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A settled nomad living on the edge of Appalachia. I love to listen to music, spend time with my family, and play sports. I'm lucky enough to write code for a living. I'm often accused of having no "filter" as I tend to overshare. I make beer on occasion and try to sample new beers whenever I can.$BillRawlinson

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - Our Experience and Tips

5 min read

This past Thanksgiving (2017) we were fortunate enough to receive four free tickets for bleacher seating at THE PARADE. Like most American's we'd watched the parade on TV before but we'd never witnessed it in person so we were pretty excited to get to see it live in pseudo-VIP style.

Our Tickets were for seats right at the start of the Parade near Central Park. Our Hotel was in mid-town Manhattan right near the end of the Parade at Macy's. It turns out these to locations aren't particularly close to each other. Our plan was to take the subway from near our hotel up to the closest station we could find to our seats. This was easier said than done because many of the enterances to the subway near our hotel were closed for the parade and some of the stops along the way to our destination were closed due to the parade. We didn't know that in advance so we were scrambling a bit between subway lines in order to get close.

Somewhere, either on the tickets or on a info packet that came with them, we had read we needed to be at the enterance to our seating area at least an hour before the start of the parade. We just made it to the enterance - but not really because there was a HUGE line that wrapped all the way around two sides of a city block when we arrived so we queued up and hoped for the best. The line moved fairly quickly and once through there was no real congestion until we were almost at the bleachers. Then we were stopped in another line for some unknown delay. Eventually whatever the hold-up was disolved and the group we had become a part of in the line were escorted to our seats.

This may have been the coolest part of the parade for me. We actually had to walk a long ways down the main road of the parade past tons of people who were sitting in the bleachers already awaiting the start of the parade. "While in Rome..." they say so I pretended like I was in the Parade and waved at lots of of the people and enjoyed seeing them smile back and wave while enjoying my goofiness. I, of course, videotaped it.

Eventually we reached our seats. The bleachers are metal so, as you'd expect in late November, they were cold. Fortunately, Lisa brought a blanket we were able to put down first. As you can see from the aforementioned video the bleachers are not tall though the seating can be a little cramped. We had some really fun and kind people right around us which really made the experience even better. Seating is truly "first-come-first-serve" in the bleachers. If you have a ticket you get a seat (unless you get there after they are all full) but you don't have a specific seat. So, get there earlier for the best seating. We arrived late and thus our seat choices were pretty poor in terms of visability of the parade. We had a pretty large tree obstructing the view a bit so getting good photos of the various balloons was tricky.

Macys Parade and a Tree

It was still fun and cool to see in person - but if you wanted to just take cool photos you'd want to show up earlier. Thus, plan on having subway problems and having to wait in a really big line before you get to your seats. Plan on it and you'll avoid most of it and been set for great seats with a great view. We settled with great seats with great company and a decent view. Considering we showed up at the last possible minute I think we had phenomonal seats. Hell of a lot better than sitting out in the cold for four hours to hold better seats! Plus, I snuck down to the front to grab a few cool photos:

Ronald McDonald Balloon

When the parade ended leaving was pretty easy; especially since we were near the end of the bleachers. We walked into Central Park and hung out for a bit (and checked out Strawberry Fields for our young Beatles fan) before heading back to the train to get back near our hotel.

Here are the tips condensed into a list:

  1. Leave more time than you think you will need to get to the seats
  2. Bring extra blankets to sit on and cover yourself with if it's seasonably cold.
  3. Get coffee/tea before you enter.
  4. There are some food vendors inside; but they are busy.
  5. Get there earlier than you think you should for the best seats.
  6. If you're staying in mid-town you can bring folding chairs and set up with seats on the side of the road really close to the end of the parade. Just get out there early. Like, 3-4 hours early.
  7. The marching bands do play at this part of the parade.
  8. None of the broadway shows do a thing at this part; that just happens at Macy's I think.

