agents, editors, publishers, librarians, and booksellers:

  • “I don’t want to write marginalized characters because I worry about getting it wrong.”
  • “An egalitarian culture wouldn’t be realistic.”
  • “I invited submissions from authors who were already notable in the field, because their names will help sell the anthology.”
  • “We’re looking for books that we know will do well in the current marketplace.”
  • “Readers won’t pick up a book with a character like that on the cover.”
  • “I have no idea how to promote this story. It’s really cool, but who would read it?”
  • “Boys don’t read as much as girls do, so we need to encourage them with more books about boys doing boy things.”

Collectively, over a period of decades, these individual decisions steamroll non-dominant voices right off the map.

Meanwhile, our author friends have been saying very different things:

  • “My story was rejected because the editor ‘couldn’t relate’ to the main character.”
  • “I built a story around something that happened to me, and was told that things like that don’t happen anymore.”
  • “I wanted to submit to that magazine until they published a story that was full of stereotypes about my culture.”
  • “My professor told me that people like me don’t write SF/F.”
  • “My fantasy novel, set in a world that’s completely different from ours, was shelved under ‘African-American Literature’ just because I’m Black.”

We decided it was time—really, long past time—to take part in the fight against the dominant narrative and make space for the truths that have gone untold. We wanted to tell the truth about our histories, not the stories that make it into textbooks, and we wanted to decolonize speculative fiction. That was the big idea that became Long Hidden.

With the expert guidance and support of our publishers, Bart Leib and Kay Holt at Crossed Genres, we set out to create an atmosphere of bravery with precision and gentleness, free from deception. Our submission guidelines ( asked for care and empathy, because we knew we would be seeing stories of violence and sorrow as well as bravery and triumph. We couldn’t pretend away the pain that oppression has caused throughout history. We weren’t interested in narrative of the privileged savior and we said so; we also asked authors to approach the concept of revenge with subtlety and caution, knowing that the truth of history is more complex than the tables being turned. We asked for stories of friendship and family and community, because in hard times those personal connections are both threatened and vital. And we encouraged speculative elements that incorporated real-world religion, superstition, and folklore, because the supernatural has its dominant narratives too.

We invited everyone to contribute, not just big names, because we know how hard it is for even tremendously talented authors to break in. We were intentional about reaching out into communities that don’t usually see calls for submissions for speculative fiction anthologies. We extended our call out far beyond the traditional boundaries of mainstream SF/F. We approached writers who had never published before and writers who had never written speculative fiction before. We explicitly requested and welcomed stories from women, writers of color, queer and trans* writers, and disabled writers, knowing that it takes a clear invitation to overcome the general feeling in the industry that such authors and their stories are unwelcome. We offered SFWA pro rates to honor the hard work it takes to write a story of the painful past, and asked the wider community of readers to fund our project through Kickstarter so we could afford to pay our authors and artists something close to what they were worth.

The response was tremendous. Submissions and pledges poured in. In a few days, the Long Hidden Kickstarter met its goal, and soon after we’d doubled it. By the end, we’d shot far past the initial goal and beyond what any of us had thought possible. People gathered en masse to declare that this was a space that needed to be opened in the closed ranks of both speculative and historical fiction.

Twenty-seven stories emerged from the many, many amazing ones we’d been sent. They were stories that collectively held a vast range of voices, scopes, characters, and unspoken truths. They were from authors around the world. They were heartbreaking and hilarious and true in the way all great fiction is. They were challenging. And most of all, they were in conversation with one another, despite depicting many different people, places, and eras. We enlisted artists with diverse backgrounds and styles to give them the illustrations they deserved.

Each story challenged our assumptions, privileges, stereotypes, doubts, fears, and uncertainties. As we worked with the authors and artists and each other, we were profoundly moved and changed by these tales of struggle, survival, triumph, and pain.

The “long hidden” stories have been here all along, as have the voices that tell them, but the industry hasn’t been listening. We’re thrilled that social media and crowdfunding have opened up new avenues for untold narratives to get their due, and we look forward to a great many more emerging into the light. Long Hidden isn’t the beginning, or the end.


Long Hidden: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Createspace

Read a story excerpt with commentary by contributor Sunny Moraine. Visit the book’s Web site. Follow editor Rose Fox on Twitter. Follow editor Daniel José Older on Twitter.

14 May 16:06

This Is The Closest We'll Ever Get To A Great, Live-Action Akira Movie

by Meredith Woerner

Stop what you are doing and watch the trailer for the fan-made film The Akira Project. Set in Neo Tokyo, (NOT Neo New York, thank god) this crowd-sourced project is probably as close as well ever get to a non-garbage translation of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira.


13 May 21:32

Developed on Hackaday: License Incompatibilities and Project State

by Mathieu Stephan

mooltipass top pcb

It has been a while since we wrote an article about our ongoing offline password keeper project, aka the Mooltipass. Our last post was asking our dear readers to vote for their favorite card art, so what have we been doing since then?

For the last few weeks we’ve mostly been improving our current PCBs and case design for the production process to go smoothly. The final top PCB shown above has been tweaked to improve his capacitive touch sensing capabilities, you may even see a video of the system in action in the Mooltipass project log on We’ve also spent some time refining the two most popular card art designs so our manufacturers may print them correctly. We’ll soon integrate our updated USB code (allowing the Mooltipass to be detected as a composite HID keyboard / HID generic) into the main solution which will then allow us to work on the browser plugin.

