What I am learning this year about: Living through historical moments

For years the Big question for people was “where were you on September 11th?”

That was the defining moment, the axle spin that took us all from Point A to an unexpected, uncertain, unplanned-for Point B.

And we could all pretty much describe in great detail – those of us old enough to remember – where we were, at that moment. What we were doing. What we were thinking. How we were feeling. The days that followed, too, are often cast in stark relief against more mundane times of our collective history.

No one woke up that day (well, of those of us not directly responsible) thinking “today is a day that will change the world, or at the very least, change my world and the worlds of many other people.”

But we all knew, as we watched the day pass by, that we were watching and/or experiencing something that would be in history books.

So here we are, feeling that same sensation again. Change – monumental and unsure – is already here; we are living it.

It can be unsettling. Perhaps frightening, but I prefer the term unsettling because I feel it better encapsulates the length of time that we deal with it. A fright is a sudden thing for me, but that uneasiness, the lack of confidence in one’s footing – that is being unsettled. It’s like sitting on a couch or a chair and being completely unable to get comfortable for any real amount of time.

That’s where we are.

It sucks, right?

It’s easier to look back at things, to read about them from the safe distance of time, fantasize about how we would have done things differently, how we wouldn’t make the same mistakes. When secretly what we’re thinking is “thank the universe that isn’t me.” Even if we’re not conscious of it, there is a part of us that is grateful to have been spared the terrible events of the past.

There is a part of us that hopes we will never have to experience such events ourselves.

I have thought about this a lot, in fact. This idea that sometimes we have to go through to get out, and in those moments that through seemed absolutely impossible, I’ve always come back to the same place.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring

I’ve relied on it so heavily that a few years ago, I got part of it tattooed on my arm, my daily, sometimes hourly, reminder that all I can do is what I can do. This situation sucks. But this situation is what it is. We cannot close our eyes and make it disappear. We cannot be born in some other time. We are here. Now. And we must go through.

allwehavetodecide

What I reminisced about this week: TTRPG

Monday Eric sent me a text with a meme from a DnD group on Facebook (I think it was Facebook) with a cat sitting in front of a character sheet. The DM is saying that the adventurers have encountered a wizard, who has placed a chalice of some bubbling, smoking liquid on the table. And of course the cat says “I knock it over.”

Obviously I laughed about that for a half hour.

And then I got a little fixated on something: the character sheet in the picture. It was not a DnD character sheet. It was a White Wolf character sheet (or World of Darkness, I suppose – look, I can barely keep up).

This led to a day of hyper-fixating on WHAT FREAKING GAME IS THIS FROM.

It’s been YEARS, I mean over a decade, since I played any White Wolf game that wasn’t VtMB.

Things I remembered very vividly, right off the bat:

  • The different games had different borders – Vampire had a sort of gothic, wrought-iron looking border; Mage had a sort of geometric fade-out thing with the various symbols associated with the types of magic floating around; Werewolf was a relatively simple border with slashes through it.
  • Mr. Gone’s website was THE resource for character sheets
  • The character sheets and systems changed after I stopped playing
  • Every detail of some of my longest-played characters, playing their stories in my head like a movie,
  • Dr. Pepper
  • Faygo for a while there
  • The Combat Mix
  • Some other things that I’m not about to unpack for a bunch of people on the internet

Could not remember the specifics of this sheet, however. So I let it go.

For a couple of hours, during which I was still chugging the waters of Mnemosyne.

Obviously I love video games, and that love springs from my origins with pen, paper, and ten-sided dice. I love stories – hearing them, watching them, reading them, telling them – and it doesn’t get much better than building a story with friends.

What I liked (and still like) about the White Wolf World of Darkness games was that they always felt so character-driven to me. It was ridiculously easy to play a game with only one storyteller and one player or a very small group. The stakes always felt personal in some way, or if they weren’t, there was usually (with a good storyteller anyway) a very compelling, personal reason that your character was in the midst of whatever was happening.

DnD lacks some of that to me.

