Barn Dancing

This past weekend was the annual NCC barn dance. This is an event my family and I, and often friends have been attending for the past 5 years or so. Or rather hoping to attend, since due to Covid it was not held the last 2 years. This event raises money for the Northeastern Cave Conservancy to help them acquire and maintain caves in this area. So if nothing else, it’s a good cause.

But it’s more than that, it’s a lot of fun. As a fund raiser, it is important to attract a good crowd of people. I also like to think longer term and realize that as many of us local cavers age, we need to draw in more younger folks to the community and this has been a great way to do so.

Getting ready for the next dance

I think it was 4 years ago that I first mentioned it at an RPI Outing Club meeting. I initially received the response I expected, “oh look at this old guy trying to get us to a square dance. Man he’s the one that’s square.” (ok, I realize no one uses the term “square” in that sense these days, but it works here, go with it.) But I figured even if just 2-3 students showed up that would be good. The night before the dance, I stopped by the ROC “Pit” (equipment room) and checked to see how many would be going. I was told the number was up to 14. I was very impressed, but honestly a bit skeptical they’d all show up.

Well the next night at the dance, sure enough 4 cars full of RPI students showed up. One was very excited too after she won a door prize (with your entry you get one raffle ticket. You can buy more if you want and your budget allows.)

A year rolled around and again in the fall I announced the barn dance at a meeting. Again I got a few eye rolls and the like. These stopped immediately as soon as one of the students who had danced the previous year said, “Oh, you have to go, it’s a lot of run, really!” I forget how many showed up that year, but it was was probably in the 20s.

RPI Outing Club students and many others dancing

Of course the last two years there was no square dance. But again I gamely announced it at a meeting this year and at the Orientation to Cave Rescue last weekend. Well this year exceeded all expectations. 35 students from RPI showed up. Plus, by my account at least 3-4 recent alumns, plus 4 alumns with families (including me and my family).

A sitting “dance”

Several of the students won raffle prizes and they all appeared to have fun, which of course made me and the organizers happy.

As I said above, the money the dance raises goes to a good cause, but the event is a good thing for another reason: it helps sustain a community.

Oh one last tidbit on “how things have changed.” After the dance was over, I caught a number of the students apparently exchanging links and the like using their phones.

Barn Dancing in the modern era

It was a Dark and Stormy Night…

Ok, wasn’t so much stormy as much as just raining, but I was headed towards Knox Cave again. People often ask me what my favorite cave is. Honestly, there is no answer. I have some caves I like less than others (cough, Parks Ranch Cave in New Mexico) and some I like more than others. Knox is in that latter category. It’s what I could call an “optionally vertical” cave. By that I mean it has a ladder at the bottom of the entrance sinkhole. Some adults prefer a belay (and under 16 it’s basically mandatory).

The brief amount of vertical is one of the reasons I like this particular cave. The other is that geologically, it’s fairly interesting. For one thing, it passes through three distinct layers of limestone, though I’ve only really seen two of them, the Coeymans and Manlius. Below the Manlius is the Cobleskill-Brayman. There’s a brief spot this can be seen from the main part of the cave, but otherwise, getting to it is quite difficult and I haven’t done it.

Besides seeing distinct types of limestone, the cave is basically a series of parallel fissures that give the cave a certain geometry that I like. As a result of these fissures, there’s a section I call the “Foundation of the Gods” since it’s almost like large foundation blocks were put in a 2-3 rows parallel to each other. Only I really call it that, but for those curious to the area I mean, I’m referring to the passage that leads back to the so called “Mudroom”.

This part of the cave I rarely get back to these days for a variety of reasons, but one in particular is interesting to note. Getting into the Mudroom is not necessarily easy. It requires a bit of contortion to navigate a tight crawl that ends in a passage where one has to rotate to a sitting position before standing. We’ve determined the limiting factor at getting in or out is femur length. It’s not easy, and I’ve found my cave suit often sticks to the cave mud in the crawl so I find myself crawling into the shoulders of my cave suit, but not really moving. It’s frustrating. One ends up breathing a bit heavily and feeling stressed.

