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!

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.”

Has PASS Passed? Does it Really Matter?

The last week or two of the Twittersphere and blogosphere has left me unsettled. Three members of the PASS Board have resigned in protest: Hamish Watson, Melody Zacharias, Mindy Curnutt. These are three people I’ve had the honor of working with and in Hamish’s case, even sharing the stage (albeit virtual) with. They’re great, hard-working, dedicted people. Rumors are that the Board is consulting with lawyers, presumably to see what is required for an orderly and legal dissolution of PASS as we know it.

Yesterday, a friend posted on my Facebook timeline that she hoped to see me again in a year when I came back out to Seattle for Summit. I had to say, it wasn’t clear there would be a Summit next year.

These things sadden me. Winter, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere is a time of literal darkness, but the situation with PASS, on top of our time of Covid and our bitter partisan divide brings darkness to other parts of my life.

But, I’m reminded of the good things too. Sitting on my kitchen butcherblock are 6 bags of cookies, plus a pile more for ourselves. Tonight is the 6th night of Hanukkah, where again my family and I will gather to light candles to remind ourselves of hope and joy among a dark time millennia ago when evil was vanquished. In a few days, Jupiter and Saturn will be in conjunction and create a single bright “star”. This will happen on the darkest, longest night of the year and then light will start to return and a new year will begin. A vaccine is out and being distributed and hope for 2021 builds.

And last night, I was reminded that PASS itself may be an organization, and I don’t know its future but an organization is made up of the people in it. It’s more than just the founding papers and bylaws and NDAs. To quote Shakespeare, “O brave new world, that has such people in it!”

What exactly do I mean? Well in more normal years, last night would have been our holiday party for the Capital Area SQL Server User Group. This means we would have gathered at a local restaurant, in person and shared stories and memories over food and drink. Months ago it became apparent that this could not happen this year. I struggled with several ideas to do instead. For one, we could have cancelled, but that just seemed too depressing. I could have found yet another remote speaker, but that just seemed boring. I can’t recall exactly where the idea came from, but I decided to do a version of “3 Truths and a Lie”. It turned out to be 4 Truths and a Lie. For those who aren’t familiar with the idea, or who do not listen to NPRs “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” which has a version they call “Bluff the Listener”, the idea is some number of people (in my case 4) tell a true story, perhaps a bit outlandish. One additional person tells a lie. The others in the group then cast their votes for whose story is made-up. It can be quite fun.

I struggled a bit with who to ask to be guest speakers. I wanted folks that I knew could tell a good tale and that had probably some quite unusual stories. So I reached out and very quickly got back positive responses from everyone I asked. THIS is the #SQLFamily I’ve grown to know and love, always willing to help out and if it involves a good story, all the better. One of them, David Klee was positively giddy with excitement. And then it happened: several of the others had to drop out for personal reasons. They all reached out to me and apologized for having to drop out. I understood. Life happens and I know none of them did so without some anguish. But fear not, I had others to ask and other contacts of mine helped suggest names. Originally I was going to go with 4 total story tellers, but because time was now short, I reached out to at least one extra person to ensure if someone said no, I’d still have enough folks. Amazingly, all the folks I asked said yes. Now I had a total of 5 and that was fine, I decided to run with it. So, besides David, I ended up with Kellyn Pot’Vin-Gorman, Ed Leighton-Dick, Rick Lowe, and Amy Herold all weaving tales; of upgrades that included a Cheshire cat, the coworker who thought you had to sit and watch SQL jobs run to completion before going home, a trigger that would routinely update 63,000 rows, JBwelding USB ports in the name of security, and upgrading a server to something 31% slower for the low low cost of only $4M.

Unfortunately, the actual turnout for my group, despite the sign-ups on Meetup, was about 1/2 of what I had expected, but everyone had a great time. Surprisingly, no one guessed which of the above stories was made up (and I’m not giving it away). But we had plenty of prizes so everyone will be going away with something.

The one thing I went away with, was the confirmation that while I have no idea what the future of PASS is (ok, I have some thoughts, perhaps for another time), I do know that it’s far more than just the organization, it’s really the people, the demonyms of PASS that are the #SQLFamily I’ve come to know and love. In this season of darkness, knowing that there are such people out there fills me with hope.

