We’re kicking off a brand new feature here today on EpiphanyDigest: Sarasota Entrepreneur Profiles. We’ll be writing up local entrepreneurs who have caught our attention, and tell you why! First up: Steve Rinehart.
If you’d like to nominate someone, leave us a note in the comments below.
Those of you who know me well already know this: I’m a huge fan of entrepreneurs.
Especially the “chase your dream, innovate and adapt as necessary, and work really hard ’til you see it come about” variety.
And this is precisely why I was intrigued when I first met Steve Rinehart. It was about two and a half years ago now, and a good friend of mine was providing some entertainment in a local night club venue. He suggested that I meet up with the owner, because he had real vision but had run into some difficulties in the business.
The venue was “The Loft Ristobar,” and it was located in the building that had previously housed Sarasota’s highly popular Tex-Mex chain restaurant, Don Pablo’s.
The Loft was a concept that was either ahead of its time, or perhaps just better suited to a bigger market. But the idea, I thought, was brilliant. Restaurant by day, live entertainment venue in the evenings, and then… after hours on weekends, it transformed into a full-on night club.
But, as you might imagine, those are at least two (and possibly three) different businesses all rolled up into one. This meant that the business was surprisingly complex, with lots of areas that needed specific attention.
Creating a clear marketing message out of the three of them was what I was immediately tasked with doing. Let’s just say it wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever been asked to do.
And to top it all off, Rinehart Homes, Steve Rinehart’s day job, was busy and complicated enough that it demanded lots of his time and most of his attention. The management Steve had in place at The Loft did a bang-up job, but it just wasn’t enough to get the concept to really take off.
Why Not Franchise?
As Steve related to me, many times during the course of his time operating The Loft Ristobar, people would come in and ask about Don Pablo’s. Where did it go? What happened to it?
The reality was that the Sarasota store had long been one of the chain’s top-performing restaurants. But when the parent corporation ran into financial troubles, it closed all but 38 stores—the ones that were geographically easier for them to manage. A new company bought the brand and those 38 stores out of bankruptcy and they were doing OK.
The idea of coming back to Sarasota was a good one, but the company wasn’t ready to take the plunge yet as they were taking a measured approach to growth.
So Steve did what any enterprising entrepreneur would do: he seized the opportunity and negotiated the chain’s first-ever franchise deal. In May of 2012, five years or so after it had closed, Sarasota’s Don Pablo’s reopened as a franchise operation.
That business has been through its fair share of ups and downs, but today it is humming along with a great management team in place. Steve has high hopes for its future.
In the meantime… Sarasota’s real estate market had begun to pick up.
Building Custom Homes in Sarasota
Since 1994, when Steve Rinehart first obtained his Florida General Contractor’s license, he had attacked the home-building business with gusto. Not one to get stuck depending upon others, Steve went out and got his roofing license and a pool contractor’s license as well. This enabled him to be highly flexible and churn out homes at a surprising rate.
Steve’s reputation—and that of his boutique team—in that business is very good. Over the years, he and his team have built more than 300 homes that way, and provided many affordably-priced, but very nice homes for a lot of people.
But as he tells it, when the real estate market starts to heat up—especially in an intrinsically attractive market like Sarasota/Bradenton—bigger and bigger national players are willing to come in and pay far more for land than it’s worth.
That makes this business less and less attractive to a boutique team like Steve’s.
And so… the handful of higher-end projects that Steve had taken on in the last few years had started to become more and more interesting.
With a few completely custom projects on Sarasota’s Siesta Key (along with a high-end renovation or two) under his belt, Steve decided it was time to launch another new entrepreneurial venture.
With the help of 20-year veteran real estate investor Joel Match, Steve recently launched Rinehart Elite Homes. Their first project under this new name? A gorgeous home in Lakewood Ranch’s exclusive golf course community, The Concession.
As you might imagine, Steve’s life is never boring. But given his passion for excellence, his hands-on attention to detail, and the track record of satisfied home owners, I think it’s safe to say that Rinehart Elite Homes is going to be a luxury home builder to contend with.
Since the same type of attack has hit my websites on a second web host, I want to provide some more details about the attack I recently experienced prior to writing about why you need to update WordPress and your plugins.
Yesterday, I logged in via FTP to a separate hosting account on a completely different web host, and found some of the same signs that accompanied the original attack on my 1and1 account.
The first sign is a suspicious file in the root of the website. The filename is “.. “ — as in ‘dot dot space’
This is particularly insidious, because the filename is designed to make the file hard to find. This is because “..” by itself is a unix/linux standard for “parent directory.” (It’s the same way on Windows & DOS systems as well.)
Thus, if you aren’t paying attention and looking specifically for it, it’s hard to notice. Also, since most systems don’t give you any sign of the “space” in the filename, it’s hard to open the file. (Here’s where I have to give credit to a sysadmin at 1and1 for helping me discover the space in the filename. I kept telling him it was called “..” and he said, “that’s impossible.” He was right.)
Either way, I have found that you can simply rename the file and then download it via FTP to open it up and see what’s inside. Here’s the code inside the “.. ” file:
This is obfuscated somehow… perhaps encoded with base64 or some other method.
I’m not certain what it does, but my guess is that it only works when in combination with the code that was inserted into PHP files. Here are the filenames targeted by the attack:
While index.php & header.php are common filenames in a wide variety of php websites, wp-config.php is unique to WordPress. Thus, I’m fairly certain that the creators of this attack were particularly interested in attacking WordPress sites.
The wp-config.php file only shows up in the “root” folder of any given WordPress installation. On the other hand, index.php appears in a number of folders in a typical WordPress installation. Here are a few examples:
- the “root” folder of the site
- the wp-admin folder
- wp-content folder
- the main folder of any given theme
- the main folder of some plugins
The header.php file, on the other hand, is most likely to show up in one or more of your theme folders.
My guess is that whatever script gets uploaded to your server gets busy locating files that match those filenames and injecting the malicious code.
