Thrills & Chills in Frequent Flyerland

In 2018 I had a chance to compare top tier status on both United and Alaska.  Most of you are probably running away screaming at spending that much time on airplanes, Graph showing all my flights (2010-present, not just 2018) courtesy AppintheAir but I love it, it is a perk to me not a drawback. Here are my thoughts on United MileagePlus Premier 1K vs Alaska MVP Gold 75k, for all you crazy folks who are air[plane][port][line] geeks like me.  Yes, this is anecdotal, but at 190k miles last year, spent both on business and personal travel (remember, I’m a Canadian married to an Australian, living in the US), I have *lots* of anecdotes.  (note: all photos mine, I tweet a lot of them under the hashtag #ViewFromTheWindowSeat on Twitter. The map is from AppintheAir)

Best Perk: Adjacent Flight Hopping

Adjacent flight hopping is the allowance that the airline makes for a passenger to move to a confirmed seat on a different flight without paying either a change fee or a paying for an uplift in fare.  For both United and Alaska, flights can be hopped starting at check-in time right from the mobile application.  There are so many times when it is valuable for either personal or business reasons to change to a different flight. Having the option to pick an alternative flight gives you freedom – it lets you Photo by P. Dingle. all rights reservedcompensate for mistakes, stop in to see old friends, or add that one critical meeting to your visit.  Alaska lets you hop flights on the same calendar day as your flight, which gives you a limited number of choices -generally, you can vary your fight by up to 8 hours or so, but only if  there is an earlier or later flight to be had.   United, on the other hand offers hops in a moving 24 hour window, which gives you the opportunity to confirm a seat on a flight the day before or after.  You can even walk your flight forward 2 days if you are willing to monkey-bar it, ie grabbing later and later flights as the 24 hour window opens those options up.  It doesn’t always work and you can get burned if you make assumptions about what will be available to you (especially watch out for codeshares, they are not eligible).   But I have had excellent luck with this feature, it has made my life so much better so many times.   It would be very difficult to give up.

Best Food Service

The obvious answer is that any business class food service is great when you’ve been upgraded. Anything less is just being churlish :)  I appreciate the Photo by P. Dingle. all rights reservedAlaska non-stick trays and the United practice of serving appetizer and entrée together rather than separately (because it means the amount of time I have to close my laptop is less).  I like Alaska’s wine selection.  In the regular cabin, I love the United policy of granting a free beverage & snack to premier 1K folks, it is a really thoughtful acknowledgement.  

Best App

United has the best mobile app, hands down. From a status perspective, I especially appreciate that united has the 1K dedicated phone line listed in the app so I can easily call it, while the Alaska app doesn’t even tell me I get a phone line, let alone what the # is.   Seat selection is also much easier on United, Alaska does really wacky things like tie your upgrade ability to your seat changes, where picking a seat sometimes results in a threat to remove you from all upgrade lists.

Best Upgrades

 It is *really* hard to earn MVP Gold 75k status on Alaska, when those 75k miles have to be domestic and are judged on actual distance, not spend. You can’t buy your way into it (first class flights earn a multiplier but not a huge multiplier), you just have to fly. We’re talking 15 cross-country flights in 12 months.Photo by P. Dingle. all rights reserved But once you earn it, you get upgraded a *lot*.  Compare this to United, where there are a gzillion 1K flyers.  If you’re on a cross-country flight you can *try* to use a RPU or GPU but generally those are more like a cruel joke than a perk, the chances of it actually putting you high enough on the list to get an upgrade is low.

Best Next Tier Down

As much as the top tier is amazing on Alaska, the next tier down is a disaster.  Being a tier down on United essentially lowers your chances to get an upgrade from improbable to impossible, but – you can still book a confirmed seat in Economy plus.  The Alaska Gold MVP doesn’t let you book in their premium section, it is part of the upgrade pool.  So, your only confirmed option at booking time is economy.  That is a non-starter for me.

