Bookstore: Selling over the internet


I hesitate to write this installment, because even though it is a topic where I am pretty well informed, what I have to say will be jumbled and idiosyncratic and incoherent. This is for two reasons: (1) selling over the internet is still new enough that the technology is raw and unreliable and not for the faint of heart; and (2) unlike many of the things I write about, I came to it not as a novice but with a pretty deep prior knowledge of the technology, and so what I’m able to say may not be useful or edifying for novices.

First, whether or not you actually sell over the internet, it is important for even the smallest of businesses to have an internet presence, be it only a single web page with a brief summary of what you do and how you can be contacted. More and more the Yellow Pages is a last resort for people in search of a service or product; the first resort is Google or some other search engine. One to four simple but informative web pages is probably the simplest and most effective advertising available to a small scale business. And the cost is very, very cheap; I see, for example, that GoDaddy offers an economy account which is more than capable of what I’m suggesting, for just $44/year.

Second, you can “sell over the internet” without actually transacting business online. If you have a small range of products that aren’t impulse buys, you could probably do well to just provide information and prices on your website, asking that customers contact you via phone or email to place an order. The drawback to this is that the simpler and safer the transaction for you, the more complicated and delayed for the customer. Simplest and safest would be to ask for payment in advance via a money order; this requires the customer to go buy a money order and mail it, knowing that the order won’t ship until it has been received. Somewhat harder for you (and easier for the customer) would be to accept a personal check; you can be safe by waiting for it to clear before you ship the order (thus increasing the delay for the customer) or you can take a chance by shipping when the check arrives. Easier yet for the customer, but much riskier for you, is to take a customer’s word that they will send a check and ship right away.

The next level of technology would be to still avoid online ordering but allow the customer to pay via a service such as PayPal or Google Checkout. This has the major benefit of letting your customer pay via credit card. I know very little about PayPal. I do know that Google Checkout allows a form of invoicing, where you would put together your customer’s order and email them an invoice which contains a link that allows them to pay you through their Google Checkout account. All this requires on your end is that you have a business checking account; every few days Google will deposit accumulated funds there. The transaction fee for Google Checkout is 2% of the sale plus 20 cents (and until the end of 2007 Google is waiving all transaction fees); the fee for PayPal is 2.9% plus 30 cents.

Email is theoretically the simplest and cheapest way to conduct these transactions with a customer, but in practice a phone call is often more comfortable for the customer and easier for you since it avoids the need for back-and-forth emails to clarify things. It’s very easy and cheap to get an 800 number these days, with a tiny monthly charge (e.g. $1 or so) plus a cheap per-minute rate, slightly more expensive than cheap long distance (I think we pay about eight cents per minute).

I think that’s about as far as you can go without providing online ordering. The state of online ordering software is getting better, but is still horrendously complicated from the point of view of a seller. When we first started out in 2001, I built a custom website on a hosting service that cost $160/month (similar capabilities are now available for about $5/month). I had to purchase an add-on software package for $300 that was poorly documented and constantly going wrong—possibly because I hadn’t configured it properly, but with such poor documentation and support there was no way to tell. And I had to arrange for the merchant account (which costs money) that would allow me to charge credit cards (which costs around 3% of the sale), and get that all working properly with my software.

After a couple of years of frustration, which increased with the size of the store, I discovered Yahoo Stores, a setup I would still recommend for requiring the least technical knowledge on the part of the seller. It is possible using Yahoo Stores to set up a store in less than an hour; it probably won’t be very attractive, and you’ll want to spend time polishing the look (or paying someone to do it for you), but it will work—very important! Plus you’ll be one of the million or so Yahoo stores, benefiting from the robustness of software that has been pummeled by all one million of them. And Yahoo also takes care of the mechanics of credit card charging; you point them at your business checking account, and they more or less do the rest.

