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 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 now have a wall lined up and by next spring we should have some plants in the ground once again.

Next Came The Old House And Barn

Our St. Croix Cove, Nova Scotia, House After Remodeling, Summer 1973

The glowing ember of that Nova Scotia trip did not die.  Maybe it was fanned a little by another trip that my college roommate and I took to Alaska in the summer of 1970 in my PowerWagon.  We were gone most of the summer.  When we came back I was even more determined to find a spot away from the big cities of the East.   In the spring of 1971, I wrote to the Longmire Real Estate agency of Bridgetown, Nova Scotia, about a farm and land on the shores of the Bay of Fundy.  The property was advertised in the Sunday Boston Globe.  At the time there was only a print version of the paper and reading the Sunday paper was something I really enjoyed. I was not alone.

Though the details took time to work out, I ended up the owner of 140 acres, a two hundred year old house, barn, and carriage house in Saint Croix Cove. That first piece of land and buildings cost around $7,000. The view of the Bay of Fundy was spectacular.  Soon after with help from my mother, I ended up buying more property across the road.  It actually went down to the shore.

That August after I finished my last class ( I had missed a semester from sickness), I followed in my Land Rover and the adventure really began for me. Two roommates and I had graduated from Harvard and now we were determined to get our hands dirty and let the land tell us what to do. A third adventurer had left Harvard as a sophomore and might have been even more lost than we three college roommates.

Just reworking the old house was a huge undertaking. It needed painting and complete reconstruction inside.  By the time I got there, the plaster, old chimney and lathe had been ripped out. Much of the home was down to its hand-hewn beams. That was only the start of the work. We had to caulk the cracks on the inside of the walls.  Then came wiring and insulation for the exterior walls.  We had made the decision to go with electric baseboard heating because it was easy to install.  We had one very good carpenter, another who loved to tear things apart and to do shingles. A third who was also good with hand tools. I became the electrician and plumber.

There were no beds, we slept in sleeping bags on the floors on four inch thick pieces of foam.  Our few pieces of furniture had come from college dorm rooms.  The decision to relocate the bathroom upstairs delayed having a functional shower for weeks, so we warmed water in a coffee pot for bathing.  Sometimes we took advantage of the showers at a local campground. Eventually one of roommates’ new sweetheart came to stay with us, and she helped with some of the cooking.  Cooking was pretty basic since there was no kitchen.  We ate a lot of tuna fish sandwiches in the midst of our construction and more than a few fried clams at Alice’s Clam shack down in the village of Hampton a few miles away. We did learn how to cook smoked picnic hams and make baked beans.  We also learned to make salt cod and potatoes.  The salty dish was a particularly good excuse for some beer.

We celebrated an amazing first Thanksgiving in Canada with college friends who had decided they needed to see this place that had lured their friends north. There were lots of walks in the brisk Nova Scotia air and the housed now blessed by lots of college friends was soon ready for winter.

By the time winter rolled around, the roommates/helpers started to disappear.

Then there were only two of us left. In the next year, it became clear that I had moved to Canada and beyond working on the old house, I needed to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I bought a few cows and decided to try my hand at cattle and gardening. One of my original helpers had married a local school teacher, he and I began a tenuous partnership with those few cows.

There was a lot to learn and the biggest lesson was that partnerships are hard to sustain. By the next fall, I decided that I needed to move on and find a better place to farm. Between that thought and the reality of accomplishing it there would be a lot that needed to happen. Some things also were hidden in the cards. The decisions were about to get a lot more complicated. Just to keep things interesting, I decided to get my pilot’s license. It would be just a footnote in 1973 which by the time it was done would set me on a course for the next ten years of life.

Sobotta, David. A Taste for the Wild, Canada’s Maritimes

Connections for the Future

Internet Connectivity, August 1998

Things have changed a lot since the original iMac® introduced “simple” Internet connections. Most of us in 1998 ending up using the modem to get to the Internet and not the Ethernet port. Connecting to the Internet was often not as easy or simple as the marketing brochures promised. Fortunately, technology changes and those changes have made it much easier to connect and stay connected to today’s Internet.

