Inbound and Outbound to NYC

I still recall the first computer program I wrote. Or rather co-wrote. It was a rather simple program, in Fortran I believe, though that’s really an educated guess. I don’t have a copy of it. It was either in 7th or 8th grade when several of us were given an opportunity to go down to the local high-school and learn a bit about the computer that they had there. I honestly have NO idea what kind of computer it was, perhaps a PDP-9 or PDP-11. We were asked for ideas on what to program and the instructor quickly ruled out our suggestion of printing all numbers from 1 to 1 Million. He made us estimate how much paper that would take.

So instead we wrote a program to convert temperature Fahrenheit to Celsius. The program was as I recall a few feet long. “A few feet long? What are you talking about Greg?” No, this was not the printout. This wasn’t how much it scrolled on the screen. Instead it was the length of the yellow (as I recall) paper tape that contained it. The paper tape had holes punched into it that could be read by a reader. You’d write your program on one machine, and then take it over to the computer and feed it into the reader and it would run it. I honestly don’t recall how we entered the values to be converted, if it was already on the tape or through some other interface. In any case, I loved it and fell in love with computers then. Unfortunately, somewhere over the years, that paper tape has since disappeared. That saddens me. It’s a memento I wish I still had it.

In four or five short years, the world was changing and quickly. The IBM PC had been released while I was in high school and I went from playing a text adventure game called CIA on a TRS-80 Model II to programming in UCSD Pascal on an original IBM PC. (I should note that this was my first encounter with the concept of a virtual machine and p-code machine.) This was great, but I still wanted more. Somewhere along the line I encountered a copy of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. I loved it. In January of 1985 my dad took me on a vacation to St. Croix USVI. Our first step on that trip was a night in NYC before we caught our flight the next morning. To kill some time I stepped into 47th Street Photo and bought myself a copy of Flight Simulator. It was the first software I ever bought with my own money. (My best friend Peter Goodrich and I had previously acquired a legal copy of DOS 2.0, but “shared” it. Ok, not entirely legal, but hey, we were young.)

I still have the receipt.

For a High School Student in the 80s, this wasn’t cheap. But it was worth it!

I was reminded of this the other day when talking with some old buddies that I had met when the Usenet sci.space.policy was still the place to go for the latest and greatest discussions on space programs. We were discussing our early intro to computers and the like.

I haven’t played this version in years, and honestly, am not entirely sure I have the hardware any more that could. For one thing, this version as I recall was designed around the 4.77Mhz speed of the original IBM PC. This is one reason that some of my readers may recall when the PC AT clones came out running the 80286 chip running at up to 8Mhz (and faster for some clones) there was often a switch to run the CPU at a slower speed because many games otherwise simply ran twice as fast and as a result the users couldn’t react fast enough. So even if I could find a 5 1/4″ floppy and get my current machine to read the drives in a VM, I’m not sure I could clock down a VM slow enough to play this. But, I may have to do this one of these days. Just for the fun of it.

I still have the original disks and documentation that came with it.

Flying outbound from NYC

A part of me does wonder if this is worth anything more than the memories. But for now, it remains in my collection; along with an original copy of MapInfo that was gifted to me by one of the founders. But that’s a stroll down memory lane for another day.

And then I encountered SQL Server only a short 6 or so years later. And that ultimately has been a big part of where I am today.

Updating My Avatar

A want to thank in part, fellow DBA, Cathrine Wilhelmsen for the topic today. She posted a tweet this morning asking we all look like our Twitter profile pictures when we meet again at in-person events. I replied that I wasn’t sure I was ready to shave my beard. So, instead, in the meantime, I updated my avatar on Twitter photo to my latest headshot, which does include a beard. I figure I can always shave it and update my photo later.

I was at a loss for a topic today until that tweet came in and then a request from Adam Hafner came in reminding me to send him an updated bio for my upcoming talk at his User Group in Sioux Falls later this month.

