Poker Account Vigilance

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December hasn’t been a great month economically, though I’ll do the final tally tomorrow and post as usual. That said, I’ve had more than decent success in the past 10 days in qualifiers.

Last Saturday, I came second in a qualifier that paid only the top two spots, and I won an entry into the weekly big Sunday tournament. I played, didn’t take notes (which is why I didn’t post), and finished in 484th out of 832. Not a good result.

That same Sunday, I won another qualifier, which only paid the winner. I rarely win tournaments, though I often cash, so winning was very gratifying. Since I already had won a seat for that week, I didn’t check my account for the automatic deposit of TDs (Tournament Dollars), which is what I would use to enter a future event without deducting any cash from my account.

In the few years that I have been playing online poker, I have never had a problem with these automatic credits. They are always there, period. So, on Friday, when I checked for my 215 TDs (each TD represents a real dollar, and the entry fee into the Sunday big one is $215), I was absolutely shocked to see no TDs in my account. I instantly wrote to them, and it took over 24 hours (and another frantic communication from me) to get someone to finally put the TDs in my account.

So, they did the right thing, but if I hadn’t checked, I wouldn’t have known until I needed to use them, and it would likely have been too late for that night (though I’m sure they would have made it right for a future event).

Every few months, they do a fantastic promotion. On the Saturday before the big tourney, they run their usual array of tournaments. However, on the special day (yesterday was one of them!) everyone who makes the final table (top 10 finishers) in 16 different tournaments, gets a free entry into the Sunday big one.

What makes it special, is that you also get the normal cash prize you would otherwise have gotten. Normal qualifiers are just the entry, so you pay to get into the qualifier, and if you win, your entry fee into the qualifier is your entry into the big one.

So, I entered a few of the tournaments during the day. I cashed in three of them, and finished in ninth (final table!) in one of them. So, I made money on the day, as well as winning another entry. Again, I saw no TDs, and I wasn’t automatically entered into the tournament (that had never happened before either!).

So, I wrote again last night. Today, we drove to VA to spend New Year’s Eve with our friends. When we got here, I logged on and saw that they entered me into the tournament. Cool. They did the right thing.

But, before we left NY, our friends said we were having dinner in tonight, so I knew I could play. When we got here, they said we were going for dinner to another couple’s house, so now I wouldn’t be able to play, or I would be anti-social. No problem (I thought). I’ll just unregister, and get the 215 TDs. So, I did.

When I checked my account, no new TDs. Oh oh, here we go again. I immediately wrote to support again, in a bit of a panic, because there was only one hour to the tournament starting time. If yesterday’s deal was use it or lose it, I needed to be reinstated, and be anti-social.

When I checked again five minutes later, I saw that I was credited with $215 in cash! Wow, that’s even sweeter than the TDs, not that I intend to withdraw the cash. Again, the site did the right thing.

Still, the point of this post is to say that you have check your poker account regularly, to make sure that everything that you expect to happen to it is actually happening. In my case, alls well that ends well, but only due to my vigilance!

Lost – Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD

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On the weekend of August 18th, 2007, our godson and his good friend (who we count as a good friend as well now for many years) visited us in NYC. I commemorated that weekend with five posts in a row. For me personally, the highlight was our accidental (and serendipitous) discovery of Girlyman on August 19th at Joe’s Pub!

We all had a total blast (on the off chance that you couldn’t tell that from the posts themselves). 😉

To thank us for the weekend, they bought us the DVD sets of Lost, Seasons 1 and 2. Of course, we were thankful for the gift and the recognition of our effors to create a memorable weekend. That said, we didn’t expect that we’d enjoy Lost all that much.

A number of times, I’ve mentioned that on some things, I’m a huge laggard. It took me forever to buy a standalone DVD player. I had a few DVR’s, so I didn’t see the need to play any DVD’s.

Lois, being a collector/archivist/gatherer (pick your own noun), was buying DVDs that interested her, long before we had a machine to play them on. When the choices started to include wide vs full screen, I encouraged her to buy wide screen, even though we didn’t own a wide screen capable tv!

Anyway, we eventually bought a DVD player for the house and the apartment. We also finally got a wide screen (HDTV) for the bedroom in the house, though everywhere else is still an old analog tv.

That background aside, the reason we didn’t think we’d enjoy Lost is that we had zero interest in watching it when it first came out. We don’t like any kind of horror movies. We don’t watch any reality shows either. Somehow, this felt like the combination of the two (at least from the buzz).