It’s also interesting to note that we recently decided to stop using the GPL-licensed avrcryptolib. Our current project is CDDL licensed, allowing interested parties to use our code in their own project without forcing them to publish all the remaining code they created. The GPL license enforces the opposite, we therefore picked another AES encryption/decryption implementation. This migration was performed and checked by our dedicated contributor [Miguel] who therefore ran the AES NESSIE / CTR tests and checked their output, in less than a day.

We’re about to ship the first Mooltipass prototypes to our active contributors and advisers. A few weeks later we’ll send an official call for beta testers, just after we shown (here on Hackaday) what the final product looks like. Don’t hesitate to ask any question you may have in the comments section, you can also contact us on the dedicated Mooltipass Google group.

Filed under: Featured, hardware
13 May 21:31

Denver a top 10 city for increased commuting by bike

by Caitlin Hendee
Some Coloradans are trading their gas pedals in for ones that require a bit more energy. Denver is among the 10 U.S. cities where the percentage of commuters riding a bike to work has increased the most over the last several years, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report Tuesday. People who bike to work in Denver account for 2.3 percent of total commuters from 2008 to 2012, up from 1 percent in 2000. Denver ranks No. 26 for the total percent of the population that bikes to work. Nationally, the…
13 May 21:09

Random matrices in the news

by Andrew

From 2010:

Mark Buchanan wrote a cover article for the New Scientist on random matrices, a heretofore obscure area of probability theory that his headline writer characterizes as “the deep law that shapes our reality.”

It’s interesting stuff, and he gets into some statistical applications at the end, so I’ll give you my take on it.

But first, some background.

About two hundred years ago, the mathematician/physicist Laplace discovered what is now called the central limit theorem, which is that, under certain conditions, the average of a large number of small random variables has an approximate normal (bell-shaped) distribution. A bit over 100 years ago, social scientists such as Galton applied this theorem to all sorts of biological and social phenomena. The central limit theorem, in its generality, is also important in the information that it indirectly conveys when it fails.

For example, the distribution of the heights of adult men or women is nicely bell-shaped, but the distribution of the heights of all adults has a different, more spread-out distribution. This is because your height is the sum of many small factors and one large factor—your sex. The conditions of the theorem are that no single factor (or small number of factors) should be important on its own. For another example, it has long been observed that incomes do not follow a bell-shaped curve, even on the logarithmic scale. Nor do sizes of cities and many other social phenomena. These “power-law curves,” which don’t fit the central limit theorem, have motivated social scientists such as Herbert Simon to come up with processes more complicated than simple averaging (for example, models in which the rich get richer).

The central limit theorem is an example of an attractor—a mathematical model that appears as a limit as sample size gets large. The key feature of an attractor is that it destroys information. Think of it as being like a funnel: all sorts of things can come in, but a single thing—the bell-shaped curve—comes out. (Or, for other models, such as that used to describe the distribution of incomes, the attractor might be a power-law distribution.) The beauty of an attractor is that, if you believe the model, it can be used to explain an observed pattern without needing to know the details of its components. Thus, for example, we can see that the heights of men or of women have bell-shaped distributions, without knowing the details of the many small genetic and environmental influences on height.

Now to random matrices.

A random matrix is an array of numbers, where each number is drawn from some specified probability distribution. You can compute the eigenvalues of a square matrix—that’s a set of numbers summarizing the structure of the matrix—and they will have a probability distribution that is induced by the probability distribution of the individual elements of the matrix. Over the past few decades, mathematicians such as Alan Edelman have performed computer simulations and proved theorems deriving the distribution of the eigenvalues of a random matrix, as the dimension of the matrix becomes large.

It appears that the eigenvalue distribution is an attractor. That is, for a broad range of different input models (distributions of the random matrices), you get the same output—the same eigenvalue distribution—as the sample size becomes large. This is interesting, and it’s hard to prove. (At least, it seemed hard to prove the last time I looked at it, about 20 years ago, and I’m sure that it’s even harder to make advances in the field today!)

Now, to return to the news article. If the eigenvalue distribution is an attractor, this means that a lot of physical and social phenomena which can be modeled by eigenvalues (including, apparently, quantum energy levels and some properties of statistical tests) might have a common structure. Just as, at a similar level, we see the normal distribution and related functions in all sorts of unusual places.

Consider this quote from Buchanan’s article:

Recently, for example, physicist Ferdinand Kuemmeth and colleagues at Harvard University used it to predict the energy levels of electrons in the gold nanoparticles they had constructed. Traditional theories suggest that such energy levels should be influenced by a bewildering range of factors, including the precise shape and size of the nanoparticle and the relative position of the atoms, which is considered to be more or less random. Nevertheless, Kuemmeth’s team found that random matrix theory described the measured levels very accurately.

That’s what an attractor is all about: different inputs, same output.

Thus, I don’t quite understand this quote:

Random matrix theory has got mathematicians like Percy Deift of New York University imagining that there might be more general patterns there too. “This kind of thinking isn’t common in mathematics,” he notes. ‘Mathematicians tend to think that each of their problems has its own special, distinguishing features. But in recent years we have begun to see that problems from diverse areas, often with no discernible connections, all behave in a very similar way.

This doesn’t seem like such a surprise to me—it seems very much in the tradition of mathematical modeling. But maybe there’s something I’m missing here.

Finally, Buchanan turns to social science:

An economist may sift through hundreds of data sets looking for something to explain changes in inflation – perhaps oil futures, interest rates or industrial inventories. Businesses such as rely on similar techniques to spot patterns in buyer behaviour and help direct their advertising.

