Haying Stays In Your Blood

Hayfield Near Farmington, North Carolina, April 22, 2023

Of the over fifty years that I have worked since I graduated college, only a little over a decade was spent farming. I did grow up in North Carolina in the fifties and sixties when everyone we knew had gardens, some had chickens, and even a few had a milk cow. It was not unusual to see hog killings in the fall and to receive some fresh country sausage as a gift.

The land was what gave life to us all, and where we go when life is gone. The land was at the center of all, and how could understand anything without first being on the land?

The Road to My Country

I felt that I had to go back to land. I was a little shellshocked after the sixties, four years in a military school and another four in the funny lights of Cambridge. I bought an old farm in Nova Scotia the summer that I graduated from Harvard. The skies in Nova Scotia were like the ones I remembered in my youth.
The urge to work the soil was strong even though I did not grow up on a farm. The immersion course we got in farming was intense but somehow we thrived for over a decade. We might have stayed on the farm if interest rates had not hit twenty percent in the early eighties and there were better local opportunities for our children. We dispersed our cattle in the fall of 1982 and sold the farm three years later after I spent a couple of years working in the city.

Farming has stayed with me all these years, even during my years in technology. It was only a year or two ago when I was driving from our home at the coast through the Virginia Mountains to headquarters when I saw a field of grass down. It was well on its way to being ready to be becoming hay. I had to stop, roll down the windows and enjoy the smells and remember all the good memories.
It was not unusual for our “team,” Harvey and I to put up sixty tons of hay in a good day. Harvey was in his sixties when I bought his farm which he had farmed with horses. We sometimes cut hay with two nine-foot mower conditioners. The big fields Harvey would rake with our twenty-one foot rake and the small fields with a ten-foot rake. I would bale with the big Vermeer baler and one of the 105 HP International tractors.
You could start cutting hay in the morning while the dew was still on it. Raking the hay before noon was okay, but I rarely started baling the hay until the afternoon. Large windrows that the tractor could barely straddle helped me churn out a nearly 2,000 pound bale every five to ten minutes depending on how much turning had to be done. When the hay was rolled up, we left it in the field until we had time to haul it back to the farm in the fall. Our hay farm was a couple of miles from where we kept the cows. We also cut hay all around the area wherever we could strike a deal with the owners. Before our children came, my wife even used to rake hay.

On a good day, making hay was something that gave you a feeling of accomplishment. A good crop of hay started with clearing the field of brush and rocks, applying lime, then working the ground, planting the grass seed in an oat cover crop, and sometimes fertilizing the fields in the spring. It doesn’t sound like much but it was lots of back-breaking work and sweat.

There were bad days making hay. Our mowers in those days had cutter bars with blades riveted on them. If you hit a rock and broke a blade, you had to stop and replace it. There are few things dirtier that replacing a blade on a mower conditioner cutter bar that has been collecting bugs, seeds, and dust for ten acres on its platform. If you didn’t itch from something that got on you, just remembering all the bugs would make you itch. The worst thing is when the equipment broke when you had hay ready to bale and wet weather was on the way. You try to forget those days. Getting hay that was ready to be baled dry after it was rained on is not a lot of fun.

There were some great memories from those haying seasons. Sometimes I would stop for lunch and my wife and the kids would show up with a real lunch. While my wife and I ate lunch, the kids would pick red raspberries on the rock piles. There were no snakes so it was as safe as it could be. Few of the raspberries they picked made it to us but they were so plentiful you could pick all that you wanted in a few minutes. The hay farm was high on a ridge and you could see for miles. There were no places any nicer on a summer day in the hardwood hills of New Brunswick.

It should be no surprise that I stopped recently to look at a field of grass (pictured above) that needed cutting. It is the last week of April here in North Carolina. There will be no thoughts other than my dreams of cutting hay in New Brunswick, Canada for another couple of months.
If I am lucky in the next two to three weeks, I will get to smell some curing hay in our rural area. I can hardly wait because it is still in my blood.

Love Where You Are Planted

Our Backyard Garden

I got sent off to boarding school at the ripe old age of fourteen. It was six hours from home and was a military school. I was pretty miserable for a few months. Then it dawned on me that there will be times in your life that you will have little control of where you are. What you can control is how you choose to react that the situation and your location.
Four years later when I got in my car and drove the twelve hours by myself to Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was determined to make the best of it. I had never been there, but I planned to push my limits.
As a married adult, I have lived in eight different homes in two provinces and three states. At least one was a little insular but we managed to find good people in all places.
From 2006 until 2021, we had a home on the North Carolina coast. It was on the water and had stunning views. I am a photographer so I was in paradise with all the water and big birds. I had a wonderful time. When we got ready to move, our friends started asking what beauty could we possibly find to compare all the scenery at the coast.
I simply smiled and said I am confident that there will be lots of things to capture with my cameras. That has turned out to be the cast.
When you have lived in a lot of places, you probably figure out quickly that there are no perfect places for those us not in the ranks of the super rich. We bought our current house during the pandemic-fueled housing boom. We are very pleased that it has turned out even better than we expected.
While I don’t have great egrets, great blue herons and otters at my beck and call, I do have beautiful forest and fields that remind me of where I grew up.
That is no real surprise because we moved back to the area near where my mother’s family settled in 1790. When I was wandering the hills and forests of the area in the fifties, I was living on Styers Street not far from Styers Ferry Road which happened to be named for my great grandfather who ran a ferry across the Yadkin River. So this is home, but it is more than that.
This is one of few rural areas in North Carolina where you have modern services and are within a few minutes of about everything that your consumer heart can imagine. On top of that we are blessed with farmers’ markets all through the summer.
After years of tolerating faux beach grass, we are now living where our yards don’t feel squishy when you step in them. We have a real backyard that is unlikely to ever flood. It is big enough for us to have a small garden.
Settling into an area which was not far from where I grew up is one of the most pleasant moves that I have ever made. I am just a few minutes from one of my grade school fishing buddies.
I laugh when some of my northern friends talk about North Carolina’s humidity. The thing is when we moved from the coast to the Piedmont, we took a serious step down in humidity. Summer humidity is very real across the South, but there are degrees of it and the marshes along the coast can feel like you’re being swallowed by the humidity.
Here in the Piedmont there is fall and spring. If you have ever lived on the coast, you know that both fall and spring are very subtle. Here in the Piedmont they are a riot of colors.
I wonder if I have enough time left to try living in the desert?

