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.
As some of you know, my grandfather served onPT 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
Apparently the Port contains the largest grain elevator east of the Mississippi!
As you can see, even ocean going ships come this far north.
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.
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.
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.
I had initially decided I wasn’t going to say much about Simone Biles’ decision to drop out of my of her Olympic events, but then I realized, when I had started this blog, one of the things I wanted to focus on was how we make decisions and how our brains work at times.
But before I comment on Biles’ choice, I want to delve a bit into what we teach in our cave rescue training. We have a core 3 levels and much of our training involves rigging of ropes, patient packaging, and patient extraction. In other words, all hands on activities that require certain skills and training. A typical weeklong class will have over 80 hours of training. This means by the time a person completes the core levels, they will have spend over 240 hours in training.
But the thing is, many rescues don’t require any of that. I’ve done rescues where there was absolutely no rigging involved. But there is one component that is involved in all rescues, but we spend less than an hour on: psychological considerations. Every rescue involves at least two parties, the person being rescued, and the rescuer. And this means that their mental statuses are involved. Now, I’ll admit in perhaps the vast majority of rescues the mental status of the rescuee or the rescuer aren’t really issues or a problem, but they exist.
I bring this up because of two incidents that come to mind in my caving career, both that involve how our brains work, or more specifically in these cases, my brain. The first involves a body recovery and the second just a simple caving trip.
About 20 years ago we had an unfortunate incident where a local caver became trapped while underwater and drowned. Recovery operations already have a different feel and tempo than rescue operations. There’s generally very little urgency and you have to deal with family members and others who are struggling with the death of a loved one. The mood is far more somber. The death occurred on a Monday night. It wasn’t until Wednesday night that we were able to free Rob. I wasn’t in the cave when he was finally extricated. But the word came out that they needed people to help transport him to the surface. One of the folks in charge, a friend came to me and asked, “Greg, can you do this?” I had to stop and think. I appreciated that she was asking. I knew that “No” would be a perfectly fine answer and she wouldn’t think any less of me. Not everyone is psychologically equipped to deal with a dead body so close up, especially when it’s someone they know. An important part of what went into my decision was making sure I’d be a help to the team and not a burden. I didn’t want to freeze up or otherwise hinder things. I ultimately answered “Yes” because in part, I felt he should be accompanied by someone who knew him on his final journey to the surface and felt confident I wouldn’t slow things down.
The second incident was a simple caving trip. A friend and I were rigging the entrance to a pit known as Cemetery Pit. Our choice of rigging involved wrapping our rope around a large boulder and tying a figure 8 knot in it. Between the two of us we have tied a figure 8 knot 1000s of times. It’s our go-to knot for most things. Yet, because of the way the rope was laying around the rock, the angle of the one of the ropes forming the loop just didn’t look right to me. I was pretty confident I had it right, but when you’re about to rappel 150′ into a cave “pretty confident” really isn’t quite good enough. So I asked my buddy to take a look at it. He had the same reaction as me, “I think that’s right, but I’m not 100% sure. I’ll retie it.” He retied it and his results still didn’t look quite right. We both made a few attempts at it and each one didn’t quite look right. I believe we ended up tying something else that did look right and we had 100% confidence in. In retrospect, I’m suspect we had it right the first time (and subsequent times) but our brains suddenly had a case of the yips, or perhaps the caving version of the twisties
What do these have to do with Simone Biles? Two things: she was a team member who did the right thing, and who suffered from a sudden lack of confidence, or as they call it in gymnastics, the twisties.
I’m going to deal with the twisties first. Now, I haven’t done any gymnastics since grammar school, but I did have an incident once while diving/playing in the water that I suspect was similar. I had jumped off the diving board, probably doing a flip of some sort, and found myself tumbling underwater. This was an experience I normally enjoyed. I love the freedom water gives and twisting and gyrating underwater. But this time was different. When I stopped, I realized I had no idea which way was the surface. There was a moment of panic before I realized I still had enough air in my lungs that if I just waited I’d float to the surface. But I had for a moment lost my complete kinesthetic sense. I have to imagine this is similar what happened to Biles. In my case, the consequences was simply a moment of panic, then a simple wait to rise to the surface. In her case, having seen some of her moves and listening to some of the commentators, I’ve come to realize that in the case of a gymnast, such a loss can result in severe injury. This article illustrates several such examples. Similarly, if we had not been able to tie rigging we felt safe on, we might have aborted our trip because a mistake could be fatal. Sometimes our brains simply get into that state where up is down and left is right and it’s not simple to fix that. So, in that aspect, I think she made the right decision, as has any person caving (or in another activity) who has turned back because they’ve lost confidence in their rigging or skills. Better to be safe and come back another day than be sorry.
In terms of being a member of a team, she also made the right choice. She could have said, “Well I’m the GOAT, I’m going to compete no matter what” but because of her state of mind, probably not performed at her best and pulled back on some of her more extreme moves ( thus reducing her points totals) and very likely not won medals. But, by pulling out, and she opened up spots for other members of the team, such as Mykayla Skinner to step up. In a world where Biles had forced herself to compete, my guess is due to the twisties, she would not have medaled on the vault, and Skinner would have never had the chance to compete, which means the US would not have won Silver in the vault. Sometimes being a team player means stepping aside so others can do the job. In my case of the body recovery, had I not felt comfortable in my ability to carry out my task, I would have rightly stepped aside.
