Thursday, 28 May 2020

Kati of Terra Book 2 – On Assignment to the Planet of the Exalted On Amazon (on Amazon, Kindle and Soft Cover)

Kati of Terra Book 2 – On Assignment to the Planet of the Exalted On Amazon (on Amazon, Kindle and Soft Cover)

Go on a romantic adventure, to bring to justice a dangerous planetary elite that has gone horribly wrong, with our gal Kati of Terra and her companion Mikal (and, of course her ever helpful but cantankerous Granda node):

Kati of Terra: Book Two – On Assignment to the Planet of the Exalted

After narrowly escaping the pursuit of the slave trader Gorsh on Makros III, the Drowned Planet, Kati of Terra has arrived on the planet Lamania, the home world of her alien companion and fellow escapee, Mikal r’ma Trodden.   The bureaucracy of the Lamanian Social Services, however, insists that the two be separated for half-a-Lamanian year, to ensure that this Wilder woman is not being exploited by her more urbane lover, who is also a Star Federation agent.  In principle a worthy policy, it has left Kati without Mikal’s company while dealing with the loss of her connection to her young son Jake, and the knowledge that she will never be able to return home to Earth.
While exploring her new environment, she is confronted with the realization that Gorsh has spread his tentacles into the Star Federation.  She identifies and rescues a young victim of the slave trade, using knowledge gained during her and Mikal’s period of captivity on Gorsh’s ship.
She agrees to take the lead role in an undercover investigation of the venerable Federation planet, Vultaire, which seems to be implicated in the lawlessness.  Apparently the members of the planet’s upper class, known as the Exalted Citizens, have grown corrupt, some of them even taking up slave-ownership, alongside numerous other vices.  With three companions, Kati forms the Unofficial Investigative Team into the Conditions on the Planet Vultaire.  The team members make their way, clandestinely, there, and undertake their investigation while posing as an itinerant Entertainment Troupe.  Secretly, they make common cause with the downtrodden locals, including elements of the resistance to the oligarchy.
Meanwhile, Mikal, the Federation agent, is sent to explore the Xeonsaur connection to the slave trade.  It has to do with a captive member of the lizard species who has been forced to navigate Slaver Gorsh’s space ship through vast distances during its slave-snatching operations.  Mikal too must make common cause; he does so with a beautiful female of the reptilian/humanoid race, the life-partner to the unhappy Xeonsaur captive.
Kati and Mikal must make their separate ways and overcome separate obstacles and dangers, before re-uniting in the struggle on Vultaire.  Their reunion as battlers against the slave trade coincides with the end of their forced separation, ushering in a time of new connection.  However, together on Vultaire, they need all the resources and ingenuity that they and their companions have, to stay alive, and to help heal the Vultairian society, as well as the very planet itself from the sickness that the corruptions have caused.
This is a full-length novel of about 260,000 words (equivalent to a paperback of about 500 pages).  Please note that the Kati of Terra novels are written so that they can be read as stand-alone books.  Kati of Terra Book 2 can be enjoyed by readers who have not yet read Kati of Terra Book 1.  Naturally, we encourage people to read both novels to experience all the adventure and romance of the Kati of Terra series

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Kati of Terra Book 1 – Science Fiction/Romance/Adventure on Amazon (Kindle and Soft Cover)

Kati of Terra Book 1 – Escape from the Drowned Planet (on Amazon, Kindle and Soft Cover Paper Book)

Go on a romantic adventure, a sort of spaceship and planet-side road trip, while escaping from dangerous slavers, with our gal Kati of Terra and her companion Mikal (and, of course her ever helpful but cantankerous Granda node):

