A New Relationship

I’ll admit, it’s taken me awhile to get this far. But over the weekend I started a new relationship. My last one had lasted about 32 years. In fact it started right after college. And boy was she a beaut. She’s been with me to Lake George multiple times and we’ve seen a lot of local back roads and other locations. She’s been mostly faithful. A few times there have been breakdowns and I can say we’ve had a few flat times along the way. But, it was fun. But it was time to move on. Things had changed. And she was developing rust spots and the years were showing. And honestly as, much as I enjoyed her, there were quirks along the way.

I’ll still keep her in the garage and go out with her from time to time, probably in the winter months, but my new one is so much better.

This weekend I went down to New Jersey to pick up my new friend. It was the closet place I could find the perfect match. And trust me I had looked closer. I look forward to years of adventures and trips with my new friend.

Randi drove down with me to keep me company. She was definitely behind me in this endeavor. She knows how much I enjoyed spending time with my last one and how much I’ll spend time with my new one.

Oh wait, you do realize I’m talking about my bicycle right? Seriously, the comment about rust spots should have been the giveaway!

Ok, enough of being coy and all that. Now the details.

The 520 and earlier

After college my mom had bought me a Trek 520 as a graduation gift. I’ve always loved bike riding and this was an upgrade and a replacement from an earlier, used bicycle I had gotten in high school. That one was lovely, but by the time I had acquired it was well over a decade old and was showing its age. It failed me in a dramatic fashion as somehow the front fork collapsed into the wheel somersaulting me over the handlebars. I suspect somehow the front axle had come loose, I had hit a bump, the frame and forks went up, the tired didn’t, and when the fork came back down went in between the forks. The details don’t really matter other than the fact I woke up to seeing a CDTA bus coming towards me. My first thoughts were “why is there a CDTA bus coming at me? Why am I laying on the road? Wasn’t I napping and about to bike to the rockclimbing cliffs?” Needless to say I didn’t make the cliffs that day. I did make it ou to lunch with my aunt a few days later who did let me know my swollen lower lip did make me look like a duck. Thanks Aunt Miki.

I will add a serious note here. I had not ridden that bike for a few weeks because my helmet had been locked on campus at RPI and I had just gotten it back the day before. I shudder to think what would have happened had I NOT had a helmet on that day. I very clearly had hit the pavement with the front of my head. I had been a huge proponent of helmets before than and am an even bigger one now. I firmly believe it saved me from serious head trauma.

Anyway, later that summer I received my new bike. A Trek 520. It was almost ideal. I saw almost. It was great for road-biking and I could take it on dirt roads without too much concern. It rode well. It was fitted with a rear-rack which I’ve used for various panniers over the years. I’ve been 1000s of miles on that bike. During the pandemic I managed to do 100 days in a row with at least 5 miles a day (except one when a damaged tire ended my ride at about 2 miles) and most days more and even did a Century Ride that summer. My first in about 35 years.

Milk (and a brownie) does the body good!

I don’t know how many tubes I’ve replaced or how many times I’ve replaced the tires, or how many water bottles I’ve gone through, but the bike as served me well. I even put enough miles on it I had to replace the middle ring up front as well as the rear cassette.

Worn from the miles

I would probably have kept riding the 520 into the sunset, but it is starting to develop some rust issues and the back axle really needs replacing and probably the tires and well at some point I decided it was time for a new bike.

Now that said, one thing that I enjoy about biking is when things all click and one simply becomes “one with the machine.” Any bicyclist will know this feeling. You and the bike are one. It responds to your every move and it’s smooth and the wheels spinning are simply an extension of your legs and your muscles. It’s honestly a beautiful moment. It doesn’t happen every ride or even the entire length of the ride, but when it does, you feel like you can ride forever.

But it was time. Time to shop around. I had actually started in 2021 but due to the pandemic finding anything was hard. Combine that with my absolute hate of shopping for stuff like this slowed me down. I did stop at the same bike shop I had bought my 520 at years ago. They didn’t have the model I was looking for and honestly, the owner’s attitude sort of turned me off. He seemed disinterested in my search and really seemed like I was bothering him. I’ve since talked to another avid biker who lives right near the shop and he says he’s felt the same way, to the point where he won’t shop there.

