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An Interview With Dave Bacon

This week, ScienceBlogs gets entangled with Dave Bacon of The Quantum Pontiff as part of our ongoing ScienceBlogger interview series.

What’s your name?
Dave M. Bacon. Yep, those initial spell a sound like “dumb.”

What do you do when you’re not blogging?
I’m a research assistant professor at the University of Washington where I study quantum computing. My main appointment is in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering and I have an adjunct appointment in the Department of Physics. Also while I’m not blogging, I like to ski, hike, make wine, carve stones, and daydream.

More below the fold…

What is your blog called?
The Quantum Pontiff

What’s up with that name?
I like to pontificate. And I love quantum theory. Seemed a natural. For a while my blog was the top hit for the word “pontiff,” which I’m certain means there is a file on me in the Vatican somewhere.

How long have you been blogging, anyway?
Since September, 2003.

Where are you from and where do you live now?
I grew up in the small town of Yreka, California, located about 15 minutes south of the California/Oregon border. This is the “real” northern California (don’t let people from San Francisco trick you; the SF Bay Area is most certainly central California). Yreka is most famous for the fact that “Yreka Bakery” backwards is “Yreka Bakery.” I now live in Seattle, Washington, which is an awesome city — but don’t tell anyone, we’re trying to keep it a secret.

Would you describe yourself as a working scientist?
Well, most days I try to get work done, but often times my work only seems to make science go backwards.

Any educational experiences or degrees you’d like to mention?
I have a double B.S. from Caltech in Physics and in Literature. Those are called the “no jobs” majors (although having a B.S. in literature, as opposed to, say, a B.A., is kind of a cool pun). Since you can’t get a job with those majors, after graduating from Caltech in 1997 I went to U.C. Berkeley where I got a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.

What are your main academic interests, in or out of your field?
I’m interested in all things in physics and computer science. My field sits squarely between these fields, so I get to spy on both and learn all sorts of interesting things. I also like to play their stereotypes off each other for maximum fireworks. In truth I find both cultures and their science equally fascinating. My main interest, for about as long as I can remember, is understanding what the heck quantum theory actually is. Nearly every year I think I learn a little more about the crazy theory and my biggest hope is that by the time I grow old, I’ll have made peace with it.

Last book you read?
A Mathematician’s Apology by G.H. Hardy. Mathematicians have a lot to apologize for, but unfortunately Hardy didn’t apologize enough.

What is your idea of a perfect day?
One where I experience something new, create something new, or learn something new. Did I mention I like creating and creativity?

What’s your greatest habitual annoyance?
People who are without a sense of when they are in the way and people who can’t properly form a line. Can you tell my roots are British? Those Brits are great at forming a queue.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Not exactly a hero, per se, but I love the portrayal of a physicist in Good Benito. I’m a big sucker for all portraits of scientists in fiction.

Your favorite heroes in real life?
I’ll take Richard Feynman for the brilliance and wit, Jerry Rice for the work ethic and determination, Joe Montana for the perseverance and cool, my wife for her vision, Cormac McCarthy for the prose, Jorge Luis Borges for the puzzles with infinity, and my handicapped sister for her Zen-Buddha nature.

What’s your most marked characteristic?
I’ve got a loud laugh. Or so I’ve been told by my office neighbors who come by and shut my door.

What’s your fatal flaw?
Like nearly all physicists, I possess a lot of extralusionary intelligence (i.e. I believe because I know physics and physics is hard, I therefore am certainly qualified to talk about subjects outside of what I know, since they are all easier than physics).

Who are your favorite writers?
Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, Alan Lightman, William Faulkner, Neal Stephenson, Jorge Luis Borges, and Cormac McCarthy.

What would you like to be?
When I was little I wanted to be an astronaut or a ‘cutter doctor’ (i.e. a surgeon). These days I want to be an awesome dad, and the person who figures out something interesting about quantum theory.


  1. #1 Jonathan Vos Post
    December 28, 2007

    Great interview of a fascinating man, who lives in the Labyrinth of Jorge Luis Borges, trying to decide whose paranoia better matches reality (Philip K. Dick or Thomas Pynchon), while discussing Caltech alumni reunions with Alan Lightman, in a cryptohistorical simulation by Neal Stephenson, as told by the unreliable narrators in William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. Oh, and on quantum gravity blues guitar with Richard Feynman accompanying on bongos.

  2. #2 Dave Briggs
    December 28, 2007

    I like Dave Bacon and enjoy his blog very much! Let’s face it, Dave B’s seem to have a certain something about them! LOL!
    Dave Briggs :~)

  3. #3 Ian
    December 28, 2007

    So if we see him drive by, do we give him a wave – or a particle?!