Kati of Terra: Book One – Escape from the Drowned Planet

In saving her small son from alien abductors, a 24-year-old Earth woman, Katie, finds herself abducted instead. She awakens from a drug-induced coma on a spaceship, in a room full of children, both human and alien, and two other women, younger than she is. The young women adapt to the situation as best they can, keeping the youngsters calm and entertained. But, when a drugged alien man wearing a uniform is added to the captive cargo, it becomes clear that this is an intergalactic slave operation.
The slave traders implant their captives with “translation nodes” in order to allow communication among various groups. These are living entities, normally docile, merely enhancing certain brain functions, such as language acquisition. However, Katie discovers that she has accidentally received a very special “granda node”, a long-lived node with its own cantankerous personality, including a fondness for criminality and lethal weaponry. Fortunately for Katie, it also values its freedom. With its help, she escapes on a fringe planet, dragging the peace officer along—also at the granda’s suggestion.
She finds herself on a strange world, with a somewhat deranged personality, quite possibly a killer, in her head, and partnered with a man from an advanced civilization who abhors killing. He is a Federation Peace Officer, captured by the slavers while attempting to bring them to justice. His task is complicated by the fact that he has sworn to avoid the taking of sentient life during the performance of his duties. He can and does, however, make vigorous use of non-lethal weaponry. Since, before leaving the ship, Katie had promised to help her co-captives gain their liberty, she and the alien peace officer find that they have a common cause.
But first they must find their way off the primitive planet and get to the Federated Civilization, avoiding the slavers who have been left on the planet to re-capture them. Their flight is complicated by the fact that the planet has had a global warming catastrophe some centuries back – the locals refer to it as the Drowned World. This has forced the inhabitants to revert to a pre-industrial state of development; however, they are a wily and resourceful people, mostly helpful, but they can also be dangerous.
Kati (to mark her escape, she adopts a slight name change) and Mikal seek a Federation beacon, which had been hidden on this planet ages ago, to aid in situations such as this, (in accord with a longstanding Federation policy for fringe worlds). They must embark on an arduous trek across two continents and an ocean, seeking the temple that holds the beacon. They travel on foot, by cart, by riverboat, by tall sailing ship, and on pack animals, always pursued by the dangerous slavers.
They must rely on their wits, guile, charm and acting abilities to avoid recapture, while their chasers have advanced technology and ruthlessness on their side. Fortunately, they are able to make many friends who help them along the way, and their quest becomes a series of adventures, both frightening and funny, and involving a cast of engaging characters.
To complicate matters, Kati finds herself falling in love with Mikal, the strange, handsome and amusing alien. He seems to be reciprocating, though they both struggle against an untimely romantic entanglement.
Will Kati and Mikal escape from the Drowned Planet? Can they ultimately bring the slavers to justice, as Mikal has sworn to do? Can they free the remaining captives of the slavers, as Kati has promised to do? Read this book and the rest of the series to find out all.
At about 200,000 words (equivalent to a paperback of about 400 pages), the book is an excellent value.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Quantum Computing Moves to the Cloud (D-Wave Systems, 2020)

Quantum Computing Moves to the Cloud (D-Wave Systems, 2020)

2020 Update

In an earlier blog, I did a report on a talk given at the University of Alberta, by a D-Wave scientist on that company’s Quantum Computing progress (the blog is reproduced below).  The company makes use of a super-cooled processor that can take advantage of quantum superposition effects, particularly quantum tunnelling (the process is called quantum annealing).  This is used primarily for optimization problems in data science, enabling the algorithm to escape from being trapped in a local minima during gradient descent and the like (see my comically simplified picture below).  It also has interesting scientific modelling possibilities as well being potentially useful to Wall Street for financial modelling purposes and to governments for various security applications. 

The cooling down to near absolute zero is needed to ensure that the quantum coherence on which the processing is based can last long enough to actually be useful.  However this, along with the intricacies of the chip itself add up to an expensive and complicated machine.

The April 28, 2020 Globe and Mail Report on Business had some more news about the company’s strategy, in this case to move the business to the cloud, rather than try to sell the actual hardware.  Selling the hardware (for $15 Million or more) was a hard sell.  It was a lot of money to spend on a machine that not many people had figured out how to code, as well as not being sure which problems it was best suited to solve.  One is reminded of the early computing days, when IBM was reputed to have said that only a few organizations in the world would ever use a computer.  "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943.