We Find Our Farm

An aerial photo which a super-imposed elevation of our old farm with picture of the house, a barn, and some cattle.
Tay Ridge Angus Aerial Photo

While we were still working on our old farm house the winter of 1973-74, we were also trying to find a place to move where we could have more success farming. When I look back on it, I am amazed that we found a place which was forgiving enough for us to take what little we knew about farming and have a run at being successful. Still I wanted to work the soil.
We looked in several places in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island without much success. We took a trip to New Brunswick from St. Croix Cove to deliver Sophie, the goat, and to lend a hand moving to my college roommate and his wife. Mostly my job was to upgrade the electrical panel in the old house that they had purchased.
The trip there was quite an adventure, the Saint John River was flooding and as I have said many times, the only way we made it through the flooded roads was staying in the wake of a tractor trailer that was in front of us on the Trans Canada highway.
This was well before cellphones and the Internet so you might say that we were flying blind but we got there, delivered Sophie, and on the first weekend in May after surviving a night in my roommate’s newly purchased and almost flooded old house, we had a look at a nearby farm that would become Tay Ridge Angus.
It was a spur of the moment decision to look at farm near where my college roommate had found his old farm. It was the first weekend in May. There was still snow on the ground. A rational person would have said snow in May, no way.
My wife and I have talked about it a number of times, but we were hardly on the farm when it was clear that it was love at first sight. The farm had a lot of sheltered areas where cattle could be kept in the woods during the winter. There were plenty of streams and brooks for water, and the land matched the soils that I hoped to farm.
We finally came to an agreement with owner that carved off a couple of acres on the front of the farm so he could build a new house and have a garden spot.
It would take a few years, but Harvey, the previous owner, would become the main help on my farm which he had farmed mostly with horse-drawn equipment. He would transition from raking with a converted horse-drawn rake to a double one that was over twenty feet wide. It made the Vermeer round baler that I built the farm around very happy.
After one winter with a few cows housed in an old barn, I transitioned to cattle running in the woods and calves born on the snow. It turned out to be a wise decision. In the seven years that we farmed there, we never had the vet on the farm. Even Harvey came to believe that cattle were healthier outside and that in spite of what the Dept. of Agriculture said, round bale hay worked for them.
In hind sight, there are a lot of things I might have done differently, the first being to have kept our herd smaller. A lot of things and cows are one of them, you have to learn the hard way, having just a few cows is a hard lesson to learn. We eventually got to two hundred head. It was too much work and required too much equipment. However, that was the dynamics of farming then, get big or get out. The second is that I would have tried harder to get a government-backed 2% loan. We tried once and were turned down.
The twenty per cent interest rates on our operating loan killed us while our neighbors with 2% loans did just fine. We could have built a third bard to store our hay and save a lot of waste. However, with no government loans, we crunched the numbers, weighed the options and decided going to work in town was the better of the two. We had a very successful dispersal sale. We sold our cattle in the fall of 1981. I went to work helping people market their cattle but quickly moved to selling computers in the fall of 1982 and by the fall of 1984, I was working for Apple which turned out to be a career of nearly twenty years which came with a good dose of magic before my wings melted.
Still, I would love to relive those years on the farm with the knowledge and skills that I have gotten since then. However, I doubt the old body would hold up to all the work that a farm, even a modern one, requires.

We Should Have Stayed Angry About Computers

New Mac Studio on my desk to illustrate the purchase of a new computer
New Mac Studio, my favorite mouse, my LaCie SSD work backup drive with my Cherry keyboard

I bought a new Mac Studio just before Christmas and just wrote an article about getting my wife a new Mac Book Air. There was a time not too long ago that people were passionate about technology. Just after I left Apple, an article on my Applepeels blog could generate twenty thousand or more hits in less than twenty-four hours.

If I said something negative about Apple, even the slightest criticism, I would get comments that would make you hair stand on end. If I praised anything that Apple did the Windows’ diehards would attack with the same fervor as the Mac zealots. When I wrote for ReadWrite just eleven years ago, I had people write horrendous things about me when I hinted that Apple was anything but perfect.

Now people seem to have gotten over technology to the point that no one cares what kind of computer you use or even what type of smartphone you have. I suspect people still line up for the latest iPhones but no one has attacked me personally for using a Pixel Pro 6. I suspect announcing that I am buying some new Macs will bring a yawn if anything.

It seems all the anger and partisan fighting is now reserved for politics and life choices. I wish we had stuck with fighting over technology.

Somehow it is easier to get over someone attacking my computer choice than someone attacking me because I believe that we should not ban books or the teaching of real history.

When you attacked my computer, well it was a computer. When you attack my thoughts about books, you’re attacking me and it makes it difficult to get along with you.

For almost twenty years, I worked at Apple and many of my relatives and even friends chose to use the Windows platform. I even recommended that some of them buy Windows machines because there was a time when most people needed some support when they bought a computer. There were just not enough Mac people around to provide even the most basic question and answers on using a Mac but there always seemed to a self-designated Windows expert not far away.

