What’s Brewing for November 14

15 November 2014

I had a great time guesting on the What’s Brewing podcast from Mobile Cup of Joe. We talked about phones and tech news. Enjoy.

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The LG G3 is still the best Verizon phone for the farm

13 November 2014

This is the story of my personal journey to find the best phone on the market for use on the farm. Hint – it’s the LG G3. Here’s how I got there.

I started this year with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 that I bought after my Samsung Galaxy Nexus – the previously best phone on Verizon – stopped working in the fall of 2013. While many others didn’t like the Verizon variant of the Galaxy Nexus, I had no problems with it. When it died, the Note 3 had the best specs of any phone at the time so that’s what I bought.

It was horrible. The first thing I noticed was the software. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3, compared to the Galaxy Nexus, was loaded with TouchWiz. TouchWiz is Samsung’s overlay on top of Android designed to make it unlike any other brand of phone – harder to use, uglier to look at and loaded with enough additional features that it’s hard to find them all to turn them off. Compare to the Nexus, there were so many useless carrier apps preinstalled that I learned of an entire community dedicated to the removal of this hard-to-remove bloatware. To make matters worse, very shortly after I bought my Note 3, Verizon started offering a developer edition that would have saved me most of the headaches around software. As it was, I spent days figuring out how to get a custom ROM on my device that resembled the Android I know and love.

The second and more severe problem I had with the Note 3 is one the developer edition wouldn’t have helped me with. While I was traveling for Purple Wave and even at my house, I had pretty good mobile service. However, last May as I started working weekends on the farm, it became clear that the reception on my Note 3 was substantially poorer than that of my Galaxy Nexus. I reviewed the HTC One M8 for Verizon in April, and commented that the reception seemed a little better than my Note 3, and even my Galaxy Nexus, but hadn’t spent enough time on the farm to know just how badly the Note 3 performed.

At first I didn’t know it was Samsung’s fault. I spent harvest barely able to check email in several of my fields. I ordered a replacement Note 3, believing that I might have caused a problem with the software hacking I had done to get rid of the awful TouchWiz experience and all the red apps that came preinstalled. The replacement, with the stock experience, performed exactly as poorly as my Note 3 had. Indeed, as I started paying closer attention, it seemed that the Galaxy S3s that my mother and wife had at the time, as well as the Galaxy S4 that my sister still has, all suffered from a significant problem – Samsung’s current phones simply have poor antennas.

It was so bad that I considered leaving Verizon, wondering if it was some kind of deleterious change in Verizon’s network similar to the bad experience we had in a reduction in quality of the Sprint network in 2012. I decided to assess my options. I wanted to know if it was Verizon’s fault or Samsung’s fault. I ordered a Google Nexus 5 and got an account with Cricket. I also bought a Moto X from eBay to see if it performed differently on Verizon than my Note 3.

I learned that the Google Nexus 5 is an amazing phone. It still boggles my mind that Verizon hasn’t carried the Nexus series after the Galaxy Nexus – it would have made the Android experience so much better for its customers. Unfortunately, Cricket – which piggybacks on the AT&T network – doesn’t seem to have solid coverage on my farm. It was even worse than the Note 3 experience with Verizon. I let my Cricket account expire after the first month, but I kept the Nexus 5 to use around the house, even without the ability to make phone calls, because it’s just that good of a device.

I received the Moto X and immediately noticed a difference. First, the software experience was clean and, unlike Samsung, made me excited to use Android again. Second, the reception was amazing. In the fields where the Samsung phones could barely check email, the Moto X was streaming HBO Go and Netflix to my tablet in my cab without buffering. I was relieved to learn that the problem was Samsung and not Verizon, so I could stay with Verizon and not give up my unlimited data plan.

It was about this point in time that I received the Kyocera Brigadier to review. A rugged phone, I tested it for a couple weeks of fieldwork. It’s antenna performance wasn’t quite as good as the Moto X, but it was substantially better than the Samsung phones’.

