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Making a living out of life, quantum cryptography, and sundry other things

November 28, 2011

Just a bunch of observations/stories I thought I would share.

Making a living out of life

My object in living is to unite 
My avocation and my vocation 
As my two eyes make one in sight. 
Only where love and need are one, 
And the work is play for mortal stakes, 
Is the deed ever really done 
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Robert Frost

 (Two Tramps in Mud Time)

Chennai’s been drenched in rains for the past few days. And it’s ‘mud time’ here, all the time. And puddles galore! A chill in the breeze, one can feel, on a casual walk by the shore. When I was in school, probably in the seventh standard or so, we read of the ‘two tramps’ Frost wrote about, and the mud and the slush reminds me of that. For poetry was quite a favourite in school, by far one of the few things I still remember, or which come back to me every once in a while. And this is despite the presumed ‘insignificance’ of poetry (at least in school) compared to more ‘useful’ pursuits. The last stanza (that I have quoted above) is my favourite part of Frost’s poem, for it beautifully captures the one thing that matters — a life where ‘love and need are one, and the work is play for mortal stakes’. Rains are fun, with the occasional sunshine. When it’s all grey for more than a day, it’s kind of gloomy. Fun though the rains are, I’m not (yet) doing this (much as I wish I could):

Quantum Cryptography

A while back, Gilles Brassard, well-known (especially in quantum circles) for his development of the BB84 protocol in quantum cryptography with Charles Bennett, delivered a public talk at Matscience on the history and development of quantum cryptography (the details of which I am not going to burden you with). The only reason I mention this is because there’s a curious story in there, as Brassard narrated it. Stephen Wiesner, who (pre)pioneered quantum information science with his proposal of putting quantum mechanics to use in quantum money, could not publish his idea for over a decade because no one seemed to show any interest in it. As Brassard mentioned (you can hear that bit here:

 from the man himself), it was while he was swimming in the ocean (at San Juan, Puerto Rico) that Bennett swam up to him to share Wiesner’s (who was Bennett’s friend) idea about quantum money that would be impossible to counterfeit. That’s where quantum cryptography was in some sense born. By the time they reached the shore (and I checked this with Brassard in the Q&A post the talk) he already had ideas about how to improve the scheme. From this story, Brassard made a couple of observations: if you have a crazy idea, talk to your friends about it; if your friend has a crazy idea, hear her out. For Wiesner had a ‘crazy’ idea he spoke about to his friends; of them, Bennett paid attention; Bennett shared the idea with Brassard who found it interesting. And that’s how quantum cryptography got a start!

And sundry other things

I want to get things done, but I also want to figure stuff out!

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