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14 May, 2010

Good morning

That this is the third email I am sending you in less than 24 hours is indicative of a week that has been very busy indeed.  But it has been busy in the best possible way, with lots to show for the week.

See if you can guess what these following items have in common :

  • Locking a shoe in your hotel room safe

  • Updating the firmware in your digital camera

  • A man apparently sitting on an invisible seat

  • The best way to avoid volcanic ash

These are just four of the 15 articles posted so far this week on the new Travel Insider Blog.  I have been testing a 'proof of concept' blog with the help of the 1,000 Travel Insider Supporters this week and after adapting it in light of their generally enthusiastic response and very helpful feedback, you too are now welcome to visit.

I had tried publishing a blog five years ago.  At that time, blogs were still a new concept.  Being a blog author involved wrestling with unfriendly software, and being a blog reader sometimes seemed to require an advanced degree in computer science.  Newsletters remained the preferred format for most people to receive information.

Unsurprisingly, the blog wasn't a success, and worst of all, it drained too much time and attention away from the newsletter, while providing nothing much for readers in return.

But a lot can happen, particularly on the Internet, in five years.  Things that we had never heard of, things that had not yet been invented, and things that had not yet reached any degree of acceptance five years ago are now commonplace and mainstream.  Today, many of us get information not only via e-mail, but also from Facebook, Twitter, blogs, text messages, podcasts, Youtube, and possibly other increasingly more creative and interactive ways too.  Of all these communication media, e-mail is the 'oldest' and the least exciting and interactive.

I have been increasingly aware of the need to change with the times.  On the other hand, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

In the almost 10 years I have been publishing this newsletter, I have become very comfortable with the format, and I dare to hope that many of you as readers have also become comfortable with the Friday morning ritual of receiving the newsletter, and working through its various familiar sections -- dinosaur watching, travel technology, security, and a leavening of miscellaneous content for good measure often included as well.

Happily, I believe I have now largely succeeded in creating a blog based newsletter that will hopefully include all of the good features of this present newsletter format, while adding some new appealing extra features too.

It is accordingly my intention to transition from the present weekly newsletter format to a new blog-based format over the course of the next several weeks.

If you don't like blogs, or if you don't know what they are (and don't want to find out) then please do not be alarmed.  Each week's blog articles can still be automatically e-mailed to you in a collated digest form every Friday morning, much the same as you get the newsletter at present.  You will even be able to choose between getting the entire content e-mailed to you, or a summary version with the first hundred words or so of each article, and links to the balance of each article should you wish to read them in full.

For those of you who would prefer to get the newsletter in more regular and more digestible bite sized pieces, you will have an option to get daily collations of each day's blog articles.

And for those of you who must have everything instantly, there will be a number of ways to immediately receive new articles as they are published.  The new service can send you each article 'hot off the press' if you wish, and each article will be announced on Twitter, as well as being available through traditional RSS blog feeds and blog feed readers.

I am very excited at how this new format will give each of us our own personally preferred way of receiving the newsletter, and most importantly, for those of you who do not want to wrestle with new concepts about blogs, there will be no need whatsoever to do so.

One of the other exciting enhancements that the blog offers is the ability for you to add your own comments to each article, and I encourage you to do this if you ever feel so inclined.  Many times I have received extremely interesting commentaries which I would have loved to have passed on to all readers, but due to the sometimes quite specialized nature of the discussions, I have not felt them to be of sufficient interest for everyone.  But now, with the ability to add comments after each article - comments that don't interfere with the reading and browsing experience - it becomes practical to welcome your own participation and to enhance the bidirectional flow of information, sharing, and general feeling of community among us all.

The 'look and feel' of the blog is still dynamically evolving, and I have yet to add the multiple options for e-mail subscriptions ('subscriptions' in the sense of regularly receiving, not in the sense of having to pay for anything - everything remains completely free, even though I am of course having to add extra cost items for the blog posting and features, and the e-mail services).  Blog content is now live, the content is good, and if you wish to, you can already sign up for a daily newsletter or an RSS feed.  You can also follow me on Twitter to get realtime updates of new articles as they are posted - my Twitter ID is DavidRowell.

For example, blog followers were advised of an amazing $10 one-way fare on JetBlue earlier this week, and it was the experience of one reader who spent $20 to fly down to New Orleans for an apparently memorable night that led to the blog article about locking a shoe in your hotel room safe (you just know you have to go and see what that is all about, don't you!).

