A New Relationship

I’ll admit, it’s taken me awhile to get this far. But over the weekend I started a new relationship. My last one had lasted about 32 years. In fact it started right after college. And boy was she a beaut. She’s been with me to Lake George multiple times and we’ve seen a lot of local back roads and other locations. She’s been mostly faithful. A few times there have been breakdowns and I can say we’ve had a few flat times along the way. But, it was fun. But it was time to move on. Things had changed. And she was developing rust spots and the years were showing. And honestly as, much as I enjoyed her, there were quirks along the way.

I’ll still keep her in the garage and go out with her from time to time, probably in the winter months, but my new one is so much better.

This weekend I went down to New Jersey to pick up my new friend. It was the closet place I could find the perfect match. And trust me I had looked closer. I look forward to years of adventures and trips with my new friend.

Randi drove down with me to keep me company. She was definitely behind me in this endeavor. She knows how much I enjoyed spending time with my last one and how much I’ll spend time with my new one.

Oh wait, you do realize I’m talking about my bicycle right? Seriously, the comment about rust spots should have been the giveaway!

Ok, enough of being coy and all that. Now the details.

The 520 and earlier

After college my mom had bought me a Trek 520 as a graduation gift. I’ve always loved bike riding and this was an upgrade and a replacement from an earlier, used bicycle I had gotten in high school. That one was lovely, but by the time I had acquired it was well over a decade old and was showing its age. It failed me in a dramatic fashion as somehow the front fork collapsed into the wheel somersaulting me over the handlebars. I suspect somehow the front axle had come loose, I had hit a bump, the frame and forks went up, the tired didn’t, and when the fork came back down went in between the forks. The details don’t really matter other than the fact I woke up to seeing a CDTA bus coming towards me. My first thoughts were “why is there a CDTA bus coming at me? Why am I laying on the road? Wasn’t I napping and about to bike to the rockclimbing cliffs?” Needless to say I didn’t make the cliffs that day. I did make it ou to lunch with my aunt a few days later who did let me know my swollen lower lip did make me look like a duck. Thanks Aunt Miki.

I will add a serious note here. I had not ridden that bike for a few weeks because my helmet had been locked on campus at RPI and I had just gotten it back the day before. I shudder to think what would have happened had I NOT had a helmet on that day. I very clearly had hit the pavement with the front of my head. I had been a huge proponent of helmets before than and am an even bigger one now. I firmly believe it saved me from serious head trauma.

Anyway, later that summer I received my new bike. A Trek 520. It was almost ideal. I saw almost. It was great for road-biking and I could take it on dirt roads without too much concern. It rode well. It was fitted with a rear-rack which I’ve used for various panniers over the years. I’ve been 1000s of miles on that bike. During the pandemic I managed to do 100 days in a row with at least 5 miles a day (except one when a damaged tire ended my ride at about 2 miles) and most days more and even did a Century Ride that summer. My first in about 35 years.

Milk (and a brownie) does the body good!

I don’t know how many tubes I’ve replaced or how many times I’ve replaced the tires, or how many water bottles I’ve gone through, but the bike as served me well. I even put enough miles on it I had to replace the middle ring up front as well as the rear cassette.

Worn from the miles

I would probably have kept riding the 520 into the sunset, but it is starting to develop some rust issues and the back axle really needs replacing and probably the tires and well at some point I decided it was time for a new bike.

Now that said, one thing that I enjoy about biking is when things all click and one simply becomes “one with the machine.” Any bicyclist will know this feeling. You and the bike are one. It responds to your every move and it’s smooth and the wheels spinning are simply an extension of your legs and your muscles. It’s honestly a beautiful moment. It doesn’t happen every ride or even the entire length of the ride, but when it does, you feel like you can ride forever.

But it was time. Time to shop around. I had actually started in 2021 but due to the pandemic finding anything was hard. Combine that with my absolute hate of shopping for stuff like this slowed me down. I did stop at the same bike shop I had bought my 520 at years ago. They didn’t have the model I was looking for and honestly, the owner’s attitude sort of turned me off. He seemed disinterested in my search and really seemed like I was bothering him. I’ve since talked to another avid biker who lives right near the shop and he says he’s felt the same way, to the point where he won’t shop there.