DnD also lacks the epic dice rolls. Listen, I like the simplicity of the D20. But there was something about putting points into my attributes and abilities and then rolling some crazy number of D10s that was just very satisfying. It’s like playing Warhammer and getting like 15 attacks and just chucking dice all over the table while laughing maniacally. It just feels good.

I spent years playing White Wolf, collecting lore about my characters, carefully taking notes, and organizing all of the matériel that came with lovingly playing those roles.

And it took me years before I was able to really start playing again. I play DnD now on Monday nights with a small group; we play online, and we have two people who are new to the game, and I find that the, let’s call it practice, that I got all those years ago comes in handy.

I still miss White Wolf sometimes. I still miss some of my old game group. But like anything else in life, I find that change is good, and while the mechanics may have changed, and the faces around the table, the core of it is still there, and that’s what matters.

It was an Exalted character sheet – a White Wolf system I never played, but boy was it fun to fall into the rabbit hole because of something so familiar.

And to solidify this as a week of thinkin’ ’bout old times, I later saw an internet friend post a picture of their OWN Exalted character sheet just before starting a game.

It all comes full circle. Play on, friends.

What I learned this week about: heavy cotton

There are some things we learn that feel like a well-earned, long journey. So much of what I know about Salesforce feels like that; it’s a lot of small steps that feel insignificant at the time, and then I look back, and I realize just how far I’ve come.

A lot of those steps don’t even feel like steps when they are taken. It’s just something that happens, and you realize some time later that that knowledge is in your bones now.

This isn’t one of those times.

What I learned about heavy cotton is a lesson learned that will stick with me because it was inconvenient.

I’ve been thinking, this whole series, or whatever it is, could actually be further broken down: what I learned (yay!) and lessons learned (wow, Sam, seriously?).

What I learned:

  • A new fun thing
  • Wow, that was really tough, but I got through it
  • Other people may be as interested in this as I am (and maybe not, but I posted it anyway)
  • This is a New and Fascinating thing
  • I didn’t know this even WAS a thing

Lessons learned:

  • Oh, there is a single tag missing on email templates that make it NOT responsive
  • Turns out I DO need a loop step in this flow
  • I should have asked these questions before starting this work
  • Make sure your friend isn’t squeamish before surprising them with tickets to the Bodies exhibit
  • Come up with a list of dumb things you’ve done BEFORE you start a blog post about it

About this time no one except me is saying “Sam, dummy, you have literally already done this. You had your guide to failure. You have a tag – literally a tag – called Lessons Learned. You are not fooling anyone.”

Cool. I’m right.

So this is really more a “lesson learned” then. That was the point.

Heavy cotton – think a heavy weave, stiff fabric that doesn’t fold so much as bend. Sure you can wash it. You can maybe even dry it, unless you’re trying to keep it from shrinking.

But here’s the thing.

It takes a long time to dry. Like a ridiculously long time. (Side note: My computer is telling me that I used to wrong ‘to’ in that first sentence, and I am just disproportionately angry about that. No, Apple or WordPress or whoever. It should NOT be time too dry. THAT MAKES NO SENSE. YOU SHOULD WRITE A LESSON LEARNED ABOUT BASIC GRAMMAR.)

If you wash your heavy garment at, say, 11pm the night before and dry it for a little while but then leave it out to air dry, don’t expect it to be done before 11pm about two days later. Definitely don’t plan on using it unless you like the feeling of heavy, damp fabric on your shoulders.

I don’t.

Sam, you might be saying now, this is ridiculous. No one cares about your heavy cotton blend. What does this have to do with anything?

Nothing. It’s just been one of those weeks. One lesson turns into frustration, turns into mistakes that really I should know better about, and here it is Friday morning, and I was Done with this week on Tuesday.

I don’t like to talk about my problems or frustrations with people, so when the little things add up, I find that my options are to either implode or write it out. Vaguely. Probably somewhat incoherently. But written nonetheless.

So yeah. I learned a lesson this week (a few). I’ll learn more lessons in future weeks.

But I definitely will not wash heavy cotton the day before I need it. That 100% will not happen again.

