Older blog entries for jfleck (starting at number 77)

19 Jul 2001 (updated 19 Jul 2001 at 01:06 UTC) »
If I were a sportswriter, here is what I would write.

I got interested in cycling during the 1995 Tour de France. Jimmie, a crusty old-fashioned road bike rider, sat next to me at work, and began teaching me the lore of the race, the tactics and the strategy. 1995 was the year Fabio Casartelli died in a wicked descent, and I came to understand the Tour's grace and elegance the following day, when the Tour's riders rode the stage silently together, eschewing racing in Casartelli's honor. They allowed Casartelli's teammates to ride to the front for each of the stage's bonuses, collecting the bonus money for his family.

And then the following day, a young rider named Lance Armstrong, a teammate of Casartelli's, rode a ferocious sprint victory for the win, raising his arms and his face to the sky as he crossed the line.

I lost track of young Lance, and paid little attention in the following years as he battled cancer.

And then, on the day of the 1999 prologue at Puy du Fou, Lissa and Nora were travelling and I sat alone at home watching the Tour on television.

I had no notion of Armstrong as a contender. I cared about Pantani and Ullrich, the names I'd grown to understand as the great champions of the stage race. Armstrong I understood simply as the man who had survived cancer, not as a sporting figure.

When he won, I wept.

"It's a long way from Indianapolis to Puy du Fou," Armstrong said after the race. Indianapolis is where he endured the ugliness and devastation that is the best medical science can offer cancer patients today. That became my email signoff quote.

I wept because he stood there at the start line for my wife Lissa, who survived cancer. When I saw the pictures they showed on TV of a wasted Lance Armstrong in a hospital bed, I saw my Lissa. Every time I see those pictures of him (they show them again and again, year after year now) I clutch. I took no picture of Lissa in that hospital bed.

Surviving cancer requires no courage and yet all courage. One has no choice. One simply does what one must do. Lissa survived it with all the courage she had, much she did not know she had, and all life after it is, for us, icing. She now can see Nora grow up.

Whatever Lance Armstrong has done since is icing. Winning that dinky little prologue at Puy du Fou - no, simply riding in it - will always stand for me as the towering achievement, just as every birthday for Lissa is.

I imagine him able to power up the climbs of Sestriere or L'Alpe d'Huez beyond anything Ullrich or the others can do because he is not riding against them. He is riding to beat back something bigger. Perhaps this is a romantic notion, or me projecting, but that is what I see when I see him jump out of the saddle and fly up the hills.

Armstrong passes five years of survival this year, one of the statistically arbitrary markers of "cure" the doctors give patients.

Lissa has passed 10 years, and I rarely think about her cancer any more, except to occasionally thank her for not dying.

But every summer now, the Tour reminds me of the power of survival.
Le Tour
Can we talk about the time trial? I don't wanna say anything if you're waiting to watch the replay tonight, OK?

What planet is that Texas boy from? After yesterday's performance, he still manages to put a minute on Ullrich and six minutes on Kivilev?
Le Tour II
Exciting news. My friend Nancy (the other cycling Nancy I know) has one of those TV dish goobers and OLN! Tapes forthcoming.
Le Tour
Dear me.

My annual tradition of watching cable television coverage of The Tour at mom and dad's has been shattered. They don't get OLN, the network carrying tour coverage in the states this year (no one around here seems to), so the only TV we can get is a Sunday afternoon hour on CBS.

So Sunday afternoon I trooped over and we watched an hour of the overdramatized summary of week one of racing (overdramatized because it was pretty uneventful, as the first week always is except for Jackie Durand wearing the polkadot jersey for a bit).
In honor of Le Tour's first mountain stage this week, I did a pretty ambitious climb on my own bike yesterday - 2,500 feet elevation gain. It was rather by accident, a road new to me that I'd been afraid of 'cause everyone talks about what a hard climb it is. I intended to go up as far as I could until I blew up, then turn around and ride down. But I never blew up, which meant the top! It wasn't as hard a climb as I thought.

And who should I meet near the top, but my ubiquitous cycling fiend friend Nancy, who I seem to bump into everywhere.
Some good discussions launched on gnome-docs-list about architectural issues for GNOME 2 help. This is great for me, because I'm not very good at thinking about these big-picture things, and we must get this right.
Vacation's done. Must go to work.
Spent a good part of our vacation visiting Indian ruins while at the same time reading a fascinating book about the rise and fall of the prehistoric cultures of the Four Corners region. I'd always viewed Mesa Verde and its immediate precursor, Chaco Canyon, as pinnacles of cultural achievement. Instead, I've come to realize that it is more appropriate to view them as colossal failures. First at Chaco, then soon at Mesa Verde, a society grew too big too fast, overreached the available resources, and failed catastrophically.


We camped at Mesa Verde in a valley half scalded by a wildfire last summer, which was fascinating. It was the sort of low-intensity fire that was the normal course of events here in the west before we started suppressing them a century ago, and the oak trees and grasses were popping back up like nothing had happeneed. But elsewhere in the park, a second fire burned across a thickly forested mesa top that was choked with fuel (that's what happens when fire is removed from the ecosystem) and the results were very different. The landscape there was sterilized - ugliness.

We also spent three days in Ouray, in the southwestern Rocky Mountains. Stunning mountains, beautiful waterfalls, and hikes way too steep for this aging boy's bones. But there was a hot springs at our motel....

