23 October 2016

First woman!

The previous time I ran a Parkrun, I came in as the fourth woman. That made me want to run my way into the top 3. Who wouldn't? I wasn't half dead at the finish so I suppose I could give it a bit more next time. And especially after running a clanging personal best on the 10k, I figured I had a good chance.

A few Saturdays I had been otherwise engaged; now was the time to aim for the podium (not that there is a podium at Parkruns). I biked up and took my place at the start. I made sure to not be too far away from the front! And I started fast.

I soon noticed two ladies in pink in front of me. I hoped I would managed to overtake them. I had no idea how many more women were ahead; it's hard to get an overview. But I kept up the pace and the pink ladies slowly came closer. I was breathing heavily but I supposed they may be too.

Penrhyn Parkrun is two big loops and two small ones; I ran the first one slowly closing in on the pink ladies. And the second too. I can't remember whether it was the first or second small loop I managed to overtake them (they were running quite close together) but I managed. They didn't seem to manage to catch up! And I was getting tired; I sounded rather disconcerting by the time I rounded the last corner and got the finish in sight. But I thundered over the finish, and saw I had stayed within 23 minutes. A personal record! By a lot! I saw I had come in 29th (they give you a thingy with a number and a barcode at the finish; combined with your personal barcode it documents who ran what). I couldn't remember my overall position the previous time so I didn't know if it was good. But I clearly had run fast! And when walking away I had a small chat with the second lady. She was nice!

When the results came online I was excited. Would I have made it? I scrolled down the results list. Male, male, male, male, male, male, male, etc etc, and then the first female: me! I was very chuffed. I have never been the first female! And I was helped by the lower numbers; 60 women running this time, while 84 ran the previous time. My winning time would only have been winning in 5 of the 10 previous races. Sometimes the winning woman stays within 19 minutes! I had won with a time of 22:26. But it feels good!

 Penrhyn Castel, venue of both start and finish, and photogenic as ever

19 October 2016

Fastest SRT trip ever

Trips with rope work often take forever. You can only have one person on a rope at a time, and some people aren't very fast. If the trip only goes down it isn't necessarily too bad, but when everybody also has to prusik up things often get awful. This week I was afraid it would be one of these trips where you're not home until 2AM, as there were two chaps around who had come with us before; that had been their first ropework as far as I know, and it took them ages. How wrong I was!

We gathered at the parking lot, and the two aforementioned chaps decided this pitch might be too much for them and they would stay at the surface. That left seven of us.

We rigged the pitch and I went down. It was hard; we were using David's rope and that's thick and stiff, so going down can he harder than up. The next person might take a while too, so I started exploring. I first went down what must have been an adit; as I expected, it was blocked. I then waited for Andy to come down, and went off in the other direction. There was a lot to see! Lots of junctions, funny gullies going up, flooded stopes, crawly bits, and whatnot.

After a while others started appearing, but not all. Jay mentioned Mick and Phil had decided to also stay on the surface; Mick perhaps because of health reasons, and Phil, according to Jay, because he figured the rope was too slow. But my, much faster, rope was there too! I ran back to the shaft and yelled his name. Gone already! Oh dear. But on the way I encountered a cute shrew. That was bonus! I didn't try to catch it; I knew how hard it is, and I didn't know where to safely put it. And this mine is very close to the surface; it has countless many exits that are blocked for humans, but maybe many of these are open to something as small as a shrew.

I went back and continued my explore. David and Rich had gone down some squeezy bit where David throught there were pretty formations. I first scouted out the far end, and then went down to where I thought the two of them were. I found only David! I helped him light up some pics and then went to get Rich, who had not found the way down and had headed back. By then, Andy had started his way back up.

 Beautiful subtle blue flowstone on the floor... pic by David

With Rich delivered I went back to the shaft, as I figured I'd seen it all by now, and maybe the rope was free by now. It wasn't, but this meant I could hold the rope for Jay. He heroically started up using only his arms! That's quite a feat. But he was so kind as to haul Andy's heavy bag up and that could not be done on arms alone. I'm still impressed!