Best Lounge

United wins this hands-down. United has more lounges with more space to sit, in more airports.  The décor is brighter and there are more windows.  As someone with multiple home bases and varied airport destinations, flying Alaska is a problem in this regard – and yes, I have a priority pass and can use it for other lounges – but often those passes (and even Alaska’s partner lounges) have “hours”, so if you fly first thing you are often out of luck. Lounge access is a paid-for perk, but I did like that on Alaska, you got a discount for being MVP Gold 75k.

Best Status Match

I can only really talk about Alaska’s status matching, since I earned my 1K premier membership the old-fashioned way.  I’m not sure Alaska’s status match program does what is supposed to do, which is to lower the friction for high value frequent flyers to change to Alaska.  I status matched over at the end of April, and had 75k status for 8 months – 2/3 of the year.   In that 8 months, I flew 50k miles (2/3 of 75,000 miles).  I got a lot of value from the match – and I flew at velocity commensurate with the privileges that were granted to me.  I fully expected to keep up that velocity, but it turns out that Alaska doesn’t take velocity into account.  Despite flying as frequently as any 75k member for 8 months straight, I am only a gold MVP today.  Had I status matched in in the October time-frame, I would have gained status 2018 and 2019, but I made the mistake of coming in at a time when achieving the goal was nigh impossible.  While I respect that Alaska gets to set their rules any way they see fit, this is a terrible business decision.  Had top tier status been conferred at the end of 2018,  I would have worked hard to continue to earn that status.  But being MVP gold, there is zero incentive for me to put that kind of work in.  Not when it means that I can only confirm an economy seat in advance.  A guaranteed Economy Plus seat on Photo by P. Dingle. all rights reservedthe aisle with a free beer and a free sandwich on United trumps an economy seat with some chance of last-minute premium economy upgrade on Alaska always and forever.  In case you are wondering, I did call Alaska to make the case that it was a win-win for me to stay at MVP Gold 75k and continue to fly at my current high velocity. The proposition was politely declined, because apparently my status match was the only accommodation Alaska was willing to grant me in the next two years.  I can’t really argue with that, it is their program.  So, I guess it ends a draw.  It was very nice of them to let me try MVP Gold 75k.  I definitely did not abuse the opportunity, I flew more than 6,000 miles a month.  It was a great relationship while it lasted, and I will probably fly a little bit with them still, when the price or time suits my calendar. 

My Advice

Alaska’s top status is great – they win at business upgrades, but aren’t quite as strong in the areas of the app, the lounges, or the flight hopping options.  They are a great airline with great staff, and other than that one time they upgraded me, then gave away both my new seat and my old seat, I was consistently happy with how things worked.  If you decide to status match in to the program in anything other than January or Oct-Dec, just know you are highly unlikely to be forming a permanent top-status relationship, no matter how much of a high value customer you turn out to be.  In comparison, United gives you a lot of freedom and flexibility to hop flights, lots of lounges, free meals no matter where you sit, the ability to earn miles on international flights. If you travel enough that you can devote domestic travel to Alaska and still make 1K with United using international, it is a pretty great combination. 



Audio Visual Nirvana

I admit it – I’m currently obsessed by two things: sound and style.  In sailing, rule #1 is: look good.  It turns out that you have to be able to sail well to obey that rule.  I’ve decided that the same rule should apply to my audio visual life at home.  In my mind, this means four things:

  • Excellent sound and picture quality everywhere.
  • Control of the sound and picture from anywhere.
  • No computers next to AV equipment.
  • No visible wires.  Anywhere.

To truly obey rule #1, I’ve discovered a few things.  Placing devices into iPod docks does not work.  It’s inconvenient, and you have to walk into the room to control the sound.   I want my phone with me, not connected to my home stereo.  Also — connecting speakers directly to a computer sucks.  I don’t want “computer speaker” sound.  I want stereo HiFi.  I want to be able to shake the room while I’m working, but pause the sound in all parts of my house instantly if my phone rings, without taking a step.