During that all those year- decades, not a single person stopped speaking to me because I used a Mac. Today, there are people who won’t speak to me because I have said our former president should be held accountable for his actions which I find treasonous.

The funny thing is that computers are truly at the heart of our lives in 2023, both individually and nationally. I remain convinced that we do not pay enough attention to computer security at home, in business and especially in government. When I was director of federal sales for Apple, I practically had to drag Avie Tevanian, Apple’s head of software, to a July 2004, Congressional Hearing on computer security.

Today, Apple’s focus appears to have changed and security is something they care about enough to make it a priority on their products. For that reason, Tim Cook, who was briefly my boss, should be proud that I bought a Mac Studio (I have been nagging for this product for years) and even more excited that I moved my wife’s computing to a MacBook Air just because of security.

For many years, I argued to the federal government that having all of our computing resources on one operating system, running on a single processor family was a horrendous idea. It still is and diversity in computing is just as important today as it was in 2004. I consider my self a computer expert and I weighed the odds and went with a Mac because I thought it was more secure.

So next time you want to charge after someone’s political views, take a time out and consider the question, “What would happen if someone got all my passwords?” Think about how best to solve that question and you might not have as much time trying to control how someone else acts or thinks or does with their body. I can assure you that not one among us is going to have a good day if hackers get your info.

If you are interested enough to want to know more about my recent Mac purchases and more of the history behind it, this is the link to the post.

Local Adjacent Hippies

One of Lexington’s Many Decorative Pigs

Our daughter recently chose North Carolina’s Piedmont for her wedding. I was tasked with writing up some interesting nearby places.

Our families have a long history in the area.  My mother’s family, the Styers show up on the 1790 census.  Glenda’s family, Snodys and the Haymores, have been in the area so long, my family is consider newcomers. However, my great grandfather ran Styers Ferry across the Yadkin River in the days before bridges and there is even a road in nearby Forsyth County called Styers Ferry Road.  I also grew up in the area and lived on Styers Street. My childhood home there is now a restaurant which is probably not a coincidence considering how good a cook my mother was.

North Carolina’s Piedmont is very unique among the places we have lived. It is a vibrant, growing place that is still blessed with lots of small farmers and plenty of farmers’ markets.  Small farmers are an endangered species in these days of combines with 50ft headers.

There are restaurants here that are closely connected to the land and the farmers who care for it.  You do not have to explain why homegrown tomatoes are better. People here know how to cook food from scratch- from beans to homemade jams. They also know everything you need to know and some things you don’t want to know about using all of a pig.

This is the land of country sausage and country hams, and of course true pit cooked pork barbecue.

We know farmers whose families have been farming the same land for five generations. Food is important here and it is how North Carolina welcomes its guests and keeps them coming back.  We can teach you all you need to know about pork, fried chicken,  chicken pies -Moravian or otherwise, pimento cheese and even cobblers or sonkers. 

When our daughter asked us to research things for visitors to do,  the obvious place to look was nearby Lexington, North Carolina. It is around fifteen minutes from the Finch House and has plenty to entertain visitors. It is also the home of the Holt House which some of you will visit.  Most importantly, Lexington is the barbecue capital of North Carolina and hence the world.  That is settled fact.

As the holidays were getting in gear in December, we decided to see what we could find to entertain us in Lexington for an afternoon.  Obviously, we first had to decide where to eat. I found  a nice place, Rustic Roots,  in a building that used to house an old hotel on Main Street.  We arrived just before the lunch rush.  I ordered the BLT and Glenda got the lunch special, a chicken pot pie.  My BLT was delicious with hand-sliced sourdough bread and a little twist with melted cheese on the ham.  It was accompanied by homemade chips. Glenda’s pot pie was obviously not from a  sous vide bag.  It was topped with some beautiful puff pastry.

Next we wandered down to Bruce’s Tuxedos, the largest supplier of tuxedos in the region.  I was hoping for some advice on where to get a suit for Erin’s and Tim’s wedding.  True to my hippy-adjacent roots (I had to look it up), I do not own a suit at least yet. Bruce gave me a great recommendation but it was in Winston-Salem, thirty minutes away.  Exploring Lexington took priority.

Next, my other persona, that of being a cattleman running two hundred  head of Angus cattle in New Brunswick,  caused us to head down the block to visit the Butcher Block. I had read of their high quality meat and wanted to see the place in person.  While I have made and eaten a few soy burgers, I still favor a good steak on my plate at least once a quarter.

It turns out that the Butcher Block goes well beyond great meat.  They have a wonderful selection of oysters, and other interesting items like pineapple flavored rum cake.  They get fresh grouper and flounder from the coast on Fridays.  I had a great time and brought home some really nice pork chops with a test batch of house bacon.  I expect to be a regular customer.

Next we wandered back by the car to stick the meat in a cooler and visited the Conrad Hinkle Food Market just across from the old Courthouse which is now a free local museum.  Conrad Hinkle sells a lot of their brand pimento chesse all across the Triad (Winston-Salem, High Point, Greensboro). Their store is an old-fashioned grocery store and has a mother lode of  their own pimento cheese, but please don’t buy any. I would be happy to teach you how to make your own and it will be twice as good as what you can buy there.  I was tempted to buy our daughter a can of spam at Conrad Hinkle, but she has yet to eat the one I gave her for a Christmas present in 2005. Without a doubt, it is still “safe” to eat.