Between these two events, it was another reminder of how much as changed in the last 18 or so months and how much will change again in the next 18 months. For example, I signed up to do an in-person User Group presentation next May for the Hampton Roads SQL Server User Group.

The beard is perhaps my most obvious change. But I’ve also come to realize how much I miss my #SQLFamily. I’ve been fortunate in the past 18 months to teach two in-person cave rescue classes and still avoid Covid. And yet, I missed travelling. I miss getting out. Last month my wife and I drove our out to Buffalo to help my son move into his apartment for his final semester of college. That’s the furthest I’ve been from home in 18 months. Other than teaching the cave rescue courses about 30 miles away, I don’t think I’ve slept under another roof in all that time. This is unusual for me.

I had even stopped doing remote SQL presentations. My writing for Redgate dropped off (though I just had a new article published, check it out here!)

But, that’s all starting to slowly change. I can feel the winds shifting and I think next year will be a great year for travel and I’m excited about it.

And, I may or may not have a beard. Hopefully you’ll recognize me. And I hope I recognize you.

The World Wonders

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.

ICE ICE Baby

I rarely like to make predictions or bold claims, but dawned on me that it’s pretty much all over for the Internal Combustion Engine cars and trucks. Forget government mandates or the latest Tesla press release.

Why do I say this? a few months ago I recall reading the press release for the new F-150 electric truck. The stats made for some impressive reading. And more interestingly, if anything, it appeared Ford downplayed some numbers like range (i.e. giving a conservative estimate based on actual usage as opposed an optimal number based on unrealistic driving conditions). They announced an initial set of production numbers and a few weeks later doubled their 2024 production estimates. The Ford F-150 has been the best selling vehicle in the US since 1981. Announcing an electric version was no small thing. And people took to it like a duck to water.

But that wasn’t the thing that convinced me. It was the ad I saw tonight. I can’t find a link to the latest but it features the F-150 Lightning, the E-Transit, an electric version of their best selling van and the Mustang Mach-E. This is a wide range of vehicles and it’s clear that they’re not targeting niche vehicles or make a pro forma attempt. They mean business.

They know where the market is heading and it’s electric. The market has spoken and the future is electric. Mandates and the like won’t matter.

Time Flies

It was either only 20 years ago or a lifetime ago that I had received the news. Peter was on Flight 175. That’s all I needed to hear. That was all anyone who knew anyone on any of the 4 flights needed to hear. There was no hope, no questions that followed. My best friend from high school had been killed because a man in a far away land had hatched a plan to turn four airliners into deadly missiles.

I have to be honest, Peter and I hadn’t really kept in touch after high school. I can’t really say why. But I had finally reached out to him a few weeks before 9/11 and we had made plans to get together in the next month. That moment, like all my memories of him is now frozen in time. His smile that lit up a room will always be in my mind.

On this 20th anniversary, I have mixed feelings on how much 9/11 has been played out as a national tragedy for most of the last 20 years. It was no doubt a horrible day for many. Friends and family were lost that day. And yet, it seems to have taken a special hold in our national consciousness for two decades. Like Pearl Harbor, the attack was a complete surprise and caused the US to launch a war overseas. But unlike Pearl Harbor, it seems as if at times we are stuck in time. I think this is perhaps because in this case, our own planes and passengers were turned on us and because unlike WWII, there has been no distinct victory. There is no simple closure. But, thanks to people like Peter’s family, there is hope.

It was tempting for many after 9/11 to want revenge, to strike back. Some I think lost the distinction between justice and vengeance. Peter’s family did something different and I think unique. And that has been what has been on my mind.

In their own way, and a way that the Peter I knew from high school would have approved of 100%, they struck back at the Taliban. They didn’t go on the warpath. They didn’t call for attacks or bombings or even deaths in return. Instead, they opened a school for girls in Afghanistan. They setup a scholarship program for students from Afghanistan to attend the private high school, Berkshire, where Peter and I met. They decided to fight hatred and ignorance with lovingkindness and education. They fought for a future. Peter was gone, but they fought for a better world, despite him not being in it.