The Search

Anyway, I finally had narrowed it down to a Domane 2 AL last year. But every place said “oh we’re not taking delivery until 2022 at the earliest” and without the ability to actually try one I wasn’t going to put a deposit down. About 2 months ago though I started looking in earnest. I made one mistake in my search: I started at Google for a place to shop. The closest was a place in Maryland, High Mountain Sports. They didn’t have the disc brake version in stock, but after exchanging a few emails I decided I’d stop by on my way back from the NCRC weeklong in southern Virginia. It was about 2 hours out of my way, but I figured I had to at last try the fit. It was pretty good. It convinced me the Domane was probably the bike for me. I did end up buying a helmet there. I had wanted to get a new one for awhile and figured if I couldn’t buy a bike that day, I should at least give them some business. I would recommend them if you’re in the area however (and the Deep Creek Lake area is beautiful). And the drive through the mountains was worth it.

It wasn’t until a week later when I was home I realized that the Trek website itself had a search feature for its dealers! This is where I should have started instead of Google (hence my mistake above.) I also spoke further with some biking friends and decided perhaps it was worth going all the way up to the 5 model. It has better components and 11 gears on the rear cassette giving a wide range of speeds.

Well thanks to the Trek site, I found a dealer nearby that claimed to have one in stock in the color and size I wanted. I emailed them and heard back: “Sorry, we literally just sold that the other day, we just haven’t cleared it from the system yet.” I expanded my search but nothing close by had it in stock. Finally I found Bicycle Tech in New Jersey had it. A series of emails back and forth and I planned my trip for Sunday. My concern of course was either they’d sell it in the meantime or that I’d end up hating it. Well let me cut to the chase and say it was worth the 2.5 hour drive in each direction. Turns out they sell ONLY Trek bikes, have a huge inventory in stock (in fact their showroom was packed with unpacked bicycles!) And their service and attitude was exceptional. Very friendly and helpful. It was worth it. Close to 2 hours later (after they did a final tuning before handing it off to me and jumping my car battery, which is another story) I was on my way home.

The Domane 5 AL and Thoughts

The new bike: Trek Domane 5 AL

I took it out for a ride that afternoon when I got home.

Now, that said, how do I like it?

Well I still need to get a rear rack for it (one of the few items Bicycle Tech didn’t have in stock) and move over my bike computer or get a new one.

And the geometry is definitely different. It’s a slightly shorter wheelbase from what I can tell and as a result it’s what I’ve been describing as twitchy. By that I mean it feels like any slight twitch of my arms will cause it to turn. I’m a bit afraid if I take one arm off the handlebars and am turning may find myself having the front wheel snap to far in the direction of the turn. But I’m very confident as my muscle memory for this bike develops that will stop being a concern. And I think once a get a new front back (or for now move the old one over, it’s only about 40 years old!) this will add a bit of inertia which will help resist the twitch.

I had been concerned that going from a 3-7 setup for gear to a 2-11 I’d lose the advantage of the “granny” gear” but in my two rides so far, I’m finding I really prefer the 2-11 setup. There’s definitely enough range that hill-climbing is if anything easier and there’s less hunting for the right combination of gears. Already I find myself shifting a bit more often (which in this case is a good thing) to stay at the cadence and effort I prefer.

I also find given the slightly different geometry, I’m riding with my hands on the brifters and forward part of the handlebars a bit more than I did on the 520. On the 520 I was generally riding on the cross-bar section of the handlebars. So in theory I’m in a better position and a slightly more aerodynamic one. And I find it comfortable except for one important detail I’m going to have to work on. I’m finding that even after about 5 miles, the palms of my hands are very sore, almost like I’m pinching a nerve. I’m working on hand position to solve this but it will take some work. It’s really the only concern I have in terms of fit. If I can’t solve this, I may have issues. But I’m confident I can. My 2nd ride was more comfortable than the first, despite it being about a mile longer.

And the brifters. Yes, that’s apparently the right word. They are a combination brake and shifter mechanism. I’ll admit, I’m worried about servicing these in the future, but for now they’re pretty good. Basically, in the standard riding position, I can brake and shift all without moving my hand. It’s taking some getting used to, especially remembering which way to shift to increase or decrease the gear ratio but it’s quickly becoming a very natural motion. I think I’ll come to love these.

The disc brakes. These are taking some getting used to and I’m still breaking in the brakes. But I can get an idea of exactly their stopping power. This is generally a good thing. But I will have to keep an eye, especially on a wet ride, that I don’t suddenly lock up the front brake and find myself doing a somersault over the handlebars.

Overall, I think I’ve found a great new partner for my longer rides. But I’l be keeping the 520 around for a few more years for those messy days or for nostalgia’s sake. You don’t just forget a partner like that.

T-SQL Tuesday – The Conference That Changed Everything For Me

My faithful readers get a double dose today, only because when I wrote my earlier post I had not yet seen the invite for this month’s T-SQL Tuesday. Otherwise I would have started with this post (and perhaps written a better version of it. This will be a bit hurried).

