FOSS to the rescue

FOSS, or Free Open Source Software, is something I started using out of necessity. One package in particular is LibreOffice, which used to be OpenOffice. I started using OpenOffice in 1999 when it was owned by Oracle, because all of my money was going towards a new home and a new baby. On the job as a Y2k programmer, my computer was running an outdated version of Microsoft Office and could not open the new versions of Word documents, and the company only had so many licenses for the latest version of Microsoft Office, and management deemed that the programmers were not important enough to warrant the expense of another license, so I downloaded OpenOffice and fixed that problem as OpenOffice had no problem working with the latest versions of Microsoft Office files. I also installed OpenOffice on my home computer, having recently moved from OS/2 Warp 3 to Windows ’98 (legitimate upgrade copy), and needed a good spreadsheet and word processor for my own needs. This began my two decade use of open source office software, which has continued in spite me purchasing legitimate licenses for Microsoft Office 2003 and then 2007, as I believe that OpenOffice, which is now LibreOffice, is a superior product.

This week, almost exactly 20 years after my first use of Oracle OpenOffice, the foreman in my small company received a Visio document from a client with details on how they wanted something done. We all have Microsoft Office installed on our computers, but Visio is not part of the standard package. One person in our office has Visio, and he was away on training. The foreman asked if I could do something with this file. In spite of having the latest Microsoft Office on my computer, I installed the latest version of LibreOffice because it is what I am used to, and I believe it to be a superior product. I loaded up the Visio document into LibreOffice Draw, and then exported it as a PDF with great ease. As a PDF, this document could now be shared with all staff, and the boss was impressed. I also like to use LibreOffice draw to open up PDF’s provided by vendors, as it disassembles PDF’s into draw components where I can take what I want to generate our own in-house documentation by simply cutting and pasting.

I’m actually surprised that LibreOffice isn’t more popular than what it is in businesses today, but then I remember that the people in charge of making these decisions often are unaware of the benefits of FOSS to their business and go with what’s trusted and well-known, which is unfortunate. However, it’s little victories like being able to easily handle and convert a Visio document or to easily break down PDF’s that will eventually bring to light the great benefits of FOSS like LibreOffice.

My new commute

Here’s a video showing what my commute was like yesterday:

It was cold and wet, but there was no traffic and I arrived to work invigorated. This is the way I like to commute.

My Bicycle

I grew up with a love for bicycles. As a child of the 70’s, this should come as no surprise as I was born in the midst of a bike boom, with 10 speed road bikes being used by teenagers leaving an impression on my young self. My first bike was a little red single speed banana seat with handle bars that had a slight drop. It had training wheels, but I quickly graduated from those and also quickly outgrew that bike. It was of the sort that the top bar could be removed so it could be turned into a “Girl’s” bike, and so it became my sister’s bike as I received a larger blue bike which featured a black banana seat, chrome chain guard and fenders, one speed with pedal back for brakes, and drop handle bars. I learned how to do routine maintenance, flipping it upside down to oil the chain. I delivered newspapers and discovered every trail in my community using that bike.

My first “Big” bike was a brandless 3 speed golden road bike with a fairly large frame which was a hand-me-down from my aunt Sharon. Definitely a relic of the late 60’s, it needed some work and rust removal by the time I was using it in the 1980’s. I was getting really good at riding it, and taught myself how to lean into corners to take them very sharp at impressive speeds; however, this turned out to be too much for the old forks as they eventually gave out. That bike was replaced with a $100 Zeller’s special, a black 10 speed road bike which gave me no end of problems.

Up until high school, I had no clue about bikes outside of basic routine maintenance which I learned from books from the library; I didn’t know why one bike that cost $100 should be any worse than one that cost $500. A bike was a bike, and they were all pretty much the same for all I knew. Then one fateful day I met a hardcore cyclist. I was helping my father with wedding photography, and during the reception we were invited to stay for dinner. At our table was a gentleman who was preparing for a big bike ride the next day. I was excited to meet an adult who owned a car but was into bikes, and I told him about the problems I was having with mine. He was very open and friendly, and while he couldn’t stay very long for the reception, he provided me with just enough information that I set out to buy magazines about bicycles and started learning about things like ChroMoly and aluminum frames, toe clips, crank sets, and the rest. I also learned about the incredible health benefits that came from cycling, along with how bicycles are the most efficient mode of transportation ever invented. Hybrid bikes were the ultimate bikes, but road bikes were more affordable. I signed up for cycling in gym class, and my mother bought me a very nice and very fast green 12 speed Miele Uno road bike, which cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $600-$700. It had skinny high pressure tires, a ChroMoly double butted frame, drop handlebars, toe clips, and by gosh was it ever fast.

I shamelessly “Stole” this picture from a local buy and sell board; this is exactly what my Miele looked like.

That Miele completely transformed who I was. Suddenly, I was Mr. Cyclist. I would bike everywhere so effortlessly and fast, almost floating over the road. Then one day, I went to visit my friend who lived down a side road. I parked my bike in front of the garage, and when I came back about an hour later, it had been stolen. I was gutted. All the joy bled out from my life in a moment. I went from being a happy-go-lucky cyclist one moment to a miserable self-loathing asshole the next. I actually had homicidal tendencies, looking for my bike everywhere I went, thinking about the gruesome things I would do to whoever stole it from me. When I saw Nick take his hammer to the head of that poor kid in episode 6 of season 6 of Shameless, I sympathized with the character Nick. I knew what he was going through.