So thanks to the folks named above and to all my other #SQLFamily members, and fellow CASSUG folks, including Ed Pollack and Ray Kim for your help over the past year.

One a finale note: for my birthday this year, I’ve added a link on my Facebook page to the local foodbank. I already exceeded two early goals and have added a third, stretch goal. Watching a segment on hunger and food drives on The Today Show this morning I am again reminded of how much I have and how lucky my family is. I would ask, if you can, donate, either to your local food bank, to the link on my Facebook page or to a charity of your choice.

Thank you and to all, a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and happy holidays for other holidays that you may celebrate.

Backups Are Useless

I’m going to take a controversial stand and argue that backups are useless.

Over the last few months I’ve worked with a client of mine to test their Disaster Recovery procedure for one of their major in-house applications. This involved multiple several-hour meetings with anywhere from 5 to 10 people at each meeting, sometimes more. Each hour probably cost the client $1000s of dollars. The cost of running these meetings and tests probably cost the client well over $100K.

This is ignoring the costs of the associated hardware, the power for the backup datacenter, the cost of heating and cooling, and of course the licensing. I wouldn’t be surprised if they easily spend more than $1 Million a year in backups and the like.

And for what? A fairly low probability event?

I mean sure, if their system failed and they had no Disaster Recovery plan it could cost them 10s of millions of dollars in business and perhaps even end up putting 100s of people out of work. But they’d find other jobs. In the meantime, all that money spent on backups could have been spent on other things like lunches for for the employees (and maybe a pizza or two for select consultants). Think of the boost to the pizza economy that would have been!

So, don’t do backups.

Oh and don’t wear a mask. They’re hot, sweaty, and really not even .1% of the US population has died. And sure, you might get COVID-19, but you’ll probably survive. Sure, you might have some cognitive long-term issues, but hey, that’s sort of like the employees at my client above who, if the company went under, could simply find another job. I mean it’s not a big deal. Amirite?

Now let’s be serious. If a DBA came in to your business and said not to bother doing backups, you’d probably laugh at them. Do backups. And of course wear a mask. There is so much evidence it makes a difference. And, socially distance for now. And reconsider large family gatherings for the next month or two, if only to help increase the odds that you can have such a gathering a year from now.

Part of this post was prompted by a question on Quora from a user asking how to recover their database if they didn’t have a backup. I hated to tell them that it might be too late and there was quite likely little they could do. And I’ve read too many heart-wrenching stories from nurses who have had to hold the hand of a dying patient because they thought Covid was no big deal or a hoax. So, please, take precautions. Even if nothing happens to you, it may happen to those close to you.

That said, I will repeat an adage about backups I heard a few SQL Saturdays ago: “Backups don’t matter, restores do!” So do backups, but restore them every once in awhile to make sure that they actually work!

For the record, with my client, not only did the official DR test run go smoothly, we beat our RTO and RPO by huge margins. If disaster strikes, it’s highly likely this customer will weather it without threatening the future of the company.

Goals

A week ago an email alerting me to a new post from Steve Jones showed up in my in-box. I had to chuckle a bit because the topic was one, Goal Progress, that I had seriously thought about writing about for last week’s blog.  But I decided to write about teaching instead and put off a post on goals. There was a reason for that. I thought it would make a better post for this week.

There are some goals I’m fairly public about. I’ve started to write about my yearly goals and my results at the start and end of each year. But often I have more private goals. These are usually of a more personal nature. This post is about one such goal.

My Biking History

Ever since I got my first 10 speed, on I think my 10th birthday, I’ve loved to bike. Learning to read gave me intellectual freedom, but learning to bike gave me physical freedom. Growing up in a small town meant that to go any place interesting, biking was often the fastest and easiest way to do so. I could cover miles in fairly short order. Before I knew it, I was biking everywhere.

