The Old & the New & Staying Flexible

The Old & the New
& Staying Flexible

It seems advances in technology and its applications in day-to-day life are being reworked and upgraded with increasing speed and without warning. This becomes acutely evident when I traveled outside of New England – a fairly rare occurrence.

Learning to use a computer, a cell phone – piece of cake. Now it seems you need an app for nearly everything; getting boarding passes for the airline, getting a ride from point A to point B, or paying for a parking spot.

Tasks I assume simple and straightforward now require a smart phone and either cell a signal or high-speed internet service. A radio in a rental car shouldn’t be too hard to navigate, but the “old world” operator inputs are so different, it is hard to know where to even start.

Some of this could be explained by the transition to the internet-based economy that started close to twenty years ago and has really taken off in the last ten years.

Most people (especially those under fifty) are able to meet a majority of their social and material needs through Amazon, Spotify, Facebook and Twitter – nearly instant gratification with just a few clicks. I was recently at a small local store that lost its internet access and pretty much put a stop to all transactions.

Navigating between the old pre-internet world and the current internet world is challenging. A handful a years ago, there was a big fight between John Deere and John Deere farmers that wanted to repair their own tractors, but needed proprietary software to even get started.

Just recently, Apple started offering a suitcase of tools for repairing your own iPhone. A great idea in theory, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

You could rent the tools, but if you don’t return them, they charge your credit card $1500. But the real kicker is even with the specialized tools, most of the repairs are hours long and remain very challenging.

Recently, Canadian N-News subscriber Bob Paterson (see his letter on page 12 and his photos on the back cover) wrote in with a comment. Our ongoing email conversation about tractors, motorcycles, local papers and the dichotomy of “the old” and “the new” spurred Bob to write about a farm supply store that had a parking lot with Tesla charging stations on one side and sheds for horse and buggies on the other. (There is a significant Mennonite community in the area.)

stay flexible

That made me think about the intense flexibility we all need these days to continue to balance the apps and the horse and buggies.

Social Distancing Versus Distant Socializing

Social Distancing Versus Distant Socializing

It was a very strange start to 2020. On the second day of the new year, my Uncle Gerard, the man that started this magazine and who showed me my first camera and helped create a passion in me for art and photography, passed away.

Shortly after that, the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in China. A few weeks passed and it was here. Suddenly, our lives are all about handwashing and social distancing to try and slow the spread of the disease.

At first blush, this wasn’t a big challenge for me. I have a home office that is full of computers, books, manuals, and all of the things that are sold through the magazine. Though I used to have people helping me here (first Sarah, then Jill, Becky, finally Rowan), that is no longer the case. A few years ago, when Rowan needed to move on to a full-time job, I didn’t replace her.

Taking over fulfillment of orders and updating the database leaves me very little free time, especially when I am putting an issue together. I spend every weekday, pretty much by myself, with an occasional neighbor stopping by for eggs or to borrow a tool. I go to the post office once a day, sometimes twice. Beyond that, I am home.

Given all this, I have been experiencing the opposite of social distancing. My wife (who is a social worker at our local VA hospital) starting working from home in April. My older daughter’s college stopped having in-person classes as did my younger daughter’s high school. What was once a quiet workspace during the week has become a small office with everyone doing their own thing and fighting for bandwidth.

Social Distancing Versus Distant Socializing imageThis got me thinking about how tractors naturally work to socially distance us. Generally speaking, when you are out mowing the field, plowing the garden or moving snow, you are alone on the tractor. (And for me, it is a meditative state at times.) Even when working on repairing or maintaining a tractor, there aren’t a bunch of people around, you are probably working alone.

At the same time, the N-News Magazine has, for the past 35 years, offered a type of distant socializing where subscribers get to look into someone else’s shop or hear about someone else’s memories from the printed page. It has acted as a form of cohesion in a world that seems to be tearing itself apart.

So, for the little bit of time that you sit reading this issue, think about all the ways this hobby and our collective memories have helped hold us all together.

Antique Communication

Communication is a curious endeavor. It is one of the things that (supposedly) makes us humans superior to all other creatures. (That statement is worth a book all on its own – human civilization is short and we have big problems getting along, so “superior” might be the wrong descriptor.) But over the last few hundred years, our methods for communication have evolved so dramatically it is mind bending. Continue reading

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things Amazon has Alexa, Apple has Siri, Google has Google Digital Assistance, Microsoft has Cortana and Samsung has Bixby. Why do I care? I don’t really. Don’t get me wrong – I have been a technology enthusiast since the 1980s. I love being able to stream a movie or order some esoteric book or tool that I can’t find at my local store. (I still go to the local store as often as possible for fear the local store might not be there some day soon.) And for communicating with my kids, my parents, my friends and the N-News readership, technology offers quick ways to interact. The N-News office has multiple computers in it and I couldn’t … Continue reading

Work, Money & Happiness

Work, Money & Happiness Most people in Vermont have at least two or three jobs – it is just the nature of living in a rural part of the country. I am no exception. Certainly the N-News is my primary job and it takes up full time hours (sometimes more), but there are other things I do as well. My extended family has grown garlic for the past twenty years. We have a few small plots growing a total of eight to ten thousand heads every year. It is a labor-intensive crop since much of the work has to be done by hand. It brings in a little extra income, makes for some good family and friends time and keeps … Continue reading

