Apple Needs to Buy Sonos

Hello, friends and family!

Ok, so let’s take a break and talk about some consumer products.  I started writing this post back in April 2020 right around the time I took a stock position in Sonos but never quite finished the post mostly because I was distracted with evaluating a move.  At the time, I was re-reading the Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham and enamored by value investing. 

“Why not invest your assets in the companies you really like? As Mae West said, ‘Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.’”

Warren Buffet

So, I went out looking around for a companies that I very much “liked”, were sold off and that I wanted to hold for the long term.  Thus, Sonos.  Sonos has it figured out.  I love my Sonos setup in my home and always excited to think what new products or services they are coming out next.  Here is my current setup:

  • Two Sonos Three (since discontinued) for my office
  • One Sonos Soundbar (original), Sonos Subwoofer and Two Sonos Ones (original) for the basement home theater
  • One Sonos Move for the kitchen and on the go

I’m very interested in taking advantage of the Sonos Upgrade Program to get some of the new equipment such as the Arc or Beam.   Sonos really has their ecosystem figured out —

  • Sounds great or good enough for me
  • Easy setup and configuration
  • Intuitive and effective mobile integration 
  • Seamless integration with all my streaming services including Apple Music, Spotify, Nugs.net, MLB.com.   
  • Central control of every room 
  • High quality and reliable hardware  
  • It just works 

The Sonos Move was my latest addition and it travels with me in the backyard or in the garage when I’m working on my Jeep.  It’s a bit too big for me to take to the park and use via bluetooth but that’s an option as well. The Sonos product family reminds me of Apple products from a technology and design perspective. It’s probably where the Apple HomePod or the Amazon Echo’s wants to go long term but Sonos owns the wireless home speaker space in my mind.  I can’t think of a competitor that is close.  The Apple HomePod never really captured my attention but I’m sure its a good product. It will be curious to see how the smart speaker market and the home speaker market come together. Sonos does have a Sonos One with Google Voice and Amazon Alexa integration but the value of Sonos to me is the mesh of high quality audio speakers throughout the home.  I own separate, lower cost, lower quality Amazon Echo devices to fill that need.  

On top of all of that, their integrations and services are killer.  All my music services — Amazon Music, Apple Music, Audible, MLB.com, SiriusXM, Spotify, LivePhish+, Nugs.net, Calm and TuneIn.  Yikes — all of that at the tip of my fingers from any of my home speakers.  There is also Sonos Radio / Sonos Radio HD — Sonos Radio is an internet radio service available exclusively on Sonos. It features 60,000 radio stations from around the world, including a curated selection of original stations.  With a subscription to Sonos Radio HD, you can access premium features* such as high-definition audio quality, access to more exclusive original content, unlimited skips, and ad-free music.  Clearly, Sonos is expanding their ecosystem play.  

Sonos feels like they are innovating faster than Apple in this specific home theater speaker space.  It would strike me as a perfect complement to the Apple eco-system and push Apple ahead of Google and Amazon. 
There are others that think this as well as news of such a move pushed the stock up in Nov/Dec 2020.  Regardless, I’m a huge fan and stock holder — keep up the good work Sonos. 

There is Life Outside of the Bay Area (Part #2)

Hello, friends and family! 

My previous blog post outlined why my family and I decided to leave California.  Now, I will try to answer the second question folks commonly ask me — why did you pick Park City, Utah?

Sarah and I don’t have a tremendous amount of history with Utah or Park City.  We are not Mormon. We don’t have family there but I did do several ski trips to Park City in the last decade.  On our trips to Wyoming, we would drive through Park City and say to ourselves, “this town looks super cool”. Here is the wikipedia description of Park City, Utah which I actually thought was a pretty good description —

Park City is a city in Summit CountyUtah, United States. It is considered to be part of the Wasatch Back. The city is 32 miles (51 km) southeast of downtown Salt Lake City and 20 miles (32 km) from Salt Lake City’s east edge of Sugar House along Interstate 80. The population was 7,558 at the 2010 census. On average, the tourist population greatly exceeds the number of permanent residents.