Like many I’m picking PASS Summit. No, not very creative, but true and accurate. I should note my first conference was SQL Connections back in I believe 2006 or 2007 in Orlando and that had a fairly important impact on me too. But my first PASS Summit in 2015 had a bigger one. I managed to go in the place of our SQL Server User Group organizer provided I attended the User Group update the day before and also represent us officially in that capacity. I of course did both.

But I also had an ulterior motive for going. Two of my best friends from college lived in Seattle and I had not seen them in years, in fact in well over a decade. So it was a good chance to catch up with them. (Let me just say, flying from the east coast to the west coast and trying to go to bed at 1:00 AM West coast time, but waking up at 7:00 AM doesn’t work well!)

That said, the real reason this conference was so important was because I met Kathi Kellenberger @AuntKathi. She gave a presentation on how to get published. For years I had given thought to writing a book and with the recent death of my father, who had always wanted to write the Great American Novel this seemed like an interesting session to attend. She of course gave a great presentation. I spoke briefly with her afterwards and then went on to the next session. But her session stayed in my mind. Later that day I tracked her down and asked further questions and before I knew it I was introduced to her rep at Apress.com. Very quickly I was discussing my idea with him and before I knew it, he expressed and interest and suggested I submit a more formal idea via email. Within a few weeks of the conference I did so and my idea was accepted. That was the easy part. Translating my thoughts to paper was a bit harder. But a year later by the 2016 Pass Summit I was a published author. My dad wasn’t around to see it, but the book was dedicated to him. It wasn’t the Great American Novel and honestly, sales never lived up to even my more pessimistic expectations, but that doesn’t matter. Someone paid me for my writings! And you can still buy a copy of IT Disaster Response: Lessons Learned in the Field, my take on combining IT Disaster response with thoughts on plane crashes and cave rescues. It’s not the most technical book, nor was it intended to be, but it was meant to be sort of a different and more holistic way of looking at responding to disasters. Instead of talking about “do backups like this” it talks about using ICS (Incident Command System) and CRM (Crew Resource Management) techniques to help respond to your disaster.

I’m not here to sell you on my book but talk about how that one conference and that one chance encounter with the right person changed my life. But I won’t stop you from buying it. It’s a quick and I thikn fun read! And you might even learn something.

I’ve enjoyed all my PASS Summits, including 2020 when I finally had a chance to present (albeit remotely) and SQL Saturdays (where I’ve learned a LOT and owe too many people to name a great deal of thanks for all they’ve taught) but that first Summit was the one that probably had the most impact.

Thanks for reading.

A Hole in the Ground

A close friend of mine had asked me earlier this summer if I could take him, his daughter, and a work colleague caving. I immediately said yes. I also tried to schedule to take a couple of other folks caving, but alas, life got in the way. I had to postpone once, but was able to finally get underground this past Sunday.

For anyone who has been living in the area or watching the weather, you’ll realize exactly how hot and humid it’s been lately. Fortunately it’s cooler and in this case less humid underground. Because of the heat and humidity I was glad to have a chance to get underground. The only danger of course is overheating in your cave clothes before getting into the cave.

Often when I take beginners, I will take them to Clarksville Cave also known as Wards-Gregory. I’ll state up front it’s not my favorite cave in New York but it’s a decent beginner cave because it has a bit of everything and given the fact it has 3 entrances, one can plan several different types of trips from a pure walking with only a few spots of crawling to a trip with a good deal of tight crawling. You can stay almost completely bone dry to getting wet up to your neck. So it has variety. It is also not to far away and the hike to the entrance is an easy one.

The main entrance is a bit of a climb, but honestly, almost anyone can do it. This opens up into a large sized room with where I can start to orient folks to the cave and caving. One question that often comes up is “is this cave going to collapse on us?” The reality is no. The fact is, especially in caves as well travelled and large as this one, if it were to collapse completely, it would have collapsed long ago. That said, things do change at times. In this case, one thing I’ve noticed, is that after Superstorm Irene, the hydraulics of this cave did change a bit. The stream that travels the length of it and that used to commonly flow through this room has diverted a bit to one side and this room is often bone dry. I point this out to newer caves. I also tell of the time, decades ago that on a particular Friday night trip after a major rain storm, the water was so high in this room there was a rooster tail of water where the water was entering and then backing up. We cancelled that trip.