So, to get around this problem, D-Wave is selling time on its hardware via the cloud.  The CEO of the company, Alan Baratz, worked this cloud angle previously, with the development of Java while working for Sun Microsystems in the 1990s.  Finance and well-heeled tech people (NEC, Amazon, Goldman-Sachs, the CIA and others) seem to like the idea, as they have shovelled a lot of money to D-Wave for this purposes (well over $300 million).

By going to the cloud, organizations can test out the possibilities of quantum computing for specific applications and develop expertise in the complicated coding (e.g. parallel processing) needed to make use of its special abilities.  At the same time, D-Wave can generate more business, and presumably steady contracts, from a larger client base than it could via selling hardware.

2017 Blog

The Speaker

We went to a lecture the other week (September 28, 2017) about developments in quantum computing, put on by the University of Alberta, for the Physics and Research Symposium and Public Outreach program.  The lecture was given by Dr. Emile Hoskinson, an experimental physicist at D-Wave Systems (located in Burnaby, British Columbia, near Vancouver), and thus focussed on that corporation’s “spin” (no quantum mechanics pun intended) on quantum computing.  Dr. Hoskinson did his undergrad at UBC, and his PhD at Berkeley. He went to high school just down way from the U of A, though, at Archbishop MacDonald High School, so he had a local connection.

He described his job as “to design, process, test, calibrate, and run experiments to evaluate performance of the D-Wave supercomputers”.  He also described his workplace as “one of the coolest places there is”, a riff on the fact that quantum computing is just plain cool, in the vernacular sense of the term, and that the process itself operates at near absolute zero, for reasons described below.

I should note that the talk was pitched at a general audience, so he intended it to be understandable, yet not dumbed down.  I think he succeeded in that objective, and I sensed that the audience would agree with that.  He also did a physics colloquium during his visit – presumably that was a more technical presentation.

I should also note that the public talk didn’t go into quantum theory in any depth – quantum tunnelling and superpositions were the main aspects of quantum theory that were touched upon.  So, it no doubt helped to have had some acquaintance with quantum theory, to get a better handle on the talk.  I have some background – basically lots of reading, and what mathematical/technical understanding that an undergrad in physics will confer.  But, obviously, to understand the technology at a deeper level would require a significant immersion in the subject.  The D-Wave site has plenty of description and documentation that the interested reader can peruse.

Quantum Computing Progress

There are several approaches to using quantum phenomena for computing, and D-Wave specializes in one particular approach, but more about that a bit further on.  It should be noted that the D-Wave approach has both academic and commercial aspects.  On the commercial side, buyers have included such outfits as NASA, Google and Lockheed Martin, and some 150 patents have been filed.  On the academic side, there have been some 90 peer reviewed papers written, relating to the technology. 

D-Wave One, their first commercial quantum computer was released in 2010; it had 128 Qbits of quantum processing capacity.  D-Wave 200Q is the most recent release, in 2017; it has 2000 Qbits of capacity.  The capacity of these computers has followed “Moore’s Law” like trajectory, with the number of Qbits increasing from 4 in 2004 (early research) to about 10,000 in 2018 (20,000 is possible in the next release).

 Here’s my graph of that, from some things said during the talk (note that it is not official by any means, and I only have 4 data points).  I make the doubling time to be about 1.25 years.

I should note that a Qbit is something like a “bit” in regular computing.  However, where a regular bit can be in two states (and thus naturally leads to binary Boolean logic), a Qbit can exist in State 0 (off), State 1 (on) or a superposition of the two.  You can now meditate upon Schrodinger’s Cat, to consider the ramifications of such a device.  Plus, think a bit about quantum tunnelling.  As will be explained a bit later (to the extent it can be explained),  quantum tunnelling is probably the key phenomenon that D-Wave’s make use of.

The Quantum Computer

So, what is a quantum computer, as operationalized by D-Wave?  Visually, as he demonstrated in his presentation, it looks pretty much like a big black box. 

