Thursday, May 28, 2015

on free and cheap, and paying your way

I've been thinking recently about stuff that is free, about paying for services I use, about appropriate charges for goods and services.

We have four computers in the house, not including tablets and cell phones. Two of them run free operating systems (free as in free speech, and free as in free candy): the desktop on which I do most of my real work runs Linux Mint, and I have an old netbook that runs Xubuntu. While each would be grateful for a donation, neither requires one, and there is no downside to NOT donating. Nonetheless, I'll probably give a donation to Linux Mint, as my computing would be more troublesome without it. (The netbook is, essentially, a toy; I use it seldom, and mostly for experimental one-off stuff.)

All the software on both computers, and most of the software on my Windows laptop, is freeware. The financial program I use, and the personal organizing program, can have the data files in remote locations, so I use Dropbox (accessible from all of my computers, including my work desktop) to keep my data files.

(I used to pay for the personal organizer program, because it was useful in Linux under WINE, but they have subsequently broken the functionality and have said repeatedly that they will not write a Linux version. Well, tough, then. The free one works fine under WINE.)

Dropbox is free to personal users, and the cost for business use is higher than I want to pay for the service. However, I use a password manager, Lastpass, and a bookmarks manager, Xmarks, that sync with all the computers. They are linked, and the cost of the two is reasonable, and I pay for them, even though they are available free, because the service is worthwhile to me (and I get some added function).

I use Facebook for bike-related stuff. Facebook is "free, and always will be", in their phrase. Now, The Excellent Wife (TEW) reminds me that, in most cases, if you're not paying for a product on the web, then you ARE the product. With Facebook, you definitely are the product; they are selling your history, preferences, and who knows what else to advertisers. One of the reasons I spend so little time on Facebook, and use an adaptation of my real name, is that I don't want to be their product.

Many riders use RideWithGPS (there are other similar sites, but this one appears to get used the most, and I think there's good reason; it seems to me to be the most functional). I've recently paid for a basic membership, because I can, and, as in the case with Linux Mint, because my life is better with it. There are additional functions I may or may not use... but I spend a LOT of time (and money) around bicycles, and this site has made that time better. I want them to be around, so I am willing to fork up the cash.

Which leads me to my use of my local bike shop. My shop is Kim's. Now, I'm reasonably good with a search engine; I can always almost find a price that's lower than the price in the shop. And sometimes I do that. But I've developed a relationship with the shop where I'll find a price for something, and I'll bring that price to Kim's (I don't go for a ridiculously low price, but I will look for low-in-the-range, frankly). If they can come close to it, I buy from them; if not, I go on my own (and this plan seems to work for them, as well). More than half the new parts for the Krakow Monster came through Kim's, and, for a few of the parts, I was told they just couldn't and to get them on my own.

(My rule-of-thumb* for purchase through Kim's: Under $30, get it on my own; over $45, go through the shop; in between, use some judgment.

*And that "rule of thumb" almost certainly does NOT come from that "thickness of a thumb stick-for-beating-your-wife" canard. Hrmph.)

I do almost all my own building and maintenance. But every now and then, I get in over my head. For that reason, I want the shop to be there, and I want to support them. But there's more to it than that. Most people who are going to get into cycling are not going to start by building their own bikes or doing their ow maintenance (I certainly didn't). Most of us start at a local shop. It's important for us to have shops around for people to go to.

What do youse-all think? Is this the pipe dream of an upper-middle-class wannabe with no kids, or does it make sense? Or am I missing the boat in other ways?

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