Why Bicycling Can Be Hard

I’ll start off my apologizing for two things: First there are no pictures, and second this is basically a rant.

As many of my readers know, I love to bicycle. Last week I wrote about buying my new bike. The first few days I took it out for short rides, call them test rides. I have been slowing expanding the envelope of how comfortable I feel with the bike. For example its braking characteristics are a bit different so I’m learning how fast I can safely stop.

So that said, Sunday was the 2nd annual CASSUG BBQ. The location is about 10 miles from my house. I did this ride last year and figured a good 20 mile round trip was a good expansion of my test rides (more on that distance in a little bit). One nice thing about this particular ride is that a fair portion of it is on a bike trail. Despite a headwind from the north, I made it to the bike trail without much problem. Then about 1-2 miles in I approached one of the underpasses and started to note debris all over the trail. For the next 1/2 mile or so the trail varied from covered with sticks, sawdust and other debris to totally rutted. From what I could tell, some maintenance crew had been through clearing trees and replacing probably a water line or other underground line. It was quite clear there was little regard for keeping the trail passible while this was done. I preserved on, but was annoyed.

I was even more annoyed when I noticed at the north end of this area of work, there was an actual detour sign. There had been no such warning coming from the south. This got me thinking, you’d never see this on a road for cars. In such a case, even if the road were left open, there would at least be signs in BOTH directions warning drivers.

After the BBQ, because I was feeling good and because I have certain goals each month, and one of them is a long ride of a particular distance, decided to try for that goal on Sunday, in this case 40 miles. So I rode further along the trail before turning around. This was a nice pleasant ride and I got to see more than I had in the past. For those who are local, this included biking UNDER the Twin Bridges, which was sort of cool.

Once I turned around, I figured when I hit the detour, I’d follow the signs and end back up on the trail past the bad section. Sure enough I followed the first detour sign and then… nothing. There were no more signs showing how to get back on to the bike trail past the broken up section. Again, I can’t imagine road maintenance would be quite so blithe about such a thing (and in fact, right near my house there’s been a bridge under repair for 3-4 months now and all the detour signs are clearly posted).

Fortunately I had a good sense of where I was and a good sense of direction so I followed the city streets in the right general direction. Suddenly I came across another, different bike trail headed in the right direction. I figured this was great, I’d avoid traffic and enjoy the ride.

Sadly I was again mistaken. This bike trail varied from paved for about 100 yards to gravel for another 100 yards back to paved and then back to gravel. There seemed to be no rhyme no reason for these changes, it was almost like someone randomly decided to pave only sections of it. This trail eventually dumped me out on one of the most potholed roads I’ve ever been on.

Fortunately that was only about 3 blocks from the end of the original bike trail and from there I was back on track. I finally got back on course and headed south. Of course by now the headwind had done a 180 and was now coming from the south. (This seems to be a truism on bike rides!)

In any event, I decided to take a different route home in order to hit my 40 mile mark. It was bit slower than I would have liked, but I made it. So that goal for the month was complete.

But, I’ll admit, I’m still annoyed. Bike trails are often afterthoughts and even when they are built are often poorly maintained or when work is done, treated as the bicyclists aren’t important.

I love to bicycle and have for decades. I will bicycle for pleasure. I will bicycle to run errands. I will bicycle to save gas and cut down carbon emissions. I will bicycle on back roads, bike trails, or even busy streets. I’ll bike wherever it’s legal.

I’d love it for more folks to bicycle. But honestly, it’s hard to encourage others to bicycle when the routes dedicated to them are often poorly maintained or don’t go where folks need or want to go. I’m glad to see there’s a growing network of bike trails near me. I’m just hoping that they’re correctly maintained and when there are necessary closures and the like that we get proper signage and detours.

Anyway, this post is rambling, a bit like my ride, but I hope you get my point. Let’s not treat bike trails as an afterthought.

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.

2022 in Preview

I started last year’s version of this post with the suggestion I should leave it as a blank page and I’m tempted again, but no, I actually have goals for next year.

By words, thoughts become actions, and by actions words become deeds.

I’m going to start with the usual list of items and then have a big reveal at the bottom (you can skip to that if you want).

