Genetics is fascinating

I have been interested in genealogy and genetics for many years. We can learn so much from our genes.

I decided to go back and have a closer look at a methylation report I had obtained for one of my doctors back in 2015, at her request. She had wanted me to pay for genetic testing, but I discovered that for a small donation I could take the raw genetic data I already had, and obtain the report she wanted from that data (thank you, That doctor suspected I had trouble with detoxification, perhaps an MTHFR mutation, due to my symptoms. I didn’t have a MTHFR mutation, but I had several other homozygous mutations (i.e. the same mutation on both of the copies of a gene, so I got a copy from each of my parents) within the methylation pathway. The methylation pathway is a very important set of chemical reactions in the body that regulates neurotransmitters, genetic repair and expression, generates energy-rich molecules such as ATP, and is involved in detoxification.

As I was reading about some of the mutations I have, I noted that one of them is strongly associated with, amongst other things, bipolar disorder. I found out later in life that my late mother had bipolar disorder and was on lithium — it doesn’t surprise me.

The thing is, I also once experienced something like bipolar disorder, for a few months. I have always said ‘like bipolar disorder’ but said a kind of rapid cycle bipolar disorder, something that I didn’t know actually exists. I now find out there is rapid cycle bipolar disorder (more than four major mood episodes annually), ultra rapid cycle bipolar disorder (cycle lengths of days, a week, or as frequently as every 48 hours), ultra ultra rapid cycle bipolar disorder (24 hour mood shifts), and even ultra-maximal cycling (hourly mood shifts).

What I likely had was ultra rapid cycling bipolar disorder – I would be climbing the wall manic for a day, and then super depressed for 5 days. Rinse and repeat. I really did not enjoy it.

I thought about whether anything might have brought this on, and realised it had been happening since I had been using aspartame (brand name Canderel in South Africa) in my coffee. As an experiment I decided to stop taking Canderel; the ultra rapid cycing bipolar disorder symptoms disappeared immediately. I stopped having the highs and the lows; it was replaced by very even low levels of depression; I was way less depressed than the lows I had been experiencing. It took many more months before the depression lifted.

I had looked through all the many known side-effects of aspartame — including death! — but bipolar disorder was not amongst them. Hmmm.

But today I found an abstract of a paper titled ‘Ultra-ultra rapid cycling bipolar disorder is associated with the low activity cate-cholamine-O-methyltransferase allele’ ( I have the a low activity variant of the COMT gene; it produces low levels of an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters. If ultra-ultra rapid cycling bipolar disorder was found to be associated with low activity COMT, I bet ultra-rapid cycling is also likely to be associated with the same mutation. It is the same thing, with a slower loop. My mother probably had rapid-cycling bipolar disorder based on what I remember of her moods.

Aspartame is known to affect neurotransmitters. The NIH website says “The consumption of aspartame, unlike dietary protein, can elevate the levels of phenylalanine and aspartic acid in the brain. These compounds can inhibit the synthesis and release of neurotransmitters, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which are known regulators of neurophysiological activity.”

I don’t yet see exactly how this relates to bipolar disorder, as a slow activity COMT gene means one would tend to have too many neurotransmitters, due to them being broken down slowly. I have a second gene mutation that also results in low levels of another enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters, compounding the issue. It could be that high and low dopamine etc. can cause bipolar disorder, just like high and low dopamine can cause ADHD.

It gets curiouser and curiouser.

Behold the methylation cycle in its glory. (Shoutout to for this diagram).

My new landing spot after the exodus from the birdsite, is Hachyderm, part of the Mastodon Fediverse.

It is a delightful social media site for tech professionals, and it has been very cool to see the lead admin, Kris Nóva ( scaling it and migrating it live out of her basement lab after 30,000 ex-birdsite users suddenly decided to join her site.

How it started:

How things are going now:

It has been a couple of years of many changes, to put it mildly!

