Africa: "When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers."

When Nigeria handed over a disputed peninsula to Cameroon last year, it looked a lot like a happy ending -- a war averted and, in the words of the United Nations secretary general, "a model for negotiated settlements of border disputes." But as a recent BBC radio broadcast showed, even a "model" solution can leave displaced people feeling trampled.

I bring this up not to criticize the International Court of Justice ruling or the subsequent settlement which gave the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon and caused 300,000 Nigerians to leave their homes and livelihoods. After all, one of the very real alternatives was war. Rather, I'm sharing this story because it's a reminder that we need to have some humility about just how imperfect the best-case scenarios of diplomacy and international justice can be for the people who end up living with the practical consequences of a peace treaty, a court ruling, a relocation, or the redrawing of a map.


"When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. We are the grass. We are suffering a lot," a lifelong Bakassi fisherman now trying to make his way as a landlocked farmer told the BBC's Sam Olukoya.

I heard Olukoya's radio documentary about the displaced Bakassi Nigerians via the October 3, 2009 edition of the African Perspective podcast. Sadly, in what amounts to a genuine oddity in the Internet age, the full story seems to have vanished from the BBC web site. The site does have this summary. If I ever find a working link to the actual radio piece, I will post it here on my Global Pedestrian blog.

In the meantime, that quote from the radio piece keeps knocking around in my brain: "When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers."

We live in a world where today's suffering grass can become tomorrow's insurgency or even tomorrow's terrorism. One hopes that the fighting elephants will keep the grass in mind more and more in the years to come.

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Quantum entanglement. Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles or events (left and right) interacting at a distance. Quantum entanglement is one of the consequences of quantum theory. Two particles will appear to be linked across space and time, with changes to one of the particles (such as an observation or measurement) affecting the other one. This instantaneous effect appears to be independent of both space and time, meaning that, in the quantum realm, effect may precede cause.
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  • For a time, quantum computing was more theory than fact.
  • That's starting to change.
  • New quantum computer designs look like they might be scalable.

Quantum computing has existed in theory since the 1980's. It's slowly making its way into fact, the latest of which can be seen in a paper published in Nature called, "Deterministic teleportation of a quantum gate between two logical qubits."

To ensure that we're all familiar with a few basic terms: in electronics, a 'logic gate' is something that takes in one or more than one binary inputs and produces a single binary output. To put it in reductive terms: if you produce information that goes into a chip in your computer as a '0,' the logic gate is what sends it out the other side as a '1.'

A quantum gate means that the '1' in question here can — roughly speaking — go back through the gate and become a '0' once again. But that's not quite the whole of it.

A qubit is a single unit of quantum information. To continue with our simple analogy: you don't have to think about computers producing a string of information that is either a zero or a one. A quantum computer can do both, simultaneously. But that can only happen if you build a functional quantum gate.

That's why the results of the study from the folks at The Yale Quantum Institute saying that they were able to create a quantum gate with a "process fidelity" of 79% is so striking. It could very well spell the beginning of the pathway towards realistic quantum computing.

The team went about doing this through using a superconducting microwave cavity to create a data qubit — that is, they used a device that operates a bit like a organ pipe or a music box but for microwave frequencies. They paired that data qubit with a transmon — that is, a superconducting qubit that isn't as sensitive to quantum noise as it otherwise could be, which is a good thing, because noise can destroy information stored in a quantum state. The two are then connected through a process called a 'quantum bus.'



That process translates into a quantum property being able to be sent from one location to the other without any interaction between the two through something called a teleported CNOT gate, which is the 'official' name for a quantum gate. Single qubits made the leap from one side of the gate to the other with a high degree of accuracy.

Above: encoded qubits and 'CNOT Truth table,' i.e., the read-out.

The team then entangled these bits of information as a way of further proving that they were literally transporting the qubit from one place to somewhere else. They then analyzed the space between the quantum points to determine that something that doesn't follow the classical definition of physics occurred.


They conclude by noting that "... the teleported gate … uses relatively modest elements, all of which are part of the standard toolbox for quantum computation in general. Therefore ... progress to improve any of the elements will directly increase gate performance."

In other words: they did something simple and did it well. And that the only forward here is up. And down. At the same time.

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700,000 Japanese people are thought to be hikikomori, modern-day hermits who never leave their apartments (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images).
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