  • Like last year, I’m going to continue to write for Red-Gate. Even if it’s just one article. I will also attempt to keep my “Friends of Red-Gate’ status. In fact, I vow to be even more involved if I can find time.
  • This year for the NCRC, I’m looking to premiere a new class we’re calling “Tip of the Spear” aka TOTS. The focus of the class will be to work with medical doctors, nurses, physicians assistants and other medically trained personal to get them (the tip of the spear) to the patient deep in the cave as quickly as possible to provide the best possible medical care. Unlike our normal classes where there’s a strong focus on things like setting up communications, rigging, searching, etc this will focus solely on getting them there to use their skills. I’m excited about this, even though there’s a fair amount of work required to fully develop the curriculum.
  • Yeah, I’ll continue blogging. ‘Nough said. (Hey no one says you have to read it!)
  • Travel: While I do plan to do more, the big trips may be out for reasons to be mentioned below. But we’ll see.
  • Biking: Yeah, I hope to hit at least 700 miles this year (that has sort of been my minimum goal for years and I’ve beat it every year. I’ll continue to do so).
  • Hike More: I hope to do at least one overnight this year. And of course day hikes. So if you’re interested in doing a hike, let me know.
  • Caving: There’s a few caves I want to get into this year. So I’m looking forward to that.

Changes are Coming!

And now “the big reveal”. I’m going to start by saying that while I enjoy consulting and I think I’m pretty good at it, I am not enjoying it as much as I used to. I’m also simply not finding it fulfilling in a way I’d like it to be.

Among the reasons is that at the end of the day I look at what I’ve done and wonder “what difference does it really make?” Yes, I’ve written some solid code. I’ve helped with projects that have saved my clients thousands of dollars or made them tens of thousands. Financially, they’ve obviously made a difference. But, on a personal level they haven’t.

One reason I’ve enjoyed teaching cave rescue so much (and participating in the few I have, including a body recovery) is because at the end of the day I know I’ve made a difference: I’ve taught someone valuable skills, helped someone get out safely, or even in the most extreme case, been able to help others find closure.

I’ve been contemplating a change for awhile. I had toyed with a few ideas, such as going back to being a full-time employee, ideally in a management position for awhile. And I may still end up doing that, but that’s not where I am planning on heading right now. Financially it would probably be the right move, and honestly, I think when I’ve had the right environment, I’ve been a good manager (on the flip side, in a bad environment I’ve found it hard to be an effective or good manager).

So, instead, I’m going to pivot a bit and attempt a career change. I’m going to to try to move into a field where I think I can make a direct impact on people’s lives. I’m going to start taking prerequisite classes so I can apply for a Physician’s Assistant program. This is an idea I’ve toyed with off and on for years. Or rather one of several. Besides enjoying working with computers, I’ve been fascinated with two other fields: medical and law. I’ve thought for quite a few years if perhaps I should explore them. This really came to a head during my dad’s fatal illness 6 years ago. I’ll brag a bit and say that more than once I had one of the attendings or nurses ask me (after discussing his condition or treatment) “Are you in the medical field?” Once even when students were rounding, the attending asked them a question and none answered it to his satisfaction, I was able to step in and correctly answer it. Yes, one or two students scowled at me.

Now, having said that, I’m quite realistic in understanding that while I do claim a greater than a laymen’s knowledge of things medical, I have a LONG way to go and I’m entering a difficult field later in life and have a bit of catchup to do. I have no illusions that this will be easy for me. But to perhaps channel a bit of John F. Kennedy “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”

In the most optimistic timeframe, I’ll be completing my PA work in mid 2025. In a more realistic timeframe, probably 2026. This is a serious investment of time and effort. This is arguably going to be one of the hardest things I’ve done in years. There’s no guarantee of success (heck, there’s no guarantee that even after doing all the prereqs I’ll be accepted into a program). But, I’ve decided I have to try. Ah but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for? I won’t know if I can do it unless I try and I don’t want to be a 4 years older wondering “what if?”

I’d been having thoughts about this for a long time. I finally put the thoughts into words, which made them that much more real. Now I’m starting to put the words into actions.

And one of those actions is to write the words down here for others to read. I do this for a multitude of reasons.

  • By writing this down and revealing it to the world (or at least to a small part of it) it holds me a bit more accountable for trying.
  • I’ll freely admit, I could use any and all support and help any of my friends, family, including #sqlfamily, and others are willing to give.
  • And honestly, perhaps it’ll inspire others in a similar position to stretch for their own goals.

