Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tax H E double toothpicks

Once again, I'm majorly struggling over taxes. It's the same every year. I debate whether it's worth having someone do my taxes, or whether I should just keep doing them myself. My feeling (still) is that most of the work around taxes goes into preparing the numbers your accountant needs, not in actually filling out the tax forms. And, I'm fundamentally against extensions. Once you're in the habit of filing extensions, they don't really help you anyway. You're just dealing with these same headaches at a different time of year than everyone else.

So, here I go. Schedule's A, B, C, D & E. Next year, maybe I should buy a farm and try out Schedule F? F - Me. At least the weather sucks too.

Friday, March 23, 2007

You gotta love California

This past weekend I rode my motorcycle up to Reno to visit a friend and to go skiing. Even though it's mid-March, the weather was spectacular. It was in the 60's for most of my ride, falling to the high 40's when I crossed Carson pass. Instead of taking the fast route, I took highway 88 past Kirkwood and came up on Reno from the south.

We skied at Northstar on Sunday in weather that was close to 60-degrees. I hadn't skied in over 10 years, and this was my first time on parabolic skis. After such a long hiatus, I think I skied fairly well. After a tutorial on how to properly ski on this new type of ski, I started to catch on. I think I'll need to try them again before I feel comfortable with them.

At the end, it was a great weekend. How many places can you go on a beautiful, sunny motorcycle ride and then go skiing at a world class resort? You've gotta love California.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Call me now!

I've posted several times about the Jangl phone service. It's a free service which lets you share your phone number with people without giving them your real digits.

For you, my blog reader, I can let you call me on the phone. All you need to do is enter your phone number in this cool new widget. You enter the number that you'd like to call me from, and Jangl routes the call to my phone. And, your number is protected as well. Jangl gives me a virtual caller ID which I can use to call you back. Neither of our real numbers is revealed. Then, Jangl provides an online control panel for me to manage my incoming calls and lets me block a caller if I feel stalked or bothered.

Jangl gives you so much control over your phone, you'd be willing to post your number on the web. See, I just did.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ferrari Museum - Maranello, Italy

After a little down-time around Sirmione and Lago Di Garda, we hit the road south to Maranello, following this route.

Maranello is the home of the Ferrari museum, and is adjacent to the town of Modena where the Ferrari factory is located (and De Tomaso, Ferrari, Pagani and Maserati for that matter.) It's sports car central.

The Ferrari museum was a really nice facility, full of high tech exhibits and beautiful cars - many of them one-off models. There was also an interesting display of celebrity photos and testimonials, highlighting the lifestyle that surrounds many Ferrari owners.

There was one car that was mounted on it's nose, and a room full of Ferraris that fanned out around you (see photo below). It was spectacular.

To see just the posts from this trip, click here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

DD Part4 - Dress for success

Note: This is a continuation of my prior post, DD Part3.

Now that we had a more consumer-friendly feature set, we needed to make sure that the hardware was ready for the broader consumer market and that the value proposition would resonate with prospective customers. And, we needed to have a launch venue which allowed us to get visibility for our re-launch of the company and it's products. We needed to get the word out.

I felt that we needed to make some changes to the hardware. The remote control was a brick, and the name eDeck wasn't very consumer friendly. We re-named the eDeck, the Media Connector, opting for something that was descriptive rather than clever. And, Media Connector played off some of the other home networking product categories - namely media adapters and media extenders.

The remote control had been a bigger challenge. We didn't have the resources to design a custom remote control, and after extensive research I wasn't happy with any of the ODM/OEM remote controls I had discovered . On a trip to IBC, I visited the UEI booth and found an interesting PVR remote that was being used by a cable company in Israel. It hadn't been used in the U.S. before, which was why I hadn't seen it during earlier meetings with UEI. But, I really liked the ergonomics of it and decided to contract with UEI to bring it to the states. The result was a great compromise between budget and usability.

Part of the plan to shift towards the general consumer market required us to rethink our outbound marketing strategy. This included product issues (documentation, packaging, etc.) and our communication plan (PR, website, etc.). It also required us to bring on someone with more experience with successful consumer MarComm. We hired Joe Harris, a good friend of mine and one of the best marketing professional's I've had the opportunity to work beside. The year before, Joe had launched Orb Networks at CES and had garnered a large amount of PR with a limited budget.