We had it on the shelf for two months, and I could feel Lois itching to at least try it, so that we could honestly give our feedback and say thanks (again) for the gift. A little over a week ago, with only reruns on regular tv anyway, we started season one. We’re obsessive types to begin with (I’ve mentioned that a number of times as well), so we averaged at least four episodes a day, every day. Each DVD has a maximum of four episodes on them, and there are six DVDs per season, plus one bonus DVD.

It’s interesting from the beginning, but for us (remember, our tastes probably aren’t normal), the first three episodes were also quite choppy, some excellent moments, and some mind-numbing stupidity. We hesitated pushing on. We are both 100% sure that if we had watched it on regular tv, with commercials, waiting a week between episodes, there is no chance that we would have watched after the third episode.

Thankfully, watching on DVD, with zero commercials, and the ability to watch as many episodes in a row as you can stand, and with the additional motivation of not wanting to tell our benefactors that we gave up, we kept watching.

We got totally hooked. We just finished season two this morning.

Here are a few thoughts on the show, without giving away anything whatsoever.

There are two separate themes in every episode:

  1. What is happening to the group, in terms of their predicament
  2. What is happening to individual characters, in terms of their former lives, and how it has shaped them and somehow becomes mirrored in an island interaction

The general story line is incredibly inventive, and often brilliant as well. There are things that happen that you simply can’t imagine how they are going to explain, without some magic. Often though, many episodes later, they explain it in a way that simply feels completely right and natural. Kudos to the writers for delivering that kind of experience so masterfully.

The other thing that is done nearly flawlessly are the flashback scenes where you learn about each character. The depth of the back stories is amazing. They show scenes that all by themselves would make for a compelling show, rather than just trying to explain why a particular character acted in a particular way on the island. Considering how many different characters get detailed back stories, I can’t even comprehend the talent of the writing staff.

For the vast majority of the cast, the acting is also flawless. There is one notable exception. For us, the star, Matthew Fox, is wooden at best. On rare occasion, he can deliver a scene in a believable manner, but not often.

For me, season two was better than season one (which was excellent). Again, there was an episode or two that didn’t live up to the rest, but nothing like the first few in season one where you just scratched your head wondering if they just lost their way.

So, is it a perfect show? Not even close. In particular, to me, they don’t really know what they want to do with Jack (the Matthew Fox character). Lois got so annoyed at me yelling at the screen “No way he could be that stupid!”. She finally asked me to zip it, and that she got it already.

The writers might respond that it was their exact intention to engage me, but if that’s true, I say hooey! Characters can have a twist, but they should be understandable, and hopefully even explainable. Too many times, he simply appears stupid.

Is it a great show? To me, the answer is an unequivocal yes! We have already ordered season three on DVD, but we won’t get to watch it until mid-January given our crazy schedule. The timing just worked out perfectly for us to plow through two seasons in roughly one week. One of the reasons was unfortunate. Lois was quite sick for the past six days (she’s still sick, but hopefully on the mend), so she didn’t slave away at the computer as much as she otherwise would have) and that made her mellow enough to watch for hours on end.

So, is there a difference between a great show and a perfect one? Of course. Would I ask a rhetorical question if I didn’t have the answer? 😉 To us, Burn Notice is a perfect show. We can’t wait for it to return this coming summer!

On to the extras. On many of the DVD’s, there is a Bonus Features section. In addition, there is a seventh DVD in each season’s package, that is only bonus stuff (behind the scenes, interviews, how certain things were done, etc.).

The vast majority of the bonus features on the bonus DVD are well worth the extra time to watch. For me, who knows zero about how movies are made, it was a blast to see how they do things (including getting the plane on to the island, etc.).

One of the bonus features on the first season DVD was the audition tapes of many of the actors. Interestingly (to me) was watching Matthew Fox read the part of Sawyer (most of the male actors read the Sawyer part to begin with). He was horrible. Even people that could never pull off the current Sawyer from a believability perspective, at least read the parts believably. Fox didn’t. I had already formed my opinion that he played his part weakly, but wondered whether they wanted him to play it that way. Watching the auditions convinced me that he just doesn’t have the talent that the rest of them do.

During season one, we were more interested in not breaking the rhythm of watching the episodes, so we didn’t watch a single bonus track on the non-bonus DVD. However, when we finished the first DVD of season two (four episodes), we decided to watch the bonus feature on that DVD. It was really interesting, but, amazingly, they (I assume accidentally!) gave away a key secret that didn’t get revealed for another two or three episodes! I couldn’t believe it, and now I won’t watch any of the bonus features on a regular DVD until the season is over.

