Excellent Pinot Noir for Summer

Image courtesy of Beau’s Barrel Room

With DC firmly in the grip of the dog days of summer, Pinot Noir is often a good bet for red wine drinkers. It’s lighter in body and style than other reds, which can be perfect when the mercury rises.

Gabriele and I have had some excellent Pinots this summer that were new for us, so I’m sharing some winners in this post. The first is La Follette, a wine maker introduced to us by the Majestic Cafe in Alexandria. That wine was the 2010 La Follette Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.

It was delicious, and very balanced between fruit, acidity and spice. It nicely complemented our meal and we went looking for it in stores. Since the Sonoma Coast had been so good, we spent a bit more, $45, for the 2009 Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot.

I got big rose petals on the nose and the smell of a garden after a rainstorm. There was big boysenberry fruit and plum, but it was well balanced and the wine was light bodied. It was absolutely delicious and is definitely a Pinot you can drink with meats. Here’s the winemaker Greg La Follette talking about the Sangiacomo.

We also recently had a Pinot Noir from Lemelson vineyards for the first time, the 2010 Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir. This wine is from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, with a tradional Pinot nose of greens and herbs. Very light colored and bodied but with very nice structure, with assertive strawberry fruit and balanced acidity. A very good Oregon Pinot that tastes way above its $30 price point.

The final standout Pinot is the 2007 Loring Rancho la Vita Pinot Noir. We had this with central California Pinot with dinner out recently and its big as Pinots go. It’s got a lot of alcohol and raspberry on the nose. It was light bodied, smooth on the palate and finished with a tart flourish and a little bit of leather. This wine is delicious on its own but is also a versatile food wine, and stood up well to all the flavors in my spicy entree. Retails for around $45 but definitely worth it.

So don’t let 90+ temperatures force you to drink white wine (unless of course you want to). Give one of these delicious Pinot Noirs a try, and enjoy the rest of your summer.

August 7, 2012 at 10:08 pm Leave a comment

What Google’s Transparency Report Says About Online Trust

Graphic courtesy of Ronnie05

Recently I’ve been taking a micro look at the exchange of online tools for personal information. The example was the personal information I signed over in exchange for the mobile Twitter application TweetCaster.

John Battelle took a macro look at online trust recently on his blog, and it’s a very good read. He uses the biannual Google Transparency report to make the point that as our identities move from offline to online, government can no longer confirm our identity or protect our privacy. That becomes the role of the consumer technology companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook.

Google’s Transparency report is a comprehensive list of all requests the company has received to change search results from individuals, companies and governments. Since search results play a big role in how people perceive online reality, this report is a promising act of accountability on behalf of Google.

No other company currently does anything like this. I think more should. Consumers need to take more personal ownership of their online identities, and companies should be transparent about how they are storing and using personally identifiable information.

More transparency supports informed consent and it can ease consumer fears about moving more elements of their daily lives online. Transparency can also help identify the proper regulatory structure for the brave new world being built around us.


August 4, 2012 at 5:32 pm Leave a comment

Cooling System Refresh On My E36 M3

This weekend I accomplished a preventative maintenance goal for my 1999 M3. With the help of a fellow enthusiast and E36 M3 owner, I replaced most of my cooling system with new parts.

The cooling system on many modern BMWs is a known weak point. Most of the problems arise from using plastic where metal would be more durable. Here’s a very detailed video from BMP Design that highlights many of the specific weak points:

On my car and some others, preventative replacement of many parts is suggested at 60,000 miles. My 13 year old car is almost there at just under 57,000. Many vendors sell kits that include the components owners need for preventative replacement before failure. Here’s an example from ECS Tuning.

This was an involved procedure, a level above my usual DIY projects. I was fortunate to have help from a fellow owner who had done this procedure before, and who was former military. That gave us access to the Auto Skills Center at Fort Meade, where we had a lift and every conceivable tool for rent. Without that support, I’d still be working on the car.

Clearly the right mindset here!

Even so, this took us all day. We had a delay when we cracked the plastic pulley in front of the water pump, which is specifically mentioned in the video above. My friend’s wife went to a dealer and purchased a new one for us, as well as the narrow hose that runs along the of the radiator. These two part numbers are 115-117-30554 and 17-11-1-723-521 respectively, if you’re scoring at home.