After the grocery store which has the smallest shopping carts that I have ever seen, we wandered over to the Candy Factory.  It was crowded with holiday shoppers and we were a little overwhelmed.  There was no shortage of candy had we desired any.  Next trip we plan to go farther down Main Street and see the actual factory where the famous red bird mints are made. My addiction to those mints leads me to try to not buy more than a handful at a time.

After the over stimulation from the candy store, we headed to the visitors center back by the Courthouse.  Mostly, we needed to find some public restrooms since we had been hiking around the same few blocks for over three hours.  Beyond clean historic restrooms, we also got lots of recommendations about where we should eat next time and the things that we missed during this visit. 

Lexington has an amazing number of interesting restaurants, small shops and boutiques. There is a coffee shop, a bookstore, a bagel shop, and even an Army-Navy store which appears to have the jeans’ market cornered.  I don’t think anyone will be disappointed it they park on Main Street in Lexington near the old Court House, find something to eat, and wander around for a while.  There is plenty to choose from with just a short walk even by our aging standards.

According to the ladies at the visitors center the Hampton Inn in Lexington is the newest hotel in the area and it is only 15 minutes from the wedding venue. If you are having trouble finding a spot, you might want to consider it.

I was planning on getting barbecue from Smiley’s for dinner after our trip.  After some testing a year ago, Smiley’s had emerged as one of my favorite barbecue destinations. One of the welcome center ladies told me that Smiley’s had been torn down because of a road construction project.  Losing one barbecue restaurant in Lexington is not a problem.  The ladies gave us a list of ten others.  We picked the closest one, The Barbecue Center.   We brought home a great dinner, coleslaw, potato salad with some of the freshest buns on earth.

Here is a link to pictures I took during our afternoon in Lexington.

Thirty minutes after leaving Lexington, I was fitted for my suit for the wedding and headed back to Mocksville where we live.  Now about that hippy-adjacent comment.  Yes, I went back to the land, but I always preferred working the land with a big green John Deere tractor or a huge red  International one and that was a long time ago. I will admit that Erin had two Labrador retrievers as baby sitters occasionally. That might explain a few things.

I have worn my fair share of suits walking through DC humidity but that also was a couple of decades ago. The moths got my last DC suit. Rumors that I planted them are not true. My daughter will likely admit that I am closer to a geek with dirty fingers from gardening than anything else but that is a very long story. If you need a really fast fiber connection for work while in the area, stop by Mocksville. We’re likely faster than what you have up north.

Room to Dream

The old hayfield in St. Croix Cove, Nova Scotia

Except for boarding school and college, I have always lived with enough space for my imagination to roam. I grew up in Lewisville, NC, with a wonderful back yard with woods that stretched farther than I could roam.

I have written of finally finding a real backyard for my somewhat rural life. I have had much wilder backyards in my earlier years. They ranged from the field of buttercups behind our old farm house in St. Croix Cove, Nova Scotia to miles of woods in New Brunswick and Virginia to the expanses of marshes on the NC Coast. Living on the edge with wilderness or near wilderness on my doorstep has enriched my life and that of my family.

The Lewisville backyard of my youth remains entrenched in my mind. The memories of the great, long-gone, cedar tree that shaded our picnic table are still there. The picnic table was my first office. When we were really young we were able to play baseball there. Home plate was in front of the plum and cherry trees. If you hit a ball and it ended up in the fig bush, it was a home run. Until it interfered with the septic system, the mimosa tree in the front yard was a great climbing tree. The yard was just a base from which to operate. The woods that stretched for a few miles down to the Yadkin River bottomlands were the real attraction for those us steeped in the lore of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett.

We played in the streams, built dams where we could and climbed over the old boulders. The woods were a cool retreat in the summer and as we got older, a place to hunt squirrels.

While I felt marooned from the out of doors when I was at military school during my high school years, it was just the opposite in college. Maine was at our doorstep. When I visited LL Beans in the fall of 1967, it was a tiny place and one room still had a wood stove. Maine led to Nova Scotia, and Nova Scotia changed my life.

That field of buttercups on the waterlogged soil of my first farm was a great introduction to real wilderness. Only getting married kept me from moving to Newfoundland. Instead I ended up in the relatively civilized hardwood hills north of Fredericton, New Brunswick on an old two hundred acre farm. It was a good place to get comfortable with wilderness, understand its charms, and appreciate its challenges.

My dream of farming started in Nova Scotia and was realized in New Brunswick where we build a cattle operation that had two hundred head of red and black Angus at one time. We built barns and learned to put up incredible amounts of hay while figuring out how to raise cattle in the woods. It was harsh environment once hitting minus forty and a couple of times approaching one hundred degrees with plenty of black flies and black bears to keep you alert. We were barely beyond party lines for a telephone so there not even dreams of cell phones. If you were a mile back in the woods alone, you were on your own.

I had dreamed of farming and built the farm of my dreams. It was a hard life with no vacations but with great neighbors living together in place that could push you to your limits. Eventually the dreams were no longer of farming but not because farming was too hard. It was interest rates of twenty percent that got us. It is hard to even imagine paying those rates today, but we did until we dispersed our cattle herd. Then the dreams turned to a better, perhaps easier life and more opportunities for our children.

We ended up in Halifax, Nova, on a tiny city lot. I had no time to dream because I was working for Apple then. It was twelve years after leaving the farm before I got time and space to dream again. Finding the space was driven by a new Labrador puppy, named Chester. Chester needed a lot of exercise and we both quickly grew tired of two and three mile walks in the neighborhood. We wandered into the woods and found an old road to a mountainside homestead. I met the owner of the land on a hike. He was elderly but eager to see someone clean up the old road. For over a decade Chester and I worked and wandered the trails on the mountainside.

