I have much more to say about the first of them — “Contact” tells about the most recent (and probably last) “first encounter” between an Indigenous Australian group and white Australians in 1964 — but I need to mull it over some more. While I do, you can get the backstory from the London Sunday Times.
“Salt,” another Australian documentary from 2009, shows the creative process of photographer Murray Fredericks. Briefly: He bikes to the center of Lake Eyre, a vast, flat, (mostly) dry lake in South Australia; he sets up camp and a couple of cameras; he waits for the light to be just right; and then he makes a few 8×10″ film exposures. “Just right” depends on the weather and — it would seem — Fredericks’ mood. Sometimes the horizon is a crisp cut between sky and land, other times a mirror. Occasionally the horizon dissolves into nothing more than just another subtle tone between land and sky.
The photographs from his years of trips to the desert lake end the documentary, and they are truly spectacular landscapes. Many of them are on his website, which is definitely worth a look. For even more of his work, see the article at Mecha Fushigi. Here are a couple you can enjoy now:
“Whole tribes of plants which first seem familiar prove on a nearer examination, total strangers . . and not only the species that present themselves are new, but most of the genera, and even natural orders.” — Botanist Sir James Smith (1759-1828) quoted in Ann Moyal’s Platypus (2001, Allen & Unwin)
Indeed, that pretty much sums up Australia . . and not only the plants.
Lisa and I are not birders. We like birds — mostly the pretty or unusual ones — and we frequently take snapshots of the birds we see while traveling. But we don’t have “life lists” of birds that we’ve seen. Nor do we make trips to places to see or photograph birds. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; it’s just not our thing.
So it was a little surprising that sometime during the first week we found ourselves keeping a list of the birds that we saw. And we photographed as many of the varieties that we could see, too. (Though that was mostly so we could identify the bird once we got back to our field guide.) We’re still not birders, but I think we both know a whole lot more about birds than we did a couple months ago.
We identified close to 60 different species of birds in the wild, and there are a few that we photographed which we still haven’t been able to identify. We also visited a few zoos where we saw many more birds, beautiful and strange with voices that didn’t seem to fit the body making them.
“Hey, Diabetes. Imma let you finish in a minute, but I just wanna say that Jeff has the most epic afterwork ride planned for tonight. So If you could just keep up, that would be the right thing to do. Peace.”
As we were preparing for our trip, we kept reading about all of the ways that we could die in Australia. Little did we know how many things could kill us there. Fortunately for us and the other foreign tourists, Australia is full of helpful warning signs.
I’ve had some more time to contemplate yesterday’s stage of the Tour de France. We had some conversations about it at work, Facebook and Twitter; and I had a bit of a think on my ride this afternoon. (There were no “penalty laps” for me today, by the way.) Some of those people are probably reading this, and I invite them (and everyone else) to leave a comment.
Former carpool buddy Steve noted that if an auto racer has a mechanical problem, they don’t stop the race. True indeed. I do think the comparison falls apart when you consider that the car really is the thing that does all the work. Sure, it has to be driven well; but the car is the thing that’s tuned, and it’s the sine qua none of auto racing. Bikes matter in the Tour de France, of course; but the UCI tries to keep everything fair-ish between riders.
Meanwhile, all-around badass Alex simply says, “Cry me a river.” He has some interesting points. As an oh-so-close-to-elite runner — seriously, he ran a 2:27 Boston Marathon — I take what he says seriously from an athlete’s perspective, and he likes to think about the social aspects of sport. He professes great respect for the Tour and its riders, and I believe he’s sincere. His main points are thus:
If a runner trips, no one waits. Why should cycling be any different?
Europeans like to inject unnecessary ambiguity and drama into sporting events. Every World Cup or European championship has some event that lets the losing team argue that it should have won, that they lost because of bad officiating or bad luck. And these “unwritten rules” of cycling are just another way of perpetuating an inter-European or “us vs. them” rivalry and means never having to acknowledge someone else is better.
The structure of Grand Tour cycling teams is very 19th century, with expectations of deferring to your superiors and having some competitors there to serve team leaders.
All I can do is agree with Alex on these observations, but I don’t really think that some of them apply very much to cycling, which is a different kind of animal than running or footie. Running is all and only about pure talent: Anyone can do it; you don’t need much more than innate ability, a bit of tactics and self-awareness, and the time to train; and you can pretty easily rank people objectively on time over a given distance. These are some of the reasons that I love running almost as much as cycling.