When he was up I followed. I was surprised there was no sign of David or Rich. And it was raining; we were waiting somewhat uncomfortably. Then Mick and Phil appeared from their explore. There seemed to be very much to see! Maybe next time. And Phil told me it wasn't the thickness of the rope that had stopped him; just the sheer number of people on the rope. That made me feel better! And by then I heard voices; David and Rich were on their way. And it was till so early! We changed, and had time to go to the pub. We had a swift half and then left. It was still only 21:50! A pleasant surprise!

18 October 2016

Modern teaching frustrations

I'm still educated the old-fashioned way: with overhead slides and books, and copying journal articles from the library. Grades were written or printed on a piece of paper and stuck to a notice board. A lot has changed.

Do I need to point out everything goes online these days? There is this programme, Blackboard, which probably every university uses; it provides secure web space for lecturers and students. If you want your students to do an assignment you upload it, and any files they may need for it, to Blackboard. If you give a lecture you put your slides on Blackboard too (and perhaps a recording of the whole shebang). Or an instruction video, if you think it's needed. Students upload their work to it, and you release the grades and their feedback to them via the same route.

One thing this allows you to do is check who has accessed what and when; I put "statistics tracking" on all my recsources, so I know who has accessed the assignment before the introductory lecture, I know who has accessed the files needed for my assignment before the drop-in session, and I will know who hasn't even accessed the files shortly before the deadline.

It is useful to know these things, but on the same hand it's frustrating to see what's going on. You can tell all students repeatedly they need to look at the assignment before you give an explanatory lecture, but they ignore you completely. I have organised a drop-in session for MATLAB, and the students have been told both by me and the module organiser that they HAVE to have tried to do the assignment before then as otherwise they will miss the opportunity to ask for help. Two workdays before, only 60% had even accessed the files. Sigh.

I will make sure I know exactly who has accessed the files when the drop-in session starts. I expect there to be students who will only start the assignment then, but moan the drop-in session wasn't long enough as they didn't end up having all their problems solved. This modern technology is only a tool; it does not make students behave differently, it just tells you more about their behaviour. I intend to have the frustration of knowing there are students who leave stuff to the last minute to be offset by giving me ammunition to defend myself if they try to make their procrastination my problem!

16 October 2016

Climbing with a washer

When I found out I had Viking hand I started adapting to this new situation. The first change was: do my pull-ups on my fingers rather than my hands; that way I would not put any pressure on my lump. But one puts pressure on one's hand doing other things too. My experiment with a swing-bottle washer underground was a success; it was time to try that method in the climbing hall too. Some weeks ago I had had a good night climbing, with one of the men who tends to push me quite far; I lead higher graded routes than ever before. I wore myself out so much I refused to lead the last route he suggested. I even struggled quite a bit to do it on top rope. It was satisfying, but there would be repercussions.

The next day my lump hurt quite a lot. The tendon seemed to get stuck behind it, which hurts, and pulling ot over the lump hurts too. I had to do that all the time. It wasn't pleasant! My enthusiasm for climbing suffered. The week after I came late and the week after that I didn't show up at all. But then I decided to go and try climbing with the washer.

I teamed up with Glyn, a new member of the club. He also pushes me quite far. I wanted to try some vertical routes first; these are not so heavy on the hands. You can have your weight largely on your feet, and the grips tend to be smaller, so you naturally use little more than your fingertips. Climbing on the vertical wall went well! My hand felt fine. And at the end of the night, I decided to try to lead the route that had given me so much trouble that previous time. It had quite some overhang, with big handholds. That's about the hardest work for the hands; if you're clipping in on an overhang, you probably have most of your weight on one hand. If this would work I would be fine!

File:Moby Dick Kamouraska.jpg
 Wikipedia image of a climber on an overhang. Pic by Remi Maupetit.

I got up without problems. My hand felt fine! And even better: it still felt fine the next day. So as long as I have washers and leukoplast available I can do all I could without the Viking hand malarky! For the time being, at least. But so far so good!

15 October 2016

Sunny day surface exploring

The lure of the dig is strong. I thought there would be some people going this weekend! I didn't know if I would join; I have stuff to do, and I figured the Saturday could end late. Weddings do that sometimes. But things went differently.