The code is intended to be hard to spot. First of all, the PHP files are edited without modifying their timestamps. Thus, they don’t look like they’ve been edited recently.
Also, the code contains an opening <?php tag, and then is immediately followed by 1183 spaces. This means that even if you open an infected file in a typical code or text editor, the malicious code will be so far off your screen that you won’t notice it. You can scroll down and see all of the untouched PHP code that you’re expecting to see in the file.
From being attacked in the past, I was already aware of both of those techniques, so I opened the files and scrolled all the way to the right, finding the code.
Here’s an exact copy of what’s being inserted into these files.
What Does This Code Do?
Well… the only reference to this particular attack that I’ve been able to find online is found in this thread (in German). That confirmed a suspicion I had held which led me to believe that there was something inserting some ad code into the WordPress admin pages (the “Dashboard” specifically) of my sites. Thus, it is only visible when logged in as an admin user, and is intentionally targeting WordPress site operators.
1and1 insisted that my sites were injecting malware into visitors’ browsers. Perhaps this is the malware. Perhaps the code was doing more than just displaying the ads I saw.
In any case, I had originally attributed these ads to a recently-added Chrome extension which I immediately disabled.
Now that I’ve seen the German thread, I’m more convinced that the sites which were displaying that ad were, in fact, the ones infected with this malicious attack.
So… I have no proof as to what this code actually does. It’s all obfuscated and it’s beyond my pay grade to figure it out anyway. My only hope is that by writing this up, someone (or perhaps more than one someone) will be able to use what I’ve discovered to help make sense out of it and put this sort of crap to an end.
If you have thoughts about this, don’t hesitate to comment below or hit me up on Twitter. Thanks.
Is your laptop absolutely crawling? Can you drive to Starbucks, buy coffee beans, come home and grind them, boil water, dump everything in your French press, wait 4 minutes for it to steep, pour your freshly-brewed cup of coffee into a mug and still get back to your desk in the time it takes your machine to reboot?
That’s where I was earlier this week. And tired of it!
So let’s just say I’m not running a high-end laptop here. Mine is squarely in the middle of the road.
It was perfectly usable 2 years ago when I bought it, but I made it out of my local Best Buy with $20 left of my $500 budget at the time. (I decided a long time ago that laptops are almost disposable, so I refuse to pay big bucks for them.)
But 2 years of updates to Windows 7 (which I love, by the way… another reason why I don’t want to buy a new one yet), 2 years of installing various bits of software, a really bad habit of having 50-60 Chrome tabs open at once, and a tendency to run Photoshop or InDesign (or both) all adds up to a really terrible user experience.
I’d already maxed out the RAM… I did that about 6 months after I bought it.
So… what was left to do?
Well… SSD envy set in about a year ago when I bought my wife an HP Ultrabook. She gets a higher laptop budget because she replaces them less often, and she doesn’t subject them to all the abuse of travel nearly as often as I do. Oh… and she likes them light and thin. And boy is hers ever light and thin! But it’s also blazingly fast. I’m talking… Windows 7 reboots completely in under 10 seconds. Forget that cup of coffee and keep working!
One of the reasons the thing is so darn fast is because of the Solid State Drive (SSD) that was installed from the factory. SSDs, if you aren’t already aware, are much faster than traditional hard drives because they have no moving parts. That’s right, no motors or spindles… just pure NAND flash memory (usually), and lots and lots of speed.
So… I began scheming back then about when (and how) I could get an SSD into my laptop. But the problem is that I do have much more significant storage needs. My laptop has a 500GB drive, and I keep it nearly full with stuff. Could I be more diligent and picky about what stays on my hard drive? Sure. But that takes time. Plus, I’m always of the opinion that I’d rather have that obscure file with me when I’m traveling because of the one time I get somewhere and need something that other people would’ve left on an external drive back home.
Why is that a problem for SSDs? Well… they don’t tend to do so well with higher capacities. And they’re expensive — quite unreasonably so when it comes to the higher capacities. In fact, had I been looking at a 500GB (or bigger) SSD, I’d have been back in the “that costs more than a new machine” zone.
So a few months ago I ran across this nifty idea. Some manufacturers had begun to produce “SSD Caddies” that take the place of an optical (DVD or CD-ROM) drive in a laptop. The idea is that you yank the DVD drive that came with your laptop and drop an SSD into one of these caddies and stick it in your machine instead.
Hmmmmm…. but I use that DVD drive, don’t I?
I decided to find out. When I’d gone more than 30 days without even opening it, I realized that the idea that I needed one was actually legitimately outdated.
So I waited for the right moment… in my case, it was an afternoon of waiting, waiting, waiting for some file to open while something else was running and my physical memory usage was up over 90% and 10 minutes of staring at the dumb blue blinking LED that represents hard drive activity had passed without the light ever flickering (because it was on solid from activity)… annnnnnnnd, I’d had enough.
I took the plunge, ordered the parts, and began the long, drawn-out process of waiting 2 business days for shipping. (Sad, I know.)
What Do You Need?
Well first, you’ll need an SSD caddy that matches your machine. At first, I searched for one that was clearly advertised as made for my particular laptop (using the manufacturer name and model number of my laptop). That seemed like a good idea. Price? Around $45 from some unknown online vendor.
Hmmmm…. I wonder…. is this laptop really all that unique?
So, I did some more digging around and found SilverStone Technology. They seem to make a handful of these unusual gadgets, and in my research, the TS09 model seemed like a good fit for my laptop (even though no specific laptops were mentioned).
To make sure it would work, I located the proper method for removing my ODD (optical disk drive), just to do some quick measurements.
For my Gateway NV57H44u, the optical drive (DVD writer, in this case) is held in place by a single screw which is located to the right of the Windows 7 COA label and Gateway info sticker.