But that was not the case this Sunday. The water level was among the lowest I had seen it. On a typical beginner trip we headed up stream to what is known as the Lake Room. Often this requires some wading through toe deep water, but not this time. It was dry enough one could keep their feet wet the entire time. There’s some crawling required to do this, but not much. Often beginner trips will simply be a trip to the Lake Room and then back out. This is known as the Wards section (originally Wards Cave) But I had told this group we would head back past the entrance we came in (the main aka Ward Entrance) and go through the Gregory section (no relation to my name). This has what’s known as the Duck-Under. This isn’t really a bad section of the cave. I mean the ceiling is about 5′ above the floor. However the water is often 4.5′ deep here! Very rarely it will reach each the ceiling and sump this part of the cave. I was in the cave once (but not here) once when this happened. Folks went in the Gregory entrance sump dove the Duck-Under and apparently got disorientated and needed a quick rescue.

As I had mentioned, the water level this time was particularly low so there was closer to 1′ or more of headroom here. This still means getting pretty wet and trust me, going from being wet up to your knees to just past your waist is… not necessarily fun and often causes more than a few yelps from the cold water hitting sensitive spots.

But I was with troopers and we managed this without too much gasping at the cold water.

Now I’m going to share a little secret. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve done the Wards side of the cave. As I mentioned, it’s an easy beginner trip and one I’ve done often. But the Gregory side I’ve explored far less and I suspect there’s parts I haven’t seen in decades if at all. Partly because by the time one gets in there, one’s got a goal of “get through the Duck-Under and now that we’re wet, get out.” (and to be fair, the more interesting stuff is before the Duck-Under, so once through it, there’s not much left to explore.).

In any event, we got through the Duck-Under and headed towards the Gregory exit. We hit the hot, humid air and I swear I was MORE soaked by that than the Duck-Under. With the Duck-Under I had managed to keep my upper chest and head dry. Not so much outside in the humidity.

But it was still a great end to a good trip and their were smiles all-around.

It was only later that I reflected, I think this is the first time in 3 years I’ve been in a cave purely for pleasure. I have been in caves (including Clarksville multiple times) over the past 3 years, but every time it was for cave rescue training. Those trips aren’t really caving per se. Yes, I’m in a cave, but not really showing it off or exploring it. I realized exactly how much fun I had had on this trip, especially with an enthusiastic bunch of new caves.

I’m hoping to plan at least one more trip with some beginners in the next few weeks as well as an Orientation to Cave Rescue class (which will use Clarksville on its second and final day). I don’t know if I’ll take this group to Clarksville or another local cave. We’ll see. Perhaps that time I’ll remember to take pictures!

And as always to my faithful readers, I extend the invitation if you ever want to try out caving, let me know. I can tailor trips to your level of interest and physical ability.

Sorry, Neither

I heard the sad news on Sunday of the passing of Nichelle Nichols. I had always been fond of her character Nyota Uhura on the original Star Trek. Growing up in a fairly liberal household and only catching the original series in reruns, I didn’t find her presence on the bridge of the Enterprise all that surprising. It seemed normal. Of course I was young and honestly naïve and didn’t realize until years later exactly how groundbreaking her presence was. This of course was in contrast to a young African-American woman named Whoopi Goldberg.

Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on,” Goldberg says. “I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”

That said, there was always a scene from the episode The Naked Time that stood out to me. Lt. Sulu, under the influence of the polywater and in swashbuckling garb, grabs her and says “I’ll protect you, fair maiden.”

Oh my!

Her response, the title of this post “Sorry, neither” is perhaps the shortest quote that stands out from any of the Star Trek series. However, it wasn’t until recently I learned that some folks interpreted it different from me, and I realized they had a point. They interpreted the neither to mean Uhura was declining the protection and demurring against the “fair maiden” part of the quote. And I certainly can see it that way. And I always figured that was part of it. She was quite clear, she was a Star Fleet officer, as highly trained as Sulu, and not in need of any particular form of protection. This perhaps more than anything else I think helps define her position in Star Fleet and Rodenberry’s and her concept of Uhura. She wasn’t a token.

But, over the years I had focused a bit more on the fair maiden part. I’ve often thought the neither was used to negate both parts of that. Let’s be clear, Nichelle Nichols was by any token a fair woman to set ones gaze on and the camera work in the early Star Trek often used softer lenses to highlight the female cast members. But, as Uhura, while she had the voice of an angel as demonstrated in the Episode Charlie X, it again was clear she wanted to be first considered an officer and a competent crew member. Perhaps in off hours calling her fair would be taken as a complement, but on-duty was an insult.

So that leaves maiden. One often associates the idea of a maiden with being virginal and with that again a certain level of helplessness or having others determine ones fate. Uhura was making it clear that she wasn’t virginal, helpless or incapable of determining her own fate. While in the original Series we never really saw any romantic relationships with her, she in a single sentence made it clear she had probably had them and had a say in how they developed and progressed.