The Search

Anyway, I finally had narrowed it down to a Domane 2 AL last year. But every place said “oh we’re not taking delivery until 2022 at the earliest” and without the ability to actually try one I wasn’t going to put a deposit down. About 2 months ago though I started looking in earnest. I made one mistake in my search: I started at Google for a place to shop. The closest was a place in Maryland, High Mountain Sports. They didn’t have the disc brake version in stock, but after exchanging a few emails I decided I’d stop by on my way back from the NCRC weeklong in southern Virginia. It was about 2 hours out of my way, but I figured I had to at last try the fit. It was pretty good. It convinced me the Domane was probably the bike for me. I did end up buying a helmet there. I had wanted to get a new one for awhile and figured if I couldn’t buy a bike that day, I should at least give them some business. I would recommend them if you’re in the area however (and the Deep Creek Lake area is beautiful). And the drive through the mountains was worth it.

It wasn’t until a week later when I was home I realized that the Trek website itself had a search feature for its dealers! This is where I should have started instead of Google (hence my mistake above.) I also spoke further with some biking friends and decided perhaps it was worth going all the way up to the 5 model. It has better components and 11 gears on the rear cassette giving a wide range of speeds.

Well thanks to the Trek site, I found a dealer nearby that claimed to have one in stock in the color and size I wanted. I emailed them and heard back: “Sorry, we literally just sold that the other day, we just haven’t cleared it from the system yet.” I expanded my search but nothing close by had it in stock. Finally I found Bicycle Tech in New Jersey had it. A series of emails back and forth and I planned my trip for Sunday. My concern of course was either they’d sell it in the meantime or that I’d end up hating it. Well let me cut to the chase and say it was worth the 2.5 hour drive in each direction. Turns out they sell ONLY Trek bikes, have a huge inventory in stock (in fact their showroom was packed with unpacked bicycles!) And their service and attitude was exceptional. Very friendly and helpful. It was worth it. Close to 2 hours later (after they did a final tuning before handing it off to me and jumping my car battery, which is another story) I was on my way home.

The Domane 5 AL and Thoughts

The new bike: Trek Domane 5 AL

I took it out for a ride that afternoon when I got home.

Now, that said, how do I like it?

Well I still need to get a rear rack for it (one of the few items Bicycle Tech didn’t have in stock) and move over my bike computer or get a new one.

And the geometry is definitely different. It’s a slightly shorter wheelbase from what I can tell and as a result it’s what I’ve been describing as twitchy. By that I mean it feels like any slight twitch of my arms will cause it to turn. I’m a bit afraid if I take one arm off the handlebars and am turning may find myself having the front wheel snap to far in the direction of the turn. But I’m very confident as my muscle memory for this bike develops that will stop being a concern. And I think once a get a new front back (or for now move the old one over, it’s only about 40 years old!) this will add a bit of inertia which will help resist the twitch.

I had been concerned that going from a 3-7 setup for gear to a 2-11 I’d lose the advantage of the “granny” gear” but in my two rides so far, I’m finding I really prefer the 2-11 setup. There’s definitely enough range that hill-climbing is if anything easier and there’s less hunting for the right combination of gears. Already I find myself shifting a bit more often (which in this case is a good thing) to stay at the cadence and effort I prefer.

I also find given the slightly different geometry, I’m riding with my hands on the brifters and forward part of the handlebars a bit more than I did on the 520. On the 520 I was generally riding on the cross-bar section of the handlebars. So in theory I’m in a better position and a slightly more aerodynamic one. And I find it comfortable except for one important detail I’m going to have to work on. I’m finding that even after about 5 miles, the palms of my hands are very sore, almost like I’m pinching a nerve. I’m working on hand position to solve this but it will take some work. It’s really the only concern I have in terms of fit. If I can’t solve this, I may have issues. But I’m confident I can. My 2nd ride was more comfortable than the first, despite it being about a mile longer.

