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Agriculture, skepticism, politics

Review of the Wilger Electronic Flow Monitor system

| Posted on in farming, reviews

I recently purchased a new-to-me Case IH 955 planter. The liquid fertilizer set-up on it was completely trashed, with the exception of the tanks and the pump, so I needed flow dividers. I wasn’t happy with the round, silver Jon Blue divider that was on my 12-row, and whether I got two 12-outlet dividers or a single 20-outlet model, it looked like I would be well north of $1000 to handle my 16 rows. That still wouldn’t give me any way to monitor the overall flow rate much less indicate a restriction or break in any individual row line.

A little ducking found me looking at the Wilger EFM system. It monitors individual flow for each row digitally, and connects by Wi-Fi to an Android tablet, saving me from having to mount yet another single use display in favor of my “wallpaper all the surfaces with pixels” mantra.

The only place I could find to sell me one online without a phone call was Dultmer Sales in Nebraska, though before I was done with everything I had probably 30 minutes of phone time burnt up with them.

Assembly was straightforward and I had it running in no time at all. My only complaint lies in the roughness of the Android app itself. The layout is pretty awful by anything close to modern design standards. For some reason, it is set to always show three products and 24 rows. It would be much more useful and easier to use if it used all of the screen to show only what was configured. In other words, for me it should only show one product and 16 rows – the balls could move much higher and lower giving a greater degree of precision to the individual flow rates.

It also seems to have a relatively slow refresh rate. I’m not sure if that’s an issue with the app or with the sensors, but I wish it would update multiple times per second instead of once every second or every few seconds. Here’s a short video showing how it works on a turn demonstrating the slow refresh rate.

Is the system worth $3500? Probably, especially in a year like this when knowing how much fertilizer you’re applying makes a big difference at these fertilizer prices. Is the roughly $2000 difference worth it compared to what I was going to spend on only flow dividers anyway? Absolutely.

#plant22

| Posted on in farming, kids

Brian spent the day with me last Friday and was excited to help get soybean seed.

I’m loving the new planter. I did 350 acres in the last two days. I’m seeing the 16-row at somewhere around 35 or 40% faster than the 12-row.

I did have some delays due to a cracked frame and a wiring harness that was weirdly incorrect. After a visit from Craig and a few hours reconfiguring the wiring harness, I was up and running.

After knocking out 650 acres in the last week, I find myself on the final stretch of soybeans before switching to milo. I’m excited to be well ahead of schedule.

Another breath

| Posted on in Uncategorized

Last Friday we took the boys to Wichita. Knowing we’d have to hold down at least one needle-fearing child in order to get his immunizations, we couldn’t think of anyone better than our favorite shot-putter to get us the hookup.

Nolan, Callan and I got two shots each, one in each arm. They each got the fun-sized Pfizer in one and the flu in the other. I got my Moderna booster, after nearly 10 months since the original second shot that I got on inauguration day.

I know the science is clear. I know this is the day I’ve been waiting for forever — the day I can start to protect my children. Still, because I get my news from a wide variety of sources, I’m aware of what a small, wrong-but-loud contingent of the political right are saying about the vaccine and children. It gave me pause, even for a split second. Me, the guy who has been publicly railing against the anti-vaccine movement for well over 15 years now. Me, the guy who repeatedly cites the fact that vaccines are the biggest technological achievement in the history of humanity. Me, the guy who corrects people who claim this vaccine was rushed or quickly developed by reminding them that this mRNA platform has been in development for more than a decade. It still gave me pause, because they were my children.

It was just a momentary lapse of confidence before my brain started working again. But if the misinformation on the right can cause me to blink, what does it do to someone who isn’t paying attention to the facts?

For now, I’ll take a much needed breath and rest slightly easier knowing we’ve taken the first step in protecting our children. Here’s hoping they approve the under-five dosages sooner than later.

House for sale

| Posted on in Uncategorized

It’s been a few months since we finally moved to the farm. It’s been an enormous process, and I’m not sure what was more difficult — spending money and time making immediate improvements to the farmhouse or clearing out the old house in Medicine Lodge.

