Archive for October, 2008

Visualising the bright future

Monday, October 27th, 2008


Some images from the recent exhibition at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum “Visualising the bright future – Propaganda Pictures of New China” which displayed political posters from China. The posters were contrasted with some artwork of more recent artists (like Feng Mengbo, Xu Zhiwei and Ai Weiwei) which supplemented the permanent collection featuring e.g. Lin Tianmiao (please see below).



Monday, October 27th, 2008

just some pictures from a beautiful maple:

no annual blogging

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008


“Züge von Inhalt voll vor den Zaumpfall gesetzt”, motion picture by Schleu Nix

Despite having somewhat managed the organisatorial tasks of moving we are now subject to other sorts of time pressure which are mainly due to being faced with quite a heavy pile of accumulated work. However I hope this wont result in one blog post per year…annual blogging is not really preferred over here. :)

the best

Sunday, October 19th, 2008


Due to the financial crisis and maybe since he was part of the consulting team of the new financial market stabilization law the CEO of Deutsche Bank Josef Ackermann waived his bonuses and additional payouts (where one has to say that his rest annual salary is probably still bigger than what I earned in all my life…:)).

Anyways he got a lot of media attention due to this and I guess this was intended.

Nevertheless one is left to hope that other bankers will follow suit and donate their excessive salaries into this fund of 30 billion dollars (This amount of money by the way is in the same order of what the new german law accepted as “security reserve”).

These are not the necessary structural changes in the financial system, which are in principle possible, even on a technical level (see e.g. here) but still – it would be a sign.

In an interview Josef Ackermann was asked (translation (tr) without guarantee):

Bams: Arbeiten die Besten für 500 000 Euro?
(tr:Do the best work for 500 000 Euro?)

JOSEF ACKERMANN: Nein. Die Besten bekommen Sie dafür nicht.
(tr:No the best you won’t get for this money)

and later on:

BamS: Sie selbst haben Ihren Bankern 25 Prozent Rendite vorgegeben. Seither gilt diese Zahl als Maßzahl für Gier.
(tr: You yourself had allowed your bankers 25 percent return. Since then this number is a measure for greed.)

JOSEF ACKERMANN: Ist es Gier, wenn man möglichst erfolgreich sein will? Das will doch jeder im Leben. Davon lebt unser System. Auch der Wettbewerb um höhere Renditen hat die Menschheit weitergebracht. Diesen Wettbewerb sollten wir auf keinen Fall aufgeben. Die 25 Prozent vor Steuern habe ich mir ja nicht einfach ausgedacht, das ist die Rendite, die die besten Banken der Welt erzielen. Und die Deutsche Bank hat den Anspruch, bei den Besten der Welt dabei zu sein.

(tr: Is it greed if one wants to be successful in life? Everybody wants to be this in life. This is how our system works. Also the competition for higher returns had helped on mankind. Under no circumstances this competition should be given up. I didn’t just come up with this 25 percent before taxes, this is the return the best banks in the world achieve. And the Deutsche Bank has the standard to belong to the best in the world.)

If I understand correctly this means that it’s not the challenge like to save endangered banks, but its the money which makes bankers go. A bit wimpy, no?

It is also interesting what bankers value as “successful”.

In particular I have also some skepticism about “Also the competition for higher returns had helped on mankind”….e.g. by looking at this crisis…

On the Finanzmarkt-Stabilisierungsfondsgesetz

Friday, October 17th, 2008

shop widow in Munich’s Amalienstrasse

Today the german “stabilization law” mentioned in the last randform post, which was hastingly put together within a couple of days and which concerns an amount of money which is in the order of the costs of the german unity, is going to be passed.

With it

a chance to politically regulate the remuneration schemes of banks will be missed.

Since -with this law, it is on one hand in principle possible to adjust the time validity of remuneration obligations via Rechtsverordnung (which means in particular without the need of parlamentary involvement), however on the other hand as indicated on the webpage (same as in last post) there seems to be no intention to do this on a broad scheme. In particular I hereby repeat (like for those with an attention deficit syndrome..:)) the current legislation means that

only corporations, which are already in big troubles have to comply to remuneration regulatory means.