Then one day the vets said that it was Chester’s time to cross over and he was gone. The mountainside and the trails were never the same without Chester so next I dreamed of the North Carolina coast which I had wandered as a college student. In 2006, we bought a home in the marshes along the White Oak River three miles from Bogue Sound and Swansboro.

The marsh turned out to be a good place to dream especially when aided by some almost wild stretches of sand over at the Point on Emerald Isle. There were wide rivers to kayak, inlets and near shore waters to explore in our skiff. The coast also gives you a very personal look at the power that nature can throw at you when the elements are right. We endured the eighty-five mile per hour winds of Irene and learned that there are moments like Florence when retreat is the safest option. We heeded the mandatory evacuation orders for Florence and came back to devastation, not at our home, but to many of our friends’ homes. Finally three years later after fifteen years of walking the sands and marshes, I began dreaming of those Piedmont woods of my youth.

In February 2021, we moved to Davie County, NC, about twenty-five minutes from where I grew up. The good news is that the backyard is plenty big enough for dreams and I am old enough that I can easily justify having someone mow it for me. I can still dream but I am no longer mowing my way through life while dreaming.

Keeping Updated Just Enough to Stifle Giggles

The back panel on our 2021 LG TV

When your children grow up and leave the house, you can forget about the times when you are just a momentary embarrassment to them and move to living on the edge of potentially being a permanent embarrassment.

It can be how you dress or drive, what foods you like or what television shows you watch. Most likely in our technology-rich society, we are looked down upon because we appear to be missing all the technology trends that have been declared to be essential to modern life.

Being older we are just not like the people with whom they spend most of their lives. It is understandably hard for them to slow down enough to figure out that we are not doing too badly for people who started out on party lines with rotary dial phones and no television.

Modern life is not kind to those who would prefer to ignore technology. NC’s DMV is now requiring you to understand QR codes in order to check in at their offices. Increasingly businesses would prefer not to handle cash.

People now want to pay you with apps like Zelle. Our teenage granddaughter would much prefer that we deposit money in her Step account that she can use like a credit card in stead of giving her cash. She has even given me cash and asked to deposit it for her in her Step account. My grown son won’t shop at Harris-Teeter because they do not take smartphone payments. Cash seems to be a burden.

You can try living by the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but if you read about the tech refresh that we did in 2017, you will find that waiting too long to upgrade can create even more challenges than ignoring the pressure to upgrade. I love technology, but you really have to stay on top of it or both it and your children will laugh at you.

In 2006, we spent a lot of money for fancy wall-mounted Sony HD televisions throughout our beach house. Apparently, we were not on top of things enough to know that screen technology changes regularly and we should just get a new television with a fancier screen every two or three years. You know you are behind the technology curve when your children give you money earmarked for a new TV.

Technology has always been a wild ride but the rider is getting faster. The first amazing technology that I remember coming into my life was the transistor radio around 1955. It was more important to me than our black and white TV that came later.

If you fast forward twenty-seven years to 1982, my wife and I have three children of our own and one day after work I bring home a Panasonic VHS VCR. It cost roughly $650 and while there were still concerns that Sony’s Betamax might win the VCR war, I was reasonably convinced that VHS would deliver the entertainment that we wanted in our two channel TV rural world. VHS tapes were part of our lives at least through the ballet recitals we attended in the mid-nineties.

Twenty-four years after that first VCR in 2006, we were living in a home wired so that you can plug an iPod into the whole-home stereo system which included a VHS tape player and a six disc CD/DVD player that fed a wall mounted HD Sony flat panel TV.

By 2017, most of that technology was obsolete just like the Sony television that had come before it and taken two men to move. After our tech refresh in 2018, the closest thing to a VHS player left in our technology closet thirty-five years after buying our first VCR was a Blueray Disk player which cost $49 at Best Buy.

Four years after that in 2022, we are living in another home. This one has 2 Gig fiber to the home (FTTH) connectivity. While there might be some DVDs and VCR tapes in boxes, we would have to dig around to find them. I do have a plug in DVD drive for a computer. It is as close as we could get to seeing them. We still have a wireless home phone system, but the connection is VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) that is delivered by our fiber connection. We mostly use our 5G Google Pixel phones but keep the VoIP line so I can have a second line in my office.

There are unused coax cables in our walls because our new in 2021 home was never hooked up to cable services. In addition to our television being connected to the Internet with an Ethernet cable, we also have two upstairs offices which are connected by Ethernet to our router. The fiber that comes to our house runs all the way to the optical network terminator (ONT) on the same table as our TV. There are close to thirty network devices on our network including our garage door. The oldest technology that we have is the FireTV Cube that is a couple of years old and which provides the streaming channels for our television. We cut the cord in February 2021, and have never looked back.

For a short moment we riding the crest of the technology wave (as long as the kids don’t ride in our 2005 cars) but without diligence (and probably a new car), it will crash right on top of us and once again upend our world.

Interested in learning if fiber to the home (FTTH) is for you? Read this post of mine, Choose The Right Technology For The Decade.

Apple No Longer Just Works

Actually, I am a patient person when it comes to technology. It took me two years before I labelled my 2010 iMac, my first iLemon.  Even then I gave Apple’s executive relations team a chance to make it better. When they failed, my son, who passed his Apple service certification before he graduated from college, helped me fix it by installing a SSD drive.

I said this back in 2012, just over ten years ago,

To many people Apple is a premium product on par with the best computers that are out there. Certainly with few exceptions, you end up paying more for an Apple product than you might for a product from another manufacturer. If like many Americans you live in a metro area, your Apple purchase gives you access to an Apple store and what can be for many people a very satisfying support infrastructure.