We finally listed the old house. I’m honestly going to miss it, and there are quite a few aspects where it is superior to the farmhouse. But we need to be on the farm and we can’t take the house with us.

The first week and Strawman Biden

| Posted on in politics

It’s been a week since we came up for air. Apprehension wears on a person, waking up every day and wondering what new embarrassment or horror was wrought upon our nation by the president the previous night. The Biden inauguration was a wonderful return to tradition and cathartic in its normalcy and dignity. But it also reminded us, by the waves of relief we felt washing over us, how intensely oppressed we had been feeling for the last four years of national disaster.

I’m easy, though. Tell me the new president is a decent human who isn’t a businessman and I’m pretty much sold. But President Biden has wracked up quite a first week, but it’s been low hanging fruit.

Biden campaigned on reversing most of the previous president’s executive orders on day one. Biden won the election handily, earning more votes for president than anyone in history, and that majority of Americans expects him to follow through.

He had a big day one that has stretched into week one. From ending the construction of walls and pipelines to stopping the intolerance of race-based travel bans and private prisons to ending arbitrary restrictions keeping a specific group of patriots from defending America, the president has been busy delivering on his promises to those of us who voted for him.

He’s restored the dignity of the White House press briefings by installing Jen Psaki as press secretary, someone competent at her job who is well spoken and respectful of both her office and of the fourth estate. He’s warned his staff that they will be fired on the spot for being disrespectful to others. He’s leveraging science-based approaches for ending COVID-19 and planning mitigations for climate change. He’s rejoining the international organizations and agreements that allow us to demonstrate the excellence that his critics both claim he denies and simultaneously want to keep to ourselves.

I have friends who are, unsurprisingly, bearish on the new administration. Whether they’re brainwashed by alternative-fact media, believers in conspiracy theories like the big lie that there was something wrong with the election, or, hopefully, are just old-school conservatives worried about big government and deficit spending, they wonder if those of us who voted for President Biden are happy with the first week.

I can’t speak for the majority of American voters who cast their votes for the president, but I can say with enthusiasm that I’m delighted with Biden’s first week. But I’m also cautiously skeptical about his future.

Strawman Biden, the caricature that the right makes him out to be in order to more easily attack him, is a godless communist. He’s a radical lefty who wants to end capitalism and America as we know it by banning fossil fuels, private insurance, religion, cows and guns. Strawman Biden wants to raise taxes for the working man and replace all stop signs with roundabouts.

The problem is that President Biden didn’t campaign like Strawman Biden and he sure isn’t governing like him. President Biden is a centrist, which is why he had such a hard time squeaking through the primary. He’s a Catholic who is probably the most religiously observant president we’ve had in a very long time. During the primary, President Biden actively campaigned against the policies of Strawman Biden, much to the chagrin of us liberals. President Biden is far too conservative for those of us who favor bold and immediate progress to a better future.

Time will tell if we’ll be able to push President Biden to be more progressive. He sure has the mandate to at least move us back to center after the debilitating rightward lurch we experienced during the last four years. He’s made a good start with the flurry of executive actions during his first week, but that’s the low-hanging fruit. We need more — much more. Here’s hoping we go past center towards a better future, and maybe even implement a few of Strawman Biden’s more reasonable positions — but definitely not the roundabouts.

Not quite yet

| Posted on in kids, life, science

“What do you want me to do?” she asked.

It was May 29 and Diane and I were debating two urgent issues. Would we let Nolan play baseball in the season that was about to start and would we attend my niece’s first communion that weekend?

I’ve been furious at Kansas for opening up like nothing happened. I’m mad at Governor Kelly for caving to pressure from the right to take her foot off the brake and mad at Barber County for not really doing anything more than a head fake at social distancing.

Every night on my way home, beginning before they were even technically allowed to, the parking lot to the local bar was full. I’ve seen Snapchat messages from friends throughout the quarantine partying without blatant disregard for distancing rules. I can count the number of masks I’ve seen worn in Barber County in the last four months on two hands — one if I exclude my family.