The Black Box

The black box has two main purposes:
  • It acts as a Faraday Cage, keeping stray electromagnetic signals away from the quantum chip, which does the quantum part of quantum computing.  Stray signals can interfere with the delicate process of maintaining quantum superpositions, which, of course, is the key to a quantum computer’s advantage over regular computing.
  • It contains the hardware necessary to produce the low temperatures at which the quantum chip operates.  Again, this has to do with maintaining a quantum superposition state for useful lengths of time – thermal agitation at the molecular level (i.e. heat) will also interfere with this.
  • The operating temperatures for the quantum chip are about 15 milli-Kelvins, or about 15 thousands of a Celsius degree above absolute zero.
  • The computer’s temperature is lowered via multiple stages, with each stage dropping the temperature more and more.   The final stage contains the quantum chip.

Fridge Wiring

The quantum chip looks pretty normal, somewhat like a GPU processer used in graphics applications.  It actually is based on small, but still macroscopic devices which create superconducting current loops.  Thus, the need for near absolute zero temperatures.  The current can flow in either of the two directions around the loop, creating a digital one or zero.  But it can also quantum tunnel between these states, which is the key to quantum computing, of course.  The direction and amplitude of the current in these loops is altered by applying a magnetic bias to the loop.  In this respect it sounded to me somewhat like “core” memory in the old mainframes of the past era, but with a superconducting quantum twist to it.

Quantum Chip

Note that the computer also has a conventional front end, as well as the quantum chip back end.  The quantum computer, as realized with this technology is only productive for certain types of problems, that it is optimized for.  These tend to be algorithms that don’t scale up to huge sizes well.



Quantum Computer Applications

An example given was essentially as sort of permutation problem, which has a huge search space as it is scaled up.  Finding the most efficient solution to a logistical problem or a consumer preference optimization might come to mind – problems in finding correlations in genetics were another example mentioned.

Suppose one was searching for an optimal solution to such a permutation problem.  Normally, finding the global minimum in such a search space would soon get out of hand, as the problem would grow exponentially as it is scaled up.

But, with clever design of the quantum chip, the chip can be made in such a way that it mimics the physical or conceptual problem.   The chip can then quantum tunnel to get out of a local minimum, which can be a huge problem in conventional computing, requiring computing time and resources that are not practical (it sounds like a gradient descent problem, a key aspect of many AI algorithms).  However, the quantum chip will evolve to a ground state solution, via quantum mechanics.  If the chip has been designed to mimic the physical problem, this can give the solution to the problem.

Note that this can involve a lot of custom design of the chip, to fit the specified problem.  Obviously, not all interesting and useful problems in computing can be solved via this technology.  More general purpose quantum computers are being explored, though they are still in the early stages.

In some ways, the D-Wave quantum computer reminded me of analogue computers, in the sense that the hardware is built to mimic a physical problem of interest.  In the past, if I recall correctly, this was a method for solving differential equations.  Basically, one designed a circuit that corresponded to a particular differential equation, and solved the equation via analysis of the corresponding circuit’s behaviour.

Richard Feynman on Quantum Computing

Dr. Hoskinson noted that Richard Feynman once said about the possibilities of quantum computing:
And I'm not happy with all the analyses that go with just the classical theory, because nature isn't classical, dammit, and if you want to make a simulation of nature, you'd better make it quantum mechanical, and by golly it's a wonderful problem, because it doesn't look so easy.
International Journal of Theoretical Physics, VoL 21, Nos. 6/7, 1982 Simulating Physics with Computers Richard P. Feynman

This is pretty mind bending stuff, so I would also add that he once quoted as saying:

 "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."
I think many of us can agree with him on that point, and that goes double for understanding quantum computers.  Nonetheless, the lecture was very informative, entertaining and engaging.


Now that you have read of some cutting edge science, you should consider reading some Science Fiction.  How about a short story, set in the Arctic, with some alien and/or paranormal aspects.  Only 99 cents on Amazon.

The Magnetic Anomaly: A Science Fiction Story

“A geophysical crew went into the Canadian north. There were some regrettable accidents among a few ex-military who had become geophysical contractors after their service in the forces. A young man and young woman went temporarily mad from the stress of seeing that. They imagined things, terrible things. But both are known to have vivid imaginations; we have childhood records to verify that. It was all very sad. That’s the official story.”