As the Taliban slowly regained control of parts of Afghanistan over the past years and especially the past months, I was saddened. With the fall of Kabul, I was nearly in tears. While I grieve at times for Peter, I grieve more for the dying of the dreams inspired by his murder. And this happening near the 20th anniversary of 9/11 has only made it more poignant.

That said, I actually have hope. I think it’s a dark time in Afghanistan, the current promises of their leader not withstanding. Currently it appears they will continue to allow the education of girls, but I don’t know for how long and how well.

The land, like the country is a harsh environment, but yet things grow. His family and countless others I believe have planted seeds in Afghanistan. Seeds that when the time is right will sprout and grow. So, I have hope. His death may have led to just one school and a few students coming to Berkshire, but I know his family wasn’t alone.

It may take years, perhaps decades, but I think have to believe that Peter’s death was not in vain and that more good will ultimately come of it.

Peter Morgan Goodrich
Peter’s smile as I remember him

More on the foundation setup by his family: The Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation

Paywalled (sorry) recent article on him: The Berkshire Eagle

From his college: Bates

About his mother: a powerhouse of a woman that cancer took far too soon

P.S. One last comment about Peter himself. I think one reason we got along so well was because he was so inquisitive and always learning. At his memorial we were all told how among his possessions was found a copy of an English copy of the Qur’an, replete with many dozens of bookmarks. While we were all looking for solace and understanding the preacher reminded us, “For the love of God, he read the Qur’an.” That was Peter, always wanting to learn and understand. And he would have appreciated the wordplay in that statement.

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.

Changes

Let’s start with what I’m not doing this week: teaching cave rescue. As I wrote two weeks ago, those of us in charge of annual upcoming National Cave Rescue training class decided to cancel it in light of the ongoing Covid pandemic. Of course over the weekend, on Facebook popped up images of the modular version of the Level 1 class I taught last year (because the National planned for June of 2020 had ben postponed due to Covid). This got me thinking about the numbers. Using the site 91-Dovic I was able to compare the infection rate year to year, and let’s just say it’s shocking. In New York State, the infection rate was roughly 3 people per 1000. Currently it’s hovering around 23 people per 1000. And this is with a high rate of vaccination. National numbers are similar in terms of the ratio of numbers. Clearly, despite vaccinations we’ve got a long ways to go, but I feel more confident in our decision to cancel.

That said, there were of course other personal consequences. For one, I’m able to actually spend time with a client on a project that’s seriously backlogged. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say, only recently, with the addition of a very competent project manager has this project gotten on track. My role is sort of the middle-man whose scripts passes data between two systems. It’s a critical part of the process, though my development work is mostly done at this point. But had I been teaching this week, it would have created issues for the goals for the project. So, I guess the client wins out on this one.

But there were some other positive consequences. While I couldn’t go to my daughter’s college to drop her off on her first day (the school was limiting move-ins to the student and two others, so my wife and son went, he had never seen the campus) I was able to see her off that morning. Something that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. (though, despite that, all four of us forgot to take the cookies I had baked out of the fridge and put them in the car!)

Heading off to college!

But also, it meant my wife and I were able to drive my son to his college for his last semester. (the plan to provide him with his own car hasn’t quite gone according to plan).

My son, with my wife, settling in to his new apartment

Looking back, I realize the last time I had gone to my son’s school was last May to take him out there so he could pack up his dorm room after the school went entirely virtual. At some point, while driving the New York Thruway something creepy struck me: how empty it was! Due to the ban on all non-essential travel and the reduction in consumption, there were far fewer vehicles of all sorts on the highway. On the way back, the truck stop we stopped at to get some gas at was basically empty. I think it was ourselves, and 2 other cars and just the person working the counter. It reminded me very much of the post-apocalyptic scenes you see in some movies!

These two drives also represent the furthest I’ve been from my house in about 18 months.

Also last week, my wife’s job finally went back to in-person. So in the space of a week, I’ve gone from a full house to an empty nest. It’s quiet here not. Too quiet.

