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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 guess college coaches need a color bearer and a guidon to help them find each other:

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.

I really enjoyed @RogueOne and am glad @jamesearljones was THE voice again. but his speech tempo seemed really fast compared to EP IV-VI.

Daily I wonder if I should read news about @realDonaldTrump and get annoyed or just ignore it and remain blissfully apathetically ignorant

Does Jim Justice have to sell his mining interests to avoid a conflict of interest. WV Governor?

Nashville Is a Fun Town That Was Closer Than I Thought

11 min read

This past weekend we took the kids to Nashville as an early Christmas present/experience. The trip included two shows; How The Grinch Stole Christmas the Musical! and A Christmas Story; a stage play put on by the Nashville Repertory Theater.

We drove in after school on Friday; with a pit stop in Bowling Green Ky to eat and drink at The White Squirrel Brewery which was a cool joint that reminded me a lot of Black Sheep Burrito here in Huntington but with it's own on-site brewery. The food at the Squirrel was pretty good. However, I didn't realize I'd ordered a vegetarian burger (black bean and corn) until I received it. Fortunately, it tasted good. I also liked the beer I had. I think we'd definitely stop in again. I'd kind of like to see what else Bowling Green has going on so it might be a fun weekend get-a-way without the kids sometime.

White Squirrel

In Nashville we stayed downtown at the Sheraton. I've had mixed experiences with Sheraton's so I was a little nervous; especially since we did the cheap route and booked via Priceline. Parking was easy to find (big garage behind the hotel) and the hotel seems to have recently gone through some major renovation - it was very modern and white on the inside. Sadly, the pool is being renovated and won't be open for a while. We were all a little bummed the pool wouldn't be available. However, the staff was super friendly and the hotel was very nice. Because I'd booked through Priceline we had a standard room which had two double beds. I asked if we could get a room with larger beds and the desk clerk offered to put us in two rooms with kings. That was very generous but we didn't really want the kids off elsewhere without an adjoining room so we stuck with the doubles. I kind of wish we'd thought about that a little more.

The Room

A double bed is just too small. I become very self-conscious when sleeping in a small bed and stay on the very edge of the bed. This ended up with me sleeping in a weird angle on a very firm mattress which resulted in my having pretty bad neck/shoulder problems the full day Saturday. Ignoring that though, the room was really nice, very clean, and had a great bathroom. The view was pretty good too.

View at Night

Saturday was really our only day to do stuff in Nashville so we made the most of it. First we got up and headed to a cool restaurant for breakfast called 817 Union. I had the prime rib hash for breakfast along with a couple biscuits. All in all pretty tasty. I also had my first ever Bloody Mary. I'm still not sure what I think of those. It was weird drinking something spicy. From the 817 we headed over to a cool memorial square where they had amazing monuments to those lost in a variety of wars as well as a really nice tribute to police officers who'd fallen in the line of duty. The WWI portion of monument square was amazing but it appears my camera failed when I took photos. Here is the Vietnam Memorial statue which is also very cool.

Vietnam Memorial

After exploring the monuments we hailed an Uber and headed to the Opryland Resort. We'd never really been in Nashville before and we had no idea what this place would be like. It's huge. It sort of reminded me of a cheap facsimile of Disney World's main street. It was nice but it felt a little dirtier and the people working there weren't nearly as friendly as the folks at Disney always are; especially the photographer on their river boat tour. The guide was nice but the photographer was kind of a jerk; he didn't seem like he wanted to be there.

The boat tour was nice - it gave us a nice chance to see some of the cool flowers growing around the river but it wasn't worth $10 a person. Opryland is clearly a money making machine. There were little bars everywhere and shops and endless opportunities for the Gaylord company to take your money. It felt overly hackish. I wouldn't go back even though the building itself is pretty amazing.

Inside the Atrium of Opryland

The main reason we had gone to the Opryland was because the Grinch musical was at The Grand Ole Opry. I was kind of excited to go there since it is a part of American pop culture and has been for as long as I've been alive. We took a free shuttle from the hotel to the Opry building and a really nice guy with a golf cart picked us up from the shuttle stop and gave us a ride to the front door of the Opry. He was the highlight of the experience. A really nice and welcoming person. I wish I had gotten his name as I would definitely have sent Gaylord some feedback on his behalf.