After a population decline following the shutdown of the area’s mining industry, the city rebounded during the 1980s and 1990s through an expansion of its tourism business. The city currently brings in a yearly average of $529.8 million to the Utah Economy as a tourist hot spot, $80 million of which is attributed to the Sundance Film Festival.[6] The city has two major ski resortsDeer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort. Both ski resorts were the major locations for ski and snowboarding events at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Although they receive less snow and have a shorter ski season than do their counterparts in Salt Lake County, such as Snowbird resort, they are much easier to access.

In 2015, Park City Ski Resort and Canyons resorts merged, creating the largest ski area in the U.S. In all, the resort boasts 17 slopes, 14 bowls, 300 trails and 22 miles of lifts.

The city is the main location of the United States’ largest independent film festival, the Sundance Film Festival, home of the United States Ski Team, training center for members of the Australian Freestyle Ski Team, the largest collection of factory outlet stores in northern Utah, the 2002 Olympic bobsled/skeleton/luge track at the Utah Olympic Park, and golf courses. Some scenes from the 1994 film Dumb and Dumber were shot in the city. Outdoor-oriented businesses such as backcountry.comRossignol USA, and Skullcandy have their headquarters in Park City. The city has many retailers, clubs, bars, and restaurants, and has nearby reservoirshot springs, forests, and hiking and biking trails.

In the summertime, many valley residents of the Wasatch Front visit the town to escape high temperatures. Park City is usually cooler than Salt Lake City as it lies mostly higher than 7,000 feet (2,100 m) above sea level, while Salt Lake City is situated at an elevation of about 4,300 feet (1,300 m).

In 2008, Park City was named by Forbes Traveler Magazine as one of the “20 prettiest towns” in the United States.[7] In 2011, the town was awarded a Gold-level Ride Center designation from the International Mountain Bicycling Association for its mountain bike trails, amenities and community.[8]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Park_City,_Utah

So, what criteria did we use to guide our decision?  Here is our list of strategic criteria for a new home. I’m sure there were others but at this point I don’t remember them anymore.

  • “Not California” — I love California and have really enjoyed living in California, we still own property in California but the struggles are real. And looking ahead, it feels it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
  • “Smaller” — we wanted a smaller town feel, slower paced and more manageable day to day life.
  • “Up and coming” — we wanted a broader metropolitan area with a bright future
  • “West of the Mississippi” — we wanted a place within striking distance of the Bay Area for the purposes of work and to be close to Sarah’s parents
  • “Better school situation for the girls” — we didn’t want to go someplace that would be a step back from the schools in California. COVID influenced this criteria as it heavily impacted the school situation in California. Public schools were ill prepared for the remote learning and private schools, be it better prepared, were all waitlisted and very expensive.
  • “Seasons” — we wanted a place with four seasons.
  • “Adventure” — finally, we wanted a place that would line up an adventure for the entire family during the final years the girls would still be in our home. New experiences for all of us to do together.

The short list of cities that we considered over the years was long – the ones in bold were in heavy consideration towards the end:

  • Denver, Colorado
  • Boulder, Colorado
  • Fort Collins, Colorado
  • Austin, Texas
  • Eugene, Oregon
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Park City, Utah

A fun list of cities; and I’m sure I forgot some of them we evaluated.  Ultimately, we have huge interest in moving abroad to Europe or Asia for a period of time but that was not in the cards for us this time around. That felt like too much change during a pandemic. We’ll consider those opportunities later.

Sarah and I realized quickly how hard of decision it was to pick a new place.  It very much felt like the unsolvable problem.  There just was not the perfect place but we soon realized that if we were going to actually make a decision, we needed to pick a place that checked off enough of the boxes for everyone.  And I’ll be honest — I was the big hold out.  I was/am too much of a workaholic to think that I could move away from Silicon Valley and all the start ups I love. Well, the stars aligned and we took the leap in a very condensed and hectic summer during one of the craziest years on record. 

I want to say that COVID didn’t impact our decision making but it surely did.  COVID seemed to created an intense need for change and at the same time loosened standard life constraints like “living near an office for work”.   I think that these new  dynamics just helped push over the top our existing interest to do something different.  Plus, Sarah and I are both of the belief that change is good. At the end of the day, we were going to come out of this with new experiences and friends that should broaden our outlook.

