Just a quick blog this week since I missed last week. My previous blog post was about O-Chem and that’s still on my mind. I finally received my test grade back and well, let’s say I was a bit disappointed. Though turns out two of the questions were marked wrongly because the Scantron missed my correct answers (I need better pencils!) So that helped. And I got 4 out of 5 points on the bonus (I lost a point because, despite knowing better I put an extra electron pair on the Carbon (it was a “bookkeeping” exercise I meant to erase) and as such gave the Carbon the equivalent of 5 bonds. As our Professor pointed out, any good O-Chemist would cringe at the thought of that!
But what really helped, and I appreciated, was that given how quickly the test came upon us (literally the 4th day of class, after a holiday weekend) she allowed us to submit corrections. But not simply “Oh, it should have been C” but “It should have been C, and here’s where in the notes you explained that.” If you were able to provide the correction and why, you got back half the points you lost. I think this was actually pretty fair and it also helped me because it did force me to go back and focus on my mistakes and learn what I had missed. This elevated my grade enough that I ended up being quite happy with it.
That said, she’s not doing that with the future tests, including the one I took this morning. This test was a bit different, it was on basically two weeks of material (naming, chirality, and Sn1/Sn2 reactions for those who care). I’ve got to say, in some ways I was more nervous about this one than the previous one. And honestly, 2/3rds of the material was in my mind pretty straightforward. (Small aside: yes, chemical names can get long and unwieldy, but once you “crack the code” you can draw the exact molecule pretty easily, at least for what we’re doing. Don’t ask me the chemical name for something like Tamoxifin (though honestly, it might be doable now that I’ve looked at it 🙂
But the nucleophile stuff, I still don’t 100% grasp. I mostly get the idea, but keeping the details straight is tricky. And that’s most likely where I lost points. Of course I won’t know until the end of class tomorrow!
And now we’re on to the next two chapters and another test next Tuesday. Then three chapters, a final chapter test and a final exam (the last 2 are in the same week!)
This is literally the 4th week of a 6 week class (and I’ve finished 1 of 3 days this week) so I’m officially more than 1/2-way through!
Yeah, we’re moving fast, I feel the knowledge oozing out of my brain as I try to cram it all in.
So, we’ll see how I do. I’d write more, but I have reading and practice problems to work on before tomorrow’s class and lab.
I did something last week I hadn’t done in a while. I skipped blogging on Tuesday. I almost did so again this week, but have about 90 minutes left in my timezone to get one in. So… here goes.
As part of my ongoing quest to prepare to apply to PA School, I am again taking a class. This time it’s O-Chem. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve dreaded this ever since I first started looking at the prereqs I have to fulfill before I can apply to the program I want.
I’ve had a… special relationship with chemistry. In high school, I waited until my Senior year to take it. This wasn’t by design. It wasn’t a requirement to graduate and I simply figured I’d skip it. That is until I started to apply to colleges, including RPI and most wanted 2 semesters of high school chemistry. Combine that with a change in the rules at my high school for senior English (basically had to take 2 electives of English, even if you were taking AP English, which I was), meant my senior year I was taking not one, but TWO more courses than I had planned. I often worked on 5 hours of sleep 6 nights a week (my private prep school had classes on Saturday). So, when something had to give, it was chemistry homework. This frustrated my teacher because it was 10% of the grade and she would remind the class that doing the homework helped a lot with the quizzes and exams. Well I was already doing very well on those, so homework was dropped. It was a trade-off.
Then college chemistry at RPI came along. Somehow I was good at it. Or rather, I was good at helping others prepare for the tests and could easily explain topics, but honestly, did poorly in the class. Oh well, it wasn’t computer science. I’d survive. And at least I didn’t have to take O-Chem! I heard horror stories.
And how here I am, 30 years taking O-Chem. But like my history with chemistry, this has a twist. Because of scheduling I’m taking the 6 week version of the class, basically class for close to 2.5 hours in the morning and then lab for 2.5 hours in the afternoon, 3 times a week.
So, last Tuesday I was prepping for class and stressing about it.
And here I am a week later, with 1 exam under my belt (we move fast) and 3 labs (first day was just safety briefing and orientation) and I’m still feeling overwhelmed and honestly, almost having fun.