In high school, in the spring sports season I continued my relationship with the outdoors with the Outdoor Experience (OE) program. Part of that time was spent biking. I quickly upgraded my original 10 speed to one I bought from my original OE coach, Ben Kaghan. It was a beautiful Italian bike I continued to ride through high school and college until I was in a serious accident with it where I ended up going head over the handle bars and destroying the front forks. Twice in high school, as part of the OE program I managed to get in a Century ride, once my freshman year and once my senior year. They were nice bookmarks to my high school experience. Surprisingly to me, my senior year ride was a bit tougher, I think the route selection was a bit worse and we ended up with more hills.

For college graduation, I received a beautiful Trek 520 from my mom. I continued to ride, though not as much as I’d like. But several times, in September or October, I would ride to an annual event that my college outing club hosted known as “Fall Lake George”. This was an IOCA event where as many as a dozen colleges would canoe, sail, swim (yes a few have over the years) or powerboat to Turtle Island and camp for the weekend. I’d send my gear up in another vehicle and arrange for a car-ride back. Depending on factors this was generally about a 65-70 mile ride. The last time I did this was in 2015, the day before my father died. For various reasons, including changing college policies which have resulted in cancellations of this event, I haven’t done it since.

That said, most years I’ve routinely gotten in at least a few rides over 30 miles, with a few 50 mile rides snuck in there. But the elusive 100 miles had not been accomplished.

Due in part to COVID and wanting to get out more, and long stretches of good weather, I’ve found myself riding more this year than any year in memory. As of this morning my mileage for the year is over 1200 miles in the saddle. That was sort of a personal goal I had set for myself without publicizing it.

But there was one more goal. One I finally managed to realize this past weekend: the Century ride.  I had actually already accomplished 2 half-Century rides this year which I had felt good about, including one with some significant altitude gain. So I felt good about my chances. But I still wasn’t 100% sure.

Near Lake George is an amusement park, The Great Escape. My entire family has season passes and while I enjoy a day or two there, the rest of the family loves it there. My original goal was bike there, join them for a ride or two, and then bike home. And if I felt my legs weren’t up to it, toss the bike on the back of my wife’s car and ride home with them. Alas, due to Covid-19, The Great Escape has not been open at all this year.

But, I still sort of wanted a bail-out option. So I came up with a back-up plan. Right across from The Great Escape is a really incredible ice-cream place known as Martha’s Dandee Creme, which is a traditional stop for the family after a day at The Great Escape. So, about a month ago, I figured, if the weather worked, this past Labor Day weekend would be a good weekend to attempt my ride. And I’ve got to say the weather was nearly perfect for it. Not to warm nor too cold (though the first few miles from the house which was mostly downhill so I had lots of wind, but little muscle action, and still early in the morning were noticeably chilly.)

So at 7:45 AM I set out. The first 2-3 miles are basically coasting downhill from my house to the Hudson River and then the next 5 or so are avoiding potholes and city traffic as I make my way north to the first river crossing.

20200905_094609

32 miles in and going strong, but fuel and bio break.

I find that on longer rides, after about 2 hours, I need generally need some sort of refueling stop. Fortunately, in my area there’s lots of Stewart’s Shops. It’s generally easy to plan a break around them and I did.

20200905_095543

Milk (and a brownie) does the body good!

At this point I was more than half-way to my turn-around point, which was actually at about 55 miles, not 50. Once I had taken care used the facilities and refueled, I was back into the saddle for another stint. This was a shorter stint, but finally I would be gaining some altitude. Up until now the ride was basically along the Hudson, but in about 15 miles, I’d pass through Fort Edward and Hudson Falls where the river turns west and I would have to do some, albeit minor hill-climbing.  

My original goal had been to hit Martha’s by 12:30 PM. I had given myself lots of time because I had no idea how fast or slow I’d be. Well at this point I texted my wife to say that my new goal was now Noon.

20200905_113408-1.jpg

11:45 at Martha’s Dandee Creme!

I beat even that goal and that included a stop to make sure I hadn’t missed a turn.

One of the peculiarities I’ve found with endurance events like this is that my appetite essentially disappears. I knew I needed calories and as such ordered a soda, some chicken fingers and fries. The soda I had no problem drinking. Of the 5 chicken fingers, I managed to down 2 and of the fries, not even 1/2 of them. I saved the rest for my family.