I highly recommend picking them up, as well as a new fan blade and fan clutch. Get these four items in addition to the usual replacement parts included in the basic kit.

I did not replace the radiator, which some do for full confidence. My radiator looked fine, and on close inspection presented a mystery. The date stamp on the radiator shows 2003, in a 1999 car! I’ve owned the car since November 2003, and have never replaced the radiator.

Note the 06/03/03 date stamp

According to service records the repair was not done while the car was under warranty by BMW. I’ve no idea who had this done, or why. Seeing how the radiator has never given me issues and it’s four years newer than I thought it was, I won’t worry about it until the car has around 90,000 miles.

Other than cracking the pulley when we loosened the water pump nut and losing time, we didn’t run into many issues. Everything will take longer than you think, so plan accordingly. One tip is to make sure you orient the screws on the hose clamps so that you can access them later without removing any parts. That’s something easy to overlook in the midst of the project, but will pay big dividends later. You want to be able to tighten the clamps without removing parts for access.

I’d also suggest shopping around for parts, and not making price your sole criterion. There are a lot of cheaply made parts out there in the market.

Click to enlarge any of the pictures below:

Here’s that additional hose to purchase — note how mine had started to leak around the original clamp

One of the bolts securing the old water pump was bent

You need to move the radiator shroud out of the way to get access to the fan and water pump

New fan with clutch inserted

When done replacing parts you add coolant until the air bubbles stop coming out of bleed hole to right of funnel

We also refreshed my rear shocks with a new pair of Sachs, which are the same shocks the car came with when new. I’ll talk about that in a subsequent post.

July 31, 2012 at 2:52 pm Leave a comment

Update on Twitter Application and Privacy

Earlier this week I published a post on how much privacy users give up for phone apps. In my case, I was downloading the TweetCaster app for Android.

After reviewing the company privacy statement I still wasn’t clear on whether location tracking could be turned off. So I emailed that question to OneLouder, the developers of the TweetCaster app.

Wednesday night I received a detailed reply:

Mr. Parente,
Based on your inquiry, I had to check with our TweetCaster development team. It appears that you are correct – this option is no longer available.  It was previously, but one of the newer ad SDKs is using carrier location, so right now, the only option to completely disable location is removal of the app.
Our development team are sensitive to users who want to be able to fully disable location and they said that they should be able to create a toggle for this to turn location completely off.  The only TweetCaster functionality this should affect theoretically is the “nearby” function, which wouldn’t work in this case. It would also disable location-based ads, but the app could still serve regular ads in the free version.
We have updated the privacy policy at tweetcaster.com/privacy to reflect these changes.  Thanks for making us aware of this.
Please let me know if there are any other questions I can assist with.
Thank you,

Eric Haar, Communications Support Manager

I think this is an effective reply, both as an end user and as a communications professional myself. Of course, it would have been preferable had the earlier version of the privacy policy been accurate, and it was possible to turn off the tracking function.

That said, this reply was prompt, it was clear and easy to understand and the company corrected their privacy statement. The TweetCaster app is excellent and it’s free, in exchange for some personal information. As a user, I’m satisfied I was given enough information to make an informed decision regarding the use of this app.

What’s your take? Do you know exactly what kind of information you have signed over for the phone apps you currently enjoy? Let me know via comment.

July 27, 2012 at 11:05 am Leave a comment

Eating Good in the Neighborhood — Restaurant Group That Is


My latest Wine and Dine column was published by WashingtonExec yesterday. It focuses on the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which operates a number of quality restaurants in this area. The location Gabriele and I enjoyed most recently was Columbia Firehouse in Old Town Alexandria.

I also discuss an excellent Pinot Noir we enjoyed with dinner, a 2007 Loring Rancho la Vina. Loring is a very good name for Pinot — here’s a review of top California Pinots for $30 by Robert Wellesley in his Wellesley Wine Press.

Enjoy the rest of the summer, and drink some good juice!

July 26, 2012 at 10:57 am Leave a comment

Twitter Apps and Privacy Options

I’m on record saying there needs to be more transparency around the current online business model. In most cases, cool and useful tools are available free or at low cost, in exchange for personal information about the user. I discussed this in my post about the supercookie debate, one of my best read posts last year.

Recently I got a new Droid Razr Maxx phone, and needed a new Twitter app. After a little searching I decided on TweetCaster. Before the download I read the fine print on permissions to decided to see how easy it was to understand, and if what if any options I had in the personal info for app exchange.