As a further proof of concept, I'm packaging up the balance of this newsletter in the form of some blog entries.  You can either go direct to the blog and start reading down to recreate the newsletter experience, or you can click the links to the sections listed here.

If you do go direct, the most recent blog entry comes first, then successively older ones follow down from that.  So while at the time of posting this newsletter, the most recent blog entry is the one about dinosaur watching, as the day passes on Friday and subsequently, it will move further down the article list, and possibly onto the second or subsequent page of the listing.

In addition to the links to the newsletter parts of the blog, do please read on to the other 15 entries that have been added to the blog during the week.

And if you can't wait until next Friday for an update, click the 'Email Subscribe' link at the top of the blog to get a daily email or the 'RSS Subscribe' link for the RSS feed (if you know what that is).  Or follow me (Davidrowell) on Twitter.

So :

Click this link to start the blog from the top.

Click this link to go directly and only to Dinosaur Watching part 1

Click this link to go directly and only to Dinosaur Watching part 2

Dinosaur Watching Summary

In this week's roundup of airline shenanigans, read about how United's passenger numbers are down while JetBlue's are up.  No wonder United needs to merge - it is shrinking away to nothing while its competitors are growing up all around it.

And maybe United won't get to merge with Continental, at least not if Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Jim Oberstar has his way (or perhaps I should say, if he means and follows through with what he says).

JetBlue, while not merging, is forging another international relationship, this time with South African Airways.  How can JetBlue grow so well without merging and without anti-trust protection when dinosaurs can't?

Also growing is Southwest, adding two more cities to its route network, an act with some interesting implications.

But when it comes to growth, it is hard to beat Emirates, who not only grew by 21% in passenger numbers last year, but also 248% in profit terms, bringing  in a huge $1.1 billion profit.

Profit is also another term to use to describe the massive $2.7 billion in fees the US carriers raked in under the guise of baggage fees last year, and if that's not enough, they also made another $2.7 billion in other non-flight revenue - oh, and talking about not flying, they made yet another $2.4 billion of purest profit in the form of fees charged to people wishing to change their flights.  That's almost $8 billion of revenue before the first passenger boards and the first plane takes off, but even so, they managed to lose $2.5 billion between themselves last year.

BA and Spirit have strikes and the threat of strikes, and all passengers going to, from or through London were given some bad news by the new British government.

Air New Zealand has a sale that, upon closer inspection, isn't really very special at all, and Alaska Airlines responds to my complaint about when electronics need to be turned off on a flight.

Click this link to go directly and only to Tech Talk

Did cell phones cause the crash of the Polish plane carrying their president?  Is the iPad killing off sales of netbooks?  When did you last upgrade your digital camera's firmware?

But there's no question about Android phones displacing the iPhone and claiming the number two spot in smartphone sales - big surprise though is the identity of number one.

Click this link to go directly and only to Security Horror Stories

Should we subcontract the nation's security management to Visa?  Much has been made of Emirates allowing the Times Square bombing suspect onto one of their flights, with the grossly unfair suggestion being it was Emirates fault.  Emirates was following normal procedures and government requirements to the letter - it was the government requirements which were at fault.

The government is tightening up and now tightening still further how quickly updates to the terrorist watch lists are promulgated to airlines, but you've got to wonder - are these people still living in the 1960s?  Why not have a central database of names that airlines can link into, realtime?  If a credit card company can switch your card off in ten seconds or less, everywhere in the world, why can't the federal government get a high priority terrorist suspect's name in front of the airlines sooner?  Maybe we should indeed subcontract the nation's security management to Visa.

Panic is understandable if you're a normal person, but it is regrettable when the panicked person is wearing a uniform, holding a gun, and pointing it at you, as a busload of unfortunate ordinary citizens found out last week.

News flash - well, no, it isn't news at all.  But as a possible precursor to more government/security agency empire building, we're being told of how tempting and vulnerable cruise ships are to terrorists.

The beast that wouldn't die - and which has no purpose - is back again.  A new incarnation of the Clear registered traveler program appears, but offers no more than Clear ever did, and actually, possibly quite a lot less.

Phew!  And that's it for this week, folks!  Well, actually, it isn't all - there's plenty more on the blog - please go click on over and have a look around.

Until next week (or much sooner if you join me on the blog), please enjoy safe travels

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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