One of the underlying themes in the show is the interconnectedness of the various characters (the six degrees of separation). They do it well. That said, it’s still in the over-the-top phase for me (though I enjoy it thoroughly!), since we don’t yet (even after season two) have a clue as to why it’s all happening.

Lois made an insightful comment last night. We both saw the movie Babel (with Brad Pitt), and thought it was incredibly stupid and poorly done. Of course, it too was themed on interconnectedness and six degrees of separation. She commented last night that Lost achieved this goal whereas Babel failed.

Anyway, while I’ve probably lost every single reader by now, the bottom line is that if you haven’t seen Lost yet, get the DVD’s, and don’t give up before you finish at least the entire first DVD, perhaps even the first two (even if you are tempted!).

Thanks guys, this one really hit the spot, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving, in that it lasted well over a week and will continue when season three arrives! 🙂

VMWare Player

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My laptop is now ancient by date standards (I bought it 3.5 years ago), but it’s still reasonably peppy, and has some features that are difficult to find nowadays (like a 16″ non-widescreen LCD!). It was a real beast at the time I bought it (3.4Ghz desktop Pentium 4, dual 60GB hard drives at 7200 RPM each, 2GB ram, 1600×1200 screen, S-Video out, DVD +/- RW, etc.)

Every few months, I humor myself and configure up a new beast, and then convince myself that this one satisfies me in most ways (which it does), and I defer for a few more months.

When I first bought the laptop, I intended to run Linux on it full time. I kept getting errors on it, and it would die mysteriously. At first, I suspected that the Linux kernels just couldn’t quite deduce my beast’s configuration, but after breaking down and putting Windows on it, and getting similar errors, I shipped the machine back. Indeed, they found some kind of problem, and repaired it.

When I got the machine back, I reinstalled Linux and was reasonably happy for a week. Then I started to miss a few programs that I got very used to in Windows land. I then installed Win4Lin and Windows 98SE. That kept me reasonably happy, except that one or two programs would only work when I was hard-wired into the network, as they couldn’t control the adapter to their desired level if I was using WiFi (a limitation of Win4Lin at the time, probably now long resolved).

After six weeks of loving Linux 95% of the day, but requiring Windows 5% of the day (and not being happy with the above limitations), I finally, and regretfully, reverted back to Windows XP, full time.

Shortly thereafter, VMWare released VMWare Player for free. I thought that it would be interesting to reverse my previous usage, and be able to run Linux in a VM when I wanted (I had been using Cygwin forever, and still do, and like it a lot, but hey, there are other advantages to using a VM).

Unfortunately, while VMWare Player worked for the most part, occasionally it would crash on me (this was something like version 1.28). I attributed it to my non-standard config and lived with it. Until, after one crash, the VMWare image would no longer open. All of my hard work and configuration of that particular Linux install gone. I was completely locked out of it.

I uninstalled VMWare Player, and have lived with Cygwin ever since (again, reasonably happily). I can boot Linux off of a CD, or, with a floppy to a USB stick (because my BIOS can’t boot directly off of a USB device). I was also able to run the embedded distribution of DSL (Damn Small Linux).

The other day, I was browsing for something, and came across a mention of VMWare Player 2.02. Glutton for punishment that I am, I downloaded and installed it. One nice feature (which may very well have been in v1.x, in fact, it’s quite likely, but I never tried it) is that you can create a tiny configuration file (.vmx) and that file can point to any ISO file for the Player to boot.

This means that all Live Linux ISO images can be booted directly by the Player, without having to create a hard disk image for them. This is made even cooler, because by default, when you close down the Player, it suspends the VM rather than killing it. It saves the ram image to it’s own disk file, and the next time you launch the player and select the same vmx file, it opens Linux (or whatever image you were running) right where it was.

So, a Live CD image can be run over multiple sessions, with data remembered in betwen, etc. Of course, this can be a risky way of storing your data, so you shouldn’t expect it to be highly reliable. Of course, you can “back up” your data in any number of ways, including some distribution specific ones (like My DSL, etc.).

I have not used it heavily yet, but I have successfully booted DSL 4.2 a number of times (including coming out of a suspended session successfully), and Sidux 2007-4. The whole idea is cool to me and preferable for those rare occasions when I want an X-Server running on my laptop rather than using the X-Server that is available in Cygwin (that works too, but can be flaky and/or annoying at times).

It also makes for much safer browsing, especially if you are visiting a site that you have reason to be suspicious of. Fire up a Live CD version of Linux (DSL is small, and boots really quickly), browse, and don’t suspend if you suspect anything bad happened.