My schedule goes something like this: 1-2 hours of paying work in the morning 2.5 hours of class, a break, 1-2.5 hours of lab (it varies), home, work, dinner, some more work possibly, then transcribing notes, looking up questions, and trying to get through the book. Then 1-2 hours of preparing for lab the next day. (This last part is new since I didn’t actually get my lab notebook until Friday, so I will still have to go back and do lab notes for 2 previous labs).
And then of course this past weekend, studying for my first exam. This had two additional complications. The first, I was in a remote area without great bandwidth and a flakey computer, which complicated things. The second was that, without a practice test, it was hard to know what exactly to focus on.
I was hoping to get my test grade back tonight, but will have to wait until tomorrow morning in class. I’m fairly confident I passed. But honestly, I have no idea how well I did. There were definitely a few questions I wasn’t prepared for. But, the professor has been good on making sure we focus on the why and how, rather than remote memorization, so I hope I reasoned them out correctly. If not, at least it’s good practice for the next exam (which fortunately is in two weeks.)
I’m not sure this is the hardest class I’ve taken, but it’s definitely up there and it’s even harder because of the condensed schedule. But I almost remind myself I’m just over 1/6th done!
From the first day of classes I’ve worried about a week like this. I think I’ve mentioned I’m only taking three of the prereqs I need to apply to PA school. That’s not a horribly heavy load, but this week everything came to a head at once.
Monday – Anatomy & Physiology I Exam
Tuesday – Bio I Exam
Wednesday – Bio Prelab due and Bio Lab Quiz
Saturday – General Psych Exam Due
Sunday – General Psych Paper Due
Literally the only thing that’s NOT happening this week is my A&P lab quiz on bones and their facets and attachments points and more. I suppose I should be grateful for small favors.
And to make things worse, none of my study group for A&P was available this weekend.
Now fortunately, the General Psych paper can be submitted for review early, so I knocked that out Saturday morning and got feedback by Sunday night. So I’ll upload that shortly. And the General Psych test is online and available starting tomorrow night, so I can put off studying for that a bit and take it at my convenience.
And finally, the Bio Prelab is almost literally cut and paste and can be submitted on-line. So that’s been knocked out.
But the A&P I and Bio I exams: those made me nervous. Fortunately they’re mostly multiple choice, with the Bio exam having some essay questions.
I’ve always been a decent test taker, but I have to admit, multiple choice does make things easier. In fact, one of the topics we covered in General Psych last week is memory and how recognition is “easier” than recall. i.e. it’s a bit easier to see 4 possible answers to a question and recognize the right one than to be simply asked the question and have to recall the information and write it down.
That said, for me, one thing I often like to do when taking a multiple choice test is see if I can think of the right answer before I actually see the choices, i.e. make use of recall to reinforce my recognition. This gives me more confidence when I eventually choose my final answer.
And if you add to this the fact that there are actually skills one can learn when taking multiple choice tests, such as recognizing distractors, knowing certain answers are simply wrong and sometimes being able to think through to the right answer.
This came into play on question on yesterday’s test. I went back and checked all my answers before handing in the Scantron (yes, they still use them!) and had marked a few for “definitely look at” and one I wasn’t 100% sure on. But I was able to rule out two answers of the 4 and was down to two answers. I had initially checked one of them, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the other was the right one.
So, one test down, another in an hour and then on to the rest. Wish me luck.
One of the side effects, happy I tend to think, of taking my prereqs for PA school is that it’s forced me to better about my time management.
I’ve often said that one of the advantages of consulting is I can set my own hours. And there’s truth to that. But there’s a flip side. Sometimes it can be hard to get started on projects or to even get motivated. With projects sometimes I feel guilty if I’m setting aside time for them and not hustling for more work. Or, motivation is low because well, sometimes it’s tough to get motivated when the highlight of your day is “Can you add this user to the database?”
But now, I have approximately 12 hours of the week I absolutely have to block out. I can’t make excuses to myself of “oh, I can do that later” or “Oh, I should be trying to drum up more work” etc. I have to be in a room or lab, focusing on a particular topic.
But more so, on top of that, I have to block out time pretty much every night and so far one day of the weekend, to go over notes, study the past week, prepare for the next and work on study aids. So this has forced me to get better about time management. Fortunately I’m not in the stage where it’s highly stressful. If anything I’m feeling a bit better. I feel like I’m accomplishing more. So, a side effect of my school work is I actually feel a little more charged because I feel like I’m using my time more effectively.
And part of that, is making sure I get this blog out in time to take care of the rest of my day.