But you also can’t really have a running race like the Tour de France, where you compete for 4-6 hours every day for three weeks. (I guess that means cycling is easier than running. :^) And if you’re going to have such a race, you need helpers for the people who can actually win it. And some of them have to be riders without a chance of winning the Tour. Alright, you could just have the 20 strongest cyclists in the world go out and ride every man for himself for 23 days, but it would be a very, very boring race. No amazing sprinters would show up. No mountain specialists either. It would be everybody getting their asses handed to them by two or three guys over and over again. Yawn.
What does all this have to do with Alberto Contador attacking Andy Schleck? Well, I can definitely see where people are coming from when they say, as Ryder Hesjdal did yesterday, “Hey, that’s bicycle racing.” If that’s how you want to race, it’s true that there are no actual rules against it. And I can see how if you’re inclined to see all sports events as a battle of wills and skills between completely autonomous actors that’s also seasoned by both good and bad luck, it would make sense that you’d see no problem whatsoever in what Contador did yesterday. I get that.
But cycling is a team sport that mixes contenders and helpers, however elitist or class-suffused that strikes you. And if that’s the way it’s going to be, there are consequences to crossing certain lines, even if they’re fuzzy, unwritten, nonbinding, “gentlemanly,” quaint lines. Crossing those lines — like attacking in the feed zone or trying take the lead on the final day — will alienate you from the public and your fellow riders, the people who you might need to help you control the pace someday or chase down a shared rival.
So was it wrong? Not in any kind of absolute right and wrong. It’s not in the same class as doping or cheating or knocking over a rival. Was it a smart move for Contador in the stage? We’ll see. Everyone says he’s a better time-trialist than Schleck and could certainly have taken the lead on the second to last day; but that’s cutting it a little close, to be sure. Frankly, I’m not sure that Schleck could have taken all that much time yesterday. Given the time Contador gained on the downhill, he might not have lost any time after the attack at all. Then again, maybe he would have, and they were only 31 seconds apart at the start of the day. We’ll never know the true impact.
(My objection yesterday was that Contador’s attack was a weaker rider taking advantage of a stronger rider’s technical malfunction to get an unfair advantage. I still feel that way, but since we can’t know what would have happened if Schleck’s initial attack would have succeeded, I’m going to just say that it’s more up in the air and debatable than I had suggested.)
But in the long run, it doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what Contador and Schleck’s peers think. If there are enough riders who feel like Hesjdal, then maybe Contador hasn’t done anything wrong. But if there are more riders like Armstrong who look at this with some suspicion or hostility, then maybe it was a chump move in the end.
First off, I went for my first ride since before we left for Australia. I know, it’s been a while. I have been running, but I think I was rather not looking forward to how slow I was going to be getting back in the saddle after a six week hiatus. It was a long enough time that I forgot a key turn on my new training route and had to take an extra penalty lap around the center of Upton. I was, as you might suspect, rather slower than before. But it wasn’t a total debacle, and my core muscles are still in pretty good shape. So yay for that! Tomorrow is another day, and the season isn’t even half over yet — well, maybe it’s about half over.
What I really want to do is to discuss today’s stage 15 of the Tour de France. Yes, it’s the one where Alberto Contador attacks Andy Schleck, the leader of the Tour, while he has mechanical issues. It was the subject of some “let’s try not to spoil the stage for Jeff, who has TiVo’d it” discussion at the office today, a spirited exchange between the Versus TV commentators, and a whole lot of 140-characters-or-fewer musings and arguments on Twitter.
I’ll give you my view, but first watch this:
Contador passes Schleck to take the yellow jersey. Schleck rides with anger and promises revenge.
The first 45 seconds show all the important events, beginning with Andy Schleck attacking and almost immediately having a bad shift that (all but certainly) jams his chain between the front derailleur and the chainring, forcing him to dismount. While he’s slowing, he’s caught by Alexei Vinoukorov, the Astana rider chasing him down for Alberto Contador, who was in second place overall at the time. (You can debate whether those two actually play that nicely and if Vino was going off on his own.) Vino knew something was up as El Pistolero passed them both and never looked back. Schleck eventually got back into the mix of it — with, I must say, some truly impressive uphill riding — but those 40 seconds he lost to the chain problem turned into an 8-second deficit in the competition.
So what do I think? Well, I hope you watched the rest of the video past the first 45 seconds, because that was some truly possessed climbing by Andy Schleck to be only 12-13 seconds behind at the top of the climb and some really daredevil descending by Contador, et al., to extend that margin to 39 seconds at the end of the day’s stage.
As for the propriety of Contador’s actions — attacking a rider who is in mechanical distress — that’s trickier.
