Archive for July 21, 2011

Day of Truth

July 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Thomas Voeckler, the glory and the pain

Boy oh boy what a day! I wrote last night that today would be the day of truth — hardly a novel suggestion, I should add — and indeed it was. The big surprise: Andy Schleck’s decision to make a move not on the the last of today’s three great climbs but on the second one, on the way up the Col d’Izoard. It was a gamble, opening the door to a complete collapse on the closing climb, up the Col du Galibier. Schleck knew the risk, as he agreed in a post-race interview, but he also knew this was his chance to put some distance between himself and the other leaders, and so he did, as they let him go.

To put this in proper context, a large breakaway group lay ahead on the climb, and when he caught them, he would have teammates to help, Maxime Monfort in particular. This worked well, with Monfort pacing him for a while. As he headed up Galibier, he had opened a 3’30” gap over the elite, putting him “in yellow on the road” — the leader of the Tour if the race were to be frozen at that moment.

The elite had to respond. But among the elite was Andy’s teammate and brother Frank, who had no desire to help the others catch up. It fell to Cadel Evans, who to this point looked like he might be the strongest rider in the Tour, to do all the work, what with Andy and Frank being the ones besides Evans who have looked strongest. Implicit in what I just said is that if Alberto Contador had any hope of a win or a podium finish, now was the time to show that he was their equal. Stunningly (under the heading “day of truth”), he wasn’t up to it. He moved back and forth among the lead group, but share in the work. So Evans did it all, with Frank Schleck staying close, as did the other members of the elite: Contador, Sanchez, Basso, Cunego, and of course Thomas Voeckler, this Tour’s biggest surprise. Voeckler was, after all, still the holder of the yellow jersey, and if they could pull back a minute on Andy Schleck, he could keep the yellow. He’s been magnificent in the Pyrenees and the Alps in his defense of the jersey. Staying with the others has been challenge enough. Sharing the work in closing a gap was too much to ask. So, again, the work fell to Evans.

Up Galibier they went, Andy alone in the lead, the elite pack (having disposed of the breakaway riders) giving chase. They weren’t gaining on him, but no one could afford to lose still more. Shockingly, Sanchez and Contador both fell off the pace in the final two kilometers. It’s amazing how much time one can lose in such a short distance once one cracks. But equally well, Andy Schleck slowed his pace. One can’t say he cracked. He held on for a dramatic stage win. But in the final kilometer, he had nothing left. He passed under the 1K banner, then maybe 20 seconds later, the chase group passed by the 2K marker. He still had a lead of over 3 minutes. Evans set a relentless pace. With Contador and Sanchez gone, the only riders staying with him were Frank Schleck (still looking good but making no effort to help catch his brother), Voeckler (looking past dead), Basso, Cunego, and Pierre Rolland. And they were bringing that gap down.

Schleck crossed the finish line arms raised, exultant, completing one of the great stage wins in recent memory. His gamble had paid off. But would he be in yellow? Evans continued to push in the final kilometer. And then Frank Schleck, having taken advantage of Evans all day and so relatively rested, made a move in the final 200 meters to finish second, grabbing 8 seconds on Evans. Basso came in 3 seconds after Evans. Voeckler 3 seconds after Basso. Then 6 second gaps to Rolland and to Cunego. But Frank was only 2’07” behind brother Andy. They had taken a minute and a half off his lead. Voeckler, 2’21” behind Andy, would stay in yellow. What a look on his face! The most extraordinary combination of pain and joy. (See above.) And that little move by Frank at the end to grab 8 seconds off Evans allowed him to jump ahead in the overall standings.

Voeckler stayed in first, Andy went from 4th to 2nd, Frank stayed in 3rd, Evans dropped from 2nd to 4th. But very little separates them, while there are big time gaps down to the rest. This has become a four-man race. One is tempted to say it’s really a three-man race, between the brothers Schleck and Evans. Voeckler can’t really keep this up, can he?