Buying Ripple With Bitcoin

6 min read

Hey, so I assume you've heard of Bitcoin and you're interested in getting into the crypto-coin world. Maybe you've heard of "Ripple" (XRP) and you're curious about how to buy some. But, it seems overly complicated (as of this writing it is) but you'd still like to do it and want a simple(ish) guide to doing so. Well, I'm here to help.

If you want to just BUY Ripple with Cash (US Dollars) jump to the bottom (Buy Ripple with Cash). But if you have Bitcoin or want to buy Bitcoin to do the exchange continue on:

DISCLAIMER - if you signup for Coinbase using any of the links in this post and then spend $100 buying things there we will both receive a $10 bitcoin credit. Basically, the Coinbase links are referral links. If you don't want to use a referral link you can use this one: Non Referral Coinbase Link

Convert BitCoin to Ripple in Four Steps

Here are the quick steps (TL/DR):

  1. Buy Bitcoin (BTC) on Coinbase
  2. Transfer that digital asset to GDAX
  3. Transfer that digital asset from GDAX to Gatehub
  4. Exchange that digital asset for Ripple (XRP)

You want to transfer from Coinbase to GDAX first to help avoid some expensive fees.

Here are some more details on each of those steps.

Buy Bitcoin on Coinbase

Coinbase is easy to use though validating your identity can be tricky at times. I prefer to try to use my debit card/credit card to buy these things so I suggest you verify your identity so you don't have to attach your checking account to Coinbase.

Using your card makes the transaction happen A LOT faster too. If you use your bank account it takes about 7 days. If you use your bankcard you get "credit" right away but you don't actually get the coin until the transaction is verified. That could happen in 10 minutes or 24 hours depending on how busy the network is.

The final destination site, Gatehub, only supports a few digital currencies so you need to make sure you only buy one they support; of those Coinbase currently sells Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) are the only two Gatehub supports; but the transfer to GDAX goes easier if you buy BTC.

Once you have the digital coin on CoinBase you have to send that to GDAX. For the rest of this article I'm going to assume you bought some BTC.

NOTE: It is actually cheaper to buy the BTC on gdax.. You would basically deposit cash to CoinBase then transfer it to GDAX instead of bitcoin.

Transfer to GDAX

If you're on the same computer and you're already signed into Coinbase then a GDAX account will be easy. Just click on sign-in (I think) and it will automatically create your account tied to your Coinbase account. You have to agree to something legal but then you can proceed.

Once you're in GDAX took to the top left of the page. There you'll see a "BALANCE" section and under it is a grey link for "DEPOSIT" click on that. A dialog pops up and on it you can click on the "Coinbase Account" tab. From there change the dropdown to make sure it says "BTC Wallet" and then set the amount to however much of the BTC you bought you want to transfer.

Once the money is on GDAX you're going to need to move it to Gatehub.

Transfer to Gatehub

This is maybe the trickiest part. Go to Gatehub. You'll have to create an account. You'll probably have to do some identify verification again. Sorry, but banking laws make these sites jump through a lot of hoops to help identify money laundering so you have to jump through hoops too.

Once you're identity is verified and your account is created fully you can click on the "wallet" icon on the left menu. From there You can click on 'Deposit/Receive" at the bottom. Then click on the "BTC" tab and then "Connect a Gateway". You'll have to enter your Gatehub password then agree to the Gateway it suggests.

You'll then get a list of "Gateways". Ignore those and go back to the bottom and click "Deposit/Receive" again. Then click on the "BTC" tab again and this time click on "Generate BTC Address"

NOTE: Make sure you only ever try to send BTC to a BTC Address. If you try to send Ethereum or some other currency to a BTC address you will almost certainly lose your digital coins. BE CAREFUL! It's your money.

Once you have the BTC address click the clipboard icon and it will copy that address (it will even tell you "copied!". Now go back to GDAX.