Well over a decade ago a buddy of mine and my son and I decided to go into Knox and get at least as far as the Mudroom. My friend’s intent was to collect some gas level data for a project he’s been working on. One of the gasses measured is CO2 levels. His monitor immediately started to alarm as soon as he started to measure the level. This had never happened before. In other words, the CO2 levels here were higher than any other cave he had measured things in up to that point. Well, funny enough CO2 levels are correlated to hyperventilation and can induce feelings of stress. For once I could honestly say “it’s the cave, not me.” (ok, honestly, it’s partly me, I’m larger than I was as a freshman college student cave so that has made this a bit harder to get into.)

One last detail that makes this area interesting, is if you can get into a crawlway past the Mudroom, after about a dozen feet, with a bit of further contortion one can get into a decent sized room that has a unique feature in it: a well pipe from the surface that goes right through it. It’s been even longer since I’ve been into this room though.

Another area I haven’t been too in decades, but hope to get back to is an area called “The Alabaster Room”. To safely get back there a climb needs to be rigged and then a tight crawl followed. This room is the first place I gave very serious thought to what might be involved in a rescue. The crawl sort of comes into the top of the room and you have to lower yourself down into it. While doing that the one and only time I was there, my foot slipped and I slid about a body length down the wall onto the floor. I had to sit there for about 30 seconds while I tested moving my feet then legs then arms to make sure nothing was broken. Fortunately nothing was otherwise I realized that getting me out of there would have been a very serious issue. This is one part of the cave I do hope to get back to someday again soon.

In any event, it last night was a rather short, uneventful trip where I got wetter outside the cave than in due to the rain, but it was good to be back underground again.

Two last notes: Knox Cave is closed from October 1st through May 15th. Please do not enter the caving during this time.

In addition if you lack proper training or equipment, please do not go caving on your own. I’m always more than willing to take beginners and teach you how to safely cave. I can also provide equipment.

A third note: Knox requires a permit (which is fairly easy to obtain, but please make sure you do!)

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.

Learning the Lingo

“Now, in the ’60s, there were only two other cars made in America that had Positraction, and independent rear suspension, and enough power to make these marks.” – Mona Lisa Vito

In my first stint as a computer consultant, I was visiting a potential client and noticed a magazine called I believe The American Bee Journal. I was a little surprised at first that such a magazine even existed, but then it dawned on me that it made perfect sense and that probably every specialty had a trade magazine or the like of its own.

In the world of SQL Server we’ll talk about query plans and clustered indexes vs non-clustered indexes and use other words specific to our trade.

In caving we’ll talk about speleothems and karst and other words that the average person might not recognize.

And mechanics can talk about Positraction and skid marks.

Knowing the language of a particular specialty can be important when it comes to understanding it.

I’ve been reflecting upon this lately as I continue to study so I can apply to a Physician’s Assistant program. I’m about to finish up my first semester of classes and one of the classes I’ve been taking and really enjoying is Anatomy and Physiology I. I still have a second class to take, but I’ve been loving things so far. It is, to me, absolutely fascinating to learn how the body works. For example, learning the physiology of muscle contractions is in three words, absolutely fucking cool. And any caver who has vertical experience would realize it’s not much different from how we ascend a rope.

Part of what I’m learning to is the language. In fact one of the first lectures and labs was simply on the language to use describe where things are. To someone not familiar with the language, it may sound like gibberish to say that the tibia is lateral to the fibula and the lateral malleolus is at the distal end, but such a description can help someone who knows the language orient themselves as to its location. Similarly if someone says they have a sore sternocleidomastoid muscle, I’d know where it is, based simply on the name. (I’d also honestly wonder why they simply didn’t say they had a sore muscle in their neck). In that case, the name of the muscle basically describes its origin (the sternum and clavicle or cleido) and insertion (the mastoid process). (If you’re curious, if you turn your head to the left, you can see the right sternocleidomastoid sort of bulging from the right side of your neck).

