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Skepticism · agriculture · politics · technology

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.

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.

LG V20 vs V30 comparison review

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

LG makes great phones. I named the LG G3 the best phone for the farm several months after release in 2014. When Verizon let me review the LG G5, I ordered one for my wife before I was done with my review because of the wide-angle camera. I named the LG V20 Verizon’s best phone of 2016 and promptly bought one as my daily driver earlier this year over the Pixel XL because of the enormous feature set on the V20. I was really impressed with the LG G6 released earlier this year, which was very underrated and overshadowed by the Galaxy S8, even though I felt the G6 was clearly the better device. Yesterday I published my full LG V30 review on AuctioneerTech. I’ve had some questions from other fans of the V20 about upgrading to the V30, so here’s an comparison of both devices and what I think about the feature changes.

V20 vs V30 hardware comparison

LG V20 vs V30
LG V20 vs V30

The V30 is smaller than the V20 yet has a bigger and taller screen. They both have the same 4 GB of memory and 64 GB of storage with an SD card slot. The V30 has a much faster and more efficient processor than the V20, but I’ve never noticed any problems with the speed of the V20 so for now the difference in speed is measurable but not noticeable.

Screen

The screen is the most substantive difference between the two generations of the V-series. One of the selling points for the V20 is a second screen above the main screen. Technically, it’s a portion of the main display that can be lit independently, allowing it to stay on all the time without draining the battery as much as keeping the entire screen lit. While the screen is on, it can be used for various functions – most importantly providing a place for notifications so they don’t take up space on the main screen.

The second screen is gone on the V30. Instead of the beautiful 5.7″ IPS screen, LG is using a 6″ OLED panel with curved glass. Curved edges generally frustrate me because they make the phone harder to hold and tempered glass screen protectors harder to install. Cases can’t fully grip the phone, instead getting to wrap around on the top and bottom of the phone. I’m really disappointed in the changes to the screen from the V20 to the V30.

Best screen: V20

Camera

Both phones have three cameras. Each has a 16 megapixel primary rear-facing lens as well as a secondary, wide-angle lens. The V30’s primary lens is slightly better than the V20’s, but the 13 MP wide-angle lens on the V30 is significantly better than the V20’s 8MP sensor. Each phone has a front-facing wide-angle camera.

There’s no question the pictures taken with the V30 are noticeably better and more vivid than the V20. Also, after using the V20 for nearly a year, I experience what can be hair-pullingly frustrating lag from when I launch the camera until I can actually take a picture. I didn’t notice any lag on the V30, but I also didn’t notice any lag in my initial review of the V20.

Best camera: V30

Battery

V20 and V30 backs
V20 and V30 backs

Battery life on the V20 with the stock battery is atrocious. The Geekbench 4 benchmark yielded a score of 2003 at 3 hours and 23 minutes for the V20. The V30 battery was more than twice as good as the V20, scoring 4260 at 7 hours and 6 minutes. The V30 also features wireless charging, a feature which was sorely missing on the V20.

For me, the V20 is unusable with the stock battery, so I use the ZeroLemon 10,000 mAh extended battery which lasts me at least 18 hours with Bluetooth, GPS and hotspot running the whole time. I can’t award a winner here because even though the V30 battery is so much better than the stock V20 battery, the V20 allows replacement and extended batteries.

Best battery: push

Reception

I live less than a mile from a Verizon tower, but my farm is on the edge of Verizon coverage. Differences in phone antennas and the resulting reception variability is very noticeable to me. The V20 with the ZeroLemon battery didn’t seem to perform as well as the V30, which seemed to do as well as any other device I’ve tested. However, I’ve anecdotally noticed the reception with the big battery to be slightly poorer than with the stock battery, so there’s a chance that that difference in radio between the V20 and V30 might be due to the battery on the V20.

Best antenna: V30

Audio

The V-series is known for audio abilities. The Quad DAC that debuted on the V20 that made it sound so good with wired headphones has been improved on the V30. The V30 offers sound presets and filters, making it more customizable than the DAC on the V20. However, without the customizations, I didn’t notice much difference in the audio output between the two phones. I think this is because the V20 is already really good and it’s tough to make anything significantly better enough to notice. The V30 wins because of customizations, not because I could tell much of a difference in output without using a preset or filter.

Best audio: V30

Software

Currently, the V20 runs Android 7.0 and the V30 runs 7.1.2. While the V30 has a few extra tweaks surrounding the functionality of the curved edges of the screen, I didn’t find any software differences worth using much less mentioning. Replacing the launcher and keyboard yielded a day-to-day software experience for me that was indistinguishable from one phone to the other. From a longevity perspective, it’s worth noting that the V30 is a year newer and, thus, will likely receive longer support.