In October 2019 I moved to southeast England, my second time moving countries — not quite as daunting as my first country move from South Africa to the US. As an EU citizen, it was fairly easy to do this, as I have the right to live and work in the UK.

It wasn’t a complete move, though, as I moved with a return plane ticket, and with only two suitcases and my cat  — I had just given away my plants, turned the heat down (it had to stay on to prevent pipes bursting in the winter), locked up my apartment and left.

Sadly, I had to say goodbye to Chef Software as there were no open roles available at the time in the Professional Services team in the UK. However, I had been toying with the idea of short-term contracting in the UK for many years (since well before starting to work at Chef in Seattle), and decided to take the opportunity to do just that.

I took a Chef contract that was initially for 3 months, was extended to 6 months, and then reduced to 5 months. It ended up that I was only in the UK for 4.5 of those months, travelling to London most days; the last two weeks were done remotely from the Seattle area. This was in mid-March 2020, and we all know what was happening around that time. I urgently needed to be back in Seattle for several reasons, so when the EU travel ban was announced, I cut my UK stay short by a couple of weeks and high-tailed it back Stateside. I was concerned that returning might become impossible, even for a US citizen, because planes might stop flying or borders might completely close.

I ended up living in the Seattle area for 8 months, before moving back to the UK. A few months after I returned to Washington state, I decided to put my apartment on the market; not what I had planned on doing when I flew back, but things lined up to make it happen. For various reasons I had wanted to sell the apartment regardless of whether I stayed in the Seattle area or not, but planned on doing it later. The complex was still in the middle of extensive renovations, so selling then was not ideal, but the pandemic afforded me the time to get it done so I took the opportunity.

I stayed in the Seattle area for a few more months after my condo sale. I shipped the household goods I wanted to keep to England, and this time bought a one-way ticket. I had enjoyed being back in Washington state, but at the same time really felt done with the US — for now, at least! England was calling me home. (My father’s ancestors are actually from the area where I live in the UK).

One of the reasons I wanted to get back to the UK was that my sister had decided to move from South Africa to the UK, and did so in December 2020. We are very close despite having lived on opposite sides of the world, and I was super excited at the prospect of living in the same country as her, for the first time in decades!

After a couple of months of self-isolation and lockdown in England, catching up with my sister, and doing more things to establish myself in the UK, I started to look for contract work. The contract market has unfortunately gotten rather tough due to impending legislation changes that affect the contracting sector, so I started looking at employment opportunities too.

And .. guess what .. I discovered that the role at Chef that I had wished was available when I first flew to the UK a little over a year before, now was available! Except, it is no longer Chef, as Chef was acquired by Progress — still, many great former Chef employees still work at Progress. So, I applied, and got the job :).

I’ll be starting at Progress as a Principal Consultant in the UK in their Chef business unit, on 22 March. Woo-hoo!

Life has had so many interesting twists and turns over the last year or so! As is usual for me, I’ve gone with the flow, grabbing opportunities when they present themselves, and following my heart. As inconvenient as the restrictions can be, I’m grateful to the pandemic for giving me almost a year to get a lot of things done that I had wanted and needed to do. But now, it is time to get back to work.

I now work at Chef!

All the focus on Chef over the last few years has paid off — I have officially joined the Professional Services team at Chef Software, where I will be working as a Consulting Engineer. (I was actually already part of Chef’s extended Professional Services team through my previous contracting relationship .. but having direct access to product and support insiders at Chef will be so more beneficial when helping customers). Job description here.

I’m really excited for this new opportunity, and that I will have more opportunities to lead training programs, and to travel; two of my favorite things!

And of course, helping to fuel transformation to the devops way is a big passion of mine. This is more than just changing the tools companies use, or the methodologies — it is all about development, QA and operations teams working together, treating operations like a software project, including automated testing of changes to infrastructure, and the ability to rapidly deploy all code changes, frequently and safely, through an automated pipeline.