Here is the solution I’ve come up with.  To the tech-religious nuts who read this – I’m sure it can be done equally well with some other product suite.  I’m not trying to sell you on my choice of platform, only the end result. Do please use whatever you want to build the same thing if it makes you happy.

Here is my architecture:  if you want details, read below.  With the architecture below, I get fantastic quality stereo from any of the bottom three devices, to any of the top two high-quality zones.  My office stereo is completely physically separate from my desk, nicely tucked away in a bookcase. And I can control either of these zones from my iphone without getting up from wherever I’m sitting.

The Architecture

The Details

My system works through the use of the following bits:

  • Home Sharing:  this is an iTunes feature that lets you broadcast music and video from an iTunes Library.
  • Airplay:  this is a feature of iPod/iPhone apps for music, photos, and movies that let you choose a remote output source.
  • Remote:  this is a free app from the app store (made by Apple) that lets you connect to and control both iTunes Libraries and devices like AppleTV.
  • AppleTV:  this is a device from Apple that streams audio and video from Home Sharing, Airplay, and other internet sources and outputs to HDMI and/or digital audio.
  • Airport Express:  this is a device from Apple that streams audio only from Home Sharing and Airplay sources using digital audio or RCA.

All of the named entities in the above diagram are network entities with unique IP addresses in my home network.  Gemini and Soyuz are computers running iTunes with Home Sharing Enabled.  Soyuz is an old 12″ powerbook that is now acting as a server, both containing my music and video library, and acting as a Time Machine backup server.  Sputnik and Apollo are audio sources that show up when the Airplay icon is selected from any of Atlantis, Soyuz or Gemini.

Setup is pretty well plug & play – you will need the airport utility to configure the Airport Express from your computer, because it has no video interface.  The AppleTV can be configured from your TV.  All of the devices connected to the AV equipment are for all intents and purposes invisible. There are a few notes though:

  • All of the devices must both be on the same network and home sharing must be enabled with the same Apple ID.  Apple sees all, would you expect anything else? Note that while Home Sharing Apple IDs must match, the Library itself can sync to the iTunes store with a different Apple ID, so this architecture does allow everyone to keep their own AppleIDs for apps etc.
  • This solution only works with iTunes.  If I watch a video on YouTube in my office browser, there is no way to get that sound to my office stereo (I can go to my living room and play it on the apple TV though, because the apple TV can directly stream from YouTube).
  • As far as I know, there is no need for any Apple computers to use this setup.  A PC running iTunes can replace either Gemini or Soyuz.
  • You’ll pay as much for the Airport Express as your Apple TV even though it is lesser tech from an A/V perspective, because the Airport Express can also be configured as a wireless router.
  • No  proprietary cables are needed for these solutions, not that this saves you any money, the standard stuff costs a fortune.  The cost of assorted speaker wire for 5.1 audio, HDMI cables, digital audio cables, and an RCA-to-mini-audio-jack collectively surpassed the cost of both the appletv and airport express combined.
  • You stream photos to the AppleTV, both as a screensaver and for slideshows.   I have my screensaver set up to stream photos from my Favorites list in Flickr, meaning every time I add to that list, I’m enriching the photography shown on my wall while music is being played, or while AppleTV is not busy with other things.
  • If I stream video from an iTunes Library, it will be from Soyuz, which is hard-wired to my wifi router.  Currently my plan is to rip my DVD collection to iTunes – at that  point, I won’t even need a DVD player.
  • The weakest link in this whole setup is iTunes itself.  Maybe one day Apple will wake up to the fact that iTunes should be a personal DJ system – allowing you to classify, organize, and moderate your media content with the most sensitive of nuances — as you’re listening, not in advance.  In my opinion, they’ve put a pinto at the center of their media empire, instead of the lotus esprit that they should be capable of.

Life is good :)

This Woman in Tech says: Thank you

I’ve been reading the various recent articles about women in tech bubbling around the interwebs with mixed feelings.  I’ve seen a lot of these debates go by, and although I have strong opinions (I know, you’re surprised, right?), I usually choose not to comment here.