Best software: V30

Conclusion

To be clear, the V30 is an excellent device and improves on the V20 in a number of ways: better processor, better audio, better software, better cameras and better radio performance. When I bought my V20, I was deciding between it and the Google Pixel XL. I chose the V20 over the Pixel because of the expandable battery and second screen. Both of those features are absent in the V30. I also strongly prefer a phone with a flat screen, which the V30 lacks.

Buying a phone is a very personal decision. If you’re looking for the best hardware and software in a beautiful device, the V30 is a great choice, currently $840 at Verizon. If you like a phone with a flat screen and the most features, the V20 is still an excellent deal. The LG V20 is currently $576 at Verizon.

Read my full LG V20 review

Read my full LG V30 review

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

Kyocera DuraXV LTE on Verizon is a modern flip phone

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

Most people these days prefer the functionality offered by modern smartphones. However, according to a 2016 survey by Pew Research Center, 18% of Americans have phones that aren’t smartphones. This group, either by necessity or preference, needs phones other than those that get the big headlines and price tags. My friends at Verizon recently let me spend a few weeks with the Kyocera DuraXV LTE, a flip phone that’s both rugged and modern.

Kyocera DuraXV LTE on Verizon
Kyocera DuraXV LTE on Verizon

I remember fondly the days before smartphones, from my first mobile phone, called a “candybar”, through the glory days of the flip phones. From 2000 through 2009, I carried a variety of flip phones from the Nokia 282 to the extremely popular Motorola StarTAC to my favorite flip phone of all, the Motorola Krzr. Flip phones excelled at being phones, providing voice quality that I have yet to see in smartphones. They also, for a Star Trek fan like me, have always seemed somehow more satisfying and futuristic than a phone that doesn’t change shape.

Kyocera DuraXV LTE review

The DuraXV LTE packs as much functionality as possible into a device without a dedicated keyboard. It has the ability to work as a mobile hotspot for other devices, working on Verizon’s LTE network. The phone feels solid in the hand yet not heavy. It’s waterproof and dust proof. Bluetooth connectivity and an SD card option make it quite functional as a media player.

The DuraXV’s camera is a 5 megapixel shooter, though Verizon also sells a version of the phone without a camera for sensitive workplaces or children who aren’t allowed to have a phone with a camera. It’s quick and easy to use, and while it’s not anything like a smartphone camera, it takes decent pictures and video that are easy to share. Outdoor pictures in sunlight are really good. Indoor and lower light pictures are more of a challenge. There are more media examples at the end of this article, but here’s a comparison of some pictures from the DuraXV with the LG V20.

The user interface is exactly what I remember from the last flip phones I used, but the functionality is much better. Of course it handles text messages and email, but you can also play music and videos and even browse the web. The web browser is actually fairly full featured, with tabs, zoom and even a cursor controlled by the direction pad.

Voice call quality is outstanding, and I would expect nothing less from a Verizon flip phone. It’s also plenty loud, which is a rare quality in phones these days.

I’d forgotten how good the battery life is on flip phones. The DuraXV LTE lasts for days on a single charge, unlike most smartphones that must be charged at least once a day. Granted, battery life will vary with talk time, but unless you spend hours on the phone each day or run the hotspot for long stretches of time, the DuraXV LTE will easily last a few days before needing charged.

There are several scenarios in which a flip phone is right for you. Perhaps you’re looking for a work phone that has restrictions on the abilities of a mobile device. Perhaps you’re looking for a phone for a child who isn’t yet ready for a true smartphone. Perhaps you’re wanting a simple device to handle calls and serve internet to other devices. Maybe you just want a small, rugged phone that excels at making calls. For all of these cases, the DuraXV LTE makes an excellent choice.

Media examples

Here is a video and some pictures taken with the DuraXV LTE as well as additional angles of the phone itself.

https://youtu.be/YLo5aIk_QJ8

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

Stronger shade of blue

| Posted on in music, politics

I need a stronger shade of blue
This one’s served me well before
but now washed-out, weak and sickly
it doesn’t suit me anymore

I need a stronger shade of blue
one reminiscent of our past
of the legacy and sacrifice
that’s now tarnished and collapsed

There are monsters at the door and yet we bicker
Their savage, selfish, shameless roar too much to bear
As hope’s dim and dwindling lights begin to flicker
We’ll find a worthy cause despite all the despair
and marshal all our troops to a stronger shade of blue

I need a stronger shade of blue
one as dark as the world outside
fiercely muted in the shade
and yet brilliant in the fight

