OK, so I’ve been using Photoshop since the day I first acquired it back in the 90s. I think that was version 5, and I was running some variant of Windows and I was broke and not yet even in University. I didn’t even have a true reason to own Photoshop, except I got a little bit of joy out of manipulating pixels. It was a brave new world then, and I liked to run around in it.
Fast forward to the early 2000s, and I found my love of photography. Digital cameras came into the world in ways that made taking film photos a ridiculous prospect, ritual aside. The dark rooms of old were replaced by the well-lit computer desks I loved and photoshop was the tool. I loved photoshop. I loved what it could do with the images I was taking, and many of my photography mentors used nothing else, and would offer up tutorials on how to do things and it was lovely to learn and live in this awesome bit of image software.
And then Adobe pissed me right off. In 2013, just as I’d found my mojo with CS, Adobe moved to a subscription model for all its software. That’s like literally the only sin a budget-conscious software geek like me cannot forgive. I loathe the SaaS model. You can try to explain it to me all over the place, but I’ve never read or heard any argument that was supported in any factual way that it is “the only way forward” for software. That’s a load. And the thought that people “prefer” it is silly. It’s hostile to users, and the only reason to want it at all is to have the latest and greatest software to use at a fraction of what you’d need to shell out to buy that software for yourself up front. I have always been of the mind that I want my workflows self-contained and not contingent on uncontrollable forces—at least, as much as I am able. If I own my camera, I own my computer, and I own the software on it, then my workflow is assured for as long as these things keep working. I will never spend another dime. If I (god forbid) should lose my income and I’m beholden to the latest Adobe psd spec and I have hundreds of photos that won’t open for processing in anything other than the latest version, then I am screwed. Essentially, being unable to pay Adobe means I lose the ability to work with my own data. Screw you, Adobe.
So for a while now, I’ve just not really been all that active with taking pictures. It’s not just because of photoshop going SaaS, although it was part of it. It was more about friction. It felt like it took so much damned effort to create something and then at the end of it, I stopped feeling good—it was more like I felt exhausted. Having yet another thing to worry about was just more icing on the shit sandwich.
But then this week I was watching a playback of WWDC and there was a dude up on stage manipulating photos using something called Affinity Photo. I was intrigued. I mean, there’s been other software that I’ve bought hoping against hope it would hold its own against Photoshop, but in the end, it’s always fallen flat on the very things that I do in my photography workflow. I’m less interested in all the special effects—I want a digital darkroom, and Photoshop was the only place where I could get that kind of control.
So I took a look, and then I kept looking, and then I downloaded, and then I bought it, and holy crap, it’s awesome. Not only does it tick every last box I needed it to tick, it’s cheap. Even back when Photoshop was buyable, it wasn’t anywhere near as cheap as Affinity. I’ve spent a little time toying with it, and reprocessing some older photos and the results are totally on-par with the best I ever got out of Photoshop:
After four years, there’s finally a piece of software that can go toe to toe with Photoshop and win for me. And the iPad version is feature parity with the desktop version. I cannot wait to try that out. Imagine processing images on a tablet. Could be way, way cool. After a few days, I can more than recommend this to anyone who wants to give it a shot. Get out from under the yoke of Photoshop.
Things are looking up for some more photography this summer. Time to dust off the SLR and go on a road trip or two.
So I had my first commute with the newly-minted beast. Yeah, it’s cheating–big time. And yeah, I don’t care.
Much like the legendary Steve Austin, my little hybrid commuter bike rose from the ranks of the normal, and became bionic. All it really needs is to play that cool little sound effect every time I hit the throttle. Now that would be hilarious. Are you listening, Bionix? It should be an option! Teehee.
Anyway, I left the house today concerned about the weight of it all. It’s a pig to lift the rear wheel when it’s fully tricked out:
Pannier 1: with laptop and notebooks and work-related stuff
Pannier 2: with additional lock, lunch, charger and rain gear where applicable
My fat ass
The weight of the actual hub motor
I was worried the thing would buckle under all that downward pressure, but apparently the wheels are rated for 300lbs, and I’m happy to say that not even I can tip that scale at the moment. Still, I’d hate to have to carry all this.
The bike, however, did not seem to give the slightest fig about the weight. I keep the tires pretty hard, at around 90psi, so that makes for a smooth albeit more bumpy kind of ride. The whole way in, there was zero issue with the pedal assist, which I set to three (probably overkill for me, but I didn’t want to have to work to get to where I was going), and the throttle was just plain amazing. I mean, yes, it’s not going to win any torque competitions carrying the weight, but the bike had no problems getting me up to the maxmum cruising speed of 32km/h on the straightaway, and also made it on the uphill, although for that it did struggle a bit.
The whole ride took up less than a quarter of my available power, and that was fully loaded with weight, level three pedal assist the whole way, and liberal use of the Button Of Much Happiness (or BOMH! for short). I will have no troubles using this for commuting, and I probably won’t even need to bring the charger in the future.
But the main thing is, I arrived to work in more than enough time, far faster than I would have on my own power, I didn’t break a sweat, and it was more fun than I’ve ever had on a commute. I loved that the dude on the bike behind me couldn’t pass me like they always do. Yeah, I know. I’m motorized and electrified and they’re not. Doesn’t matter. I giggled with glee as I peeled away from him.
I’m sure I’ll find some ‘gotchas’ as I continue to commute this way, but for now it’s e-bikes FTW. Way cheaper than a new car, and seriously fun.