There is only one thing that I find myself wanting to say publicly in this week’s resurgence of the debate, and that is: Thank you.   I have had the incredible blessing of being surrounded by group after group of intelligent, thoughtful men and women who have not only treated me equally and fairly, but have encouraged my abilities and helped me to reach greater and greater heights.  I have nobody to blame, but many to acknowledge – and why should the jerks get all the press time?

I may not be on anyone’s top 30 women in tech, and I may never be the CxO that people seem to so desperately need all women in tech to be, but I have a fulfilling and challenging job and I have achieved my primary goal in my career, which is to work with people who make me smarter every day. By the only standards that count (mine), I have it all.

I believe that a lot of women have fought difficult fights over the years so that I could have this kind of positive experience, and I know that not all women in tech have been so fortunate.  To those women who take on the establishment in this area – You have my support, gratitude and thanks.  You take the heat today so that the next generation of girls can simply accomplish and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Why am I writing this?  I don’t know. I suppose, it seems wrong for the unhappy examples to be the only examples out there. What I do know, is that I am one of the luckiest women in tech; the people who stand out in my life are not the ones who tried to hold me back, but the ones who have helped me fly.  Thank you, to some of these exceptional people: Darcy, John, Cliff, Don, Cullen, Alan, Tammy, Tim, Pete, Doug, Brian, Dave, Janelle, Kaliya, Gordon, Derek, Barb, Bob, Kim, Craig, Mike, Vittorio, Ben, Sydney, Dale, Patrick, Julie, Sean, Andrew, Gil, Laura, Andre, and so many more.

My Friend Steven

A few years ago, I met Steven Bender at the Burton Group Catalyst Conference in San Francisco.   Steven’s company, iMagic Software, had a product that did keyboard biometrics, and I was immediately fascinated.  I thought that their product had a ton of potential that wasn’t being recognized – everyone was pigeon-holing it as strong authentication, when in fact it could be used silently to track password sharing, something that I thought had far more potential.   If you aren’t familiar with that product space, the idea is that in addition to your password, data is transmitted about the rhythm in which you typed your password.  Your rhythm becomes another factor that can be used to detect impostors.

If you’ve met Steven, you’ll understand when I say he was larger than life.  He was persistent as hell, and he loved to tell stories.  Sometimes it was challenging to get a word in edgewise :)  When Steven was convinced of something, nothing in the world could stand in his way.  I grew to really respect both his cheerful approach and his scrappy determination.

He called me about a month ago about a project he was working on — a very ambitious project to collect a massive amount of impostor data for his favorite password, frodolives.  iMagic had created a facebook application with the hope of having a wide range of people type the same password, so that research could be done on how to better keep impostors out.     The plan was to incent people to enter the password by having them enter to win an iMagic t-shirt.  I told him honestly that he’d have a much better turnout if he instead donated to charity — that way people would be much more likely to enter the password multiple times, and he wouldn’t have to worry about delivering t-shirts after the fact.   I’m happy to say he took my advice.

Sadly, Steven won’t get to see the results of his experiment, he passed away March 5th.  I had a chance to see him just days earlier and I missed him – I’ll regret that forever. It’s hard to really comprehend that he’s gone; it still feels like some day he’ll simply call.

The iMagic facebook app can be found at  Consider typing ‘frodolives’ a few times into it, if you have the time.

Behind by 3 random facts

It seems that since Pat last tagged me, the random fact quota has gone up from five to eight!