Because last Monday was Martin Luther King Jr Day, my classes didn’t start until Tuesday. So technically I finished my first week yesterday and I’m starting my second week today.
And wow, I have to say, so far, I’m loving it. But there’s more to it than just that.
I’ve had a few friends close in age say, “Wow, I could never do what you’re doing!” Or, “Wow, I’m done with school. How are you doing it?”
For all of them, I understand. For one, everyone is different. Some didn’t have a great experience in school. Some are too busy. Some just don’t have the interest. I get it. But for me, wow, it’s been a great and heady experience and parts of me wish I had done this years ago. Of course I have to temper that with “it’s your first week Greg, give it a few more weeks.”
It is definitely a strange experience being the oldest students in the class. The only reason I say oldest student and not oldest person is because the four professors I have area all close in age to me or older. I’m only taking three classes, but my Bio I lab professor is not the same as the Bio I lecturer, hence having 4 total.
Bio I – so far, all review for me. Basic chemistry and some basic definitions. The professor has made a good point that we all have to start someplace and I agree.
Bio I Lab – basic safety and use of the micropipette and spectrophotometer. Good stuff. But not the most exciting. I do hope it gets better.
Psychology 100 – Strangely the class I felt oldest in for a minute when he was talking about the theory of playing classical music in utero and if the idea it might have an impact on fetal and baby intelligence. It was just a brief comment, but I had to remind myself, I was alive when this was all the rage back in 1998, including the governor of Georgia wanting to send CDs with classical music to all pregnant mothers. Meanwhile, the other students in the class, if they had heard of it, it was either as history, or because they heard the music itself!
Anatomy & Physiology 1 – The professor was out due to Covid for our first two classes and lab unfortunately, so we did stuff via Zoom. I can already tell I think this is the class I’m going to have the most fun in. It’s also probably going to include some of the most amount of rote memorization. So flash card time! I’ve already warned Randi on longer road trips I may have her ask me questions while we’re driving.
Besides enjoying the classes, I think I’m prepared to be a better student than I was 30 plus years ago. There’s a number reasons. For one, I’ve simply just accumulated a lot of general knowledge over that time between a lot of reading and then the learning and teaching I’ve done for NCRC and other programs. So for example, I’m already ahead on some of the terminology in A&P.
But it’s more than that. I’m simply a bit more focused, though that will be something I’ll have to keep an eye in, including keeping the balance with consulting in place.
But also, the technology obviously is different, and this has honestly helped me. Being able to communicate with the instructors via email (and Zoom) works well for my style. And the other thing I’m taking advantage of is my Rocketbook and OneNote to better take notes and organize things.
I have yet to really meet any of my classmates or learn their names and this being a community college and all of us are on different tracks, I suspect I won’t get too close to any of them. If/when I get into PA School though I suspect that part will change, in part because we’ll all be focused on the same thing and because having study partners will be an absolute requirement.
So, it’s only been week one, but I’m really enjoying it and looking forward to the rest of the semester.
In the meantime, an update on the Lego Saturn V I received for Christmas:
The dream is always the same. … and I… find myself in a room full of kids taking their college boards. I’m over three hours late; I’ve got two minutes to take the whole test. I’ve… just made a terrible mistake. I’ll never get to college. My life is ruined. – Risky Business
Today is the day. For the first time in over 30 years I’ll be sitting down in a college classroom and taking a class. I distinctly recall taking my final exam for college. It was in Microbiology. I wasn’t overly concerned. I need to get something like a 40% on it to pass the class (and since it was counting as transfer credit, my actual letter grade didn’t matter as far as RPI was concerned.). It was multiple choice. Once I was confident I had gotten well over 40% I put down the pen and walked out. (For the record I ended up well over 80% on the exam.)
But I have to remind myself, that technically while that was the end of my undergrad career, I have taken classes since then. I took a class on SQL Server a few years later, I studied for and got my MCSE a few years after that, and starting in 2002, I started my career with the NCRC where I have since become an instructor.
But, this is different. For one, it’s 12 weeks of classes. There will be a lab. There will be homework. It’ll be harder in its own way than the other training.
Like many, for years after I graduated, I’d have a dream, usually around May, where it was exam time and I realized there was a class I had never attended and now had to take an exam in it. I’d always wake up a bit upset. One year though finally the dream changed. This time the setup was the same, but when I went to take the final exam, I aced it. Don’t ask me how. But I literally stopped having these exam dreams after that.
