Speed Up Your Laptop with an SSD

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.

Gateway NV57H44u

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).

Optical Drive: Slimline SATA connector

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.

Samsung 840 PRO Series 128GB SSD

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.

  1. 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…
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

The Results

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!

Join Me Next Friday for Empowering Small Business in Sarasota

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.

Dave Kauffman: Empowering Small Business

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…

Sales

Todd Smith, author of Little Things Matter

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!

Reserve your spot for this event right now.

Administration

Jane Kernen: Automating the Important!

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!

Operations

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!

Leadership

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?!

Reserve your seat right now.

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.

Reserve your seat right now.

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.

Puntarenas, Costa Rica: Travel Worth Doing

Recently, I returned from my first Costa Rica trip. And, “Wow.” There were some moments that truly left me breathless:

Sunset at Villa Caletas

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.

Jacó Beach

The Town of Jaco Sits on This Gorgeous Little Bay

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.

Jaco Beach’s Northern Tip

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. 

The amphitheater & restaurant at Hotel Villa Caletas

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.

A More Orange Shot of the Sunset at Villa Caletas

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.

This shot of the spectacular sunset at Villa Caletas shows just a bit of the tall pillars located in the amphitheater

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.

Yours Truly at Villa Caletas

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!

Prevent Ransomware: Update Java NOW

Whether you have a Mac or are running Windows or Linux on your PC, you should update java immediately. Read on to find out why…

Sure. We’ve all had spyware. Ads, popups. Annoying.

But what about having control of your computer taken from you by malicious hackers… and then being forced to pay a ransom to get it back?

Kinda makes a pop-up ad seem like a welcome annoyance by comparison, doesn’t it?

Prevent Ransomware: Images courtesy of redjar and MC4 Army via Flickr

This type of modern cybercrime attack is known as ransomware. And although it isn’t really new, it hasn’t been seen in the wild nearly as its annoying cousins. As it has evolved, ransomware has grown in its complexity, not to mention in the compelling nature of the demands being made by its creators. Some of the more sophisticated versions involve threats to report you to the police for your illegal downloads (you can use your imagination here) if you don’t pay, and even official-looking “fines” that appear to be messages from law enforcement.

Why This Is Urgent

Recently, a vulnerability in Java was identified. Java runs on virtually every PC (Windows, Mac and Linux) and a substantial number of mobile and other devices as well. There are many applications that rely on Java in order to function, and it’s hard to picture a world without it. Mashable estimated the number of computers affected at 850 million.

Java is owned by Oracle, which updates the software platform from time to time in order to provide feature enhancements and to fix security vulnerabilities. The most recent vulnerability to be discovered actually allows hackers to take control of your computer and download ransomware to it, not to mention the other exploits they develop.

Chances are really good that your computer is running some version of Java 7. Any version of Java 7 other than the just-released “Update 11” contains this vulnerability and should be patched right away. Without patching it, you run the risk of a “drive-by” download of ransomware (or some other bad-behaving software). Often this happens without your knowledge.

This vulnerability was discovered and publicized on January 10th by a blogger named Kafeine. Until it was patched, the only option available to prevent exploits was to uninstall Java from your computer and/or disable it in your web browser.

Thankfully, Oracle announced today that the vulnerability has been patched with the release of Java 7 Update 11. All users are advised to download and install this version right awayMost users only need the version labeled “JRE” as the “JDK” version is primarily only necessary for software developers.

The following tweet went out from Oracle’s official “Java” account at 4:43PM Eastern:

Once again, my recommendation is that you download and install Java 7 Update 11 (the JRE version) right now.

P.S. If you are reading this because you have a computer that is locked up with ransomware, don’t pay the ransom. Use one of the many available tools to remove it. Here’s a good place to start for free.

Ziglar Philosophy Carried By New Generation

Tom Ziglar with his father, Zig Ziglar (Photo courtesy of Ziglar, Inc.)

Tom Ziglar is uniquely qualified to talk about success. For nearly all of his 47 years, Tom has absorbed first-hand the wit and wisdom of  the man who is arguably the world’s best-loved motivator and success speaker: Zig Ziglar. And for the last 16 years, Tom has carried the responsibility for the success of the family business as CEO of Ziglar, Inc—America’s leading motivational and personal development training company. Tom and two of his sisters, Cindy Oates & Julie Ziglar Norman, represent the next generation of Ziglar bringing “The Ziglar Way” to a new generation of business people.

With his father slowing down (the elder Ziglar last spoke publicly in December, 2010), Tom is now carrying the torch of articulating the world-famous Ziglar philosophy from the stage as well as from behind his desk.

“Tom is not his father,” says David G. Johnson, founder of Sarasota-based Nourish The Dream, which regularly schedules Tom to speak at its business events. “You aren’t likely to see Tom zipping back and forth, up and down and all over the stage like you did Zig. But his message is no less compelling, and the insight he brings as the person responsible for implementing his father’s concepts—with everyone watching, I might add—is in many ways even more valuable… especially for today’s small business owner. We are proud to have Tom on our stage.”