Joe hit the ground running, and we targeted the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, January 2006, as the main event for us to re-launch the product and the company. While the primary product we would be selling was a hardware media adapter, we didn't lose sight of the fact that our core value was the Media Connector Software which rus the system. So, we made sure this was a core part of our consumer messaging. Joe is famous for being a "frequency freak", so we were careful to make sure we were consistent in all of our external communication.

more to come in part 5.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Wine Review Widget on Widgetbox

This week Vino2Vino published their first wine widget on Widgetbox. It's really neat, because the Wine Review Widget can be configured to do many different things simply by changing a few of the widget parameters. Click to read more about this new wine review widget.

Rather than show you all of the things you can do with this widget, I thought I'd just use it to highlight a wine which I had last week and really enjoyed.

It's the 2003 Renwood Old Vine Zinfandel. It's from Amador County and is a good value at around $13 a bottle. I enjoyed it with spicy Mexican food, and the full, sweet flavor of the Renwood was a wonderful match with the spicy food. I didn't fully understand what people mean when they say "jammy" to describe a wine until I had this one. It cut through the spiciness and still had a rich fruity flavor. I finished the bottle the next day, and it was still quite nice. I thought it was going to be overly sweet, but it wasn't.

Rather than use an image for this post (my norm), I'm using the new widget. Go ahead, click on the wine label and see what happens. You can find places to buy the wine or discover other wines with similar characteristics.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

San Francisco Neighborhoods

Well, it looks like my brother Mike may be moving to the Bay Area this summer. His girlfriend was just offered a job with The Gap as part of a management training program scheduled to start in August, and she accepted the job.

I think they've decided to live in The City, so I'm taking them on a tour today of some of the many neighborhoods in SF. I lived in SF for almost 10 years, first in Presidio Heights, then Cole Valley and finally Eureka Valley before finally bailing out and moving south to Palo Alto. (full list of SF neighborhoods) But, I left almost 10 years ago and I'm sure the neighborhoods have changed since then.

Living in the city, it was fun getting to know the character of the different neighborhoods. I've never lived in NYC, but I've heard that it's a similar phenomenon, on a smaller scale. Some of the neighborhoods have a definite ethnic slant, while others have more of a demographic (i.e. age & economic) slant. Even though SF is quite small as far as major cities go, the weather also varies greatly between the western and southern neighborhoods. Public transportation, parking, nightlife - these are all important variables for them.

I think we'll grab this map and just hit the streets. When they see something they like, they can circle it. When they see something they don't like, we'll cross it off. Once they have a better feel for what they like, they can start watching Craigslist, Rent.com, etc. for rentals when their time to move gets close. For me, it will just be fun driving through the city, hopefully with the top down!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Carl Malone - 90 Years Young

This past weekend, I went up to Roseville with my dad and brother Rob to see my grandfather, Carl Malone for his 90th birthday. Rob's daughter and my kids came along too. It's a bit of a long drive for young kids (about an hour and a half) up to Roseville, but it was worth the drive. My grandfather is the only living great-grandparent for my kids, so it's a special occasion and a chance to get some four-generation photos (see below). My dad claims there is a five-generation photo with me as a baby, but I haven't seen it yet. He says he'll look for it.

My grandfather lives with his life partner, Lois. They've been together over 10 years now and seem really happy together. Eventually, I'll have to blog some more about my grandfather. He's a good man who has lived an interesting life.

It's always nice going there with my dad and kids. It's not often that you get that kind of multi-generational view of things. And, the kids seemed to have a great time.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Modern family calendaring

A couple of years ago, while I was an entrepreneur-in-residence at Redpoint Ventures, I was also doing some corporate strategy consulting for a startup in Seattle called Kasayka. Kasayka was founded by a couple of really great guys, Robbie Cape and Jan Miksovsky, both former Microsoft employees. Robbie was the GM for Microsoft Money, and Jan was a user interface guru whose last project was as the user interface architect for Windows Vista. Their goal with Kasayka was to build usable software that improved families lives.