The cost for a Yahoo store that does less than $100,000 in sales is $40/month plus 1.5% of each sale. This is in addition to the 3% or so that the credit card companies charge for a sale. This was justifiable (sort of) for us when we were charging full retail for our books, but when we dropped our markup to 15% these costs became very painful. But I didn’t know what to do about it.

Then in December I learned about Google Checkout. (I could have learned similar things earlier if I had studied PayPal.) Using this system, your software is only responsible for assembling the order and forwarding it to Google, which takes care of gathering the billing and shipping info, making the credit card charge, and placing the funds in your business account, all for only 2% of the sale amount plus 20 cents. Thus if I could get off Yahoo and only use Google Checkout for charge cards, I could save the extra 1% the credit card companies were taking from me, plus the merchant account fees (about $20 per month), plus the 1.5% that Yahoo took. And if I could find cheaper hosting, I could save that too.

I hadn’t paid attention to how cheap hosting has become. It is very cheap these days. Our new service charges us $7/month (if we paid two years in advance), and the bandwidth and disk space are way beyond anything I’ll ever use. I expect the change will save us over $1000 a year, more during 2007 when Google is waiving its fees.

Of course, what you get is little more than a powerful computing resource connected to the internet; what you fill it with is up to you. Our website design has evolved over the past six years, but is fairly simple both to the eye and in its underlying design, depending on a few dead-simple graphic elements, book and CD covers, and lots and lots of text. It would probably be possible to build and maintain such a website with a simple and cheap visual HTML editor like Microsoft Publisher (and I suppose such things must be available for free, but I’m not familiar with them). You could even do it with a text editor without too much heartache. But I do enough with websites that I own a copy of Dreamweaver, and while I don’t think a small operation can justify the cost, it is a joy to use. (If you’re interested, check for educational pricing at Academic Superstore, where homeschoolers qualify for deep discounts.)

In designing your website, I strongly recommend that you emphasize useful content, particularly if your product offerings are unusual. It always surprises me that many of the books and CDs we offer will show up in the first ten results of a Google search. There are lots of people who will tell you tricks and techniques to get such high search engine rankings, but I’ve never done anything along those lines. I have to figure that our high rankings are due to two things: (1) not many people sell what we sell; and (2) our product descriptions are packed with useful information.



We’ve always been intrigued by the vignette in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy where Almanzo snags a few donuts as he passes through the kitchen one afternoon; apparently that’s what the donuts were there for. (Between-meal snacking is very rare in our house.) This afternoon Maggie decided to make some donuts using the Little House Cookbook recipe and some of our newly rendered lard. Not greasy at all.

The non-greasiness made me think of a letter that Dr. Joseph Mercola recently received:


My company is researching the production of biodiesel from used vegetable oil, and has contacted manufacturers which we suspected would produce the most waste oil. What comes to mind? Well, greasy potato chips (just look at your fingers after you eat them!) and donuts came to mind, after contacting the obvious home-run hitters, McDonald’s and KFC.

Contrary to what you might think, it seems the worst abusers of vegetable oils were not McDonald’s, but potato chip and donut manufacturers.

One manufacturer replied to my offer to purchase their used oil with the explanation that they hardly have any used oil left-over after the process. Tens of thousands of gallons come in, barely hundreds come out.

The reason? This manufacturer recycles the oil until it is entirely absorbed by the food. All that dirty oil eventually ends up in the potato chips themselves.

One problem that occurs after re-using vegetable oils is that FFA’s (free fatty acids) concentrate. The manufacturer volunteered this fact and noted that their solution is to chemically treat the oil to reduce the FFA’s, after which it is sent back to produce more potato chips. Mmmm — re-used vegetable oil treated with chemicals to reduce free fatty acids!

It turns out that these oils are so bad that biodiesel manufacturers shun them! In other words, they are difficult to catalyze into methyl-esters (biodiesel) and producers are reluctant to use them for engine fuel, yet people still eat the potato chips!