Once they showed up, we ordered ice cream. I mean, what’s the point of biking to an ice cream place if you don’t get ice cream?

A very surreal experience, The Great Escape on Labor Day weekend, empty, and soundless

Finally it was time to get back in the saddle and head southbound. I felt strong about it, but wasn’t sure about the wind and all. And the wind at spots was definitely a factor and it definitely slowed me down.

But….

The big 100!

I made it. There was just one problem. As I had mentioned, my turnaround point was about 55 miles from my house. This meant I was still over 10 miles from home. I made a quick pit stop just south of here (again at a Stewart’s) and then raced home. Honestly, the about 2 miles near the house was the worst, not because of the distance per se, but because I finally had to regain all the altitude I had lost from my house to the Hudson 9 hours previous.

But I pulled into my driveway right before 5:00 PM.

Finally home, 111.6 miles later

I had, for the first time in 35 years, finally completed another Century ride. Actually a bit more than a Century ride. Goal accomplished.

Final stats:

  • 9:44 Door to door including stops
  • 111.6 miles covered
  • Crossing the Hudson, 4 times
  • Altitude changes: 515->13 feet and then slowly back up to 476 feet. And then all that in reverse
  • 1 Stewart’s Chocolate Milk consumed
  • 1 Stewart’s large brownie devoured
  • 2 chicken fingers digested
  • Some french fries eaten
  • 1 small (which is actually quite large at Martha’s) salted-caramel soft-serve cream in a cone ingested
  • 7:16:12 actual riding time
  • 29.20 top speed on some random hill.
  • 15.3 mph average speed overall (down from 16.3 mph turn around and 15.8 at 100 mile mark, the hills at home and city traffic killed me)

Conclusion

So, the first question that comes to mind, “would I have written this blog post had I failed to achieve my private goal or always kept the failure private?” – Good question. I think it depends on the reason for the failure.

“How did you feel the next day?” – Honestly? Pretty good. Other than my knees, I find if I’m in shape, long rides like this don’t really leave me overly sore the next day. And taking doses of ibuprofen definitely helps with the knees and more.

And of course, “Would you do it again?” – Well I probably won’t wait another 35 years. We’ll see what happens next year or the year after that.

“What other private goals do you have?” – That would be telling! 🙂

Seriously, it was a great time for me, I’m SO glad I did it and am feeling great. Not to bad for someone my age in a year of Covid.

Learning and Teaching

This past weekend was the first of 3 weekends I’ll be spending in teaching a cave rescue class. As I’ve written before, I usually spend at least 1 week a year teaching students how to help rescue folks out of caves. I don’t get paid money, and in fact have to pay for my own travel and sometimes other expenses. But, I love it. Unfortunately, the large event we had planned for NY this year had to be postponed due to Covid-19.

A Little Background

Fortunately, New York is one state where folks have been very good about social distancing and wearing masks, so that gave me the opportunity to try something new: teaching what we call a “Modular Level 1” class. Instead of taking an entire week off to teach, we spread the teaching out over three weekends and several nights. This can often better accommodate peoples schedules. After a lot of planning and discussions I finally decided to go ahead and see if I could host a class. Through a series of fortunate events4, by the time I was ready to close registration, I actually had more than enough students. What makes this class different from other classes I’ve taught is that more than 1/2 the students have never been in a cave. However, most of those are in medical school and a goal of mine has been to get more highly trained medical folks into cave rescue. So, we greenlighted the class.

Teaching

The first day of class is really mostly about “check-ins”. Each student must demonstrate a certain set of skills. When I teach the Level 2 class, this generally goes quickly because the students have already gone through Level 1 and the students tend to be more serious in general about their caving skills. But for Level 1, we get a broader range of students with a broader range of skills. And in this case, some folks who were just entering the community of being knot tying and SRT (Single Rope Technique).

There’s a mantra, I first heard among the medical education community, but is hardly unique to them, “See one, do one, teach one.” There’s a logic to this. Obviously you have to see or learn a skill first. Then obviously you need to be able to do it. However, the purpose and goal of that last one eludes some people.