More details: Voeckler’s lead over Andy Schleck is just 15 seconds. Frank is 1’08” behind Voeckler, Cadel Evans 1’12” behind. It’s a big jump down to Cunego and Basso in fifth and sixth, both 3’46” behind. Contador sits still farther behind in 7th, with a 4’44” gap, and Sanchez is 5’20” back. (American Tom Danielson remains in 9th, but way back — 7’08” behind.)

Take Voeckler away and 57 seconds separate Andy from Cadel Evans. Based on past performance, Evans could well make up that much time on Andy (and the tiny gap on Frank) in the individual time trial on Saturday. Thus, there’s a lot of pressure on the Schlecks to continue the attack tomorrow on the climb up to Alpe d’Huez. Today identified the four riders who will fight it out for the three podium spots. But we won’t have a clue about the ordering until tomorrow’s climb and Saturday’s time trial.

You might want to keep in mind that Frank Schleck won the Alpe d’Huez stage five years ago. He knows something about that climb. Maybe he can make his own move tomorrow. Or maybe he’ll pull brother Andy up and put him in yellow. Maybe Evans will be the one to attack. Can Voeckler ride with the this trio? He keeps predicting that he won’t stay in yellow. This time I bet he’s right. It will be exciting.

And of course we have the extra excitement of having made our own ascent of Alpe D’Huez two Octobers ago, albeit by car rather than bike. We know that turn onto the mountain road from the valley village of Le Bourg d’Oisans. We know those switchbacks. We’ll be cheering as though we were there.

Categories: Cycling

Lion Operating System

July 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Apple released its new operating system Mac OS X Lion, yesterday. A July released had been announced a few months ago, and I checked just two days ago, but it wasn’t available yet. When Joel got up yesterday morning, he asked if I had downloaded it yet, my clue that the release date had come. Since I was about to leave the house, I had to wait until last night to buy it.

Being able to download the new OS rather than having to buy a disk is a great convenience. In fact, in a first for Apple, one must download it. Disks are in the past. You want it, you go to the online App Store, buy it, and wait for it to download. And wait I did, for hours. It was the slowest download I can remember. As far as I can tell, this was due to the huge demand on Apple’s servers. I had two experiences today that were different. Last night’s download was for my iMac. This morning, when I tried to download it for my MacBook Air, I got repeated error messages — error 500 for their internal server. The demand, I gather, was so large that my request was denied. Late this afternoon, in contrast, I was able to download it in a snap. I should explain that once you’ve downloaded the OS, you have another wait for installation, a wait of maybe 20-30 minutes.

Is it worth it? I haven’t used the OS enough to have any strong opinions, but it’s a bargain compared to past OS updates, which typically have cost on the order of $100, or maybe $150 or $180 for a family pack that would allow installation on 5 machines in one home, or something along those lines. Lion costs $30, and this covers downloads to multiple machines. If there’s even one feature you consider a significant convenience or improvement and if you have several computers, you can’t go wrong.

Reviews can be found everywhere today: Jason Snell at MacWorld, David Pogue at the NYT, Walt Mossberg at the WSJ. I haven’t looked at Snell’s piece yet.

I’ll comment on four features I’ve been using so far today:

1. Scrolling. Lion brings multi-touch gestures to the Mac to make its use more like that of the iPad. Some of these gestures were already available, such as two-finger up-and-down motions on mouse or touchpad for scrolling. But the scrolling direction has been switched. This may seem like a puzzler at first, and I’m working to get used to it, but it makes good sense. Before, when you made the two-finger downward gesture in a window, you produced the same effect as grabbing the scrollbar on the right side of the window and dragging it down. Metaphorically, you were to imagine that you had grabbed that scrollbar and were pulling it down with your fingers. Of course, when you pull the scrollbar down, you advance toward the end of the page, so the page goes up: scrollbar down, page up. That makes some sense, but really, it’s counter-intuitive. And I believe I did find it that way some years ago when I would first make that gesture on my laptop. Why not think of your fingers grabbing the page and pulling it down rather than grabbing that thin scrollbar on the right and pulling it down?