While random matrix theory suggests that this is a promising approach, it also points to hidden dangers. As more and more complex data is collected, the number of variables being studied grows, and the number of apparent correlations between them grows even faster. With enough variables to test, it becomes almost certain that you will detect correlations that look significant, even if they aren’t. . . . even if these variables are all fluctuating randomly, the largest observed correlation will be large enough to seem significant.

This is well known. The new idea is that mathematical theory might enable the distribution of these correlations to be understood for a general range of cases. That’s interesting but doesn’t alter the basic statistical ideas.

Beyond this, I think there’s a flaw in the idea that statistics (or econometrics) proceeds by blindly looking at the correlations among all variables. In my experience, it makes more sense to fit a hierarchical model, using structure in the economic indexes rather than just throwing them all in as predictors. We are in fact studying the properties of hierarchical models when the number of cases and variables becomes large, and it’s a hard problem. Maybe the ideas from random matrix theory will be relevant here too.

Buchanan writes:

In recent years, some economists have begun to express doubts over predictions made from huge volumes of data, but they are in the minority. Most embrace the idea that more measurements mean better predictive abilities. That might be an illusion, and random matrix theory could be the tool to separate what is real and what is not.

I’m with most economists here: I think that, on average, more measurements do mean better predictive abilities! Maybe not if you are only allowed to look at correlations and least-squares regressions, but if you can model with more structure than, yes, more information should be better.

Update (2014):

I wonder how things are going in this field. Is the stable distribution of eigenvalues taking over the world?

The post Random matrices in the news appeared first on Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.

13 May 21:09

At least 300 kinds of birds need Canada’s threatened forest

by Krishna Ramanujan-Cornell

A new report calls for saving half of the 1.5 billion acres of North America’s boreal forest—one of the world’s last great intact forests—to protect the habitat for more than 300 migratory bird species.

The northern landscape is beset with oil, gas, mining, and other industrial hazards destined for the vast, pristine woodland.

Stretching from Alaska to Newfoundland, the boreal forest—the circumpolar woods that circle the upper Northern Hemisphere—provides habitat for up to 3 billion nesting and migratory birds, according to the new report from the Boreal Songbird Initiative, Ducks Unlimited, and Ducks Unlimited Canada.

More species have become threatened and endangered due to industrial encroachments into the birds’ habitats. For example, Canada warblers and evening grosbeaks have both recently experienced close to 80 percent declines in numbers, according to the report.



Why these birds matter

The document outlines the economic and ecological importance of these species. For example, birding-related business generates some $100 billion per year in the US and Canada alone, says lead author Jeff Wells, associate scientist at the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

In the boreal forest, birds play key ecological roles: Nectar-feeding birds pollinate plants; fruit and seed eaters disperse seeds; waterfowl, seabirds, shorebirds, and fishing birds redistribute nutrients from water areas and deposit them on land in the form of droppings and food scraps; and they control pests in forests.

They serve as environmental indicators of such pollution as chemical contamination and heavy metals, which may affect birds and raise warnings for humans.

While the boreal forest remains one of the largest intact forests on Earth, it is “also seen as the last great frontier for natural resource extraction,” says Wells of the urgency to protect these areas.

Southern boreal forests have already seen the effects of oil and gas mining, forest product industries, hydropower, and roads and infrastructure.

Big choices for the boreal forest

Currently, Canada is considering usage policies that will affect the remaining intact 70 percent of the boreal area. “Decisions are being made today about what will happen over the next 100 years,” says Wells.

Consumers in the United States can have an impact on policies based on their buying choices, Wells explains, as most of the products borne from the boreal go directly to the US, including wood, oil and gas, minerals, and hydroelectricity.

Also, the report advocates that all solutions for balancing conservation and development should be made jointly between Canada and indigenous communities and provincial governments, according to the report.

In Canada, most land use decisions are made at the provincial or territorial level, says Wells, adding that hundreds of indigenous communities still live in remote boreal areas, where they rely on the land and water for their survival.



Source: Cornell University

The post At least 300 kinds of birds need Canada’s threatened forest appeared first on Futurity.

13 May 21:09

Cosmos and the Sideburns

by Chad Orzel

Last night’s episode of the Cosmos reboot focused on one of the three physicists whose pictures Einstein kept in his office: Michael Faraday. I’m a big fan of Faraday, who famously started his career as a bookbinder’s apprentice reading the books brought into the shop, and ended as one of the greatest experimental physicists of the 19th Century. Also, he had magnificent sideburns, as you can see in the picture. It’s a great story– I highly recommend his biography– and pretty much the entire episode was devoted to Faraday, with only a surprisingly tenuous astronomy connection at the end, mentioning the Earth’s magnetic field the Van Allen belts, and the aurorae.

My knowledge of Faraday isn’t all that comprehensive– basically, I’ve read the io linked above, and a handful of articles– but I thought they did a pretty good job with the story in general. There were a few points where they twisted things a little– they made Humphrey Davy out to be a little more villainous than I think he probably deserved (they had a falling out, it’s true, but I think it was exaggerated in the cartoon; I’m not sure he was even working under Davy any more when the show has him cruelly ordered to work on glass instead of electricity), and they downplayed Faraday’s religion (though they did mention it at the very start of the story). I thought James Clerk Maxwell (another of Einstein’s pictures– the third was Newton) deserved a bit more space, as well, but they did at least explain that Faraday’s lack of mathematical training prevented him from getting the magnetic field concept widely accepted, and it wasn’t until Maxwell’s more formal mathematical treatment that something like the modern picture took hold.