WideOpen Blacksburg offers symmetric fiber Internet connectivity to its customers. Almost everyone living in Blacksburg today has a home Internet connection. If you do not have our fiber, maybe you are wondering why our symmetric fiber is such a big deal?

For lots of good reasons, fiber is often called the gold standard for home Internet connections. Technology adoption moves in stages. Most people are familiar with the technology adoption curve. We all know about the innovators and early adopters but just where do fiber to the home users fit in that curve?

We will get that answer but first let’s get some basic understanding of how to evaluate home Internet connections by looking at concepts that are familiar to everyone. When the first Interstate highways were built in the fifties they were a huge technological advance over two lane highways.

The one thing that was quickly discovered about Interstate highways is that the communities that had immediate access prospered. Also businesses and people who quickly figured out how to take advantage of them did exceptionally well. Interstate highways had the capacity to move huge amounts of traffic much more easily than two-lane roads which were often clogged with slow traffic.

Fiber is an even more capable technological advance than Interstate highways. While you have to build more lanes to increase the capacity of Interstate highways, with fiber you increase capacity by changing the electronics at the ends. It would be like putting a bigger entrance and a larger exit on a stretch of highway and magically more lanes appearing in the road between them. Fiber is technologically advanced because it moves information with light.

Fiber is also proven technology. Fiber has been the Internet backbone for decades. TAT-8, a transatlantic fiber optic cable, was built in 1988 and linked the United Kingdom, France and the US. Fiber is also a well-tested commercial technology which has become a cost effective way to deliver Internet connectivity to homes. WideOpen was involved in the design and construction of the nDanville fiber network in Danville, Virginia. It is the fiber network which has become a cornerstone in Danville’s revitalization. Amazingly, Danville’s fiber network has been in operation since 2008. Since FTTH (fiber to the home) was being offered in 2008, we are well past the early adopter phase.

Fiber is superior technology because it moves information faster. The best way of thinking about the speed of fiber is that commercially available technology already exists for 10 Gbps residential connections and for 100 Gbps business connections. It is unlikely that there are many people who need connections that fast today but it does mean the fiber that we build to your house now will be more than capable of meeting your full connectivity needs today and far in the future.

Looking at the big picture of Internet connectivity from an individual homeowner’s perspective is easy if you have recently gotten a fiber connection like I did. When we moved to Mocksville, North Carolina, eighteen months ago, we evaluated a number of things from the perspective of how will it meet our needs five or even ten years from now? Our Internet connectivity was one of our prime concerns.

I have been working for WideOpen for eleven years, and like my previous years in technology, it has been as a remote worker with a home office and an Internet connection. It did not take a lot of math to figure out that the coax cable technology we had been using was not improving fast enough to meet my business and personal needs. Beyond work, I take thousands of photographs a year and store some big files in the cloud. I am not unusual in today’s world.

Almost nine years ago in 2013, when I wrote an article, “Just How Bad Is Your Internet Connection,” our cable connection delivered 32.24 Mbps down and 5.49 Mbps up. When we moved in Feb. 2021, we were getting 484 down and 24 Mbps up. While it looks fast (and the download speed is), what it really shows is that our download speed was fifteen times what it had been nine years earlier but our upload speed had NOT even gotten to five times what it was.

It is obvious to heavier users of the “Cloud,” that coax speeds have focused on downloads and not successfully pushed ahead with faster upload speeds that we need. In their defense, the technology to increase upload speeds with coax cables is difficult and sometimes requires a lot of tuning. As is often the case with a technology like coax that is pushing its limits, users’ needs are growing faster in different directions (uploads) than coax cable technology can easily deliver today. The recording industry tried a number of things before iTunes® and similar services driven by new more scalable technology won the day.