The Grinch musical was pretty good. The guy who played the Grinch was really good (though I felt like he lost some interest when he was doing a bit where he was snapping a crop in time with the music) and the rest of the cast was okay. The guy who played "old Max" had a great deep voice so when he sang "You're a mean one Mr. Grinch" it was pretty cool. I liked his voice for that part better than the Broadway cast recording I had previously listened too. I didn't care for "Grandpa Who" at all and I thought little Cindy Loo Who did a nice job though I had trouble understanding her when she spoke.

The Grand Ole Opry

I thought the Opry building was interesting. There were, of course, more bars all over the place (I caved and bought an Opry Ale for almost $10; it was okay which is better than I expected). It looked like there were no bad seats. I'm not sure how it would be in the back of the upper balcony but the lower level seats were all really good; except they weren't very comfortable. The seating is basically made up of large wooden pews like you'd find at a church; just without the kneel boards. The seat itself was a bit deeper so it was a little more comfortable than a padded pew - but not much. I found myself fidgeting far too often during the show and my sore neck and shoulder were really aggravated by the bad seats. I really thought they'd have something like theater seating.

Once the show was over we headed across the street to a nice but very crowded mall called Opry Mills. It was a mad house and the traffic on the main streets coming in was insane. There is no way I'd want to drive there or spend any more time at that mall than necessary. We bought a couple things and then hailed another Uber and got back downtown for dinner and to prepare for our second show, A Christmas Story.

We had dinner at a little joint called the "Back Alley Diner" which is literally in an alley very close to the 817 Union where we had breakfast. The food here was pretty cheap and was just decent. But the service was friendly and prompt. It was really what we needed because we didn't have much time before the next show started and the diner was within walking distance of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC). TPAC had two things going on that night; A Christmas Story and the Nashville Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker. Emily kind of wanted to bail on the show and see The Nutcracker but we'd already bought tickets so she was out of luck.

Christmas Story Stage

A Christmas Story was downstairs in an experimental theater. It was a small intimate space where the stage was the floor just in front of the seats. The photo above is of the main stage area taken from my seat. Through the use of lighting the calendar pattern helped tell the story. The setting was really perfect for the show and the entire set was really cool. I can't say enough good things about the quality of this show.

The cast was small but really good. I was a little doubtful about the casting of an older guy, Derek Whittaker, as Ralphie but he did a great job. He did a good job of projecting the persona of a kid. I was very impressed. The whole cast did a stand up job but I have to also mention Curtis Reed who played Ralphie's little brother Randy. Curtis was "all in" and really cracked me up quite a few times. If you live anywhere near Nashville and like "A Christmas Story" you should definitely check out the show. It is somewhat interactive and the cast is really great.

Set Panorama

The next day we slept in a bit before heading to breakfast at "Wild Eggs". Wild Eggs is a chain but we'd never eaten at one before so it was a local experience to us. The food there was tasty - I had Breakfast Nacho's. Shannon ordered a stack of pancakes and was overwhelmed by the amount of food she received. Each pancake was about 3/4 of an inch thick. If you go to Wild Eggs make sure you go hungry.

As a cool bonus; on our way out of the hotel before breakfast we bumped into two of the dancers (Kayla Rowser and Nicolas Scheuer) from the ballet company and Emily had her photo taken with them. We learned later that Kayla is a pretty accomplished dancer. It is good for Emily to meet people like that who she can look up to; she wanted to buy Kayla's used/signed pointe shoes after that but, once again, she was out of luck. Hopefully, next year, we can get back to town so she can see her dance.

After breakfast we headed home with a pit stop in Lexington at a cool little coffee shop called "Common Ground" and then dinner at some unremarkable Italian restaurant.

Common Ground

Overall it was a fun weekend and I am pretty sure we will be back in Nashville for more short vacations in the future.

Typically the choice of President has no impact on me. My Christmas wish this year is that I can be as apathetic about Trump.

I honestly never thought I'd see the day when REPUBLICANS are fans of Russia and Putin. The world is upside down.

Trying spiked apple cider via rye whiskey at the nutcracker. Not sure this was a good idea.