For the coming year

I’ll keep working in SQL, you’ll see me at events and I’ll probably do some speaking, but I won’t be seeking out new work. I simply won’t have the time.

I’ll still keep running my local user group and looking for speakers

I’ll be blogging about my successes, and failures.

And I’ll be busy.

Wish me luck.

Feeling Older

This is probably far from the last time I’m going to write on the subject, and certainly not as in depth as I plan to someday, but this past week made me feel past my prime.

While in many ways I believe age is just a number, the truth is, it does change us. While I am still very active, such as biking a century ride last year, still caving and teaching cave rescue, the reality is, the body and mind are slowing.

I’ve been working with SQL Server in one form or another since 4.21. I’ve spoken at PASS Summit, I’ve presented at more SQL Saturdays and User Groups than I can remember. I’ve published a book and numerous Red Gate articles and I’ve mentored more than a few people over the decades. I’ve worked at two start-ups (not counting mergers and acquisitions) and been a consultant before, between and after those gigs.

So I think I can safely say I’m comfortable with my credentials.

That said, the past week really made me consider if it was time to hang up my cap, or at least change caps again. I won’t go into details, other than to say a particularly stressful project for one of my clients reached a major milestone. I’m actually just one small cog in a much bigger piece of the project, but it’s a fairly important cog. And, it had issues. Now, I’ll put on my shoulders that a bit was due to issues with my code and some assumptions I had made. Most of the issues actually stemmed at a far higher level and with another consultant agency working on the project. Let’s just say that GIGO still thrives. But some of it I realized was, I was slightly off my game, and I think a bit of brain fog was involved. I don’t know if that was age related, simply a result of being cooped up for well over the last year due to Covid or what.

Regardless, the culmination of all that and other issues, some personal, started to come to a head. By Friday I was seriously wondering how much more I had left in the tank, physically and mentally.

Today I will admit I’m in a better place. The last major piece of code I needed to get working finally succeeded in production last night and the GIGO problems seem to be disappearing.

But that was after a long weekend of introspection about where I’m headed. I am at that age where retirement is no longer some far off nebulous goal, but an actual reality I have to consider. I’ve always known I’ll probably never truly retire; I do enjoy being busy and working too much. However, I have for several years now done the delicate balance between making sure I hit certain target goals for income and actually enjoying my work. Last week that balance was way off. I need to get it back.

This is my long-winded way of saying that for the first time in years, I’m honestly not sure what I’ll be doing a year from now. Perhaps I’ll still be consulting in my current form and enjoying it. Perhaps I’ll go back to a full-time 9-5 gig; I have come to realize, I deeply miss the management side of work. For my two stints as a full-time employee I was a manager and honestly, I loved that. I miss it. Perhaps I’ll be consulting in a very different way going forward. Maybe I’ll invest in real-estate. Perhaps become a vagabond teaching cave rescue across the country (this last one is not as far fetched as it sounds, I am planning on teaching at least 2 if not 3 different classes next year.)

But I think change is coming again. It’s the season.

What’s for Dinner?

“Food!” is my usual answer. Yes it’s my dad joke answer. I can’t help it.

The truth is, I generally don’t have a well planned menu in advance and sometimes what I plan on making for dinner will change after I step in the supermarket and something catches my eye. Sometimes I won’t even have an idea until I go into the supermarket. That said, I still have sort of a routine, one my family is familiar with and perhaps at times tired of. (That said, they still eat what I make, so I guess they’re not that tired of it).

  • Monday – Usually a chicken dish. Last night was Pad Thai (but I’ll let you in on a secret, the noodles were woefully underdone. I was afraid they’d turn to mush and took them out too early!)
  • Tuesday – Usually something centered around ground beef/turkey, tacos, sloppy joes or shaved steak for Philly Cheese steaks. I’m not sure about tonight’s dinner, but since I did tacos last week, I can guarantee it won’t be Taco Tuesday tonight. I don’t like repeats. 🙂
  • Wednesday – Up in the air. Sometimes a grilled sausage, onion and pepper on a bun.
  • Thursday – Often store bought ravioli or tortellini. They’re simple and quick.
  • Friday – I get more creative, often some crab cakes, maybe scallops, or something good.
  • Saturday – At least once a month, pizza with homemade crust (and occasionally homemade mozzarella).
  • Sunday – Take out. Previously 90%+ of the time it was Lee Lin, a Chinese food place I’ve been ordering from for decades (literally since college) but now we vary it up with other take out places.