As many people learned during the pandemic, upload speeds matter and if you are sharing a connection with people in your own household and your household is also on shared bandwidth with your neighborhood instead of using fiber which provides more individual bandwidth, you can get frustrated. Work does not get completed on time, video conferences don’t go as planned and files, including homework ones might not get where they need to as quickly as possible. That is why we went with fiber and the coax cables for our house have never been connected.

When deciding to jump from one technology to another one, the questions are pretty simple. Is the new technology proven technology? Is it better technology? Is it reasonably priced? Will it provide my family with a better experience and will it have the capability to grow with our needs?

I answered all of those questions in the affirmative so I went with fiber. While I am living in rural Davie County, North Carolina, across the road from a twenty acre soybean field, I have Gig fiber from a telephone cooperative now named Zirrus. I could have chosen any of at least three other technologies. From the day the Zirrus technician showed up on time even through getting a new Calix Gigasphere router, every experience with the company and the service has only confirmed that we made the right decision to go with fiber.

On July 31, our power flickered out for a couple of minutes during a thunderstorm. As the Internet and our WiFi came back up a minute or so later, I was reminded of all the similar times that I had spent staring at cable modem lights waiting for all the signals to sync so the Internet could return.

If you decide to not to go with fiber, remember cable companies are still working to commercialize the technology that will allow them to theoretically compete with the fastest upload speeds that we are offering today to our customers in Blacksburg. Are you willing to wait the years that it will take them to get DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications) 4.0 finalized, debugged and deployed in the field? You will also be gambling on the cost that they will eventually charge you.

Fiber is a proven technology, now available at a competitive price. To quote the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Meanwhile, fiber systems have at least a 10,000 (yes ten…thousand) fold advantage over cable systems in terms of raw bandwidth.” What that means for an individual homeowner is that there is plenty of proven technology already in place to make your fiber connection even better next year and five or ten years down the road.

I mentioned fiber is the “gold standard”of Internet connectivity. With ever more photos and videos being produced in your home along with all the other digital services that are rapidly becoming essential to our lives why wouldn’t you go for the gold and snatch some symmetrical fiber upload speeds. Look for fiber from a local company or a community owned fiber company, both are likely committed to providing great service to their neighbors?

The iMac with its USB ports started a revolution. Today none of us connect things to our computers with serial ports. Those of us who can use fiber should not be connecting to the Internet with coax cables. Someday maybe not too far in the future everyone will connect with fiber.

iMac® and iTunes® are registered trademarks of Apple Inc.

The PowerWagon Changed Me

The Beast

This is part of a series on life and careers that that started with this post, An Unconventional Journey – Life, Learning and Work.

It had been a rough semester at Harvard. Getting away from the city seemed like a really good idea. It was a short trip from Cambridge to Newton’s Silver Lake Dodge in the spring of 1970 to take delivery of a shiny Dodge PowerWagon.

I have described it as a beast and like other trucks of the day, it rode like a truck. It had a four speed manual transmission. Of course the shifter and the transfer case that allowed you to switch into four wheel low were both on the floor and far from silky smooth. For the day, the standard tires were pretty big. The big 3/4 ton truck had manual locking hubs, two gas tanks, and an eight thousand pound mechanical winch behind its extended front bumper. On a good day, it would get ten or eleven miles to the gallon. The plan that I hatched with one of my roommates was to drive to Alaska with it.

School at Harvard in that spring was cancelled because of all a few riots and lots of demonstrations. I headed home as soon as I got the truck. I had ordered a cover the same height as the cab for the back from a place just south of my home in Mount Airy, North Carolina. It would allow us to build a platform for our four inch foam mattresses and store our gear underneath it.

We outfitted it with my faithful Coleman Stove and lantern, my favorite camping cooler, and a large Igloo water cooler. In addition we had our sleeping bags, climbing ropes, my fishing gear, first aid gear, cooking equipment, a couple of big bumper jacks, medical supplies and a good selection of tools that might save the day.