That brings us to the last time I ate a donut, those nicely-colored sweet confections. If you only saw the waste products. My offer to pick up one donut shop’s used oil for free was met by much enthusiasm by the management, and they told me that I could pick up a 55-gallon drum once every 6 months.

Did you ever go inside the donut shop and look at how much oil they have in those vats? Now consider that they only dispose of 55 gallons every 6 months! They would have given me more if they had it because I offered to pick it up for free, while they have to pay a renderer over $ 200 / month for disposal.

One closed-down shop asked me to pick up their barrel of used vegetable oil from their parking lot because it was leaking and causing ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE. I tried to drain the oil out, but it was so thick and sludgy that it clogged my pump. I was considering using a heavy-duty sewage pump to drain it, but decided not to, because the thick, smelly contents of that barrel were not usable as an ingredient for fuel, and refining it would be too expensive.

The material had an uncanny resemblance to sewage. The only reason I knew it wasn’t, was that it had a sweet, donut-like smell to it, but entirely unpleasant.

Scientific facts like knowing the carcinogen content of these “foods” is interesting, but if you want real motivation to avoid junk foods, go to the back of the “restaurant” were they dispose of their environmentally-harmful by-product and take a look. Also, you can ask them why they have to keep the stuff in barrels and wait for an expensive disposal service instead of just sending it down the drain?

The reason: the Environmental Protection Agency does not allow it?

The utility companies know that one of the reasons that raw sewage leaks out of the sewers and into our public water supply is that restaurants still illegally dump their used oil down their sinks, causing build-up and clogs to occur. I saw a picture of the clog once — it looked like a blocked artery.

Go ahead, have another potato chip — you are doing our environment a favor by “disposing” of that garbage with your own internal garbage disposal system. Your sink’s garbage disposal system will wear out every five years and can be replaced for about $80, but how will you replace your stomach, liver and kidneys and arteries?


Dennis Meizys
Maryland Green Power Co.

More notes

This morning I stumbled across a feature of OneNote 2007 that brought a smile to my face. I was reading through some internet pages about the Homestead Act, and found a passage that was worth saving, so I copied the passage from the browser and pasted it onto a OneNote page. The passage appeared, of course, but at the bottom there was a note that said “Pasted from” and then gave a link to the page the passage had come from. Invaluable.

Debbie has a new cheese recipe book, and decided to try their version of farmhouse cheddar, somewhat different from the recipe that Rikki Carroll gives. (We bought the book because none of the recipes require pH testing, and we don’t want to invest in a pH tester right now.) We were also testing our improved cheesemaking setup, which allows us to process four gallons of milk on the stove rather than two gallons in the sink.

The recipe encouraged the maker to eat the cheese at any stage, so we nibbled on the curds, then again on the salted curds, and then the next day after we had pressed it overnight. The unsalted curds were very bland, the salted curds a bit better, and after 24 hours the cheese had begun to take on a slight cheesy flavor, reminiscent of the asadero cheese that I often ate at my grandparents’ place in New Mexico. We will continue to age it and nibble at it to see how the flavor develops.

Asadero is a wonderful cheese, especially for quesadillas and cheese dip. It is not aged at all, but best eaten right after it is made. Which makes me think it would be a great cheese for home use when you are generating lots of extra milk. I’m getting hungrier just thinking about it, and I’m looking for a recipe—no luck so far.

Eating the squeaky, rubbery cheese curds reminded me of my days as a student at Michigan State, which began as an ag school. When hungry and low on money we would often stop by the dairy store to see what was in stock. That was the first place I ever tasted smoked cheese (cheddar), and fresh cheese curds as well, which they sold in sizeable bags for next to nothing. There was also the occasional experiment, such as chocolate cheese, which tasted kind of like fudge with a cheese overtone and cheese texture; fine, but since I’m not a fan of fudge I didn’t have it often.