In the past 18 months or so I’ve gone from semi-regular travel all over the country to not going more than 30 miles from my house (except for very rare occasions) and from not wearing a mask to wearing one almost all the time and now more recently, from a full house to a much emptier one. Let me just say, the cats aren’t overly social.

So changes… Some big. Some small, but they all add up.

And Now the Good News…

The good news is my 2005 Subaru only needed some very minor repairs to get it back on the road so my son can take it to college. This is in contrast to the local dealer telling me last year that it had significant leaks and there was no way for it to pass inspection. I didn’t really believe their diagnosis, but figured they knew what they were talking about and ended up buying a 2015 Subaru last fall.

So why am I telling you about my car ownership? Because this is sort of a follow-up to my post from last week on decision making. After posting it and getting several positive comments, I realized it was actually a bit incomplete and decided I need to write a follow-up. You see, I sort of ignored a huge fact in my last post and it’s both generic and personal. The fact is, decision making in the abstract is easy, it’s when it gets personal it can get far harder. Generically this applies to everyone. Personally, last week I was struggling with the decision about my car repairs and realizing the emotional factors involved.

One of my favorite TV dramas of all time addresses this problem in a few episodes, the most clear one being Mr. Willis of Ohio where President Bartlet explains to his daughter Zoey the real concern:

My getting killed would be bad enough, but that is not the nightmare scenario. The nightmare scenario, sweetheart, is *you* getting kidnapped. You go out to a bar or a party in some club and you get up to go to the restroom and somebody comes from behind and puts their hand across your mouth and whisks you out the back door. You’re so petrified you don’t even notice the bodies of a few Secret Service agents lying on the ground with bullet holes in their heads. Then you’re whisked away in a car. It’s a big party with lots of noise and lots of people coming and going, and it’s a half hour before someone says, “Hey, where’s Zoey?” Another fifteen minutes before the first phone call. It’s another hour and a half before anyone even *thinks* to shut down all the airports. Now we’re off to the races. You’re tied to a chair in a cargo shack somewhere in the middle of Uganda and I am told that I have 72 hours to get Israel to free 460 terrorist prisoners. So I’m on the phone pleading with Be Yabin and he’s saying: “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but Israel simply does not negotiate with terrorists, period. It’s the only way we can survive.” So now we got a new problem because this country no longer has a Commander-in-chief, it has a father who’s out of his mind because his little girl is in a shack somewhere in Uganda with a gun to her head. Do you get it?

The West Wing: Mister Willis of Ohio.

This later becomes a plot point in a later season where basically this scenario gets played out and President Bartlet decides to invoke the 25th Amendment and temporarily steps aside (which, in my opinion leads to some great scenes with John Goodman who proves his acting chops include more than comedy).

The point is, he realizes he can be the President, or a father, but at times he can’t be both. And now back to my 2005 Subaru.

Last year when I thought I was facing over $3000 in repairs, it was a fairly easy decision to not get it repaired. I thought in the back of my mind that perhaps I’d make it a Covid project with my kids and do the work over the summer. As both the summer and my motivation slowly ran away, I realized this wasn’t going to happen.

That said, I still harbored an interesting in getting the car fixed, even though economically it didn’t seem to make sense. Thinking about it, I realized that several factors were driving my decision, one of which of course was it gave my son a car for his final time at college. But also, honestly, it was a fun car to drive. In some ways far more fun than my current Subaru (but I love the bells and whistles of my current car). But there was another factor, my dad had essentially helped me buy the car, just months before he got ill and passed away. There was a distinct emotional attachment to the car. It was looming larger than I had cared to admit.

But recently a new wrinkle appeared. Due to the Covid pandemic, there has been a distinct uptick in the price and value of used cars. A recent search of Subarus in a similar age range showed them now being sold for close to $4000. Suddenly putting that much money into an old car wasn’t an entirely bad idea. But again, I had to wonder, “was it worth it?”

