Quantum geekdom

Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

My brain exploded this week. Two words: quantum computing. I learnt about it in Simon Singh’s The code book: The secret history of codes and code-breaking, a goldmine of geekdom. In quantum mechanics, when we don’t know what a particle is doing, it can be doing everything possible simultaneously, and only when we observe it directly does it do just one thing. This is why Schrödinger’s cat, shut in a box with a vial of cyanide, is both dead and alive (a ‘superposition’ of states, as it’s called), and only definitively one or the other when we take a look. Now, what about quantum computers? Ask a normal computer two questions, and it first computes one and then the other, sequentially. But a quantum computer would enter a superposition of two states, one for each question. So it would need radically less time for complex operations, and thus have unimaginable power. Sure blew my mind, anyway.

What I haven’t done

Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

Summer’s gone, as are all my hopes for it. Run a half marathon. Clean my room from top to bottom. Learn to cook something involving an intact piece of meat (I can cook, but specialise in curries. Steaks and roasts terrify me.) Prepare a presentation and work on a journal article. Get more sleep. Watch the latest season of Flikken Maastricht, ostensibly to ‘improve my Dutch’. Buy one of those newfangled smartphones (or any phone, really). Reset all my passwords, and then make a concerted effort to learn them rather than storing them in a Word file on my desktop called ‘passwords’. Oh, and do my PhD. Clearly, I should have known better: No-one ever does the last thing on their to-do list.

A thousand little pieces

Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

My dissertation is in a thousand little pieces. Chopped up in bits scattered all over the floor, in a state of massive restructuring. I read notes that I took two years ago which seemed vitally important then, that now aren’t even in my field. (Psycholinguistics? What was I thinking!) I move the introduction down, bring the conclusion up, turn the results section upside down and then write a whole new introduction. I rack my brain to figure out what question I’m trying to answer; to remember what I’m even studying. Then I get an email from an Amsterdam conference organiser: will I need a beamer* for my upcoming presentation? And then I remember – ah, that was it. Dunglish.

* Beamer in this context is a Dutch word. The English word for the same contraption is ‘projector’. In English, ‘beamer’ refers to a BMW car. In which case, the answer is yes – I’d love one, thanks.

The switch

Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

A driver is taking a famous professor to an important lecture. ‘I’m sick of this lark’, says the professor. ‘You’ve been at all my lectures. How about you give this one?’ And so the driver climbs on stage, clears his throat, takes a breath, and knocks the socks right off that lecture. Now for question time. Up gets an audience member with a thoughtful look, praise for the important contribution, and an obscure, four-part question. Says the driver, still in the spotlight: ‘That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard. I bet even my driver could answer that. Bill, would you?’

My only question: since when do professors have drivers?