Benjamin had his second birthday yesterday. Our celebrations become ever simpler affairs; for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Debbie scheduled meals she knew he would like, and instead of a cake we had banana pudding. There was a store-bought card from Mom and Dad, and the other kids worked together to make a homemade card, a blue ukulele just like the real one he loves to strum on while he sings (what he sings isn’t clear yet). No gift.

We’re still feeding hay, fetching it as we need it. Originally we bought six bales when we got Chuck the calf in October, but he hardly needed any until January because there was lots of grass in the pasture. But with two new adult cows we needed much more.

Just before the new cows came I stopped by Goldenrod Feed in South Fork and picked up seven bales of wonderful alfalfa hay, especially nice because the bales were compressed to about half the usual size. I would have bought more but I was in the minivan, so I made a note to come back the next week with the pickup. When Chris and I got there, of course it was all gone, and so we bought fifteen bales of not-so-great stuff, all we could stack in the pickup.

That was nearly gone by yesterday, when we went back to Goldenrod again. This time the hay was better, but still not compressed. Fortunately, there was an older fellow hanging around who was not only glad to help us load the truck but had grown up stacking square bales, and he arranged them so that twenty-seven bales fit easily. That should hold us for a couple of weeks, at which point we’re hoping that the grass will have started to grow.

I’m just about done reading Gene Logsdon’s All Flesh is Grass, his book about how to get started in pasture farming. We’ll be carrying it in the bookstore as soon as I get a description written. It’s as inspiring as his Contrary Farmer, maybe more so because it shows the reader how simple it is to get started with keeping animals on pasture. This year in the bookstore we plan to focus on adding books that do a good job of introducing folks to the nuts and bolts of activities that are central to subsistence farming. Logsdon’s book is not only one of those, it teaches a very low-pressure, low-risk approach to getting a start on raising animals.

Partly because of Gene Logsdon’s book we’ve decided to add a perimiter fence around the nine-acre field across the road. And following Logsdon’s advice we’re going to use cattle panels to do it. It will be more expensive than the next cheaper option, woven wire fence, which Logsdon also likes a lot. But the advantages of cattle panels are significant, especially for a novice: more easily raised, more easily repaired, more easily configured, longer lasting, no need for a strand of electric or barbed wire along the top.

Originally we were going to use just simple electric fencing to contain the cows, but Logsdon points out that all electric fences “leak” animals, leading to sometimes unpleasant dealings with neighbors; that was enough to persuade me that I should take responsibility by insuring the animals won’t get out. Inside the perimeter we will use simple electric fencing to create paddocks and to strip-feed the forage to the animals, maybe adding more permanent paddock fences once we know where they should go.

Random software notes

Software has been much on my mind lately because of the multiple transitions I’ve had to make in the past few weeks—to a new web hosting service, new internet store software, new weblog software, a new operating system, new software that replaces the stuff that no longer works under the new operating system. I take on these tasks more brashly than most people might, since I used to program for a living and so have some hope that if I get into technical trouble I can reason my way out of it. As a result I’ve found out some things that might be useful to other people.

  • The Yahoo Store setup is faithful and robust, especially good for people who don’t want the headaches that can come from having to maintain internet store software yourself. And although it isn’t extremely expensive, much cheaper options are available if you are able to do store maintenance yourself; I figure I’ll be saving more than $1000 per year by the switch I just made.

  • If you’re looking for open cart internet store software, Zen Cart is a good choice. I managed to move our store from Yahoo to Zen Cart with minimal trouble, the new store looking mostly like the old store except in a few ways which I think it looks better. And it is widely used, which always helps with open source software; e.g. programmers were quick to add support for the new Google Checkout system.

  • When dealing with an internet store, it helps to be at least minimally familiar with the Unix utilities for text manipulation. I had to copy 200+ product descriptions to the new store, descriptions that contained thousands of links based on the old store structure. In about ten minutes I was able to create a script that reformatted each of those links so that they worked with the new store structure (which is very different). It would have taken me days to do the same thing by hand.