Apple products are even more premium now than they were ten years ago. We still use Macs in our company, WideOpen Networks, where I am vice president of sales. Even though I am in much more of a metro area than when I made the comment ten years ago, an Apple Store is still almost an hour away from us. Still that drive is an hour and an half shorter than the nearest one to our corporate office.

I could easily have given up on Apple products when they showed me the door eighteen years ago when my team had just finished another unbelievable year selling Apple products to the largest enterprise customer in the world with perhaps the smallest sales force ever to tackle the US government. I was director of federal sales and my team of just over twenty people tripled sales there year and year.

However, I am a committed Apple user. I started on an Apple II+ and began my technology career selling Apple products over forty years ago. I still appreciate how Apple has changed computing for all of us, but they are not perfect and they seem to be reluctant to use their mountain of cash to give us better products, warranties or services. The components in Apple’s  computers sometimes are no better than what we get in other products and  to make you feel good about that Apple has one of the most expensive extended warranties in the business.

Even so when we moved from North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, I took the step of upgrading the Macs that I was using. We were getting fiber to the house and I felt like I needed a backup machine for my I5 MacBook Pro. I went with the new-at-the-time MacMini with the M1 processor and 16GBs of RAM.

I am glad that I kept the I5 MacBook Pro as my main work machine. The M1 MacMini is fond of locking up. I keep hoping that one of the software upgrades will fix things. I am beginning to think the real problem is Apple just not caring. I know that conventional wisdom says to never upgrade to the first release of Apple’s operating system software, but I was having enough problems that I thought it was worth a shot. After all I am never shy about upgrading my Windows and Linux machines as soon as I can.

Today, I am running Ventura 13.0 on an eighteen-month-old MacMini with 16GBs of RAM. It is hooked to my internal network and a rock solid NAS with what I would call a bullet proof 2GB fiber connection where the speed at any of my desktops rarely drops below 940 Mbps/940 Mbps. There is nothing but Category 6 Ethernet cabling from the Calix Gigaspire router all through my home and  office. I have five other computers in the office including that old resurrected iMac from 2010 and a Lenovo Yoga from this summer running Windows 11 and a much older Lenovo I5 running Ubuntu Linux.

One morning recently I tried adding a simple contract to my Highrise CRM using Safari. When I went to add the picture from a network mounted volume, it froze three different times under different scenarios. Finally, I brought up Chrome and everything worked fine.

So the question is- how can Google make a better browser for the Mac than Apple’s own Safari? Google makes Chrome for all sorts of platforms and it generally works. You would think that when you release a major operating system update like Ventura that you would make sure your browser works.

Apparently Apple just doesn’t care any more.

I haven’t been brave enough to open any of the newly updated apps like Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. I am not expecting a good ride.

Apple should appreciate that more customers than me have been using their products for over forty years. We deserve better and because we have been around so long, we have seen better from Apple. Even when there were far worse problems in the early nineties, Apple appeared at least to be taking the problems seriously.

Just to show that I am not conjuring this up out of an old Dual G5 case,  I ran additional tests to prove that this is a problem on the M1 with Ventura and the most recent Safari.

I used the same test of opening Highrise CRM in a browser, creating a new contact, and adding a picture from a mounted NAS volume. The results aren’t much of a surprise. It worked on everything else but the M1 Ventura MacMini.

My test worked flawlessly on the following systems:
2020 MacBook Pro I5 16GB RAM running macOS Monterey 12.4 and Safari 15.5
Late 2012 15 MacMini 16GB RAM running MacOS Catalina version 10.15.7 and Safari 15.6.1
Mid 2010 I5 27” iMac (iLemon) 16GB RAM running High Sierra 10.13.6 and Safari 13.1.2
2022 Yoga 9 14” 16GB RAM running Windows 11 Home 22H2, successful using both Edge and Chrome
2010 or perhaps early I5 Lenovo desktop with 16 GB RAM running Ubuntu Jammy Jellyfish and the latest version of Firefox.

I also had no problem performing the task on a 2021 Lenovo Yoga C740 with Windows 11 using Firefox and connected through our wireless network.

I replicated the problem three days after finding it. I finally got it to work on Safari by quitting almost everything else on the M1 MacMini.

I chose not to add insult to injury by running the test on a Chromebook or an iPad.  It would probably work on my dead Dual G5 if I just get it to boot.

Apple, it is time to do better by your customers.

The Internet Is Not Done Changing Our Lives

Recently, our home in rural Davie County got a 2 Gig fiber circuit. It was not a special order, just a $99.95 midrange consumer offering of Zirrus, our local telephone cooperative. I know people in California who would give their left arm for connectivity like what I now have across the road from acres of soybeans. One of my co-workers who works out of San Diego asked if I was going to run a data center out of our house? I know one thing, having my television connected to Ethernet is way better than having it on wireless.

Around thirty years ago, I first got on the Internet. The early Internet brought little new functionality. Email had been part of our lives for years. We used a proprietary system called AppleLink. Most of our big customers used the same system. The switch to standards based email that allowed us to communicate with anyone who had an email address was the first of many radical changes headed our way driven by the Internet

It was impossible in the early nineties to predict how deeply the Internet would become intertwined with our lives. Our family was destined to be full of early adopters. My son gave me my own Internet domain in the mid-nineties. My first webpages were online well before the century closed out. Not long afterwards, I helped create Apple’s online store for federal customers in 2002. Online shopping was something of a novelty then. By 2004, I was regularly blogging. Those baby steps were just the tips of my personal Internet iceberg. Shortly after his college graduation my son was managing networks on multiple continents from the heart of the Internet, Northern Virginia.