I can’t fault Contador for riding hard and for wanting to win the Tour. After stage 14, when Schleck countered his every move, he clearly knew that it was going to be hard to take time out of the Luxemburger. And the Spaniard was racing to catch up after his rival caught him out. It seems like Contador knew that the only way that he could win was if he got very lucky and pushed on whatever fortuitous breaks came his way. Cycling is a very difficult sport — and this is perhaps the most difficult and prestigious sporting event in the world — so I can see doing what you have to do.
But during the last few stages, Contador has looked like the weaker rider. (Still a very capable rider, perhaps even very nearly the best in the world.) And both he and Contador are equally smart racers. Contador’s Astana team does look to be stronger than Schleck’s Saxo Bank riders, though.
Now, if there’s one thing I can’t abide it’s a Tour de France won by a weaker rider who got where he did through happenstance.
As for whether Contador should have waited, just as Jan Ullrich did when Lance Armstrong fell in the mountains during the 2003 Tour, that’s open to debate. I certainly would have, had I known that he had fallen and been able to do it without sacrificing my position to challengers. (Of course my racing career only extends as far as two amateur road races in high school when I finished well off the back.)
Armstrong crashes on an attack and then has mechanical problems.
But that was 2003. Today Contador couldn’t match the attack and wasn’t able to keep up with Vino who might have pulled him up to Schleck. (That Astana team is strong, but they certainly have teamwork issues.) When the Kazakh slowed down while marking Schleck, Contador blew past them both. It’s debatable whether Vinokouraov could have told his teammate about the leader’s mechanical issues. As a domestique, maybe it wasn’t even really his place to rein in the putative leader of the team. At any rate, I can’t believe that Contador wouldn’t have sensed something was up when he sailed past the almost stationary yellow jersey. And Menchov or Sanchez surely knew and could have relayed the information to him.
Contador doesn’t seem to be the kind of rider who honors traditions or team dynamics or teammates, so I’m not surprised that he didn’t hold up. And as the defending champion he would have had the clout to keep his rivals Menchov and Sanchez from going on ahead without him and the Tour leader. Now, it all happened very quickly, but I just don’t think Contador is built that way in the sportsmanship/fair-play department.
So was it wrong to counterattack the yellow jersey during a short mechanical crisis of Schleck’s own unfortunate and unintentional making? Maybe, maybe not. But I respect those in the crowd who booed Contador at the podium ceremony when he put on the leader’s jersey — just as I respect those who cheered him. And I’m reminded of Paul Sherwen’s words in the second clip above: “You know, in the sport of professional cycling, there’s always payback time. You can never burn your bridges. Don’t ever make enemies.”
I’m hoping that Tuesday’s stage 16 has a bit of payback time in it.
“Jeff, where are the pictures? We want to see what you saw. You’ve been back twelve days; how long can it take?”
Once upon a time — you might even remember when — going on vacation meant waiting . . . and waiting . . . for photographs to come back from the lab. I would put exposed rolls of 36-exposure slide film into mailers, write my name on the return label, affix postage, go to a mailbox, and hope nothing got lost or poorly processed. That wasn’t exactly fast; I didn’t even start to get nervous until two weeks after sending my film away. After getting the slides back, I would open them right away to find the very best ones. Was there anybody who could wait a long time to see their photographs?
Eventually, I would put as many slides as I could on my big lightbox and cull the overexposed, underexposed, out-of-focus, blurry, and plain-ole uninteresting ones. I suspect I kept a larger number of the “uninteresting” ones than I should. I have a big box in the closet of slides, just in case they might be more interesting to me after I’ve gotten over the initial disappointment of them not mirroring the memory I had in my mind of the scene. Of course, they’re in there with a whole bunch of slides that I haven’t properly sorted yet. The process of culling — when I did it right away — would take a while. Adding information to the slide about where the scene was and when I made the exposure, that made the process take even longer.
Back then a really, really big haul of photographs was fifteen rolls of film, or about 550 slides. Because I bracketed my exposures, about 1/2 of those could just be thrown out without looking too closely; they were obviously the wrong exposure, and film was unforgiving. A two-week photography vacation could be pared down to about 250 slides. The best of these (maybe 10-20%) found their way into clear, archival sleeves that still hang in my filing cabinet. Over the following weeks or months, I scanned the very, very best of these. It took a while because getting one slide ready for the web or print usually took me about 30 minutes to an hour. And if there was one that I really liked? I seem to remember working on one particular photograph from Ipswich for six hours spread over a few evenings.
But that was then. . . .
