O-Chem, A Chem Grade?

After a long weekend I’m sitting here on a cool morning rather relaxed. For the first time in 6 weeks I don’t have class today and I have to say what a long strange journey it’s been.

As I’ve mentioned, one of the prerequisites for even applying to PA School was to take Organic Chemistry, often simply called O-Chem. At the end of May I wrote about my hopes and fears.

Well, I’ll be upfront. Forget the humble brag. I’m going to outright brag. Going in, I figured “if I get at least a C, that’s good enough for the places I’m applying for.” Obviously I wanted to do a bit better than “good enough” but I was realistic. Or so I thought. I got back my first test and well, the grade was disappointing. But I reminded myself, “Well she drops the lowest of the 4 exam grades. But even with that, I’m at least on my way to a solid C.” But then she threw a curve at us. “If by tomorrow you submit the correct answer and WHY it’s correct, including the what slide it was on, or where in the book you found the answer, I’ll give you up to 1/2 the points for each answer. But, I’m allowing that for this first test only.” Well “game on!” Some quick reviewing that night and writing up corrections I submitted them and waited. When I got the test back with my submitted corrections, I now had a solid 92 on it. Now I was starting to think about a possible B in the class.

The second test came along and I studied hard for it. In some ways, to me this was the most important chapter exam. I figured if I I could do well on this one, it would set the tone for the following exams. It was also the only test where we covered 2 weeks of material instead of just 1 week. I was completely stressed about this exam because of this. And with the extra credit I got a 94. I’m still kicking myself on that 1 point I missed. (For those who care, she had given us a diagram of the Taxol molecule and we had to label all the chiral bonds. I missed one.)

Now I was starting to feel good. That B was looking pretty solid and I had glimmers of an A in my mind.

Then we hit all the various reactions, SN1, SN2, E1, E2, and more. Now my brain was really starting to fry. I tried to set up a study group at my place, but no one could make it. I was pretty stressed about the 3rd exam. It was honestly the hardest material we covered all class, even the professor agreed with this thought. I think I spent 30 hours over 3 days studying for it. I walked in confident I could pass, but not much beyond that. I walked out feeling like I had been hit by a Mack truck. I saw the eyes of my fellow classmates who had finished before me, and the eyes of those coming out after me. We all felt the same. Well, you can imagine my surprise when we got the test back the next day and I received a 95 on it (this includes the extra credit). I can’t recall the last time I was so gobsmacked. I had figured I had probably gotten a 75 with an outside chance at an 85. I swear I sat at my desk for about 1 minute just staring at the score. I started to process what this meant. Since the professor was dropping the lowest of the 4 chapter exams, it literally meant the next exam didn’t matter. Sure, I could try to get a high grade on it and bring up my average a bit, but it wasn’t critical. I walked into that 4th exam the most relaxed of the 4. And walked out with a 90. I’m still kicking myself about overthinking one of the questions (Yes, an ROOH can represent a carboxylic acid. But it can also be an ether!)

But in 6 weeks, there’s no time to lay off the brakes. We had to go right into prepping for the Final which was literally 48 hours after the 4th chapter exam. And I had to finish all my lab reports. Fortunately the lab professor had said that basically “as long as you submit them by Friday night in the format I’ve specified, you’ll get a 100.” Of the ones I submitted, I had so far gotten a 100 on each one.

Now for the final, several of us got together both after class on Tuesday and then took over the classroom on Wednesday (since there was no class that day). And here I realized something. I basically knew my shit. I was leading the study sessions. I was helping my fellow students with them. They were asking me questions. This felt good. There was one nagging feeling in the back of my mind which did prove true. I should have been asking for more help on a few of the questions myself. But again, I wasn’t overly worried. I had done the math. In theory, assuming my lab professor upheld his end of the deal, I could get a 72 on the class final and still get an A in the class. I got an 86. (had there been the standard extra credit I would have cracked 90.)

Now I’m still awaiting the official grade, but unless something went completely sideways with my lab grade, I earned an A in O-Chem. Yes. I got an A in O-Chem. The class I had feared for years. The class that just over 7 weeks ago I was dreading and hoping that I could pull off a passing grade in, I got an A in! Yeah, forget the humble brag. I’m damn proud of myself.