I was left with a somewhat significant problem, though, with the Moto X. After using the Note 3, the Moto X has a tiny screen and a tiny battery. The non-removable back meant that the battery wasn’t upgradable, like that of my Note 3, and there weren’t any battery cases on the market. I found myself at the Iowa State Fair in August and, afterwards, spoke with a nice guy at the Verizon booth at the fair who spoke candidly with me about antenna performance in phones, and he promised me that the G3 was easy to root and would get reception nearly as good as the Moto X. I gave my Moto X to my wife and ordered a G3 from eBay.

LG G3 is still the best phone on Verizon for the farm

LG G3 is still the best phone on Verizon for the farm

The LG G3 is slightly smaller than the Note 3, but it’s still a big phone. At 5.5 inches, the quad HD IPS display is gorgeous. The processor was the fastest in any major phone at the time, and the camera is a 13 MP sensor with optical image stabilization and laser focus. To this day, it’s one of the best cameras in a phone on the market, taking fast and reliably accurate pictures. LG made a interesting design choice by putting the power and volume buttons in the center of the back rather than around the edges like most manufacturers. I quickly got used to the button locations, but also to the double-tap to wake feature that lets me wake the phone by tapping the screen.

The G3 hasn’t actually been easy to root as I was promised, until recently, and we’re only just now seeing the ability to install custom version of Android. This means I’ve been stuck with the factory interface. The software on the G3 has been customized by LG, but unlike Samsung, I don’t want to murder LG’s design team. They’ve got a consistent design aesthetic that doesn’t seem to interfere with Android’s functions, and the carrier bloat has been easy to disable or freeze with Titanium Backup.

Zerolemon 9000 mAh battery and case for the G3

Zerolemon 9000 mAh battery and case for the G3

What makes the LG G3 the best phone for the farm, however, isn’t its speed or its camera. It’s the fact that it has a removable battery. The stock battery life is fine if you’re at a desk and don’t mind charging it throughout the day, but when I’m farming I want a phone on my belt that provides a consistent hotspot for my tablets and streams podcasts to my Bluetooth headset from 6 a.m. until after 10 p.m. – without having to charge it. The Zerolemon 9000 mAh battery for the LG G3 makes it the perfect phone for the farm – or any industrial use where charging is inconvenient and all-day battery life is a must.

While I’ve had the G3, I’ve reviewed the new Moto X and the Droid Turbo. They’re both great phones, but neither has an upgradable battery. The Turbo’s battery is big, but it’s still less than 4000 mAh, which is simply insufficient for a day on the farm. Even after the launch of the Nexus 6, the G3 will remain the only phone with good reception, acceptable software and an upgradable battery on the Verizon network.

I’m now in the process of getting the rest of my family away from all Samsung devices. I’m giving my G3 to my wife as soon as my Motorola Nexus 6 arrives – I want to keep the G3 close in case there isn’t a big battery case for the Nexus 6 by next summer. Mom is getting my wife’s Moto X and my sister is upgrading to the Droid Turbo. We’ll be rid of Samsung just as soon as I punt my Galaxy Gear Live in favor of the Zenwatch.

Here’s a picture gallery – unaltered – from the wonderful camera on the LG G3. Enjoy.

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Moto X review

28 October 2014

The Moto X is the smartest of smartphones currently available. It’s got decent hardware and a software experience that is as good as you’ll find today on Verizon. Check out my full review at AuctioneerTech.

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BlueAnt Pump HD Bluetooth headset

26 October 2014

BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds

BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds

Key to maintaining sanity on the farm is a continual stream of podcasts and, occasionally, music. I spend all day every day with gadgets in my ears, and Verizon let me recently spend a few weeks with a BlueAnt Pump HD headset to see how it held up.

The BlueAnt Pump HD is rugged and resistant to sweat and water. It features large earpieces that sit over and behind each ear, somewhat like large, stylish hearing aids, connected by a cord. There are three control buttons, located on the right earpiece, that handle all music and call functions.

In the box of the BlueAnt Pump HD

In the box of the BlueAnt Pump HD

The headset comes with a selection of ear pieces comprising large, medium and small plastic “comfort seal” tips, as well as a set of Comply premium awareness foam tips. Also included in the box are stabilizers and a cable tie to tweak the fit of the headset about the head.