 

What I learned this week about: Pardot Responsive Layouts

I built my first responsive email template in 2014 when I was just coming into the MOPs/Salesforce Admin portion of our programming and realized that my company’s marketing emails were NOT responsive.

Me being me, I ended up sitting through a free webinar put on by Litmus to gain the basic understanding of how responsive emails worked, and from there I was the go-to on the team for all things HTML and CSS. I fumbled my way through enough to ensure that our emails and custom landing pages would look good on mobile.

Side note: I did all of this because I had reviewed the open rates based on device and found that approximately 30-40% of our emails were being opened on mobile. That’s a pretty sizable chunk of people having to squint at tiny print on a small screen.

I am not an expert on this stuff at all, so I’m not about to sit here and break down how to do this – there are much better resources out there for that. All you need to really understand about this is that responsive emails are based on tables, as in:

<table>

<tr><td></td></tr>

</table>

That at least I understood having been big into building strangely elaborate personal webpages when in school. I wish I had screenshots of some of the work I did back then – it wasn’t terrible, all things considered.

For responsive emails these are important because you end up with nested tables – tables inside of table cells inside of tables. Tableception, if you will. (Is that joke still a thing? I use it a lot.)

And then on top of that, there are some special little tweaks you can make to the CSS itself to ensure that when the size of the screen shrinks, those tables all shift around into place, so instead of squished, you get stacked.

Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 1.17.34 PM <– Like that.

So what does this have to do with Pardot??

In a few implementations clients have used one of the prebuilt responsive templates in Pardot and found that instead of stacking, their template just shrank down into a smaller version of the same layout.

For whatever reason this didn’t seem to happen in previews or even with all template layouts, but for this client it did, and I wanted to fix it. It took some digging. And by digging, I mean rewriting the code almost line-by-line to find the issue, but when I did find it, it seemed a little silly.

The key to that fancy table action above working is in the CSS that exists for that email, so before we even start adding our tables and rows and cells and tables inside of cells…we have our CSS classes defined. Think of those classes as references; later in the HTML tables, I can reference my CSS via the class name, and that is used to display the info according to that reference.

But what I found was a table referencing a class that wasn’t there. Simple mistake and simple solution – we just had to drop the appropriate class name (reference) in the CSS, and BOOM! We had a nice, stacked template.

So what happened??

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It’s possible that the client made some small change during editing that removed that class. It’s possible that on that particular layout, the class just wasn’t included. I don’t know, but what I took away from that was to just check.

This is true no matter the platform. Any time you are using work or designs created by another source for mass consumption and reuse, just take a minute and review it. Become familiar with it. In a way, the HTML/CSS of your email templates is like a manual for a new gadget you’re putting together. It’s tedious to go through it, and wouldn’t we rather just slap the thing together and be done? Sure. But if you take that time at the beginning to introduce yourself, you’re more likely to find little hiccups. You know, before you start putting any real weight on the thing.

 

What I learned this week about Medieval dagger fighting

I’ll not get into why I needed to know this…just trust that it made sense at the time. And it wasn’t because I myself need to wield daggers.

Fine. It’s because this year I am actually planning ahead of NaNo. I can’t say why. It went ok last year, when I had a flimsy sort of outline. Maybe this year I have a storyboard. Maybe this year I started researching things before they come up in the story, and I lose precious writing hours to watching YouTube videos.

YouTube videos about dagger fighting.

And one thing that kept coming up is the Arte Athletica by Paulus Hector Mair and the manuscripts of Joachim Meyer.

Arte Athletica is a manuscript from 1545ish, written by a German fencing master (Mair), and it’s generally considered one of the most complete manuals available today of fighting styles from this time period. It’s technically made up of two codices, each building off of an earlier body of work and updated to fit those more modern times. And it has waaaay more than daggers; have nothing hand but a sickle? My man Paulus has you covered.

Joachim, on the other hand, made treatises that were compiled into Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens, or as I like to call it “how to royally destroy a dude’s day.” Where Paulus compiled what was there, Joachim decided to reinvent the wheel. Kind of.

Regardless, each of these sources provide thorough instructions, and in some cases, pictures, that have been used by SCA enthusiasts looking for that authentic Germanic medieval feel.