In the end, regardless of how you interpret it, those two words spoke volumes. Nichelle Nichols was playing a character who was capable, confident, competent, and had earned her place on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. Since Star Trek, especially then, has always been an allegory to hold up to the real world, Nichelle Nichols in two words seemingly spoke for every African-American out there.

On a more personal level, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting her and with my daughter getting a picture taken together. This was in 2019 and while it was clear she didn’t have the verve she had from her youth and was seated the entire time, her presence was unmistakable. We were standing in the presence of greatness. I was honored to be there.

Hailing Frequencies Closed.

Missing the Old Ways

I’ll admit, sometimes I’m a curmudgeon. Sometimes I miss the old ways. Last night was a case in point. My wife asked me to look at her computer. For some reason suddenly all her Office Apps had stopped working after a reboot. I tried a few simple things and sure enough I’d get a pop-up saying “This App can’t Open” every time. Googling brought up a page that seemed helpful and had a number of recommendations. I resisted the 2nd option of creating/using a new Microsoft account because I’m not keen in extra accounts, etc. I’ll save you the trouble of reading the rest of this post and say, I finally did that, using MY existing Microsoft account and magically everything started working. I then removed my account and things seem to continue to work.

But I’m frustrated. I miss the old days where one installed software and it well, frankly, stayed installed. I really don’t think one should have to worry about software like Office suddenly breaking because an online account isn’t available or the like. I’d be ok with certain features not being available (e.g. saving to the cloud automatically) but basic functionality shouldn’t suddenly break on a reboot.

I’ll admit there are days I miss DOS when things were really pretty simple.

Of course the irony is I’m writing on this one a dual screen computer running 16 gigs of memory with an ungodly number of programs open and an even larger number of tabs in browsers open. So I’m not entirely against new things. But I do want basic stuff just to work.

And that’s my thoughts for this week.

T-SQL Tuesday #152 – My Rant

Thanks to Deb Melkin for hosting this month’s T-SQL Tuesday and developing the topic. Instead of calling this a rant, perhaps I should call it a “I told you so.” There’s a common refrain among DBA of “It depends” when asked a question. And that’s generally accurate. But this is the case of me saying “it doesn’t depend, do as I say” and being ignored.

Ironically when I took my Database class in college, it was long enough now that the idea of a “Sequel Database” (that along should tell you how long ago this was) was basically described as an up and coming technology that perhaps had a future. Talk about a bold and accurate prediction! That said, one of the things then that fascinated me, and still does, is that SQL (in general, not the product SQL Server) is based on work done by Edgar F. Codd and has a fairly strict mathematical basis. (Which is another reason I rail against those who claim that RDBMS and SQL will eventually be replaced. That’s like saying Algebra will be replaced. There may be other branches of mathematics developed that are far better for their specific domains, but the validity and usability of Algebra will never go away.).

In any event, one of the key concepts that Codd developed was that of “a table”. A table has several particular parts to its overall definition. The one critical for this blog is that a table itself has no implicit order. Now, many folks will do a query multiple times and always get the same results every time. But that’s more a factor of how SQL Server happens to handle reads. At my last full-time job, I was easily able to prove to the programmers that a query on the UAT box would result in a different order than on Prod because of the number of CPUs and disks. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

My “I told you so moment” goes back further to a table that was about as simple as you can get. It had a single row. Now, I think we can all agree that a single row will always return the same order, right? I can’t recall exactly why the developer felt that this table was the solution to his problems, but I pushed back. I asked at the very least he put in a where clause. He felt that would impact performance too much and besides, with one row, it would always return his results. I of course asked, “What happens if eventually the table has two rows?” “Oh, well my row will return first anyway.” “No it won’t.” Well he wouldn’t budge and I had bigger fish to fry. At the time there really was no reason to expect this table to grow. But I tucked it away in the back of my mind.

Sure enough, about a year later, which was 3 months after the developer left, we started to get really weird results on the webpage that was relying on that table. It seems that another developer realized this table was a perfect place for him to store the data that he needed (I’m assuming it was some sort of config data, but it was honestly so long ago I can’t recall) so he added a row. Now HE was smart enough to add a where clause to his query. But the original “Don’t worry about it query” still had no where clause. And sure enough, sometimes was returning the new row instead of the original. Fortunately this was a 5 minute fix. But I can only imagine how long it would have taken to find the problem if I hadn’t remember it in the first place.

So, while as DBA I will often say “it depends”, I will always be adamant in saying that tables are unordered by definition and you absolutely need a where clause or an order by if you want to guarantee specific results. Though, I suppose it depends, if you don’t care about the order or need a specific set of data you can ignore my rant. There are cases where that’s valid too.