And the brifters. Yes, that’s apparently the right word. They are a combination brake and shifter mechanism. I’ll admit, I’m worried about servicing these in the future, but for now they’re pretty good. Basically, in the standard riding position, I can brake and shift all without moving my hand. It’s taking some getting used to, especially remembering which way to shift to increase or decrease the gear ratio but it’s quickly becoming a very natural motion. I think I’ll come to love these.

The disc brakes. These are taking some getting used to and I’m still breaking in the brakes. But I can get an idea of exactly their stopping power. This is generally a good thing. But I will have to keep an eye, especially on a wet ride, that I don’t suddenly lock up the front brake and find myself doing a somersault over the handlebars.

Overall, I think I’ve found a great new partner for my longer rides. But I’l be keeping the 520 around for a few more years for those messy days or for nostalgia’s sake. You don’t just forget a partner like that.

T-SQL Tuesday – The Conference That Changed Everything For Me

My faithful readers get a double dose today, only because when I wrote my earlier post I had not yet seen the invite for this month’s T-SQL Tuesday. Otherwise I would have started with this post (and perhaps written a better version of it. This will be a bit hurried).

Like many I’m picking PASS Summit. No, not very creative, but true and accurate. I should note my first conference was SQL Connections back in I believe 2006 or 2007 in Orlando and that had a fairly important impact on me too. But my first PASS Summit in 2015 had a bigger one. I managed to go in the place of our SQL Server User Group organizer provided I attended the User Group update the day before and also represent us officially in that capacity. I of course did both.

But I also had an ulterior motive for going. Two of my best friends from college lived in Seattle and I had not seen them in years, in fact in well over a decade. So it was a good chance to catch up with them. (Let me just say, flying from the east coast to the west coast and trying to go to bed at 1:00 AM West coast time, but waking up at 7:00 AM doesn’t work well!)

That said, the real reason this conference was so important was because I met Kathi Kellenberger @AuntKathi. She gave a presentation on how to get published. For years I had given thought to writing a book and with the recent death of my father, who had always wanted to write the Great American Novel this seemed like an interesting session to attend. She of course gave a great presentation. I spoke briefly with her afterwards and then went on to the next session. But her session stayed in my mind. Later that day I tracked her down and asked further questions and before I knew it I was introduced to her rep at Apress.com. Very quickly I was discussing my idea with him and before I knew it, he expressed and interest and suggested I submit a more formal idea via email. Within a few weeks of the conference I did so and my idea was accepted. That was the easy part. Translating my thoughts to paper was a bit harder. But a year later by the 2016 Pass Summit I was a published author. My dad wasn’t around to see it, but the book was dedicated to him. It wasn’t the Great American Novel and honestly, sales never lived up to even my more pessimistic expectations, but that doesn’t matter. Someone paid me for my writings! And you can still buy a copy of IT Disaster Response: Lessons Learned in the Field, my take on combining IT Disaster response with thoughts on plane crashes and cave rescues. It’s not the most technical book, nor was it intended to be, but it was meant to be sort of a different and more holistic way of looking at responding to disasters. Instead of talking about “do backups like this” it talks about using ICS (Incident Command System) and CRM (Crew Resource Management) techniques to help respond to your disaster.

I’m not here to sell you on my book but talk about how that one conference and that one chance encounter with the right person changed my life. But I won’t stop you from buying it. It’s a quick and I thikn fun read! And you might even learn something.

I’ve enjoyed all my PASS Summits, including 2020 when I finally had a chance to present (albeit remotely) and SQL Saturdays (where I’ve learned a LOT and owe too many people to name a great deal of thanks for all they’ve taught) but that first Summit was the one that probably had the most impact.

Thanks for reading.

It’s Not Their Responsibility

Imagine if you will, a friend tells you they found an unwelcome guest had been in their house. Not necessarily a burglar or anything like that, but simply someone who saw the door was unlocked, and decided to walk in, grab a cold one, pop it open and then put their feet up and start watching TV. Finally they finished watching TV and left. The only thing left behind was a note that said, “Hey, I noticed you had a really nice house, and a nice taste in beverages and your TV is really kick-ass. Hope you don’t mind me checking it out. I’d love to get to know you better and perhaps replace the cold one I drank. Thanks”

Your friend is understandably upset. They feel violated and they post their anger about it.

Now I want you to ask yourself, how would you react?