Park City, Utah won out. Hazzah!   It checked off more of the boxes than any of the other city on list.  Below were some of the reasons —

  • Duh, Park City Utah.  Park City is such an awesome little city.  Beauty.  Quaint.  Hiking.  Skiing.  Mountain Biking.  Cross country skiing.  Fly fishing.  Sundance Film Festival.  Moose. 
  • Quality of life. Holy smokes, it’s a fun town. It’s smaller and slower paced.  There are no kids sporting events on Sunday because of the LDS influence and that is glorious. We are literally 10 minutes away from the best skiing. And the summers are even more glorious!
  • Better education and life opportunities for our  girls.  We found a wonderful private school at a higher ranking and half the cost of the private schools in the Bay Area. Molly found an ECNL soccer club to play for and they are actually safely playing through COVID. Brooklyn also found a great soccer club and two terrific AAU basketball clubs to play for.
  • Favorable work environment and opportunities.  The company I work for has a sizable office in Salt Lake City so whenever we open again, I’ll have a place to go. “Silicon Slopes” as it’s called is up and coming for sure. Also, The Salt Lake City International Airport is a quick 25 minutes away from home so work trips are easy. 
  • Mountain town living that is 20 minutes from Salt Lake City.  Salt Lake City is a very cool city and so close. Other mountain towns are just more remote. Tahoe was never interesting to us — it feels completely overrun right now and more of the same.
  • Lower cost of living as compared to California. It’s true. I’ve seen the numbers with my own eyes and its material. Housing. Real Estate tax. Income tax. Utilities. Food. Gas.
  • Smaller community to ride out COVID. Utah has been generally open and managing things reasonably well. There are surely parts of Utah that “don’t believe in the virus” like any other state but Park City folks are very respectful to the realities right now. Our theory is that small communities will be able to manage through COVID more effectively just because there are less people.
  • Proximity to Universities.  The University of Utah is 20 minutes away. We have our season tickets to PAC-12 Women’s Basketball whenever we open up again.

For those that might be interested in knowing, we live in a neighborhood called Jeremy Ranch, north of downtown Park City. It feels like a classic mountain neighborhood nestled up in the hills. We like it because it’s closer to Salt Lake City, slightly away from the tourist areas but close enough to the action.

So, how is it going in Park City?  That will be my next blog post.

I hope folks find this information useful. At the end of the day, life is short. Find your happy path. Take action. Thank you for reading. I would love to hear your feedback. Please post or share.

There is Life Outside of the Bay Area (Part #1)

Hello, friends and family! 

After 20+ long years, my family and I decided to leave the Bay Area for the mountains of Park City, Utah.  For my wife, its probably closer to 35+ years of not only living in the Bay Area but actually growing up there.    A huge shift but all in all, a very positive decision for my entire family.  When I tell folks we have moved, I usually get the following questions —

  1. Why did we decide to leave?  (Part #1)
  2. Why did you pick Park City, Utah?  (Part #2)
  3. What has it been like?  Do you think you’ll move back?  (Part #3a @ 6 months, Part #3b @ 12 months)

So, let me take the time the time to answer these questions in a thoughtful manner.  For a bit of context, I’m originally from east coast (NY/CT), went to college in Virginia and came out to the Bay Area in 1999 with my Computer Science degree in hand to build some bad ass software.  I met Sarah at an eBusiness consulting company where I was a software engineer and she was a recruiter. 

So, question #1 — why did we decide to leave?