I need a stronger shade of blue
pure like a conscience no longer numb
ablaze with independence
and not beholden to anyone

Calloused against ourselves
we weren’t born like this
colored by our profits
dwelling on our wretchedness
We’ll excise the corruption
flip the script in a vivid coup
bind our somber discourse
to a stronger shade of blue

I need a stronger shade of blue
one as bold and big as our plans
dwarfing all the petty hacks
with aspirational demands

I need a stronger shade of blue
one as bright as our future feels
when it’s tailored for our children
with vouchsafed august ideals

The Mad King

| Posted on in music, politics

They said that we should be silent
They said that it was their turn
They said that only they could fix the mess we made
We watched the world burn

They started to dismantle
They were viciously relentless
They culled our liberties. Our institutions under siege,
We became feckless

They closed their eyes as the mad king built his throne
We covered our hearts as they slowly turned to stone
They abandoned all pretences as our consciences grew numb
When it came time to change save the world we’d scatter and succumb

If only we were stronger
Or their ideas weren’t discordant
They built walls to hoard their gold, their stomachs full, our children cold
We found their avarice abhorrent

We tried to get them to reason
They had no reason to care
We explained how we could bring an end to all the suffering
They didn’t think it’d be fair

Beans, beans, beans

| Posted on in farming, life

We sure went from getting-stuck wet to can’t-get-the-drill-in dry in a very short time.

Finished wheat harvest on Friday. The combine was a champion this year… couple belts and hoses but no major problems…ran last 30 hours without a care in the world.

The drill had a bushing freeze up on a row unit Saturday just as I was getting ready to start drilling soybeans. Cost me the whole day and a smashed thumb. I’m hoping my fingernail gets malformed so I can carry on the family tradition started by my grandfather of telling each grandchild a different tall tale about why it’s that way.

Water in basement

Yesterday I got in the cab and got a call from home that a pipe had burst in our basement. I took care of that and got 18 acres drilled yesterday before a tractor hose burst. My tractor never breaks down.

Finally got a good day in today, but I’m wondering if I’d be better off baling my crab grass instead of drilling beans into the pavement-hard ground. It’s time for new blades from Shoup…Shoup…Shoup…shoup-bay-doop…

Verizon’s Samsung Galaxy S8+ is huge but elegant

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

Samsung Galaxy S8+
Samsung Galaxy S8+

My friends at Verizon sent me the Samsung Galaxy S8+ I’ve been enjoying for the last few weeks. It’s Samsung’s first flagship phone since 2011’s Galaxy Nexus that hasn’t had buttons on the front and it’s a breath of fresh air from a company that’s been stubborn about that poor design choice it’s made for the last several years. The S8+ is extraordinarily powerful while also achieving unmatched elegance in design.

Specs

The Galaxy S8+ feels great in the hand. It’s a premium phone that’s big and extremely fast. With what I understand to be the fastest processor on the market and 4 GB of RAM, there should be no task it can’t handle with ease. I didn’t notice a difference in performance between the S8+ and the LG G6. It comes with 64 GB of storage and an SD card slot, which made it easy for me to pop in my storage card with my podcasts.

Fingerprint button next to camera
Fingerprint button next to camera

The USB Type-C port is next to the headphone jack on the bottom. The right side has a power button and the left side has the volume rocker and Bixby button. Unfortunately, the fingerprint sensor is placed adjacent to the camera on the back. While it’s fast and accurate, it’s also difficult to use without touching the camera, especially without a case.

The best part about the Galaxy S8+ compared to Samsung phones made in the last five years is the lack of physical buttons on the bottom of the screen. Samsung made what at the time was the perfect Android phone when it made the Galaxy Nexus, but every phone it’s made since has had the cumbersome, clunky physical buttons on the bottom of the screen. The S8 and S8+ shed these unnecessary complications in favor of the virtual buttons that have been the staple of modern Android phones since 2011.

Instead of physical buttons or relying on double-tap-to-wake like other phones, Samsung has introduced a force sensor where the home button would normally be. The phone can be turned on by pressing hard in the general area of the home button. The phone then turns on as it responds with a vibration. It’s an interesting feature, though sometimes I had trouble knowing immediately which end was the bottom of the phone.

Bluetooth

S8+, LG G6, LG V20
S8+, LG G6, LG V20

Perhaps my favorite feature of the Galaxy S8+ is Bluetooth 5. I spend most of every day with podcasts playing through my LG Tone headsets and I’m always excited about advancements in Bluetooth technologies. Bluetooth 5 brings increased range and additional functionality including the ability to pair with and stream audio to two devices simultaneously. In my tests, there can be a slight delay between the two devices, so it doesn’t work to have a separate device for each ear. However, a great use case would be two people watching the same video or listening to the same song. For me, I like to be able to stream to my LG Tone and the receiver connected to the sound board at my desk so I can easily switch between my headset and my studio monitor speakers without having to mess with Bluetooth settings.