So yeah If you happen to show up at my house (post-pandemic please) you’ve got an idea of what you’ll end up with depending on what night you show up. Maybe. I might change my mind.

I really enjoy cooking. I love the idea of creation and the idea of nourishing body and soul. I like the fact that food can bring joy to people.

During the time of Covid, there have been times when cooking has been a real drudgery, but other times I’ve really enjoyed it or had the chance to try new things. For example, like many Americans I’ve dabbled with making Sourdough.

Image is of  full loaf (on the left) and a half loaf of homemade sourdough bread.
Fresh Sourdough, an early attempt.
A roast beef sandwich with lettuce and tomato and mayo on a plate. In the background is a keyboard.
Roast Beef Sandwich with homemade sourdough bread!

Of course I mentioned pizzas?

An image of two pizzas from above, resting on a butcher block.
The one on the left is a pepperoni pizza. The one on the right is a white pizza with sundried tomatoes. 
Both have fresh basil from my garden on them.
Two sourdough pizzas with home grown herbs.
Image of two pizzas looking from above. On top of a butcher block.
Top one has fried onions, Granny Smith apple, bacon, sundried tomatoes.

Bottom one is white pizza with home made pesto.
Two more: the top is bacon, sundried tomato, Granny Smith Apple, fried onions! The bottom a white pizza with homemade pesto and some sundried tomatoes
“Breakfast Pizza” with cheddar cheese, bacon, black pepper and a pair of eggs cracked on top near the end.

For Thanksgiving I tried something new:

An experiment for Thanksgiving dessert - apple sharlotka. It was a success!
An experiment for Thanksgiving dessert – apple sharlotka. It was a success!

And of course one has to have sweets!

Gingersnap cookies
LOTS of sugar and carbs!
Bags of Christmas Cheer
A smattering of gingerbread men!
A smattering of gingerbread men!

But of course, the question is “what’s for dinner?

My French-Canadian grandmother’s recipe for baked kibbeh taught to her by her Lebanese mother-in-law. BTW, this is 1/2 the amount she’d normally make for family gatherings! This is over 3 lbs of meat plus bulgur wheat and onions! It’s a LOT of food and oh so delicious.
I actually bought my air fryer BEFORE the pandemic, but love it and use it a lot and find it makes great wings. (And the cinnamon cap has nothing to do with the wings.)
Air fried General Tso’s Chicken, finished in the pan. Thanks to #SQLFamily fellow DBA Rie Shewbart Merritt for the recipe!
Technically “Cottage Pie” because it’s made with beef instead of lamb, but still delicious, and one of Randi’s favorites!
A Friday dinner with steak and potato (and yes, I’m a heathen who likes a bit of ketchup with my steak, but that sauce is delicious too!)
Perogies that close family friend Christine Dzakowic Walsh had made, but fresh herbs from my garden.
Another Friday dinner. That’s my burger on the right, with the works, grilled onions, bacon, bleu cheese, lettuce, tomato, garlic-parm fries!
Can I interesting you in mini-beef wraps with mashed potatoes with a wine-sauce reduction? I think I got this one from close friend Sarah Lawrence.
Chorizo street tacos anyone?
Homemade Falafel and homemade hummus with a peanut sauce and veggies and homemade pita. I need to make this again soon I think.
Of course latkes are a must in this house come Hanukkah! (toss in some curry powder, trust me on that one!)
Homemade pasta with homemade pesto and Presto… delicious dinner!
My most recent experiment, homemade dumplings! Delicious but need some work!
Some homemade chili with yes.. sourdough bread!
Coquille St Jacques – delicious! My mom introduced me to this dish when I was about 10.

And besides dinner, there’s breakfast

French toast with lots of cinnamon!
Sourdough waffles with a variety of toppings (including homemade whipped cream!)
Sourdough pancakes!
Yes, I put ketchup on my eggs. Deal with it. And yes, that’s my initial. It’s my egg. I can do that!
My latest attempt at homemade bagels. I think I nailed it this time. More in the future!

Snacking is important too!

Homemade Pita (roll it very thing and place in a very hot oven!) with homemade Hummus!