Would you tell them, “well you should lock your door?” That may seem like good advice, but I suspect your friend has already thought about it. And perhaps they had good reason to leave the door unlocked (perhaps they were just out for a bit and expecting an actual welcome guest to pop in?) In any case, probably not the most useful advice and in a sense is putting the burden on your friend.

Would you commensurate with? Give them a hug and tell them how you sympathize and how you share their concerns? I’d hope so. Your friend has just shared something traumatic with you. They are most likely looking for some comfort.

Would you suggest to your friend that perhaps they should figure out who this person is and take the time to tell them that going into people’s houses uninvited is not a good idea? Let’s ignore the difficulty of figuring out who the person is (perhaps they left their address in hopes your friend would contact them). I would certainly hope you would not do this. First of all, it’s not your friend’s responsibility to tell a complete stranger how to behave. Secondly, you’re now putting the pressure on the victim here and potentially adding to their trauma. There really is no upside to this approach. Just DO NOT DO THIS!

Now, imagine it’s the complete stranger is actually your friend who did this. You hear their story of how they basically played Goldilocks for a day in someone else’s house. This time, ask yourself the question, would you expect the home owner to tell them what they did was wrong or would you think perhaps you as a friend should point out how egregious their behavior was. This is where your focus should be. Making sure the people around you don’t do this. Not telling the homeowners to give this lesson.

To whose who are saying “well the above is a made up scenario” you’re right. It is.

But replace the house and the cold one and the TV with an unsolicited email via a professional site like LinkedIn. It’s the same effect.

Let’s play a little game here. You may recall it from Sesame Street. It’s called “One of these things is not like the other.”

  • Grindr
  • Tinder
  • LinkedIn
  • Adult Friend Finder

Or another

  • SQL Saturday
  • Local User Group Meeting
  • Your local Singles Group

In the first case, one of those sites is definitely not a place to try to hit on people. It’s a professional site to maintain professional contacts. The other sites are designed to find dates

In the second case, one of those places is definitely a place appropriate place to try to hit on someone. The other two, not so much.

If you can’t tell the difference, my advice, stay away from all of the above until you can.

The take-away: Don’t put the burden for teaching proper behavior on the subject. Take it on yourself and make sure you don’t know anyone who would presume to use a professional site in such an unprofessional manner.

This post may or may not have been inspired by true events. Does it matter?

2021 in Review

Ayup, it’s that time of year where I look back on what I wrote just short of one year ago and heap praise or shame on myself. It’s not original, but gives me some perspective. You can make of it what you will.

So, how did I do for my goals?