I decided to take a “wait and see” attitude and got it insured and registered and took it to a local mechanic I’m starting to use more and more. I told him basically “Hey, if we can get it inspected without doing all the work, let’s do it.”

A few hours later he called me back. He had bad news. He couldn’t pass it. But, not because it needed the work the dealer had claimed. But because I had forgotten that the battery had recently died and I had had to jump it and recharge the battery. This meant the computer data on emissions wasn’t sufficient and it wouldn’t pass. Fortunately, this is an easy cure: drive it for around 100 miles. With that, it should pass!

I got lucky this time. I could get the car on the road for very little cost. The whole emotional attachment part could go away, at least for now. So what would I have done? Thinking about it, I suspect, since honestly, we had the money, and having the extra car would be useful and because of the increase in car prices I’d have gone ahead with it.

But what about bigger decisions? Fortunately I’ll never be in the position that writers put President Bartlet in. But, there are other situations where emotions might come into play. In cave rescue there’s a skill called a “pick-off” which can be used to help rescue a patient who is stuck on rope. We used to teach it at our standard weeklong cave rescue course and require proficiency in it to pass one of the upper levels. It can be very useful and if your patient is conscious and cooperative, it’s not hard to do. If they’re unconscious however, it can be very hard to do and in fact can be quite dangerous. If you do it wrong, you can also end up stuck on the rope with no way to go up or down. This can be fatal. I know of at least one situation where a friend tried to rescue another friend stuck on a rope in a cave in a waterfall. Both died. He didn’t have the skills (or honestly the best equipment to do so) and allowed his emotions to cloud his decision making. It’s easy to say that here, sitting in my nice dry office when I don’t hear a friend dying. In rescue, one of the hardest decisions one has to make is when to stop a rescue. It’s not easy and emotions and emotional attachments can come into play. But one has to look at the overall picture and try to not let emotions cloud ones decision making process.

As an aside, an excellent look at a real-life scenario where a climber had to cut the rope of his buddy: Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. I highly recommend it.

So, what is the take-away here?

When making decisions, there are often personal and emotional factors that come into play. Sometimes one can allow them (in my case with the car, it’s just money), in others (such as a pick-off) one might allow them, but probably shouldn’t, and if you’re President of the US, you probably should avail yourself of a way out so that your emotions don’t cloud your decision making process. Actually, even if you’re not President of the United States with a kidnapped daughter, I would recommend either turning the decision making process over to another competent person, or at least searching out the input of several folks, ideally ones without the same emotional biases as you, and getting a consensus of opinion. Ultimately though, be aware of the factors going into your decision and the possible consequences.

That’s it for now, until I decide to write another post about this topic.

Let’s Start with the bad news…

Last Thursday I had to send out an email that started with this line. I had to tell over 4 dozen students that the upcoming Cave Rescue training had to be cancelled due to the ongoing uptick in Covid infections.

Long-time readers of this blog are probably aware of the history of this class. In short, it was originally scheduled for last June. Last February we decided to postpone it to this June. This past February, based on where we thought the infection curve would be and vaccinations would be, the decision was made to postpone the major event to late August and do a much smaller, more limited event in June.

In hindsight, one could say, “well you should have had the National Class in June.” Most of our folks would have been vaccinated and the infection rate in June was extremely low.

And the reality is, we might find in the next 12 days or so before the class was scheduled a dramatic drop in the infection curve.

Since the Training Coordinator and I made the decision to cancel, I have received numerous emails expressing sympathy for all the hard work I had put in and how disappointed I must be. I appreciate them, but the truth is, I’m not disappointed or upset. And I’m definitely not second-guessing the decisions that got us here.

The thing is, despite an earlier post, I’m generally comfortable with making decisions and even enjoy making them at times. One thing to keep in mind, especially with decisions like this, is that one makes them based on the information one has available at the time. Back in February, when the decision was made to postpone, we didn’t know that the vaccination rate would be as high as it would be by May. We also didn’t know that there would be such a huge surge in infections in August. Had we known that, we’d have made a different decision.

