United Airlines Frustration

A few months ago I booked a UAL round-trip flight for my wife and myself from San Francisco to Maui and used Mileage Plus miles for First-Class upgrades. A while later we decided to extend the trip, but when we called United to change the return flight they told us we had to pay a $100 fee for each leg including the outbound flight, which we weren’t changing. $400 total, so I told them to forget it. Oh, and we would have lost the upgrades even for the flight we weren’t changing. I figured I’d just get to Maui and make the change after I arrived. No way, I assumed, they would charge me to change the inbound flight we’d already completed.

Today I called from Maui to make that change, and while they didn’t want to charge me to change the SFO-OGG leg, they told me I’d have to pay the $100 change fee plus the airfare difference ($424) for a total for the two of us of $1,048. Again, I told ’em to forget it. That’s more than I paid for the round trip to begin with.

But two hours later, on a whim, I called back and was quoted only $175 each ($350 total) for the two of us. Nearly $700 less expensive than earlier this afternoon and $50 cheaper than a few months ago. Needless to say, I took them up on the offer before the agent in India could discover she’d made a mistake or something. United is totally whacked

TWiTLive: The Numbers

It was my pleasure once again to be a guest on Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech. (Hopefully it wasn’t just because I wrote nice things about him. :-)) Towards the end of the show there were more than 3,000 people watching the live video stream on Stickam. I predict this will support “Doug’s 100-to-1” law in which I claim that the number of people attending or listening to a live event will grow by two orders of magnitude as an on-demand program. That means >300,000 listeners to the TWiT podcast, which I believe is in the ballpark for Leo’s show. (This link will be live when Leo post’s the show.)

This law stems from our very first podcasts of O’Reilly Media conferences back in 2004. With 400 attendees at the physical we almost always reached 40,000 unique individuals with the podcast editions. 1,000 physical attendees? …100,000 unique downloaders. I’ve long used this law as the basis for why events should be recorded, produced and distributors. Event producers are otherwise only reaching 1% of their potential audience. And the other 99% comes along almost for free.

LifeCasting Goes Pro

The idea of LifeCasting (informal very-long format live video) probably started with Justin.tv and was then built on by Chris Pirillo. I found it particularly fascinating during last year’s iPhone launch, covered by Robert Scoble and others, but generally just a curious phenomenon. For a few years now, a number of people have wondered what would happen if you were to marry media professionals with this technology. That’s essentially what we’ve done with spoken-word audio on The Conversations Network, and the opportunity for a live, pro-quality video network is something I’ve wanted to see or do for a long time.

Now it’s here. At TWiTLive.com, Leo Laporte is streaming 25 hours per week via (for now) Stickam. Leo’s video is nothing more than letting us watch his many podcasts live in production: TWiT, Security Now, Net@Nite, etc. It’s still rough around the edges — only one camera is running so far — but it’s already very entertaining. They key is that Leo, as always, transcends the technology. He’s committed to the same broadcast quality he brings to audio podcasting. It’s not just his own professionalism, but the production values as well: excellent content and guests, good lighting, good video and (of course) excellent audio. The low-quality audio from most LifeCasters is irritating and tiring. I can leave Leo’s show running all day.

In fact, I already do leave Leo’s show running all day. I work in a home office, and until recently I’ve always had CNN or MSNBC on the TV while I work except when I’m recording or mixing audio. I’m not sure why. Maybe I just miss having other humans around the workplace. Well now I have Leo and his guests to keep me company, and it’s great. Just as TWiT will be remembered as an audio podcast milestone, TWiTLive is already a breakthrough in streaming video. It leverages everything Leo has done during his distinguished career. It’s not the rebirth of TechTV, it’s something much better.

New Look for IT Conversations

We’ve just turned on a new page layout for IT Conversations. Lots of Ajax and widgets have helped us reduce the size of the pages and improve performance and at the same time increase the functionality. You may need to snoop around to find your favorite features, but they’re all there along with some new ones. New looks for our other channels will follow shortly.

My New Widget Architecture

I was chatting with David Marks of Loomia about the version 4 rewrite of The Conversations Network’s web sites, and he asked whether I’d blogged about it. Haven’t yet, so here’s part of it…

The new sites will be extremely dynamic with nearly everything loaded at runtime via Ajax widgets, some nested within other widgets, sometimes three-deep. Even with all the HTTP requests, the pages are so much simpler and built with so many fewer lines of code, the new site is noticeably faster.

Placing a widget on a page is about as simple as it gets. For example, the following HTML is all it takes to display the most-popular recently published shows for a channel:

My widgetLoader looks for

elements with className ‘cnWidget’. In the above case it then makes a prototype.js Ajax call to /widget/mostPopularRecent (which is rewritten to mostPopularRecent.php in our case), which then returns the content of the
. Dirt simple!

For widgets that require arguments, I just include the values as a Json string within the

such as:

Redesigning the pages takes nothing more than moving the widgets around and changing the CSS. And in version 4.1 I hope to have a drag-and-drop tool for adding and moving widgets.

Remembering Tom LeVine

I was saddened to return home today after an east-coast trip to be greeted with the news that Tom LeVine had died from a brain tumor diagnosed only two months ago. Tom was the CEO of Pop!Tech, a marvelous annual event held in Maine every year. IT Conversations streamed live audio from Pop!Tech 2004 and 2005 thanks to Tom’s believe in our mutual missions.

I first met Tom about 13 years ago when he was working in venture capital. We worked together to start an online business, but it never happened. Years later, Tom and I were both happy the project never got off the ground for a variety of reasons. We remained friends and sometimes shared a meal when he was in the Bay Area. As the Pop!Tech announcement says, Tom was one of those incredibly healthy and active people we all figure would outlive the rest of us. Alas, he passed away at the age of 56. He is already missed, and will be for some time.