I do have one sort of philosophical quibble with the framing of the episode, namely the “If Faraday hadn’t lived, modern technology might not exist…” device they used to introduce the story. Not to take anything away from Faraday, who was a brilliant guy and an exceptional experimentalist, but electromagnetic research was all the rage at that time, and if he hadn’t been the one to discover induction and diamagnetism and the rotation of polarization by light, somebody else would’ve in short order. It was basically steam engine time for E&M (and also, you know, steam engines), and Faraday’s discoveries would’ve come along within a short period anyway. Probably not from the hands of a single guy, but rather a collection of different physicists in multiple countries, and it might’ve taken a little longer to put some of them across without Faraday’s immense talent in the lab. But the whole “If not for ___ science might not have happened” thing is the sort of Great Man of History overhype that we ought to be beyond at this point.

Other than that, though, this was a well-done episode highlighting one of the great underdog stories in the history of science. Faraday really did make an incredible mark on 19th century science, despite his humble origins, and was apparently one of the nicest guys in the history of physics– other than his falling out with Davy, nobody seems to have had a negative word. The only reason he’s not a Sir or a Lord like most of the other great British physicists is that the particular religious sect he was raised in emphasized humility above all, and he declined offers of formal honors. He had to put himself forward to become a Fellow of the Royal Society (as professional protection during his split with Davy), which seems to have involved mentioning to about three people that it would be nice if he made FRS, whereupon they quickly made it happen, and very late in his life, when he was too ill to continue working for the Royal Institution, he accepted a house from Queen Victoria; other than that, he didn’t seek fame or fortune.

(Also, he offered the best professional advice ever: Work. Finish. Publish.)

So, if you’re going to pull one scientist from that era to devote an entire episode of a high-profile science show to, Faraday is an outstanding choice. I’m slightly surprised by the decision, given they only have three more episodes and haven’t even talked about a whole bunch of cool astronomy stuff– dark matter! dark energy!– but I like Faraday a whole lot, so I can’t complain too much.

13 May 21:09

The Monsters We Adore

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13 May 21:07

Loss of West Antarctic Glaciers Appears Unstoppable, Posing Long-Term Risks from Rising Seas to Millions

by Tom Yulsman
See a correction and update below. May 13 7:15 p.m. MDT | If you read ImaGeo regularly, you may have seen my post a couple of weeks ago describing evidence that part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may be breaking up. Yesterday, two additional studies were made public. One was led by Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine, who had this to say at a NASA press conference: “Today we present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic ice s
13 May 21:06

The Debate Over Net Neutrality

by Angela Guess


Jeff Sommer of the New York Times recently wrote, “The future of the Internet — which means the future of communications, culture, free speech and innovation — is up for grabs. The Federal Communications Commission is making decisions that may determine how open the Internet will be, who will profit most from it and whether start-ups will face new barriers that will make it harder for ideas to flourish. Tim Wu, 41, a law professor at Columbia University, isn’t a direct participant in the rule making, but he is influencing it. A dozen years ago, building on the work of more senior scholars, Mr. Wu developed a concept that is now a generally accepted norm. Called ‘net neutrality,’ short for network neutrality, it is essentially this: The cable and telephone companies that control important parts of the plumbing of the Internet shouldn’t restrict how the rest of us use it.” continued…

13 May 21:01

Researchers plan next-gen Internet tests to ease video bottlenecks

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Remember WiMAX, the short-lived, but promising mobile technology that fought – but lost to LTE – to become the 4G network of choice? Say hello to a new contender, one that has a vastly different architecture and is working to not only impact mobile Internet performance, but to also help better deliver video: the eXpressive Internet Architecture (XIA).

13 May 21:00

Slideshow: Grad Student Turns Scientific Meeting Into a Cartoon

Dozens of tweeted illustrations capture flavor of talks in new way
13 May 21:00

10 Tuesday PM Reads

by Barry Ritholtz

My afternoon train reading:

• Five big investments you don’t know you have. (WSJ)
• Is Dow Jones Record Run A Sign of Better Times or a Dangerous Top? (Motley Fool) but see ‘The Market Euphoria Scares Me’ (Moneybeat)
• Apple, Amazon and the uncertain future of the book startup (GigaOm)
• Don’t Trust the Fed’s Weather Report (Bloomberg View)
•  U.S. Economy Contracted In First Quarter, Latest Figures Show (Real Time Economics) see also NFIB: Small Business Optimism Index increases in April, Highest since 2007 (Calculated Risk)
• Bernard Mandeville, Psychiatrist in the Marketplace (American Magazine)
• I went to the nutritionists’ annual confab.  It was catered by McDonald’s. (MoJo)
• ‘No Place to Hide,’ by Glenn Greenwald (NY Times)
• Five Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Streaming Music Service (Re/Code) see also iPad Charger Teardown: Inside Apple’s Charger and a Risky Phony (Ken Shirriff)
• The Polarized Court (The Upshot)

What are you reading?