The other factor that can help is to not make decisions in a vacuum. Ultimately, this seminar was my responsibility and I was the one who made the recommendation to our Board back in February to delay. While there was a vote and decision and vote by them, ultimately my input was a big factor there. (It was unlikely that the BORC would have rejected my advice to delay). In this most recent decision to outright cancel, it came down to the Training Coordinator and I. Neither decision was made in a vacuum (that can lead to bad decision making and also means less information is available) but ultimately the decision and responsibility came down to one or two people.

There were two overriding factors that led to this decision. One was a very practical factor. A number of our students and instructors simply had to cancel. Either they felt the risk was too great, or in several cases, their employers had revoked their time off since they were needed at work to help handle the impact of the ongoing rate of infections. So we simply were facing the fact that we were having a diminishing number of instructors and students and that fact alone was causing us to cancel portions of the seminar.

And the other was: we are charged with training and doing so in a safe environment. As the covid spike gets larger, we felt we could not do a training in a way we felt that was safe.

I’ll admit, had we gone ahead with the training I’d have been a nervous wreck for at least two weeks after the seminar until we knew we were safe (or not) from Covid.

Yes, it’s disappointing that we had to cancel, but I know it was the right decision. And I know each decision was the right one that led to this point.

It’s often tempting to second guess decisions. While at times it can be useful to review what went into making a decision, I would caution against dwelling on decisions.

So to review:

  • Remind yourself, decisions made in the past are generally made on the best information at the time. Don’t revaluate them based on information not available at that time.
  • When possible, get input from multiple people, but have a clear process for making the decision and at times that’s best done by one or two people.
  • Generally, decide towards safety. In our case, there was no pressing reason to lower our safety standards.
  • Also, it can be important to remember no matter how much effort or work was put in in the past, not to count that in the decision. A LOT of work has gone into planning this upcoming training. But that doesn’t change the factors that are currently in play. This is the sunk-cost fallacy. That work is done. But new factors determined the decision.
  • Don’t live in the past. Move forward.
  • Get vaccinated. (that has nothing to do with decision making, but is a good idea).

A Different Perspective

I was going to write a follow-up to last week’s article on Simon Biles and talk about teamwork, but decided to go with something a bit more lighthearted: a Hudson River cruise.

As many of you may know, I live in upstate New York, specifically near Troy. A dominant physical feature here is the Hudson River. Within a 10 miles of my house there are eight road bridges and one river bridge. But even with that many crossings, it’s a definite barrier to travel at times.

The eastern side of the river, other than Troy tends to be fairly rural with only a couple of large open-air shopping malls. But to the west is Albany and Colonie and they have the two largest indoor malls in the area, plus a number of open air malls, the State Capitol, and the bulk of the office space. This means to do a lot of what most of us on the eastern side want to do, we have to cross the Hudson.

I suspect most folks who cross the river don’t give it much thought, beyond it being a barrier to get over using one of the aforementioned bridges. I know as a bicyclist I definitely have to do some route planning when I want to get to the other side.

This past weekend, my family and I decided to experience the Hudson from a different perspective, actually on the Hudson. We signed up for a 90 minute tour on the Dutch Apple leaving from downtown Albany. I want to start with the name. I’d say most of my readers are probably aware that the name of the river comes from Hendrick Hudson, an early explorer of the area, who first sailed up the river that now bears his name in 1609, over 400 years ago. They might even recognize he was Dutch. But, given the state I live in is known as New York, most folks think of New York as primarily an English settled area.

But, the early history is definitely Dutch and there’s still a very strong Dutch influence in the area that extends beyond the name of the river. I live in Rensselaer county, named for Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. He was once claimed ownership of the most land by any European in North America, with his claimed holdings extending for miles on both sides of the river.

In addition, the first settlement in the Albany area was known as Fort Orange. Also, instead of streams in the area, many of smaller waterways are known as Kills. But enough of the early history and language lessons.