  • My old weblog was done using Movable Type, which was perfectly adequate, but MT isn’t among the weblogs that new hosting service provides. I could have installed it myself, but instead I decided to try WordPress, an open source program which they do provide. I am very impressed, especially with the latest version; it fixes many of my gripes with MT, and some things (like the control panel) just look nicer.

  • Wikis are fun to work with, and I like the MediaWiki software (also open source). But it takes a lot of information to make a wiki truly useful. I have a back burner project where I’m collecting together information on a fairly broad topic; it took long enough just to create the topic and subtopic pages, and because I only work on it in fits and starts the growth of the wiki is pitifully slow. But this is an observation about information, not the software itself; it’s the reason that it took Carla Emery thirty years to put together The Encyclopedia of Country Living, page by tedious page.

  • All in all, Microsoft Vista is pretty good. It probably wasn’t worth the pain of upgrading, but the pain is over and there are some nice things about the new environment. I like the new look, and don’t mind that Macintosh users had it years ago. Many of the system utilities are more polished. One thing I gave up on, though, was the hybrid sleep mode, where the machine goes into a low-power state and wakes up quickly when you press a key. Sometimes it worked properly, but too often the machine decided to wake up for its own mysterious reasons. I’ve gone back to hibernation, which does almost the same thing but powers off the machine completely. It seems to take about thirty seconds to power back up, with all your programs running as you left them, and that’s plenty fast for me.

  • I am still using Windows Live Writer to write posts for my weblog. This is less important with the new WordPress, which auto-saves your writing every thirty seconds or so, but it is still more comfortable using a customized application running locally to write and edit posts, rather than doing it in a browser over the internet. And I’m happy to discover that Live Writer doesn’t break the comments feature of WordPress like it still does with Movable Type.

  • My CD burning software, Nero Burning Rom v6, did not survive the Vista update and I didn’t want to pay the upgrade fee just for the small part of Nero that I use. I would have used (free) Windows Media Player instead, but WMP (still!) puts a 2-second gap between CD tracks; when I burn long, continuous recordings I want to put tracks every five minutes or so, to make it easier for the listener to search it, but I don’t want 2-second silences between the tracks. Finally I discovered that (free)iTunes was capable of recording without the silences, so now I ues that. Nero was superior in two ways—it didn’t copy the MP3 files into its library like iTunes does, and I was able to tell Nero to break up a single file into tracks. Now I have to use a (free) utility to break up the recording into five-minute MP3 files, which iTunes copies before burning. But hey, it’s free.

  • My audio editing software (Adobe Audition 1.5) and robotic CD duplicator software (Primo DVD) survived the upgrade to Vista, which evoked a large sigh of relief from me, since I use them heavily.

  • My scanner software (Visioneer Paperport) did not survive the upgrade, and I use my scanner (and the OCR program that came with it) often enough that I’ll probably have to buy a new one. That’s not entirely bad, since this scanner is five years old now, but it’s a shame because the hardware still works fine.

  • Last fall Internet Explorer was giving me some trouble, so I switched to the Firefox browser and have decided that I like it better, especially for the small touches (incremental search, automatic updates, easy plugin installation). I don’t use too many plugins, but there are a couple I like a lot. One is called IE View, and it allows you to view a page using the Internet Explorer rendering engine (i.e. see what it would look like in Internet Explorer). Another is called Scrapbook, and it lets you quickly save a copy of a web page to a scrapbook that can be searched and organized.

  • I’ve never found a software application I liked for organizing information. I do like the X1 desktop search program (free) for finding files on my computer; once it has indexed the machine it is very fast, and using it I’ve found things I thought I’d never see again. The information organizer that looks best to me, based on reports from its users (including author James Fallows) is Zoot, but its interface is way behind the times, it is very complicated and under-documented, and even after hours of messing with it I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to use it.