So last week sometime, I was biking home up Keats Way. The way home from work for me tends to be a little more difficult than the way there. While my commute by way of elevation is sort of a U shape, with high points at both ends and a dip in the middle, the U favours the way to work. Getting home requires more effort. Keats Way is one of the roads where 2/3 of it is slope-y one way, and one third the other. It’s easier to get to work than home. So, I was huffing my way up Keats Way when I saw a woman on a bike behind me in my rear view mirror. It isn’t uncommon for the university students to pass me on their bikes on my way. They are, after all, younger and more get-go-ish, and also do not have heart concerns. I envy them so much for that. Anyway, so I wasn’t all that shocked when this woman gained on me, but when she passed, I was surprised. She wasn’t one of the University crowd. She may not have been older than me, but she wasn’t a student. And she was on a cruiser bike with fatter wheels and a retro look, and she was putting out pretty damned well no effort at all to pass me. It was sorta disconcerting. I didn’t get it at first, and then just as she was passing me, I clued in to the fact that she was on an e-bike. And away she went, leaving me panting away. She was a good 150 meters up the road when I lost sight of her.
This left enough of an impression on me that this week, I did a considerable amount of research into the niche subculture that is the electric bike. I was pretty taken with the idea by the time I was through.
I used to think that e-bikes were only those stupid looking bikes that tried to make themselves look like scooters. I never liked those things. They seemed to always gum up the roadways with their girth, and the drivers were often treacherous on the MUPs, when I saw them there. I still maintain those ones are not to my liking at all, but what I didn’t know was there’s options that don’t look anything like that. There’s e-bikes out there that are pretty well indistinguishable from a regular bike, much like the one that smoked me on Keats Way. In fact, they look super nice. I found out that you can even retrofit your existing bike to an e-bike with little effort.
The thing that hooked me is that I came to understand that being on e-bike doesn’t mean you’re somehow cheating the system, or will get no exercise. At least, not for me. You can do that if you want, but it isn’t necessary. We are a single-car family, and I am the one without the car 90+% of the time. I spend that time on my bike, and while it’s fine, I really am demolished by the time I get home, and not in a good, fun, “I have had a workout and I feel great” way. More like, “this is going to kill me, and I hope it isn’t today”. And in spite of the fact that the hills by and large favour the way to work, I still get there all sweaty and shitty and panting and I look like some hobo off the street about to have a cardiac event rather than the information-worker professional I’m supposed to be.1 Biking for me is really only fun when I’m not in a hurry and can enjoy the ride, which invariably isn’t what I’m doing. As a cycle commuter, I’m always in a damned rush to get anywhere; for better or worse, it’s well and truly my primary use case in biking these days. An e-bike apparently solves that issue.
I was intrigued enough that this weekend, I went down to Cycle Electric and took a couple of bikes out for a test run. The first one I took out was a folding e-bike from Emmo. The reason that I took it out was because it was an inexpensive option (and that is saying something here—if there’s one thing I’ve learned, this rabbit hole is preposterously expensive), and because I could fold it and presumably bring it into the office with me. I was thinking that the best theft deterrent there is, is to park the bike in my cube. A folding one might make that feasible. And it seemed weird to me that I could get a whole electric bike for considerably less cash than even a retrofit.
The ride was… okay. I didn’t get the feeling that I was much better off using it, to be honest. I don’t know if that was because my expectations having read so many sites and viewed so many YouTube videos were skewed, or maybe because I was riding it wrong somehow, or maybe the geometry of the bike was so very different from the diamond shape bikes I’ve been riding since just after birth ;). It was fine, and I think it made life a little easier, but beyond the throttle function, I wasn’t nearly impressed enough to go with something like that.
But then I tried a standard hybrid bike treated to an e-bike retrofit from Bionix. Now, that was different! My god, it was strange. I was pedalling away from the shop and I was wondering if it had even come on because I couldn’t hear a thing out of the motor, but when I looked up, I was doing nearly 20km/h without exerting any more effort than I usually would, and I didn’t even realize it. Somehow, this system offers pedal assist that just sorta works. It took me some time to realize that putting forth a third of the effort I usually put on the bike resulted in more speed by nearly 5km/h than I would normally get, and that wasn’t even on the highest level of assist.
And the throttle on that thing! It’s just wrong. It’s wrong that I could be on a hill, not wanting to pedal anymore, hit a single button and the bike just takes over and climbs the hill all on its own. That was the real kicker. And given the amount of battery power the kit provides, I should technically be able to get myself to work and home again and never rotate the pedals once, if that was what I wanted to do. That throttle is just awesome.
That test drive pretty much sold me on the idea of a retrofit. It felt so much better than the built-in one, it was sorta crazy. I get that probably the higher-end folding dedicated e-bikes would be able to compare, but then they’re kinda silly for the price. For that, I could probably get a decent used car. The retrofit does indeed seem to be the way to go.
I’m about 85% of the way to deciding to get this done. My holdouts are honestly only the cost, and the concern about theft. If I’m going to magically make my run of the mill little hybrid commuter a valuable target I need to rethink my lockup strategies, especially in light of the fact that we’ve already had one bike stolen right out of the racks at the office this year.
But I keep on thinking, “wouldn’t it be awesome to get to work and not be a sweaty mess in fear of my life?” and then thinking, “Yes, yes, that would be good indeed…”
Yes, I am aware that one can get to work, shower and change. My work place is not well set up for that. While we do have one shower, I sorta fear it, and I’d really rather not use it, to say nothing of the overhead it’d take to bring clothes along every day—the bike is heavy enough, thank you very much. ↩