With iPhone and iPad, on which you really do put your fingers on the page, the downward gesture of your fingers drags the page down, meaning the part in view moves toward the top. That’s the only sensible approach. Lion brings that approach to the desktop and laptop computers. Drag two fingers down on mouse or trackpad and the page goes down, revealing text or images higher up. You don’t even see a scrollbar anymore most of the time. It’s hidden. It only appears when you drag, at which point you see it slide up as you drag the page down.

This is much more intuitive, except for the fact that the more natural intuition has been beaten out of me for years. I now have to recover my intuition. But I like it.

2. Spaces and Mission Control. I was a big fan of the old Spaces in recent Mac operating systems. Instead of having layers of windows, I would create 12 “spaces” in a 4×3 array, then pin certain applications to certain spaces: Mail in one space, Safari in another, OmniFocus in still another, iTunes out of the way in a distant space so it can play in the background, LaTex in the lower left corner. Open an app and it reports to its assigned space. Move between spaces by various keyboard commands, including using Control and arrowing around or Control-# to go to the desired space number.

Lion discards this. Instead, it lays out spaces in a row and allows you to move through them with left and right three-finger gestures. Or, you can still jump around with Control and arrows, or Control and numbers. I was happy with the old system and didn’t think I wanted a change, but I have already adapted. Especially attractive is that the dashboard occupies the leftmost space, so you can slide over there easily. Well, the old way of opening the dashboard was easy too. What I like about this is that it’s a full screen in the background, rather than something that bursts open the way the old one did. I don’t get there any faster, but the metaphor works better for me.

Please please please bring this idea to the iPad and iPhone. Let me swipe left and right to switch between apps. Palm’s final OS, for the Palm Pre, had this, or so I read. Now HP, having bought Palm, has introduced it to their mobile OS. Apple, surely you plan to do the same, yes?

3. Full screen. The reviews suggest that this is another idea carried over from the iPad. The point is that you can click on an expansion arrow on the upper right corner of a window (for suitable apps) and it fills the screen, covering up the dock and the menu bar and the background. This allows you to focus on one app at a time. Of course, I already do this by moving my apps to different spaces. But you can focus even more sharply, with nothing else in sight, and you give more space to the window/app itself. On my iMac, this isn’t such a big deal. The feature may be more useful on the MacBook Air, with its tiny screen. I’ve tried it there just for a few minutes, will experiment some more.

4. Mail. There are several changes here, but the one I’m already in love with is the ability to “bookmark” mailboxes. This works just like bookmarks or favorites in Safari. You drag mailboxes to the favorites bar (or whatever Apple is calling it) and they stay there. Or you pull them off. Now, when you want to look up emails in that box, just click on it in the favorites bar at top. If you have only a few mailboxes or a flat hierarchy, who cares. But I have hundreds of boxes and a deep hierarchy. So far I’ve grabbed about a dozen boxes and favorited (?) them.

Now, here’s the real beauty. Just like in Safari, I can hit Command-1 and go to the leftmost favorite box. Or Command-2 and go to the second one. And so on. No need for the mouse. Just as I now go to the NYT and Sports Illustrated in Safari with Command 1 and 2, in Mail I can go to my Comcast and work email inboxes the same way. In the old version of Mail, some of these keyboard commands were fixed — Command 1 went to all inboxes combined, Command 4 to sent mail, and so on. Now I can go to specific inboxes, specific sent mail boxes, or any other boxes.

Complementing this feature, one can toggle between seeing the list of all mailboxes and hiding them, either with the mouse or with Command-Shift M. I’ve already found that with just 10 or 12 favorite mailboxes, I rarely need to see the mailbox list. Note that you can drag an email into the box listed in the favorites bar and it will go in that box. Or, if the box has many boxes within, it shows up in the favorite bar with a dropdown arrow that allows you to see all the subboxes, open one of them, or move an email into one.

So far so good. I’m happy.

Categories: Computing