(for more see last post)
This implies that probably no real changes in the banking system will take place and I am asking myself how this could possibly raise the trust of savers.

cry this

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Due to the given financial crisis governments worldwide are busy to bundle up “care packages”. Oversimplifying a bit one can describe the current scenario as follows:

Banks lost trust among themselves, therefore they tend to cease lending out money, therefore capital flow is in danger, therefore economy is in danger. Hence governments put guarantees, buy up problematic assets etc., which in the turn buffer the risk for the banks, so that the banks will again have more confidence into themselves.

This would be funny if it wouldn’t be funny at all.

In particular the german government will issue a “stabilization law”, which is intended to be pushed through by the end of the week and which I find hard to accept. Why?

Lets first put together the main points of this law:
(english handout):

-the german government provides a fund with a volume of 500 billion Euros (operated by the ministry of finance and administered by Deutsche Bank) , with which “measurements” such as recapitalization (which means more or less bying parts of banks/sharevalues/etc.)(80 billion Euro) and putting guarantees (400 billion Euro + 20 billion security reserve) can be taken.

In exchange for this public donation one can read today on the webpage of the ministry of finance that:

Der Bundesregierung ist wichtig, dass Manager harte Auflagen in Kauf nehmen müssen, wenn sie unter diesen Absicherungsschirm wollen. Neben der angemessen Vergütung für die Hilfen wird es für jedes Unternehmen, das Unterstützung braucht:

* eine Höchstgrenze für Vorstandsbezüge von 500.000 Euro geben müssen
* einen Verzicht auf Bonuszahlungen geben müssen
* einen Verzicht auf Dividendenausschüttungen geben müssen.

(translation without guarantee)
It is important for the german government that managers have to accept firm obligations, if they want to be eligible for safeguarding measurements. Besides an adequate compensation for the help it will be necessary to demand for each corporation, which is in need that

*there exists an upper limit of 500000 Euro for remuneration of members of the management
*a disclaimer for bonuses
*a disclaimer for dividends

In their draft for the new law these obligations are not mentioned explicitly, but it is written (§ 10) that the obligations which have to be complied with (zu erfüllenden Anforderungen) can be later on specified in socalled Rechtsverordnungen.

The above described help package of the german government is valid until Dec. 31. 2009.

What are my main problems with this package?

Among others (i have not really time for going into detail) it is the term “zu erfüllende Anforderungen” (demands which have to be complied with). Given that I understood correctly -

this means that only corporations, which are already in big troubles have to comply to remuneration regulating means.

Given this is true, I find that quite unacceptable.

Or in other words:

Why does the german government not take the chance to impose more regulatory influence ?
This could be e.g. done by demanding that companies, which want to be eligible to this kind of generous risk buffering package have to comply to restructure their remuneration system from today on and not only from the date on, when they are in trouble!

It is fairly obvious that a big part of the current disaster is due to –yes one should call what it is — “profitable and riskless gambling with the ressources of others”. In other words most of the current remuneration systems reward those who are successfully pushing the limits without (almost) any personal consequences. In particular it does not reward those, who may step back e.g. for moral and other reasons.

In this statement by Hector Sants from FSA (UK Financial Services Authority) Criteria for good and bad renumeration policies are outlined.

They are a bit too weak for my taste, but well they give at least some indication on what is darned necessary.

see also article by Bettina Schulz (in german)


Sunday, October 12th, 2008

denisbernard450.jpgartsy illustrations by Denis Bernard

We are currently busily zooming between, Japan, Berlin and Munich and in between I was trying to learn about boundary CFT.

focus and context, part IIa: A quantum computation game

Saturday, October 4th, 2008


“mittels Käsequanten wegetreten in die verschränkung” pencil and cutout post-its on paper, artwork: Masta Eda and his coboldo

As already mentioned in the last post I am going to supervise the exercises of a quantum computing class. Quantum computation was already a couple of times mentioned on this blog (like here), but I never really explained it to our art and design readership.

This blogpost belongs to series of posts related to the issue of focus and context.