Seize The Day

Seize the Day Regular readers of the N-News know I always have a pile of books I’m working my way through. Some are oriented towards tractors, motors and biographies of people involved in these areas. But I also read with the goal of finding some deeper meaning, both philosophical and aesthetic. Sometimes it’s possible to glimpse those goals through the books I review in the magazine, such as the two black and white photo books of barns in this issue, which offer a sense of place and history. This past quarter, I have been spending time reading Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by author and surgeon Atul Gawande. If you haven’t heard of him, I encourage … Continue reading

On the Seat & In Your Head

On the Seat & In Your Head There is something about driving a tractor that is so similar to riding a motorcycle it is uncanny. Obviously it isn’t speed or that feeling of the wind in your hair. Nor is it about the physics of counter steering or leaning into a corner. But there is something there in the “non-thinking” aspect of both endeavors. When I am running the mower on the tractor, or more recently cultivating the garlic with the 861 a few months ago, I am not actively thinking about anything. I am purely in that moment. I am observing where the front wheels are, glancing over my shoulder to watch the discs cut through the earth, focusing … Continue reading

Machine Age Patina and the Orbit of Attraction

There is something about the aesthetic of machine age objects that enchants many of us – a humanistic element or perhaps a beautiful simplicity. It would be easy to forget that the culture of the late 19th and early 20th century promoted the concept of machines replacing man and animal in doing work. When seen from our perspective now, industrial design of that period (say, 1900-1960) looks amazingly elegant. With its smoothness, its “form-follows-function” simplicity and its straight forward conception, nearly anything could have a sense of awe and inspired grace – including the Heathkit condenser tester from the January issue. Add the patina of age, and you have a formula that culminates with a directness of design, and in … Continue reading

Richard Barsotti’s Ford Truck

My neighbor Richard restores vintage motorcycles. Harleys, Nortons and Triumphs have come through the shop. Even more Vincents and BMWs have graced the doors of Wasted Spark Motorcycle. ( owners hope to get their bikes back to factory specs and Richard is the man for the job. Fifteen years ago, Richard decided he wanted a vintage pickup truck – something to cruise around in when he needed to move more than he could carry on a motorcycle. Continue reading

How Could I Help?

“How Could I Help?” Perhaps the four nicest words you could ever hear. It is that simple. My youngest daughter is about to become a teenager. She has been exhibiting the signs of teenage hood for a while; eye-rolling, exasperation, a general unwillingness to do any of the family chores. You know the story. But a few weeks ago I saw the positive signs as well, the light on the other side of the tunnel. She saw I was struggling to get the next issue of the magazine done, keep on top of the fast-growing late spring lawn, plant the garden and maintain the garlic plots (and the long list of other distractions) and she said, “How could I help?” … Continue reading

Equinox & Mud – Spring 2014 Editorial

 Equinox & Mud For whatever reason, I have always looked upon spring and autumn as transitional seasons. Of course, they represent a demarcation in a cyclical solar event, our trip around the sun every year. We just passed the point at which the earth is half way towards its opposite solstice, the longest day of the year, June 21th . (The other is the shortest day of the year December 21st). The spring (or vernal) equinox, March 20th and the autumn equinox, September 22rd, are the two days a year when the sun is directly over the equator, meaning both the northern and southern hemispheres have the same day length. It feels spring and autumn are the most volatile of … Continue reading

My Eyes and My Stomach – January 2014

The holidays can be difficult for me. I feel bombarded by an overabundance of great food, pressure to meet the expectations of the kids and family, getting the homestead ready for winter, all the while trying finishing the January issue of N-News. Sometimes, I just want to escape and go read a book by the wood stove. It is hard enough to find the time to do that, and harder still to decide what I  should be reading. Now that the holidays are behind us, we have the coldest months of the year ahead. (Well, with the exception of the handful of you in the southern hemisphere.) The axis of the earth is starting to slowly come back around and … Continue reading

Simplicity And Acceptance

If only life was as straight forward as trying to get your tractor to start. With the tractor, there are just a few primary things you need: fuel, air and spark. If you have these in adequate supply, you move to a secondary line of thinking, “How’s the timing and fuel mixture?” With enough time and effort (and parts), you will get your tractor started. Living a life well, is much more complex. There are so many variables, most falling into the gray areas, and few seem black and white. Growing garlic (or any crop) is somewhere in the middle. If you plant your seeds properly, conditions are right and you weed it on a semi-regular basis, chances are, you … Continue reading

Rhubarb & Waiting

Every year, the rhubarb is the first thing to really explode out of the garden. And it keeps growing all summer long-it even chokes out the bishop’s weed that grows all around it, but can’t survive under its massive leaves. This year, on the first unofficial summer weekend (Memorial Day) it snowed in central Vermont. In fact, if your place was above 1600ft, you got 2-4 inches. Good thing we didn’t have the tomatoes and basil in the garden yet. But the rhubarb just didn’t care. It sent out more stalks, laughing at the frozen precipitation and the strawberries shivering down to their roots. But rhubarb, for all of its exuberance, is not one of my favorites in the garden. … Continue reading