Honestly, at times I feel like I’m at a Broadway play and the orchestra is playing the overture and the curtain is slowly being drawn back to reveal what’s behind it. I’m excited by what I’ve learned and seen so far and excited to see what more I’ll see as the curtain continues to be drawn back!

Change My Mind… T-SQL Tuesday #146

Andy Yun (t | b) is this month’s host. Our challenge this month is:

 …to think about something you’ve learned, that subsequently changed your opinion/viewpoint/etc. on something.

I’m going to give a twofer for this one, since he’s also allowing non-technical answers.

8K Blocks

“SQL Server writes everything in 8K blocks.” I recall learning this probably close to 2 decades ago. And, it makes sense, at a lot of levels. And it was “confirmed” when we reformatted the disks on one of our production servers into 64K blocks so SQL Server could read/write 8 blocks at a time. Performance definitely improved. But, then I learned from Argenis Fernandez that this isn’t necessarily true. SQL Server will write what it wants to write. And if you think about it, that makes sense. If you update one record and it’s a single value you’re updating, SQL Server isn’t going to simply sit there and not write your 1 byte change to disk. And it’s not going to make up random 8191 bytes just so it can satisfy this rule of 8K. Yes, SQL Server will try to consolidate disk I/O and be efficient about it, but even then, it may not matter. Gone are the days where we’re writing data to bare metal (some of us are old enough to recall an option in early versions of SQL Server where one could create a database on a “raw” partition to get a performance boost). No, today we’re probably writing through multiple layers, more than we realize. For one client for example, a disk write from SQL Server will pass through an encryption layer, then to the OS, which will pass it through a disk driver layer that will then pass it on to the VM which will have its own layers. At that point, even if SQL Server were trying to only write 8K blocks, it’s quite possible every other layer has its own rules.

Yes, changing our disk formatting from 8K blocks to 64K blocks helped. It helped us. But, your requirements and situation may be different and ultimately you may end up writing more or less than 8K blocks all the time. (and I hope I summed up Argenis’s position accurately.)

Toss the Rope Down

As many know, I’m a caver. I’ve been caving for decades. Early in my caving career I learned vertical caving and back then we still used what was known as a “3-knot” system or “prussiks”. That hardware has improved and changed. But one habit took longer. It was (and unfortunately still is) common to tie one end of the rope to a tree or other rigging point, and drop the rest down the pit. Sure, you ended up with a pile of rope at the bottom, but no one really cared, as long as you didn’t step on it (which is another myth for another time). This helped guarantee that your rope actually reached the bottom. The only thing that sucks more than rappelling down a pit and reaching the knot at the end of the rope 50′ from the bottom of the pit is rappelling down a pit and realizing 50′ from the bottom of the pit that you forgot to put a knot in your rope.

But somewhere along the line, folks started to realize, “hey, that rope at the bottom of the pit is useless. It’s FAR more useful if we can leave it at the top of the pit.” As the depth of most pits are known, it’s actually not that hard to measure out the rope you think you need (plus a bit extra) and then rig the rope so that you have extra at the top. Why is this important? Some call this “rigging for rescue” (or more accurately, one part of the bigger concept).

Imagine the scenario where you’re ascending the rope and have an equipment failure. You can’t go up and can’t go down. If all the extra rope is below you, it doesn’t do you any good. You can’t do anything with it. But, if that extra 10′ or 20′ (or more) is at the top and you’ve rigged correctly, someone at the top can, without too much effort, safely change the rigging (with you still on the rope) to a 3:1 or if nothing else, a 2:1 haul system. Suddenly that extra rope sitting at the top of the pit becomes useful.