I’ll add something else too. At least one of my fellow students who I studied with says I probably helped her pass the final with a high enough grade that will also allow her to continue her plans to apply to PA school this year. Moreover, on the Tuesday after the 4th chapter exam, she was supposed to meet her tutor (who apparently charges as much an hour as I do for SQL consulting) and after 30 minutes together decided she was getting more from my tutoring than she did with him and cancelled her session with him and stopped using him. So I’m pretty proud of that. She’s also looking to become a PA student locally so I suspect we’ll run into each other in the future (though she’s on track to apply a year earlier than I am.)

And to top off the day, after the final exam the college was hosting a cookout that even one of the vegans in my class enjoyed.

Image shows an open plaza with two rows of tables with tablecloths and steam pans on top filled with food.
Nice way to end 6 weeks of Organic Chemistry
White disposable plate on red tabelcloth. Plate contains chicken drum leg, 1/2 cob of corn, some sliced brisket and a bit of pasta salad.
The non-vegan option (even the corn had butter on it!)

Two students in front of a whiteboard working on O-Chem.
Our Wednesday study session

O-Chem 1-Chem 2-Chem

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.

O-Chem O-My

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!

So… we’ll see.

T-SQL Tuesday

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today and then saw it was T-SQL Tuesday, this month’s question from Kenneth Fisher. The topic is “Your First Technical Job”.

I had to actually stop and think about this one for a second. The requirement was to not talk about ones first DBA job, but ones first technical job.

I entered RPI, my alma mater in the fall of 1985. This means I should have graduated in 1989. However, I graduated in 1990 and that made all the difference in my career. One thing that RPI had then, and still has, is a very robust Co-Op program. These were (and I believe still are) an opportunity to work for a company in your field for a summer and at least one semester. Unlike some college programs like this, RPI’s Co-Op office made sure that you were doing actual work in your field, not relegated to say filing papers in an office, or getting coffee for the full-time employees. You also were paid, just like an employee. Given my financial status as a student, this was a huge help.

Through a series of connections, I found myself working at company in Troy called Laboratory MicroSystems. It’s long gone, but it was a good company. It was founded by a pair of RPI alumns, one of which who had also been an Outing Club member and for awhile, tended to hire Outing Club members. It was our own networking group.

That said, my housemate and best friend had just completed his Co-Op there, so there was an opening. After a quick interview, I was hired and started working a few weeks later.

Let me say that this was a great opportunity for me. I had learned a lot in the classroom (even if my grades didn’t always show it!) But, I had never actually applied such skills in the real world. And to further complicate things, my manager was on vacation my first week. Not only was I thrown into the deep end, I didn’t even have a lifeguard.

My friend, when he was there, had taken the PC version of a package they had, called Thermal Analysis and ported it over to a mini-computer (I believe some sort of HP model). To give you an idea of how long ago this was, all the work was done in Fortran.

My job ironically enough, was to take the HP version of the software, that now had been updated and improved and back-port it BACK to the PC. Up until now all my projects in school had been 1, maybe 2 files. So any linking (yeah kids these days are wondering what I mean there) could be done by hand and I had never created a make file. (go google it kids). So very quickly in my first week I learned how to actually compile and link large groups of files in a complex, real-world environment.

Within a few weeks I was deep into the code and really starting to understand how it worked and how to apply my classroom skills. It was a great experience. After about 8 months on the job, it was time to go back to the classroom. But I wasn’t through yet. After another semester of school, I went back for another Co-Op and worked another semester and summer. At this point my manager had moved onto another company and the rest of the company moved onto a new product and project (one that ultimately made the company valuable enough to be sold and for the founders to move on.) I found myself in an unusual position of being 20 years old and the lead developer on a product with no other teammates other than a 20 something sales manager who spent more time on the phone talking about his supposed sexual exploits than actually make sales. But he’s a story for another time.

During this time there are several things that stand out as I think greatly helping me in my career.