Daggers were not meant to be a primary weapon but used in conjunction with (or as a backup to) a sword. Ironically (perhaps) one of the only games I’ve played where a rogue in fact fights with a sword and a dagger, instead of two daggers, is Dragon Age: Origins. So kudos to BioWare…even more kudos to them. They brought me Mass Effect.

The bulk of blocking came from the concept of aiming at the wrist, but given its size, more often than not, a fighter would miss, and so the follow through movements of blocking over or under (too soon or too late) make up a good portion of the maneuvers that one would use.

To avoid slicing through your own arm during a fight, a common dagger of choice was a Rondel, a three-sided blade that was only sharp toward the tip, used for puncturing. As one video I watched pointed out (ah ha!), it was the ice pick of daggers.

I learned that the techniques for dagger fighting, as with any martial art, come down to basic principles, the same basic movements upon which one builds.

I also learned that in today’s world, it’s still primarily white dudes who seem to be worrying about this.

What I learned this month: Adopting owned pets

In February we had crazy cold weather here in Michigan – not as bad as some places, but cold enough that when I looked outside one morning and saw a cat wandering through the snow, I knew I had to put something out for it. We found an old cat carrier downstairs, put some old towels in it, and put it out on the front porch near the garage access door, to keep it out of the wind. We put out some old cat food that our picky eaters wouldn’t touch anymore.

The next day the food was gone, so we replenished it.

For the month of February we had about five or six neighborhood cats come and go regularly. We didn’t always see them. Sometimes it was just a mass of paw prints in the snow around the food bowl that was now miraculously empty. We named all of the cats, but our most common visitors were:

  • Tux – a lifelong neighborhood cat, the roughest guy on the block
  • Shadow – a small, polydactyl black cat
  • Mandarin – a small orange tabby, to whom we assigned Most Likely to be Trapped Twice With Food
  • Flerken – a tiny (seriously tiny) gray tabby, who got very pregnant at some point and disappeared for a month or so

This continued into March, as the cold clung to the area. By April, we were down to two regular visitors and one permanent tenant.

We had long suspected that Shadow had been, at one point, indoors. She was quick to trust us, liked to be around us, and seemed generally less adapted to being outdoors. By May, she was happily playing with us on the porch, rubbing our legs, letting us pet her.

I was quickly infatuated. I mean…a tiny black cat. Polydactyl. I never stood a chance.

As summer continued, we sometimes saw Tux, but ultimately Shadow was the only one left, and she made it clear she had adopted us. She lived on our porch. She had regular feeding times. I wanted to bring her inside, and the long process started in late June.

For those of you uninitiated in the cat world – cats are NOT easy to integrate with an existing colony of cats. While we only had two, they were still basically a colony. And that’s the least of potential issues.

FIV, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, is one major concern. Most commonly spread via bites from infected cats, it’s similar to HIV. Cats infected with FIV can live normal lives, so long as they avoid infections, especially from major concern #2 – Feline Leukemia. Shadow herself does not fit the bill of a common carrier; because FIV is most commonly passed via a bite, outdoor males are the must susceptible. But she was outside with males, and it was certainly possible that she would have gotten it.

Concern #2, Feline Leukemia (FeLV) is also transmitted via bites, but it can ALSO be transmitted via normal behaviors, like mutual grooming.

House cats are usually vaccinated against these viruses, and they are at less risk most of the time, being kept inside with other cats that have been vaccinated.

But before bringing Shadow inside, we needed to be sure. We had gained her trust enough for me to pick her up, and on July 1, I was able to put her in a carrier and take her to the vet.

We had a lot to check on, so I wasn’t too surprised when they whisked her away to the back and 10 minutes rolled by. 15. 20. At which point the vet returned to tell me that they had found a microchip and were tracking down her owner.

It had always been a possibility, of course.

What I had not considered was that the owner would be found and would agree that, since we had been caring for her for the past 6 months, she was likely better off staying with us. So on July 1, I came home with a new cat.

Test results started coming in.