The headset is quite comfortable and, unlike other designs, I never had to worry about it falling off, even without the stabilizers. I usually wear the LG Tone+, and any time I get on a creeper or crawl under a piece of machinery it will fall off. The nature of the design of the Pump, however, makes it pretty much impossible to wear only one ear, which is frequently how I use the Tone+. It’s also very uncomfortable with glasses, making it less desirable than the Tone+ when I’m driving.

The controls are very simple to use. Three buttons are fewer than the control sets on the other headsets I’ve used, but all functions are present with only the three buttons and it’s nice to not have to remember which ear to find the volume rocker or the forward and back control. Everything is behind the right ear on the Pump.

I found that I would get about five or six hours of battery life with the Pump, which was somewhat disappointing to me. I use a headset about 12 hours a day, which means I’d need another option to get me through the rest of the day. If, however, you’re looking for something to use for a workout, or something to wear while servicing equipment, the Pump is would be a very nice option from a battery life perspective.

Finally, let’s talk about sound quality. As a musician, I’m a big audiophile. My preference is for crisp vocals, clear highs and a low end that is proportional to the balance of the rest of the sound. I used the plastic tips, as pictured, for the majority of my review. I found the sound quality to be fairly muddy, with a weak bass response and a high end that easily got lost. I got quickly used to it for podcasts, but it wasn’t a very good experience when listening to music.

My preferred eq curve

My preferred eq curve

Before wrapping up my trial, I swapped the tips with a set of Comply foam tips and was stunned at the difference in fit and sound. The Comply tips are isolation tips, both blocking out external sound as well as completely changing the sound entering the ear canal. The weak bass response in music I experienced with the plastic tips was replaced by a brain bumping low end that drowned out the rest of the sound. Now, I’m very critical of the modern trend towards bass-heavy music, and I would guess that the frequency response of the Pump is similar to that of other new and popular headsets on the market. I used the equalizer in Google Play Music to adjust the sound to a nature to which I would would enjoy listening and I’ve attached a screenshot.

If you’re a fan of a bass heavy sound, or you don’t mind making some tweaks to the equalizer, the Pump has an overwhelming punch and volume to spare when used with the Comply earpieces. With a behind-the-ear design, it’s a comfortable option for a workout or when working in awkward positions.

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Callan Traffas

7 October 2014

Callan Traffas was born last night shortly after 8 p.m. at Pratt Regional Medical Center in Pratt, Kan. Both he and Diane are doing quite well today.

Unlike his brother Nolan, Callan did not arrive by cesarean. He weighed 7 pounds and 11 ounces and was 20 inches long.

I guess I got a couple days’ break from drilling wheat. Enjoy the pictures.

 

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Kyocera Brigadier with Sapphire Shield display

16 September 2014

Kyocera Brigadier

Kyocera Brigadier

Verizon recently let me spend a couple weeks with the Kyocera Brigadier. A Verizon exclusive, the Brigadier has been available for a little over a month now for $399 or $99 after rebate with a two-year commitment. It’s a very different phone from what I’m used to, so it was fun to put it through the paces on the farm.

The Brigadier is a rugged phone targeted at industry and outdoor enthusiasts. It has some great strengths on the external hardware side, while maintaining on-par performance internally. Let’s first look at the hardware, which is where most of the differences are. Others have listed detailed specs, so I’m going to focus on what makes this a great phone for the farm and what makes it challenging to be excited about as an Android software enthusiast.

This phone feels great in the hand. I haven’t held a phone that felt this good since the original Motorola Droid. It’s heavier and thicker than most phones I’ve seen in years, which, in an age of phones that are consistently too thin and light to feel good, is a big bonus. The only challenge I found with the size is the actual size of the screen, which I felt to be a little cramped at only 4.5 inches. The bezel also seemed a little larger than necessary, adding to the cramped feeling. However, if you’re coming from an iPhone or you haven’t been using a phablet for the last year, I’m guessing you’ll feel right at home with the screen size.

The display is sapphire, marketed as Sapphire Shield. It’s clear and bright, though it doesn’t seem different from other displays until you accidentally drop it. While the phone is descending, the display suddenly feels safe in that it’s highly unlikely that it will break like other displays. Apple is experimenting with sapphire, having added it to the recently released Apple Watch, but Kyocera sure beat them to market with sapphire the size of a phone screen.