So I figure it’s appropriate that I had a dream about starting school last night. In my dream though, I was over in Schenectady (about 15 miles from the community college I’ll be taking classes at) trying to get folks to tell me what time it was, since I had to be at class at 2:00 PM. None would give me a straight answer at first until I got upset. Finally one person told me it was 1:45 PM. I was panicking because I knew there would be no way I’d make it to the Torrington CT Campus of UConn. It was then that I recalled that fortunately I didn’t have to drive that far.
All this is a setup to admit that yes, I am actually both excited and nervous. I’ve gone in a few short weeks from a feeling of ennui when it came to my career and life to one of stress and even a slight bit of panic. Of course it didn’t help that I had to get my vaccination status cleared, and then a bunch of other paperwork finished up late yesterday before it all became official.
I honestly have very little idea what my experiences over the next several years will be like. But I’m looking forward to them.
As I posted in my 2022 Year in Preview on Saturday among other goals, I had decided to work towards a career change. On Facebook and elsewhere I asked folks to read it and by extension, for support.
Wow, I got it in spades. I’m humbled and thankful. Now if I could say I wasn’t nervous or even already feeling a bit overwhelmed.
I thought I’d provide a quick update.
One of the first steps I need to complete before I can even apply for PA school is to fulfill a bunch of prerequisites. This means taking a fairly full class load at the local community college. To do that, I needed to actually register for classes. I figured that would be the easy part, so I set off full of hope yesterday morning to do so. Their offices were closed last week, so yesterday was my first opportunity.
And I hit my first roadblock. I was told I needed to prove my vaccination status to the health office first. Well that’s a bit of a problem because for various reasons, I didn’t have access to my health records from when I was a kid, when I would have received the required vaccinations. After series of calls to various providers and the community college health office, I learned I could, if necessary get the shots from the health office. But, I needed to be registered for classes first. So effectively I couldn’t register until the health office said everything was OK, and the health office couldn’t say everything would be OK until I was registered for classes. Welcome to the classic Catch-22.
Eventually I was able to cut some red-tape and am registered and on the way to solving my vaccination status issues.
So, first hurdle cleared.
Then another one hit: I may have underestimated what prereqs I need and if that’s true, will have to 100% definitely push back one year for the whole process.
I’ll admit that gives me very mixed feelings. One one hand, it may mean a lot less pressure to get everything done this year. On the other, it definitely means another year before I can fully change careers.
So, yesterday was a roller coaster of emotions.
And it was just the first week. But I didn’t expect it all to be roses and flowers. But I’ve decided to t least share most of my ups and downs with my readers.
Oh and one upside: I finally got a Christmas present that I had wanted for two years: the Lego Saturn V. Thanks Ian. I’m going to take my time building it, spread out the enjoyment.
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.
Favorite Conference: The easy answer has been SQL Pass, but honestly, at this point, any where I get to see folks in person!
Best Venue: Ignoring Pass at Seattle, I have to say Manchester UK was nice, simply because it was my first overseas SQL Saturday, or perhaps Virginia Beach SQL Saturday, because Monica Rathbun and her group provided a nice charcuterie board!
Best Presenter: Oh, this is a tough one. I’m going to take a pass. But then cheat and answer below. Sort of.
Next event and why it’ll be Costa Rica: I’m suspecting sort of a bias in this question, but to be honest, I’d love to go. I think 2022 will be a bit too busy for me to visit, but perhaps 2023 or 2024. Maybe I can work in some caving then too!
That all said, I want to get back to my shout-outs above and tie that into this T-SQL Tuesday.
As the coordinator for the Capital Area SQL Server User Group, one of my primary roles, in fact perhaps the most important, is finding speakers to present. I’ve tried over the past few years to have a good variety and to bring some variety. We haven’t really missed a meeting since the pandemic has started, but we have been virtual for well over a year now. This has presented both drawbacks and opportunities. The biggest drawback of course is the lack of actual in-person interaction and the feeling of connectedness that has brought. On a personal note it also means not only have I not gotten out of cooking dinner the night of meetings, but often, I’m juggling getting something together for dinner and getting the session started (though last night my wonderful wife did take care of dinner for me.)
On the flip side, being virtual has allowed me to invite speakers who might not otherwise be willing or able to travel in person to Albany NY and for attendees from across the country to show up. It has also given me the opportunity to experiment a bit more with formats.