The permissions I agreed to were substantial. I needed to allow the app to:

  • Prevent phone from going into sleep mode
  • Provide my “network-based” location
  • Read information off my device like phone and serial numbers
  • Access log data, including personal information
  • View all network connections, and be able to create new ones

These were notices, not choices. There was no “decline” box for any of them. I went ahead with the download, because I wanted the app. I also took a look at the privacy page of OutLoud, the maker of TweetCaster. I saw something that wasn’t clear regarding location tracking.

The privacy policy said I could turn off location reporting, but I had just given the app that permission as a condition for the download. So I wrote an email to the link provided, asking them to clarify:

Hello, I just installed the TweetCaster application on my Motorola Razr Maxx phone. Looks great and I’m going to enjoy using.

I reviewed your privacy settings, and saw this section:

Yes. This application does collect information about the location of your device.  We collect location information using network triangulation and Wi-Fi IP address to determine your general device location.

Then I saw this section:

What are my opt-out rights?
There are multiple opt-out options for users of this Application:
Opt-out of all information collection by uninstalling the Application – You can stop all collection of information by the Application easily by uninstalling the Application. You may use the standard uninstall processes as may be available as part of your mobile device or via the mobile application marketplace or network.

You may at any time opt-out from further allowing us to have access to your location data by;

  • turning off location services for TweetCaster from the Location Services setting in Settings on your iPhone or iPad;
  • deactivating the Location setting in Settings on your Android device;
  • deactivating Use My Location by accessing Settings > Applications > Search on Windows Phone;
  • turning Location Off under Options > Device > Location Settings on your BlackBerry device;
  • turning Location off for TweetCaster in the Location settings on your BADA phone;
So I’ve gone to the Settings, Location and Security settings section of my device, and I see three categories for location services:
  • Google location services
  • Standalone GPS services
  • VZW location services
All of these are unchecked, and inactive. So, does that mean that the free TweetCaster application application is not tracking my location in any way, including the network triangulation and Wi-Fi IP address?
Please confirm, and thank you in advance.
Chris Parente

It will be interesting to see how long it takes to get a response, and to read what it says. Whatever the answer, I made an informed decision. My first impression of the app is very positive, and it was free. Although if the app is still tracking me in some way with all my phone location settings off, OutLoud should revise their policy statement to be more clear.

Companies need to continue making this information easy to find, easy to understand and then follow their policies. Consumers need to take just a few minutes and ensure they understand the bargain they are making. That way there will be less ignorance and more informed debate about the personal info for cool online tools trade off.

July 24, 2012 at 8:01 pm Leave a comment

Industry Trends Discussed at PRSA-NCC Event

Tuesday night I attended a networking event for leaders of communications firms in DC. It was sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America, National Capital Chapter and hosted by Ketchum PR. It was interesting to have some many executives from a very competitive industry in one room. The Capitol Communicator covered the gathering, and here is their take on the event.

After a bit of networking there was a short address by Roxanne Bernstein, SVP of Marketing and Communications for Cessna and a Ketchum client. She came across as someone used to talking in front of groups, peppering her comments with interesting sound bites. Here are some that struck me as memorable:

  • PR should stand for Promoting Relevance – I hadn’t heard that one before
  • Best Practices usually aren’t useful in our industry because they look backwards not ahead – really speaks to the speed of change happening in communications
  • Communications is a $500M per year business in the National Capital area
  • She wants an agency that is not afraid to debate with her, tell her that “her baby is ugly” when required – clients often say this, sometimes they’re not happy when you do it
  • A good PR idea should be channel agnostic – good point, and to me reflects thinking strategy first, tactic second
  • An agency should bring the unexpected to a client — not all the time, but regularly

These were good points, and Ketchum’s DC office was a very nice setting for the event. A representative from PRSA asked the attendees for feedback on whether these events should continue. That’s a good question.

Like a lot of industries in the DC area, PR and Communications agencies engage in “coopetition.” A firm you compete with one day for a client might be a firm you work together with next week. I think that is the key factor in whether these events continue.

These busy agency principals will ask themselves — is it possible I can pick up business from attending? If the answer is yes, then we’ll see more such PRSA leadership events.

July 19, 2012 at 9:39 am Leave a comment

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