Thus ends my TED talk.

O-Chem, A Chem Grade?

After a long weekend I’m sitting here on a cool morning rather relaxed. For the first time in 6 weeks I don’t have class today and I have to say what a long strange journey it’s been.

As I’ve mentioned, one of the prerequisites for even applying to PA School was to take Organic Chemistry, often simply called O-Chem. At the end of May I wrote about my hopes and fears.

Well, I’ll be upfront. Forget the humble brag. I’m going to outright brag. Going in, I figured “if I get at least a C, that’s good enough for the places I’m applying for.” Obviously I wanted to do a bit better than “good enough” but I was realistic. Or so I thought. I got back my first test and well, the grade was disappointing. But I reminded myself, “Well she drops the lowest of the 4 exam grades. But even with that, I’m at least on my way to a solid C.” But then she threw a curve at us. “If by tomorrow you submit the correct answer and WHY it’s correct, including the what slide it was on, or where in the book you found the answer, I’ll give you up to 1/2 the points for each answer. But, I’m allowing that for this first test only.” Well “game on!” Some quick reviewing that night and writing up corrections I submitted them and waited. When I got the test back with my submitted corrections, I now had a solid 92 on it. Now I was starting to think about a possible B in the class.

The second test came along and I studied hard for it. In some ways, to me this was the most important chapter exam. I figured if I I could do well on this one, it would set the tone for the following exams. It was also the only test where we covered 2 weeks of material instead of just 1 week. I was completely stressed about this exam because of this. And with the extra credit I got a 94. I’m still kicking myself on that 1 point I missed. (For those who care, she had given us a diagram of the Taxol molecule and we had to label all the chiral bonds. I missed one.)

Now I was starting to feel good. That B was looking pretty solid and I had glimmers of an A in my mind.

Then we hit all the various reactions, SN1, SN2, E1, E2, and more. Now my brain was really starting to fry. I tried to set up a study group at my place, but no one could make it. I was pretty stressed about the 3rd exam. It was honestly the hardest material we covered all class, even the professor agreed with this thought. I think I spent 30 hours over 3 days studying for it. I walked in confident I could pass, but not much beyond that. I walked out feeling like I had been hit by a Mack truck. I saw the eyes of my fellow classmates who had finished before me, and the eyes of those coming out after me. We all felt the same. Well, you can imagine my surprise when we got the test back the next day and I received a 95 on it (this includes the extra credit). I can’t recall the last time I was so gobsmacked. I had figured I had probably gotten a 75 with an outside chance at an 85. I swear I sat at my desk for about 1 minute just staring at the score. I started to process what this meant. Since the professor was dropping the lowest of the 4 chapter exams, it literally meant the next exam didn’t matter. Sure, I could try to get a high grade on it and bring up my average a bit, but it wasn’t critical. I walked into that 4th exam the most relaxed of the 4. And walked out with a 90. I’m still kicking myself about overthinking one of the questions (Yes, an ROOH can represent a carboxylic acid. But it can also be an ether!)

But in 6 weeks, there’s no time to lay off the brakes. We had to go right into prepping for the Final which was literally 48 hours after the 4th chapter exam. And I had to finish all my lab reports. Fortunately the lab professor had said that basically “as long as you submit them by Friday night in the format I’ve specified, you’ll get a 100.” Of the ones I submitted, I had so far gotten a 100 on each one.

Now for the final, several of us got together both after class on Tuesday and then took over the classroom on Wednesday (since there was no class that day). And here I realized something. I basically knew my shit. I was leading the study sessions. I was helping my fellow students with them. They were asking me questions. This felt good. There was one nagging feeling in the back of my mind which did prove true. I should have been asking for more help on a few of the questions myself. But again, I wasn’t overly worried. I had done the math. In theory, assuming my lab professor upheld his end of the deal, I could get a 72 on the class final and still get an A in the class. I got an 86. (had there been the standard extra credit I would have cracked 90.)

Now I’m still awaiting the official grade, but unless something went completely sideways with my lab grade, I earned an A in O-Chem. Yes. I got an A in O-Chem. The class I had feared for years. The class that just over 7 weeks ago I was dreading and hoping that I could pull off a passing grade in, I got an A in! Yeah, forget the humble brag. I’m damn proud of myself.

I’ll add something else too. At least one of my fellow students who I studied with says I probably helped her pass the final with a high enough grade that will also allow her to continue her plans to apply to PA school this year. Moreover, on the Tuesday after the 4th chapter exam, she was supposed to meet her tutor (who apparently charges as much an hour as I do for SQL consulting) and after 30 minutes together decided she was getting more from my tutoring than she did with him and cancelled her session with him and stopped using him. So I’m pretty proud of that. She’s also looking to become a PA student locally so I suspect we’ll run into each other in the future (though she’s on track to apply a year earlier than I am.)