  • But when I upgraded to Windows Vista I also upgraded to the new Windows Office, Home and Student version, which came with an application called OneNote 2007. I’ve only used it lightly, but so far I like it a lot. The metaphor is that you have a collection of notebooks (tabs along left of window), each notebook having multiple sections (tabs along top of window), each section having multiple pages (tabs along right side of window). Three level deep is about all I can use effectively, so I l like that. It is very easy to plop down snippets of text, tables, bulleted lists, graphics, and so on anywhere on the page. Your edits are saved as you make them. And one of the best features is that it adds a new “printer” to your system, called “Send to OneNote 2007”, which allows you to save whatever you are looking at as a printed page—especially handy for saving webpages to OneN
    ote, and especially nice in that the printed version of a browser page often dispenses with useless graphics, ads, etc.


I like pork, and so does about half the family. The other half thinks it is greasy (as if that were a bad thing!). But we’re making an effort to incorporate more pork in our diet, mostly because pigs are traditional in the Appalachians. Janice Giles says that in this part of the world, beef is “beef” but pork is “meat”, because beef was rarely raised to eat but everyone kept a hog. And many, many folks have told us that it doesn’t really make sense to keep a milk cow without a pig to eat the excess milk (much less all the excess produce a large garden creates), so raising pigs is clearly in our future.

There is a Mennonite farmer in South Fork named Sidney Weaver who sells organic pork through Good Foods in Lexington. A couple of months ago we arranged to buy one of his hogs from him the next time he had a bunch slaughtered. That turned out to be last Thursday, and on Monday we picked up the packaged meat. Sidney charged us 60 cents per pound live weight, and with transport and processing costs we figure we paid about $1.80 per pound for a freezer full of pork.

One thing we like about the processor is that his place is spotless. Another thing we like is that he vacuum packs all his meat; this cost more than the last time we had a pig done, maybe 30% more, but we like being able to see what is inside, and he guarantees the meat against freezer burn for three years (and it’ll be long gone by then).

When we called the processor, we asked him to save the fat for us. We’ve been reading a lot about lard lately, mostly good things—that is, if the lard is natural and not hydrogenated, which excludes just about any lard you can buy at a store. So we thought we’d try our hand at rendering some lard ourselves. The fellow warned us that pigs aren’t like they used to be, and we wouldn’t get much off of ours, maybe ten to fifteen pounds. We told him that was fine, please save it. When we picked up the meat, after loading it into the car he came out with a garbage bag and a Rubbermaid tote, into which he helped us dump way more than fifteen pounds of fat (turned out to be closer to fifty), apparently from all the pigs Sidney had brought.

The fat went into a cooler until yesterday morning, when Debbie and I spent a good hour cutting it up and running it through a meat grinder (so that it would melt faster). Then we got out our huge 31-quart pressure canner, loaded in the fat with a gallon of water, then set it on the side burner of our gas grill and turned on the heat.

Even with that burner at full blast, it took a few hours before the mixture began to liquefy, and a couple of hours more to get it near boiling. I’m not sure about the reason for putting the water in, except that the process probably wouldn’t work without it, but I do know that if you want the lard not to turn rancid you have to get all the water out again. There are two ways to do this: skim the lard (oil floats on water), or boil the water out. Just about everyone recommends boiling, so that’s what I planned to do. But when it got near boiling, the liquid in the nearly full pot started to expand and clearly wouldn’t survive a rolling boil, so we got another pot and dipped out a couple of gallons of liquid, figuring we would boil it later.

The big pot eventually developed a rolling boil, but a slow and gentle one, and as it began to get dark I realized that it was going to take forever to boil off a gallon of water, so I had Chris fetch a super-hot propane stove we use for chicken processing, We set the pot on that and fired it up, and soon enough we had a fierce boil going. And since the stove has two burners, we set the second, smaller pot on that and started it heating.

