Three of the newest(ish) cellphones you've not tried.

If I heard someone say, "Anyone that's a phone junkie or tech junkie, please raise your hand." My hand would shoot straight up. My affliction (no, not the t-shirt brand) has become less and less severe as the years have gone on and my interest in this kind of tech has dwindled, but it's not gone.

Recently, I wanted to rid myself of the Apple iPhone 5S I'd been using and get back to Android. I'm not a fan of how the Apple and Android companies fight with each other by making the use of their competing apps a pain in the bum, at times. I already use much of the Google suite of products (Gmail/Contacts, Calendar, Keep, Blogger, etc.) and like that the Android interface can be more personalized by each user.

I traded in my iPhone into T-Mobile (ugh!) and have been ripping through cellphones the last month trying to get something I liked enough to stick with. Well, nothing has stuck just yet. I've tried three of 'em too...

LG G3:

Cursory Review: 
Way way way too friggin big. This almost-"phablet" basically requires the use of two hands or one very tired hand. Though it proved to be very, very fast, plus has some interesting features, it is just to big for myself (or most people?). Though the battery life was acceptable, I wound up taking the phone out of my back pocket for driving and other duties. It's just to big to be comfortable for too long. 

Back to T-Mobile I went... and they had no small to medium-sized Androids on offer, so I went to the interwebs to find something I might like, without breaking the bank.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact:

Cursory Review:
Very acceptable phone, but a horrible customer experience with Sony USA. The phone's delivery was cursed from the get-go and the experiences with Sony went downhill from there. I did like most of the phone's features, fine battery life, but it was missing some key attributes that had me scratching my head, like group messaging. Group messages would not stay in the original group text message "bubble", but each message would reply back as an individual message. If I wanted to follow the string, I would have had to go in and out of individual user messages and try to piece the replies together. No thanks. With that and their shockingly poor, disparate customer service, I sent it back within two weeks. I'm not going to pay non-contract phone prices for something that isn't up to par and backed by competent service.

Blu Vivo IV:
Cursory Review:
Have you heard of this brand? I hadn't until I saw some of their basic phones popping up on Amazon. This seemed to be their top-of-the-line phone, so I thought I would give it a try... even though it had only lukewarm Amazon ratings. I should have listened.

Though it's main claim to fame seems to be it's incredibly thin case (see below) and a package that comes with a bunch of tailored accessories, all the reviews were right about poor battery life and a rinky-dink user interface. For whatever reason, this brand or this phone just doesn't have the graphic and interface polish that we've all (ok, some of us) come to expect from our cellphones. Again, print that return label and get her outta here.

And now, I'm getting by with a Motorola XT886 until the new Samsung Galaxy Alpha becomes available. This made-in-2012 Motorola is working alright. It's not going to turn any heads, but it's Android, small in stature, and has at least an 8 mega-pixel camera with flash (no joke, some new phones still don't have a flash, ahem, Nokia 635-Cortana).

The new Alpha is purported to be a full whiz factor Samsung Android phone, but in a small package. I hope it will be exactly what I have been waiting for.
It will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine (I think).


Avoli Osteria, Omaha, NE

In Omaha last weekend, on the last night, we decided to hit a (relatively) new, local, northern Italian spot in Dundee known as Avoli. The full name is Avoli Osteria Omaha. 

Boy, we the three of us super glad we finally got to eat here. It started off with a bang right out of the gate with our first three appetizers - 

A burrata with heirloom tomates: 

A special bruschetta of the day, "Pork with Peach Jam":

This was like the best of bruschetta, smoked ribs, and peaches all on a simple, two-bite-sized toast. We also added a big hunk of rosemary ciabatta to our list of apps, which happens to come from Le Quartier down the block (no pic of this, it went fast).

Then I ordered their made-in-house gnocchi with house sausage, heirloom tomatoes, rapini (broccolli rabe), basil, and pecorino Romano:

This was as good as all the rest of our items from the menu. What a nice night to end the weekend and start the week. At the end of our dinners, we decided to walk down the block to a great ice cream shop, instead of having something from Avoli's dessert menu - I think we knew we will be back.