Even with all that early preparation and a career in technology, I am not sure that even I appreciated how quickly it is coming and perhaps how unprepared we are for the Internet driven changes which are accelerating even in my little piece of the Piedmont. In Davie County which by most measures is about as far away from the data centers and urban sprawl of Northern Virginia as you can get, we have Internet connectivity far better than most urban Internet users.

I recently got my NC driver’s license updated to a Real Id one. When I walked in the DMV office, I was greeted with a large sign saying “Scan this QR Code to Check In.” As I did, I wondered how many people might not be able to do that? Almost immediately the answer was clear, a lot more than I suspected. While I made and confirmed my appointment weeks prior online, there were people unsuccessfully trying to make an appointment in person at the office. All those folks after a substantial wait were eventually given a piece of paper with a web address and a phone number. One person who said he had neither smartphone or computer was told to call the DMV phone. Someone quickly chimed in that no one ever answers that number. The response was, “they’re understaffed.”

Not long after, I did an e-checkin for a blood test at our local Novant clinic. All those forms which accompany every medical visit were filled out and signed on my iPad from the comfort of our kitchen table. Less than hours after the tests, I started seeing test results posted in Novant’s MyChart app.

I haven’t made a hotel reservation in years by talking to a person. It is always online. We get many of our household staples shipped to us by Amazon. I depend on the fast service of Chewy for the wheat-based cat litter that our cats use. I even read my treasured Winston-Salem Journal online if the carrier has been delayed. The Journal made some of my favorite comics online only. I ended up subscribing to Go Comics and have all the comics that I have loved my whole life.

It is impressive that all of these things would be impossible without the Internet, but those things pale in comparison to what that 2 Gig fiber connection will allow our house to do. We now have two offices both with 1 Gig circuits. My son, the Linux system administrator and network architect, will be able to work from home in his next job if he so chooses, I have been working at home for over three decades. My home now has better connectivity than the three story Apple office I managed in Reston, Virginia, when I was director of federal sales.

What do I expect to see in Davie County and yes even in Forsyth County as fiber comes to many cable modem suffering urban dwellers? We will see more companies like the one where I have worked for the last twelve years. I like to joke that I have only been to our head office in Blacksburg a few times and one of them was the result of a hurricane evacuation when we lived on the NC coast.

Every Monday afternoon for as along as I can remember, we have had a video conference staff meeting. It brings together those of who work remotely with those who work at the head office. There might always be a need for some people to be in an office, but I can tell you the signs are already on the wall of the seismic change that is coming.

Recently we were interviewing for a job with a California customer. We have an employee less than a two-hour drive from the potential client. Much to our surprise, they turned down the offer to have our California employee at the interview in person. They told us they found 100% virtual meetings to be more effective. We got the job and our business is not the only one continuing to evolve. Many will follow the path we have blazed.

I tell people that neighborhoods which have fiber should be called fiber-hoods. Those lucky neighborhoods will form the basis of virtual business parks where knowledge, ideas, and new ways of doing business will flow freely. We have studied over 200 communities in the last decade or so. Even five years ago we were seeing some communities where 70% of new businesses were being run from homes. Much as the home laser printer revolutionized what could be published from a home office, fiber is going to do the same thing for the business tasks that can be done from home.

Fiber will also make it is easier for students to effectively educated at home and for all workers to take courses to retrain themselves for future jobs which might be home-based just like the administrative pool that has answered our phones for years. Fiber even makes it easier for some medical services to be delivered in the home and for older people to stay in their homes longer.

North Carolina has a lot going for it when it comes to connecting people with fiber. Long ago some visionary North Carolinians paved the way with a strong open-access middle mile. The North Carolina General Assembly initially funded the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina (MCNC) in 1980 to be “a catalyst for technology-based economic development throughout the state.” They have gone on to build middle mile fiber across on whole state. It is how our educational institutions and classrooms got connected so early.

That same middle mile enabled telephone coops like Zirrus to bring fiber to those us in places like rural Davie County even before our more prosperous neighbor Forsyth County has gotten much of a start. Coops like Zirrus have done an exceptional job bringing not just fiber but world class fiber to our homes.

If fiber is so great, why don’t we have even more fiber? Unfortunately there is some restrictive legislation driven by incumbent telecommunications companies that prevents NC communities that don’t have a Zirrus from pushing forward. Greenville, North Carolina was one of two that took fiber into their own hands before the assembly decided to stop it. For the last few years, there has been an effort to make it easier for communities to support fiber coming to their communities. While that effort has stalled, it is absolutely critical because we have seen companies threaten to leave towns without better connectivity. Telecommunications companies love mini-monopolies but North Carolinians can fix that by electing people who support letting communities responsibly help bring fiber to their citizens.

Fiber is not a magic bullet. We also need to train people how to take advantage of the opportunities that fiber brings to areas like Davie County. North Carolina is blessed with places that have a rural feel but access to top quality services. We just need to make certain that fiber is one of those services. It has risen to the top of the checklists for many companies and is often nonnegotiable.

Having worked in both Northern Virginia and California, I can only say that people look with envy at our beautiful rural areas. Where else can you find an abundance of farmers’ markets and charming small towns combined with outstanding connectivity plus access to mountains and world class beaches?

As a native North Carolinian, I am a little humbled to know how far we have come as a state. I grew up on Styers Street in Lewisville listening to my mother tell stories of walking by her dad’s wagon from the millpond where she lived in Yadkin County to Winston-Salem by way of Styers Ferry where they would spend the night with my great grandfather, Abe Styers, who ran the ferry.