I few twists with a screwdriver (while the machine was turned off, power supply disconnected and battery removed, of course), and the optical drive came free. I tugged on it to get it out, and checked it with a ruler. It was, in fact, a 12.7mm height drive. This is something of a “standard” size, although you’ll want to confirm with your manufacturer regarding the specs for your device (or just measure like I did).
The next thing I wanted to verify was that the optical drive that shipped with my laptop was using a typical “slimline” SATA connector (shown in photo). This is how the device gets power and how it communicates with your system. It was, so the TS09 looked like it might be the right fit. At less than half the price ($20 from Amazon) of the other caddy I’d looked at, this was feeling more and more like the right way to go.
The next big question: which SSD to get?
Well, this is where I’d done my homework. After lots of research, I had decided on the Samsung 840 series. The problem you may run into is that there are at least 3 different types of drives bearing that moniker: the 840, the 840 EVO, and the 840 PRO.
These drives are significantly different. Sure, they all look nearly identical, and they all have “840″ in the name. Frankly, they’re all fairly reputable as well.
You’ll find conflicting opinions—such as in this Tom’s hardware thread comparing Samsung 840 series models—but at the end of the day, the PRO won me over because of its speed and long-term reliability, despite its higher pricetag.
The next decision I had to make was about capacity… which, frankly, is all about how much you want to spend. I’d already decided that since my SSD was a new, second hard drive (and I was keeping my original 500GB drive for storage), I could live with having only 128GB on it. This is plenty for me to install Windows 7 and a few core applications that I need to run speedily (Google Chrome, the Adobe Creative Suite apps like Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc.) and Microsoft Office. All my data would stay on the traditional hard drive that shipped with my laptop.
So… the 840 Pro ran me about $130 on Amazon. Prices fluctuate. At this writing, it’s already down to $114.
Now… you can find 128GB SSDs for less. I’m guessing that even the 840 EVO (120GB) or standard 840 would be decent choices. I was willing to spend a little more for the PRO because I just don’t like to gamble with hard drives. Any of them can (and do) fail, so there are certainly no guarantees, but I prefer to give myself the best chances right out of the gate. Also, the PRO model’s additional speed was important to me, since speed was the whole reason to take this project on to begin with.
So you need an SSD and a caddy. That’s it!
Well… at least that’s it for hardware.
Unboxing the 840 PRO was a breeze. It dropped into the TS09 caddy, no problem. The trickiest part was deciding which of the screws to use to cinch it down to the caddy, which shipped with a couple of different sets for you to use. You can’t goof this part up, though, since the screws either fit or they don’t.
Once the drive was secured to the caddy, it only remained to insert the caddy into the laptop. One detail that could easily be missed is that the retaining screw (remember the screw that I removed earlier to loosen the optical drive?) has to screw into something. On my optical drive, there was a small metal bracket which received the screw and held it in place. I removed that bracket from the optical drive (it’s obviously a separate piece) and attached it to the same spot on the caddy, which had a hole in just the right place for it.
Once inserted, I fired up the laptop to make sure that everything was working. I saw a very satisfying green and blue color emanating from the new SSD’s LEDs, which shone through the well-placed hole in the caddy.
OK, Everything’s Installed… Now What?
Well… this is where you have some options about how to proceed.
To get the maximum benefit out of your SSD, you’re going to want it to be your primary drive… meaning the one that Windows (or your O/S of choice) is installed on.
There are two major ways to make this happen: migration or clean install.
If you choose to migrate, you’ll essentially be moving your current Windows installation from your existing hard drive over to your SSD. There are a few advantages to this:
- It’s easier (in theory, at least)… the 840 PRO series ships with migration software designed to make this happen for you. (Ironically, it ships on a CD. So, if you’re adding the SSD to your system instead of replacing your primary hard drive with it, you’ll need to plug your optical drive back in to use it.)
- You keep your current Windows setup completely intact. This means you don’t need to re-install any software, locate drivers, find product keys, installation files, etc. You’ll also keep your all-too familiar configuration… simple things like desktop backgrounds, sound “themes” and even locations of files will (most likely) all stay exactly the same as before.
- You may find that you’re up and running faster. Once you complete the migration, you reboot, and you’re in business. No need to install every Windows update since the beginning of time… and so on.
On the down side, migration:
- keeps all the crud that’s built up over time in your Windows installation. Software that you install and subsequently uninstall leaves traces behind… clogging up your Windows registry and ultimately slowing things down. Admittedly, I’m a power user, so I’m more prone to this sort of thing, but it’s worth a consideration. If you have only installed a few pieces of software, this is a non-issue. But if you’re like me and you’ve forgotten about more software than you remember, then those small effects can really add up.
- may not work! If you’re moving from a 500GB hard drive (that’s nearly full) to a 128GB hard drive, you can do the math. The important things that need to be moved are the boot partition and your O/S itself. However, if you had only one partition on your hard drive—which is how virtually every laptop ships from the manufacturer—and not separate partitions for your O/S and your data, then you’re going to have problems. The migration process may not adequately handle all the details that need to be handled, leaving you with a mess. On the other hand, if you are moving to an SSD with equivalent (or greater) capacity (or if you have a boot partition that’s equivalent or smaller than your new SSD), then you won’t have this consideration to worry about.
Besides migration, your other option is to perform a clean install of Windows. This means that you’ll be starting fresh… possibly even enjoying that OOBE (“out of box experience”) like you did on day 1 with your PC all over again.
Some of the advantages to a clean install are:
- You’ll have a clean slate. Only software that you choose to install will be installed. Often, this single factor alone can produce enough of a speed boost that people will do it even without moving to a faster hard drive.
- You can map out your new configuration as you see fit. Where will your “My Documents” folder be located? (i.e. Which drive will it live on?) Which programs do you want installed on the SSD (because you particularly need them to run faster) and which ones can stay on your legacy hard drive?
- Keeping your SSD clutter-free. I personally don’t want to store data and other static files unnecessarily on the SSD. It’s intended to be lean, fast, and unencumbered. My older hard drive can shoulder the load for storage and so forth.