Eugene, I hope I can offer my original 5, and supplement to get to eight here:

  1. I would much rather wakeboard than waterski; I would rather sled than ATV; I gave up telemarking for the snowboard when I met my husband, but I’m not sure it was a good trade; none of the above compares to chasing down a flying disc with a defender in hot pursuit.
  2. My first “real” job in the computer industry was a summer job where I researched Modem configuration strings for a digital whiteboard company. I didn’t actually have the modems — I just had to find the manuals, read them, and extrapolate what the strings would be. It was excruciatingly mindless.
  3. I once got busted by the Moscow Police for attempting to buy a matryoshka doll from an old lady in the long tunnel entrance to a Metro station. It is illegal to sell wares in the metro tunnels, and whenever a cop shows up, all the old ladies selling things tuck everything into their coats in the blink of an eye, and melt into the crush of commuters. I was holding the merchandise when the alarm went up in this particular instance, and I didn’t understand what was happening quickly enough to react. The poor vendor whose doll I was holding ended up hovering beside me, terrified but unwilling to flee and sacrifice the merchandise. I did my best ‘dumb tourist’ schtick and the cop let us go – but not before advising me that (a) the item was overpriced, and (b) I had better buy it, to make up for the serious trouble I could have gotten the poor little old lady into.

The Dating Mashup (or my Facebook Adventure)

Let me tell you about my first day on Facebook. It was both intense and thought-provoking.

As most of you know – I’m not exactly a wilting wallflower. I’ve done a lot of things, been part of many and varying circles of people, and generally I’ve had myself a hell of a time. Many of my friends from the less-geeky parts of my life have been talking about and using Facebook for quite some time, and I finally caved in.

One of the very first people I added was an old, good friend from my gloriously misspent youth. I had run into him earlier, and he mentioned he was on Facebook, so I looked him up. Once we were connected, he sent me this message:

Hey!! Nice to see you check in my albums there is a photo of you that has sparked the longest comment chain around.

Next thing I know, I see that a photo has been ‘tagged’ as being of me. And I click over to see a picture me from my first year of university. It was a nice picture, nothing embarrassing or racy. The conversation around the picture, however, gave me pause. Let me paraphrase:

Commenter #1: I dated her in high school

Commenter #10: I dated her after high school

Commenter #17: I dated her after #1 and before #10…

Well, where does a person even start on this? As a conversation, this thread was funny & endearing and I am really excited to catch up with all of the people there, they are wonderful wonderful people. Nothing in the thread was secret – and all of the commenters were truthful in their remarks (except that I actually think that I dated Commenter #17 after Commenter #10 not before, but that’s neither here nor there). All of the people in the thread are part of the same circle of friends, and so this is no different than the same people sitting around at a party and looking at a physical photo from a shoebox.




As much as I enjoyed the repartee, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the implications of the situation in general. When my friend posted that picture, only those in his network saw it – generally speaking, those that were interested were all a member of one of my circles of acquaintance. No problem – until I join Facebook, and link all of my various circles TOGETHER. Suddenly, a photo & conversation intended for one circle is accessible to another. Yes, I can ‘limit’ what people see – but would I have the foresight, tools, and memory to figure out all the ways in which I really don’t want past circles to intersect in the future? What about current circles? What about friends who span the circles? I am suddenly the hub, and all my different spheres are the spokes, and those spokes are suddenly connected through me in a tangible, interesting, and researchable way. You may not need to be a direct friend; sharing a friend, a group, or a network may suffice as well (depending on whose account ‘houses’ what discussion, and who you and your friends open your accounts up to).

And once a meme starts, it’s tough to stop. There is a tipping point that could be reached. Why wouldn’t someone from some other part of my life or history cruise through and add his own dating history into that photo thread? Heck, maybe my husband will chime in, he’s on Facebook too. If there was enough interest, I do believe that an entire timeline could be constructed, and what could I do? I could scream and freak out and have the photo removed I’m sure. But such anti-social behaviour would become the object of discussion in turn. When you protest, people assume you are afraid of something :). Taken separately, nobody’s dating history is secret – but peer-to-peer publishing of cumulative results makes me feel vulnerable to the same phenomena occurring around some other, less innocent set of facts.

I have to cogitate on this a bit. And I have to figure out what to do when a professional colleague who isn’t also a good friend wants to ‘add me as a friend’. As I’ve said before, tools like Facebook blur the lines between social spheres, and we all get to slide down this slippery slope together, guinea pigs for the new digital age. Perhaps even worrying about controlling the descent is, in fact, no more than a delusion. For those of us who try to keep some lines drawn in the face of intense social pressure from all spheres to openly network, a long road is ahead. “All in” or “all out” are much simpler attitudes. I love the benefits of Facebook already; they are enough to put me into that scary no man’s land of trying to control multiple spheres, allowing some to meld and attempting to keep others apart.