The Mysterious Death of Entrepreneurship in America

Source: The Atlantic

13 May 19:45

How multiplicity determines entropy [Physics]

by Hanel, R., Thurner, S., Gell-Mann, M.
The maximum entropy principle (MEP) is a method for obtaining the most likely distribution functions of observables from statistical systems by maximizing entropy under constraints. The MEP has found hundreds of applications in ergodic and Markovian systems in statistical mechanics, information theory, and statistics. For several decades there has been...
13 May 19:44

The NEW Ten Most Annoying Questions in Quantum Computing

by Scott

Eight years ago, I put up a post entitled The Ten Most Annoying Questions in Quantum Computing.  One of the ten wasn’t a real question—it was simply a request for readers to submit questions—so let’s call it nine.  I’m delighted to say that, of the nine questions, six have by now been completely settled—most recently, my question about the parallel-repeated value of the CHSH game, which Andris Ambainis pointed out to me last week can be answered using a 2008 result of Barak et al. combined with a 2013 result of Dinur and Steurer.

To be clear, the demise of so many problems is exactly the outcome I wanted. In picking problems, my goal wasn’t to shock and awe with difficulty—as if to say “this is how smart I am, that whatever stumps me will also stump everyone else for decades.” Nor was it to showcase my bottomless profundity, by proffering questions so vague, multipartite, and open-ended that no matter what progress was made, I could always reply “ah, but you still haven’t addressed the real question!” Nor, finally, was my goal to list the biggest research directions for the entire field, the stuff everyone already knows about (“is there a polynomial-time quantum algorithm for graph isomorphism?”). My interest was exclusively in “little” questions, in weird puzzles that looked (at least at the time) like there was no deep obstruction to just killing them one by one, whichever way their answers turned out. What made them annoying was that they hadn’t succumbed already.

So, now that two-thirds of my problems have met the fate they deserved, at Andris’s suggestion I’m presenting a new list of Ten Most Annoying Questions in Quantum Computing—a list that starts with the three still-unanswered questions from the old list, and then adds seven more.

But we’ll get to that shortly. First, let’s review the six questions that have been answered.


1. Given an n-qubit pure state, is there always a way to apply Hadamard gates to some subset of the qubits, so as to make all 2n computational basis states have nonzero amplitudes?  Positive answer by Ashley Montanaro and Dan Shepherd, posted to this blog in 2006.

3. Can any QMA(2) (QMA with two unentangled yes-provers) protocol be amplified to exponentially small error probability?  Positive answer by Aram Harrow and Ashley Montanaro, from a FOCS’2010 paper.

4. If a unitary operation U can be applied in polynomial time, then can some square root of U also be applied in polynomial time?  Positive answer by Lana Sheridan, Dmitri Maslov, and Michele Mosca, from a 2008 paper.

5. Suppose Alice and Bob are playing n parallel CHSH games, with no communication or entanglement. Is the probability that they’ll win all n games at most pn, for some p bounded below 0.853?

OK, let me relay what Andris Ambainis told me about this question, with Andris’s kind permission. First of all, we’ve known for a while that the optimal success probability is not the (3/4)n that Alice and Bob could trivially achieve by just playing all n games separately. I observed in 2006 that, by correlating their strategies between pairs of games in a clever way, Alice and Bob can win with probability (√10 / 4)n ~ 0.79n. And Barak et al. showed in 2008 that they can win with probability ((1+√5)/4)n ~ 0.81n. (Unfortunately, I don’t know the actual strategy that achieves the latter bound!  Barak et al. say they’ll describe it in the full version of their paper, but the full version hasn’t yet appeared.)

Anyway, Dinur-Steurer 2013 gave a general recipe to prove that the value of a repeated projection game is at most αn, where α is some constant that depends on the game in question. When Andris followed their recipe for the CHSH game, he obtained the result α=(1+√5)/4—thereby showing that Barak et al.’s strategy, whatever it is, is precisely optimal! Andris also observes that, for any two-prover game G, the Dinur-Steurer bound α(G) is always strictly less than the entangled value ω*(G), unless the classical and entangled values are the same for one copy of the game (i.e., unless ω(G)=ω*(G)). This implies that parallel repetition can never completely eliminate a quantum advantage.

6. Forget about an oracle relative to which BQP is not in PH (the Polynomial Hierarchy). Forget about an oracle relative to which BQP is not in AM (Arthur-Merlin). Is there an oracle relative to which BQP is not in SZK (Statistical Zero-Knowledge)?  Positive answer by me, posted to this blog in 2006.  See also my BQP vs. PH paper for a different proof.

9. Is there an n-qubit pure state that can be prepared by a circuit of size n3, and that can’t be distinguished from the maximally mixed state by any circuit of size n2?  A positive answer follows from this 2009 paper by Richard Low—thanks very much to Fernando Brandao for bringing that to my attention a few months ago.

OK, now on to:


1. Can we get any upper bound whatsoever on the complexity class QMIP—i.e., quantum multi-prover interactive proofs with unlimited prior entanglement? (Since I asked this question in 2006, Ito and Vidick achieved the breakthrough lower bound NEXP⊆QMIP, but there’s been basically no progress on the upper bound side.)

2. Given any n-qubit unitary operation U, does there exist an oracle relative to which U can be (approximately) applied in polynomial time? (Since 2006, my interest in this question has only increased. See this paper by me and Greg Kuperberg for background and related results.)

3. How many mutually unbiased bases are there in non-prime-power dimensions?

4. Since Chris Fuchs was so thrilled by my including one of his favorite questions on my earlier list (question #3 above), let me add another of his favorites: do SIC-POVMs exist in arbitrary finite dimensions?

5. Is there a Boolean function f:{0,1}n→{0,1} whose bounded-error quantum query complexity is strictly greater than n/2?  (Thanks to Shelby Kimmel for this question!  Note that this paper by van Dam shows that the bounded-error quantum query complexity never exceeds n/2+O(√n), while this paper by Ambainis et al. shows that it’s at least n/2-O(√n) for almost all Boolean functions f.)