P.S. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with setting up a real permanent disk file, and installing Linux into that virtual filesystem, rather than running a Live CD over and over. Even so, I’d back up the data in that file separately, until I find out whether version 2.02 of VMWare Player is more trustworthy (at least on my machine) than 1.28 was.

Service, a Dying Art

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It continually amazes me how poor the service is at most companies. It has become so bad (for quite a while), that even when a company can clearly differentiate itself on service alone, it might not be good enough. Why? Because consumers have become so jaded, that they often will continue to shop for a bargain, knowingly giving up good service, to save some money (often, a trivial amount).

Of course, providing good service can come at a greater cost, but it doesn’t always have to.

In this post, I described the broken dampers on our heating system. When they diagnosed the problem the next day, we asked how quickly they could come back and fix it. We travel a lot, and even when we’re in NY, we split our time between the house and the city, so scheduling can be problematic.

It took two days, and a signed contract on our part, to get them to commit to coming 10 days later (which was yesterday). We had the first appointment of the day, 9am. The day before, mid-afternoon, they called, and I had the misfortune to answer.

The guy explains to me that they have an emergency that has to be taken care of first thing in the morning, and would it be OK if they didn’t show up at our place until noon? In these kinds of matters, I’m a relatively easy touch, for a number of reasons. I said “No problem”, immediately.

A minute later, Lois walks into the room and asks who just called. I explain, and she gives me the look. If you’re not married, let me translate: How could you be so stupid?

There are two reasons why Lois reacts differently than me in these types of situations:

  1. In general, she doesn’t like to be taken advantage of.
  2. Specifically, she knows that things go wrong, and if they have a problem at the emergency, they might miss our appointment.

Given our schedule, and Lois’ general protectiveness of our environment, this request was not as reasonable to her as it was to me.

Lois called them back two minutes later. She couldn’t get the same person who called me on the phone. After vigorously discussing the situation with someone else, they agreed that they would be here by 11am. That said, Lois extracted much more information from them than I did (because I didn’t even try).

At first, Lois was told that there was no heat in the house that needed the emergency visit. Lois is no dummy, so don’t ever tell her something that simply doesn’t make sense. She’ll skewer you, instantly. She asked him why they weren’t over there working on it now, given that there were still a few hours of daylight left, and the people might freeze overnight?

He then admitted to her that the house was empty, and that they were working on the system that morning, and screwed something up. They wanted to finish it up before starting our job. After some more haggling, they reached the 11am compromise discussed above.

At 11:45am yesterday, 45 minutes after they were supposed to show up, Lois called them. When she gave our information, she was told that there was no appointment scheduled for us whatsoever. Not the right thing to say to her. 😉

I got a piece of her mind as well (after the guy promised to look into it), given that somehow, it was my fault for agreeing to this delay to begin with. I assured her (hollowly) that the guy answering the phone had no clue, and that the crew knew to come here after the emergency.

Five minutes later, the doorbell rang, they were here. Whew! I’ll spare you the back-and-forths over how this crew gave us different feedback from the first two people who had been here, giving us real comfort (not!). In the end, they did a very good job, and we have brand new dampers, that have been working well now for 24 hours.

Everything about this job reeked of poor service, and poor customer communications. This is not atypical for this company, even though their work has never disappointed us over the years. Our neighbors stopped using them years ago, after getting tired of fighting with them. We were happy to switch to the company that they did, but we have a York system, and their company won’ touch it. Oh well.

Acoustic Guitar Update

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This is another long post, so bail now, while you can, or grab a cup of coffee (to keep you awake). 😉 Actually, the post itself isn’t insanely long, but if you watch each of the videos that I’ve linked it, the entire trip will take a while…

I’ve gone on and on in a number of posts about my long-time love for acoustic guitar music, and my recent discovery of some masters of the genre. I could link to those posts, but if you have an interest, it’s simple enough to type the word “acoustic” in the search box and see the titles and decide for yourself.

This post has been rattling around in my head for over a week, begging to be set free. I was waiting for one of two things to happen before writing it. Neither has happened, but a third (unexpected) event occurred last night, finally pushing me over the edge to get this on paper. 😉

This new adventure was officially kicked off when I saw Bill Cooley live accompanying Kathy Mattea. I wrote that he might be the best acoustic guitarist I’d ever heard. Eric Sink commented that those were fighting words (not really!) 😉 and pointed me to Phil Keaggy. When I reviewed The Master and The Musician by Phil Keaggy, Eric commented that I should check out Michael Hedges and possibly (only if I dare!) Kaki King.

Like I’ve said before, anyone who doesn’t pay attention when Eric Sink speaks is likely a dummy. I try hard not to be a dummy (not always successful), so I checked both of them out. What, exactly, does that mean?

