Category Archives: Review

Review: Our Smart Home

This past Black Friday I finally spent the Christmas money I had been saving for nearly a year.  There were some incredible tech deals too good to pass up so I finally made the jump to start turning our house into a “smart home”.

I picked up two Google Home Minis, a Phillips Hue Starter Kit, and two TP-Link Smart Plugs.  All totaled… it added up to around $150, more than half off the original pricing.

Needless to say, I was really excited to get it all home and set up.  I was hoping the rest of my family would share my excitement.

Setting up the Google Minis was easy.  If you have a Google account and can and follow directions I’m confident you could easily set one up too. I chose to put one on our main floor near the dining room and kitchen.  The second found a place downstairs in our living room.

The Phillips Hue bridge and bulbs were also easy to set up.  I put smart bulbs in two of our basement lamps and two in our ceiling fan light in our dining room.  I spent an extra $15 to get another smart bulb to go over our kitchen sink.

One of the smart plugs got used for the lamp next to my wife’s side of the bed while the other initially went to control our Christmas tree.  It’s since been moved to control the lamp next to my side of the bed.

That’s the current set-up in our home.  So how has it worked out?  I’d say 90% success and 10% frustration.

It’s been awesome to be able to be able to ask our Google Home Minis random questions that come up in everyday life that we’d normally just search out online.  “Hey Google, how long will it take me to drive to Oskaloosa High School” not only got me the answer but also sent driving directions to my phone. That’s not only cool… but also convenient.

Having total control over our lights via my smartphone and Chromebook has been cool too.  No more getting in bed, realizing I forgot to shut out the kitchen light, and having to get up to go shut it off. Now, I can turn it off with my phone from bed.

It was great for the holidays to be baking goodies with the family and have Christmas music playing throughout the house on the Google Home Minis.

My youngest daughter spent a couple hours dipping pretzels.  If a song came on she didn’t like she’d just say, “OK, Google… I don’t like this song” and the song would stop and another would start.

Having a Google Home Mini next to the kitchen has been great too.  “Hey, Google… set a timer for _______ minutes” is something I use all the time.

That’s some of what I love about having a smart home… but what are some of the things that I haven’t liked? What’s led to the 10% frustration?

Since everything is controlled via wifi if your internet goes down things don’t work as they’re supposed to… which can be annoying.

My family can tend to be fast-talkers so sometimes Google doesn’t “hear” us and we’ll have to slow down and make our request again.  This can be frustrating when you’re asking it to turn on a light and you’re already in the room wanting light.

I’ll be honest, there have been other times where I just don’t feel like talking… even to an inanimate object and wished I could just use a light switch to turn on the lights.  With our current set-up, it’s all voice.  I’d need to spend some more money on connected light switches.

Speaking of spending more money… I do plan on getting 1 more Google Home Mini to put in our bathroom.  It would be really useful to be able to listen to the news, weather, and music while I get ready in the morning.

I wouldn’t mind getting a smart thermostat too… but I’m holding off until the prices really come down.

The only other annoying thing is I wish there was a way to get the Google Home Mini to not respond after every request but just do what I ask.  For example, if I tell it to turn off the basement lights it will respond with, “OK, turning off the basement lights.”

Don’t tell me, Google! Just do it.  It’s a minor thing but it can be annoying.  I’m hoping this is something that can be controlled via a software update.  I submitted some feedback to Google, so we’ll see.

Oh, and I didn’t need to worry about my family sharing my excitement for having a smart home.  They’re liking it just as much as I do.

Do you have a smart home? What are your favorite things about it and what are your frustrations?

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Review: STOMP At Des Moines Performing Arts

Of all the reviews I’ve written for the Des Moines Performing Arts shows this one for STOMP is probably the most difficult to write.  I want to accurately convey the experience… but I don’t want to give away any of the unexpected surprises.

It’s all the little surprises that make the show great!  It could be anything from a shadow on the wall, a look between the performers, or a sound from an unexpected item.

At its core STOMP is a percussive experience. It’s all about creating extraordinary sounds and rhythms from ordinary items.  Brooms, buckets, trash cans, lighters, tubes, newspapers, grocery carts, kitchen sinks… all have distinct sounds and when put together just right they can sound incredible.

STOMP is more than just sounds, though… it’s also about movement.

Even though there’s not really dancing, per se, this is one of the most highly choreographed shows I’ve ever seen.  The precision and technical skill of the performers is impressive. More than once I found myself asking, “How did they do that?”

One of the coolest things about STOMP is the audience is included and encouraged to take part in the show.  The nearly sold out, opening night crowd my youngest daughter and I were a part of was ready to have a good time and really got into clapping along with the performers…. and the performers really fed off the crowd.  

Many times throughout the single act, 1:45 performance I found myself laughing, smiling, and my toes instinctively and uncontrollably tapping along.  It’s a show I’d love to see again! That’s the strongest recommendation I can give to STOMP.  

As we were leaving my daughter said, “That was awesome! I’m glad we came!”  That’s a pretty good endorsement from a teen that was originally unsure whether she wanted to come.

STOMP is playing at Des Moines Performing Arts January 26, 2018, through January 28, 2018. Click here for tickets and information about this show and other upcoming shows.

***Disclaimer: I was provided press night tickets to facilitate this review.  All opinions are my own.

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2017: A Look Back

As the curtain closes on 2017 I thought I’d take a look back on the year and reflect.  Not gonna lie… it was a pretty good year.

I thought I’d dig into my blog analytics and see which blog posts seemed to resonate most with my audience.  Some were surprising… and a few I expected.

2017: A Look Back

A Dad’s Album Review: Taylor Swift’s Reputation – Being the Dad of two teenage daughters, whenever Taylor puts out new music I’m going to have to listen to it… so I figured I might as well review it.

Memory Monday – Missing Tom Petty –  We lost many great musicians this year.  Tom Petty was one of them.  In this post, I share about the time I almost got to see him in concert.

Review: Scott Bradlee’s Post Modern Jukebox 2017 Tour, Hoyt Sherman, Des Moines – My wife and I enjoyed many great date nights in 2017.  This was one of my favorites.

Lesson Learned From A Lukewarm Shower – A little reminder to tackle the little annoyances in your life before they become big.

27 Low Or No Cost Things You Can Do To Be Nice – I’m glad this one showed up as one of the most read of the year.  The world needs more nice people.

A Sense Of Community – In small towns, you come together to celebrate when you can.  We celebrated the success of our girl’s basketball team.

20 Foods I Want To Try – This is one of the more recent posts… but it sparked a great conversation on Facebook and gave me something to shoot for in 2018.

Tony Tries It: Grilled Frozen Pizza – I love to grill, I love pizza, and I love to experiment.  This seemed like the perfect thing to try.

Whiskey Stones: Do They Work? – A science experiment that ended with me sipping whiskey… sign me up!

Easy Grilled Cauliflower – I did several cooking videos this year. This one was the first.

Review: Something Rotten! At Des Moines Performing Arts – My wife and I saw many outstanding shows at the Civic Center in Des Moines.  This one had us laughing so hard we had tears.

Those are a few of my favorites from 2017… if I overlooked one of your favorite posts of mine be sure and leave a comment. Happy New Year! Bring on 2018!

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