Disadvantages to a clean install include:
- It can be a pain to do. Ever tried installing Windows 7 to a laptop without a Windows 7 installation CD/DVD? Even more fun… without a place to put the CD/DVD (since you yanked your DVD drive out to make room for your SSD)! A little extra effort (and perhaps some downright creativity) is required to pull this off.
- You may be out of commission longer. Nothing will be installed on your laptop until you install it. This means you’ll start with the essentials (Windows, Chrome, and your most-used software), and then you may find yourself discovering another missing item weeks afterward.
- Once you’re up and running, additional energy may be required to get everything back to where you like it.
For me, the decision between a migration and a clean install was a complete no-brainer: hands-down, I wanted a clean install. I was looking to squeeze every possible ounce of benefit (read: speed) out of this project. There’s no better way to pull that off than to start fresh with Windows. Being the extremist that I am (at times), I wanted to even be sure I avoided any of the bloatware that Gateway originally installed on my machine. So… I chose to not even bother trying to use the “recovery” partition. Instead, I went on the hunt for an official Microsoft image of Windows 7 to install.
Being a geek, I’ve performed many a clean install of Windows. Even so, it had been a while… so, I made a couple of blunders that cost me a little bit of time. Here are some notes so you can perhaps avoid running into any problems yourself.
- Prepare your Windows installer ahead of time. Before you take the big plunge and render your existing setup inoperable, do yourself a favor and get everything ready. It’s a long story, but I ended up needing to use another computer to do this. Chances are, you don’t have a Windows CD or DVD to install from, since most manufacturers quit distributing them long ago. So, you’ll have to work around this dilemma, which means you’re going to need a 4GB or larger USB flash drive, and you’ll also need to…
- Understand which version of Windows you have. If you bought your PC at retail, then you have the “OEM” version of Windows. That product key on the colorful COA sticker on the bottom of your laptop won’t work if you try to install the “retail” version of Windows. You also need to know if you’re using the 32-bit or 64-bit version. Once you figure out which one you have (mine worked out to be “Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium OEM”), you’ll need to download an .ISO file (DVD image) for that version. There are lots of places to look for these… some of them legitimate (read: legal) and some of them less so. To save time and energy, I located a version that included SP1 (“Service Pack 1″), which had a huge batch of the earliest Windows 7 updates rolled up into it already.
- Create a bootable USB drive with your Windows installer on it. Once you’ve located and downloaded an appropriate .ISO file, you can use Microsoft’s official Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool (more info about this here) to push the Windows 7 installer to your USB flash drive. (Note: I had a little trouble with this tool… in fact, it never did completely finish without an error. But I finally realized that if the tool made it to 98% before the error occurred, then chances are it actually had finished. This turned out to be true.)
- Before you get started installing, download all the drivers for your machine. Hit your laptop manufacturer’s website and locate the downloads for your model number. You’re going to need (at least): the chipset driver, video driver, audio driver, and network drivers for both LAN and wireless. You may also need to get drivers for your touchpad, webcam, card reader, bluetooth device and maybe some other peripherals in your system. That last batch can be downloaded from your new, fresh Windows install if necessary. But you’ll want the first batch in a folder on your USB stick so they’ll be handy when Windows comes up for the first time.
- Block off some time and be ready to reboot quite a few times. The actual Windows 7 installation went pretty quickly for me… maybe even under an hour. Once you have your basic driver set installed, however, Windows 7 will start pulling down updates. They number into the hundreds… and that’s when you start from SP1! Some of your drivers will even require a reboot upon installation, which is a good idea.
- Get your other software installation media ready to go as well. If you need to install other programs (such as Microsoft Office apps) from a CD, it’s a good idea to get those installers onto your USB stick ahead of time also. Many, many programs can be downloaded, so if you aren’t able to locate discs, it may not be the end of the world.
Once you’ve got your tools in place, then plug that USB stick in and go!
My laptop had no problem booting from the USB flash drive, and when the Windows 7 installer came up, it was pretty clear which drive I wanted to target for the installation. Be careful to select the right drive, though, as choosing the wrong option from the installer could end up wiping your existing hard drive. I plan to keep all the data on that drive (eventually I’ll delete the Windows folder, I guess), especially at first, so I made sure that Windows 7 got installed to my brand new SSD.
Once the Windows 7 installer reaches the point where it needs to reboot, you may want to take a look at your BIOS or “Boot Order” settings. My machine’s BIOS didn’t recognize the SSD as a hard drive in the boot sequence options, which led to a moment of panic. It did, however, still show the option of booting from the CD-ROM/DVD-ROM drive, which I realized pointed to the SATA channel that the SSD was connected to. So, I set the machine up to boot from that first (once I was finished with the USB flash drive portion of the process), and it worked like a charm.
As the installation process completes and a reboot is necessary, you may see an option to select from a couple of different Windows 7 installations at boot-up. The “top” option will be your new one. In my case, I can still boot to the previous Windows 7 install (from my legacy hard drive) using the 2nd option. This is nice for when you need to locate that one setting (piece of software, etc.) you forgot about. Later, you can remove the 2nd entry if you want to eliminate this step in the boot process.
I’ve now had a couple of days to enjoy using my machine since installing the SSD and getting a clean install of Windows 7 going. Wow, what a difference! I’m certainly seeing all the speed benefits I was hoping for. All the waiting from hard drive lag is gone. Reads and writes to the drive are pretty much invisible to me now. The machine boots up in a fraction of the time that it used to take. Some of the more hard-drive heavy software tools I use regularly (Photoshop, etc.) are faster than I’ve ever seen them on my own hardware.
An unexpected benefit that I’m seeing is a reduction in both heat and noise. The machine is quieter than ever… partly because the 2nd hard drive (meaning my legacy hard drive, which is now exclusively for storage) doesn’t have the constant read/write activity that made it noisy and caused it to get hot. In turn, with less heat in the chassis, the fan is running a lot less often. Those two combine to make this the quietest laptop I’ve ever owned.