  • California and the Bay Area feels like it’s going into the toilet.  Fires.  Riots.  Overcrowding.  Traffic.  Lockdowns.  Oppressive heat waves. Rolling power outages. Quality of Life.  Cost of Living.  Taxes.  Even the best parts of California were getting less accessible.  I recall a trip to Yosemite where we were on a trail with 1000+ of our best friends.  Haha.  Also, the week after we left for Park City was the week the Bay Area looked like a scene from Blade Runner.  
  • San Francisco is not the city it used to be.  San Fransisco is just not the city it was when I crossed the Golden Gate bridge in my Penske truck rental and my two buddies driving with me across country 20+ years ago.  The homeless, used condoms and syringes on the streets and general lack of charm that drew me to the city years ago.  
  • Silicon Valley has lost its allure.   Back in 1999, Silicon Valley was about the geeks and building cool things.  Now, the focus is less about building great products with technology and more about the money.  Not that there wasn’t a focus on money before — but it feels like more of a focus than it even has been. 
  • COVID.  We all know we can’t run away from COVID.  Just look at all the corners of America where COVID has reached. COVID was not a real reason we left the Bay Area but it surely created an overarching environment that forced a perspective.    
    • COVID feels like It’s spreading uncontrollably in California and folks are angry, fed up and not listening anymore.  The COVID spreading rates plus the population plus the already stressed hospital capacity is a recipe for disaster. 
    • COVID has ruined the quality of life in California. Everything is closed.  Curfews.  Etc. 
    • COVID broke the public school system in California.  The end of the 2019-2020 was not a favorable experience for the kids and it feels like its going getting marginally better. The public schools are just not structured to support remote style learning.  The private schools seemed to react better but the private schools in the East Bay are not cheap and at the time, were impacted as parents were scrambling to find alternative schooling options.
  • What will happen long term in California?  Who is going to pay for all of the issues in California?   What are the long term environmental ramifications to all the fires that have burned through the states?  
  • We had already been thinking about it.  My wife and I had been wanting to leave the Bay Area but not had quite settled on where we would end up.  So, in reality we had one foot out the door already.
  • Adventure and change is good.   It’s time for an adventure!  Why not?  Life is good short.   

Overall, lots of reasons but it was not an easy decision.  The biggest counterpoint was leaving such great friend and family.   

Let me know your thoughts!  In my next blog post, I will go through why we picked Park City, Utah. 

Wyoming is a Magical Place

Wyoming is the 10th largest by area, the least populous, and the second most sparsely populated state in the country. The state population was estimated at 578,759 in 2019.    Is it roughly 1200 from where we live in the the Bay Area.  A drive there takes roughly two days of time with your favorite audio book or collection of favorite Grateful Dead or Phish shows. The views along the way are beautiful.  In the North / Central part of the state in Johnson County is a little city called Buffalo.  The population was 4,585 at the 2010 census.  It’s nestled at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains and surrounded by nature’s beauty.  

My family and I could not think of a better place to run off to in the middle of a pandemic.  

Amazon Echo Is Sleeper Gadget

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Over the holidays I was fortunate enough to receive an Amazon Echo — thank you Santa Claus and those unionized elves. When I first heard about the Amazon Echo, it sounded completely ridiculous — “order toilet paper from the comfort of your toilet by just shouting in the air.”  Indeed, that sounded intriguing and conjures up the most hilarious use cases — “Alexa, I need condoms delivered via drone ASAP.”  <Barry White music starts to play in response>

However, the Amazon Echo is now my “surprisingly useful” sleeper device.  It has become our “home personal assistant” for my family — somewhat limited in capabilities but it surely has huge potential and could become a gateway for a far a deeper AI based personal assistant. A device like the Amazon Echo could surely own the home in a better way than TV set top boxes could or SIRI/Alexa on your phone could.

The most useful use cases for me, most often used in the morning as I’m getting the kids ready for school —

  • Traffic updates to work
  • News headline updates for the day
  • Playing my favorite radio stations and music
  • Run down of calendar for the day
  • Scores for my favorite sports teams
  • Schedules for my favorite sports teams
  • Control for my IoT devices

The Amazon Echo is also trying to be developer friendly with a developer portal and SDK’s available to extend its usefulness.   And of course, they have a $100 million dollar Alexa Fund to help to drive innovation.  Not quite as “accessible” as other developer ecosystems but what developer doesn’t get excited by new sensors and something new to tinker with. The new advanced use cases can be super interesting —

  • “Alexa, turn up the heat.”
  • “Alexa, turn on the Warrior game.”
  • “Alexa, find my keys.”
  • “Alexa, dim the lights and lower the shades”
  • “Alexa, prepare my bath.”

New features seems to be coming out fast as Amazon announces that you can listen to Kindle eBooks via the Echo and a new portable Echo for your travel needs.  I’m not entirely sure about the portable Echo who knows where that could go.

