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  • Jen-Luc Piquant sez: "They like us! They really like us!"

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Thanks for writing about Gravity Probe-B! I missed the talk this morning, cause, well, ummm, I was frantically writing my own talk. But I was dying to know what they found, and this is the first I've heard.

As for lost luggage, I haven't had any problems on United, unless, I am traveling through Heathrow. Then it gets "misplaced" every single time. That airport is a baggage blackhole.

Fantastic entry about Gravity Probe B! I learned so much from it, and it provided a lot of good new details about the story that I didn't know. The numbers were really interesting, as well as Everitt's comment that he can see the effect in the unprocessed data. So great to see the light at the end of the tunnel in a landmark project that has spanned decades of hard work and innovation.

So sorry to hear about your airline problems. I have to comment on the United version of "Rhapsody in Blue," though. I wouldn't call it Muzak. It's more new-agey than Muzak, and I happen to like the arrangement (it actually won an advertising-industy music award called the Clio). It's done by two former Broadway pit musicians named John Trivers and Elizabeth Myers (Trivers Myers Music) who also provided the soundtrack for the Apple Macintosh launch. Just had to provide a few words of support for a couple of fellow musicians. Though I COMPLETELY understand if it now annoys you if that music has become associated with an airline that has done you wrong!

Thanks for the excellent discussion about the Gravity Probe B results. It's fascinating to see how an area of inquiry first opened up in the late 17th century is still alive and well. But with my condensed matter background, I can't help but wonder: how *do* they make the smoothest, most perfect spheres, anyway?

Jennifer, THANK YOU for venting my spleen about United. I am a super-duper-1K member and this company used to treat us nicely. They still try, but now that every flight from every city to every other city, every day, is oversold, they have left no flexibility at all for us when there are problems... It's nearly impossible to use miles to fly anywhere as a result, too. Just try to take your 200,000 miles and get a ticket to Europe! Without booking at least a year in advance you can't do it.

And luggage - you are so right. Now we always have to check bags, with the liquid/gell BS. My wife's brand new luggage had the wheel torn off it on its maiden voyage. how do you do that? I tried to tear the other one off and it would take a LOT of force to do that.

Then there is Customer Service. For some stupid reason, United charged me $100 for a change I did not make, put the receipt in my ticket folder, didn't tell me, didn't have me sign anything. They just TOOK MY MONEY FOR NO REASON. I discovered this a few weeks later, and called them after verifying with my Visa that indeed United took my money. They have absolutely no way to give the money back if you call them. They do have a "Refunds Department" which is a phone number you call, and then a computer-generated voice (reminiscent of Stephen Hawking's) leads you for THREE MINUTES through various menu options, not one of which is getting a refund, and then if you stay on the line you are supposed to get a person. But you don't. You get a busy signal, no matter when you call. Oh, sorry, if you call outside their normal hours, you don't get a busy signal, it tells you to call back during normal hours. I've disputed the charge...

"Well, did you check your bag 45 minutes prior to the flight? Because we can't guarantee anything after that."

Oh, this reminds me of my worst United experience, about a year ago. I arrived at O'Hare very early, only to find a check-in line snaking around for absurd lengths. Apparently the automatic check-in kiosks were down and the ticket counter was understaffed. After waiting approximately forever, I arrived at the counter -- 43 minutes before my flight was to depart. Because of this baggage-check rule, I was not allowed to check in for my flight; instead, I was forced to wait to travel standby on a later flight. I arrived at the gate for my flight 30 minutes before it was to leave, only to be told that I could only go standby on later flights. After not being called on the next four flights out to my destination, I called and was told I was far down the standby list and could be guaranteed a seat on another flight -- three days later. At that point I bought a ticket on a different airline out of Midway and promised myself I avoid United whenever possible.

Very nice post! The solution to air travel is obvious, though sadly inaccessible for most of us: There's a reason the whole "timeshare private jet" thing has taken off.

Nice text. And:

Very true: if a wise person pays for science, she or he will try to give them as much time as needed to get as accurate results as the laws of Nature allow them.

6 April 2004, Dilbert, by Scott Adams:

Dogbert: I plan to start my own No-Frills airline.

Dogbert: For only $23, I'll let people hold out their arms and run to their destinations.

Dogbert: And they won't be allowed to eat or swallow their own saliva.

disclaimer: I live near Detroit, a hub of Northworst Airlines. I now fly exlclusively on Dogbert Air. Yes, my arms are tired. That which does not kill you makes you stronger.

It is good to see you travelling to events like AAAS. I learned to avoid that airline (and Heathrow) years ago. As much as I grew up with aeroplanes, it is more relaxing (when one has the time) to travel by surface--trains or ships. My conference travels on America's Amtrak have been most pleasurable. One train to Florida even allows you to bring a car.

Yes I know, our schedules are so busy that we can only take planes. That is a problem in itself--isn't all this technology supposed to make our lives easier?

Thank you Jennifer for a wonderful article. Your explanations are sublime. I was halfway through and I was thinking "hey, this is so easy and straightforward". And then I realized that the only thing easy and straightforward was the writing. I was given _Quantum Cat_ for Christmas, read it immediately and then found this blog. Maybe someday I'll have something intelligent to add.

You lost me when you went into the technical aspects of teleporting, however now you know why teleconferencing is so popular.
On lost baggage, why do you check-in any bag whatsoever. For the sake of having a liquid bottle of makeup or toothpaste which could be purchased at destination, is it worth it to check in the bag. Travel light and wear bikinis then try a different airline like Jet Blue. I believe UA has the worse reputation, after all they are employee owned, what to expect.

The perpetual cry of "Mañana, Mañana..." from GP-B was a perpetual source of mirth among us graduate students at Stanford, but I was glad to see that they finally launched.

One year for the Christmas party, we wrote an overly long skit that was a retooled Dickensian Christmas Carol rewritten as the grad school experience, complete with Professor Scrooge and the poor put-upon and long suffering grad student Bob Crachet (played by your truly...). Our story was loosely to have taken place at Stanford.

One of the many inside jokes was the sign in the lab that stayed up as one cycled through the ghosts of Xmas's past, present, and future that always read "GP-B Launch date 5 years off!" or something to that effect.

The highlight of this play was Bob Laughlin playing the part of himself as "Tiny Bob" and bringing down the house with his plaintive closing wail "God fund us everyone!"

What can I say...Dorks.

>I can't help but wonder: how *do* they make
>the smoothest, most perfect spheres, anyway?

Answer... very carefully. I saw the setup once and it seemed to me to be decidedly low tech with just 4 polishing posts setup as coming from the vertices of a trilateral pyramid towards the center with a superfine diamond slurry. The quartz spheres were coated with a superconducting niobium layers, but perhaps there was an intermediate polishing step.

The revolution in travel won't be quicker travel, it will be something other than travel. How many times do people have to say, "This is insane" before they realize that it's insane?

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.