Along with the phone, Verizon sent along a “destructo kit” for the phone, comprising a new Bear Grylls Gerber knife, steel wool, a bag of rocks, coins and basically dared me to try to scratch the screen. As you can see in the video, I wasn’t able to do it. Also included in the kit were gloves and a dunk tank to demonstrate the glove and wet touch operation as well as prove that the device is waterproof.

This phone has buttons. It’s a big departure from the current design trend of reducing buttons to a bare minimum. In addition to buttons for power and volume, which is all most modern phones need, the Brigadier has dedicated buttons for the camera, speakers, home, back and the application switcher. It even has an extra button that’s not dedicated, allowing the user to specify the function for that button.

This phone is loud. Years ago, when I wrote up my review of the original Droid, I marveled at how loud the phone was. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the Sprint phone I’d been using. The normal phone speaker on the Brigadier doesn’t seem much different from other phones, but the speakerphone is ridiculous. It’s the first phone I’ve had to turn down when playing podcasts or music because it’s simply uncomfortable listening at full volume. This, of course, is a great problem to have when most phones won’t make enough noise. It’s definitely a phone with a ring that you could hear over the roar of an engine or power tool.

I submerged the phone in water, as shown in the video above, and found it to work fine immediately upon removal. A phone that’s rugged enough to be waterproof out of the gate isn’t a phone that’s going to easily be put in a case. A waterproof phone requires flaps over the ports, which is an inconvenience, but no less so than the flaps found on many of the rugged cases.

It seems that Kyocera focused so much on the exterior – and they did an amazing job – that they neglected the same polish on the inside. They claim their software customizations were intended to make it easier to use with gloves, but, as with all manufacturer changes to Android, I found their enhancements clunky and frustrating compared to what a pure Android experience could be. The first order of business for setting up a new Brigadier, like all non-Nexus devices, is definitely to replace the stock launcher with the Google Now Launcher. I will note that, unlike Samsung and LG, Kyocera thankfully left the notification shade clean, which means that after swapping launchers the experience is quite close to stock Android.

While I’m farming, my phone is playing podcasts through Bluetooth all day, every day. My headsets, primarily the LG Tone, didn’t seem to work as seamlessly with the Brigadier as they do with other devices. I frequently had to go to the phone’s Bluetooth control panel and manually connect when I was moving from one device to another, where other phones usually connect automatically. I noticed about five spontaneous reboots of the Brigadier, though I don’t know if that’s a bug in the phone or the particular review unit I was using. Unfortunately, because the Brigadier isn’t as fast as the other phones I’m used to, the reboot time felt noticeably long while I was waiting to turn my podcasts back on.

The battery was okay, and certainly on par with other phones with stock batteries, but certainly not strong enough to last through moderate use for an entire day. I’m used to a phone that can handle moderate usage from 6 a.m. until after 10 p.m. In order to last so long, a phone needs a very large extended battery. Since the battery on the Brigadier isn’t removable, I’d have to carry a battery pack or keep it near a mobile charger at points throughout the day.

Brigadier camera with evening lighting

Brigadier camera with evening lighting

I found the camera to be sufficient for farm use, but low light performance certainly falls short of the cameras on other phones I’ve used recently. I will admit that the dedicated camera button, which doubles as a camera app launcher button as well as a shutter trigger, makes taking pictures more simple than phones which lack such a button.

The most important feature of any phone is the antenna. I’ve learned in the last few months that different phones perform very differently when it comes to signal strength and service level. When I’m at home, I’ve found Verizon’s coverage to be fantastic. However, my farm is on the fringe of coverage, and the differences among devices’ antennas is quite noticeable. Spending many hours in the same fields going back and forth, I have plenty of time to measure and compare phone signal. I found the Brigadier to be on par with the HTC One M8. The reception is not quite as good as the Moto X or even the LG G3, but it’s far superior to the Samsung Note 3, S3 and S4.