  • I did better writing for Red-Gate than I thought. It appears they published 4 of my articles (and in the back of my mind I thought it was only 1 or 2). So check that one off.
  • Expanding my client base: Sort of. Talked to 2 potential clients, one fell through, the other is still in the works. And had another client come back to me with another project which is still in progress. So call that half-way.
  • NCRC Weeklong – Well, a hit and a miss. The National Seminar which was scheduled for June we postponed to August figuring things would be better with vaccines. BUT, there was enough interest in a Level 1 Regional, we used the original June dates for that. And then ended up cancelling the August one, not because of fears here in New York, but more so elsewhere in the country, including the fact that a number of our instructors were being told by their employers they were essential during the end of August and as such could not leave work for a week. So we had A seminar, but not THE seminar. Next year is scheduled for Virginia and isn’t my baby this time around.
  • Continue blogging: This turns out to be my 2nd best year yet in term of page views (unless I get over 300 on this particular post which I suspect I won’t). Last year I was boosted because Brent Ozar happened to retweet one of my blogs. So I think without that I did well anyway. A friend jokes he tells his jokes not to amuse others, but because they amuse him. Well, my blogging is a bit like that. While I always hope others take away something from my blog and writing, I do it as much for myself, both as an exercise in discipline and to keep my writing skills honed (though some may snark I could be failing a the latter).
  • Travel: Nope. Didn’t really do much of that this year. I did get down to Washington DC twice to see old friends (and hopefully make new ones). Those two trips were the first time in close to two years I’ve stayed under a roof outside of New York State. One was via train, so I did get to see the new Moynihan Train Hall in NYC.
  • Continue Biking: Definitely did. But I didn’t get a new bike. This was due to two reasons. One, I stopped by a bike store I had visited years ago, but this time the indifference of the staff was partly a turn off, as was the fact that they didn’t have the bike I really wanted to try in stock. The second was, even if they had the model, getting the one I wanted, apparently had an 18 month backlog. So, we’ll see what 2022 brings. I did NOT do a century ride this year. And instead of 1300 miles, only did 843. Still not too shabby.
  • Hike More: The goal was at least one or two overnight hikes. That was a big fat zero. Mostly due to scheduling and other events just didn’t happen. But, on the flip side, did do several hikes with Randi towards the end of the summer, including one that was a bit more rugged than I remembered (and we almost ended up having to assist in a carryout rescue, which would have really sucked, but the rangers decided to airlift her out).
  • A Book: This was not on my official list since I added it later in the year. I had given some thought and even wrote an outline and 1 or 2 chapters for an idea for a new book, but that didn’t come to fruition. Call is partly due to the Covid Doldrums.
  • Continue to enjoy life: This I definitely did. It was definitely a different year. In some ways 2020 was both harder and easier. 2020 at some point I think I simply accepted the fate of Covid and that we wouldn’t get back to normal until a vaccine was widely available. So I stopped getting my hopes up. 2021 was in some ways harder because with a vaccine, it was easy to get ones hopes up, but due to various surges and now Delta and Omicron, have them dashed again and again. I’ll say right here I’m frustrated and angry with those who continue to ignore the science and tout conspiracy theories about the vaccines and refuse to take them for “freedom” and the like. But I’ll save further thoughts for another day.

Tomorrow I’ll post my goals and hopes for 2022 (and one will surprise most of my readers!) (yeah, a bit click-baiting there!)

But in the meantime, for the close of 2021 (and for some the bell has tolled) let me wish you a happy and safe end to the New Year. If you do insist on going out, be safe, and for the love of all that is holy, and for the sake of my friends who will be working in EMS and elsewhere tonight, do NOT drink and drive!

P.S.: I will link two fellow bloggers who are also ending their blogging year:

  • Steve Jones – The End of 2021 The amount this man writes is simply amazing. Follow him if only for his Daily Coping tips.
  • Deborah Melkin – My 2021 In Review Deborah doesn’t blog as much as Steve (but who does) but when she does, it’s top notch.
  • If others have year and blogs, I’ll add those here if they want.

Speaking Again

Last week I spoke remotely for the Sioux Falls SQL User Group. Adam Hafner had approached me several years ago about speaking at their SQL Saturday event. As much as I was interested, I just couldn’t fit it into my schedule at the time.

More recently he approached me again about speaking, this time at their user group meeting. I hesitated at first, but finally agreed. My hesitation had nothing to do with the group itself, but because I had not spoken in awhile and am still suffering from a bit of what I consider burn-out from Covid and had two less than stellar experiences speaking remotely.

As a User Group Leader, I’m often in the in the position of trying to find speakers and I know how much work that can be at times. And as I’ve noted in the past, I like to give back to the #SQLFamily community that has given me so much. So I said ultimately yes.

I have a variety of topics I can speak on (my favorite though is still my talk about Plane Crashes and IT) and when I’m in a regular rhythm of talking, I can probably give almost any of them on short notice and with little practice. That said, ideally I will run through any of my talks at least once in full again before I present it in front of people. This helps me with pacing, remembering what slides come when, ensuring I don’t forget points I want to cover, and equally important, not straying too far off topic. If the talk requires demos, I DEFINITELY want to run through it at least once or twice before I present.

In this case, since I think I had only presented a SQL talk twice since PASS Summit last year and it was even longer since I gave this talk (A Dive into System Databases), and this one is particularly demo heavy, so I definitely wanted to practice. And it was frankly a damn good thing I did. One demo didn’t work at all. I realized after 30 minutes of struggling with it, that it had never worked and I had simply forgotten that. (Though the comment at the top of the code Do Not Demo might have been a clue to me I should have heeded. I just couldn’t remember why I had written that). Another demo quite honestly, didn’t work nearly as well as I would have liked, in part I believe because I had written the demo for SQL Server 2014 or 2016 and was now running that machine on 2017. I didn’t have time to rewrite the demo, but I did have time to revise my comments and put the issues into context.