At GDAX click "Withdrawal" over in the "Balance" menu on the left again. Then click on the "BTC Address" tab in the dialog. Next put your BTC address from Gatehub in the BTC Address field. Pick the amount of BTC you want to send to Gatehub. Finally, enter your two factor authentication code (if it is required). And finally, click "Withdraw Funds"

Now, wait for your money to appear at Gatehub.

NOTE: You can also buy XRP at Binance if you prefer to use it over Gatehub (or if Gatehub is having problems)

Exchange your BTC to Ripple (XRP) on Gatehub

Go back to Gatehub and click on "Exchange" in the first dropdown pick "BTC" and in the second pick "XRP". Under the BTC dropdown specify how much you want to spend and it will auto-fill the XRP field. Then click the "Exchange BTC to XRP" button.

You're done!

Buy Ripple with Cash

If you don't have bitcoin or dont want to deal with other digital currencies you can go through the whole process on Gatehub to buy XRP with cash. You just have to add a USD gateway and then fully verify your account there.. Then deposit cash, then go to the "Trade" section and you can just straight up buy Ripple without doing any kind of exchanges. This may be more expensive as I have heard you can only "wire transfer" cash there which is expensive.

Another option is to buy XRP on Bitstamp which is relatively easy. You do have to verify your identity but then you can use your debit card to buy it. Your bank may flag it as a fraud transaction so you'll have to confirm it then try again if that happens. Your bank may also charge an international transaction fee because Bitstamp is based in the UK.


Congrats. You have Ripple.

Sony Xperia XZ - A Brief Review

3 min read

Xperia XZ

Last summer I aquired a brand new, top of the line, Samsung Galaxy S7 Active. However, a few months later the protective lens on the rear camera inexplicably shattered and neither Samsung or AT&T gave a damn. Slowly, of the next 11 months the camera lens itself was damaged thanks to the missing protective cover and the screen has started to exhibit pink lines down the length of the right side. Overall, I've been disappointed. The camera was excellent while it lasted but, for a $700 device it didn't last long enough.

The camera is probably the most used feature of my phones. I love taking photos of things I see and places I visit. But all of my photos started to be very fuzzy and to have four black blobs scattered around the center of the image. It was unacceptable. So, this past weekend I bought another flagship phone from 2016 - the Sony Xperia XZ.

I basically went on the hunt for another phone of the same period with an equivalently good camera but which wasn't made by Samsung and which would work on our companies cell plan with AT&T. The Sony was the winner and, at only $350 brand new, it seemed like a pretty good deal. I've now had it in my possession for one day and I'm currently satisfied with my purchase.

The Good:

  • It comes with an even newer version of Android (7.1.1 ) than my S7 had (7.0.1).
  • The rear camera is fast and takes really nice photos.
  • The front camera also seems to take nice photos
  • The screen feels really nice to interact with
  • It seems quite responsive
  • The Sony UI is basically vanilla Android.
  • It is really skinny
  • One handed operation is super easy. It's the perfect size for my hand.
  • Expandable memory
  • Headphone jack

The Bad:

  • The body is slick - my wife fears she would drop it almost instantly. She was afraid to even test the phone less she break it.
  • The screen and body both really show off finger prints. I've never really noticed finger prints on a phone so much before.
  • The buttons are so subtle that I have to physically inspect the phone to figure out where the power button is some times; it's hard to tell if I have the phone upside down or not just by touch. I suspect I'll get better at this.
  • I can't rearrange the notification panel shortcuts. Like I want the flashlight to be in the first row so I don't have to swipe down twice.

I'm Learning:

  • screenshots are taken a bit differently. You have to long press the powerbutton then select screenshot from the menu. Or, you can press power and volume down at the same time. This second way is a better option as it doesn't change the screen at all.
  • copy/paste - to select a word to copy you double click it. I'm used to having to long-press. I was pretty annoyed until I found the guide on editing text

Overall, so far, I'm happy. I might get a lightweight case to improve grip - just to be on the safe side. But, at least for now, I'm not thinking about rooting the phone and installing a custom rom on it. Though I did switch out the launcher for Nova - I just prefer a more customizable UI.