And to top off the day, after the final exam the college was hosting a cookout that even one of the vegans in my class enjoyed.

Image shows an open plaza with two rows of tables with tablecloths and steam pans on top filled with food.
Nice way to end 6 weeks of Organic Chemistry
White disposable plate on red tabelcloth. Plate contains chicken drum leg, 1/2 cob of corn, some sliced brisket and a bit of pasta salad.
The non-vegan option (even the corn had butter on it!)

Two students in front of a whiteboard working on O-Chem.
Our Wednesday study session

O-Chem 1-Chem 2-Chem

Just a quick blog this week since I missed last week. My previous blog post was about O-Chem and that’s still on my mind. I finally received my test grade back and well, let’s say I was a bit disappointed. Though turns out two of the questions were marked wrongly because the Scantron missed my correct answers (I need better pencils!) So that helped. And I got 4 out of 5 points on the bonus (I lost a point because, despite knowing better I put an extra electron pair on the Carbon (it was a “bookkeeping” exercise I meant to erase) and as such gave the Carbon the equivalent of 5 bonds. As our Professor pointed out, any good O-Chemist would cringe at the thought of that!

But what really helped, and I appreciated, was that given how quickly the test came upon us (literally the 4th day of class, after a holiday weekend) she allowed us to submit corrections. But not simply “Oh, it should have been C” but “It should have been C, and here’s where in the notes you explained that.” If you were able to provide the correction and why, you got back half the points you lost. I think this was actually pretty fair and it also helped me because it did force me to go back and focus on my mistakes and learn what I had missed. This elevated my grade enough that I ended up being quite happy with it.

That said, she’s not doing that with the future tests, including the one I took this morning. This test was a bit different, it was on basically two weeks of material (naming, chirality, and Sn1/Sn2 reactions for those who care). I’ve got to say, in some ways I was more nervous about this one than the previous one. And honestly, 2/3rds of the material was in my mind pretty straightforward. (Small aside: yes, chemical names can get long and unwieldy, but once you “crack the code” you can draw the exact molecule pretty easily, at least for what we’re doing. Don’t ask me the chemical name for something like Tamoxifin (though honestly, it might be doable now that I’ve looked at it 🙂

But the nucleophile stuff, I still don’t 100% grasp. I mostly get the idea, but keeping the details straight is tricky. And that’s most likely where I lost points. Of course I won’t know until the end of class tomorrow!

And now we’re on to the next two chapters and another test next Tuesday. Then three chapters, a final chapter test and a final exam (the last 2 are in the same week!)

This is literally the 4th week of a 6 week class (and I’ve finished 1 of 3 days this week) so I’m officially more than 1/2-way through!

Yeah, we’re moving fast, I feel the knowledge oozing out of my brain as I try to cram it all in.

So, we’ll see how I do. I’d write more, but I have reading and practice problems to work on before tomorrow’s class and lab.

O-Chem O-My

I did something last week I hadn’t done in a while. I skipped blogging on Tuesday. I almost did so again this week, but have about 90 minutes left in my timezone to get one in. So… here goes.

As part of my ongoing quest to prepare to apply to PA School, I am again taking a class. This time it’s O-Chem. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve dreaded this ever since I first started looking at the prereqs I have to fulfill before I can apply to the program I want.

I’ve had a… special relationship with chemistry. In high school, I waited until my Senior year to take it. This wasn’t by design. It wasn’t a requirement to graduate and I simply figured I’d skip it. That is until I started to apply to colleges, including RPI and most wanted 2 semesters of high school chemistry. Combine that with a change in the rules at my high school for senior English (basically had to take 2 electives of English, even if you were taking AP English, which I was), meant my senior year I was taking not one, but TWO more courses than I had planned. I often worked on 5 hours of sleep 6 nights a week (my private prep school had classes on Saturday). So, when something had to give, it was chemistry homework. This frustrated my teacher because it was 10% of the grade and she would remind the class that doing the homework helped a lot with the quizzes and exams. Well I was already doing very well on those, so homework was dropped. It was a trade-off.

Then college chemistry at RPI came along. Somehow I was good at it. Or rather, I was good at helping others prepare for the tests and could easily explain topics, but honestly, did poorly in the class. Oh well, it wasn’t computer science. I’d survive. And at least I didn’t have to take O-Chem! I heard horror stories.

