What does Qonaom mean?

Good question. What do you think?

Well let’s see, I’m working on quantum information, and I’ve been known to dwell in quantum optics, so maybe that’s what QO stands for. It certainly looks like an acronym, so what about the other letters? Nano? Notion? National? Hmmm… The ‘A’ could be for Arrazola, or Aleksandra, but then it it’s hard to see how it relates to the first letters. It would actually be quite a long acronym, and it sort of looks like a word. Perhaps it’s not an acronym after all, but a word in some foreign language, from the Samoan islands or something. Let’s google “qonaom”. Wow, almost nothing. In fact, google thinks I meant ‘condom’! Hey, condom and quantum don’t differ too much in pronunciation. Could this be a sexy play on the term quantum? Nah, too far-fetched. It appears to be a word that never existed before. What could it mean?

It doesn’t stand for anything. It doesn’t mean anything. It is a randomly generated word following this structure:

Q-vowel-consonant-vowel-vowel-consonant.

It is a simple recipe: Provide structure and throw in some randomness. I wanted the Q in the beginning because I hope this will be, mostly, a quantum blog. I wanted something short and I wanted it to be smoothly pronounceable, hence the many vowels. This determines the structure, this is the part that is deliberate. After this, I randomly selected a vowel, a consonant, another two vowels and a last consonant. The result was Qonaom. Things could have turned out differently, this blog could have been called

Qiziis,Qosoac, Qikeoj, Qecoal or Qibeuq,

but it didn’t (as much as I like that first option now!). It is Qonaom. You see, for a long time now, I have been fascinated by the role that randomness plays in the universe. From reducing the communication complexity of the equality function to deciding what genes we inherit from our parents, randomness is everywhere, it is powerful, it is defining and it is a tool.

I remind myself of this fact by making the the role of randomness explicit  whenever I can.  For example, my girlfriend and I have twice done random walks, literally: we would choose whether to go straight or turn at every intersection by tossing a coin. The results were extraordinary. We found a raccoon in Queen’s park, we discovered streets we had never seen and both times we eventually reached our final destination. In Granada, this destination was the Hotel Juan Miguel (it exists!). Randomness is also one of the reasons I enjoy playing poker, it is such an obvious part of the game, and for poker players it is consequentially an enormous part of their lives. Look at this now famous hand, were arguably one of the best players of all-time, Phil Ivey, lost his spot in the main event final table after his opponent, Chris Moneymaker, drew an Ace on the river. Moneymaker went on to win the main event, initiating a ‘poker boom’, that changed the game forever. What if a different card had felt.

Since I’m giving so many examples, here’s another, the opening line of Leonard Mlodinow’s book, The Drunkard’s Walk: “A few year’s ago a man won the Spanish lottery with a ticket that ended in the number 48. Proud of his ‘accomplishment’, he revealed the theory that brought him to riches. ‘I dreamed of the number 7 for seven straight nights’ he said, ‘and 7 times 7 is 48’.” Random!

But this is the point I try to make and to remind myself of. No matter how much control over our lives we may think we have, or hope we have, there is too much about the stories we get to tell that have occurred because of purely random factors completely out of our control. There are no guarantees, there are no flawless recipes, there are always surprises. This is a beautiful thing. Our power is restricted to providing the structure for chance to fall into, we may prepare a quantum state but cannot control what outcomes will result from the arbitrary measurement’s of life. Define the structure and throw the dice. This is something worth remembering.

Qonaom.

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