Beginners will still often toss the extra rope to the bottom of the pit, but more experienced cavers will rig it to stay at the top and this may literally save lives.

Conclusion

Stop and think about practices that you do now that you may have learned that could be wrong or no longer applicable. And more importantly, do those bad practices interfere with doing something that’s better or safer? With SQL Server, over the past few decades, a lot has changed and improved, but are you still doing something you were taught 2 decades ago because “well that’s the way things are done.” A lot has changed in 2 decades. Make sure your knowledge is still valid!

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.

Life Shortened

As I start to write this, the TV reminds me, that this is the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor; and that there are still a few veterans alive from that day.

This is both a somber note, and a somewhat celebratory one to start the day. Horrible things can happen, and yet life can still go on. I was reminded of this over the weekend.

I woke up on Saturday morning to read on Facebook that Scott Alarik had passed away. Some of my readers will recognize the name immediately, but for those who don’t, a little background. Scott was a singer-songwriter who was also a columnist for the Boston Globe and write a book on folk music and wrote for a number of other columns. I first met Scott at Mother’s Wine Emporium so many years ago. He had performed his opus Fresh-Water Whaling, telling the little known history of the glory days of whaling on the Great Lakes. I must add that the history is so little known as to be non-existent. But, for those who do recall it, remember those little harpoons you sometimes find in drinks memorialize it. Or so it was said by Scott. As much as Scott liked to sing, I think he preferred more to talk and write. He was a living, walking history of the world of folk music. I still recall one night, after he had performed at a Mother’s Wine Emporium show at RPI where we discussed “what exactly is folk music?” We agreed it was “music of the folk” but beyond that we decided it had no easy definition. As I write this, I’m listening to the first video I found on YouTube and it is Scott at his best. Yes, there’s a song or two in there, but mostly it’s him telling stories. It’s as I remember Scott.

Scott Alarik at Mother’s in 2019

That news was hard enough, but to myself I said, “at least Bill is still with us.” I had read late last month that another singer-songwriter I knew, Bill Staines was fighting cancer and the battle was not going well. Alas though, on Sunday I woke up to more tragic news. Bill had journeyed to the next folk stage. Bill was another performer I had met through Mother’s Wine Emporium many years ago. I have several of his albums, at least one I believe signed. He was known for the prodigious miles he would put on his car, I believe at one point he said he averaged 100,000 miles a year, as he drove from performance to performance. Three of his albums reflect this: The First Million Miles, The First Million Miles, Vol 2, and The Second Million Miles. His best known song was perhaps River,(Take Me Along). I think his final journey though is longer than all his rest.

Finally, later on Sunday I also read of the death of fellow caver Mark Hodges. I can’t say I knew Mark very well. I want to say I caved with him at least once, but I honestly can’t remember. But I knew the impact he had on the cavers around him. He apparently suffered a heart attack while exiting a cave over the weekend. The tributes left to him from his friends and fellow cavers are touching and serve as a reminder, that one doesn’t need to write books, or travel 100,000 miles a year to have an impact on those around him.

I’m going to close with a memory of another friend and also former “Mother” at Mother’s Wine Emporium: Tom Duscheneau. Tom was a fixture at Mother’s for more years than I can remember, and many an attendee will recall him taking a seat at the front of the room, settling in as the music would wash over him, and closing his eyes. Yes, occasionally he’d need a nudge if had started snoring, but otherwise he would simply sit there, soaking in the music until the set ended. He passed in 2006, but I still recall him from time to time. I suspect if there’s a great beyond, he’s just pulled up a chair and sat down, preparing to take in a great concert as Scott and Bill decide to tell a few tall tales and perform a duet or two.