6. Is there a “universal disentangler”: that is, a superoperator S that takes nO(1) qubits as input; that produces a 2n-qubit bipartite state (with n qubits on each side) as output; whose output S(ρ) is always close in variation distance to a separable state; and that given an appropriate input state, can produce as output an approximation to any desired separable state?  (See here for background about this problem, originally posed by John Watrous. Note that if such an S existed and were computationally efficient, it would imply QMA=QMA(2).)

7. Suppose we have explicit descriptions of n two-outcome POVM measurements—say, as d×d Hermitian matrices E1,…,En—and are also given k=(log(nd))O(1) copies of an unknown quantum state ρ in d dimensions.  Is there a way to measure the copies so as to estimate the n expectation values Tr(E1ρ),…,Tr(Enρ), each to constant additive error?  (A forthcoming paper of mine on private-key quantum money will contain some background and related results.)

8. Is there a collection of 1- and 2-qubit gates that generates a group of unitary matrices that is (a) not universal for quantum computation, (b) not just conjugate to permuted diagonal matrices or one-qubit gates plus swaps, and (c) not conjugate to a subgroup of the Clifford group?

9. Given a partial Boolean function f:S→{0,1} with S⊆{0,1}n, is the bounded-error quantum query complexity of f always polynomially related to the smallest degree of any polynomial p:{0,1}n→R such that (a) p(x)∈[0,1] for all x∈{0,1}n, and (b) |p(x)-f(x)|≤1/3 for all x∈S?

10. Is there a quantum finite automaton that reads in an infinite sequence of i.i.d. coin flips, and whose limiting probability of being found in an “accept” state is at least 2/3 if the coin is fair and at most 1/3 if the coin is unfair?  (See this paper by me and Andy Drucker for background and related results.)

13 May 19:43

Orbotix Raises $15.5M to Develop Next Generation of Toys

by Michael Davidson
Michael Davidson

Orbotix remains on a roll, announcing today that it has closed a $15.5 million funding round that the company will use to continue developing the next generation of high-tech toys that bridge the physical and the digital worlds.

Orbotix is best known as the maker of Sphero, the robotic ball that can be controlled with an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. The Boulder, CO-based company is a Techstars graduate and has raised a total of $32.6 million since going through the accelerator in 2010, chief operating officer Jim Booth said.

Prior investors the Foundry Group and Highway 12 Ventures participated in the round, while Shea Ventures and Grishin Robotics are new investors, Booth said.

While Orbotix has sold hundreds of thousands of Spheros and introduced a faster version last year, Booth said the company has been looking to move beyond the ball and develop different products.

This fall Orbotix will release Ollie, a two-wheeled tube-shaped robot that the company introduced this January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (it was originally named 2B). Like Sphero, it will be controlled by iOS and Android devices and allow users to program its movements.

By the end of the year, Orbotix plans to have 35 games and more than 30 accessories available for purchase, a release from the company said.

The infusion of cash will help with the product launch, Booth said, but it primarily gives Orbotix the resources to execute on its long-term vision of becoming the leader in what the company calls “connected play.”

“Connected play lives at the intersection between a physical toy, an immersive game experience, and a greater, more meaningful social context, ” Orbotix CEO Paul Berberian said in today’s release. It requires companies to combine elements of consumer electronics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotic hardware when developing new products.

Orbotix board member and Foundry Group managing director Brad Feld explained the idea of connected play and connected toys earlier this year in a blog post, contrasting it with traditional toys and video games.

“It’s not a static toy, like kids have been playing with since the beginning of time. It’s not a game on a pane of glass like an iPhone or iPad,” Feld wrote. “It’s a dynamic toy that you can play with online, via your pane of glass, or in the real world, with friends, connected together online. And it gets upgraded continually, with new software and new games.”

Booth said connected play and connected toys are “an area retailers are looking to to show some new growth and some new life for the category.”

With the fundraising process out of the way, Orbotix now can focus on new product development, deepening its connections with retailers, and expanding into new markets, he said.

“We have a roadmap, and we have products that are in development right now. One of the things this funding gives us is a longer-range horizon,” Booth said. “When you’re a younger startup, you tend to execute toward a shorter horizon with shorter product plans. This gives us the ability to look a little further, to develop products a little deeper. That’s what we’re excited about, that we’re able to do that.”

Booth didn’t give details on what Orbotix is working on beyond Ollie.

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13 May 19:42

10 Things to Know About BEN, Blackstone, and Colorado’s Gazelles

by Michael Davidson
Michael Davidson

It was a big win for Colorado’s entrepreneurial ecosystem when the Blackstone Charitable Foundation announced it was putting up $4 million to create the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network in Colorado.

BEN Colorado’s twofold mission is to help the next wave of companies with high-growth potential scale up and become leaders in their industries while also helping to strengthen ties within and between important high-growth industries in Colorado’s economy.

To do so, BEN Colorado will create a network of entrepreneurs and executives with successful track records leading high growth companies. Those experts will offer guidance and advice to the leaders of promising companies.

The network will focus its efforts on Colorado’s aerospace, bioscience, digital technology, energy, and natural foods sectors.

For a detailed look at BEN Colorado and what it hopes to accomplish, Xconomy talked with BEN Colorado executive director J.B. Holston and Phil Weiser, dean of the University of Colorado Law School and executive director of Silicon Flatirons, a research center at the law school. Here are the ten key things about the initiative:

1) Who is running BEN?