The data are showing that, while the first-affected coastal areas are trending downward, the middle of the country continues to see hotspots indicating the danger is far from over.

New COVID cases in Kansas continue to frequently number in the hundreds per day

We ended up making the decision to stay home and continue restricting contact for anything non-essential. Holding Nolan back from baseball was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made as a parent — knowing first hand how my own baseball skills fell behind those of my peers when I as an adolescent chose to take a year or two off of summer baseball so I could spend more time farming.

I’m skipping or calling in to meetings. We’re still avoiding restaurants and even take-out. The running joke on our weekly Sunday Service for Sanity streaming parties is that “I don’t want a part-time poop-fingers mouth-breather to give me the 19” but it’s a serious and, I believe, legitimate concern that I continue to wrestle with.

A lot of people depend on me in ways that don’t have a backstop. If I were to get the ’19 and have an experience as bad as my friend Rob, that downtime would be devastating to wheat harvest and fall-crop planting.

There was recent news of an announcement by the WHO that asymptomatic spread is perhaps less common than initially believed. I’ve also heard conflicting information, also from the WHO, but I hope that’s the case so we can ease up a little bit on our practices that are becoming more and more rare in this part of the country.

Being a parent is hard. Holding the line on social distancing when everyone else is back to life like nothing happened is hard. Luckily, at the end of the day, saying I am doing everything possible to protect my family will be easy.

Cultural inequality

| Posted on in politics

There’s a Trump 2020 flag near my farm. It went up a couple of weeks ago, somewhere shortly after the president was impeached. I get to see it four times a day when I drive past to and from feeding cattle in the morning and evening.

Trump

In this part of the country, not-so-lovingly referred to as “Jesusland” by a close friend from the coast, support for the president isn’t uncommon. Thankfully, it’s still relatively rare to see public displays of support like flags and signs, but I’m guessing they’ll increase substantially between now and November.

In February 2017, I wrote about how the Trump administration was a backfire resulting from turning off the key of the long-running engine that was the GOP. It turns out it hasn’t been so much of a bang but more like dieseling — the way an engine turns in reverse for a while after running on bad gas or with bad timing. My old wheat truck does this all the time. The best thing to do to get it to quit is to put the truck in gear and apply the brakes.

There are many types of inequality in this country. Racial inequality has been a problem since before our nation was founded. It sadly continues to this day. Economic inequality is also nothing new but continues to worsen at an alarmingly exponential rate. But I think just as concerning and maybe even more fundamental is cultural inequality.

It’s the cultural divide that keeps us from agreeing on basic tenets of Americanism. Basic beliefs that I have held all my life are challenged by significant parts of this country in ways that seem as recent as they are surprising.

We’re the shining city on the hill that all should aspire to reach and look up to. Except we get upset when foreigners want to come here legally. Some of us get so wound up that we want to be as cruel as possible, even to those legally requesting asylum. We’re afraid that they have a different culture but we claim they commit crimes and take our jobs, but we’re immune to the facts that they commit far fewer crimes per capita than native-born citizens and that they have a hugely positive contribution to our economy.

In America, everyone is equal and all our voices should matter equally. But there are constantly pictures making the rounds on social media showing how much bigger the red parts of the country are than the blue parts as if acres mattered more than people…or if the weight of a vote depends on the distance to your closest neighbor. The people sharing these pictures are convinced that the culture of homogeneity of the flyover states is in danger of being invaded by a culture of diversity from the blue splotches on the map. They don’t understand or care that the the Electoral College and even the Senate, the original gerrymander, have become anti-democratic even if they were originally good ideas that functioned as training wheels at the start of our nation. They don’t care that a vote for a Kansas senator is worth less than 20% of a vote for a Wyoming senator.

Dad used to talk about how people who didn’t go to college are just different than those who did. Exposure to so many different cultures changes a person for the good.