One final question to ponder – by simply writing about this experience, have I compromised or complicated my ability to keep my social spheres separate? We shall see.

Wish me luck. I’ll need it.

In the end…

Redbook Editor-in-Chief Stacy Morrison went on the Today Show to defend her photoshop attack, er, improvement on Faith Hill, stating that the picture of Faith Hill was, in the end, not a photograph, but an image.

In other words, it isn’t the magazine’s fault that you & I mistook an artist’s concept for reality. How very bourgeois of you & I, don’t you think?

Let’s face it. We are in a world now where every cover photo is a lie, uh, image, every song is digitally “corrected” to be perfectly in tune; and all of these images and sounds are fed to us like pablum to babies. Most of the time, most of us never even know.

Time breaks most of these fantasies, for those with an interest and a memory for such things. And yet – there is always a current set of supposed ‘role models’ whose white-washed perfection we optimistically adhere to. That is the true role of magazines like Redbook.

Authenticity is so totally nineties. Didn’t you know? OMG!

Mystery Solved; Questions Abound

I must say – I feel privileged to have learned a lesson today.

At this year’s Catalyst conference, I saw Jonathan Schwartz speak at the Sun hospitality suite. Jonathan’s vision of the future is that one day, systems he deems as “uninteresting” such as e-mail systems, ERP systems, and such will be outsourced to Web 2.0 darling companies, who will host these boring but necessary functions, so that companies can focus on the sexy stuff.

The exact logistics of such a strategy were left to everyone’s imagination, although what was implied was that such a strategy would result in fewer servers being maintained, and fewer IT staff to do the maintaining. In other words, a CxO’s wildest dream.

Risk & Liability involved with such a strategy were not discussed.

Now – as it turns out, I happen to be a student of Mr. Schwartz’s methodology, on a very small scale. As someone who did not wish to pay for or maintain a server from which to publish my personal blog, I contracted with a Web 2.0 darling company called to host my blog alongside hundreds of thousands of others. It is and was a steal of a deal — they maintain the machines & the software, and I get to blog for free!

Today, however, I feel that I may have encountered the fly in Mr. Schwartz’s enthusiastic ointment. As you may have seen from my last blog entry, I was the subject of some syndication feed shenanigans this afternoon. Apparently so were a lot of other people.

During the course of administering their many separate hosted accounts, the staff installed software that mixed RSS feeds up for some unknown number of blog accounts, resulting in content from one persons’ blog being published under the name of someone else.

I can’t help but wonder – did somebody get my content? Was it a swap, or an off-by-one? I don’t suppose I’ll ever know.

How about a quick post-mortem cost assessment based on the following factors:

  1. Probability of loss of reputation due to my identity being associated with someone else’s content or vice versa.
  2. Probability of loss of income or other tangible asset due to either my identity being associated with someone else’s content or vice versa.

In my case, there was little cost. A few people might have come to erroneous conclusions about my personal life – but for the most part, my reputation and income stream were not affected. Additionally, it is technically possible that a bunch of strangers saw my content and assumed it belonged to someone else. Heh, more power to them if they were able to make sense of it.

But. What if this wasn’t my personal blog affected. What if this was, instead, my corporate ERP system affected? Or my corporate Email system? What happens when a hosting company mixes up the account identifiers of two different companies’ finanical accounts? What could the possible cost be, in both reputation and income, of your company’s confidential data being temporarily disclosed to another company’s users? Or of your company’s identity being temporarily associated with somebody else’s confidential data?

Can’t happen you say? Surely those kinds of hosting companies would be more careful? Yeah. You keep on believing that. It will be impossible until the day it happens. Then it will be irreversible.

Here be dragons. Mark my words.

Not mine