Regarding battery life, I had expected it might suffer with the two hard drives. However, the power consumption of my SSD is virtually nil when compared to the legacy hard drive. Since the SSD is my boot drive (and my Windows drive), the reads and writes to the legacy drive are cut by 90% or more. Thus, I’m expecting to see a nice bump in battery life. I haven’t done any actual measurement of this yet, so I lack the evidence to make this claim unequivocally, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this bears out after some real testing.
In short, this is the best ~$150 I’ve ever spent upgrading a laptop. There is truly no comparison between the “after” and the “before.” I highly recommend it.
Even factoring in all the time I’ve spent… whether checking prices and doing my pre-planning or actually installing the gear and/or Windows and the accompanying joys of getting everything back up and running, this is well worth the effort. My payoff in terms of speed, responsiveness, and overall usability are beyond my wildest expectations.
In short: if you’re suffering from a slow laptop, add an SSD via a caddy and get yourself a major speed boost!
Late in the evening of Tuesday, December 17th, my Aunt Jane passed away. That moment represented the peaceful end to a valiant battle against cancer that she waged for the last few months of her life. Her daughter, Rachel, had arrived at her bedside just in time to be with her as she took her last breath… something for which I am very grateful.
Although we weren’t “close” for much of my life due to geographical distance, we had—for the last 5 years or so—spent quite a bit more time together thanks to her move to Florida. It was a great tragedy that precipitated her move here… the untimely loss of her husband, Jim, whom she greatly loved. They had made their home for the better part of their two children’s lives in Katy, Texas, just west of Houston. After Jim passed away in December of 2006, Jane felt drawn to Florida to be near to her parents, Rev. Jack Carroll and Erma Carroll, and to her sister (my Mom), Ann Johnson.
When she relocated to Florida, Jane brought with her my cousin Rachel, who was in her sophomore year of high school at the time. Jane’s eldest, my cousin Jay, was studying and playing football at Azusa Pacific University in the greater Los Angeles area, but we still managed to see him more often than ever during the holidays.
I’m very grateful for these past few years. We were all heartbroken at the loss of Jim… and very grateful for the family’s move to Florida. Countless times during Jane’s recent fight with cancer, whether we sat together at my parents’ house (when they were able to care for her there) or by her bedside in one of the three hospitals where she spent so much time, we remarked about how grateful we were that she moved her family to Florida.
Sadly, the time she spent her with her parents was not long. Within a year and a half of her arrival, we lost her father (my Grandfather). Fifteen months later, her mother (my Grandmother) passed away as well. A few short months later, my cousin, Rachel, left for college in Colorado, where she’s currently studying at the prestigious Colorado School of Mines.
Recently, I’ve thought a lot about that sequence of events… and although she didn’t “lose” her children, she did experience being distanced from them in the midst of losing her husband and her mother and father. I think that’s an awful lot of loss for someone to sustain, and my heart was heavy for her.
But… she was great fun to have around here in recent years. She was regularly to be found at Starbucks, where I would interrupt her coffee and reading when I had the chance. We always saw her at family gatherings for birthdays and holidays. She also went out of her way to invite my wife and daughter and I over to use the pool in her community, and we would often grab takeout and spend the evening with her afterward.
During her funeral service last Saturday at Toale Brothers in downtown Sarasota, Jane was remembered by all for her infectious laugh and for her feisty, vocal nature. She never was one to back down from any spirited debate, and it seemed that there were plenty to be had with her around! She was also fiercely loyal and genuine. She would certainly come to the defense of those she loved, and you really didn’t want to be on the wrong side of her when she did!
In addition to the family members who came to remember her and celebrate her life, some of Jane’s close friends from her neighborhood and from playing tennis were also there at her funeral. She managed to forge some really tight-knit friendships in her five years here in Florida.
I have fond memories of Jane from throughout my life. We briefly lived in the same part of Houston during my childhood, and I remember spending some time with her then. Not long after she met and married Jim, they moved to California. By then, my family had already moved away ourselves, so there were a few years there where we didn’t see them as often.
In addition to being spunky and stubborn (which I’m pretty sure came largely from her Mother), Jane was incredibly smart. This made her a force to be reckoned with. It was a badge of honor for me when I beat her (once) at Trivial Pursuit. I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I couldn’t have been more than 12 at the time, and I’m quite certain it was just because I got lucky with the cards that were drawn, but I was no less proud of it!
When her nose wasn’t in a book, Jane was constantly doing crossword puzzles. She loved music, and I remember my amazement at her CD collection when I was a kid.
Most significantly, though, Jane dove into raising Jay and Rachel with all of her might. She was very involved when they were in music and sports, and probably ruined the day of more than a few educators during her time as a Mom. It wasn’t a good idea to treat one of her kids unfairly, that was for sure!
I’m so proud of both Jay and Rachel today. They have each been shaped by the loss of their Father while in their teens. There’s no question that that was difficult—and I’m sure remains so to this day. But each has carried on and pursued and achieved great things since then. They’ve demonstrated great resolve and fortitude as they stood by their Mom during her battle with cancer over the last few months. I was heartbroken for them as they lost their Mom.
Likewise, my Mom has lost both of her parents and now her only sister. My heart breaks for her as well. The same could be said of her brother, my Uncle Steve.
I know that Jane had a very deep faith that kept her connected with God throughout the ups and downs of her life. She was, it seems, especially made to suffer at the hands of some of the “old school” religious ideas that were handed down early in her life. I don’t have a way to know this with any certainty, but I’m guessing that she spent some time being angry with God (not to mention some people) over some of that. But Jane yearned for freedom, heart and soul. As my wife, Jill, and I prayed with her in recent months—often alongside other family members and close friends—we could see Jane’s heart reaching out to God with everything she had.