Without getting too technical, let me give an example: in SRT, cavers and rescuers need the ability to climb the rope and, while attached to the rope, successfully change-over to be able to descend the rope. I’ve literally done this 100s of times in my life. I obviously have the first two parts of that mantra down I’ve seen it, and and done it. But teaching it is a whole other ball game. Being able to DO something, doesn’t mean you can successfully teach it. We do many things based strictly on experience and muscle memory. If you think about walking, you may realize you do it naturally without any real thought. But imagine trying to teach someone how to do it. You probably can’t, unless you’re a trained physical therapist.

Much is the same with the aforementioned change-over. Just because I could do it, didn’t mean I could successfully teach it. However, over the years, as I’ve taught it more and more I’ve come to recognize certain mistakes and certain areas I need to focus on. I’ve gotten better at teaching it. So by teaching more, I’m learning to become a better teacher. By being able to teach it, I also understand it and know it better. The “teach one” part of the mantra is important because it means you can give forward the skills you’ve learned, but also means you have a better understanding of them in the first place. You can’t effectively teach what you don’t understand.

In addition to learning how to teach better, I’ve also realized that some approaches work better than others for people. There’s a common knot we tie in the rope community called an “alpine butterfly”. There are at least four ways I’m aware of to teach it. One method involves looping the rope over your hand 3 times in a certain pattern and then pulling on the right loop in the right way through the others, the knot “magically” appears.  I’ll admit I’ve never been able to master this and as a result, obviously don’t teach this way. The method I use is a bit more off-color in its description. Writing it down it comes down to:

  1. Take a bight of the rope
  2. Put two twists in it
  3. Take the loop, aka head, pass it between the legs of the rope
  4. Shove the head through the asshole formed between the two twists
  5. Pull tight and dress

At the end of that, you have a beautiful alpine butterfly. On Saturday night I was helping a student perfect her butterfly. She was having trouble with the 3 loops over the hand method. I showed her the asshole method. She almost instantly got it. Now, that’s NOT to say the asshole way is the better way, it’s simply the way that worked better for her.

Learning

Besides learning how to teach better, I actually learn a lot from my students. For example, one of the students who does have extensive alpine rescue experience was asking about our use of what are known as Prusik loops to tie Prusik Knots. In her training and experience she uses something similar called a VT Prusik. I had seen these before in previous training, but had not had a chance to see them in action or play with them. She did a quick demonstration and then on Monday sent me a link with more information. Needless to say, by the end I was ordering a pair so I could start to play with them myself. I can already see where I might use them in certain cases.

Another example of learning is that I’m starting to adopt a different way of tying what’s known as a Münter hitch. I’ve been tying these successfully for decades, but started noticing another method that’s fairly common and in my mind, if not more intuitive, it is at least a bit more of a visual mnemonic. I think it’ll reduce my chances of tying one poorly so I’ve started using it more and more. And this is because I saw how quickly students would pick it up.

Gelling

By Saturday night most of the students had passed their check-offs, but not in what I’d call a solid fashion. They were still at the stage where they were simply reproducing what they saw. This is common in the early stages of learning. As a result, I decided to adjust the Sunday morning schedule and spend a bit more time on simply practicing and honing their skills. What we really want at some point is for the skills to “gel” (i.e. go from a liquid state where their ability is in flux to a state where there abilities are more solid). What can be interesting about this is for some folks, this can be a fairly quick process and in fact I noticed by lunchtime for a number of students, their abilities had gone from simple rote reproduction to an actual more gelled state. After lunch we put in some more time and with some of the students I’d simply walk up, call out a knot for them to tie, walk away, give them a minute or so and come back to see what they had done. In most cases, they were successful. The night before that would not have worked. They’re still a long way to go from being as good as I or they might like, but they were no ready to go out in the field and safely put a patient over the edge.

Level 1 students pull a patient up over a cliff

Safely getting a patient over the edge

Concluding

So we have two more weekends to go before they can call themselves trained as Level 1 students and hopefully they’ll keep learning and improving beyond that. For me, as long and tiring as the weekend was (I think I got about 5-6 hours of sleep each night, at most) it was rewarding because I got to see students learn skills we taught AND because I got to learn stuff too. It was a great weekend and I look forward to the next two.20200829_134511