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.

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.

Partners in Cooking and Life

A Loaf of My Sourdough Bread

When I was chasing cows around our farm in Canada, I would have laughed if someone told me that I would replace my wife as the bread baker. I still remember the days that she would bake four or five loaves of oatmeal bread and the kitchen smelled heavenly every time I entered during the day.

I know that cooking together with my wife has become a great joy. We have found a few regional recipes to carry with us as we have wandered from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to Virginia, the North Carolina coast and back to the rolling hills of the Piedmont.

The meals that we have cooked are almost always based on simple ingredients. We are blessed to have grown up in families that were close to the land. Fresh vegetables and food direct from the farm or sea often have delighted us and made our meals special.

We were blessed to have grown much of our own food for over a decade. We have never lost those skills or the appreciation of truly fresh food grown in soil that has had enriched with compost that we have made.

For much of our life, we were too busy to do much more than get food on table. That has changed. (Read More)

Empowering Technology

Asus Chromebook

Technology that empowers you is more than just the technology.  To be really successful technolog has to be packaged in an affordable way and be easy to use to accomplish tasks that are important.

I was working for Apple Canada and living in Halifax, Nova Scotia in January 1985 when Apple introduced the LaserWriter, the first laser printer to be widely used. Ignoring the first home computers, this was also the first time I was involved with the rollout of technology that had the power to fundamentally change the way we did things.

The list price was $6,995 and more important to those of us lugging it around for demonstrations, it weighed 77 pounds.

I was happy that my previous career was running a cattle farm where I spent much of the winter hauling around 100 lb+ bags of feed.

It is a measure of how technology change accelerates that the third week in December 2011, just about twenty-six years later, I bought a Brother HL-2270DW laser printer for $99.98.  It only weighed 15.4 pounds.

The original Apple LaserWriter printed eight pages per minute of 300 DPI text and graphics using a 12 Mhz Motorola 68000 chip.

The Brother printer that I bought in 2011 printed at 27 pages per minute at up to 2400 X 600 DPI.  It had a 200 Mhz processor.  The Brother printer comes with Ethernet and wireless connectivity.  The Apple LaserWriter only had LocalTalk, a very slow but revolutionary network for 1985.

The original LaserWriter were heavy and expensive. Few of them made it into home offices in the early days. The most recent Brother Laser that I purchased was only $85. (Read More)

Connecting Electronically Not Always So Easy

The Newton 2000 that I used for email in 1999 when I was working for Apple

Electronic communications were not always as easy as tapping an app on your Smartphone. For years most electronic communications were stove-piped with almost all communication limited to internal emails to people who worked for the same company. Even once the Internet made it possible to communicate between companies and organizations, getting hooked up and communicating was an evolving challenge. Read more at this link.