I remember how one of my friends got upset by the use of the term “uneducated” to describe people without college degrees in the breakdown of the votes in the last presidential election. She was upset by what she heard as the implication that college is the only way to find knowledge, as if it meant people who didn’t attend college couldn’t be smart. It doesn’t — it’s simply shorthand for those who didn’t attend college.

However, there’s a far more useful implication from the “educated” versus “uneducated” shorthand that pollsters use to break down results. Americans who attend college have, in my experience, a far greater tolerance for different opinions. They don’t necessarily line up on one side of the political divide or the other, but on the aggregate I think they are more understanding and accepting of diversity. When they hold political and cultural beliefs, it’s usually a deliberate decision instead of the default positions that come from never leaving the echo chamber of home.

It’s the cultural divide that’s hurting our prosperity in this country. It’s why we keep our heads down in a small town. It’s why population is declining in rural America. It’s why population is increasing in urban America. Who wants to raise kids in a place that’s full of hammerheads who are unwilling to accept different ideas?

Just as racial and wealth inequality imply those at the top having privileges and opportunities not afforded those at the bottom, so too does cultural inequality. Cultural diversity is crucial to our collective future, but sadly there are significant parts of this country that are being left behind.

I have a neighbor who likes to make signs and put them up along a major highway.

Leaving aside the fact that Liberal Democrats is the name of a political party in the UK, he’s definitely more politically active than I am if perhaps not as diligent about word usage and capitalization. Another of his signs said something like “we live in a country of laws” and listed the Constitution AND Bill of Rights (the Bill of Rights is actually part of the Constitution) and also listed the Declaration of Independence, which actually isn’t a law at all. I admire his activism and engagement, but I wonder if he’s doing himself or our community any favors. Do passersby associate his views and lack of precision in language with the majority of our town? I hope not.

Verizon Samsung Galaxy Note9 review

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

For the last three weeks, I’ve been evaluating the Samsung Galaxy Note9 from my friends over at Verizon. I’ve found a monster phone with pretty much every conceivable feature that can be crammed into a modern device. While I can always pick nits and find a few things I wish had been done differently, at the end of the day I could reasonably make the case that the Note9 is the most robust and useful smartphone currently on the market.

Samsung Galaxy Note9
Samsung Galaxy Note9

Note9 best feature

The best thing about the Note9 isn’t really one thing, it’s that it ticks all the boxes. Wireless charging, headphone jack, long battery life, stylus, great cameras — it’s tough to find a feature that the Note9 isn’t packing.

Note9 worst feature

The integration of Samsung’s assistant Bixby is disappointing. It might be valuable to someone who doesn’t want to use the Google Assistant, but I have yet to meet someone who would pick Bixby over Google Assistant. In any case, this is a pretty small inconvenience on an otherwise outstanding device.

Hardware

The first thing I noticed when I picked up the Note9 is how large and solid it feels. With a 6.4″ screen, it’s one of the largest phones I’ve ever used, but it’s not clunky. The specs are all top-of-the-line, too, which means never waiting on apps to load and plenty of space for all my photos and podcasts. The S8 and Note8 suffered from horrible placement of the fingerprint sensor. The sensor in the Note9 is placed under the rear camera. While it’s a little higher on the device than feels comfortable to me, it’s much better than last year’s devices.

Note9 battery cycle
Example Note9 battery cycle

While barely heavier than last year’s Note8, the capacity of the Note9’s battery is more than 20% larger. The larger battery and the improvements in Android 8 actually make it so that I can use this phone without needing an external battery. It’s a marked difference from the LG V20, my current daily driver, which needs a 10000 mAh hour battery just to get me through the day. The Note9 would consistently last me past 5 p.m. and often past 8 p.m.

I’m a sucker for wireless charging. Not only does the Note9 have wireless charging but it works really well. Even through my case, the phone charged wirelessly from roughly dead to full in under 4 hours.