Screen

The S8+ is a monster phone, with a 6.2″ screen. While that number dwarfs even the Nexus 6, which had a 5.96″ screen, the S8+ is significantly narrower than the Nexus 6 due to the change in screen dimensions. Like the LG G6, the S8+ is much taller compared to its width than phones have traditionally been, so it’s fairly easy to use even though it’s so big.

The screen is, unfortunately, curved on the sides similar to recent Samsung phones like the S6 edge+. This gimmick is a deal breaker for me, as the complete lack of border on the sides makes the phone unusable without a case. Don’t get me wrong, the phone looks great — I just can’t hold on to it. I grabbed a $10 belt clip case and it made the phone easier to hold, but the curved screen still makes me frustrated when I’m doing anything other than showing it off. It also makes using a tempered glass screen protector — something I consider a must for any device with a screen — much more difficult.

It’s an AMOLED screen, so it doesn’t use much power and the contrast is extremely good. It also has the best looking always-on clock display when the power’s off that I’ve seen since the always-on screens became a common feature.

Battery

I was pleasantly surprised with the battery life on the Galaxy S8+. It would last me easily through business hours. Using the moderate power saving mode, I didn’t notice any reduction in function but was able to get the phone to last more than 12 hours. The battery isn’t upgradable, but the fast charging is extremely effective.

I do like having the built-in options for power management. It’s something that users shouldn’t have to think about, but if manufacturers aren’t going to allow battery upgrades it’s nice to be able to have some control in the rate the battery is used. The S8+ has settings for both performance mode and battery saving mode. Performance mode can be set to optimized, game, entertainment or high performance. Power saving mode can be set to off, mid and max. Each of these settings has presets for features like screen resolution and brightness, always-on display and a CPU speed limiter.

Camera

Samsung makes great cameras and camera software, and the S8+ is no exception. Here’s a comparison of low light photos taken with the S8+ against shots with the LG G6 and LG V20.

Here’s another comparison of pictures from the three phones taken outside. All photos are unedited. The resolution is set to high. HDR and flash are set to auto to simulate common real-world point-and-shoot phone photography.

The camera software is intuitive. The shutter button doubles as a zoom slider, swiping left reveals filters and effects and swiping right exposes the different shooting modes. Here’s a panorama of a canola field.

270 degree panorama of canola field
270 degree panorama of canola field

I wasn’t impressed with the video stabilization on the S8+. It didn’t seem nearly as polished as the effect found on Google’s Pixel XL, and I wish I’d turned it off for all the video I shot with the S8+ which otherwise takes fantastic UHD video. Here’s a video of an airplane applying insecticide to my canola field. Make sure to select high quality in YouTube’s settings.

The camera software on the S8+ also includes Bixby Vision, which is reminiscent of Google Goggles. It’s essentially an image search that’s accessible from the camera, making it easy to shop and search for things by taking pictures of them.

Software

Samsung keeps getting better at reducing the impact of the software layer. There’s the standard pre-installed apps and games from Samsung and Verizon that are best uninstalled or disabled, but overall the software experience isn’t nearly as bad as the Samsung software experience of a few years ago.

By far and away the most notable software addition to Android Samsung has made with the S8 and S8+ is Bixby. Bixby is a virtual assistant in the same vein as Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri. It’s activated by using the dedicated button on the left side of the phone or swiping to the left home screen in the TouchWiz launcher. Bixby is a screen very similar to Google Now, displaying what it thinks are relevant cards from the apps on your phone based on your location or the date and time. It seems really limited compared to Google Now, though, and I’m glad that replacing the launcher lets me put Google Now back on the left home screen.

Galaxy S8+ summary

All told, I’m sure Samsung will sell a ridiculous number of the S8 and S8+ phones. It really is a work of art, with all the speed and a great camera we’ve come to expect from Samsung. With the elimination of the physical buttons and larger screen, as well as the software refinements and enhancements, it’s a big improvement on previous Samsung phones.

If I were to own an S8+, I’d have to invest in a great case to make the curved screen easier to hold and use as well as ease the challenge of finding the fingerprint reader with my finger. I’d replace the keyboard and launcher with Gboard and Action Launcher 3. Mostly, I’d enjoy the big screen, fast camera and amazing performance of Samsung’s greatest phone to date.

Photos

As always, here’s a collection of unedited photos taken with Verizon’s Samsung Galaxy S8+.