After a short while the smaller pot boiled briefly, then stopped, then started making noises like boiling oil. Duh. Since it was full of liquid dipped from the top, it began as almost all oil. We took that inside, cooled it in a sink of ice water, and poured it through cheesecloth into a two-gallon plastic bucket. The liquid was a deep golden color, but when it solidified the lard was surprisingly white—not the pure white of storebought, but white enough. (Later we found out that you could whiten it further by adding soda when you started rendering.)

Meanwhile, the larger pot boiled and boiled and boiled, for three hours or more before the boil slowed down. At this point I paid more attention to the steam, wanting to turn off the heat just as the last bit of moisture escaped. It was dark, though, and I was using a flashlight, and at the end what I thought was steam turned out to be smoke. I cut the heat right away, but the thick layer of particles that had settled in the pot scorched on the bottom. I know this because they came loose as a thick disk and floated to the top, golden on one side and black on the other.

By now it’s 9pm, so we followed Carla Emery’s advice about what to do when the process goes on too long—just set it aside and finish it the next day. So this morning we put the pot back on heat long enough to liquefy the lard, then strained it into about three gallons worth of containers. The liquid was a bit darker than the first batch, and had a somewhat stronger smell, but still didn’t smell burnt. We left that to cool on the porch. I haven’t looked to see what color the solid lard turned out to be.

We actually don’t use a lot of lard yet—modern recipes that call for it are few and far between—so we probably won’t use most of what we rendered; certainly if the scorched batch doesn’t taste good we won’t feel bad about dumping it. But it was a good learning experience. (One thing we learned from Carla Emery—after the fact, of course—was that it is best to do the job in fifteen-pound batches.) And if it turns out that lard is valuable to us, I think we could have organic pig fat free for the asking from Sidney.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to tomorrow night’s grilled pork chop dinner, and an as yet unscheduled meal of chicken fried in home-rendered lard.

Random notes

The new website is mostly up and running, and the computer is slowly getting back into shape. The CD burning software I was using (Nero 6) was too old to run under Vista, and I didn’t want to pay for an upgrade since I use barely any of its capabilities, so I was glad to find that I could use a combination of iTunes and a free mp3-splitting utility to make my CDs. And my questionable audio editing software worked fine while I was preparing the last batch of Blessed Hope recordings for the website.

So far Windows Vista is OK. It didn’t take much tweaking to make it comfortable. And I like the new look is better than I liked the XP ‘new look’—at least I haven’t been tempted to switch back to the Windows Classic look. The best feature I’ve stumbled across so far is “sleep” mode, something like “hibernate” (where the machine saves its entire state to disk before shutting down, allowing a quick restore when you turn it back on) except that it goes into low-power mode, using about one-twentieth the power—five watts, maybe. This means that it comes back to life almost instantly when you fire it back up, unless there’s been a power glitch, in which case it restores itself from the disk. I used to leave the machine on all the time, then decided recently it would be much more thrifty to power it down when I wasn’t using it. I’ll test power consumption in sleep mode at some point; if it really is five watts I’ll stick with it, otherwise I’ll go back to hibernating with the machine fully off.

Thursday night was very cold, so Friday morning we took a shot at getting the Suburban and horse trailer out of the field. I had spun the tires enough to make deep ruts, so we had to dig out around them first. Truck plus trailer was still too much to move, so we disconnected the trailer and got the truck free, then backed up the truck from a different angle and re-hitched the trailer. That worked.

We had to drive down the hill and across the field bottom to get out, which was a little tense, since that’s where all the water accumulates in wet weather. There was some slipping, but I think it was due to melting frost on the grass. Anyway, we made it to the road, pulled the trailer up to the house, and cleaned it out in preparation for returning it.

We tried out our second cheese this afternoon. Last Monday we tried the first one (four weeks old), and we were disappointed—very dry, almost powdery, very sharp, not much richness to the flavor. This one (five weeks old) was much better—excellent moist texture, somewhat less sharp and more rich. And Debbie remembered that the first cheese had been made with Junket rennet, while for the rest we’ve used liquid animal rennet, so that probably accounts for the difference in texture.