Nourish The Dream is serving as the local host for Ziglar’s “Born To Win” small business growth workshop, a one-day event jam-packed with training that will help any business owner improve operations. Florida events are coming up in Tampa on November 15th and in Sarasota on November 16th.

“Tom and business associate Howard Partridge have created a revolutionary day of training,” says Johnson. “From phenomenal referral marketing systems to solving the number one problem facing business owners today, this one-day workshop is literally changing the lives of business owners. Many feel like their business depends completely upon them and that they can never truly get away from it. This day will change that.”

Howard Partridge is an eight-time small business owner from Houston, Texas, who started his first business out of the trunk of his car over 25 years ago. Today that business continues to produce millions of dollars a year in revenue and operates almost completely without his involvement.

“We got to know Howard and chose him to provide coaching to our small business owner clientele. He represents the highest levels of integrity and is a perfect match to the Ziglar philosophy, which is a very high standard. I’m proud to work alongside him to help small businesses become more profitable and more efficient,” says Tom Ziglar, who will be taking the “Born To Win” events to Australia with Partridge later this month.

When not in front of an audience or conducting local training workshops for business owners around the globe, Tom can be found spreading the Ziglar philosophy via next-generation media like Twitter, where he has amassed a following that numbers more than 71,000 people.

“I think Dad is a prophet and knew years ago that Twitter was coming,” says the younger Ziglar. “Almost all of his quotes are 140 characters or less!”

The full-day “Born To Win” workshop takes place on Thursday, November 15th at the Wyndham Westshore Hotel in Tampa, and on Friday, November 16th at the Homewood Suites by Hilton in Sarasota. Registration is $97, which includes a spouse or business partner, and is available by phone at 214-912-5795 or online at BornToWinFL.com.

 

Sheraton Tampa East Hotel – This Place is Great – You Just Have to See It

I took the family to Tampa’s new Sheraton (Sheraton Tampa East Hotel) this past weekend and was immediately blown away by the beautiful design and decor of this hotel. My first impression was that an artist must have designed this space. The lobby feels huge, bright and inviting; there are unique nuances to the architecture that compel you to stop and just enjoy the view before checking in to your room. There were so many areas for guests to sit privately or in large groups within the lobby and multiple computer stations. This is a great feature for business-minded people staying at the hotel.

Although this particular trip was for pleasure; as an event planner, I never miss an opportunity to scout an entire property to establish which types of events would do well at the location. Most hotels are designed around a certain type of audience and event, so they can’t accommodate anything outside of that target audience – at least not well.  However, the Sheraton Tampa East has meeting space for every kind of event and the meeting spaces are separated in such a way that multiple events could be taking place simultaneously without interfering with one another. There were board rooms, a grand ballroom, smaller dining areas and a hallway of smaller meeting spaces that would be great for break-out sessions. It is difficult to find spacious pre-function areas for receptions or event registrations anymore because many hotels have chosen to condense those spaces into crowded hallways. I was delighted to see multiple pre-function options that would add class  and efficiency to any event. If you’re an event planner, contact Judy Hollister at (T- 813-246-7120  M – 813-957-3380). She took the time to give me a full tour after normal business hours on a Friday – very nice!

The staff gave impeccable service from the registration desk to the extreme cleanliness of our room. They made us feel like welcomed guests. This hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service to many area restaurants and attractions. We took advantage of this service on our first night and the driver was very knowledgeable about the local area. He asked about the kind of evening we wanted and made recommendations accordingly. We chose dinner at The Cheesecake Factory at The Westfield Brandon Mall, which was only minutes away from the hotel.

We also enjoyed the lovely pool area, which was very clean and set in a relaxing atmosphere. Just off of the pool deck was the large fitness room, filled with many workout options. Admittedly, I did not work out; but keep in mind, this was a pleasure trip. A couple of other notable features are the well shaded complimentary parking lot, the computerized reader board for searches of the local area and things happening on-site, the excellent food served in their upscale Panfilio’s Bar and Grille restaurant and one of my favorites: a 100% non-smoking facility policy.

It may seem like I have gushed a bit too much here, but I am not usually impressed by a hotel and the Sheraton Tampa East Hotel was a first class experience. I would highly recommend that you book a room and check it out for yourself. Then feel free to let me know if I am way off base or, as usual, spot on with my assessment.

Yours Truly,

Cheryl

Fixing the Money Thing Goes Daily!

Gary and Drenda Keesee

Congratulations to Gary Keesee and the team from Faith Life Now as their popular Fixing the Money Thing television program moves to a daily broadcast schedule this week!

Fixing the Money Thing has introduced thousands upon thousands of people to Biblical financial and business principles over the last several seasons, and remains a rock-solid source of great teaching. The show, hosted by Gary and his wonderful wife, Drenda, airs on the Daystar television network Monday through Thursday at 5:30pm Eastern (4:30pm Central).

On Fridays, that time slot will be filled by the powerful Drenda show, which has aired for just over a year on the ABC Family Network. Drenda is focused on issues facing today’s women, and has steadily grown in popularity thanks to a wide variety of great content and a burgeoning online community facilitated by the show’s website and Facebook page.