As I ponder this, I am especially grateful now for her true freedom. She’s free of all the pain and nastiness that was brought on by cancer. But she’s also truly free in her spirit and soul right now. I can only imagine the reunion as she saw Jim and her parents again.
A graveside service will be held on Saturday, December 28th (tomorrow, as I write this) in Katy, Texas at 2pm (local time). Her body will be laid to rest alongside that of her husband, Jim, at the Katy Magnolia Cemetery. Jay and Rachel will be there, and I’m sure some friends from Jane’s years there in Katy will join them.
I miss you and I love you, Aunt Jane.
Can you believe we are in the last quarter of 2013 already?!
How are your 2013 business goals coming?
Hopefully, you’ve already blown them completely out of the water. But whether you have or not, what I’m writing to you about now could make an enormous difference in your business this year!
You probably know by now that I’m a big believer in getting around highly successful people — people who know something I could benefit from — and letting them share their expertise with me.
That’s why I want to invite you to join me — and lots of other successful business people (and soon-to-be successful people) – next Friday in Sarasota for the Empowering Small Business event.
I don’t know if you’ve met Dave Kauffman yet, but it seems like everywhere I go in Southwest Florida, someone comes up and tells me, “Hey… I just met your friend Dave Kauffman!”
Just a couple of years ago, Dave launched what has become a phenomenally successful service business in the Sarasota area. It’s actually remarkable just how much that business has grown in a very short time, but Dave will tell you that he’s successful because he got under the mentorship of some great people.
Dave now owns 4 businesses, and all of them are growing and profitable.
One thing I like about Dave is that he wants to share what he’s learned that has helped him run his businesses profitably, with rapid (but healthy) growth.
That’s why when he asked me to teach local business people about what’s working right now in marketing, I was delighted to accept his invitation.
Marketing is just one of the 5 cornerstones of business success that will be the theme of the one-day event next Friday that could change your business forever.
In fact, you’ll be hearing about…
Todd Smith, author of Little Things Matter, built a sales business that has paid him over $25 Million in commissions over the last 23 years. (You do the math… that’s over $1M per year!!) Todd is a personal friend who almost never speaks publicly any more, but since this event is in his back yard in Sarasota, Dave Kauffman got him to agree to come share with us. I’m personally going to be taking notes… and you will too!
Jane Kernen works with small businesses doing something that every small business needs to do more of:automating important tasks. What if you could take some of your most critical business tasks and successfully ensure that they’re being done up to your “best practices” level… each and every time, without a human being getting in the way? (Or forgetting?) Jane implements solutions like this with small businesses using one of my favorite automation tools on the planet: Infusionsoft. Whether you’re a solo-preneur or you have 500 employees, you can’t afford to miss what Jane will be teaching!
Ron Klein invented something that you use every single day and that has transformed transactions for billions of people on the planet! He’ll be sharing from his many decades of experience as a CEO, engineer and inventor, and you won’t want to miss a minute of what he has to say!
Dave Kauffman has learned first-hand what you and I know to be true: everything rises and falls on leadership. As the owner of 4 thriving and successful businesses, Dave’s picked up some highly important skills in the area of getting others engaged in your vision and helping develop people into the winners for your team that you need them to be!
Where else can you go (without having to travel!) and sharpen your skills in the 5 critical areas of marketing, sales, administration, operations, and leadership… all in one day?!
Space is extremely limited for this event. It’s going to be held at the beautifulPolo Grill right on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch. And by the way, lunch is included in your registration (which is already an unbelievable deal)!
Register now and bring a guest for half price!
If you’re like me, I always like to have my wife (she works with me in our business) or a key staff member with me when I go to an event like this… because they help me actually implement what we learn.
Dave wants you and your business to get as much long-term value as possible out of next Friday, so he’s offering you the chance to bring your business partner, spouse, or other key person with you for half price. That’s a savings of $48.50!!
But you’ll want to register right away, as the Polo Grill can only accommodate a limited number of people in their ballroom.
I’m looking forward to seeing you there next Friday.
Oh… in case you’re wondering,I’ll personally be sharing some of the secrets of how our clients are getting incredible results. One client recently achieved #1 Google search rank and had their best month in revenue after 24 years in business!
I’ll be giving you access to some of the information that only our clients usually get to hear about and we’ll show you how to put these strategies to work in your business. If you take good notes, you could literally see a difference in your business in just a few days!!
It’s going to be a great day. Check out all the details here. If you have any questions about the event, reply back to this email and I’ll get you the answers.
I’ve previously recounted my own memoirs of 9/11 in Sarasota, but as we remember the anniversary of this tragedy yet again, it seems that Sarasota’s connection to the events of that day gets stronger, if not more mysterious, every year.
Recently I was on a plane chatting with someone who happened to have moved to Sarasota in the years since 9/11. Not having been a resident of the area at the time, he was only vaguely aware of President Bush’s presence in our beautiful city that fateful morning. In fact, he’d recalled “W” being in Florida, and even on the Gulf Coast, but didn’t realize Sarasota was the location.
“Yep. He was in Sarasota. I saw him drive by that morning on his way to Emma E. Booker Elementary School, where he was famously reading to the children when someone whispered in his ear about the attacks,” I said.
As we flew over Florida, I went on to explain that several of the hijackers trained as would-be pilots nearby in Venice—one of them famously not wanting to bother learning to land, just fly.
It reminded me just how much I’ve always felt that Sarasota was eerily connected to the 9/11 attacks… and how that even that day I wondered if our city might have been a target because of the well-publicized movements of the President.
But none of us who lived here back in 2001 had any idea just how strong that connection would turn out to be. We learned of the Venice connection pretty quickly, of course. But we still don’t know much about the Saudi family living in Sarasota at the time, and just how much they may or may not have had to do with the 9/11 hijackers. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune is reporting that the FBI continues its pattern of obfuscation and denial about the issue.
Since the FBI has unfortunately not been forthcoming about what it knows, it is only after significant public outcry and a lawsuit that we, the people, stand a remote chance of ever learning more about the family who mysteriously vacated their Prestancia home just 2 weeks prior to the 9/11 attacks.