The first was adding pop-up help to the Thermal Analysis program. One has to remember, this was back in the days of purely DOS programs, so one normally didn’t have overlapping windows, and the like. But a few customers had wanted some sort of help system added. It took some work, but I finally found a way to do it. Fortran was great for the computational aspects and the 3rd party library helped us display plots on the screen. However, Fortran wasn’t great for developing a UI. After reading and research, I realized I could do what I wanted with some C and Assembler code. This is also when I learned that their call stacks were reversed from Fortran. So I ended up having Fortran calling C code, using a keyword Pascal to ensure the stack would read in the right direction (don’t ask me why it used that for the keyword) and then the C code called ASM to call the DOS interrupts to allow a pop-up to be displayed, and then the C code populated the pop-up with the help text. Learning how to do this, really helped me with my problem solving skills and to learn that “solutions exist” it’s just a matter of finding them.

Another project was one completely unrelated to Thermal Analysis. I can’t recall the name we gave the problem, but it was software we wrote for GE Plastics that basically involved setting up a material on a tensile test machine (a machine that would pull stuff apart at whatever speed you told it to. In this case, the test took a year to run!) GE had provided the hardware and the hardware specific language to write this in and I was off. This had to handle reboots, power outages and the like. Fortunately we were using an external A/D (analog/digital) converter box made by Perkin-Elmer that could store a certain number of data points. This meant we could reboot the PC and reread in data to see if it were new or not. The software was the first I’d seen that had any sort of try/catch (though I believe they called it something else). So I was able to learn and develop good error-handling techniques. Something I’m still working on and improving on to this day.

But, ultimately, this job really led me to where I am today through a convoluted series of steps. The office network was Novell Server with Thinwire ethernet. For those who don’t recall what Thinwire is (or was) the key details was that rather than every network cable running back to a central switch, the cable ran in a serial line from computer to computer and any break in it resulted in a network outage. There were many ways this could fail.

Well between my software work, I started to be the go-to guy for diagnosing network issues. And then for issues with the Novell Server itself.

After college, for various reasons (including I suspect because both my parents had worked for themselves) I wasn’t eager to work for another company right away. So I went into consulting and my first client was, you guessed it, Laboratory MicroSystems. I started handling all their IT needs, which continued to grow. When I had started, they barely filled one floor of the building they were in. By now they were spread across 3 floors and still growing.

And that product everyone else had started working on during my Co-Op? Well by now they were porting it to use SQL Server 4.21a, and they realized that they could use a specialist to go to customer sites and install SQL Server before they sent out their specialists to install the actual software.

And that folks is how, I started out programming in Fortran and ended up as a SQL Server DBA.

Someday, I’ll tell you how the Streets of Laredo figures into this story or how the last I had heard about the now formal sales manager involved him and a radio contest or even how after I stopped consulting I did one last gig for them as a 1 day Oracle consultant or the time I saved them (after being bought) from moving into a new office with only 2 outlets for 24 people.

But in the meantime, now back to studying for a test for my next change of career to hopefully become a Physicians Assistant!

Learning the Lingo

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

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

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

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

And mechanics can talk about Positraction and skid marks.

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

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

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

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

Unlocking the Secrets of the Universe, or at least Databases and Muscles

I think I speak for many DBAs when they say they’ve all had a programmer tell them, “The database is too slow, we need faster hardware.” Then as a DBA, you go in, look at their query and realize they’re running a table scan across a huge 100GB plus table without any indices. You analyze the data and overall usage further and decide to put in an index and suddenly their query is running in sub-second times instead of minutes.

Or, in a case I was working with with a client years ago, they had a stored procedure that sometimes would suddenly get slow. Their solution was to occasionally issue a WITH RECOMPILE command when calling it and things would get better. It worked, but was hardly ideal. After analyzing the stored procedure and usage I realized that it was suffering from a form of parameter sniffing and with a bit of work I was able to recommend a rewrite that solved their problem in a better way.

What is critical here is understanding HOW exactly data is stored and how the query engine works and how we can take advantage of how the database engine works to improve things.

And honestly, for me, I’ve always loved understanding “how things work.” I’ve marveled at seeing Bob Ward open up the debugger, live on stage, and show how a particular piece of code in the SQL engine works.

And now, I’m starting to undergo the same journey in the human body.

Let me caveat things by saying I am only half-way through my Anatomy & Physiology I class (and same with my Bio I class) and I greatly recognize how much more I have yet to learn (and that’s only out of what we know. We’re still learning more!)