Now, that’s not to say it’s all fun and games. Sometimes one does have to collect data on how to make things better. Recently I had been reading up on chocolate chip cookies (research of course) and learned that the original recipe called for letting the dough sit for 36 hours before baking. Now, I’m never one to take a detail like that at face value, so I had to of course experiment. I also decided to test the baking time for my white whole wheat chocolate chip cookies to see if 10 or 11 minutes was better.

Baked right after mixing
Baked after being chilled 24 hours
After being chilled 38 hours (I slept in that morning).

So, I think more research is necessary, but I would say that chilling does appear to help the flavor and I think initially 11 minute baking is better, but the next day, it’s hard to tell if it or the 10 minutes is better.

I probably have a dozen or so more pictures of various meals, but I think I’ll stop here. I’m getting hungry and it’s not even lunch time yet!

Seriously though, besides the biking and caving and other things to keep me busy, I’ve enjoyed cooking (most of the time) in the last year. I hope you enjoyed my trip through my kitchen in the last year. I’d love to see what you’ve been making or baking!

2021 in Preview

I’ll admit I was tempted to just have a blank page here and say I’m starting 2021 with a blank slate. But that seemed too easy.

But with hope in hand, I will set some goals:

  • Continue to write for Red-Gate! I enjoy this and have to admit, the little extra spending money isn’t so bad.
  • Expand my client base. A concern I’ve had for a few years, and 2020 really reminded me of this, too much of my current consulting depends on one large customer. I want to change that. I’ve already reached out to some colleagues in regards to possible clients and will continue to do so. Part of my goal is to really define my business model here.
  • Have a successful NCRC Weeklong Cave Rescue Seminar here in NY. This was originally planned for 2020, but in light of the risk of becoming a super-spreader event, we postponed. Right now it’s still not clear if we’ll be able to safely host the event, but the odds are slowly improving. I’ve been monitoring my Facebook feed and it’s amazing how many folks I know already who are in the process of getting vaccinated against Covid-19. If this continues at this rate, we’ll be able to have an event!
  • Continue blogging. 2020 was my best year year, but I hope to improve in 2021. Of course I have to admit my numbers were helped when Brent Ozar mentioned one of my posts. So, I guess the real secret is to get Brent to retweet my blogs! Seriously though, I enjoy blogging and as much as I often do it for others, I’ll admit, some of it is really just vanity for me, but also serves as a practice to keep up on my writing and creative skills.
  • Travel! Once it’s safe to travel again, I hope to do a LOT more this year. One benefit of being an independent IT consultant is I basically can work any place I have a steady Internet connection. I hope to take advantage of that.
  • Continue biking. This probably means finally getting a new bicycle. I had hoped to replace my Trek 520 that is now 30 years old this year, but due to Covid basically avoided bicycle shopping. But after 1300 miles last year, I think it’s time to seriously consider a new one.
  • Hike more. I loved my overnight trip last year. I hope to complete the section of the Appalachian trail in Massachusetts I haven’t done yet and then perhaps finish Connecticut or Vermont.
  • Continue to enjoy life. I mentioned yesterday that as crappy as a year it was, I actually enjoyed much of the year. If anything, Covid forced me to take stock and focus on enjoying life. I want to continue to do this.

And, most of all, make it through another year with you all.

2020 in Review

Yes, I’m joining the chorus of so many others who are publishing a lookback on the previous year. This has become a tradition for me. And I of course followed last year’s review with a preview for 2020. I made the obligatory dad joke then and I’ll make one now, that I can’t wait until 20/20 is truly hindsight!

2020 I think upset everyone’s goals, and mine were no different. But I figured I’d start with my goals from last year and then try to end on an actual up-note.