The other demos ran according to plan, but being able to run through them again helped me group my thoughts and comments so I could present them more effectively.

Ideally I would have had one more chance to run through my entire talk before I presented it, but I just didn’t have the time. I’ll admit it was not my best effort, sorry Sioux Falls folks, but it wasn’t one I am ashamed of either. And it was far better than if I had not run through it at all.

One of the issues with giving a remote talk is you don’t get nearly as much feedback from the audience. That can also be discouraging. And I won’t shame any particular user group, but there was a group I presented to remotely in the last year where it went quite honestly from my ending it with “Any Questions?” and getting none to having the organizer within seconds basically saying, “Thanks Greg. Ok folks, meeting is over” and closing the session. The lack of any feedback, positive or negative was really discouraging (hint to organizers of remote sessions, don’t do that.)

In this case I had several questions and we chatted briefly afterwards before the session ended. I also ended up with at least 2 additional followers on Twitter. I’ll take that as a good sign.

I think as the time of Covid is hopefully ending I’ll be looking at speaking more and more. I still prefer in person (and have one scheduled next year for the Hampton Roads SQL User Group) but will probably still do a few more remote ones.

Writing this, I realized I had ignore an interview I recently did with an old college friend and a partner of hers. It’s not a presentation, so didn’t come to mind when I was writing the words above. The interview was about an hour, but they managed to break it up into 2 different videos, with some overlap.

Subject2Change – Caves

Subject2Change – Leadership, Risks and Cave Rescues

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.

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.

Touring a Tin Can

As some of you know, my grandfather served on PT 127 in WWII. 80′ of fighting fury. PT boats were fast, with speeds of 40 knots or more. I had the honor and privilege of riding one with him close to 15 years ago when one of the few remaining operating ones in the world was on the Hudson River. After that, my family and I had the privilege of boarding PT 617, an 80′ Elco at Battleship Cove. As a “splinter” we were able go on board and below decks and get essentially a private tour. One of the items I hoped to see was the map table, where my grandfather claimed he slept, rather than his bunk. He had the privilege because he was the oldest on board and this allowed him to get a nice cross-breeze in the tropical heat of the Philippines.

Cabin of PT 617

I was thinking of him this past weekend as my wife and I visited another WWII ship, the Destroyer Escort Slater (DE-766). Everyone loves the battleships, from the USS Massachusetts at Battleship Cove to the famous Iowa class battleships that were brought back into service in the 1980s. And yes, I have to say, there is something to be said for the “big guns”. The ability to hurl a shell the mass of a Volkswagen Beetle over 15 miles and to hit ones target is impressive.

But very often the workhorses of the fleet are overlooked, the Destroyers and their little brothers, Destroyer Escorts. They guarded the conveys bringing much needed supplies to Europe to fight Hitler. They guarded the fleets in the Pacific. Literally 100s were built. The first Destroyer Escort rolled off ways in 1943. This means in the space of approximately 24 months, more than 20 a month were built. Destroyer escorts were built quickly and without the luxuries their large siblings might have, such as air conditioning or even a simple thing like an ice-cream maker. And fast, they were knot. Top speed was closer to 20knots, with them often operating slower than that. For their primary role however, anti-submarine warfare while escorting conveys, this was sufficient. Their size also allowed them to turn more tightly and gave them more maneuverability than their bigger brothers.

But this did not mean they weren’t critical to the war effort. However, at the end of the war, like much of the US arsenal many were tossed on the scrap heap. There was little need for so many of the ships often called tin cans because of their lack of armor compared to the fleet carriers and battleships. Some were transferred to other navies. This was the fate of the USS Slater. It was transferred to the Hellenic Navy and was decommissioned in 1991 when it was brought back to the US.

It eventually made its way to Albany NY where it’s a floating, living museum. I say living because you’re actually allowed to touch and operate some items and they encourage sleepovers and the like.