However, I continue to be blown away with “how things work.” Mother Nature has had millions and millions of years to make things work. What strikes me as interesting at times is how both conservative and ingenious things can be. We all start from a single cell that divides and forms a sphere of cells. This soon forms a neural tube and then starts to specialize further. Somehow from that single cell we end up with our feet at one end and our skull at the other, completely different, but from the same source.

But, even then when you dig deeper you realize that at some level hands are really feet, but with an opposable joint and far more flexibility and dexterity. The internal structures are very similar. Then you move up to the arms and legs and realize even the limbs start out fairly similar: the upper limb has a single main bone and the lower limb has two bones. Of course the joints start to differ, a knee joint is VERY different from an elbow joint. Nature is conservative.

This week we started to study skeletal muscles and how they work. This builds on earlier lessons in both the parts of a cell and histology. A generic animal cell has sort of a skeleton made up of fibers the cell produces. These fibers can come in one of several forms. In most cases they’re simply there to give a certain structure to the cell, or perhaps via the use of other proteins, connect to other cells. They often may look haphazard in design and function, but they get the job done.

Until you look at skeletal muscle. Then you see two of the fibers are laid out a bit differently. One, the thin “actin” fibers are laid out radially around larger fibers, the myosin. You may see these fibers in other cells, but in muscle cells their layout is different. And this makes all the difference. The myosin fibers have “heads” on them that can, in the right circumstances both attach to the actin fiber, but also essentially pull on it by flipping its head from a “forward” to a “backwards” position. The head can then release, flop back to its original position, grab the actin again, and again flip back to the tail facing position. I’ve left out a lot of details, but if you think of yourself using both hands to pull upon a rope, you get the same basic idea. Or, for the caving readers among me, it’s a pair of handled ascenders and it’s basically using a Texas system!

To me, this is really an ingenious re-use of existing structures inside the cell. The more I learn about the human body (or biology in general) the more I’m amazed.

I’m loving “seeing under the covers” and this is part of it!

This Week In School

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.

SQLBits – My Thoughts

Many weeks I struggle with what I plan on writing about, but this post came to me last Thursday or Friday. It was clear to me that I should write about 2022 SQLBits.

Now, the more astute of you are probably thinking, “But Greg, you weren’t there. How can you write about it?”

Well you’re right. I’m not going to write about my experience attending it. Rather I’m going to write about my experience not attending it.

I had applied to speak at SQLBits, but didn’t make the cut this year. That happens. But this time there was more than mixed feelings. Had I been selected, I almost certainly would have tried to find a way to do so in person. However, as many of my readers know, I’m back in school taking classes as prereqs to get into PA school. And frankly, I’m loving it. But it is taking time and focus. This week, March 14-18 is Spring break for my fellow students. But last week I did have classes and I’m not sure I could have taken the time off to fly to the UK. And I’m not sure I would have wanted to; if only because of missing my A&P I lab this week (learning about the bones of the head and spine, including the axis and atlas (C1, C2 vertebrae).

So in a sense, I’m almost grateful that I wasn’t chosen to speak. It solved me the pain of trying to solve the dilemma of do I attend in person or not?

But dang, did I miss people. I saw posts from so many of my #SQLFamily that I was sad I couldn’t see them in person. And then, looking at the calendar, it dawned on me, I’m not entirely sure I can make the PASS Summit this year, again due to classes.

It just drove home how much so many of you have become family and how much I miss so many of you. And in some ways its just the start. As my plans continue, I’ll find myself making the slow transition from the #SQLFamily to hopefully a #PAFamily or whatever community I find there. And while I have often found myself in many communities, for example besides #SQLFamily I’m also heavily involved with the NCRC and plan on continuing my efforts there, I know over time my active involvement in #SQLFamily will slowly diminish. That said, I’m not walking away just yet and will continue to be involved as much as I can, both in presenting when I can and in running my local user group.

But that said, I miss you all. And do look forward to seeing any of you when I can.

Fair and Equal Medical Treatment

Today is International Women’s Day. I was reminded of this from a semi-unrelated post by a fellow #SQLFamily member, but this post is an intersection of a variety of Facebook posts and discussions I’ve had over the past week that touched upon women’s health. In the interests of privacy and protection I am going to anonymize a bit what happened. I’ve mentioned in past posts how we as DBAs have to take into consideration topics such as gender and more. We’re here to describe the world, not to prescribe it. But, if my hoped for career change to become a Physician’s Assistant passes, topics of women’s health will become even more important for me to take into account.