Most importantly, it was good to have time with Lissa and Nora and not a lot of distractions, a little more inward directed family time. That was good.
the woods
Bye all.

I'm off to the woods for a week. OK, I'm lying, there will be a motel involved for some portion of that time. But there won't be a computer.

/me grins
I have the coolest job.

Yesterday I got to hold, in my own modest little hands, fossils dug from the Earth more than a century ago by the great fossil-hunter Edward Drinker Cope. Much of his fossil-hunting was really done by others he paid to work on his behalf, but in 1874, he came to New Mexico with the Wheeler Survey and collected himself in the San Juan Basin. There, he found the first bones ever discovered of a giant flightless bird called Diatryma.

The fossils are in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History, and are on loan to a researcher here. Along with them came a little box of cataloguing papers, including a tiny slip written in Cope's own hand identifying the bones. I was afraid to touch that, but the bones I held.
Racing against a vacation deadline, I've been getting a tremendous amount done. I've found fixes to three of the four customization requests Eugene has filed for gnome-db2html3, in the process learning some more cool things about how to solve problems using libxslt. I was getting frustrated with it, and found it amazing how much help the simple addition of an emacs major mode - xslide - can be. Color coding of text is such a conceptual help for me.
Which brings me to vacation.

Off on Saturday to Mesa Verde to camp for a few days. It's a favorite spot of ours - nice camping in a small high valley, the most amazing Anasazi ruins. And this year, big fire damage from a wildfire last year! That might sound bad to some, but it's actually fascinating. We've been going there for years, and you can see the changes wrought upon the landscape by fire, which is a natural part of the western landscape.

Then we're going on to Ouray, in the high mountains of Colorado, to hike and lounge by a pool and bask in hot springs. If only I could figure a way to take my bike. But alas, it won't fit in the little Subaru wagon. Maybe there will be a rental shop.
I haven't decided if this is about my marriage or about Route 66. Perhaps it's about both. You decide.

We are in the throes of a celebration here in The States of the 75th anniversary of Route 66. For those of you in older lands, this must seem odd, but we are a young nation, and have to reach hard to make a history for ourselves. So 75 years of a road is a worthy historical passing to mark.

Stretching from Chicago to the beach in Santa Monica, it was the first road to span much of our continent, and we use it to symbolize the 20th-century freedoms brought on by the automobile.

My affair with Route 66 is more personal, though. The freeways were already beginning to replace it by the time I came to be, but for all but a handful of my 42 years I have lived within a mile or two of the Mother Road.

I went to High School on it.

My parents were both teachers, which meant summers off, which meant these epic car trips across the southwest, through Barstow and Kingman and Winslow and Holbrook and Gallup and Albuquerque. It is the sort of car-bound freedom that Route 66 symbolizes - a big family station wagon and a canvas tent and Indians selling jewelry by the side of the road.

My first newspaper job was in a little community spanning it.

My marriage (I was headed here, trust me) has seen its major milestones, with no intention, happen there.

Our first date, a Friday night after work at Griswolds Patio Pub Night in Claremont, happened on Route 66. It was a huge weekly affair, one of those things with free salty snackish foods to get you to buy beer. All the artists and other riffraff hung out there, nursing beers and eating free. I hate beer, but it was a cheap dinner.

I proposed to Lissa at the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino.

On our honeymoon, I rode the bumper cars on the Santa Monica Pier, where Route 66 ends it run, dumping cars out onto the Pacific Coast Highway beneath glistening palm trees.

Today, we live a mile from the Mother Road. Thinking about this today, I made a wandering detour on my Independence Day bike ride, back up through Albuquerque's old neighborhoods to Central Avenue, festooned with "historic Route 66" signs, past the Indian jewelry pawn shops and the university, up the hill home.

It's just dumb luck, I guess. There's no real point to my life with Route 66, except it's been there all along without my really noticing it.

But I am certain that the secret to the success of my marriage - which gets better by the year - has something to do with the fact that we were goofy enough to become betrothed in a cheesy motel shaped like a teepee on Route 66, in what must be the heart of our way of life.
3 Jul 2001 (updated 4 Jul 2001 at 02:10 UTC) »
If there is any finer food than the avocado, I have not tasted it. And yet it is such a tricky, fickle temptress. Eaten a bit to soon, it is tough and rubbery. Too late, and it gets that smokey, aged flavor that disappoints. This morning, it is perfect.
Got some good stuff done last night:
  • Sent off a gnome-db2html3 patch for review, a simple code cleanup I've had sitting around for a while and my upgrade to the DocBook 1.40 xsl stylesheet
  • Got a workable draft of the GNOME Documentation Style Guide posted so the #docs crowd can start providing their feedback. I'm pretty proud of it. I've learned a lot in the process of working with Pat Costello on it. He made some fabulous contributions. Now I know that I regularly write sentences that are way too long.


Yesterday morning I saw Henrietta, our neighborhood hawk, catch a sparrow. Lissa and I were riding our bikes a couple of blocks from our house when Henrietta (could it have been Henry?) swooped low across the front lawn in front of me, after a clump of sparrows. She caught the slowest one - evolution in action - then zoomed back up to the trees in the park where her little ones were waiting for breakfast.

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