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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

I wonder what kind of training people imagine teachers should get so that they can engage a hostile in a firefight while herding panicked and scared children.

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.

This is precisely why I don't like seeing the word terrorist used for, seemingly, everything.

Today's laundry care tags are useless. You need a damned decoder ring to understand them.

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.