When I was growing up, one discovered music mostly on the radio. Word of mouth was probably second, but then the circle of mouths was relatively small. Third was TV, with shows like Ed Sullivan showcasing some musical group every week. All of that is different today. I’ve had a specific post about Pandora and rattling around in my head for months now, and I’ll birth that sometime in the next few weeks (and therefore ignore it for now).

Today, with the Internet (you’ve heard of it, right?), one can purposely or accidentally discover music to the extent that one cares, with extremely little effort and time invested, with little risk of purchasing music that will eventually disappoint. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of sites to listen to music on, but for me, the two juiciest targets are MySpace and YouTube.

An incredible number of bands have MySpace pages, with the vast majority of those offering at least four songs for immediate streaming. If someone mentions a band to you, see if they are on MySpace, and check out whether you like their music or not. For my personal quintessential example (no surprise to anyone who has visited here before), I learned in 30 seconds that I would love Girlyman from their MySpace page.

All that said, lately, I am much more hooked on YouTube. It has boggled my mind how many clips (many of them of reasonabe quality) are available for an amazing number of artists. Since I love live music, YouTube gives much more of a feel of the performance in addition to just the music. With some of the incredible styles that today’s acoustic guitarists have, the video is much more powerful (to me) than just listening to the music.

So, after watching quite a number of YouTube videos (I’ll link at least one to each artist’s name in the coming paragraphs), I have purchased a bunch of new albums, mostly downloaded on Amazon’s MP3 service, with the rest on real CDs.

Following Eric’s advice, I ordered two Michael Hedges CDs. He’s not available for download on Amazon 🙁 so I have to wait for them to show up. Since his CDs haven’t shown up yet, he was one of the reasons that I was waiting on this post.

Also following Eric’s advice, I checked out Kaki King. He was correct, as some of her stuff is out there. Still, even that stuff, when seen, is amazing. The rest of her music is gorgeous. I downloaded both of her albums that were available on Amazon. I can’t tell you how hard it was to boil her down to two videos for this paragraph. The selection is very broad, and most of them are truly entertaining. Check her out!

Bill Cooley himself (yes, he’s kind enough to respond when I email him!) suggested that I check out Phil Keaggy’s Beyond Nature CD. It wasn’t available for download at Amazon (though many others are, including Acoustic Sketches, which I’ve downloaded and really enjoy). I had intended to purchase Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II from Amazon, but on they had a special bundle.

Three CD’s, Beyond Nature, Acoustic Sketches, and Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II, for a very good price. Unfortunately, I already bought Acoustic Sketches. I bought the bundle anyway, since Beyond Nature was only available on that site, and the price was great, and I’ll give Acoustic Sketches as a gift to some lucky person! 🙂 They haven’t arrived yet, so I can’t review Beyond Nature. That was reason number two for holding off on this post…

On Phil’s site, they mentioned that Beyond Nature was ranked #3 on the DigitalDreamDoor list of the 100 Greatest Acoustic Guitar Albums. In addition, Acoustic Sketches and Freehand are both in the top 100 as well (hence, their idea for the bundle!).

On that list, in number one is Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges. Cool, it’s one of the two of his that I ordered. Number two is 6 & 12 String Guitar by Leo Kottke. I remembered at that moment that I had a CD of his that I hadn’t listened to in 20 years, and hadn’t ripped on to my iPod. I ran downstairs and found it immediately (my CDs are filed alphabetically), it’s called Guitar Music from 1981, and it’s fantastic. I also downloaded 6 & 12 String Guitar from Amazon. Also fantastic!

So, while I owned Leo Kottke already, without the list at DigitalDreamDoor, I wouldn’t have looked for it. I then noticed that the guy in number five, Adrian Legg, had three other top 100 albums listed. I bought two of his albums on Amazon Downloads as well.

What prompted me to finally write this post when I’m still waiting for the Michael Hedges and Phil Keaggy CDs? Yesterday evening, Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation, the portfolio company that I spend the majority of my time with/on) IM’ed me this video of Andy Mckee. It’s the first time he’s recommended any music to me, so, to humor him, I bought all three of Andy Mckee’s albums that were available on Amazon Downloads. 😉

I wasn’t a very careful consumer though. While I think Andy is wonderful, there are four songs that are on both his Art Of Motion and Dreamcatcher albums, so I now own two copies of each of those…

Whew, I think that’s most of what’s been screaming in my head on this topic. One last thing though. I need to contact Bill Cooley one last time in 2007, and ask him (or beg him) to put his music up for sale at, and iTunes as well. It’s very hard to promote him to others when it’s difficult to buy his stuff online. At the very least, his new album (coming sometime in 2008) better be available for download! Now, if I could twist his arm to put up a YouTube video or two… 😉

Roundabout Discovery of Scorpions

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Technically, this entire post should really be a comment on someone else’s blog (you’ll find out which blog and post in a minute). Given how wordy I always am (this will be no exception), I couldn’t bring myself to even find out if I would be allowed to post such a big comment…

For sure, it wouldn’t be fair to his readers, who want to interact with him, to be taken in an entirely different direction by me.