I no longer need to bracket my exposures with my dSLR. Instead, I have almost instant feedback, leading me to press the shutter another two or three times until what I see is what I want. Unless they’re patently bad, I don’t always delete the other photographs off my camera, preferring to see what they look like on a better display and wondering whether it’s possible to use the tools in the develop module in Lightroom to turn a middling photo into a better one. Furthermore, since Lisa and I go the same places together, we tend to come back with two slightly different interpretations of the same scenes. Plus, we had some amazing experiences and saw some beautiful scenery; we find each other very photogenic; and snapping away is just so mindlessly effortless.
Add it all up: We came back from Australia with 5,900 photographs from three cameras.
We’ve been sorting through these — picking, culling, cropping, adjusting RAW conversions, and adding metadata to help us with sorting. We don’t usually do this while we’re on our trips — though I know lots of people who do — for a couple of reasons. First off, our little 10″ netbook made a convenient place to store the photos, but it wasn’t powerful at all, and the monitor had a distinctly blue cast. But more to the point, we had a lot of other stuff to do on our vacation: reading, swimming, walking around, watching “Master Chef Australia,” spending lots of time at restaurants, etc. So while I did spend about eight hours of our trans-Pacific flight adding metadata and while we did look through the photos during the trip to help identify the 55 new-to-us bird species we saw, we didn’t really spend much more time than what it took to download the photographs and to pick one a day to post to Facebook.
Late yesterday evening, we finally finished the first pass through the 5,900 photos from the trip. We deleted about a thousand photographs and picked an equal number that we liked well enough to say that we liked them. Some of those are duplicates, and we need to make another pass through those 1,010 to whittle the collection down to a number that we would consider sharing. We’ve already decided that we need to present them in themed groups, since we don’t expect anyone — even the people who love us — wants to click through that many pictures; and no one would really get much out of such an enormous collection anyway. After that, we need to select a key set of photographs that we can share with people as totems of our trip.
So, have patience, little grasshoppers. We’ll post pictures very soon.
They say — whoever They are — that to recover from jet lag it takes about a day for every hour of time difference. I think that They might be right. This morning we’ve been home for ten days, and Lisa and I believe that our biological clocks might finally be in sync with the sun here in New England.
Over the weekend, we went to the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, for a company outing. It felt a bit like we were still on vacation, as if the four days at work were just a temporary stop between Australia and the White Mountains.
But, no. Today I was back at work. And I feel really productive, since I recognize that my recent vacation (to a certain extent) and the Mount Washington trip (to a much greater one) were possible because of my awesome employer.
I’m working on a longer recap post about Australia, but until then, here are a handful of things I miss about Australia:
We’re back from Australia — have been for about 30 hours. That, coincidentally, is about how long our Friday was. As always, the first night we slept soundly due to being completely wiped out by the trip home; but the second night (last night) the jet lag hit. Usually, I have a loud soundtrack going through my head the moment that I wake up too early after a trans-oceanic flight; but this morning it was a small murder of crows that woke me up, and then the soundtrack kicked in once they moved on:
As I write these lines, I’m “watching” the Tour de France prologue and waiting for my temporary basal insulin rate to kick in, since I’m going to go for a run in a few minutes. This will be my first since Alice Springs about three weeks ago. That morning was cold! So cold — 3ºC — that I could see my breath, shivered whenever I stopped to photograph birds or whatnot, and wished that I’d brought a long-sleeve running shirt. (Today we’re supposed to have big-time summer heat at home. Lisa is already out for a walk, not having slept at all overnight.) Despite the lack of running, I managed to lose weight on vacation — though I was quite surprised to see the number of the scale. We’ll see how much all of that hiking and walking has helped with my muscle tone and how much “outback lunch” has hurt.*
Time passes . . . Running went well. No jiggly-ness in places where there shouldn’t be. No gasping for breath. No sluggishness. No hypos or high blood glucose readings. Those are all good signs. I guess we did manage to keep active on our trip, probably more throughout each day than we typically would have been sitting in front of our computers at work.
All that activity wasn’t enough to reach blood-sugar nirvana right off the bat, though. In fact, it was kind of a weird diabetes trip, all things considered.
First off, I’ll get a confession out of the way. I’m pretty obsessive when it comes to traveling with diabetes. I carry almost twice as many supplies as I’m going to need, and I worry that I’m going to forget stuff.
I bring more supplies (even though they take up a ridiculous amount of space) because I almost ran out of infusion sets in Chicago in 2003 when I got a bunch that I just couldn’t get to work and had to keep changing them until on the morning of my return I was contemplating how to give small amounts of insulin by syringe for the next ten hours.