There was also a five-shot Remington 30-06 semi-automatic and a 30-30 Winchester lever action plus a 44 magnum pistol. I had talked to a bush pilot in Anchorage. He told me that they would not fly us into the back country unless we were armed. The only gun I had to buy was the 44 magnum pistol. Neither rifle had ever been used for anything beyond target shooting. I had given up hunting four or five years earlier.

Around the third week of June, we packed up and headed off from Mt. Airy. The goal was to get to Alaska or at least the western US mountains as quickly as possible. Somewhere on a country road in the Midwest, we pulled down a short slope into the edge of a farmer’s field. We were going to catch a few hours sleep. It rained a little and we decided to move on but the top few inches of the field had turned to mud. We locked the hubs, engaged the four wheel drive, and nothing happened.

I ended up taking the locking hubs apart and adjusting them in order to get us out of the field. It would not be the last time I would be reminded that four wheel drive just lets you get stuck in worse places and that whenever something can break, it will break.

Somehow we managed to make our way out to Colorado where we started climbing. We had been doing some practice climbing in Maine and rappelling down anywhere we could find a place to tie off. I had even rappelled down from the fourth floor attic of our Mount Airy home.

The first few climbs went fine but one day about seventy-five feet up with my boot clinched to a ledge of rock barely an inch wide, I decided that I would rather fish than climb. I rappelled down and that was it for me and climbing. My roommate seemed fine with my decision, we figured that we could find someone for him to climb with when we got to the climbers’ camp in the Grand Tetons. I would fish by myself while he climbed.

After driving across some high passes where snow still partially covered the picnic tables in the highest campgrounds, we finally made it the Tetons. It didn’t take long before a climbing trip to the Grand Teton was arranged. I dropped my partner off and agreed to pick him up three days later.

Over the next few days, I tried a number of trout streams without any luck and enjoyed a few meals at Moran’s Chuck Wagon. When I went back to pick up my traveling partner, I was told that he was not there. He had slipped on an ice slope on the descent from the Grand Teton. He had been unable to stop his slide and ended up falling one hundred fifty feet to a ledge barely a foot or two wide.

After they got him off the ledge, he managed to walk out five miles with a broken collarbone. They had taken him to the Jackson hospital which is where I headed. After talking to the doctor, I called his parents and soon afterwards, I loaded him into the back of the truck and headed off to the larger hospital in Idaho Falls. They were fine with me handling his “care.”

I spent a week in the Idaho Falls KOA campground while my partner got well enough to travel. Of course he was in no shape to drive and would not be for a long time, but he was determined to make it to Alaska. After the hospital stay we headed up to Montana’s Hungry Horse Lake by way of Yellowstone Park. We finally got to a camping spot near the lake, I found a stream full of cutthroat trout. It was my first success fishing on the trip and I loved it. The fresh fish were great fried up on the Coleman stove.

The trip would get more exciting as we headed north through Alberta.

It Started With Nova Scotia

The view from the top of the hay field at the back of my new home in St. Croix Cove, NS

Thanksgiving during my junior year in college, three college friends and I decided to take an extra long break and go camping on Cape Breton Island. This was long before the days of the Internet and Google maps. We had little idea of what was ahead of us when we choose to drive up Route 1 through Maine and then into New Brunswick and finally Nova Scotia where we could finally cross the Canso Causeway to Cape Breton Island. Even today with more bypasses, Google maps says the drive is thirteen hours. It probably took us sixteen hours.

We went in my old 1966 Bronco which had a can of stop leak as an item in emergency equipment. Fortunately, we were young and driving that far and crossing an international border was not nearly as hard as it would be today. By the time we got to Cape Breton, it was sleeting and snowing. All the provincial campgrounds had shut down months earlier. We managed to pitch a tent in an abandoned field one night. We almost froze. Everything was soaked. By the time we got back to Halifax, I pulled out my emergency credit card and we booked a single room for the four of us in a Holiday Inn. Hot showers never felt so good.

