Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

My Close Personal Friend Bill Gates

By Cam Mather

In a recent blog post I mentioned that I once spoke at a conference where Bill Gates was also a speaker. Believe it or not, some members of my own family questioned that claim! I can understand my daughter Katie not remembering the event since she wasn’t even born yet and Michelle would have been 8 months pregnant with Katie so I guess I’ll cut her some slack for not remembering the momentous occasion.

Here’s the proof. And I know what you’re saying… “But Cam, you know how to use Photoshop and you could have just cut and pasted that together.” Well if you think that my need for validation on this subject is so big that I’d go to that effort you’d be absolutely correct, but in this case, I really didn’t fabricate it.

As I recall Bill Gates jetted in, was whisked to the keynote by armed security guards, and then left immediately for the airport. I, on the other hand, drove my 12-year-old Toyota Tercel from Burlington, probably had to pay to get in to the event and they had run out of the cool conference binders by the time I got there. In 1988 the whole desktop publishing world was brand new and I wrote a regular column about it in a trade magazine. My column led to the invitation to speak at the event. My time slot followed right after a guy from Apple, and my talk was also very “Apple-centric” since PageMaker, the software that started the desktop publishing industry, was designed for the Mac. I can remember that about 20 minutes into the session there was almost a mutiny in the audience because they wanted me to talk about PCs. I had sold Windows-based machines for Computer Land (another of one of my many previous careers) and we had one for the business, but Windows has always been a disaster of an operating system and most people in the business at the time were going with Macintosh computers. For my presentation I used these really high tech acetates that I printed on my laser printer and displayed with an overhead projector. That was state of the art in 1988!

In this photo my cousin Dave Flett is standing in front of our Windows-based computer. I had convinced Dave to join me in starting our business, Aztext Electronic Publishing, right after he got out university. We got a loan for some computer equipment and spent $7,200 on a 300 dpi Apple LaserWriter printer which today would have 10 times the resolution and cost $80. We ran Aztext from an office in my basement and since we weren’t making any money, Dave was forced to board with us for a while, sleeping in our basement. We eventually learned to run a humidifier down there because Dave’s shoes kept getting moldy. The previous owner of the house had put stucco on the cold air return, which ran the length of the basement. At 5’8” I comfortably fit underneath it but at 7’2” (or whatever height my cousin is), the stucco was right at Dave’s forehead level and I think he walked around with jagged pieces of stucco embedded in his head most of the time.

We eventually moved to a real office and Dave decided to go back to school to pursue his “CA” designation. After a few years spent growing the business and eventually even having employees, I got tired of spending too much time away from home and my young family. So I moved the business back into the house and just ran it myself. My daughters spent many hours playing in the basement and even had a table and chairs set up for their “paperwork.” Occasionally they would squabble but if the phone rang they knew that they needed to be quiet. From time to time they would forget and their noise level would rise while I was trying to sound professional on the phone. At that point I would give them the old “finger across the throat” cut off signal to warn them to be quiet or they would be banned from the office for a week. It seemed to work well. I guess that’s the advantage of having girls as I’m not so sure young boys would be as cooperative in an office setting.

At one point we were involved with a computerized score sheet fantasy baseball game. One night a week during baseball season we would download the stats from the programmer in California and play simulated games. The results would then have to be mailed out the next day. We used two dot matrix printers to run the results printouts and it took about 18 hours to complete the job. Those printers would run all night and I’d get up every couple of hours all night to check them to make sure that they hadn’t jammed. It was a nightmare and I eventually sold out of that part of the business. This photo shows Nicole with boxes of  the trophies before we shipped them out to the winners in each league.

Thinking of my time on the cutting edge of electronic publishing technology reminds me of the theme of alienation that has been part and parcel of my direction in life. I was always a Macintosh user when the rest of the world used Windows, the single worst operating system on the planet. It’s funny how things change, as Apple’s market capitalization is now larger than Microsoft’s. I could have kept pushing myself as a consultant in the growing electronic publishing world, but I just couldn’t do the whole suit and hand-shaking thing.

When we became disenchanted with the public school that our daughters were attending, we offered to educate them at home and they both jumped at the chance. Michelle looked after the rest of the curriculum and I agreed to teach them French. After about two lessons, the business took priority and their French lessons were forgotten about. They’ll never be able to work for the Federal government in Canada and it’s all my fault. Eventually though they both chose to attend high school. They both have undergraduate degrees and Katie is going for her Masters in Anthropology next year, so I guess their six years of being educated at home hasn’t held them back.

For more than two decades now Michelle and I have eaten a “plant based” diet and while many people are becoming aware of the environmental, health and ethical implications of a diet based on animal protein, we are still in the minority in our choice of diet.

Then we moved to our home that is completely off-the-grid, and joined an even more exclusive group in North America. Trying to integrate into a small town we will always be outsiders, but through our various activities we are becoming known as “those off-gridders on the Mountain Road.” And now we have basically given up earning a “real” income to pursue publishing books about sustainability. What a crazy concept that is.

A few years ago, I discovered a group called “SWITCH” in Kingston. It was comprised of people interested in promoting renewable energy. When I started going 7 or 8 years ago there might be 9 or 10 of us at the monthly meeting. Now with the Feed In Tariffs that are being offered by our government, there’s now money to be made in renewable energy and there are routinely more than a 100 people at the meetings. The group has become very corporate. With the government incentives there is a feeding frenzy with companies out to get their piece of the action. My concern is that since most of these people weren’t at the meetings years ago and obviously don’t share my enthusiasm for green power for environmental reasons, they’ll be gone as soon as the government incentives are gone.

I think alienation is a common theme in literature. Many of the great literary characters share this feeling of never really fitting in, like Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. After writing a book about preparing for challenging times, when so many just seem set on business and life continuing along the way it always has, I realize that I just don’t fit in. I’m good with that. I’ve always marched to the beat of different drummer and with every newscast of foreign defaults in Europe or the staggering debt of most developed nations, I’m pretty comfortable being debt-free, heating bill-free, and having a root cellar full of potatoes that’ll last the winter. My years as a Mac-using, vegetarian, homeschooling off-gridder have prepared me well!

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Note from Michelle – I just wanted to let our blog readers know that for a limited time we have dropped all of the prices of our books and DVDs by $5. This offer is only available when you purchase directly from our website at If you’ve been meaning to buy one of our titles, or perhaps want to give one as a gift, now is the time!


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