Holston is responsible for making BEN successful in Colorado. He describes his job as being part facilitator, part “rainmaker.”

“My role is really chief concierge. It’s introducing people and making things happen in a seamless, egoless way,” Holston said.

That’s the modest way of putting it. Holston’s also responsible for making sure the network reaches a critical mass of companies, mentors, and master entrepreneurs, and that it provides value to the emerging companies from the very start.

“My time is largely going to be spent making sure the networks are well connected and that particularly that we’ve got a great group of committed advisers and a great group of companies,” he said.

Holston is in a good position to make all this happen because of the connections he’s made over the years as a prominent figure in Colorado’s tech industry. From 2004 though 2010, he was CEO of NewsGator, a software firm that makes collaboration tools for businesses and is now known as Sitrion. He remains chairman of Sitrion’s board and also is a member of the Colorado Innovation Network’s board of directors.

Holston will get assistance from Silicon Flatirons, which will provide a small support staff to help with programming and tracking BEN’s progress, Weiser said. The center, which is part of the University of Colorado’s Law School, is well known in local entrepreneurial circles for hosting conferences and giving organizations like New Tech Colorado a venue to host events and some financial support. Specific duties and the nature of the programming remain to be determined.

Silicon Flatirons will act as the program’s “steward” on behalf of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation to make sure the $4 million grant is being used wisely to create something with a lasting impact, Weiser said. The grant is for three years.

Having an established organization like Silicon Flatirons oversee the program was a priority for Blackstone.

“They were looking for both what’s the right region for them to develop that network in, and secondly who’s the right steward in that region,” Weiser said. “They had a two-pronged inquiry, and over time they began to become more enamored of Colorado and the potential that was here, and specifically in Colorado they looked around widely for different entities that had the capability to steward this grant and be a facilitator, and they concluded Silicon Flatirons was the right place to go.”

While Holston and Silicon Flatirons will lead the network, they also have an advisory board filled with highly successful entrepreneurs and executives to assist them. Among them is Zayo Group founder and CEO Dan Caruso, Rally Software Development CEO Tim Miller, Foundry Group managing director Brad Feld, and Wild Oats Markets and Sunflower Markets co-founder Elizabeth Cook.

2) How will BEN Colorado operate?

While BEN Colorado’s leadership team has an ambitious vision to bolster Colorado’s tech industry, its goals at this point remain more qualitative than quantitative. Exactly how BEN Colorado will achieve that vision remains to be determined.

“It’s still a work in progress, and BEN itself is a startup, so some of that will take root over time,” Weiser said. “Over the summer we’ll be refining and experimenting with the model, and at that point we’ll be building it to critical mass.”

First, BEN Colorado will round up advisers and companies that could benefit from mentorship. It especially is trying to recruit “master entrepreneurs” who can provide more detailed mentorship and work with individual companies over long periods of time.

“The idea is building a set of advisers, some of whom will become master entrepreneurs, and then having regular engagement points both with master entrepreneurs and the emerging entrepreneurial companies,” Weiser said.

Holston said BEN Colorado will be very flexible about what kind of help it offers, understanding that companies in different industries will have different needs. The key feature is likely to be introducing promising companies to mentors who have the right skills to help those particular companies.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of different models for engagement,” Holston said. “What the work looks like between advisers and master entrepreneurs and the companies will evolve as a function of what the companies need.”

“There might well be cases where some of the advisers get very engaged with companies for an extended period of time, because that’s a good fit. But there are going to be cases too where teams of advisers work for a relatively short period of time on a strategic issue for a company and help the company get on to a different path, and they won’t have to work beyond that,” he said.

It’s the kind of consultation that will mostly take place behind the scenes, Holston said.

Holston said partnering with existing organizations like industry associations is also possible.

3) What is BEN Colorado adding to the existing entrepreneurial ecosystem?

Colorado has become a hotbed of startup formation over the past decade, and the state has benefited from the rise of an “ecosystem” filled with organizations and companies focused on helping entrepreneurs.

At the highest level, there’s the Techstars startup accelerator, … Next Page »

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13 May 19:41

Entrepreneurship Inside Corporations

by Sramana Mitra
Sramana Mitra

There is a real trend developing right now of large corporations becoming crucibles of innovation and entrepreneurship in a systematic way. In this post, I will discuss four specific sub-categories of this trend that we’re seeing, and for all practical purposes, participating in.

Intrapreneurship Incubation

Corporations have come to realize that there are numerous great ideas buried inside their ranks, and are putting in place processes to help those bubble up and get developed. The most common form this process takes is a call for ideas, followed by various types of incubation of some or all those ideas.

Those ideas that look compelling after a few months of incubation go up to a management committee / innovation council for evaluation. A subset of these are given additional resources to be developed further. Through our 1M/1M Incubator-in-a-Box program, we’re involved with a number of these projects at major corporations, and see hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue opportunities being identified. Corporations with Intrapreneruship programs in place include Oracle, HP, Intuit, Computer Associates, etc.

For employees of these corporations, these programs offer a low-risk way to engage in entrepreneurial efforts, as well as distinguish themselves as leaders within their organizations.

Platform Ecosystem Incubation

We’ve been highlighting the platform ecosystem trend for a while. Recently, The Economist did a story on the trend as well. Bottom line, many major platforms have now developed within corporations like Apple, Google,, Amazon, SAP, Microsoft, Nokia, etc. and the most widely practiced form of entrepreneurship currently in vogue is to build something on top a platform.