I was bikeless for a couple of years, taking the bus, walking, and driving a car during brief periods when I could divert a rust bucket from the scrap yard for a few months. I did the math and realized that, for the cost of a bus pass for four months, I could probably buy another decent bike. That bike was a Miele Astro. It too was a road bike, and while not quite as fast as the Uno, it was cheaper and didn’t stick out as much. I also kept it locked every time I parked it.

The Astro was my main mode of transportation even in the rain and snow. I installed a carrier on it and used it to carry my groceries home, books from the library, and laundry to the laundry mat. It got me to my job and back. When I decided to go back to school and start college, it took me to college and back as it continued its duties of carrying groceries, laundry, and books. It wasn’t until well after the end of my second year and starting my career as a Y2k programmer did I finally buy a decent car after recognizing the benefits that owning a car would have for my career. I did continue to ride the Astro for leisure until the part of the frame that held the back wheel on broke. around 1995. I eventually rebuilt it 10 years later, but the problem returned.

Getting married in the mid 90’s brought a lot of joy to my life, and I wanted to share all of my joy with my new bride, so we bought matching bikes. She decided she preferred trails to the road, so we used some of the money we got from our wedding and bought matching mountain bikes; two Raleigh Tarantula’s. Riding a bicycle was how my wife managed to lose her weight after the birth of our son.

Fast forward to the year 2019. I had slipped into a lifestyle of long commutes in pursuit of career objectives, then coming home every day to a beer or two (or perhaps a couple glasses of wine) to take the edge off the day and the commute. It was an unhealthy lifestyle that started to take its toll as my weight went up and my energy levels went down. I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered if the man looking back at me in that reflection would live long enough to enjoy the wonderful pension I was accumulating. That’s when I decided I would quit my job, take a cut in pay and benefits, and work close to home. I would joke that I lived close enough to my job, I could ride my bike there. The more times I said that, the less funny it sounded. 10 kilometers is not that long of a bike ride, and most of the route is by way of a paved bicycle trail.

I had rebuilt the Tarantula a couple of times, but it’s a 23 year old bike. In spite of that, I pumped up the tires, oiled the chain, and tried that ride to work. It took me half an hour to ride to work, and forty minutes to ride back. I did it once again last week. It was a good ride, but this bike needed to be overhauled. I decided it was time for a new bike with modern tech like hydraulic disc brakes, carbon fiber forks, low rolling resistance high pressure tires, and a lightweight aluminum frame. Something that would be a pleasure to ride. I was long overdue for that really good hybrid bike I always wanted, so I pulled the trigger.

My new bicycle is a Trek FX 3 with hydraulic disc brakes, and an XXL frame. The large frame makes me feel like a kid again, and puts me in a very comfortable riding position. This will be my commuter for the next little while as I continue on my path to well-being.

The folly of the E-bike

I’ve been interested in e-bikes since their introduction. Here is something which someone could buy and use to get around on without needing insurance or licensing; these represented freedom. However, as I was soon to discover, this freedom is so restrained, it’s practically worthless.

I’m in the market for a new bike. My existing Raleigh Tarantula is now 23 years old. I’ve rebuilt the entire bike twice. It has served me well, but now I’d like something that would make the 10 kilometer commute back and forth to work easier and quicker. When I went to the local bike shop, they had a promotion where if I test rode an e-Bike, I could scratch a ticket and win a prize. How could I resist? I went for the best they had; a Trek Super Commuter+ 7. If I had to ride an eBike, this one is the best looking one of the bunch.

I’m not going to waste your time; there’s different settings for levels of assist, but suffice it to say that the electric assist helps you get up to 20 MPH (32 km/h), and that’s it. I found it nearly impossible to push this bike past that point. I don’t know if it was the weight of the bike, or if it was in some sort of “Regeneration” mode, but it really felt as though I hit a wall at 20 MPH, even when riding downhill. This was from a bike that was priced at $5,299.99.

My next test ride was on a Trek FX-3, priced significantly less at $939.99. The only barrier I felt on this bike was my own abilities; I easily got this bike up to 20 MPH and past. When I hit my limit, I felt as though that limit was dictated by the laws of gravity and the resistance of the wind against my body. When I hit my limit on this bike, that was the point when I would have liked an electric assist to act like a tail wind and help me maintain a 40 km/h (25 MPH) speed, as that is the natural limit I feel is the point at which the wind resistance is too great and I remain well within the limits of the brakes and wheel balance of the machine I am riding.

As it turns out, I am not alone in this. Many states have set the speed limit of e-bikes at 30 MPH, which is in around 48 km/h. This sets the speed limit of an e-bike at a slight super-human speed, but not excessively so. It also allows e-bikes to better blend with the speed of motorized vehicle traffic in and around a city, which makes them inherently safer, as it decreases the speed differential between the cyclist and the automobiles they must share the road with.

As it stands now, the traditional bicycle remains unbeaten as the most efficient means of self-powered transportation. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the ideal mode of transport inside of a 20 kilometer range. At a cost of less than 1/5th of an e-Bike, I was able to find a bike that delivered a solution which I believe will yield similar commute times and experience to that of the more expensive e-Bike. As far as I’m concerned, the bicycle as a mode of transportation is being severely under-utilized in my country, while their contemporary e-bikes are being unnecessarily over-restricted in what they could do. My advice is to spend the money on a really good traditional bicycle, unless you have some sort of disability; in which case, the e-bike starts to make sense.