  • No FIV
  • No FeLV
  • We started her on a dewormer, and by the time we were able to get a sample to the vet, she was free of those, too

And I went through the process of transferring her microchip data to us. That was an exercise, but it was much easier than I thought it would be.

So now here we are, outnumbered and loving it.

I have always believed that we are chosen by our furry friends and not the other way around, and I think this past month has simply proven that.

 

 

What I learned this week: Airport Runway Capacity

Over the past year, I have flown to and from New York 7 times. That doesn’t seem like a very large number unless, like me, you prefer the comforts of home and Electric Hero subs from a few blocks away.

Being in Grand Rapids, my direct flight options are a little bit limited. Specifically I can go to Newark, or I can go to LaGuardia. Or I can do a multi-leg journey to JFK. Since interviewing at Arkus, I’ve chosen LGA every time except one time going to Newark and questioning my life choices the entire time.

LaGuardia has been undergoing MASSIVE reconstruction since I started flying out there in 2016, and it has made traveling through the place a greater headache each time. If the standard traffic weren’t enough, you now have to compete against road closures, construction zones, and entire areas of the airport being suddenly inaccessible after they were there two months ago. Keeps me on my toes, that’s for sure.

On my last visit, I couldn’t help but wonder, sitting at a standstill in a line of cars, waiting to exit the airport grounds, and looking at brightly colored signs happily declaring that “a better LaGuardia is coming!” just how long this could possible go on. What sort of purgatory are collectively experiencing? So I Googled it, and apparently I’m not the first one to do this, since the suggestion was immediate.

2022. By the way. 

The part that intrigued me…that’s not fair. It was actually fascinating. The original airport was built in the 1920s, which blew my mind because…did Queens need an airport then? Apparently. The next terminal was built in the 60s, then then 80s, and finally the 90s, and so they ended up with this Tetris kind of place. Not the point.

The part that REALLY piqued my interest was a line toward the end that they are going to add 2 miles of runway, which will help increase the airport’s capacity and decrease some of the issues they have with delays. (Did I mention that I read this while my flight was delayed by over an hour? Yeah. So at least I could understand the root cause.)

What does that have to do with anything, though? How would two miles really have an impact?

As it turns out, this is a Thing. Like an FAA thing. They produce semi-regular Airport Capacity Profiles (last updated in 2014) that determine, based on things like runway space and layout, just how many flights any given airport has actual capacity for. Specifically these reports identify the maximum capacity within a single hour of operation. These overall capacity reports are then broken down by things like weather conditions (visual, marginal, and instrument), realistic operational conditions, and even external factors that may have improved capacity since the last overview.

And you bet they have one for LaGuardia. I read it. But it didn’t quite explain how the two miles of runway would improve performance, so I had to keep looking.

Did you know StackExchange has a whole Aviation subdomain?

LaGuardia currently operates 22 arrival runways and 13 departure runways. Adding two miles of space to increase the number could have a positive effect on the capacity of the airport, but adding runways alone does not solve the problem. For instance, depending on the layout of the runways – parallel or perpendicular – you may have better capacity when the weather is cooperating (parallel) or more options and better sustained capacity when weather is less than ideal (perpendicular).

The mix of aircraft sizes could have an impact. If a very large, heavy aircraft lands, it produces more wake turbulence than a smaller craft, so having a larger variety could mean smaller planes have to wait longer.

The sequencing of arrivals and departures – how many planes are arriving vs. leaving? Will we have room for them? Better get that right.

Sequencing across airports – LaGuardia is in what’s considered the NY/NY/PHL airspace, which supports flights to LGA, JFK, EWR, and PHL. And as it turns out, big freaking flying machines need room to maneuver, so it’s not just the flights into and out of LaGuardia that need to be considered.

Runway exits. Wind strength in the area. Noise constraints. Lateral separation. So. Many. Things.

By the time I read through the capacity report, learned from the experts on Stack Exchange, and took a moment to consider all of the other things going on around a tarmac, I realized two things.

  1. It is very unlikely that adding two miles to the runways at LaGuardia will have THAT big of an impact.
  2. It is kind of a miracle that we ever get anywhere when it comes to flying, so maybe be nicer to the folks at the desk.