Last year, instead of our traditional in-person holiday party format, we did a version of “Bluff the Listener” where I asked various presenters to tell their worst IT/SQL horror stories, but one was lying. It was a success and a lot of fun.
Not wanting to repeat that, this year I decided to ask the above 4 presenters to present lightning rounds. That’s not so bad, except I added a twist. They didn’t get to choose their topics, they were given them: 10 minutes before they were scheduled to present. (And yes, some may I stole this idea from Buck Woody, I’d like to say I was inspired).
I’ll admit I was very nervous about this idea. It seemed a bit gimmicky and it could have been a complete disaster with lesser speakers. Fortunately, all four brought their A-Game.
Rob Farley, presenting from the future, in I believe a public work space, managed to give one of the best talks on column-store indices I’ve seen. Given he had only 10 minutes of prep, I was impressed. His presentation included the use of Powerpoint in sort of a “green screen” mode so he could draw on his screen and we could see what he was drawing.
Peter Shore followed up talking about Tips in Advancing a Career in Data. Again, off-the-cuff with limited prep time, he did very well with this topic. I think in some ways this was almost harder than the more technical topics because you can’t fall back on a demo or graphics.
Deborah Melkin followed, talking about the Best new SQL Server features (2019, 2022, Azure). I had announced previously that the best speaker would be awarded a prize. By I think unanimous declaration, even before Rob Sewell finished out the night with his presentation, the other speakers decided Deborah was the winner. She included some demos in her presentation, which, given the lead time, really impressed folks.
Closing out the evening, Rob Sewell entertained us with a demo of SQL Injection. Not surprisingly, he made use of PowerShell and Notebooks.
As I said, it was an entertaining and educational evening. I purposely set expectations low and made sure folks understood that the entertainment value was as much, if not more important than actual educational value. But I was very pleased with how educational it turned out to be. It was a nice way to end the year and honestly, I think a decent way to get a break from the bad news that seems to have surrounded us lately.
I do have a theory though about why the educational part turned out as well as it did though. In general I’ve always enjoyed lightning talks and I honestly, think they’re among the hardest type of talk to give. Sometimes people promote them as a good introduction to speaking for novice speakers, but I’m not so sure. To give a successful lightning talk, one really has to strip a presentation to the bare essentials and really focus on just one or two key concepts. This can be difficult. But done well I think it really makes those concepts stick.
Now, combine that with topics only being given out 10 minutes in advance, I think that really forces a presenter to focus on key concepts even more. I wouldn’t give an inexperienced presenter a random topic, and even with an experienced presenter, I’d give them a chance to decline a topic if they feel it’s completely outside their wheelhouse. But otherwise, give them a chance to see what they can do. It might surprise you. Heck, it might surprise them.
So, to go back and answer a question from above: Best Presenter… at least last night Deborah Melkin, who if nothing else proved her Google-foo was impressive.
And I think if I can find volunteers, I will definitely try to do an in-person version of this at a future SQL Saturday or Data Saturday or other conference.
Thanks to all who participated and joined us. It was a blast. But honestly, next year, I hope to see you all in person at our holiday party!
I mentioned recently that I had picked up a copy of the book The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. I just finished it and would highly recommend it. The author, James Hornfischer does an excellent job of interweaving the fates of the ships and their crews over the course of several chapters. There’s an excellent sense of the fear and sense of duty among the sailors. He also includes several maps to help one orient themselves as they read about the battle unfolding. He appears to have done his research, which includes numerous interviews with the survivors, reading of the ships logs and more. The one area of missing information, and he admits it, is an adequate understanding of the Japanese side of the battle. This appears in part to be due to a lack of access to such logs and I suspect a language barrier and the difficulty of travelling to Japan.
I mention this because it’s important to understand that the story he writes, nearly 60 years after the battle gives a far fuller picture of what happened than any of the participants had that day. But even now that story is missing pieces.
To quickly recap, the Imperial Japanese Navy was given the mission of breaking up MacArthur’s landings on Leyte in order to reclaim the Philippines. Like many Japanese naval plans it was audacious but also required meticulous planning and timing. And it involved a decoy fleet. This is an important element to what precipitated the last stand. At this point in the war (late 1944), the Japanese Navy had few planes and few experienced pilots, so their aircraft carriers were not an effective force. This despite the fact that the Japanese had shown at Pearl Harbor that the future of surface naval warfare was almost exclusively to be done via aircraft. So they decided to use their aircraft carriers as bait for the Third Fleet commanded by Admiral Halsey. A bait he took; hook, line and sinker.