The cruise let us see the river from only about 10′ above the water level, not 100′ like some of the bridges (little side note, until late in the last century, the US Coast Guard required bridges as far north as Troy to have at least 60′ clearance.) And instead of crossing over the river, this allowed us to cruise along it.

After undocking, at first the Dutch Apple headed north from its mooring. We sailed under the Dunn Memorial Bridge where a Peregrine nesting box was pointed out and some could see a one of the nesting falcons. I could not.

Dunn Memorial Bridge (Peregrine box underneath on top of the concrete pier)
Dunn Memorial Bridge (Peregrine box underneath on top of the concrete pier)

Unfortunately for us, just north of there is the Livingston Avenue Railroad bridge. This is a swing bridge that’s too low for the Dutch Apple to pass under. Taller boats can pass upstream of it but need to make arrangements in advance with CSX/Amtrak. So from there we turned downriver.

One thing many people are not aware of is that the Hudson River is actually an estuary as far north as north Troy where the Federal Dam is located. This means that there are tides on the Hudson all the way to north Troy. When one crosses over the river one can notice the tides if one is observant or the tide is particularly low and the smell pungent. Saturday, as we headed south, the tide was coming in. Between this and the wind, it actually meant the boat had to make more effort going downriver than upriver!

River in foreground, with the old D&H building in the midground and Corning Tower left of center in the background.
Albany from the Hudson

Another reminder of the importance of the Hudson and the nearby Mohawk, and later Erie Canal was that the Albany/Troy area was once the gateway to the west. Besides the waterways, trains were an important part of this, and one of the major local railroads was the Delaware and Hudson. From the river you have a nice view of the old D&H building which now houses SUNY Albany offices and other offices.

Heading further south, on the eastern bank Fort Crailo was pointed out to us. Again, a Dutch influence, but also home to where Yankee Doodle Dandy was later written down.

Given that the Hudson is a tidal river and Albany is still an important gateway to the west, the Port of Albany is a key part of the local economy. But again, I would suspect most folks who drive across the Hudson aren’t aware of the size and scope of the port. I think most equate it with the area where the Dutch Apple and the USS Slater are docked. Really though that’s not the active part of the Port of Albany. But the following photos show facilities on both sides of the river.

Foreground is the Hudson, with a seawall and then a wide open area for the port of Albany.
Port of Albany with huge mobile cranes

Apparently the Port contains the largest grain elevator east of the Mississippi!

Sloping roof dominates image with storage towers on both sides. Part
Grain Storage at the Port of Albany

As you can see, even ocean going ships come this far north.

Large orange tank, with two tugboats pushing it into position.
A large ocean going tanker
Bulk cargo ship with 3 of 4 cranes in operation, loading scrap
Loading Scrap on the eastern short
Dark and light orange barge with tug headed up stream.
Barge with tug

Not all commercial craft on the Hudson are ocean going. The Mississippi isn’t the only major US river with barge traffic. That said, Hudson river barges are much smaller and as far as I know, are only moved one at a time. It’s hard to tell in this photo, but the barge actually has a small notch in the stern that the tug fits into for pushing. This barge is most likely loaded as its sitting low in the water and being pushed. Once empty, often the tug will move to the front and tow the barge as it will be riding higher in the water and by being in front the tug has better visibility.

But the Hudson is not all business. Folks also have lots of fun.

Powerboat passing us on the Hudson.
Having Fun

Finally after about 50 minutes of sailing, we headed north. Our tour was scheduled for 90 minutes, but because of the incoming tide, we actually headed upstream a bit faster.

Image is of the Hudson, with the Corning tower a speck in the background. Boat ensign in the foreground.
Looking north before we turned around

I’ll brag a bit and say I probably know a bit more about the Hudson and its history and influence than many in the area, but it still really helps to see it close up and realize things like exactly how large and busy he Port really is and to hear more history of it and even see some of the history (like the shore protection put in over a century ago, or some of the older residences on the river, some that are close to 300 years old).

We have a deep history here and its worth getting down to see it. And sometimes one needs to look at something that they see every day from a different perspective.