Le Quartier, Omaha, NE (Omaha Farmers' Market @ Aksarben)

Man, oh, man. Forget the cronut. The cronut is last year...

...get this!!! It's a buttery, fresh croissant crossed with the famous New Orleans deep-fried beignet. This one was also ensconced in rich chocolate and filled with custard. Of course, not some donut chocolate coating, but a delicious, fresh, chocolate envelopment. And it's not some grocery store donut filling custard either. As you would expect from a French bakery, they use a classic pastry custard. It's so flippin' good! It is amazing. If you ever have the chance, get one. Heck, have one shipped to you.

Of course, this is not low-fat.


Cokato Corn Carnival, Part 2: Professional Mother Shuckers!

 You see that big tub up there? Mmmm, corn.

As promised in yesterday's post, this post is only going to deal with corn on the cob consumption at the Cokato Corn Carnival (say that ten times fast). We're going to talk about how they prep, deliver, stage, cook, serve, and consume 20 TONS of corn over two nights. I was amazed at how this small town operation is enhanced and likely made possible by farm ingenuity, and I think you will be too.

To start with and as a bit of review, they hand-shuck 10 TONS of corn for each day of the carnival that corn is served Tuesday and Wednesday only. I'm told this is done off-site in the community center.  

Once the ears are cleaned, they arrive to the corn consumption station by truck and trailer. See the truck on the right in the pic below? It has around 6-10 farm troughs made out of galvanized steel. Each trough is full of shucked corn, ready to be steamed/boiled into a delicious treat.

Also in the pic below, you can see the baskets that the delivered corn is placed into for cooking. This is all done by hand, with quality control happening during many of the stages in the process (which entails tossing any bad-looking ears out).

The corn is loaded in to these baskets and hauled by winch from the tuck's trailer bed, to the waiting tubs of hot water (heated by steam). They get a nice hot-tub soak and then get hauled out, still in the basket to the packing and serving lines.

There are two serving lines in the consumption area. Each one gets a continuous delivery of just-cooked corn on the cob as long as the night allows. The baskets of corn are shoved down the line to a waiting crew of un-basketers, butterers, and wrapper-ers (?).

Pretty little maids all in a row..."

Above, you can see the station just before it's served to the masses (Jesus should have used corn instead of loaves and fishes!). The baskets of pipping hot corn are handed one by one (helping with the QC process), to the folks who are buttering each ear by hand, and with paint brush from the looks of it (smart!).

Can I take a dip in that butter pan later? I know from Seinfeld that it's good for the skin

The people ahead of the butterers are wrapping each ear of corn in parchment paper, then placing it directly on the counter in front of them, to be snatched up by folks going through the line. I don't think I saw any corn sit waiting for a "consumer" for more than a minute. People can and do grab multiple ears of corn too. Some people, like my coworker, are taking them off-site and some people might just be loading up to sit in the grass and have a feed session with their family. You don't want to make grandma and grandpa wait in line, do you? I heard tales of young kids eating 13 ears of corn in a single day. It seemed pretty common for people to eat 6-8 ears as a matter of course. I had 4 on my first visit to the carnival and had I planned better, it could have been more. The corn was also delicious. The 2nd two ears we both had seemed to be even better than the first, but it was all good.

Below is the final part of the corn consumption area that I thought was ingenious - they have a five foot railing with a small shelf set-up all around the area, so you can just grab some ears and get to eatin'! It would be akin to a bar for drinking, but it's only for ears of eatin'. They had napkins and salt lined-up all around and it made for a really nice "corn delivery system".

Assume the position and clean those cobs!!!

More valuable than gold for a couple days each year in August.
If you can't tell, my recommendation is to GO to the Cokato Corn Carnival if you ever get the chance. Bring a Ziploc to bring some of it home with you too.


Cokato Corn Carnival, Part 1: A Real Corn-ucopia

If you dislike corn, stop reading now. If you don't like carnivals, hit the back button. If you wither at the thought of small town America, step back, Jack. This post will literally be chock full of corn, carnival items, small town stuff.