We drove back down Nova Scotia’s south shore stopping only to grill a steak over a fire and eat a barely thawed bag of Nova Scotia shrimp. Our trip back was on the Bluenose Ferry which in those days traveled from Yarmouth to Bar Harbor, Maine. The seas were rough but there were few people on the ferry besides us. We stretched out and slept on the long bench seats. I have vague memory of a weighted ash tray sliding by me in the rough seas.

The trip has no moments that suggest that Nova Scotia is a place to visit again but as my wife has always said, “If you can tolerate a place during miserable weather, you are likely to live it when the sunshines. Somehow what I saw of Nova Scotia planted a seed. I started watching the Sunday Boston Globe for Nova Scotia properties for sale.

The spring after the trip to Nova Scotia, the anti-war protests hit Cambridge. In a classic case of taking to the woods after all the debates and marches, a roommate and I decided to take a road trip to Alaska in the Dodge Powerwagon that I convinced my parents that would keep me out of trouble for a summer. It was a beast, a 3/4 ton 4X4 with a mechanically driven (PTO) 8,000 pound winch on the front. It had two gas tanks since it barely got ten miles to the gallon with its 383 cubic inch V8 and four speed transmission. The Powerwagon would come back to school senior year, haul me to Nova Scotia and even have a place on the farm in New Brunswick.

Sleeping in the back of a truck while traveling thousands of miles seemed like a good idea. I was in love with wilderness. There were great adventures on the trip including my roommate almost getting killed while climbing. It was to be an epic trip and one that would give me a life long love of wild places. It would make Nova Scotia the place that I wanted to live.

An Unconventional Journey – Life, Learning and Work

My wife, Glenda, in Newfoundland, October 1973

I recently started reading Disrupted, My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons. Dan and I have crossed paths a few times. The first time was when he was in full Fake Steve persona. He offered me sanctuary when it appeared Apple might be coming after my Applepeels blog.

In Dan’s book which starts with losing his job at Newsweek and finding a new job as an editor at ReadWrite. The description of his first new job made me smile.

“Suddenly I am the editor-in-chief of a struggling technology news website called RedWrite a tiny blog with three full-time employees and a half-dozen, woefully underpaid freelancers”

Disrupted, My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble

I was one of those “woefully underpaid freelancers.” Dan was actually my first real editor. I had already written my first book, The Pomme Company, by then but the editor of that book had been my very patient but comma-obsessed wife with some help from two former colleagues.

I wrote for ReadWrite for a few months at end of the five years it took me to find my four or fifth career. After nearly twenty years at Apple that was a tall order. During the years after Apple, I worked at a couple of VP jobs in technology, including one at a startup which fortunately unlike Dan’s misadventure was actually generating revenue and went on to a successful acquisition. However, there were enough similarities in my experience to Dan’s to bring back some interesting memories.

Though writing is one of the things that I love to do, I have never thought of it as a possible career. I also love photography and fishing but I have never understood how to make a career out of any of my favorite things. I have supplemented our income through writing and photography. Perhaps having been “a woefully underpaid freelancer,” I learned how hard it is to make good money doing something you love. Good money is required to send three young adults off to college and help them get off on the right foot. I also figured out that what you do doesn’t matter nearly as much as doing it with someone you love at your side in a place that you both learn to love.

How you end up in your career is an interesting topic that Dan talks about in his book. My experience has some similarities but is very different. I hope to write about it through a number of blog posts here.

Only a couple people in my youth even mentioned a career to me. Things were very different in the fifties especially if you were the only child of a single mother and no one in your family had even gone to college.