So how can one describe quantum computation within a few words? Michael Nielsen, who actually wrote a whole book with Isaac Chuang about quantum computing (and who seems to be fed up with it?), tried this already on his blog.

I would like to try the same however differently with maybe fewer words (?), by using an analogy. So hopefully my post is kind of supplementary to Michael Nielsens.

ambiguity and context

In a natural language the information is conveyed in a way which may be ambiguous, i.e. words may have many meanings and thus the interpretation of their meaning depends on a given context. One can see this e.g. in the ambiguity of translations.

An example:

Look at the in the above art work mentioned german word “wegetreten”. “wegetreten” could be interpreted as “wege treten” (weg=path, treten=step), so the translation would be “pathmaking” or it could be interpeted as the word “wegetreten” read as: “weg getreten” (weg=away, getreten=stepped) meaning “pushed away” or -as a second meaning “stepped aside” or it could be read as “weh getreten” (weh=pain) (with a slight orthographic deformation) and thus would mean “to have injured”. So if a CEO gives a speech and would say the sentence: “Mit unserem neuen Ansatz werden wir Wege treten, die uns in neue Dimensionen führen” (with our new ansatz we will produce plathways which will lead us into new dimenions) then due to the addition: “which will lead us into new dimensions” it is rather clear what he/she meant – it’s quite a standard CEO sentence.

However without the addition the meaning of that sentence would depend on the exact pronounciation (i.e. the “e” in “weg” would be spoken slightly shorter in “weg-getreten” than in wege-treten, which sounds the same as weh-getreten). If you cant perceive the precise pronouncation like because this CEO is always mumbling then “mit unserem neuen Ansatz werden wir Wege treten” could also mean: “with our new ansatz we will be pushed away”, I.e. it would have rather the opposite meaning of “with our new ansatz we will be producing new pathways”. One could probably recover the correct meaning of the sentence if one would know the rest of the speech, or if one would know to whom this sentence was adressed, i.e. if one would know the given context.

(There is a bit about Homonyms in this randform post. In this post also metaphors were mentioned. However including metaphors would make things even more complicated so lets leave them out for a moment).

So conveying the information “wegetreten” (like in a SMS and allowing for a slight orthographic freedom) means to convey at least the above four meanings of “wegetreten” – all at the same time. And if you send this information like in a SMS then the interpretation will depend on what the receiver of the information knows about you and his/hers interpretation will depend on that given context (a bit on the different approaches towards context sensitvity was mentioned in this randform post).

Other forms of context may be that the interpretation may depend on the emotional and/or psychological state of the receiver a.s.o. (The interpretation of a code (which is here in our above example a word), or in other words the choice of an associated meaning was already discussed a bit e.g. in this randform post. The difficulty of choosing codes were indicated here and here or here)

analogy to quantum computation

A “state” in quantum mechanics is something like a “word”, i.e. you send some information, but its actual information, that is its meaning – may be blurred. I.e. instead of having only one definite meaning or none at all (“word switched on or off”) the meaning could be ambiguous.

Lets simplify a bit and recall briefly what’s in a normal computer: A computer program can be seen as a high level “translation” of a table of “yes’” and “no’s” or “on and offs”. These tables of “yes” and “no’s” provide rules of how to modify “switches” (electronic components) which are connected so that they form “circuits”. These circuits in the turn modify data (which is also given in terms of “yes’” and no’s”). Sometimes the programm is “hardwired” (like burned into a chip) and thus forms a kind of unit with the electric circuits. In particular a “cascade of switches” can be seen as a programm.

So the information in a normal computer is encoded in terms of bits, i.e. giant tables of the two possibilities “yes” and/or “no”. One calls this often “binary” (logic) which comes from the greek word “bi=two”. In a quantum computer this is different, i.e. the information is “blurred”. This means that the information is usually not a definite “yes” or “no”. So it is a bit like in our above analogy.

One can actually simulate a quantum computer with a normal computer by using the mathematical description of quantum mechanics, however in most cases you would need giant computers for the simulation of a relative small quantum computer.