I've come to find out over the course of my time in MN and at the company I work for, there's no point in hesitating if a particular coworker invites me to do something. He's been responsible for some really great glimpses into MN, like HERE, HERE, and HERE. At this point, as soon as he gets out the words, "Would you like to..." - I'm ready with a quick, "Yes." The "planning" for this event was no less thorough and thought out (at least on my part). He had told me about a corn carnival and I was all in. To that end and from the outset, I did not look up a single thing about the town or the festival. This is not like me at all as I'm normally more comfortable with over-researching and over-thinking, almost anything. But, with this coworker, I generally know it will be interesting and he'll shepherd me through the paces.

In this instance, I've learned a bit more about this carnival by word of mouth and after the fact, just by mentioning it to others. It has been going on for some time, likely longer than I've been alive. It is a dry event - no drinks around (but I hardly noticed with all the corn in my maw). It now runs three days, always a Monday through Wednesday in this small town of Cokato. The first day is something like a preview... no corn is served, but they do bolster the night with a parade. Corn IS served on Tuesday and Wednesday, but not all day, starting only in late afternoon. And I think I know why on that one, it's because they hand-shuck 10 TONS of corn for each day that it's served. My sharp math skills tell me that 20 TONS of corn over two days that is hand-shucked. It sounds nuts, but I'm told the towns people do this task, and even a rumor of the town using it as punishment for juveniles (srsly!). I hand-shucked about 12 ears the other day and I needed some Gatorade and a protein bar afterwards (no, not really).

Having set the scene for you, dear reader, let's continue - We arrived for the last day of the carnival, a warm Wednesday evening. And here's a kicker, the corn is technically FREE! You are "encouraged" to buy a carnival button/raffle ticket for a whopping $3. Once you have this button, you can go through the fresh corn on the cob line as many times as you would like. Sign. ME. Up.

I'm going to highlight the corn and a few other edibles from the fair in this post below, but you're going to want to come back tomorrow for the look into the "system of corn" they have developed for this fair over the years - it might blow your mind.

The first two ears I ever ate at the Cokato Corn Carnival (C3)

Wrapped by hand in a papery wrap, it's ready to go from the moment you peel back it's paper blankie ... well, after a little salt is sprinkled

Watch your fingers at this place...

We had a corndog in the corn on the cob line, then a couple ears of fresh corn to get it going, then went in search of their pork chops.
This was actually a "baby chop" in my estimation, but it sure was good. Then we hit the Bingo tent before a walk back to the car to get a bag to fill for corn for the road (my coworker brought some ears back for his wife - smart man)

As we walked back to the grounds to get some more corn, we noticed this insane looking piece of functional Americana. It's a ride in the midway, but you can clearly see it's older than we are and also clearly see the tractor front-end which runs the whole contraption. I almost couldn't believe they were letting people ride in it, but hey, I'm sure it's safe.

I believe this was ear #4 - you can just make out a clean cob and wrapper behind it

After all the foods, we still decided to end our night with milkshakes and mini-donuts. The donuts were like little pillows of heaven... and helped us complete our mid-week food coma. Ah, sit back and pass out...
Again, come back tomorrow for the 2nd and final installment of the Cokato Corn Carnival - you will not believe what they've set-up over the years to get the freshly cooked corn in your face.


World's Largest Ball of Twine, Darwin, MN

If you ever find yourself in this small town in (relatively) rural Minnesota, or if you ever find yourself within say 20 miles of this town (because honestly, most people might not have a need to visit otherwise), make sure you stop, get out of the car, stretch your legs, and see this impressive ball of twine.

And no, I never thought I'd write those words either, but that's the kind of fun that can be just around the bend in MN. To be fair to other twine ballers (or do they say "ballerz"?) - this is the world's largest from Guinness' 1991 edition and also wound by a single person. I guess we could have newer records and larger balls since that time or perhaps wound by multiple people (A Twine Balling Ball, for example).

