Programmable Quantum Computer

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, CO. have built a quantum computer that is programmable. Unlike previous quantum computers, which were mostly restricted to specific tasks, this computer was able to run 160 different tasks chosen at random by the researchers. It was said to be accurate only 79 percent of the time (estimates are that it must be 99.99% accurate to be useful), but it’s a great next step.

“What’s most impressive and important is that they did it in the way that can be applied to a larger-scale system,” says Blinov, of the University of Washington in Seattle. “The very same techniques they’ve used for two qubits can be applied to much larger systems.”

(Fer chrissakes people, read the original article already, and the original paper itself if you can. My little summary is almost certainly wildly inaccurate, as all short summaries of science articles probably are.)

The Counter-Intuitive Water Bubble

Our intuition is formed by what we commonly experience in our lives.

This video shouldn’t be surprising, given even a basic understanding of how water and air interact. And yet it is because our intuition automatically includes the concept of up and down. Bubbles float up, and water droplets fall down. Get rid of up and down and things don’t act “the way they should”.

I love videos like this that remind me to question intuition. After all, what is intuitive isn’t necessarily true.

(Thanks to Maggie over at Boing Boing for this video)

Atheist Victory?

Demonstrating that they have no clue what the real “War” is about, FoxNews once again frames it as an atheist attack on Christianity.

The reality is that it’s about preventing the government from saying that ONLY Christian symbolism is allowed on public property. It’s not an atheist issue, but a 1st Amendment issue. Atheists “won” last year by being allowed to put up a display of their own. This year is a “victory” only in the sense that all religions are being treated equally for once. That is to say that Christian symbolism is not allowed, just as Buddhist, Islamic Jewish, etc… symbolism is not allowed.

EDIT: Forgot to thank the Atheist Media Blog for the heads up.

Winter Solstice Display

It appears that one of the first shots in the so-called “War On Christmas” has been fired. Last year the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers tried to get a Winter Solstice display put up at the State Capitol. After they submitted the request, and after many follow-up calls they were finally denied with the following response:

[The] Arkansas Secretary of State is charged with the responsibility of preserving and maintaining proper order and decorum on the State Capitol Grounds. At this time, we are unable to fully determine the appearance or qualities of your proposed display. You may submit additional photographs or drawings of your proposed display if you would like us to reconsider your request.

The ASF tried for awhile after that to get (and give) more info, but eventually decided to just try again in a year.

So here it is 2009 and they’re a bit more prepared this time. They submitted another application for a Winter Solstice Display, and since they were denied for being too vague last year, this year they’ve got detailed descriptions and images of exactly what they expect the display to look like. Of course, you’ve probably already guessed that they were once again denied. What reason was given this time? No reason except for the same vague statement about maintaining proper order and decorum:

As we stated last year, the Arkansas Secretary of State as the custodian of the Capitol Grounds is charged with the responsibility of preserving and maintaining proper order and decorum on the State Capitol Grounds…

Obviously part of the reason that the reply was so vague was to avoid any language that could be construed as pro-christmas and therefore pro-religion (i.e. pro-christian). Not being a lawyer myself, I’m not sure exactly what the legal situation actually is. The ACLU says they are looking into it (“the situation is under review”), which I can only assume means they’re trying to determine what, if any, legal recourse the ASF has. I’m guessing that the next step is getting some definitive reason about why the application was denied instead of some vague notion of proper decorum.

In any event, the path is pretty clear. The state is apparently going to put up as many roadblocks as possible, and the ASF is going to steadily work their way around them. If they don’t succeed this year, then they’ll use what they learned to try again next year. In the end one of two things are likely to happen: 1. The state finally relents and allows the Winter Solstice Display to be erected (not likely), or 2. the state finally somehow lets slip that they’re denying the application simply because it’s not a christmas display, and then the legal battle is on.

So why is this even an issue? The religous folks would like you to believe that it’s a direct attack on Christianity by evil atheists for no better reason than because they’re atheists and that’s what they do. The reality is that it’s a very clear First Amendment issue. The relevent wording is here:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

In this case they are doing both by granting rights to Christians which they are denying to everyone else. In other words, by saying “Christmas decorations are allowed, but Solstice decorations are not” the state is saying “Only christian’s may be represented on state owned land.”

It’s late now, and I’m getting tired. To see what my views are on this type of case, see my post on the Mojave Desert Cross (Deep In The Mojave Desert) and it’s followup (Deeper In The Mojave Desert). The situations are very similar, and have the same underlying constitutional problems.

Nuclear Strike Averted

Apparently Obama loyalists flexed their military muscles and shot a nuclear missile at the Denver International Airport!

Either that or it was a meteor. But what are the chances of that? It’s much more likely to be a vast government conspiracy to hide nuclear attacks right in the middle of the U.S. MUCH more likely! MUCH MORE LIKELY!!!!</crazy>

Okay, now that that’s out of my system, this video really is very cool. Dr. Plait over at Bad Astronomy points out that these kinds of meteors probably happen multiple times a year. The difference now is the ubiquity of recording devices which are able to actually record such events.

You know, there may be a lot of drawbacks to the idea of pervasive surveillance, but this is definitely one of the benefits.

Texas Bans Marriage

Apparently, in their zeal to ban gay marriage, Texas may have overshot a little and banned all marriage. The line in their state constitution (added in 2005) causing problems is this one: “This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.” One way to look at it, and apparently a valid legal view, is to say that marriage is identical to marriage and therefore the state of Texas may not recognize it as a valid legal status.

At first blush I thought, you know, that’s one of those little snafu’s that is likely to simply be ignored. Yeah, technically marriage isn’t recognized in the state of Texas any longer. However, no one is likely to pursue that, and so even if it remains unchanged in the constitution it’s not likely to have any real effect.

But as I thought about it more I realized that it’s actually likely to come up at some point or other. The most likely avenue for a challenge to this amendment will be in the case of a divorce. Some lawyer somewhere is going to recognize that it will be a lot easier and more profitable, both for them and their client, to simply argue that the couple was never technically married at all. In that case, I’m not so sure that it won’t have to be upheld. Logically it’s a bit silly, but legal has never necessarily equaled logical.