We were privileged to have Gary Keesee as part of the powerful lineup of speakers at our recent Nourish The Dream event in Tampa, Florida and look forward to having him back with us for future events.

We’re excited for all the new developments for Gary and Drenda Keesee, and wish them and their entire team a very impactful run of new television programming!

 

Why I’m a Big Fan of Macy’s in Sarasota

Dean Burnside, Owner of Macy’s Pest Control Sarasota

Recently, I sat down for lunch at the newly reopened Don Pablo’s in Sarasota (a habit of mine lately) with Dean Burnside, Owner of Macy’s Termite & Pest Control. Dean and I have become acquainted lately thanks to an introduction from a good friend of mine who thought that the two of us would be like-minded.

It turns out we are. Dean operates his company with a very unique approach—one rooted in principles of business that are entirely Scriptural in nature. In fact, the first time we met, he described their operation as a, “for-profit ministry disguised as a pest control company.”

A quick aside: if you thought I was referring to Macy’s Department Store, my deepest apologies. Actually, I’m a big fan of that Macy’s in Sarasota as well. (Well… both, actually, since they have 2 locations.) I always get great service, and I was thrilled when they brought the famous Macy’s brand to town a few years ago, replacing the native-Floridian Burdines brand.

When it comes to pest control, Sarasota residents have quite a few options. Dean is well aware of this, of course. And in a competitive environment like this one, you might wonder why someone would bother trying to present their company publicly as one that upholds the highest standards of ethics, integrity, honesty and excellence. Businesses are being scrutinized quite enough without the added pressure.

But for Dean, the answer is simple. If his business doesn’t operate with excellence—whether it’s a salesperson who tells the truth or a service technician who delivers on the company’s promises—Dean’s company not only won’t grow and be profitable, but they also won’t have a valid platform to share what Dean calls, the “Good News.”

How Macy’s Termite & Pest Control Got Their Name

You might be wondering how a Sarasota pest control company owned by someone whose name is Burnside got the name Macy’s. Actually it’s a great story. The founder of the company is John Macy, who brought Dean on in the mid-1990s. John naturally lent his surname to the company—long before the other Macy’s came to town—and ultimately sold the company to Dean in about 1998.

Since the business already had a great reputation, Dean saw no need to change the company’s name, and has grown it considerably since then. Several years ago, John Macy showed up at Dean’s doorstep wondering if there was a role for him to play. Sure enough! Macy is now the company’s ambassador, and does lots of networking and assorted goodwill-generating stuff for the business. All these years later, the two make quite a team.

The Macy’s Termite & Pest Control name isn’t without its quirks, however. Dean says he routinely gets calls in November from people looking for tickets to the parade. His staff has the telephone numbers of the local stores handy to give out to people who call the wrong place. There’s even the occasional billing question that lands in their accounting department when people think they’ve already paid their Macy’s bill.

Dean’s a good sport about it, though. It isn’t unusual for the company to give out Macy’s gift cards to employees or as prizes in company promotions.

Under the Hood

Since my team and I are known for Nourish The Dream and the events we conduct around the country related to doing business according to Kingdom principles, Dean opened up his operations to me and allowed me to get a first-hand look at how they run things. As Zig Ziglar says, “What’s in the warehouse needs to match what’s in the showroom.” This is the case with Macy’s Pest Control.

I’m sure they disappoint a customer once in a while, and I have no doubt there are conflicts that arise in their business as in any other. But when you see a commitment to make things right and to really live up to the high standards someone sets, then you know you’re dealing with people of integrity.

An example that comes to mind deals with being a leader in green pest control. Sure… a lot of people are jumping on the environmentally friendly bandwagon, but Dean and his team see this as a lot more than a marketing gimmick.

Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28 NKJV)

Referencing the above Scripture, Dean will tell you that he sees this commandment and others like it as a mandate from God to take care of the planet. In an industry that makes wide use of chemicals, he sees it as his responsibility to operate with policies and procedures that do as little harm to the environment as possible. And plenty of others have taken notice, including Natural Awakenings, which has awarded Macy’s Pest Control their “Green Business of the Year” award several years running.

Next time you’re in need of a pest control solution in Sarasota, Bradenton, Venice and the surrounding communities, I urge you to give Macy’s a shout. Make sure you let ’em know we sent ya!

Epiphany Marketing Presentations at BarCamp Sarasota

Epiphany at BarCamp

Join Epiphany Marketing founder David G. Johnson at BarCamp Sarasota today for the following presentations as part of the Occupy Sarasota movement! (Techies Taking Over GWIZ)

Growing Your Business Exponentially w/21st Century Tools

2:30pm-3pm Saturday October 15th
Microsoft room at GWIZ

What We’ll Cover: How to capture the missing money in your business by leveraging tools like Google, Facebook, Twitter and more!

SEO Rock Stars Site Clinic

4pm-5pm Saturday October 15th
Microsoft room at GWIZ

What is a Site Clinic? In addition to providing valuable information, my good friends Mical Johnson and Tracy Ingram & I will be evaluating websites LIVE for people in the room during our presentation. Let us tell you what you can do to improve your site’s performance in search engine rankings!