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Reblogged:When Newer Isn't Better

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Old tractors are causing bidding wars at auctions, according to the Star Tribune:

old_tractor.jpg
It may be old, but at least you can fix it yourself. (Image by Sean Stratton, via Unsplash, license.)
Kris Folland grows corn, wheat and soybeans and raises cattle on 2,000 acres near Halma in the northwest corner of Minnesota, so his operation is far from small. But when he last bought a new tractor, he opted for an old one -- a 1979 John Deere 4440.

He retrofitted it with automatic steering guided by satellite, and he and his kids can use the tractor to feed cows, plant fields and run a grain auger. The best thing? The tractor cost $18,000, compared to upward of $150,000 for a new tractor. And Folland doesn't need a computer to repair it.
The bit about needing a computer for repairs ties in to a problem I wrote about some time ago, and which many are mistakenly attempting to address with so-called "fair repair" legislation. I salute Kris Folland for finding a better solution, and finding a way to use technology to improve the cheap, easy-to repair tractors he has bought. Perhaps in time, a manufacturer will see the market potential for simpler tractors that don't cost farmers two days of work every time they break.

That said, Folland's approach to technology is quite similar to my own. Back in grad school and shortly after a divorce, I had a perfectly good PC, but not enough money to spend on software that would make it very useful. Linux took off around that time, so I installed it on my computer and ended up being able to do real work on it for a fraction of the cost.

Over time, as I learned more about the kinds of tools and utilities that always come with Linux, I began to realize how lucky I was to have been priced out of Microsoft's wares: Because of the approach of having standardized tools that each did one thing well, didn't change with the latest fads, and could be glued together, I started noticing that what I learned (or built) wasn't subject to obsolescence with the next software release coming out of Redmond.

My "software exoskeleton" has gradually become more sophisticated over time, and is largely unaffected by changes in popular software that I may or may not welcome. Like Folland, I can add a new capability to my software suite if it is genuinely helpful, while avoiding things that seem designed by a short-term thinker for the sole purpose of extracting money from me by artificially making my life difficult.

Commenting on the same story, statistician John Cook calls Folland's approach "technology à la carte. (I also got the term software exoskeleton from him.) That's an approach more people should consider, although it isn't necessarily for everyone.

-- CAV

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