Kasayka has come a long way since those early days, launching recently to consumers as Cozi. I was fortunate enough to be a beta tester and was able to see the product and service evolve. It's now a really great set of features that deliver on their initial vision. Family calendaring allows you to create a free calendar for each of the members of your family in one easy location. It can then be accessed over the web or from a mobile phone. It's a very flexible calendar, with a nice plain-text feature that lets you type a calendar entry in English and it's interpreted as a calendar event. First Wednesday of the month? No problem. Every other Tuesday & Thursday? Yup. For my two kids, Cozi was able to handle every weird form of event schedule I threw at it.

Besides calendaring, Cozi also offers family messaging. From their secure portal, Cozi Central, you can send messages to any family member, or to the whole family at once. For today's modern family, group messaging is a really useful feature. Cozi also let's you define multiple shopping lists. I can have one for Safeway, and one for Costco, etc. Anyone in the family can put things on the shopping list, and I can have it read to me over the phone (or texted) while I'm at the store. This is a great feature when you get to the store and realize you forgot your list.

If you install Cozi on your computer, they also provide a really elegant screensaver they call a collage. You point it at your digital photos, and the collage selects groups of photos which look good together and displays them on the screen, changing them at a time interval you specify. There's clearly some intelligence under the hood here, because it's uncanny how the images are selected and grouped. They also include a clock and a view of upcoming calendar events on the collage. It's pretty neat.

If any of this sounds good, please download Cozi (it's free!) and give it a try. If you try before April 30th, Cozi will donate $1 to Locks of Love for each family that joins. Give it a try, I think you'll like it.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Revenue in a Wine 2.0 world

I discovered an interesting blog posting from last year, including comments from some of the most noteworthy wine bloggers - How Blog Tasting Notes Should Be. While there was some discussion about conflict-of-interest for wine bloggers recommending a wine and then making money off someone clicking on an affiliate link, I think that was off the mark. The nice thing about blogging and social networking is that the collective intelligence of the community is substantial. The good people will definitely rise to the top and the frauds will be exposed.

It seems to me that the heart of the matter in this post is how an expert wine reviewer can share their recommendations and be compensated for their skills and for sharing their wisdom. Currently, there are a relatively small number of professional wine reviewers, notably Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, Wine Enthusiast and Stephen Tanzer. They seem to rely primarily on the old-school, editorial forms of revenue (i.e. selling magazines and subscriptions). But, as social media becomes more important in people's lives, it is becoming possible to interact with wine experts who are less traditional. This is especially good if you are a wine lover, but don't feel like your taste in wine is similar to any of the major reviewer's styles. Andrew Barrow re-iterated this sentiment in his recent post about niche blogging.

Blogging is definitely one way that these new-wave reviewers can share their recommendations. (If you're interested in wine blogging, see the Wineblogs Roll in the right panel of this blog for a few good examples) However, while blogs are good places to share editorial recommendations, and some of the blogs out there are very entertaining reads, blogs are really just a higher-tech form of editorial. They need to be able to provide enhanced functionality for their readers, and they need to make sure their editorial still has value once a review falls "below the fold".

Although they didn't weigh in on this post, emerging cellaring sites, notably Cork'd and CellarTracker, are another way that people have been sharing their thoughts with each other. But, these destinations sites are going to be limited if they keep trying to drive traffic to their site to make money via advertising. There needs to be a way to extend the functionality into other communities and a way for the good users to be heard outside these respective systems.

Back to Josh's original blog post, where can people make money in all of this? The wine business is clearly a fragmented market that is begging to have technology step in and help consumers discover new wines. But, paying for click-throughs is not going to make anyone much money. It's great that sites like WineZap and wine-searcher offer affiliate programs for people, but the problem is that these pay-per-click programs will never be able to support a real technology business. And, there's too many middle men. There needs to be some consolidation in the industry, or at least some major co-operation. Lastly, the online communities need to be able to tap into the retail commerce side of things where the revenue is a bit more interesting.

The problem there is - the retail side of the wine business is about as fragmented as the production side. And, that's beyond the scope of this post.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Northern Italian Wines - Valpolicella

After our first night in Sirmione, we went on a day of wine tasting in the Valpolicella. Valpolicella is a wine region in the Veneto that is famous for the production of Amarone. Amarone is a rich, flavorful wine that is made from partially dried grapes of the Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara varieties. The grapes actually start to resemble raisins by the time they are crushed for the wine. Here's a sample video (note: QT required) of how the drying works. Because the grapes are partially dried, a much larger quantity of grapes is required to produce Amarone than some of the other blends (like Bardolino) where the grapes are crushed right after harvesting. The larger number of juicier grapes also makes the wine stronger and somewhat more expensive than normally produced wine from the same grapes.