Perhaps we may never know just how deep the Sarasota 9/11 connection goes. For now, it’s up to a federal judge in Broward County named William L. Zloch. Let’s hope he rules in favor of the people.
A recent piece in The Economist (which included the above graphic) got me thinking about just how Google pulled off such a massive global coup in the world of desktop web browsers.
After all, the choice of what web browser to use has long been a deeply personal one.
And when I say “long,” I’m going back to when we had to decide between the original Netscape (c. 1994) and AOL’s crappy browser (lovingly referred to as “Nyetscape”). Microsoft wasn’t a serious player in this fight—although they began rolling out Internet Explorer with Windows 95—until they forced it on the world with service packs and ultimately integrated it into Windows 98 (because it was necessary, of course!).
Let’s not forget that in those days Apple was in the toilet and a workable Linux operating system for home use—even geek home use—was many years away. So, for all intents and purposes, Microsoft completely controlled the operating systems of, well, all of us. Thus, they had a bit of an advantage when it came to providing the world’s default web browser.
And that’s exactly what Internet Explorer (“IE”) became… the world’s default web browser. Despite its security flaws, vulnerabilities and overall user experience, IE’s dominance was unshaken for many, many years.
We could discuss why this was true for so long, but at the end of the day, I believe it all comes down to “friction.”
Very simply, IE came bundled with Windows. Installing a new browser meant going out of your way to a different website, selecting the right download, finding the download on your computer and running it. Then… it meant changing your habits. Instead of looking for the little blue “E,” you had to find the icon for whatever new browser you installed… and then there was the matter of default websites, bookmarks/favorites, etc. For an average user, this represented a fair amount of pain (geeks did all of this a long time ago… more on that later), and was more than most would prefer to deal with.
Along Came Google
Ultimately, it was all the “friction” that Google solved. After all, they’re a default of their own… when it comes to search. By placing a simple little button on their famously stark and simple search page, they provided many with the opportunity to experience the web with a better browser.
Now don’t get me wrong… Google had to also build a great browser. And they did. Chrome was lightweight and elegant (and still is, for the most part).
But the more important factor was that it was easy.
Google built an installer that ran right inside IE and eliminated most of the steps required that might have represented some degree of pain for the average user. In fact, I would argue that a direct correlation could be drawn between the improvements made to that installation process and the spread of Google Chrome.
And Google continues to innovate. Borrowing a page from the Mozilla playbook, they’ve created a marketplace for developers to contribute extensions that add features and functions to their browser, and they constantly look for ways to remove friction from processes—especially when they can carve a “path of least resistance” that leads to their own door.
Their latest innovation with Chrome involves streaming content from your browser to your television via WiFi. All it requires is the Google Chromecast, a simple device that connects to the HDMI port of your television and connects to your wireless network. The device is officially priced at only $35, but when it sold out in less than 2 days, it began selling for double and nearly triple that in no time.
In short, it’s the simplest and easiest way to enjoy internet-based content on your TV. Picture yourself sitting on the couch or laying in bed… you stumble across an interesting YouTube video on your smartphone, but you don’t want to be forced to watch it on that small screen… simply press a button and “Presto!” — it’s playing on your TV instead.
And the Chromecast isn’t limited to YouTube. All sorts of content can be sent to your TV. I believe it’s truly a game-changer… and it continues the tradition of eliminating friction.
What Does Your Choice of Browser Say About You?
As a quick sidebar, most of the geeks of the world jumped off the IE train just as soon as Firefox became a real alternative (for me, that was about 10 years ago). Firefox was much safer, and Mozilla had grown a community that fostered innovation (remember when “tabbed browsing” was new?). Overall, it was much less painful.
Other browsers began to pop up… Apple gained decent market share in the desktop and laptop space, increasing the presence of its Safari browser. More and more people realized just how bad IE really was… and somewhere along the line, your choice of web browser began to really say something about you.
At one point, someone famously published a study that suggested IE users had lower IQs than users of other browsers. The study was a complete hoax, and the originators of this delicious piece of fun managed to prank a number of reputable outlets, including the BBC, much to the delight of geeks everywhere.
Where web browsing will go in the future is anybody’s guess. For now, Chrome is the browser of choice for geeks and non-geeks alike. And we appear to be one step closer to Google’s takeover of the known world. Resistance, apparently, is futile.
Recently, I returned from my first Costa Rica trip. And, “Wow.” There were some moments that truly left me breathless:
My visit was mostly business, but thanks to my friend, Charles Boyd: “Costa Rica Charlie,” I managed to get to see some of the unforgettable sights in the Puntareñas province. Puntareñas actually covers most of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, but I spent most of my time near the quaint beach town of Jacó.
Traveling to Costa Rica
The actual trip to Costa Rica isn’t bad at all. My flight to San Jose, the nation’s capital and home of its biggest airport, took only two and a half hours (departing from South Florida). Immigration and customs moved at a reasonable rate, and within an hour after arrival I found myself exiting the airport with my checked bags. Even with my incredibly poor Spanish, I navigated through the process with relative ease.
Doing a little research, I found that many major airlines (and some tiny ones) have regular flights between San Jose and a number of U.S. cities. Finding one isn’t a problem, and cost isn’t a big deal. In fact, this whole trip cost less than many I’ve taken inside the U.S.
From the airport, we had a one-hour (give or take) road trip to get to Jaco, which sits directly on the Pacific Ocean. The journey takes you through some scenic mountainous areas on a relatively new highway, with a few stops to pay tolls along the way.
Depending upon the purpose of your visit, Jacó may or may not be for you. If you’re looking for the travel-brochure, 4-star luxury scene, you’d be better off visiting one of Costa Rica’s higher-end areas. (One exists just a few minutes North of Jaco, in fact: the world-famous Los Sueños Resort & Marina.) Jaco itself is known to attract surfers from all over the world (as is Hermosa just to the South, where evidently the real die-hards go), and is not a particularly upscale city. With its busy nightlife and main thoroughfare (which is loaded with restaurants and shops), it’s got a quaint, beach-town quality that’s familiar to anyone who’s been to Florida.