All in all, this phone features cutting-edge ruggedization and decent performance. It’s not the fastest phone nor does it have the biggest screen or battery, but its unique, rugged hardware makes it a great fit for anyone in a harsh environment like a farm or construction site who wants a simple, durable, and loud phone.

Additional, unedited camera examples from the Kyocera Brigadier

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HTC One M8

10 June 2014

This review was originally published on May 1 on the Verizon Wireless Midwest Area site at http://vzwmidwestarea.com/htc-one-m8-farm-office/.

Verizon recently let me spend a couple weeks with the new HTC One M8. Announced in March and available earlier this month, HTC’s new flagship phone combines beautiful hardware design and high end specs with the latest version of Sense, HTC’s Android overlay. Using Android with Google Voice makes it simple to transfer all my apps and phone calls from one device to another, so I’ve left my Galaxy Note 3 on my desk and carried the One exclusively for the last several days.

HTC One (M8)

HTC One (M8) (Photo credit: Janitors)

The phone is big. It’s not as big as the Note 3, but it’s certainly larger than most phones. The case is aluminum and it rivals the iPhone in build quality and hardware design. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a removable back, which means it’s stuck with the 2600 mAh battery. The One doesn’t have the physical home button that plagues most of the recent Samsung phones, HTC having opted instead for the soft buttons that are the mark of a good, modern Android experience. The power button and IR remote are on the top of the phone, a microSD slot sits above the volume rocker on the right side of the phone, while the headphone jack and micro-USB port are on the bottom.

The most noticeable difference between the One and other phones I’ve used is HTC Sense. The One is the first phone to ship with Sense 6.0 and the typography is beautiful. While it’s not as clean as the stock Android experience, the Sense enhancements don’t seem to get in the way nearly as much as Samsung’s TouchWiz. The most obvious change to the launcher is BlinkFeed, a social feed aggregator that puts highlights from Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and more on a screen to the left of the home screen where Google Now normally appears on stock Android devices. I found the default keyboard to be unremarkable, and quickly installed SwiftKey.

IMAG0021_1-1024x579

Nolan enjoys the teeter-totter as much as I enjoy the camera on the HTC One M8

The cameras on the One are the most notable hardware feature. The 5MP front camera is capable of HD video capture, and while it’s not really my thing, the filters and editing abilities of the camera software will make this phone a popular choice for anyone wanting to take great selfies. Realizing that there’s much more to a good camera than the megapixel count, HTC has put what they call a Duo camera on the back, comprising a primary camera with an advanced sensor and a secondary camera used to capturing depth information. This two-camera approach allows for some very delightful effects and the ability to refocus parts of the picture after the picture is taken, like this picture of my son on the see-saw after the Easter egg hunt.

On the farm, the camera on my phone is one of the most important tools I have. I’m constantly snapping pictures of part numbers, handwritten notes, receipts and surveys of crops for instant upload to Dropbox and eventual archival in Evernote. The 360° panorama feature on the new HTC One makes crop surveys not only fun but beautiful.

2014-04-16-17.11.41-1024x109

It’s tough to prove with the time I’ve had, but I sure feel like this phone seems to get better service on the farm than my current and previous phones. The One can make calls and maintain data service in places where my Note 3 and Galaxy Nexus wouldn’t be able to dial out, much less be able to check email.

In the office and around the house, I’m always listening to podcasts with Doggcatcher and catching up on the news with the Press RSS reader. The large, bright screen and the loud, clear speakers make consuming this content a joy, but battery life will vary. A full charge lasted all day during my normal weekday work days, but it only lasted until about 6 p.m. on an active Saturday.

In summary, when I send this HTC One back to Verizon, I’m going to miss a few things. I’m going to miss the beautiful hardware. I’m going to hate going back to the physical home button on my Note 3. I’m probably going to double-tap the screen of my Note 3 to try to wake it up, a feature that I first found gimmicky but learned to love on the HTC One. Most of all, I’m going to miss the cameras.

I’m not going to miss the lack of expandability. There is no way to swap out an extended battery, which is a deal breaker for me. I won’t miss HTC Sense or BlinkFeed, as I still prefer the simplicity of the stock Android experience.