The digital assistant is a killer use case for everyone. Both Google and Apple have released features for Android and iOS will start to pull out items it can learn from your email and take action on it.  I predict that we’ll see some additional competition for the Echo as companies realize that this is a unique entry point to the living room.

Little Known Self Driving Car Features

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There is so much talk right now of self driving cars a la the Jetsons or Total Recall. Tesla, Apple, GE/Lyft, and Google are all piling on in the news.  It’s all very interesting — but I do imagine a bunch of slow ass cars crashing into each other in the beginning.  But more importantly, as a software programmer — I’m intrigued by features that will be built for the self driving car as the technology matures.  I wonder what those could be …

  • “Back seat driving mode” — passenger can yell criticisms about its driving and the car will then respond “Would you rather drive?”
  • “Zone out mode” — car will day dream and have absolutely no idea how it got to its destination.
  • “Filipino Mom Driving Mode” — jerky driving with frequent unplanned stops at yard sales, Walmart’s or Chinese Buffets.  Will also travel so close to the car in front of them as to be able to to invite them to dinner.
  • Preprogrammed responses to Police Officers when caught speeding — a la “I didn’t know how fast I was going.” or “My other auto driving car is pregnant.” or “My my, you are very handsome.”
  • “Teenage driving loop” – No real destination other than driving up and down the street with increased music volumes. Loop will be determined by leading car with passengers of the opposite sex.
  • “Inability to merge mode” (only available in Seattle cars and required by the state of Washington) — highway on ramps will be complete nightmares as cars will stack up as cars will just stop thinking that’s a wise way to “merge”
  • “Late for Anniversary Dinner Mode” — will run 50 mph over regulated speed limits with frequent lane changes. Optional to include stop at Jared’s for a gift.
  • “LSD Mode” — will drive on the highway at 15 mph but think it’s going 85 mph
  • “Low gas mode” — will take the car as close to possible to running out of gas and will calculate walking distances to a gas station to freak out passengers
  • “Kid mode” — devices, snacks and live clown will be deployed to the back seat with the kids. Optionally, 20 questions game will available where the computer might pick obscure items like “dirt”, “needle” and my imaginary friend “stu” who I’ve never talked to you about.
  • “Auto car lock and protection mode” — when entering a socio-economic area different from the owner, car doors will lock and an arm will secure closest available purse.
  • “Moving a mattress mode” — single arm will deploy out window to secure bulky item on roof.  Highway travel is required for this mode but at far reduced speeds.

Here’s to the future!  As scary as it might be!

LEGO Education Releases WeDo 2.0 @ CES 2016

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As I explore platforms to teach my daughters hands on problem solving and programming — I’m intrigued by the recent release of LEGO WeDo 2.0 coming out of their LEGO Education department just announced at CES 2016.  It’s a bit less expensive than the LEGO Mindstorm set and has a clearer angle towards education — more specifically 2nd to 4th graders.  I had a great experience using MIT Scratch to teach my daughters class the beginning of programming and I’m looking to build upon that.  I’m looking forward to its release for my 5-year old.

After extensive research and vigorous discussion with my 9-year old this weekend — I’ve decided to get a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit for my daughters and I to tinker with.  Additionally, my 9-year old wants to use it as a foundation for her Maker Faire project.  There are so many super cool examples of projects out there and it really got us fired up.  Will keep folks posted as we explore the world of Lego robotics!

Stupid Things That Would Happen If I Won Powerball

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Powerball mania has taken over the country!  The jackpot is currently at $900 million dollars.  (For whatever reason, I’m reminded of that scene from Austin Powers)  Now — lets do some math — after taxes, if you live in the state of California you could walk away with a lump sum of $418,500,000 or 30 payments a year of $22,500,000 for a total of $675,000,000.  More money than a majority of folks would see in a lifetime unless you are Oprah.