As far as I am concerned, my job over the years in operations was always to Automate All The Things, as best I could; the tools have just gotten better, and infrastructure has gotten to the point where everything needs to be scripted and automatically tested, in order to operate reliably and at scale. It is a no-brainer.

Chef Community (Contributor) Summit 2017

I had a blast at the Chef Community Summit held at Chef Software’s HQ in Seattle, over the last two days. This year three smaller summits are being held, one in Seattle, one in NYC and one in the UK, and the smaller size made for better open space discussions. We still had some international attendance.

Although the open space discussions were great, the highlight for me was Hack Day. On Monday evening I wasn’t sure what I’d be working on — unlike everyone else who seemed to have something in mind. But then I remembered that I had submitted a Chef issue (bug report) in 2015, and on checking saw that it had been accepted as something that should be fixed, but had not yet been worked on by anyone. So I decided to fix it 🙂

Funny enough, I submitted the issue only steps from where I wrote the code to fix it. At the time in early 2015, I was co-leading a Chef Fundamentals training class in a conference room on the same floor at the Chef Software HQ, and something one of the students had done, highlighted the issue I reported — which had to do with data bag naming and ability to search data bags with particular names.

The first thing to figure out was the correct approach to fix the problem. I had suggested a way to fix it in my issue report (don’t allow those particular data bag names on data bag creation), but a Chef employee had suggested something else (a way to support those data bag names). I dug into the code and found that the other suggestion, although it sounded good, was not really feasible; I discussed it with him and others, and they agreed. Which was good, because my fix was a pretty easy way to solve the problem.

At the time of writing this post my fix has not yet been merged — the first submission of code + unit tests was approved, but then I discovered a second place where a similar fix had to be done, and have since submitted the code and unit tests for that too. The second check-in needs to be reviewed.

Still, I am confident that I will soon officially be a contributor to the Chef codebase, however minor a contribution it is 🙂 One has to start somewhere. And soon will also contribute to the web docs at

I’m a Certified Chef Developer!

I took the 4th exam, for the 3rd badge, last night – Deploying Cookbooks, and I passed, completing all the requirements to be a Certified Chef Developer :). (As before, 80% was the pass mark).

I’m looking forward to the ‘Auditing with Inspec’ exam being available, so I can become a Certified Chef Architect — it is supposed to be released in summer 2017.

I’m working on my Chef Certified Developer certification

So far I’ve passed Basic Chef Fluency, and Local Cookbook Development (parts 1 & 2).

One more badge to go .. I’m going to do Deploying Cookbooks next, it looks like a far easier option than Extending Chef. You have to complete three badges in order to become a Chef Certified Developer.

The material is fairly easy for me, I’ve been working with Chef configuration software since 2012, and have trained with Chef Software, Inc. to be a trainer for their Fundamentals (now called Essentials) training course. But, like with the AWS exams, things are constantly changing, so you have to keep on top of your game.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional re-certification

It was time to re-certify as an Amazon Web Services Solutions Architect Professional as the certification lasts 2 years. I passed!

Keeping up is challenging as AWS is currently adding new features to their services at a rate of over 1,200 per year .. and it is a tough exam.

Here’s a sample question from this exam. For the original test I had to answer 80 similar questions in 170 minutes. Fortunately the recertification test only asks 40 questions, but in only 80 minutes — so just 2 minutes to answer each long question usually involving multiple services, with subtly different and usually seemingly plausible sounding options to choose from. And sometimes multiple correct options have to be chosen.

I finished the recertification test with 16 seconds to spare, and no time to review!

I am now Sandra!

After being known as Sandi my whole life, I am embracing my given name – Sandra. As a result, I’ve updated the URL of this site to sandratiffin. The old URL, sanditiffin, redirects here.

Sandra is a female name, which is often used as a short form for Alexandra or Cassandra. Alexandra is a feminine form of the male name Alexander, which is a romanization of the Greek name Αλέξανδρος (Alexandros). It is generally interpreted to mean “protector of man” or “defender of man”.