Paul Johnson the historian wrote a terrific little book called Intellectuals, which examines the lives of the leading thinkers in Enlightenment history and finds them grossly wanting, by the standards of normal people and even by their own standards. Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertolt Brecht, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sarte, Victor Gollancz, and Lillian Hellman each get a chapter; each of them turns out to be despicable.

Enlightenment fans usually hate this book, with the most common retort being: What does it matter how they lived their private lives? It is their ideas that count. My counter-retort is: Why should we listen to anyone who has not managed to exemplify the goodness of their ideas by living them out? Since reading Johnson’s book I’ve tried to be diligent about asking this question of everyone who claims to have something to teach me, whether it be about personal holiness or patriarchal families or biblical courtship or involvement with the culture or submitting to authority. Some pass the test; many do not.

Although I thought Johnson’s book was terrific, I don’t think I could stand to read it again. It uses a mountain of sordid details to drive the point home, but once you get the point there is no benefit (and much danger) in continuing to wallow in the details.

I was reminded of all this by this recent article about Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. It gives some idea of the kind of person Brecht was without venturing too deeply into the mire. My favorite sentence: “W.H. Auden, a sometime collaborator, said that though he was a lifelong opponent of capital punishment, he would be willing to make an exception in Brecht’s case.”

Cows are here

Chris and I drove down to Cookeville, Tennessee on Tuesday to fetch our new milk cows. Our pastor Roger Murrell lent us his three-horse trailer, which is totally enclosed and drives quite nicely. We knew that frigid weather was moving in Tuesday night so we got an early start. The drive down was warm (40s here, 50s in Tennessee) and mostly uneventful, dry until we got within ten miles of the farm.

Even then the rain wasn’t bad, and Darrin Drake is well experienced at moving cows around; once we got the trailer into position, he chased all the cows into the corral, let out all but ours, and worked our two into the trailer, all in about five minutes. (It took him twice as long to tell me how to back the trailer up.) We picked up the receipt and health papers, chatted with Darrin and Jenny for a few minutes, and then were on our way again at about noon our time.

Close to home it started to rain again. We arrived around 2:30pm, and found that it had been raining all day. The field was very muddy, but there was nothing to be done for it, so we drove the trailer out to the paddock where our calf was, figuring we would probably get stuck. We did, but not before we got the trailer more or less where we needed it for unloading. Chris and Maggie and Matthew and I rearranged the portable fencing to include the back of the trailer, got hay and water and all moved to the new paddock, and finally dropped the trailer gate. The two cows moseyed out, said hello to the calf, saw the hay we had set out, and got to work eating.

Our biggest concern was the cold snap that was moving in that night, right after a day of rain to get the cows thoroughly soaked. The weatherman was right for a change, and it dropped to about 11 degrees. Everything was frozen the next morning, but the cows seemed to have weathered the night without difficulty. They seem to respect the fence, and are happy with the hay we’re feeding them.

Speaking of hay, we’re looking forward to spring and growing grass, since we’ll have to haul hay weekly until then (and pay late winter prices for it).

And yes, the Suburban and trailer are still in the field where we left them. We’re hoping that the past couple of days of freezing weather will have solidified the ground, and probably tomorrow morning we’ll try to move them out before things warm up. If not, well, we’ll just have to wait until things dry up.

New website host

For about a month I’ve been preparing to switch away from Yahoo to a new webhosting service, so that we could adopt a simplified ordering scheme using Google Checkout for credit cards. Saturday morning I flipped the necessary internet switches, and folks began seeing the new website in place of the old. Everything seems to work properly, which is a relief. Now I am moving less critical material from the old to the new site, and perhaps in a week or so I can pull the plug on my Yahoo account.

There are a number of reasons we decided to make the switch, and I’ll write about them in an upcoming bookstore post on the topic of websites.