UW News

August 6, 2009

UW blog profile: Meet the ‘Quantum Pontiff’

UW News

Editor’s Note: Members of the UW community are increasingly expressing themselves in personal blogs about their interests, professional matters or some combination of the two. University Week will occasionally feature brief profiles of these blogs and their authors.

From discussions of quantum computing to stream-of-consciousness posts about himself and his colleagues, Dave Bacon offers a mix of science and silliness on his blog, “The Quantum Pontiff.”

In the blog, Bacon, a UW research assistant professor in Computer Science and Engineering, calls himself a “theoretical ski bum who is also a pseudo professor.” He adds, in the third person, “Nothing he says on this blog should be construed as having anything to do with his employer or his dog.” He includes a photo of his dog, Tess, whom he separately described as “probably part lab — part hound, part something unidentified, and one large part attitude!”

Bacon writes of himself, “Dave works in the field of quantum computing, which many computer scientists think of as physics and many physicists think of as computer science. Because his research area sits in between disciplines, he obtains an immense amount of pleasure watching the culture of physicists and computer scientists collide.”

Recent Quantum Pontiff posts have discussed a widget for asteroid watching, a colleague’s request to recharge his creativity by reading “the 100 most important papers of the decade,” an index for ranking citation counts and the return, after a three-year absence, of a rude commenter — to which Bacon replies, “Welcome back, friend!”

You can read the Quantum Pontiff here.

University Week asked Bacon a few questions about The Quantum Pontiff, and he pontificated as follows:

Q: How long have you been writing this blog, and how did it get its start?

A: I started the blog in September of 2003 on my Web site dabacon.org while I was a postdoc at Caltech. In November of 2007 the blog moved to its current home on Scienceblogs.com. Scienceblogs is Seed magazine’s scientific blogging community which consists of 74 blogs on a variety of scientific topics.

Q: What is its purpose and who is its intended audience?

A: My number one purpose is to slow down my fellow researchers. Every time I spend a few minutes writing a blog post, thousands of others spend a few minutes reading the post. Many of those are my fellow researchers in quantum computing. So making them waste their time by reading my blog is a great way to multiply my own procrastination and keep them from beating me out in research!

More seriously, the intended audience is anyone who is interested in physics and computer science (particularly researchers in quantum computing), and anyone who likes bad jokes.

Q: Have you had any interesting interactions with readers, through comments or e-mails?

A: Many. The most interesting comment thread I’ve had was one arising from a blog post I made about Dr. Wayne Dyer, a self-help guru you may have seen on PBS pledge drives: Read it here. A few offhanded remarks I made about his television show led to a comment thread which now has over 2000 comments!

Q: What are your best — or worst — experiences in having a blog?

A: Blogging is a great way to keep in touch with my fellow researchers. The worst experience is that blogging tends to attract (usually anonymous) comments that are quite angry or rude. Restraining myself in responding to these is a challenge.

Q: Do you have any plans for where you’ll take the blog in the future?

A: I suspect blogs are a bit of a transitory beast and so I’m very interested in newer versions of blogging that allow for a more robust interaction among users. In particular I’d like to move towards using blog-like software which can help online communication among researchers. This idea, that online tools can significantly aid communication (some call it Science 2.0) is very appealing to me and I’m tempted to push my blog, or a new blog, along this route.

Do you know of a blog written by a member of the UW community that would be of interest to UWeek’s faculty and staff readers? Drop us a line at uweek@u.washington.edu.

  • The last UW Blog Profile was about Elizabeth Lowry’s “Seattle Backyard Farm.” To read that article, click here.