And I worry about forgetting supplies because in the past I (a) left my meter at home at the beginning of a two-week road trip and had to buy a new one in Milford, CT, (b) I left my insulin in the minibar fridge in Shimla, India and was lucky enough to have one of the hotel staff track me down on my way to the railway station, and (c) I didn’t bring a quite enough insulin with me on an unexpected trip to Kansas last year.
See, my pump broke in the middle of nowhere in the Northern Territory of Australia about three weeks ago. Yup that’s right: dead. A button on the controller got stuck, and that was enough to cause the pump to give up the ghost.
This isn’t the first time this particular error — “Button Error” — has happened to me. In fact, it happened about a year ago. In the US, this is an annoyance: Call Minimed, explain the problem, have a new pump the next day. In the interim, I’ve used my older Minimed 511 pump. (It uses all of the same supplies and is mine to keep because my health insurance system lets me get a new one every five years or so; and Minimed is eager to help me get the latest model.) It’s a pain, but it could be much worse.
But in the Outback in Australia. In a campervan. Without a fixed itinerary, without my own phone, without the Internet. It’s a bit more difficult. I had my backup plan, but it was now only one failure away from EPIC failure. My safety net needed me to do something. Fortunately, I had three things going for me:
I brought a backup pump.
I had the foresight to bring the list of Medtronic Minimed distributor phone numbers that comes in every box of supplies.
I have a naturally sunny and charming disposition. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but I wait to freak out until after I’ve taken charge of the situation.
Getting a replacement pump in Australia is not the same 24-hour experience as it is in the USA. First, dial Medtronic Minimed from a pay phone. Hang up. Deposit 50 cents. Dial Medtronic Minimed. Tell them I’m in the Northern Territory. Hang up. Dial the free call number (1800 777 808). Listen to crappy hold music. Get connected to US Minimed tech support. Explain the problem. Tell them I’m in the Northern Territory. Get put on hold. Listen to more crappy hold music. Give them the location of my next fixed address in Alice Springs in a week. Tell them to have the Australian office leave a message on my home voice mail (which we were checking via Skype when we had Internet access) if they need to.
A week later, show up in Alice Springs. Find no pump at the hotel. Get on Skype with the Aussie office of Minimed. “Your pump left Hawaii this morning. It should be there in a few days when you return to the same hotel after going to Watarrka and Uluṟu.” Go to Watarrka and Uluṟu. Pick up new pump about two weeks after it failed. Program all of the settings that I had (fortunately) written down on an index card I keep with my meter… you know, just in case. E-mail nice dude at Aussie Minimed to ask what to do with the broken pump. Put the pump in my luggage as a souvenir until I get home.
So what did we learn for the next time?
Assume that a pump is going to fail at some point. Over the last decade, I’ve had at least two fail with the “Button Error” locking failure and one fail with a motor sensor problem.**
Carrying a backup pump is a necessity (if you have one).
When leaving the country, bring along Lantus or some other kind of long-acting insulin as the backup plan for the backup plan.
Carry manufacturer contact info.
Wait until you get to the US (or home) before contacting Minimed about getting a replacement pump. I suspect supplies would be easier to get if they got lost, etc.
Other than that, diabetes didn’t really affect my trip any more than normal. Hiking and swimming are things we do frequently, and I managed the trip to the Great Barrier Reef pretty well. I probably could have used a little more insulin before disconnecting my pump and putting on my wetsuit; that’s good to know for next time, but this was the first time, and I feel it was a good trade-off.
Not exercising and changing my diet and eating schedule exposed a few problems with my basals . . . or at least required some changes. After those changes, I did pretty well for the rest of the trip. Sitting on a plane for long periods of time is going to suck for so many reasons, so just increase every bolus insulin dose 10% and hope for the best.
Now it’s late, and I’m hoping for a bit more sleep tonight. Wish me luck!
** — I suspect, but cannot prove, that this is related to water getting into microscopic fractures in the pump casing. I try to keep the pump dry, but I’ve noticed it twice after steamy summer exercise sessions. So I’m trying harder to keep the new one in a less humid environment, putting it in a plastic zippy bag when I run or ride and keeping it out of the steamy bathroom when I shower. We’ll see. Let’s hope the FDA takes notice.
Well, I finally made it work. After striking out with the PC — more like deciding I didn’t want to stay up all night on vacation searching for Windows software to make the video — I fired up iMovie HD earlier this evening and (eventually) built the video below from 83 still photos from the 19th of June.
I am not a doctor and do not have any medical training. Your diabetes may vary. You should always check with your health care team before making any changes to your diabetes self-management or exercise regimen.