But lets return to the analogy:
Choosing a “word”, i.e. choosing a bunch of certain possible meanings is in analogy to a “quantum mechanical preparation of a state”. A quantum mechanical “measurement” is in analogy to an “interpretation”. Since the context is influencing the probability of an interpretation one could see “context” in analogy to a set of “quantum gates” or “quantum circuits” which are the “circuits” of a quantum computer.

quantum computer logics versus usual computer logic

Quantum circuits are in in analogy to the usual electronic circuits you have e.g. on your ardunio board, i.e. they manipulate data. However the physical realization of quantum circuits is different from usual electronical circuits since quantum circuits make direct use of quantum mechanics and the usual electronic circuit boards make use of quantum mechanics only in a rather indirect way. In particular the encoding and processing of information in quantum circuits is different (this is what I tried a bit to explain above) from the one for electronic circuits, which use -as already pointed out- binary (or other like e.g. ternary) logics.

Due to this difference this in particular implies that if you remodel binary logical gates like in genetic design (like in synthetic biology e.g. with biobricks or within DNA computing) then the outcome will more resemble an ordinary computer (however with biological substituents and may be partly fuzzy logic) than it will resemble a quantum computer. Although there may be quantum logical effects also in biological composites, as e.g. indicated in this randform post.

limitations of the analogy and a game

Using the above analogies you could play being a quantum computer with your friends. I.e. by sending out ambiguous sentences and by waiting for their interpretation (which you somewhat see by their response). You could form chains (“circuits”), where you transmit the information, similar to the game “Stille Post” – just that you may also reformulate.

However it should be pointed out that the above is only a more or less weak analogy. There are major differences between such a game and real quantum computing. One important difference is that once a quantum mechanical measurement took place the original quantum state is usually considered to be distroyed. In our analogy this would mean that once an interpretation has been made no other interpretation would be possible any more.

In particular if you (I call you Alice) send your information to someone called Bob and someone intercepts your communication and would interpret it then Bob would know that someone intercepted your communication since he couldn’t interpret your message anymore properly. This feature is at the heart of “quantum encryption“. Another basic feature is the socalled “entanglement” which would mean that – looking again at the analogy – two words are entangled. I.e. if someone interpretes one word then the meaning of the other word would be instantanously determined. This feature is at the heart of the socalled quantum teleportation protocoll.

Concluding: such a “quantum computer game” reflects real quantum computation only in a limited way.

On the other hand if one assumes that there may be quantum mechanical effects taking place in our brain then this would shed a different light on such a game. Unfortunately it is also clear that a quantitative evaluation of such a game would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, since it is related to personal interpretation. Maybe one can find more thoughts on that issue in this new book by A. Connes, M. Heller, S. Majid, R. Penrose, J. Polkinghorne and A. Taylor (which I haven’t looked at yet) (book blog).

some applications of quantum computation

One should make some comments on the possible important applications of quantum computers.

One application is that they could be used for evaluating theoretical models of mesoscopic quantum systems, which could be incredible helpful for the design of new materials (like for solar cells or nano medication) (see also this research seminar)(if we generously assume that patent laws are abolished, because otherwise I see quite some conflicts ahead which will be due to patented genes, patented software algorithms, patented processes of nanofabrication etc. )

Another fact is that there are certain computer algorithms with which certain problems can be solved much faster than with ordinary computers. In particular the security systems of banks and military are relying on such algorithms. In other words having such a powerful new computer would mean that one could break more or less into all current security codes in the world.

And that is why i consider it to be highly problematic if private companies are pursuing research in such a security relevant branch. And it would be especially brisant if these companies would be known for pursuing rather restrictive politics with regard to openness, intellectual property rights etc.

But that is also why quantum computing is a rather hot topic and thus a lot of students want to learn it and even do the exercises..:).

In my mathematical work I mainly touched upon a part of quantum computation which is called topological quantum computation. The main (rather loose) connections are dating back to my Ph.D. thesis (from 1996…) which I may put online, if I should ever find the time to do so. I may eventually also write up some stuff, which is sofar still somewhat buried in my mind.