Buried in this post about watching video podcasts on my iPod Nano was a mention of my dinner at Grand Central Station. Dinner that night was with Jamie Thingelstad (there, I’ve outed you Jamie). Jamie was the CTO of the first company I ever invested in (BigCharts), sold to Marketwatch, which was sold to Dow Jones, which was last week sold to News Corp.

Jamie still works there (though he left for a bit in between). Jamie brought along Jim Bernard who is the general manager for Marketwatch (now under News Corp’s control). Jim joined BigCharts more than a year after I invested, and I had not met him before that dinner, because we sold it to Marketwatch 14 months after my investment.

At dinner, we discussed a very wide range of topics. Among them was blogging (all three of us blog at least semi-regularly). While I’m a VC by profession (coming up on my 10 year anniversary of my first investment in two months!), I only blog about personal stuff.

Jamie mentioned that I should check out Fred Wilson’s blog (at the moment, the site loads very slowly on my very fast Verizon FiOS link, so have some patience, it’s definitely worth it!). This morning, as a follow-up, Jamie sent me an email with the link to Fred’s blog (obviously, he wanted to make sure that I read it) 😉 and to Jim’s as well (linked above).

Trusting Jamie on nearly all matters (the one notable exception is his failed attempt to convert me to a Mac user) 😉 I happily clicked over to Fred’s blog to take a peek. I have known of Fred for a very long time (from his Flatiron Ventures days), being a fellow New York based VC, but have never run into him directly.

The top post on Fred’s blog today (it might not be by the time you read this) is about giving in order to receive. It’s a wonderful thought, and there are some thoughtful comments on it as well, that are worth reading. That said, while I completely agree with the sentiment, and I practice it in all things every single day, in my personal experience, it doesn’t apply as well to the world of VCs as it appears to have worked for Fred.

For a quick disclaimer, you can read the testimonials on my site (they are ancient, as I haven’t bothered to update them in years), to know that I am not a vulture capitalist, and I truly care about and try to work very closely with my portfolio companies. I put in more personal sweat and blood than most people I know, as does my wife and partner, Lois.

My experience is that many (perhaps even the majority) of entrepreneurs aren’t all that interested in advice. That’s too harsh. They are interested in hearing it, so that they can have the appearance of a rounded view, but they became entrepreneurs because they knew best, and by golly, until they fail, they are going to do it their way. This doesn’t make them bad people, just stubborn, and sometimes, assuming ill-motives to advice givers, even when obviously undeserved.

Even that’s not the real reason for this long comment on Fred’s post. 😉

As you can tell from my tag cloud, the two things I post about most often are Poker (I don’t write anything interesting, so if you’re a poker fan, don’t bother looking for advice, I just summarize my personal results to keep myself honest) and Music. Music (in particular live shows) have become a passion (bordering on obsession) for Lois and me over the past few years.

So, while reading through the giving to receive post and the associated comments, I see that John Maloney posted a link to the following YouTube video of the Scorpions. Given my penchant for Music, I clicked on it before reading the remaining comments (which I came back to later). I immediately liked what I saw/heard. I then watched another dozen videos by them and liked every one of them.

Then the big surprise. I see a video called Rock Me Like A Hurricane (performed by the Scorpions). I am plenty old enough to know that song really well. Obviously, not well enough to know it was by the Scorpions. 🙁 In fact, I would have (foolishly) guessed that it was someone like Van Halen.

So I am now officially a Scorpions fan, and definitely want to see them live. I just checked their site for tour dates, and they just finished up a swing in India. Missed them by that much

I am also now officially a fan of Fred Wilson’s blog (the rest of the posts are interesting as well!), and I have now subscribed to it as well.

Thanks to Jamie for (unwittingly) introducing me to the Scorpions (and, oh yes, to Fred’s blog as well). 😉

Of course, this brings Fred’s original post topic into clear view. I gave money to Jamie’s company, BigCharts, and through Jamie, I received the link to Fred’s blog, which led to the discovery of the Scorpions. Cool! 🙂

Gotham Comedy Club

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In this post, I mentioned that we might go see Jamie Lissow (again) at the Gotham Comedy Club.