In any case, I give Francis A. Johnson a lot of credit for getting this thing done. As I was told by my travel buddy for the night (more high-jinx from the night in the next blog posts), this ball used to sit under something of an old pole barn on the farmers' property. The coworker used to stop and visit it each time they were headed to that part of the county. Now, it sits in this out-building in the heart of Darwin, donated by the man's estate... for all to enjoy for as long as it remains balled.

[You can see my reflection in the shot - sunny day made it hard to capture a clear pic]

[photo courtesy of J.A.]
 I have to hand it to Francis (though don't hand him any twine you want to re0use) - he really did build an impressive piece of Americana and I'm happy and proud to say I've seen it. I feel like native Minnesotans even look at me in a little bit better light because of it. Fine by me, thanks, Francis.


Quote of the Week

Just like you need air to fly a kite - it's not the kite, it's the air.

- Pharrell Williams


Wright County Fair 2014, Part 3: Demolition!!!

Since I've only been to the Wright County fair twice, no fair would be complete for me without some demolition derby! Now, I wouldn't normally consider myself a car guy, or a demolition guy, but it's really really hard not to like this whole event, every time. They basically just line up some old junkers (that people have spent countless hours soupin' up and painting ridiculous themes) and have at it. This day at the fair was combine derby night. That's right, old farm combines would be smashed up and ran til dead. I truly was surprised how much force these hit each other with, and also how many of them just kept going and going.

Of course, the night started with the kids getting in on the action, Power Wheels Derby. I s^%t you not!...

It actually was both cute and scary at the same time. Like in the first pick one kid's parents are getting him to the "ring" finally and as soon as he got there, another competitor came over and smashed right into him - welcome to Derby, son.

Then the big boys (and girls) came out...
You have your General Lee theme. This is generally considered racist now, right?
This big gray one was easily one of the best decorated, as a big elephant - quite nicely too. This was also one of our female drivers for the event

They really "got up in there" with their implements , though they were not allowed to reposition their implements during the event. I was surprised by the force these combines hit each other

After two rounds of qualifiers, plus a lawn tractor derby (for the teenagers, again not joking, it's a family affair), they brought out the remaining three combines for the final round. I already forgot who won, but I know it was glorious.
Once the sun was setting on the lights went on, this is the final round. It was the original "fast & furious" for about 5 minutes. Winner winner, chicken dinner!

And now on to the next county fair. There's one next weekend, Carver County, but I don't have anyone I know heading out... not sure I need to have so much fun solo.


Wright County Fair 2014, Part 2: Vittles

Fair food - if food was the only thing there, I'd still go. I've also figured out not to try anything new at the fair in the savory category. A seafood vendor in the middle of farm country - no way, Gorton. A mexican food stand - no way, Jose. A Scottish sausage cart - no way, Seamus. But if there are new sweets, I'm usually on board. How would we have discovered deep-fried Twinkies or last year's amazing Sate Fair feature, the Red Velvet Funnel Cake - so good.

Since we just wanted something light to start the day, as we didn't know if we could participate in the pie-eating contest that afternoon, this is how I started my fair food day
You CANNOT go wrong with a classic corn dog. It was fresh and delicious
 And it was good we got something in quick as we weren't able to participate in the pie-eating this year. That afternoon's round was for police, firemen and county workers. Ok, fine. I can sit this year out. So, on to something light... like corn on the cob and mashed potatoes, found at the same vendor...

Garlic mashed potatoes with bacon bits & cheddar

This didn't take but a minute, though it was odd to eat top-to-bottom instead of side-to-side (aka, "typewriter")

Then, on to dinner with a bit of theatre as we decided to take our mains to the Bingo Tent. We won all around... to the tune of pulled-pork and $8 cold hard cash.

This was smoked on site and included a scoop of bacon coleslaw for an extra $2

Oh yeah, easy to win bingo when only 12 other people are playing
Finally, a sweet treat before heading into the grandstands for the evening's entertainment...
Chocolate Malt, please. Only one is for me, unfortunetly
And I decided to save this bad boy for next year...


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