Banned from /r/conservative

2 min read

I have been using reddit in one way or another for 11+ years. I've never been banned from a subreddit before until this past week when I left this comment:

yeah, paying attention to historical context and meaning is totally childish.

That comment was a little snarky reply to :

But the confederate flag represents southerners, who are also my fellow Americans. This "winners/losers" game is childish, everyone from back then is dead.

I'm not sure why I was banned honestly. But the moderators of /r/conservative sent me a message telling me I was and pointing to my comment. They also said I could contact them if I had a question about the ban.

If you have a question regarding your ban, you can contact the moderator team for r/Conservative by replying to this message.

So I did. I sent this message:

why was I banned? Was I too snarky? I said nothing that violated a rule as far as I can tell.

A little bit later I received this message:

You have been temporarily muted from r/Conservative. You will not be able to message the moderators of r/Conservative for 72 hours.

So I guess I really couldn't ask them a question about the ban.

Overall being banned from /r/conservative will have no real impact on my life. I try to read things from various perspectives to understand how different people view things and I can still read the subreddit when I want. I just can't interact with anyone. I can't ask questions or engage in any kind of discourse with them within the context of a posting.

Dollar Shave Club, Harrys, and Gillette Mach 3 Turbo

4 min read

I'm bald. Not totally naturally but bald nonetheless. My hair disappeared in a weird and awkward way so I just embraced it and started to shave. I don't remember how long ago but at least since 2006.

I typically use the Gillette Mach 3 Turbo (M3T). It's a good cartridge blade and it gives me a consistent and close shave. However, it's expensive. Really expensive. For instance I get a subscription of 10 blades from Amazon for about $22 after tax. $2.20 a cartridge is too much.

A few years ago, when Dollar Shave Club (DSC) first appeared I tried out their blades but I had some issues and I decided to just suck it up and keep going with the Mach 3 Turbo option.

I'm often pretty lazy about shaving my head so that was working out okay. Each cartridge was lasting a pretty long time and I could suck up the cost of the M3T option. However, a month ago I decided to be more consistent with shaving my head again and once again I discovered how quickly that wears out a blade. So I decided to give DSC a second try - but just for my dome and just with the cheap 2 blade option since one of my issues with their four blade option was how hard it was to clear the blades while shaving.

Let's just say the 2 blade option isn't great for shaving my head. To be fair DSC doesn't recommend that option. They recommend the six blade cartridge. The two blade deal just didn't give me a sufficiently close and consistent shave plus the handle is really really light weight. I'm glad they were so cheap since I'm not going to use them. One attempt at shaving with them was enough for me to know I had to move on.

I also bought their shave butter which, so far, is a different beast altogether. It's pretty good stuff. Very good lubricant so my razor, regardless of option glides nicely and both the two blade">DSC and M3T clear very easily when using it. Seriously, if you're looking for a good shave cream/bar/butter whatever - give it a shot. You might be a pleasantly surprised as I am.

So, yesterday was my attempt to shave with the DSC twin. Today, I bought the Harry's five blade option. It was at Target and came with a weighty handle along with two cartridges for $9 and a coupon for $5 off if I subscribe. I've not subscribed yet but I might.

I shaved my dome and it was about as efficient as the M3T. The handle (rubberized) is a bit harder to keep a grip on than the M3T handle - but it worked well enough. The blades cleared pretty easily with the shave butter and my scalp is very consistently smooth all over. It was a bit harder to shave over the weird ridges of my head vs using the Mach 3 Turbo. I'm not sure why. Maybe the M3T blades flex more or something? Either way I had to spend a bit more time shaving but the end result is very satisfactory.

It was also harder to shave my face with the Harry's blade than the M3T - especially along my jaw and near a scar just under my chin (Hockey). I think I'll keep using the M3T for face shaving and I'll try the Harry's blades for a bit and see how they work out. I may go back and give the "Executive" DSC (six blades) option a try as well. But, for now I'm pretty happy with the Harry option for shaving my head (along with the DSC shave butter).