After enjoying the Vienna Boys Choir at Carnegie Hall in the afternoon, we relaxed in the apartment and watched most of To Catch A Thief by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.

For the second night in a row, which was also only the second time in forever, we took our car out of the garage and drove a whopping 11 blocks to eat at a wonderful vegetarian Indian restaurant called Pongal on 28th and Lexington Avenue. On a typical Sunday night in NYC (especially in the winter), parking should have been a breeze down there.

Unfortunately, NBC was shooting something down there, and the police had signs all over the neighborhood saying “No Parking” after 7pm. 🙁

I dropped the others off, and after circling the neighborhood twice, found a great spot two blocks away, so it ended up being fine.

We had a fantastic meal that all of us enjoyed, but we also all felt stuffed to the gills afterwards. One of the five of us didn’t have an interest in the comedy, so she walked back to the apartment and relaxed there for the evening. The rest of us drove to Gotham Comedy Club, and we got a great spot on the street, directly across from the front door.

It’s a beautiful club, with a spacious layout between the tables (a very welcome change to lots of NY venues where you are packed in like cattle). Unfortunately, the seats are extremely uncomfortable, and need way more padding. In addition to a cover, they have a two drink per person minimum, or a food order. Obviously, we were too stuffed to order food, so two drinks it was going to be.

Again, unfortunately, our waitress was hyper-aggressive about wanting to start the drinks rolling. We were seated at 8:15pm for a 9pm show, so it was disappointing to get that much pressure/attitude that early in the evening. To boot, the gratuity is built in to the check…

We really went to see Jamie Lissow, who was the MC last night. When he came out, he was pretty funny, but 95% was interacting with the crowd (“Where are you from?”, followed by funny ad-libs, etc.). He was definitely good with the crowd. Unfortunately, while he was on stage between every act, he only told two or three jokes, instead just making introductions the rest of the evening.

There were roughly seven other comedians last night. All of them had good stage presence, and each had at least one good joke, a few of them a handful. Unfortunately, all but one of them resorted to ultra-crude humor to try and get laughs. We haven’t been to a comedy club in ages, so perhaps this is the norm. It just happens to not be that clever (in our opinion) and is, in fact, lazy.

The crudeness actually doesn’t bother me at all, but it really bugs Lois, so I cringe when they say something that I know is flat out offensive. Jerry Seinfeld (among many others) has proven that you can have a 100% clean act and still make it. Of course, perhaps it’s much harder to actually think about everyday life, and spin it in a funny way, rather than another sex joke filled with curse words…

The last comic, Kevin Flynn, who was the best of the bunch (not including Jamie) was introduced as having been in a movie with Ben Stiller (The Heartbreak Kid). IMDB doesn’t list him, but does, so I am not 100% sure.

After the show was over we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to say hello to Jamie, and let him know that I was the guy whose blog he commented on. Hopefully, he got a kick out of that.

We definitely enjoyed the evening and were glad we went, but on balance, we’d rather see live music than gamble on the quality of comedians we haven’t seen before.

We got back to the apartment a little after 11pm, and watched the end of To Catch A Thief. We didn’t discuss the movie afterwards, as Lois and I went straight to bed. But, just based on body language, I’m guessing that I enjoyed it more than the other four people combined. 😉

Vienna Boys Choir

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As I’ve mentioned at least twice, we have company this weekend. We like to do things that the visitors would enjoy whenever possible. Sometimes, we have to guess. Other times, we get lucky and get specific requests.

Yesterday was one of the lucky times. A few weeks in advance, they let us know that they would love to see the Vienna Boys Choir at Carnegie Hall. The show was listed on the Carnegie Hall site, but the tickets were not yet on sale.

Amazingly, calling the box office yielded no further information. They had no idea when the tickets would go on sale. How can that possibly be?

Anyway, I checked every single day. Roughly a week later, the tickets were finally available online. We got five tickets in the Parquet (which is like the first mezzanine). Each entrance has a private coat closet and eight seats. We were slightly to the left of center stage, and everything about the seats was excellent (location, comfort, etc.).

There were 24 boys on stage, plus one adult choirmaster who also accompanied the boys on a grand piano. The boys sing beautifully, no doubt. That said, since they all sing in alto ranges, whenever they were accompanied by the piano (he was a superb pianist!), they were somewhat drowned out.

Thankfully, roughly half of the performance was a cappella, and they truly amazed when performing without the piano.