And how here I am, 30 years taking O-Chem. But like my history with chemistry, this has a twist. Because of scheduling I’m taking the 6 week version of the class, basically class for close to 2.5 hours in the morning and then lab for 2.5 hours in the afternoon, 3 times a week.

So, last Tuesday I was prepping for class and stressing about it.

And here I am a week later, with 1 exam under my belt (we move fast) and 3 labs (first day was just safety briefing and orientation) and I’m still feeling overwhelmed and honestly, almost having fun.

My schedule goes something like this: 1-2 hours of paying work in the morning 2.5 hours of class, a break, 1-2.5 hours of lab (it varies), home, work, dinner, some more work possibly, then transcribing notes, looking up questions, and trying to get through the book. Then 1-2 hours of preparing for lab the next day. (This last part is new since I didn’t actually get my lab notebook until Friday, so I will still have to go back and do lab notes for 2 previous labs).

And then of course this past weekend, studying for my first exam. This had two additional complications. The first, I was in a remote area without great bandwidth and a flakey computer, which complicated things. The second was that, without a practice test, it was hard to know what exactly to focus on.

I was hoping to get my test grade back tonight, but will have to wait until tomorrow morning in class. I’m fairly confident I passed. But honestly, I have no idea how well I did. There were definitely a few questions I wasn’t prepared for. But, the professor has been good on making sure we focus on the why and how, rather than remote memorization, so I hope I reasoned them out correctly. If not, at least it’s good practice for the next exam (which fortunately is in two weeks.)

I’m not sure this is the hardest class I’ve taken, but it’s definitely up there and it’s even harder because of the condensed schedule. But I almost remind myself I’m just over 1/6th done!

So… we’ll see.

It’s Not Their Responsibility

Imagine if you will, a friend tells you they found an unwelcome guest had been in their house. Not necessarily a burglar or anything like that, but simply someone who saw the door was unlocked, and decided to walk in, grab a cold one, pop it open and then put their feet up and start watching TV. Finally they finished watching TV and left. The only thing left behind was a note that said, “Hey, I noticed you had a really nice house, and a nice taste in beverages and your TV is really kick-ass. Hope you don’t mind me checking it out. I’d love to get to know you better and perhaps replace the cold one I drank. Thanks”

Your friend is understandably upset. They feel violated and they post their anger about it.

Now I want you to ask yourself, how would you react?

Would you tell them, “well you should lock your door?” That may seem like good advice, but I suspect your friend has already thought about it. And perhaps they had good reason to leave the door unlocked (perhaps they were just out for a bit and expecting an actual welcome guest to pop in?) In any case, probably not the most useful advice and in a sense is putting the burden on your friend.

Would you commensurate with? Give them a hug and tell them how you sympathize and how you share their concerns? I’d hope so. Your friend has just shared something traumatic with you. They are most likely looking for some comfort.

Would you suggest to your friend that perhaps they should figure out who this person is and take the time to tell them that going into people’s houses uninvited is not a good idea? Let’s ignore the difficulty of figuring out who the person is (perhaps they left their address in hopes your friend would contact them). I would certainly hope you would not do this. First of all, it’s not your friend’s responsibility to tell a complete stranger how to behave. Secondly, you’re now putting the pressure on the victim here and potentially adding to their trauma. There really is no upside to this approach. Just DO NOT DO THIS!

Now, imagine it’s the complete stranger is actually your friend who did this. You hear their story of how they basically played Goldilocks for a day in someone else’s house. This time, ask yourself the question, would you expect the home owner to tell them what they did was wrong or would you think perhaps you as a friend should point out how egregious their behavior was. This is where your focus should be. Making sure the people around you don’t do this. Not telling the homeowners to give this lesson.

To whose who are saying “well the above is a made up scenario” you’re right. It is.

But replace the house and the cold one and the TV with an unsolicited email via a professional site like LinkedIn. It’s the same effect.

Let’s play a little game here. You may recall it from Sesame Street. It’s called “One of these things is not like the other.”

  • Grindr
  • Tinder
  • LinkedIn
  • Adult Friend Finder

Or another

  • SQL Saturday
  • Local User Group Meeting
  • Your local Singles Group

In the first case, one of those sites is definitely not a place to try to hit on people. It’s a professional site to maintain professional contacts. The other sites are designed to find dates

In the second case, one of those places is definitely a place appropriate place to try to hit on someone. The other two, not so much.

If you can’t tell the difference, my advice, stay away from all of the above until you can.

The take-away: Don’t put the burden for teaching proper behavior on the subject. Take it on yourself and make sure you don’t know anyone who would presume to use a professional site in such an unprofessional manner.

This post may or may not have been inspired by true events. Does it matter?