Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Flying My Luddite Freak Flag

By Cam Mather

I started selling microcomputers in 1982. In 1984 Michelle and I bought our first Apple Macintosh. In 1987 I started Aztext Electronic Publishing with my cousin David Flett using computers and laser printers for corporate communication. I went through all the great changes in the industry. Lotus beat out Multiplan. Excel beat out Lotus. Word Perfect beat out Word. Microsoft Word beat out Word Perfect. I sold local area networks and installed computers in fancy offices and on the continuous steel casting line at Dofasco. As I drove around Barton Street in Hamilton on my way to Dofasco, torpedo trucks with glowing steel ingots the size of a midsize car often pulled up along side me and I worried about the heat melting the paint off of my car. In about 1985 I started selling and using “Adobe PageMaker” which created the electronic publishing industry. I purchased the upgrades and learned all of the new features from the original PageMaker to PageMaker 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 and then onto Adobe Creative Suite 1, CS2 and I’ve just spent $800 to upgrade to Creative Suite 5 which includes Dreamweaver and Flash Catalyst for “seamless web design” from my PageMaker, Photoshop and Illustrator files.

When we moved off the electricity grid I learned how to install solar panels, and charge controllers and weld solar trackers. I welded the frame for my solar domestic hot water heater and did all the plumbing myself. I installed my own wind turbine, from digging the holes and making rebar frames, to finishing the concrete and doing all the wiring and assembly work to get the tower up. When we moved off-grid I put up a phone pole on a hill and installed a point-to-point phone extender system, which took radio frequencies and converted them into phone protocol so we had a phone here. Oh, and I powered it with a solar panel, charge controller and battery system.

I figured out what was wrong with my satellite internet after it was struck by lightning after spending 10 years of watching the complexity of the internet grow from dial up to dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) and realizing that my computer created a unique IP whenever I log in.

I invested $2,000 in Final Cut Pro, a video-editing suite that allows us to produce our own DVDs, and spent many hours teaching myself how to use it. I use PowerPoint for my presentations, Toast to burn DVDs, and dozens of other applications in the daily work I do with website management and book and DVD production. Right now I’ve started exporting our books into e-Book format since e-Book readers seem to finally have reached a critical enough mass that it’s worth doing.

And now, at 51, I’M BURNED OUT!

I believe my brain has reached a critical point of information absorption and it’s starting to rebel. It’s screaming “Enough already!” “Danger Will Robinson, no more room for new information.”

Right now I’m looking at a chart with 14 electronic book formats (mobi-pocket, Kindle, ePub, HTML) across the top and 22 eReaders on the vertical axis (iPad, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader). The chart lists yes or no for which readers can read which format, and it’s a nightmare. It makes VHS vs. Betamax or Blue-Ray vs. HD DVD look like pillow fights in terms of a market standard developing.

I upgraded my InDesign Creative Suite software to version 5 so that I could export my book files to ePub. I foolishly thought that this would allow me to reach the broadest cross section of eReaders. I thought I could use all my existing knowledge base and just take the books we’ve published and export them elegantly to ePub and everyone would magically be able to read them. It’s amazing how delusional one can become after 25 years living with accelerated technological evolution.

I have 20 new pages of white papers from Adobe telling me how to format my books to meet their Digital Editions format, which uses Adobe Content Server. Basically it means I have to tear apart every book we’ve done and completely reformat them in a newer very restrictive way. If we published novels this would be great, but most of our books have 500 photos and graphics in them, which make them wonderful resources, but a nightmare to format. Oh, and our books have all been printed in black and white but we’re doing the e-Books in colour since many of the eReaders use colour so I’ve spent the last week retrieving colour versions of all our photos from 157 different hard drives and CDs. All those Adobe Illustrator vector based graphics I created all have to be converted to JPEG or GIFs. If I use GIF I have to use the “Adaptive format” which does not dither the image but which uses interlacing.

IT’S MADNESS! And not only does it never end, it is getting much worse.

So yes, I’m really ready now to pass the torch to the younger generation. I’ve decided to put my eggs in the food basket. The United Nations says its food index is the highest it’s ever been, meaning the time may be right to try and earn a living growing food. We’ve toyed with it in the past. It’s been a hobby, and we’ve given much of our harvest away. But I’m ready to try and earn a living doing it.

When I see the devastation to people’s lives that happens when we become too dependent on technology it makes me pause. A GM truck plant in a southern US State is closing because it can’t source a single part from Japan that the whole assembly line requires. Japanese factories are closing because of a lack of electricity. The cascading failure at a nuclear plant is having cascading consequences across one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced societies on the planet, and now across a global economy. Yuck!

I’ve decided. I’m going to try and migrate my life from the world of bandwidth, aspect ratios, interlacing, and terabytes to garden pests, solar energy, chlorophyll and soil. Technology has robbed my soul of substance. I’m off to try and recharge with the simple abundance of growing food.

Michelle’s Note: Cam’s frustration with technology goes wayyy back. Here’s a cartoon that our friend Joe Ollmann did a few years back of our home office. As I calmly sip tea my computer screen says “PageMangler 9.1” and Cam is on the phone with a demanding customer while his computer screen shows “Fatal Error.”

The little girl in the bottom left is our daughter Katie who is celebrating her 23rd birthday today. Happy Birthday Katie!



  1. Larry

    I have to agree. The “more more more” society we live in makes my brain hurt too. I’m quite content with my cell phone that doesn’t even have a camera, and only works when I put 10 dollars on it.

    Here’s a related story for you Cam.

  2. Larry

    And, yes…I get the irony that I get your blog instantly from word press through my email. 😉

  3. Right on Cam! The Tamworth 4 corners is yours for your market!

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