Mother’s Wine Emporium aka Mother’s Coffehouse – For those who don’t know what Mother’s was, it was a magical place at RPI, a place where one could retreat from the hustle-bustle of the busy world and sit back and listen to singers, raconteurs and more. It had moved at least once over the years (the above photo is the latest incarnation). For the longest time, it was the oldest, continuously student run coffeehouse in the nation. Scott liked to talk about how if you made it here, you knew you had probably gotten your ticket to the college coffehouse circuit. Those of us who had the honor of working here were known as “Mothers” and it is were my wife and I met. Due to a variety of circumstances, including the death of Tom Duscheneau, it had its last show sometime in 2007. In 2019, I worked with the RPI to bring back Scott Alarik for a performance, with a hope for future shows. Covid has unfortunately put a hold on that plan, but I do hope in the coming years to again sit back and soak in the music of some great performers.

Feeling Good but…

I think it would be fair to say that like everyone, I’m a bit sick of Covid (thankfully not sick from it.) I just got my booster on Friday and then I’m hearing about the Omicron variant.

I submitted talks for SQLBits in the UK for next year, hoping to present in person. And I’m hearing about numbers rising.

I’m planning a mini-vacation/cave rescue training trip to Hawai’i next year and making sure everything is refundable. Just in case.

So I’m feeling god but…

At the start of each year, I set some financial goals for myself. Some include what things I may pay off, save, or how I’ll spend it (now admittedly most of those are fixed, such as knowing I’ll tax property taxes, etc.) As a contractor I also set a couple of various goals for new work and how much I’ll hopefully earn in the coming year. I find these are important as they help keep me focused and moving forward.

The good news is, financially I’ve hit all my goals, and then some, this year. The downside, with that, and with Covid continually popping up its ugly head, I’ve lost some of my motivation for the rest of the year.

Fortunately, this has freed up some time for some projects around the house. Almost two years ago, with help from the kids, I started on a project to replace some leaking pipes and replace the resulting damaged drywall in the basement. I’m proud to say I’ve finally gotten around to taping and painting the drywall in the basement and patching around where I put in the new bathroom fan. Things get done, albeit slowly.

I’m also feeling good because a major project for one of my clients is mostly completed. But it also came very close to burning me out and I’ll admit I even considered walking away from the client over it. The strange part is that it wasn’t a particularly complicated project, though it did involve a combination of SQL, PowerShell, and using a product called Pentaho. Technically it was fairly straightforward. But, for awhile, the project management was absent and the then lead was actually another agency who, I think it’s safe to say didn’t clearly understand the full scope of the project. With the addition of the client adding their own PM and working with a different agency taking over a bunch of the work, things have gone much more smoothly. Now we’re simply dealing with small niggling details that got missed before.

What kept me from walking away (besides it being my largest client) was a sense of responsibility to the client. Without my efforts, I think the project would have easily been set back a month as they would have had to bring someone else up to speed on my efforts.

Now the upside is that because of the overtime required (and it’s still ongoing) I met my financial goals for the year (and hence now have time for the house projects). So that’s a good thing.

But it did highlight how frustrating being a single-person consulting agency can be at times. It’s made me re-evaluate my goals for 2022. I’ll be writing more about this in a future blog, but it has got me thinking more about getting back to working for an company as a full-time employee, ideally in a management position. Strangely one thing I’ve come to realize is I actually enjoy making decisions and I enjoy managing. I sort of miss it.

And perhaps after nearly 2 years of Covid (and nearly a decade of pure consulting), it’s time I get out of the house more and travel a bit and interact face to face with people.

We’ll see.

But that’s it for today. I’m feeling good but…

P.S. One thing I did finally accomplish is submitting my latest article to Redgate’s Simple-Talk.

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.

Time Crawls On

There’s a crevice at the top of a ridge, about 18.5 miles from my house as the crow flies. And as time flies, it’s been in my life for 36 or 37 years.

The crevice is locally known as The Snow Hole because it retains snow late into the year. Decades ago it had snow through August and sometimes beyond. Unfortunately the time for that is long past due the overall temperatures increasing a day or two.