Once these two blades from Harry's wear out (or just before) I'll order the Executive from DSC and see how it is. If it is as good (or better) than Harry's I'll probably stick with the DSC option (unless I try out an old fashioned "safety razor" and discover how wonderful it is; I'm skeptical).

TAG You're It - A Watch Band Story

4 min read

I've had a fancy watch for about 12 years that came with a silicone rubber bracelet. When the watch was purchased the salesperson suggested some kind of warranty package which we denied and some kind of joke was made about cats eating the band.

TAG Golf Watch

Less than a year later our cat, Grover, chewed on my bracelet a little bit leaving tear in it that made me nervous about wearing the watch out and about. A replacement bracelet at the time was really really expensive so I rarely wore the watch.

Damaged Bracelet

Every year I'd check to see if I could find a replacement bracelet for less and every year I'd fail. The official replacement part's price has come down but it's still over $200. It's crazy.

This year I finally found a non-official aftermarket bracelet for the watch for sale out of England for roughly 60 USD after shipping. I pulled the trigger and ordered it.

The bracelet arrived yesterday and it seems to be nearly identical to the original bracelet with a couple minor exceptions. The OEM braclet has the words "TAG HEUER" embossed on it; the aftermarket has the word "GOLF" in the same place. The aftermarket is slightly thicker than the OEM watch so installing the new band was difficult when it came time to close the final clasp. Also, on the inside of the band on the aftermarket band there are two arrows at one point amidst the pebbled bumps. I'm not sure what those arrows are about.

Replacment Braclet

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the new bracelet and, when I'm not wearing it, I'll be sure to put it out of reach of my cat. He's still around and will probably be happy to chew on the new band given a chance.

Deafening Silence

1 min read

The silence on facebook amongst my friends concerning the various tragedies of the past 36 hours or so has been deafening.

Is everyone just burnt out? Typically if there is a mass shooting, for instance, I see a lot of chatter about it. Yesterday there were two (the congressional event and the UPS shooting) and I haven't seen a single post directly speaking about those actions. I found the silence on the congressional shooting especially perplexing. Some POS coward attacked our government and nobody seems to care. I don't get it.

Even if folks didn't want to talk about the shootings - I didn't see any discussion of the tragic fire in London which was on my mind all day. The plight of the people in the apartments reminded me of the horror that the victims in the WTC faced on 9/11 - having to choose between an assortment of horrible options and none offered a very good chance of survival.

Maybe the day was just too full of horror so everyone just wanted to ignore it? I don't know; but it was really odd to see nothing about any of it.

Google Home - The good and bad

5 min read

I have been an Amazon Echo user for a while - pretty much as soon as you could get one. We've actually had two plus an Echo touch. But, when Google Home was announced I immediately switched. I switched us because of the ability to have all of the Google Home devices synced and playing the same audio everywhere in the house. I bought four Google Homes and a Google Cast Audio (if that's what it's called) to connect to my stereo in the garage. The future sounded bright and I was pretty amped to be able to listen to music throughout the house.

Until I couldn't.

Sometimes I can; sometimes all of the devices show up as part of the group I defined and named "The House" and when they all do and I tell one Google Home to play music on "the House" it works. It's great. Sure, the speakers on each aren't all that good; specifically the bass which sounds a lot weaker than the full sized Echo. However, the sound is good enough and I didn't have to run wires or buy an expensive Sonos system to get wireless audio throughout my house. So, for the most part I'm pretty happy.

But, sometimes, the group only shows a couple of the Home devices as part of the group. I don't know why. Maybe it has to do with the mesh network (Luma) we have and maybe sometimes the Luma devices aren't working? Or maybe the Home devices have trouble realizing their on the same network when they are on a mesh network?

Whatever it is it's pretty disappointing because it happens too often.