This left the northern edge of the Seventh Fleet, guarding the San Bernardino Strait basically undefended except for 3 task forces, Taffies 1-3, with just a slew of “jeep” carriers and destroyers and destroyer escorts. Taffy 3 was the northernmost of these and the ones directly engaged by the Japanese fleet. They were soon to be met be the IJN Yamato and and the rest of Admiral Kurita’s fleet of battleships and cruisers. By any measure, Taffy 3 was outgunned and outmatched. Yet, by the end of the day, despite the loss of 2 destroyers, 1 destroyer escort, and 2 escort carriers, the Japanese fleet had lost 3 heavy cruisers, 3 more damaged, a destroyer damaged and the loss of 52 aircraft (compared to the US losing 23) and was in full retreat.
At this point, and for the last 77 years one could reasonably ask, “why?” What drove Admiral Kurita’s decision to withdraw. Unfortunately, most of the answers are predicated on guesswork, educated guesswork, but still guesswork all the same. The simple answer appears to be two fold. For one, he didn’t know if Admiral Halsey had taken the bait, and in fact it appears that he didn’t think Halsey had, and that he was in fact attacking the fleet carriers, not escort carriers, and hence a much larger American fleet than was actually present. But despite his erroneous belief about the American Third Fleet’s position, he was most likely correct in his appraisal of the future of the mission: he did not believe he could continue forward and disrupt the landings. Since that was the primary goal of his mission and it most likely would fail, it appears he saw no point in risking the rest of his fleet and withdrew.
One can speculate what would have happened had he continued on with the battle. My personal, and mostly uneducated guess, is that he probably would have succeeded in sinking the other 2 carriers of Taffy 3 and perhaps the rest of the destroyers and destroyer escorts. However, his position was extremely precarious with the growing number of American aircraft starting to make sorties from Taffy 2 and from an improvised airstrip the Army had prepared and the pilots from Taffy 3 had basically taken over. It’s most likely he would have ended up with several more of his own ships on the ocean floor, including the Yamato.
So, he made what he thought was the best decision based on the information he had at the time. As did Halsey when he took the bait of the Northern Force of the basically defanged Japanese carriers.
So why do I recap all of this? Because I think it’s topical to a lot of what we do at times. This past weekend I was upgrading a SQL Server for a customer. Fairly routine work. And I ran into problems. Things I wasn’t expecting. It threw me off. Fortunately I was able to work around the issues, but it got me thinking about other upgrades and projects I’ve done.
The reality is, in IT (as well as life) we make plans to get things done. Sometimes they’re well thought out plans with lots of research done prior to the plan and everything is written down in detail to make sure nothing is forgotten.
And then… something unexpected happens. The local internet glitches. It turns out there’s a patch missing you had been told was there. Or there’s a patch there you didn’t know was there. Or a manager unexpectedly powers down the server during your data center move without telling you (yes, that happened to me once).
When things go majorly wrong, we’ll do a post-mortem. We’ll look back and say “Oh, that’s where things went wrong.” But we have to remind ourselves, at the time, we didn’t know better. We may not have had all the information on hand. When reviewing decisions, one has to separate “what do we know now” from “what did they know then.”
Now we know, “…Halsey acted stupidly” to quote a famous movie. He shouldn’t have taken the bait. We know Kurita probably should have turned back earlier (since the other half of the pincer had been turned back by the Seventh Fleet, putting the Japanese plan in serious jeopardy, or perhaps pressed on a bit longer before turning back (and taking out a few more escort carriers). But we shouldn’t judge their decisions based on what we know, but only on what they knew then.
Finally, I’m going to end with a quote from the battle. Spoken by Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland of the USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413) to his crew over the 1MC “This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.” And that they did. Among other things they launched their torpedoes at the IJN heavy cruiser Chōkai, hitting and disabling it and then took on another Japanese cruiser with their 5″ guns until finally a shell took out their remaining engine room and they ended up dead in the water.
I can’t begin to fathom the heroism and bravery of the men of Taffy 3 that day. If you can, find the time to get a copy of the book and to read it.
P.S. The title of this post has an interesting story of its own, and I know at least one reader will know it all to well.