I'm not sure if it's universal, but all of the wineries we visited in Europe required an advanced appointment for wine tasting and tours. From Sirmione, we drove along this route through Verona to Bertani Vineyards in Grezzana. We arrived a few minutes late, but nobody was in the tasting room to greet us. We wandered around for a few minutes and a very nice old Italian man came out and explained to us (almost entirely in Italian) that the tasting room person would be back shortly. In the meantime, he offered to give us a tour of the facility. It ended up being a wonderful tour, with him throwing out a few occasional English words and me understanding about 10% of his Italian. Despite the language barrier, it was a wonderful tour. When we finished, the tasting room person had returned and we sampled a spectacular array of Bertani Amarone wine. We also learned that the reason they hadn't been expecting us was that we had made an appointment at the Bertani Villa location, but had instead gone to their main production facility. I'm sorry we missed the villa, but the main facility was quite impressive, with a mix of very modern equipment and some very old storage tanks. You can see ratings on some of Bertani's wines here.


From Bertani we took a short-cut over a very narrow, winding road to the Allegrini Winery. Here, we were greeted with a very modern tasting room located in a building alongside their main production facility. Externally, it was very similar to Bertani - clearly a clean, modern working facility. We were greeted by a friendly Dutch woman who gave us a tour of the caves and then a very comprehensive tasting. Their wines were also spectacular. But, they didn't have the same selection of old vintages that were available at Bertani. These were more recent releases. You can see ratings on some of Allegrini's wines here.

Masi & Ser�go Alighieri

Our last stop of the day was a short drive to the estate of Ser�go Alighieri, part of Masi, where they have been making wines for over 650 years! At this location, they offer tastings to the public of Masi and Ser�go Alighieri branded wines. It's a beautiful, gated estate with a wonderful old building where they host the tastings. They had a full wine shop here with a large variety of new and old vintages, small and large-format bottles. They let you choose from a large variety of wines and design your own tasting, so go prepared! We enjoyed quite a few wines and did not leave empty handed. It was a great day, filled with wonderful wines. You can see ratings on some of Masi's wines (including Ser�go Alighieri) here and some great photos below.

To see just the posts from this trip, click here.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hidden Gem in Napa Valley

This weekend I went wine tasting in Napa Valley with my brother Mike, and friends Cary and Steve. We met at Jim's Restaurant for a nice, filling breakfast and then hit the road. Cary has a big truck, so he drew the short straw for designated driver. It was pouring rain when we set out, but things mostly cleared up by the time we made it to Napa.

In order, we visited the following wineries:

A. Signorello Vineyards
B. Chimney Rock Winery
C. Duckhorn Vineyards
D. Larkmead Vineyards
E. Keenan Winery
F. Guilliams Vineyards
G. Merryvale Vineyards

I'll be recording tasting notes for the various wines which we tasted. You can view them by selecting the links above. Fortunately, we weren't drinking the full amounts that were poured for us at each winery. Because Steve is connected with the wine industry, I think they may have been pouring generously for us. I don't think we could have handled visiting 7 wineries if we drank everything they poured. And, Steve's wife Cindy packed us a wonderful picnic lunch which we ate on the fly between vineyards. Thanks Cindy!

The hidden gem we discovered was Larkmead Vineyards in Calistoga. We arrived to a completely empty tasting room. I'm not sure if it was the weather, the fact that it was Sunday, or the fact that Calistoga is near the top of the Napa Valley and many people are too tipsy to make it that far. But, I can tell you that people are missing out!

Our host, also named Ted, was extremely knowledgeable and a pleasure to meet. He explained the history of Larkmead, one of the oldest vineyards in Napa. The original winery building, dates back to 1884 and is now part of Frank Family Vineyards, owned by members of the Rombauer family. Each wine we tasted at Larkmead was superb. We did not come home empty handed.

You can see the wineries we visited on this map.