Mother worked long hours as a beautician in the beauty shop that was attached to our house. We lived in the small community of Lewisville, just west of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. My elementary school and church were just a short walk from home. There were deep woods around our homes. As we were growing up, we thought more about building forts in the woods than we did about building careers. There is no question that I enjoyed my childhood in spite of its share of challenges.

A big turn in my life came in 1963 when I got sent off to a military school that was a six-hours drive from home. Being a boarding student in a dorm was not how I envisioned my teenage high school years. At some point after I got over the worst of being homesick, I decided to make the best of it. Getting good grades had never been a problem for me so I focused on that first. Next I figured out how to do well in the military, stick to the rules, shine your shoes, and do what you are told.

McCallie, where I went to military school did have an important impact on my future. It was assumed that every student would be headed to college. I was part of the pack there so college was clearly now part of my future as well.

While the years at McCallie rolled by, I did get to meet a number of adults with careers that were new to me. Whether they were at McCallie or in Mount Airy where I moved after my mom and dad decided to get back together, meeting new adults did give me an opportunity to think about my future. One of the most interesting people who came into my life was RJ Berrier, who was at the time was the editor of the Mount Airy Times, one of two small local newspapers. RJ was something of a local legend and he loved what he did which was getting the paper out the door onto people’s doorsteps in time for them to enjoy it with their morning coffee. The Times was still using lead type and bourbon to make deadlines. People looked forward to RJ’s Mount Airy After Midnight column as much as I look forward to the comics and the morning paper today.

Though I was already showing some talent for writing, RJ gave me no encouragement to go into the newspaper business. He often explained the pay was poor, the hours long, and job security non-existent. Getting a liberal arts degree at Harvard was not much of a push in that direction either especially since it was during the turmoil of the late sixties and early seventies. I did really hit my stride with writing at Harvard. I am not sure whether it was the expository writing class or all the long papers. However, something clicked and I could churn papers that got stellar marks even at Harvard. I also got paid to do some research work, but there were other things on my agenda that created a hard turn away from writing.

Perhaps, the best description of what was pulling at me was the necessity to get away from the cities that threatened to smother me. Like many others, getting my hands dirty seemed more important than a law degree.

In my case, Nova Scotia appeared to be the locus for a cure. My wife, Glenda, seen contemplating Newfoundland at the top of the post also became a big part of the equation. That we spent ten years building a herd of two hundred head of Angus before I went to Apple is just part of the magic that has touched our lives. I will get around to our lives in Atlantic Canada and how Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick became part of the magic.

A Life On The Edge

Tree Canopy, Rich Park, Mocksville, NC

The small town about twenty-five minutes from where we live today was in my young mind on the edge of a wilderness. The area was very different over six decades ago. When I was a small boy, the land there was very rural and not just a bedroom community for Winston-Salem.

The books I read in those days about Daniel Boone and eventually the television shows I saw about Davy Crockett only reinforced that view of wilderness at our doorstep. Daniel Boone was something of a local legend. His parents had a cabin about five minutes from where we live today. We also have a Boonville in the area.

My great grandfather ran Styers ferry that crossed the Yadkin River back in the early part of the last century. There was ground behind the homes along Styers Street and Shallowford Road where we lived. Mostly the vacant land grew up in broom straw since no one farmed it regularly. Once in a while a homeowner would carve out a garden for a few years. Farming in Forsyth County was on the decline even back then. It would remain strong just across the river in Yadkin and Davie Counties.

I guess those were my hunter-gatherer years because I was uninterested in gardening or farming, but I loved to wander the deep, dark woods with rock outcroppings and small brooks at the base of the hills. It was a paradise for little boys who had yet to be seduced by TV, video games or smartphones . In the summer we would stop by home only long enough to eat. The idea of staying inside on a beautiful day was as foreign as the idea that the Yankees might lose a World Series.