Another problem I run into is that I connected all of the Home devices to my account. But if I'm in the garage casting music and my wife is in the kitchen and she tries to cast some other music - my music is shut off because I can't use my account in more than one place at a time. There is no obvious easy way to disconnect some of the Home devices from my account. It appears I have to reset them to factory settings, set them back up, then attach them to different accounts. So, in order for my family to use the various Home devices as separate music players I have to assign each device to a different account in the family. I'm already paying for the Google Music family account so then it should be fine. But it's still an annoying limitation. We're all in the same place on the same network it shouldn't be this difficult to have them work independently when we want. Or, at least, Google should warn you when you're setting them up that this could be an issue and advise you to use different accounts for each Google Home device.

Another big problem is the calendar integration. My wife and I each have our own calendars plus we have a shared "family" calendar. It makes it a lot easier to filter our events when we need to from within the Google Calendar app/webpage. But from within the Google Home device we can only access the link accounts primary calendar. And, as far as I know, we can't add calendar events from it.

Oh, and we can't "like" a song from the Home device either. I am pretty sure I could do that from day one on the Echo. Alexa had a lot of problems with her overall music selection on Amazon prime music via the Echo - but at least it could "Like" a song. I don't understand how this simple feature didn't make it into the earliest version of Google Home. I suspect a lot of people got these things for music as their primary use.

The wake word "Ok Google" is also shitty. I mean, it's a fine phrase, but if you use Android your phone probably responds to the same wake word. The wake word needs to be customizable. I'eve had the Google Home commercial wake up my Google Home device before. I don't need that kind of crap.

I like the Home devices when they work (playing music as a group around my house) but for the time being I just can't recommend them to anyone else. They are too limited on features and don't seem to be getting any kind of regular monthly updates. If they are then they aren't advertising the updates well. Amazon sends me an email regularly telling me about new things Echo can do (though I hate the "skill" integration of Echo and the need to manually activate skills; at least they are expanding the capabilities of the device). Google just rushed out their thing to be in the market before Christmas and then seemed to pretend like it's sufficient.

I hope it gets better. But, in the mean time I have to create a new google account so that I have five different accounts in my Google Family Music subscription (since I can't invite a not "" google address) and so each device can be on it's own account. Hopefully the group play feature will still work when they are all on different accounts.

I guess I could have named this post "Google Home - The Bad"

Pay it Forward Coffee House

3 min read

A few weeks ago the I drove through Lexington with my family. While there we attempted to visit a coffee shop called "A Cup of Common Wealth" that had a cool theme. They really wanted to make it easy for folks to "pay it forward." Basically, what they did was put up a big cork board and patrons could buy a coffee, any size and type, and label what it is on the board via the cup sleeve. Then, when someone else came in that fit the sleeves identity they could take the sleeve down and cash it in for that specific drink.

Some of the sleeves are bought for specific people. For instance, one in the previously linked image, is for "Lori Benard" but they can be for groups of people or anyone really. So you could prepay for the most expensive coffee in the shop and label it - "Any Coffee for Anyone" and the next person who saw it could take it down and cash it in.

The coffee sleeve can have a condition - like "A Medium Coffee in exchange for Free Hugs for everyone in the room" - or it could have a very specific drink; "A free small vanilla Irish creme hot cocoa for a bearded man" you get the idea.

I really dig how they have taken the concept of "pay it forward" and made it into something concrete. Sadly, for us, the shop was closed for their annual staff Christmas party the day we visited so we couldn't see it in action or put a sleeve on the board.

One of our cool local coffee shops (bakeries) called "River and Rail Bakery" has a bit of a pay it forward implementation via a bucket near the register where you can plop in some cash. The limitation is a lot of folks don't carry cash. Via the prepaid option it would be a lot easier for regular customers to help someone out down the road.

The Cup of Common Wealth even lets you pay for a "pay it foward" sleeve via their website. Each sleeve you prepay for is $5 and you can put in the rules after you select the sleeve count. Then pay away. It seems to me that it is a good business idea and a nice way to build a culture around your shop.