Not-Book Review: 40 Years of Mother Earth News on CD-ROM

[A note from the future (10/09/15): I bought these CD-ROMs because at the time I wrote this post we did not actually have internet access at home. While you and I can just Google these things now, that wasn’t an option for me. I had limited time on the library’s computers and I needed it for paying bills and uploading posts.]
Mother Earth News, one of the most famous authorities on what is now called “green living,” isn’t what it used to be. Once upon a time I read every issue cover to cover, gasping “I have to try that!” The entirety of The Have More Plan was reprinted in the first year of the magazine. It covered (and for the most part, still covers) homesteading in general, home food production, land buying, intentional communities, livestock large and small, housekeeping hints, alternative energies, alternative housebuilding techniques, alternative transportation, crafts, cooking, and a host of other self-sufficiency topics.
The magazine eventually became repetitive, and then, sadly, became wacky (already wacky in a hippie sort of a way it’s now wacky in a conspiracy-theorism and end-times-prepping kind of way). But before they went south they pumped out vast quantities of valuable information from first-hand accounts in homesteading.
These CD-ROMs function awkwardly: you plug one in and your default internet browser opens. You are offered several search options (article can open in a new window, article can open in a split screen, or you can browse the tables of contents). No matter which CD you have inserted, all four decades are searched – but you can only view the articles from the decade you have in the drive. (So if you have the first CD in and search for something but the resulting article is on the fourth CD you have to eject #1 and insert #4 and start over.) When using split screen, the article doesn’t word wrap, so several words at the end of each sentence appear to be missing. You can scroll horizontally as well as vertically, but you can’t adjust the text to fit. (This is why I prefer to use the ‘Full Window’ option.) Also, any pictures that may have accompanied the article (in-line) are found at the end of the article as thumbnails which, when clicked, open in a new window. Some articles have the kind of typos that show that many issues were scanned using an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) program and not double-checked by a person.
Bugs aside, I am glad I have these babies. They are a treasure trove of information, research, anecdotes, advice, testimonials, ideas, and lore. Some of it is kooky, some of it is outdated, but a lot of it still applies, informs, and inspires.
Incidentally, those of you who are fans of The Good Life will be amused to know that the article about “Gobar gas” is on the first CD. Word for word what Barbara read off of Tom’s notes in the first episode. I can’t read that article without hearing Felicity Kendall’s voice in my head.
– Amanda

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