Like the last several Samsung phones, the edges of the Note9 are curved. This disastrous design decision means that it’s harder to install good screen protectors. I ordered and installed a tempered glass screen protector and quickly found that the touch sensitivity had diminished substantially. I only recently learned that there’s a software setting that compensates for this issue and now wish I’d have found it sooner!

Excellently designed, the Note9 has headphone jack on bottom next to USB Type-C port
Excellently designed, the Note9 has headphone jack on bottom next to USB Type-C port

The S Pen on the Note9 has the same great accuracy and sensitivity as previous Notes, but this stylus has a Bluetooth button which can serve as a remote for the camera, presentations and audio playback.

Note9 camera

The Note9 has two cameras on the rear and one on the front. The rear cameras are standard and telephoto. I’ve always preferred LG’s approach of including a wide-angle option instead of the telephoto, but I found plenty of instances where I appreciated having the ability to zoom.

As with all Samsung flagship phones for as long as I can remember, the camera quality is outstanding and the software is crammed with features. I’ll have a picture gallery of unedited photos at the end as always, but I really enjoyed the slow motion video function at the Kansas State Fair and at Leonardo’s Children’s Museum in Enid, Oklahoma. Here’s a compilation video of some slow motion captures.

The one issue I had when I was taking a bunch of videos at the fair was that the phone overheated. It simply got too hot and told me it wouldn’t run the camera until it cooled down.

Another camera aspect worth mentioning is low light performance. Shots taken at night with the Note9 were substantially better than those taken with my LG V20, as shown in this comparison.

Note9 software

My niece enjoying the PENUP app
My niece enjoying the PENUP app

It wasn’t long ago that Samsung’s software was terrible. While they continue to include some superfluous apps, they’re easy to remove or disable. After replacing the launcher with Action Launcher and the keyboard with Gboard, what’s left are Samsung’s enhancements that support the stylus and camera or are actually useful features like the touch sensitivity setting, the built-in battery optimization and the biometrics features.

The exception is Bixby, Samsung’s assistant that coexists with the Google Assistant on the phone. There’s a dedicated button below the volume keys to launch Bixby. Because I’m all-in with the Google Assistant, Bixby isn’t something that interests me and I found the extra button annoying whenever I accidentally launched Bixby.

Summary

Honestly, there are so many features tucked into the Note9 that it’s extremely versatile. The Note9 is the perfect phone for a power business user who wants the best in security and carries a cable to plug the phone into a projector and use the S Pen as a presentation remote. It’s a great phone for a soccer mom who wants a big and bright display on a stylish phone that has outstanding cameras. It’s an excellent choice for a farmer who doesn’t have time to wait on apps to load, the luxury of plugging the phone into a charger during the day or the desire to worry about running out of space for podcasts.

Anyone looking for the most powerful and versatile phone on the most reliable network can’t go wrong selecting the Samsung Galaxy Note9 on Verizon. While I’ll miss the Note9 when I have to ship it back, there’s a solid chance I’ll be purchasing one as my next phone.

Gallery of example photos taken with the Note9 camera

As always, these are unedited photos straight from the camera.

As with all my #vzreview reviews for Verizon, I wasn’t paid or otherwise compensated and my views are my own.

Verizon Google Pixel 2 XL review

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

Released in late 2016, the Pixel and Pixel XL were Google’s first forays into designing and selling phones. They were essentially identical, except for screen and battery size, with a clean implementation of Android and one of the best cameras on the market. The successors, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, were recently released and my friends at Verizon let me spend a few weeks with the Pixel 2 XL. I found it to be a solid workhorse with a few new features, and only a couple features missing, from what is otherwise a great experience.

Pixel 2 XL hardware

The Pixel 2 XL is as fast or faster than any phone before it. It has the same design language as the first Pixel, with the power button and volume rocker on the right side and a well-placed fingerprint sensor on the back. The Pixel 2 XL is roughly the same width as the Pixel XL, but it’s slightly taller and thinner. Like the first Pixel, the upper part of the back of the Pixel 2 has a slick finish. Unlike the Pixel, which had a flat back, the Pixel 2 has an unfortunate camera bump where the lens protrudes from the back of the phone just enough to make the phone rock a little bit when sitting on a flat surface.