  • I had a goal of blogging at least once a week. I think I missed 1 this year, but a few weeks I blogged more than once, so, including this post, I will have 56 posts this year. Not to shabby. And my overall page count is up. So that’s good.
  • I vowed to write more for Red-Gate and I did. But not as much as I’d like. I do blame this partly on Covid. I lost some of my enthusiasm. But I am working on another article. I was hoping to have it done this week, but lost motivation. I did learn one of my articles there is one of their top read articles. I’m quite proud of that!
  • I did read more this past year, that’s for sure.
  • One goal I had was to keep speaking at more SQL Saturdays. Well, that didn’t quite go as planned. I did speak at the Albany event, but that was about it. This one I 100% blame on Covid. On the other hand, I finally attended the Portland Oregon SQL Saturday, albeit virtually.
  • Speak at SQL Summit: well I did achieve this one, sort of. It was virtual, but I was selected and that was a HUGE highlight. And in fact I ended up being part of two presentations, the 2nd a live one that I ended up doing from my car while waiting for something else. And my presentation on PowerShell for Beginners apparently was very popular. So, I can at least say I went out on a high note.
  • On one hand, we postponed our NCRC Weeklong Cave Rescue Seminar here in NY to 2021. On the other hand, I was able to work out a Modular Level 1 Seminar here in September, the first of its kind in my region ever. And we did it safely and effectively.
  • Started to use git on a far more regular basis, including from the command line (previously I had limited myself to the GUI in Visual Studio).
  • I did read more! – including:
    • The Power Broker, I biography of Robert Moses
    • Station Eleven, though in retrospect, reading a book about the world after a global pandemic was NOT a great way to start the year!

So, overall, I did accomplish a number of my goal. I had some generic ones that included caving more, biking more, and hiking more. More on those in a moment.

Overall, the year was a bummer in many ways. I really missed travelling. I really missed seeing friends and family (I think we saw my mom in person twice during the entire year). I missed my seeing my #SQLFamily in person. I missed my NCRC Family. I missed having our normal annual pool party.

I missed, normalcy.

But…

You know what, for me personally, 2020 was actually a year of some ups. I’ve been very fortunate and I was able to do things I had not done as much as in the past.

  • For one I accomplished my first overnight hike in perhaps over a decade, a nice 18 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Due to scheduling I couldn’t quite get in a 2nd hike that would have completed a gap in Massachusetts, but perhaps next year. I did find I needed some new equipment, which I purchased in anticipation for next year.
  • As for biking, I definitely did a LOT more this year. I biked over 1300 miles this year (I can’t recall the last time, if ever, I did as much) including my first century ride (100 miles in one day) since my senior year of high school. I’m really proud of that one. Who knows, maybe I’ll do another in 2021.
  • Despite a contentious election season, America voted the Orange One out.
  • Spent more time with my family! We did several walks around the area including some paths we had not explored in the 20+ years my wife and I have lived in the house.
  • I fixed the dryer that had been making a horrible rumbling sound for years.
  • I made a bunch of sourdough bread, pancakes, waffles and even a pizza crust or two. And I’m back to making sourdough again.
  • I finished binge-watching Haven, a quirky fun show based on a Stephen King story.
  • I rewatched (and for my family, they watched for the first time) the entire Prisoner series. Yes, everyone still wonders what the hell the final episode is still about.
  • We’re binge-watching Schitt$ Creek and wondering why we didn’t watch it sooner.

All in all, it was a very mixed year. It wasn’t a normal year in many ways and some of the normalcy, I really missed. But, on the flip side, I think it encouraged and in some cases forced me out of my comfort zone and to do things I might not have had time to do otherwise.

I can’t say it was a great year. While I’ve been fortunate and have not had anyone close to me succumb to Covid, I know too many people who have had friends and family die of it. So in that aspect, it’s been a terrible year. As of the latest count, over 342,000 have died in the US and yesterday set a new record in the US for daily deaths. At this rate, by the start of next week we’ll have over 350,000 deaths and predictions are of over another 80,000 in the next three weeks. PASS has been a side casualty of this too.

Too many lives have been impacted and effected and I don’t want to minimalize those.

But, I do want to highlight that even in a dark year, at least personally, I’ve been able to find some positive things to focus on. I hope others have too. Hopefully everyone reading this has at least one thing they can look back on and say, “Yeah, that was good” or “That’s a special memory, I won’t forget.”

And to quote Colonel Potter from MASH: “Here’s to the New Year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one, and may we all be home before she’s over.”

Privilege is a Tailwind

I’ve written about how much I enjoy bicycling previously. Besides being good exercise and a decent way getting from point A to point B, it gives me a chance to think about things. Sometimes it’s deep thoughts, sometimes it’s simply prosaic, as in “hmm, how fast do I need to do this section to keep my average speed up.”

One thought that has run through my head often is the impact of a tailwind or headwind on my average speed. There’s certain truth that I think many bicyclists will agree with and that’s a headwind somehow always finds you. Seriously I’ve done in/out loops (i.e. out X miles and make on the same route) and it seems the wind will reverse directions about half-way through.