Looking Forward

The tour is impressive and well worth it. If you’re ever in the Albany area, I do recommend stopping by the USS Slater and then perhaps a flight of beers at the Albany Pump Station.

3″ Gun on the Bow

While waiting for our tour guide, we walked around the tour shop a bit. Two things jumped out at me. The sodas and snacks were only 93 cents a piece (with tax that comes to an even $1.) That’s a bargain as far as tour shop snacks go. But the real find was a copy of “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors”. This had been on my reading list for a few years and I decided I’d pick up a copy on the way out. (The additional bonus of this, was any profit from the sale of the book would go to the museum and not to a large nameless company shipping it to me.)

For those not familiar with it, it details the exploits of “Taffy 3” at the Battle off Samar, where 3 destroyers and 4 destroyer escorts, combined with the aircraft off of the withdrawing “jeep” carriers (CVE) took on a major Japanese fleet, including the battleship Yamato, ultimately causing the Japanese fleet to withdraw.

To give you an idea of the mismatch here, the combined weight of the destroyers and destroyer escorts was about 1/5th of the weight of the Yamato alone. Even if you add in the weight of the CVEs and their planes, it wouldn’t have added up to the weight of the Yamato. And the Yamato, the largest warship afloat, was just a part of the Japanese fleet heading their way.

The largest guns Taffy 3 had were 5″ guns. These were no where nearly powerful enough to penetrate the armor of the Yamato or other Japanese cruisers. On the other hand, the 18.1″ guns on the Yamato were designed to penetrate the armor of American battleships. The armor on a tin can wouldn’t even slow down such a shell.

And yet, the American sailors, knowing how important it was to stop the Japanese fleet turned towards the Japanese and engaged them head on. And ultimately, the Japanese withdrew, thinking they were facing the fleet carriers and that the larger cruisers and battleships were probably on the way.

The battle of Midway is often considered the turning point of the war in the Pacific, and in many ways it is, with the Japanese losing a majority of their fleet carriers. But I think the Battle off Samar has a special place with David defeating Goliath.

Sometimes the smallest can do the mightiest things.

40 mm Bofors

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.

Free Cell #1703491

This is a completely random post and for a very select crowd.

I often play Freecell (far to much, but that’s another story). Years ago, when it first came out with Windows XP, I wondered if every game was winnable. Apparently, not. That said, I haven’t come across any of the “impossible games”. But I’ve come across a few hard ones.

But none nearly as hard as game #1703491. Usually I can solve most games in 2-5 minutes, sometimes it takes 15-30. I was into this one for over 2 hours before I did something I’ve rarely done. I looked for help. Mostly I wanted to know I wasn’t playing an impossible game. A brief search suggested I wasn’t. A longer search proved I wasn’t. But there was only one cryptic suggestion. I had pretty much settled on this being the most likely path, clearing the 6th column.

Now, small sidebar. To add a bit of a challenge, I have a self-imposed rule that I don’t put cards up on the home cells manually, I let the game move them automatically. In other words, if there’s a free card I can put up there manually, but that won’t go automatically, I won’t put it up. This happens for example if the the home cells AH, blank, 2D, AS, I won’t put up the 3 of diamonds. The game won’t automatically put up the 3D until the 2H, 2C and 2S are up there also. Like I say, no real reason other than the extra challenge. I had to break that rule in this game.

Anyway, even with that advice, I kept getting stuck.

A common spot I would get to was:

Making Progress

Still not much wiggle room

This was the first time I had freed up the 8th column. So that was progress and I had considered that key. I’m not sure what took me this long to figure out this combination of moves.

And now the break-thru. I’m feeling good here. I know once I get the 2 of Hearts up there, I’ll be making real progress!

This move is obvious

Now I’m gaining momentum. I may seem tempting to free up that 2 of Spades. Resist that temptation!

Don’t play the obvious move!

Rather you want to move that stack on the 5 of Hearts. With that move and a few others you end up at:

Now we’re making real progress!

The next few moves are pretty clear. Now we can move up that 2 of Spaces and after that the game is clearly winnable.

Getting Close

That said, I have to break my own rule one more time, but I don’t care. I’m ready to win.

Almost There!

And that’s it! I can relax now!