We have gone from cutting ice from millponds and hauling that ice with horse teams. There were only dirt roads with few bridges then. Now we have to fiber to the home (FTTH) and super highways across the Yadkin River. It has happened in just a little over one hundred years. It is nothing short of amazing. I have to smile a little at the jealousy of my California friends still waiting for their 2 Gig fiber circuits. However, this is just the beginning for no one knows how far our connected state can go.

The Urge to Work the Soil

Our John Deere Equipment in St. Croix Cove, Nova Scotia, as the morning fog is lifting

Growing up in the rolling hills of North Carolina’s Piedmont in the 1950s meant that you were not far from the land.  Most people had a connection with the land in those days. I can remember hog killings

Two quotes from my book,  “The Road To My County Country,” seem appropriate,

“The land was what gave life to us all, and where we go when life is gone.  The land was at the center of all, and how could understand anything without first being on the land?  You take whatever road you can find to get to the land…”

“If we were not going to be lawyers. What would we be? There could be only one answer. You had to go back to the land to find yourself. It was only there you could sort out what was good and what was bad.  There you could find out what was important and how to live life the way it should be.  That the roads had turned back to dirt was a good thing.”

If it sounds like I had a serious case of sixties disillusionment, it is likely a fair diagnosis.  I grew up in the South, spent four years at a military school, saw a series of political figures I admired assassinated,  and my college years at Harvard took place during the turmoil of the Vietnam war. Part of my college education included getting billy-clubbed while walking to our favorite hamburger place. Until that moment the students occupying University Hall were of little interest to us. That changed instantly and the only things that had much certainty when I graduated was that I did not want to be a lawyer and a charging line of state troopers was to be avoided at all costs.

That  someone who grew up wandering the woods could only survive four years in the city was no surprise.  The strange light of the city was never for me. I loved the deep dark woods and could fish silently with a friend all afternoon and never feel lonely. If camping under the stars as a Boy Scout ignited my love of the outdoors, trips to Alaska and Nova Scotia made life on the edge of wilderness one of the few certainties in my future.

“Our family had no history of lawyers, but we had a long and proud history of farmers.”

After it turned out that I they did not need me for fodder in Vietnam, I went back to the land.  In 1971, I was determined to learn how to farm and how to treat the land well. Helen and Scott Nearing’s “Living the Good Life”, Louis Bromfield’s “Malabar Farm,” and Steward Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalogue” were my bibles along with advice from those who had been farming their whole lives.  Perhaps we were lucky those first couple of years when we had an unlimited supply of composted chicken manure for the garden, but we learned how to grow stuff including hay, pigs, cattle and what seemed like enough broccoli to feed the world.

That the land I found was in Canada on the Nova Scotia shore of the Bay of Fundy was even better. Life in Nova Scotia in the seventies reminded me a lot of life in North Carolina in the fifties when I was growing up. Still other than having long hair until my mother sheared me on one of her visits, I never came close to being a hippy.  I thought electricity, running water, indoor toilets, and especially hot water were good things and worth having.  I had relatives in the fifties who had electricity but no indoor toilets and they still warmed their water with wood.  One of my first family memories is my great grandmother sitting by her wood cook stove while reading the newspaper.

Most of all like Louis Bromfield, I could not see how to farm without a tractor so I ended up with a John Deere diesel tractor, a three furrow plow, disc harrows, a seven foot cutter bar, bush hog, hay rake and a manure spreader. A hay baler came with the farm I bought. All the equipment including a front end loader, rear blade, and post hole auger cost $10,555. The farm was $6,000 and my first few head of cattle were $1,500. I already had a pickup truck and my uncle built us a hay trailer. Fifty years after I started farming for under $20,000, I seriously doubt you could get started today for less than $250,000.

For the next eleven years, we had huge gardens and grew much of our own food even butchered our own animals for a time. Our cattle breeding operation which eventually ended up in the hardwood hills north of Fredericton, New Brunswick, grew astronomically. Eventually there were four big tractors, a round baler that could put up sixty tons of hay in a day. It took a hay rake twenty-one feet wide to feed the baler. We put up over 300 tons of hay a year with just one seventy-year old neighbor helping me part time. Our farm produced at least twenty-five 700 to 800 pound yearlings each year for beef and an identical number of yearling heifers as breeding stock along along with our most profitable product a dozen or so performance tested yearling bulls that sold for up to $1,500 each.  Even with a family of five, it was a challenge to eat more than a side of beef each year so we never went hungry.  At our peak we had two hundred head of cattle which is way more than a few cattle.

What was high on the list when we moved off the farm and I went to work for Apple?  As soon as we could afford it, we hired a backhoe to dig out some of Halifax’s rocks so we could have a little garden.  It wasn’t long after we moved to Roanoke, Virginia, in 1989 that we started planting things in the bed pictured above. Tomatoes by the house followed soon after.  When we headed off to the coast in the fall of 2006, we managed to plant tomatoes the next spring.  Eventually we grew unbelievable amounts of vegetables in tiny space. You don’t have a grow an acre of vegetable to get your fingers in dirt. We are about to prove that once more even though we are now in our seventies.

Our Rock Wall Garden in Roanoke, Virginia

In 2021, we moved again, this time we move back to NC’s Piedmont and its challenging red clay soil.  It has taken a while but  we had a wall built behind our home. We don’t have the chicken manure that we had with our first farm, but we do have a local compost farm. Our wall contractor mixed over five cubic yards of compost with our red clay soil. Pictures of the whole project are here. We added a few other soil amendments and while we were doing it capped the whole bed off with another five cubic yards of compost. We planted a lot of bulb is the center third but have reserved the front third for gardening and the back area around our little fringe tree for perennials. By early March 2023 we we will have some vegetables plants in the ground once again. We can hope they turn out as well as our spring Cape Carteret gardening.