I’m sure everyone is day dreaming of what to do with all of that money — but more importantly my mind ends up wandering about what stupid things that would happen if I won.  Here we go —

  • Go into work naked — just because I can.
  • Write a book on the detailed strategies for winning lotteries.
  • Promise a big trip to a bunch of people and hate it because I actually didn’t like those people.
  • Probably buy a boat and then hire people to use it because I hate boats.
  • I would try to Facebook friend other rich people because we would have something to talk about.
  • Have a ski lift installed from my house in Danville to the top of Squaw
  • Build a Safeway as an extension of my house so I never have to go grocery shopping ever again
  • Convert to Judaism so that can have Phish play at my bar mitzvah I never had
  • I would buy Costco so that I’d never have to excuse myself to get past  someone trying to feed their entire family via Costco samples.
  • I would hire the cast of “Full House” to work on my farm to care for my alpacas
  • Would buy two 17k Apple Watches — one for my arm and one for my ankle. Ya never know how often i might need to know the time as I tie my shoe.
  • Build a Scrooge McDuck money bin and then realize its super hard to swim in gold.
  • Buy many billboards on 101 that says “Renato is One Hella Cool Dude”
  • Buy the New England Patriots so you can fire Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Then make the team play all their games in Manila, Philippines all season long.
  • Build a Lego Star Destroyer the size of an airplane.
  • Hire Steph curry to do his warm-up drills every morning as I drink coffee.
  • Hire a Starbucks barista to follow me around.
  • Hire Harrison Ford to drive me around in a car that looks like the Millennium Falcon.
  • Play basketball with Obama and then we take my ski lift to Squaw
  • Go to Las Vegas with the cast of The Hangover.
  • Hire Kramer from Seinfeld to be my neighbor.
  • Put caviar on my In and out burger.
  • Eliminate daylight saving time.

I’ve acquired my tickets because — well, because why not?

Good luck to everyone!

Observations of a BART Rider

BART1

I’ve been commuting on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) into the city for about 5+ years now.   BART is a rapid transit system serving the San Francisco Bay Area. It connects San Francisco with cities in the East Bay and suburbs in northern San Mateo County.  With an average of 422,490 weekday passengers, 211,288 Saturday passengers, and 158,855 Sunday passengers in September 2014,[7] BART is the fifth-busiest heavy rail rapid transit system in the United States.  And with that, its full of joy.

I’ve probably had 1000+ trips over the past 5+ years and have a accumulated some observations and lessons learned about my favorite “silver chariot”.  It’s been quite a journey.

  • BART smells are unique and confusing
  • Be prepared to get really close to passengers, really close
  • Somewhere to lean on is priceless when there isn’t a seat — find that wall or pole or whatever!  If it’s a door, be ready for it to open — I actually fell out on the platform once.
  • There is usually one guy a week that brings his own folding chair on the train — at first you feel jealous but then you realize he looks like an idiot.
  • Getting a BART parking permit is like winning the lottery — I was on the wait list for 6+ years and started out as number 10,893. Seriously?
  • I now crave elevator updates at home — “This is the home authority. The stairs are still functioning.”
  • Bikers on Bart confuse me — first, how the hell are you getting that bike on this train now when I can’t even take a deep breath. Second, why didn’t you bike to where you were going!
  • The BART map comforts me — not sure why, it must be the colors and hope that those dash lines to San Jose will be filled in one of these days.
  • People can die on BART — yup, that has happened on my BART train and someone took his seat when they were done taking him away.
  • People barf on BART — yup, that has happened to me. Now close your eyes and imagine the hilarity on a completely full train.
  • BART toilets scare the poop out of me, which ironically make them more effective
  • It’s possible to park so far away from Bart that you forgot why you needed to get on BART — that’s happened to me, and then I lost my car but still remembered my stall number.
  • You will get angry at those that eat on Bart — yes, the woman who ordered double the sweet and sour chicken from Panda Express but couldn’t wait to get home. I’m going to barf on you.
  • Don’t be angry at the Asian family with the large florescent luggage ever taking up 8 seats on their way to the airport during rush hour. They are more afraid of you right now. And yes, the largest bag will have wheels and run people over as they get on the train.
  • 91% of those getting on BART after midnight are so drunk they will miss their stop and need to Uber from Dublin home
  • Making the train as the doors are closing is the closest thing you get to being Indiana Jones but then you will realize that there is a train 3 minutes behind this one and you feel dumb.

Here’s to 1000+ more trips ahead!