The new HTC One M8 is the most beautiful Android device I’ve yet seen. With snappy performance and amazing cameras, it’s the phone I’m going to start recommending to friends and family.

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Owensboro by prop

7 May 2013

I tweeted that before heading to the airport yesterday. Upon arrival at Mid-Continent, I learned my flight from ICT to ORD had been delayed, shaving my layover from a nice 30 minutes from arrival to boarding down to -10 minutes. That’s right. My flight landed in Chicago 10 minutes after my connector to St. Louis began boarding.

After the successful fat man’s sprint to the connector, I figured I was home free. A nice layover in St. Louis at the Schlafly restaurant let me fill up on their fatty fish and drink their beer. I can drink a lot of hoppy beer at an airport.

As I approached the gate to board my final flight to Owensboro, I realized something was wrong. I’d not heard of Cape Air. There’s a reason.

Cessna 402

Cessna 402

A local carrier that somehow found a niche serving the related areas of New England, Florida, the Caribbean and St. Louis, Cape Air flies Cessna 402s. It’s the first time I’ve been asked for my body weight when flying commercially. I got to subtract a pound or two for the sprint in Chicago.

The ride from St. Louis to Owensboro wasn’t bad, except for the constant roar. Landing at Owensboro, I learned from another passenger that the guy with the orange glow-in-the-dark pom-pom sticks on the tarmac guiding us in was also the guy who ran security and baggage check. Sure enough, after he got us our bags, he took his hat off and came out from behind the counter so I could ask him to call a taxi.

The taxi took 30 minutes to get to the airport, at which time I learned they didn’t accept credit cards. No problem, I thought. There’s an ATM in the airport.

It was out of service. The nice sole-proprietor of the airport told me there was an ATM at the hotel. I convinced the driver that I’d pay him after I got cash at the hotel, intending full well to tip handsomely for trusting me.

The lady at the hotel told me the ATM was in the bar next to the DJ booth. I turned around from the hotel desk to see the bar, entering to find a very smoky room and a 50-year old waitress dressed in a get-up that looked like something from a casino. Running to the ATM, I saw immediately that it was out of service as well.

The nice lady behind the hotel desk ended up giving me a dollar to add to my seven to make the eight demanded by the driver. So much for his tip.

I finally found a way to get cash – by buying something at the IGA with my debit card and asking for cash back…and buy something I did. Dinner. And forks.
Hungry Man

I will say that the place I presented this morning was pretty grand. RiverPark Center in Owensboro is home to not only a large music and theater venue but also to the International Bluegrass Music Museum. The view from its north side this morning around sunrise was pretty swell.

As I finish my second microwave dinner of champions, I’m thankful for in-room microwaves. I might trade it, though, for MSNBC on their cable line-up.

2013-05-07 07.03.05

Though unofficial, this is my last auctioneer education trip while a member of the NAA Speakers Bureau. It’s been a fun run, allowing me to go to Minnesota, Texas, Oregon, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio, Alabama, New Hampshire and Oregon again. Other fun locations I’ve gotten to present auctioneer content outside of the Speakers Bureau include Florida, Missouri and, now, Kentucky. I’ll miss it.

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Joss Whedon endorses Mitt Romney

29 October 2012

Joss Whedon is a fantastic director and created the lovable Firefly TV series, among others. It seems he’s come out in support of Willard. It’s definitely worth the 2 minutes.

Thanks to both Fro and Naomi for sharing this on the book of faces.

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Farming

27 August 2012

It’s been nearly three months since my father left me with the farm. It was precisely one year ago today when he saw my newborn son in the hospital. While we were watching Nolan get passed from family member to family member in the birthing suite, he told me, “You have achieved immortality.” I thought about that a lot today as I sat today for 14 hours on the tractor, stirring up as much dust as the 1/2″ we received last week would allow.

I’m learning a lot, but I don’t know that I’ll ever feel that I’m learning enough. I’m particularly disappointed with the amount of quality agricultural audio content. KFRM is chalk full of commercials and religious and family content, Audible doesn’t have much in the way of quality nonfiction related to ag in any way, and the few podcasts I’ve found are valuable but they are too few. If you have any suggestions for high level and high quality content, let me know in the comments.

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