In any impact, air resistance is one of the banes of speed. What makes it worse, is the impact is really a square factor, i.e. if you go twice as fast, the impact of air resistance is 4 times as much. This is why it’s fairly easy to bike at say 5 mph, not to bad at 10 mph and much harder at 20 mph and unless you’re a star athlete, to go 40 mph for any real distance on a flat path.

Now, if you’re trying to bike into a headwind, that just multiplies the impact of air resistance. Even a slight headwind can really slow you down.

Fortunately, a tailwind has the opposite impact and can help.

Saturday it was in the 70s here so I decided to get in a longer ride (a bit over 20 miles). It was a fairly blustery day and I didn’t expect to have a great average speed. And I was right. For most of the ride I was actually heading into a headwind and on the sections where I did have a decent tailwind I was climbing hills and already moving slowly so the impact wasn’t very much.

But enough about aerodynamics and back to thinking while biking. While I’ve often thought about the impacts of a headwind vs. tailwind a new analogy dawned on me: tailwind as privilege.

Privilege in this case refers to the systemic advantages one has because simply because of the circumstances of their birth. It doesn’t necessarily mean you had it easy, for example you may have been born into a low-income household, but it does mean you didn’t have artificial constructs placed in front of you as you tried to navigate life. In addition it doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t have certain advantages, you may be a person of color born into a high-income household.

Let me continue with the analogy.

While biking, if I’ve got a nice tailwind, it feels great. In fact I’m pedaling along effortlessly and don’t have to give much thought to my ride. If I’ve got a headwind, I may be pedaling with all my effort but not moving very fast. And I definitely notice the extra effort.

Privilege is not the quality of my bike. Privilege is not the hills I have to climb or go down.

Privilege is not being born into a neighborhood that suffered with redlining, which means even decades layer home values are depressed which makes it harder to get loans and harder to improve the neighborhood in general.

Privilege is being able to wear what clothing you like without people immediately thinking you’re a criminal.

Privilege is being able to put a photo of your family on your desk without worrying about if your homophobic coworkers will make comments or your boss will consciously or subconsciously take it into consideration at your next review.

Privilege is being able to walk out of a bar holding hands with your sweetie and not worrying if someone is laying in wait to beat you up solely because of who you love.

Privilege is being able to walk into a car dealership and not worrying about if the dealer will take you seriously because of the gender you present.

Privilege is going into a meeting and not having someone ask you to take notes simply because they think women have neater handwriting.

Privilege is being given a 3-speed bike, but being on a course that automatically has a tailwind. When it’s level, you might struggle a bit, but you don’t really notice the air resistance. Hills are an issue, but everyone has trouble with those.

Lack of privilege may be being given a beautiful 21 speed graphite frame bike that weighs practically nothing, but being put on a course with a headwind. For practically the entire ride, you notice the headwind. On level ground, you’re pedaling as hard as you can, but you realize you’re not having it as easy as the bicyclist with the tailwind, regardless of your respective bicycles. On downhills, yeah, gravity helps, but again, you notice the headwind and can’t even coast as easily as the person on the other bike. Sure, both of you may struggle on the uphills, but you realize that once you’re both at the top, again they’re going to have an easier time.

And what’s worse, is the person on the 3-speed will complain about the horrible bike they’ve been given, how lucky you are to have been given the 21 speed and then have the audacity to suggest that you just need to bike harder to keep up, after all, they’re doing just fine on a 3-speed and the tailwind they have has nothing to do with their advantages.

I also noticed something else my ride. The headwind was from the south, and the flattest portion I was biking was southbound. For much of it I had some shelter from the headwind because of trees and the like so it was less noticeable, but the minute I was in an open area without trees, the headwind was definitely noticeable and definitely slowed me down.

Now if the person with the tailwind can upgrade to the same 21 speed graphite frame bike, they will be able to go even faster, but that tailwind will always be there, assisting them. The person with the headwind, no mater how much better their bike is will always have a built-in disadvantage until the wind changes.

In reality, I really only encounter tailwinds while biking. For the other areas of my life, I’ve had a tailwind. I’m not aware of it unless I think about it but it’s there. Don’t mistake for the bicycle you ride for privilege or the lack of privilege. It’s the tailwind that’s the privilege.

I wish everyone, bicycling or not, a strong tailwind.