I have to give Simone Biles a lot of credit. The weight of the world, or at least the US was on her shoulders. She was expected to perform at levels that no one else has reached. She also knows that few gymnasts at her level compete late into their 20s. This may be her last Olympics. All the pressure was on her to compete. But had she done so, she risked serious injury and very well may have kept the US from winning as many gymnastic medals as they did. I respected her before, but I have to admit I have even more respect for her now. She really is the GOAT.
Every once in a while I come across a problem that both surprises me that it exists and that the solution is often trivial. This is one of those. Basically developer at a client wanted to setup a scheduled task that would execute a query and email the results. Everything appeared to work, but the emails never went out. There were no errors that were obvious other than the emails never arrived. Some digging via profiler showed that the SQL Agent user was having permission issues. But basically giving it every permission possible didn’t solve it.
So let me walk you through it. First, let’s create a real simple stored procedure. This assumes you have AdventureWorks2014 installed (yeah, it’s old, but it’s what I had handy).
Use adventureworks2014 GO Create or Alter Procedure Send_Test_Email as exec msdb.dbo.sp_send_dbmail @recipients=’email@example.com’, @body=’This is the body of the email’, @subject=’Test Email w query embedded’, @query=’select * from adventureworks2014.sales.SalesOrderHeader where subtotal > 150000′;
Now, here’s an important detail I did discover during testing. If my query didn’t actually query a table, but instead was say @query=’select getdate()’ things worked fine.
That said, if you simply execute the query above in SSMS, it should work just fine. (I’d recommend you put your own email in it for testing. This way you’ll know if the email is actually being sent.)
Before you do that, also create the following stored procedure:
Use adventureworks2014 GO Create or Alter Procedure Send_Test_Email_Query_attached as exec msdb.dbo.sp_send_dbmail @recipients=’firstname.lastname@example.org’, @body=’This is the body of the email’, @subject=’Test Email w query embedded’, @query=’select * from adventureworks2014.sales.SalesOrderHeader where subtotal > 150000′, @attach_query_result_as_file = 1, @query_result_no_padding = 1, @query_attachment_filename = ‘Sales Report.csv’, @query_result_separator = ‘;’, @exclude_query_output = 1, @append_query_error = 0, @query_result_header = 0
This will execute the same query as the original stored procedure, but place the contents in a CSV file as an attachment.
Again, if you execute the above directly from SSMS, you should receive the email without an issue. This is basically what the client was attempting to do.
Now create the following job:
USE [msdb] GO
/ Object: Job [Send AdventureWorks Email] Script Date: 7/27/2021 9:12:49 AM / BEGIN TRANSACTION DECLARE @ReturnCode INT SELECT @ReturnCode = 0 / Object: JobCategory [[Uncategorized (Local)]] Script Date: 7/27/2021 9:12:49 AM / IF NOT EXISTS (SELECT name FROM msdb.dbo.syscategories WHERE name=N'[Uncategorized (Local)]’ AND category_class=1) BEGIN EXEC @ReturnCode = msdb.dbo.sp_add_category @class=N’JOB’, @type=N’LOCAL’, @name=N'[Uncategorized (Local)]’ IF (@@ERROR <> 0 OR @ReturnCode <> 0) GOTO QuitWithRollback
If you execute this job as is, you should see the following:
But you will never get the email!
Modify the above job and replace the line:
Now if you run the job, it will fail!
But as is usual with sp_send_dbmail, the error message isn’t overly helpful:
Executed as user: NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM. Failed to initialize sqlcmd library with error number -2147467259. [SQLSTATE 42000] (Error 22050). The step failed.
But it does help give a clue. The problem seems to be some sort of permissions issue. So I’ll admit, at this point I tried all sorts of solutions, including setting up a proxy user, giving unfettered rights to my SQL Agent user and other things (thinking once I got it working I could then lock things back down). Instead, I found a much easier solution buried in a thread on the Microsoft site.
You’ll note when I wrote the original stored procedure I fully qualified the table name. This is often generally useful, but here I did it because I was cheating and knew I’d need it for this demo.
The solution is actually VERY simple and I’ll show it both graphically and via a script.
First: change the database to MSDB and then fully qualify your call to the stored procedure as below:
However, there’s one more critical step: under the ADVANCED tab in the step change the Run As User to dbo:
Now if you script out the scheduled task it should look like:
USE [msdb] GO
/ Object: Job [Send AdventureWorks Email] Script Date: 7/27/2021 9:26:37 AM / EXEC msdb.dbo.sp_delete_job @job_id=N’08a55e18-eecf-4d4c-8197-8135a0d7520b’, @delete_unused_schedule=1 GO
/ Object: Job [Send AdventureWorks Email] Script Date: 7/27/2021 9:26:37 AM / BEGIN TRANSACTION DECLARE @ReturnCode INT SELECT @ReturnCode = 0 / Object: JobCategory [[Uncategorized (Local)]] Script Date: 7/27/2021 9:26:37 AM / IF NOT EXISTS (SELECT name FROM msdb.dbo.syscategories WHERE name=N'[Uncategorized (Local)]’ AND category_class=1) BEGIN EXEC @ReturnCode = msdb.dbo.sp_add_category @class=N’JOB’, @type=N’LOCAL’, @name=N'[Uncategorized (Local)]’ IF (@@ERROR <> 0 OR @ReturnCode <> 0) GOTO QuitWithRollback