Again, our Incubator-in-a-Box for Platform Vendors has exposed us to several of these ecosystems where we’re incubating businesses built on top of major platforms.

In our conversations with people running these ecosystems, we have learned that motivations vary. Some platforms charge a royalty fee to the developers, and the motivation for incubation is to grow the revenue base. Others are looking for differentiated apps for their platforms that would make it attractive for customers to adopt the platform itself. The latter is particularly true for the mobile phone ecosystems.

Corporate Venture Capital

Corporate venture capital has been around for a long time, and at different points in history, its popularity has ebbed and flowed. At the moment, corporate venture capital is rather popular, with everyone from Google, Microsoft, Nokia, SAP, EMC, and many others running their own funds.

Bootstrapping with a Paycheck

The last trend may not count as entrepreneurship “inside” a corporation, exactly, but is  particularly hot right now because entrepreneurship has becomes so popular these days: getting a company off the ground while working a full-time job.

We’ve seen numerous companies get launched and gain traction in this mode. Some examples:

—Itai Sadan launched Dudamobile while still at SAP. The company now has over 5 million customers for its service to automatically mobile-customize websites.

—The founders of DataStax not only started while inside Rackspace, but got Rackspace to extend a small seed investment of about $100,000. Today, they have raised several rounds of financing and have built a thriving business.

—In geographies like India where the seed capital ecosystem is terribly weak, many startups have seen the light of day because their founders managed to keep their jobs while getting them started. Phani Sama launched redBus while working at Texas Instruments, built it up through a few rounds of funding, and has since sold the company for $130 million. And Sangeeta Banerjee got ApartmentADDA going with her husband while working at SAP.

As a matter of fact, the latter example highlights yet another trend, where an entrepreneur couple starts a company, one of them keeps a job while the other works full-time on the new venture, and once things start to roll, the second founder quits his or her job and joins the startup full-time. Sangeeta kept her job, while her husband Venkatesh started building their product. She worked weekends, while he worked full-time, until the company got to a stage of validation where they felt comfortable jumping in with both feet.

We have numerous companies in our portfolio who are bootstrapping in this mode.


All of these are healthy trends that keep creativity flowing across the corporate system. My prediction would be that corporations are going to invest more in both nurturing their intrapreneurs and the entrepreneurs building on top of their platforms, and over the next couple of years, corporate incubation will become a substantial contributor to innovation in general.

In parallel, bootstrapping with a paycheck will also grow as a tried and true mechanism to get businesses off the ground.

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13 May 19:39

Scottish independence

by Ken
I'm for a No vote in the Scottish independence referendum. This sets me at odds with a lot of my friends, and against the grain of my demographic: if you're a left-wing writer or artist in Scotland, you're more or less expected to be a Yes voter.

Within the left Yes camp there are plenty of choices and voices: the broadly progressive, the Scandinavian-style social democratic, the artistic and creative, and the radical. There are others linked to on my sidebar, and at these sites yet more links. Uniting the political and cultural nationalist left is Bella Caledonia, a site difficult for me to evaluate because I can't read much of it without feeling sick.

There's a conservative case for the union of Scotland and England, ably articulated by (e.g.) Adam Tomkins and more plangently by Simon Schama. For those of us to the left of these scholars there's a lot to disagree with or question in their arguments, and much to consider -- depending on how much importance you attach to the mere material condition of the working class, which on any reckoning will take a big hit from a split. The official Better Together campaign argues along likewise conservative lines. It gets a lot of flack from the Yes side for being negative, a good indicator that being negative works.

There are also radical, left-wing arguments for a No vote. The pro-independence left has high hopes, stirring rhetoric and uplifting visions. Its radical wing is a raft lashed together from the wreckage of three (at the last count) far-left sects. The anti-independence left has page after page of dry facts and figures about ownership, finance, manufacturing, EU laws, employment patterns, energy production, and political and social attitudes. Its radical wing comes from the mainstream left of the labour movement.

The Red Paper group of academics, activists and trade unionists has gone into the details of Scotland's political and economic situation, and published a substantial body of evidence and argument that an independent Scotland would have even less 'control over its own affairs' than it has now, for the obvious reason that the big economic and political decisions would continue to be made outside it. The argument is concisely put by Tom Morrison in today's Morning Star. More of the broad (and some of the narrow) left case along these lines can be found at Socialism First.

The sociologist and media analyst Greg Philo has investigated social consciousness and attitudes north and south of the Border, and found little to cheer about. The prospect of a decade (at least) of bickering and blaming between a newly independent Scotland and an embittered and inward-looking rUK, with national differences deepening by the day, is a grim one for left or even liberal politics.

Ben Jackson, editor of the social-democratic journal Renewal, has published a fascinating analysis of The Political Thought of Scottish Nationalism (PDF), and a cutting and critical account of Alec Salmond's political journey, one that should give pause to those who've turned to the SNP in disappointment with Labour.

All this may be irrelevant to the outcome. Labour lawyer Ian Smart argues (from hard-won experience as an election foot-slogger) that debates, speeches and public meetings serve to enthuse your own side, not to convince the other. All the No campaign has to do, he says, is keep hammering away at the inadequacies of the SNP/Yes campaign, and get out the vote.

As he also likes to remind us, there is no room for complacency. I agree, but like him I still think the outcome will be No. If I'm wrong I'll accept that I'm living in the early days of a worse nation, and continue to work as if I lived in the early days of a better one.