The Pixel 2 boasts water resistance, a feature found in most other modern phones that was absent from the Pixel. It also brings the return of dual front-facing speakers, a feature missing from Google’s phones since the Nexus 6. It seems roughly as loud as my Nexus 6, and noticeably louder than the V20 and Note8.

Unfortunately, Google still hasn’t accepted the market demand for expandable storage. Luckily, the smallest storage option is 64GB which is likely enough for most people.

Deal-breakers for me personally are the lack of a headphone jack and wireless charging. Bluetooth isn’t always an option, and carrying a dongle adapter is too inconvenient for the few times I really need to plug in a 3.5mm jack. While fast charging is nice, other manufacturers have been including wireless charging for many years and it’s frustrating that Google keeps omitting this extremely useful feature from its phones.

Pixel 2 XL screen

Like other flagship phones released in 2017, the shape of the Pixel 2’s screen is taller and narrower than phones of yesteryear. That’s how the Pixel 2 XL can fit a 6-inch screen in a body that’s only slightly larger than the original Pixel XL. The screen edges are slightly curved, very similar to the V30, which has the unfortunate effect of making it more difficult to install a screen protector. While a curved screen normally makes a phone harder to hold, the Pixel 2 XL is much easier to hold than Samsung’s Galaxy S8+ and the LG V30. While there was some news when the Pixel 2 XL was launched regarding screen problems, I noticed no burn-in or ghosting during the few weeks I used it.

Camera

Pixel 2 XL camera bump
Pixel 2 XL camera bump

The camera was one of the most talked-about features of the original Pixel. Google again neglected to add optical image stabilization or a second camera to the Pixel 2, opting to focus on post-processing to make the pictures crisp and clear and add functionality. Indeed, the camera on the Pixel 2 performs quite well. The AR Stickers feature adds a layer of fun, allowing the insertion of objects and text into the image as if they were in the shot. We had a ton of fun over Christmas playing with the Star Wars stickers.

The Pixel 2 also has a portrait mode which uses software to add a bokeh, or blurred background, effect.

As always, I’ll include a gallery at the end of this review of unedited example pictures I took over the few weeks I used the Pixel 2 XL.

Battery

I used the Pixel 2 XL exclusively for a few weeks over the holidays. I never had issues with battery life. Indeed, the Geekbench 4 battery test scored a 4093 clocking in at just under 7 hours of full-load battery use. It’s just a smidgen lower than the LG V30, but still translates to plenty of power to get through the day for an average user.

Software

Arguably the best feature of the Pixel line is Google’s version of Android. It’s clean and looks fantastic. Only one or two unnecessary apps came pre-installed and those can be easily removed. The original Pixel was the first phone to come with Google Assistant, and the Pixel 2 makes Assistant even easier to access. No longer do you have to say “Hey, Google” to launch it; simply squeezing the phone triggers assistant.

I’m not much of a graphic design guy. But I do get to play with devices from many different manufacturers and I have to say that Android just looks better on the Pixel than any other phone. It’s not just the fonts; the whole system menu looks like it was built and organized in a way that’s consistent and makes sense.

Case

Pixel 2 XL with Incipio DualPro case
Pixel 2 XL with Incipio DualPro case

The camera bump and curved edges make using a case with the Pixel 2 XL a necessity. Luckily, Verizon sent along an Incipio DualPro case. It does a good job protecting the phone without being bulky, and it’s much easier to hold and use than the phone by itself.

The Pixel 2 XL doubles down on the blocking and tackling that made the original Pixel such a great device. If you don’t need a headphone jack, or don’t mind carrying an adapter, the Pixel 2 XL on Verizon is an excellent choice for anyone who wants a well-rounded phone with pristine software that’s guaranteed to receive updates long into the future.

Gallery of example photos

As with all my #vzreview reviews for Verizon, I wasn’t paid or otherwise compensated and my views are my own.