The performance was split into two sets. Before the intermission, there was a slant toward more operatic style music. Some of the selection didn’t seem to match their skills. The second set was heavily oriented toward Christmas Carols (multiple languages), and all were delightful. The carols connected deeply with the audience, and you could viscerally feel the reaction after each one.

All-in-all, a very delightful afternoon doing something we would likely not have thought to do were it not for the suggestion of our friends.

Thanks! 🙂

Enjoying Repetition

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We have company staying with us this weekend. Yesterday morning, while they were eating a late breakfast in the apartment, I wandered out on my own to TKTS. I listened to another The Business podcast (from KCRW) on the way, and to part of the new Celine Dion CD (Taking Chances) on the way back.

There were quite a number of shows available at TKTS. When I called, the guests were interested in seeing Curtains The Musical. Lois and I had already seen it (and enjoyed it, as discussed in this post), so I only got three tickets. Row J (not necessarily exactly the 10th row), center orchestra, for 1/2 price. Not too shabby.

They enjoyed the show (as did we). We later met up at the Peking Duck House. We had dinner there nine days earlier as well, but you can never have too much of their food. Two of our guests don’t eat duck (neither does Lois), so this was one of the rare trips where we didn’t order duck. That permitted a wider sampling of their main dishes, and all were delectable, as always.

We did something we almost never do, we drove to the duck house. Normally, we walk. Rarely, we take the bus or a taxi. We drove last night because we intended to go to Filli Ponte after dinner, to hang out in the bar. It’s a long trek to get there, and five of us would have required two cabs.

In this post, I discussed what a wonderful time we had the last (and first) time we went to Filli Ponte. That was a relatively quiet Wednesday night. Last night was a holiday Saturday night, and the bar was much more active, and the restaurant was doing a great business as well. We were still able to snag seats right next to the piano on ultra-comfortable couches, as most of the bar crowd sat around the bar itself, waiting to be seated for dinner.

Jonathan Pytell was exceptional on the piano. He played a mixture of holiday classics, more traditional bar classics, and some of his own compositions, which were very impressive! The chocolate martinis were as perfect as always (thanks Natalia!) 🙂 and I think I converted a few new fans to this wonderful drink.

A good time was had by all, as can be seen in the following photo (click for a larger version):

Jonathan Pytell and our Gang

Low Tech Often Beats High Tech

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In this post, I discussed traditional video senders, that wirelessly extend a video source to a remote receiver (TV, VCR, DVR, etc.). The 5.8Ghz model that I bought from is still working perfectly.

In addition to that need at home, we travel a lot for business and therefore spend a lot of time in hotels. While we’re not terribly picky about what’s on TV when we’re tired after a long day’s work, sometimes the pickings are pretty slim, and with the current writers strike dragging on, they will likely get slimmer.

I decided that I wanted to find an effective way to display things from my laptop on the hotel TV. This would allow watching DVDs, Internet videos, and my home DVR via the SlingBox.

I mentioned in the past that once I purchased one thing from X10, I got bombarded daily by a giant email newsletter from them. Just at the time that I was considering the above need, their daily newsletter had a special to purchase a wireless VGA to RCA Video extender. I ordered the following package that day (and I paid a lot less than the current price shown on that page).

The device works, for some definition of works, but I am not happy with it. I don’t know if it’s interference from WiFi devices (of which the hotels have many, and so does our house), or if there is some other problem, but, while I an get the video to show up (so it’s not broken), it’s not a satisfactory experience.

Now a diversion. A few weeks back, we were visiting friends in Richmond, VA. Another friend came over with a DVD of photos from their trip to South Africa. After trying a few ways to display the photos on the TV, I looked at the back of my laptop and noticed (for the first time) that I had an S-Video port. Our host happened to have an S-Video cable, and I was able to connect my S-Video out to his S-Video in, and display the photos.

When I got home, I did a search and found the following site (they ask for links, claiming that they don’t advertise!), and specifically, this low tech cable. I got to use the cable for the first time last night (in the apartment), and it worked pretty well. Extremely low tech, but extremely effective.

That said, my problem isn’t quite solved. It turns out that the hotel that we stay at all the time doesn’t include the ability to select alternate input sources (even though the TV has both RCA inputs and S-Video in). The remote control doesn’t have an input button, and the menu doesn’t contain one either.

A little further search on the Internet suggests bringing your own programmable remote to the room, and searching for their TV model, and hopefully being able to control the TV with your remote, including changing the input source. I’ll give that a try in January, when we are next in the hotel. Even if it doesn’t work, this new cable will find occasional use at home, when I want to watch an Internet video on the TV. A lot cheaper than buying something like Apple TV, etc. 😉