I first visited this in the Spring of ’84 or ’85. I honestly can’t recall which year. As part of the Outdoor Education club or “OE” as we called it in high school, we did an overnight trip. The instructor liked to challenge us and in this particular case we literally arrived at a random parking lot at the base of a ridge and were purposely given a vague map and told to find a particular peak to camp on. With some bushwhacking we made it to the top of the ridge, struck south and arrived at the peak with a gorgeous view. We camped there and then the next day headed north, crossed a road, and eventually arrived at a crack in the ground full of snow. We explored the crack and I’m sure threw a few snowballs at each other. The crack has sheer walls on three sides and a walkable slope on the west side. At the very top of that slope there is a hole in the ground. Alas, no hobbit lived in it, but it was large enough to wiggle into and with some effort find oneself completely underground. It wasn’t much of a cave, but it was there. (Arguably, by some definitions, because one never got beyond what’s known as the twilight zone, it’s not really a cave, but to us, it was a cave.)

We hiked back to the road and in the parking lot there, not the one we started at, we packed up the vehicles and headed home. At the time, I honestly had no clue where we had gone. But I knew it was fun.

It was a couple of years later, I was now in college, when I joined the Rensselaer Outing Club on a day hike to Berlin Mountain. We drove east from campus and arrived at a parking lot. We unloaded and hiked south. I was having a mild sense of deja vu, but I wasn’t sure why. Several miles later, we arrived at the top of Berlin Mountain and I instantly recognized the view. I had camped there. To our east was Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts. I had returned.

On a later hike, we headed north to the Snowhole. This was the first of many return trips to both locations, the most recent being a hike this past weekend to the Snowhole with my wife.

As we headed north, I was trying to remember my last time there and I want to say close to a decade ago. As I move on in my years and I revisit locations from the past, I try to recall what they were like years ago. In some cases my memories are clouded and faded, in others though, I know my memories are accurate but the places have changed. Both were true on the hike in. In this case, there are two rather open spots about 2/3rds of the way in where one has gorgeous views. Or, more accurately had. The areas themselves are open, but the trees just downhill have continued to grow over the decades and now block much of the view.

View north of Berlin Mountain in the distance, but numerous trees in the foreground blocking much of the view. Taken from the Taconic Crest Trail on the way to the Snowhole.
Decades ago, you could see far more!

And as I mentioned above, the snow doesn’t persist as long in the Snowhole as it used it. But the Snowhole itself hasn’t changed much. Oh, I’m sure a rock or two has fallen since then, more leaves have filled the bottom and decade and I think there’s a bit of a subsistence at the bottom that’s opened up a bit, but overall it’s the same.

And one thing waiting there was that cave. For whatever reason I had not reentered that cave since my first time. This time I decided to do so. I’ve talked about in the past how sometimes we remember caves being bigger than they actually are. Well, in this case I swear the entrance was larger than I remember. I do think in fact the rock had shifted a bit, so perhaps it had been smaller in the past, but in any event, in this case I was able to crawl in without much effort. And the cave itself was deeper and far larger than I recall. Unlike most caves in New York, this is not a solutional cave formed by the breakdown of limestone. Instead, it’s really more of a breakdown cave, where as other stuff erodes away or shifts the layers of rock shift, break, or otherwise move. In my memory, the cave was about 6′ long and just enough to turn around in and peep out a much smaller window near the entrance. Now, it was probably a good 12′-15′ feet long and it dropped down about 6′. Technically I could probably have crawled over a ledge and down just enough to get out of the twilight zone. It truly is a cave, at least now. And it’s one of those rare cases where it’s far larger than I remember. I don’t know in this case if it’s just my memory, or if the cave had changed. It didn’t matter.

After a few minutes I crawled back out and started to do the math. That’s when I realized it had been nearly 40 years since I had last crawled in there. I do hope it’s not another 40 before I crawl in again.