Beneath the surface, though, Jaco is a small town where everyone seems to know everyone else. The locals you encounter in Jaco will definitely help you understand why Costa Rica is thought of as the happiest country on earth. They seem to put up with gringos like me (I truly butchered the language quite pathetically while I was there) without a complaint.
My photos of Jaco didn’t turn out so great, partly because the times when I wasn’t working and was outside didn’t often seem to coincide with sunshine. The summer is officially part of the “rainy season” in Costa Rica, which makes everything come alive in a glorious green celebration of life, but comes with some extra clouds and rain.
The beach itself is OK. I’m a bit spoiled since I live and work near the best beach in the USA, so sand quality on other beaches is something I generally have low expectations about to begin with. And the sand of Jaco’s beach met those low expectations quite nicely. It’s actually got a darker color than I was expecting (almost chocolaty brown), and was perfectly tolerable. There are a few areas on the beach that suffer from some litter problems, but this could have had something to do with the exact timing of my visit since I was there during the short part of the year where Costa Rica’s native residents seem to all go to Jaco at once.
Overall, the beach experience was magnificent. Up at 5:30am each day (in summer, they’re on the equivalent of Mountain Time in the US… and they don’t change for Daylight Savings Time), I found the sun was already up and the beach was well-lit for a refreshing early-morning walk — something I highly recommend. I didn’t actually spend much time in the surf, but the waves were gorgeous. I think surfing lessons might be on the agenda for my next trip.
Villa Caletas and Other Local Attractions
A couple of quick adventures that I was able to enjoy when not working included an evening trip to the Hotel Villa Caletas. Along with its castle-like Zephyr Palace, which is a dream-come-true location for a destination wedding in Costa Rica, the Villa Caletas operates a gorgeous hotel with absolutely spectacular views of the rainforest and the Pacific Ocean. Just minutes from Jaco, this is and absolute must-see on any trip to the region.
Of particular interest is the gorgeous little amphitheater which is built into the top of the mountain ridge that is home to the Hotel Villa Caletas. I wish my photos could somehow do this justice… it’s much more majestic than it seems in these pics. They managed to perch their restaurant atop this ridge, and the stone amphitheater has a stunning drop to a tiny stage which I’m told actually plays host to some live performances.
But in the evening time, no live performance could begin to equal the stunning view of the sunset which the amphitheater affords. I took countless photos trying desperately to capture what no camera possibly could. In fact, the color variation in these shots is largely due to my camera’s inability to take everything in with the amazing shaft of light that penetrated through the clouds to the west. Depending upon what I focused the camera on, I got a light, dark or color-desaturated image.
Despite my inability to display it for you, the spectacle was nothing short of breathtaking. The view of the sunset is perfectly dazzling. However, Villa Caletas makes the experience even more unforgettable by creating a phenomenal atmosphere that complements nature’s own display perfectly. Firstly, the amphitheater is equipped with a sound system that adds just the right touch of ambiance with music. When we arrived — and as I caught my breath from taking in the beauty of the visual extravaganza that greeted me — I recognized the familiar strains of Vangelis’ “1492.” I can’t imagine anything that would have served as a more fitting soundtrack than that.
As we settled into a spot at the amphitheater to prepare for nature’s daily show, a waiter from the restaurant appeared with some seat cushions. We placed our order and a few moments later he re-appeared with what turned out to be a perfect cappuccino.
I was in heaven.
A gorgeous view… both of the sunset over the Pacific and of a spectacular stretch of dense primary rainforest as the mountain ridge dropped away beneath us toward the water… great music… a nice cup of coffee… the only thing I could’ve asked for to make it complete would have been the presence of my gorgeous companion, my lovely wife, Jill. Alas, she didn’t accompany me on this particular trip, so I look forward to a date at Villa Caletas to take in a sunset together the next time I go.
Seriously, this one element is enough to justify the entire trip to Costa Rica.
Ultimately, a small crowd gathered and cameras of every size and shape came out when the sun began its final descent for the day. But… I must say, a sort-of reverent awe came over the entire crowd. I hardly noticed that others were even there as we all watched the glorious display.
So that’s Villa Caletas. Or rather… the portion we took in (and presumably the portion that matters). We did manage to get a peek at Zephyr Palace. Though removed somewhat from the more “public” amphitheater (which could hardly be described as public), the palace commands a similar spectacular view of the Pacific (and the sunset). Like the restaurant area, it has an infinity pool stretching out toward the ocean, which is one story below the banquet facility and directly adjacent to the club-like dance floor. Rumor has it that the palace rents for something like $15,000 a night, and plays host to brides and their parties from the world over. I can see why.
We took in some other sights. I mentioned Los Suenos, which boasts what is arguably the best marina in all of Central America. Walking along the marina, yachts of every shape and size (and flying every conceivable flag) were docked. The luxury resort hotel at Los Suenos is a Marriott property, and although I didn’t get an up-close look at it, I’ve been told it’s an amazing property.
Costa Rica Real Estate
Perhaps the one thing I’m most excited about from this trip is the increased awareness I’ve gained for the Costa Rica real estate market. It’s definitely beginning to boom again. I don’t know if prices have crept up as high as they did during the high point of the market just before the US market crash, but they’re on their way back up. While I was there, an article in the newspaper reported on new statistics from the Central Bank of Costa Rica. The data show that the first quarter of 2013 represented a high water mark in terms of foreign investment in Costa Rica — reaching heights that haven’t been seen since 2000 — including $377 million in the real estate sector alone.
If everything is as it seems, there will be lots of Americans looking to purchase second homes, retirement homes, or even explore the expatriate lifestyle. In my book, Costa Rica is a great fit for any of the above!