In the evenings, we did come out of the woods and often played capture the flag in the string of yards that we called our home turf. When we got older some of us started going to a Boy Scout Troop several miles away. Eventually, adults and a few of us with our recent scouting experience brought Troop 752 back to life. Being a Boy Scout was a great experience and camping out in the woods and cooking over an open fire made it even more special. In the summer going to Camp Raven Knob was like going to another world in what appeared to a real wilderness.

The last thing that I did with my old troop and by then I was senior patrol leader was to hike Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road. It was a little over twenty miles and it is still the most that I have ever hiked in a day. It made me appreciate how hard it was to be a pioneer.

After the hike I went away to military school. It was not Boy Scouts, and there was no camping in the woods. There was a lot of marching. As a boarding student I got an early introduction to dorm life. I was very happy to go off to college, but I promised myself that I would never let dorm life again take me away from the out of doors. I was pleased when our freshman Geology class went camping and loved that a roommate’s father had a cabin on some wild land near Plymouth, Massachusetts. Maine and its rocks and coast became a favorite refuge.

The pull of the outdoors was so strong, that four of us managed to wander off to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island during an extended Thanksgiving break. I felt like I had found home. The wildness of the place, the water and rocks seem to be just what a soul battered by college during the sixties in a big city needed. I had been trending towards wilderness for a while. An overland trip through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana and eventually into the Canadian Rockies and up the Alcan Highway to Alaska had shown me real wilderness. I loved the taste and the challenge of being on the edge of civilization.

Sometime during my last months in college, a plan germinated. Nova Scotia became my goal. After a couple more trips to the Annapolis Valley, I bought an old farmhouse and 140 acres on the North Mountain along the Bay of Fundy coast of Nova Scotia. It was my first adventure as an adult living beyond just beyond civilization. It was not the last.

Some friends helped me partially renovate the two-hundred-year-old house framed with hand hewn beams. In the end as all but one drifted back to civilization, the house became my project and along the way I learned to do practically everything a good homesteader might need to know from butchering a steer and hogs to gardening, wiring, plumbing, welding and making hay. Two Labrador Retrievers, one named after an Alaskan town, Tok, and the other named Fundy, after the Bay of Fundy became my constant companions.

Eventually, I married a talented southern lady who was not afraid of gardening and canning, living on a farm, or driving a tractor. We moved to better cattle country in the hardwood hills north of Fredericton, New Brunswick. There we built a cattle herd and the barns to handle calving and our fast-growing yearlings.

Tay Cree, New Brunswick at the time was a wonderfully wild place. We had no fences at the back of the farm. There was no place for the cattle to go. We cleared old hay fields and eventually were baling close to 600 big round bales for our herd of 200 Red and Black Angus. Our three children was born while we were living on the farm and we buried our two Labs there in the apple orchard during our last years of farming.

After ten years of farming and the heavy hit of 20% interest rates, we dispersed our cattle and I took a city job. Eventually, when I went to work for Apple, we moved off the farm to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then to Columbia, Maryland, but those were the last cities to grasp at us and they only had us for five years,

In 1989, we moved to the side of a mountain overlooking Roanoke, Virginia. Lots of wild country was to the west of it. Our next Lab, Chester, and I cleared miles of trails on the mountains that gone back to wilderness after being farmed when my grandfather was running Styers Ferry. In 2006, we headed to the North Carolina coast and I know my son felt we lived beyond the edge of civilization there on the coast. There were places along the far stretches of the beach that felt as wild as any spot on our farm in New Brunswick. Maybe it was a different kind of wild but it was still wild.

In 2021, we came back to North Carolina’s Piedmont but we remain on the edge of civilization tucked away just down the road in farm country. There’s a huge field across the road from us and you don’t have to travel far to find cows and farms. I think this rural area is where I belong at this stage of life, but given the chance, I might head to wilderness once again if it gets too crowded here. We managed to get away from the coast just before they cut all the trees down turned much of it into a huge housing development. For that I am grateful.

We might travel a long way in life but usually we come back to what made us comfortable. Big trees and a touch of wildness will always make me happy.