Let me start with the first discussion I had: menopause and Nuvaring. A friend mentioned she’s going through menopause and her physician had suggested the Nuvarin as a form of hormone replacement to help reduce the effects such as hot-flashes. She looked into what her insurance covered and found out that it would cost I believe $360 for 3 months of coverage. But, Viagra was free. That’s health insurance in America. Want to get an erection, if you have good health insurance, it’s free. Want to avoid feeling like you need to rip off your clothes in public because you’ve gone from cold to sweating hot in seconds, sorry that’ll cost you $120/month! Perhaps it’s time to rethink how we allocate some of our funds.

The other discussion that came up was someone that I know more vaguely, but who is a trans-woman. She mentioned how doctors have turned her away. Pharmacies have refused to fulfill prescriptions for her that they routinely fill for cis-women. In general, because in their minds her physical presentation doesn’t match their expectations, they treat her as an outcast. Let me be simple and blunt: I’m offended and angry. She deserves access to the same treatment as any of the cis-women around her (and as the above discussion suggests, women in general deserve better treatment).

Writing this, I realized, I lied a bit, unintentionally. The above paragraph was prompted by a particular post, but I know several women to whom it could apply. So no need to try to guess who she is among my friends. She could be and is in fact a compilation of several.

Before I close, I want to recommend a Youtube channel I spend some time on: Dr. Momma Jones. While I don’t think my specialty will involve Ob/Gyn (I’m more interested in emergency medicine), I love watching her posts because I learn a lot, both medically and about gender bias and topics that I’m generally less familiar with.

That said, in closing, if I become a PA, I will work at treating all my patients equally and equitably and to the best of my abilities, regardless of their identity. Even if I don’t become a PA, I will continue to work to fight for the rights of all and to treat all equally and equitably .

So on International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate and remember all women.

P.S. and in the meantime, let’s fight against the rules put in place in Texas regarding medical treatment and discussion around trans-children and against the “Don’t Say Gay” law being voted on in Florida. I will say right now: children will die because of these rules. They will commit suicide.

A Month In

As I’ve previously talked about, I’m enjoying taking classes as I prepare to apply to Physician’s Assistant School. I’m a month in and still loving it.

As a toddler I apparently had a habit of turning on and off light switches. As a toddler, I have a vague memory of going with my parents to visit a friends apartment (which means it was probably in New Haven) and turning on and off a switch, not immediately sure what it did. I’m not sure it turned on the light in a closet or in the room at the end of the hall, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to my 2-3 year old mind what it did. But I was committed to flipping it until I found out.

I’ve always had a curiosity about how things worked. For some, simply knowing “it works” or “this is how I do something” is good enough. And to be honest, I often apply that in my own life. But, I have a strong bias that understanding the fundamentals goes a long ways to improving ones ability to do their job. In the world of SQL Server for example, I know many programmers who know enough to write a select statement, but have no clue how that’s executed under the covers in SQL Server. And for them, that’s fine. But as a DBA I’ve always wanted to know more. It’s a reason why I’ve read books such as The Database Relational Model by CJ Date and others. I want to understand better how things work.

And so, I’m loving my current classes, especially Anatomy and Physiology I. We’re still in the introductory phase, but starting to dive deeper. Yesterday afternoon’s class for example we started to dive into things like Carrier Mediated Transport channels and chemically gated ion channels and more.

Did you know that the inner well of the plasma membrane of a cell is typically at a -70mV potential compared to the outside, and this is due mainly to the cells ability, nay, requirement to transport Na+ ions outside to the extracellular medium? Well now you do.

“But why would one care?” you might ask. Well, from this we get to the point where in certain cells, by properly manipulating this potential we can cause cells to contract and then un-contract (I hesitate to use the word expand here). And by doing that, when we have large groups of specialized cells, we have muscle fiber and with muscle fibers we can build muscles, such as the heart.

And this all starts with a miniscule voltage difference between the inside and outside of a cell.

Honestly, the more I learn about just the basics of how a typical cell works and the amount of chemical activity in it and across its plasma membrane, the more I sit back and just say “Wow, that’s just so incredibly cool.”

So yeah, I’m over a month in now and still loving it.