While the messages were flying around about who would be available when, Simon suddenly drew our attention to the amazing weather forecast. It would be a cloudless day! A bit of a pity to lurk in a big hole. So Simon suggested we go to the Gwydyr Forest, which is Swiss cheese, and check out a few adits and shafts of which we weren't exactly sure what their nature was. I was won over! The Gwydyr forest is a lot closer than our dig, we would only assemble at lunch time so I would have the morning for chores, and Phil had to be home by six so it couldn't get late either. So we would have good company, underground exploration, an opportunity to enjoy the weather, AND it wouldn't take too long! I was won over.

I biked to Phil, met his cat, ate half his lunch and got into his car. Off we were! We met up with Edwyn, who had a cold and sounded very sexy, and Mick. And no Simon! It had been his idea but he had bailed out. Oh well; Mick and Phil had a few holes they wanted to investigate.

We set off in the glorious sunshine. We first saw some capped or filled shafts. Later we found a stope that looked so promising we decided not to explore it; there were some people not with us who probably would want to be there if we did. We then found a small stope I dropped into on a rope, only to find out I could walk out on the side. Through knee deep water! I would be sloshing the rest of the day.

 The exciting stope

 By then I was getting hungry, and Phil too, so we shared my lunch as well. Then we were on our way again. We later found a few more shafts and adits that were all collapsed or filled in with rubbish. Such a waste! I dropped one more stope (Mick and Edwyn were in it for the walk, and Phil politely let me go first every time) but that turned out to be filled in with discarded fences and similar unpleasantness. But by then it was time to get back to the cars. Phil's dinner was waiting for him!

Three explorers in the blazing sunshine

When we got home and mailed our exploits around, Simon (of course) mailed back he had already explored the bit we had found exciting. The bugger! He should just have come with us. But at least we had had a nice night. And David, in the end, never made it to our dig. Oh well! Let's hope we get to the digs soon!

14 October 2016

Wedding Martyn and Malen

Our old lab technician got married! It was a low-key wedding; the reception was in their back garden. But they live in a idyllic cottage (which is a converted stable) on a dreamy estate and it was lovely. The weather was collaborating too; it was the nicest autumn day one could wish. I biked to the venue (it wasn't far) and was warmly welcomed by groom, bride, relatives and who not. It was great! There was a pig on a spit (reared lovingly by another colleague) and witty best man speeches, and a welling-up groom. I think all went perfectly! I hope they'll have a spiffing and lasting marriage!

The newfangled spouses; pic by Alejandro

Mood shot of the garden

13 October 2016

Finding the balance between self-reliance and social functioning

I wasn't always good at enjoying my own company. I remember hanging out with bullies in primary school, because it seemed better than being alone. I remember wandering the corridors of secondary school, looking purposeful, with the combined aim of hoping to bump into someone that would be willing to hang out with me, and looking like I was pursuing something worthy rather than being desperately looking for human contact.

I don't remember such scenes from university, maybe because I made actual friends then. Several of these will soon be visiting me! So it became easier to satisfy my desire for social interaction. The desire was still strong then, though.

When I moved to a different country things started to change. If you move to another place every few years, to somewhere you know nobody, and might even not speak the language, you learn to sort yourself out. And as I was moving to all these different places with lots to discover I started to shift from pursuing people to pursuing activities. If you move to a new place it offers new opportunities! And you don't have friends yet so you start to pursue them alone. Not all, of course; in Norway I did a lot of hiking, climbing, skiing, and sea kayaking with other people, but only after I'd made friends. In Plymouth I rather quickly joined the PCG (and later CMEC and DCRO), and in York the YCC. Here in Wales I have joined the Thursdaynighters and Clwb Mynydda Mรดn, and countless Welsh classes.

The thing is, once you start filling your life up with, say, mine exploring, running, climbing and learning Welsh, you get used to restricting yourself to that and nothing else. Another thing is that time runs out to do anything else. So a difference is that in the old days I spent a lot of time only socialising; these days I rarely ever do. If I see people now I am engaging in some activity with them, be it some outdoor pursuit of learning Welsh. Or walking the dog. If I now am in the pub, there is a ~0.95 chance that that is because I am having a private session with Jenny, my Welsh tutor. The only exception here is, I suppose, sometimes having dinner with Marjan and/or Jaco, or any consumption with Guy and/or Kate.

All the people that I see doing stuff might very well vanish from my life as soon as I stop doing that stuff. Not all, I hope! But the vast majority, I suspect. This sort of means I spend more time with acquaintances and less with friends. And it's fine! I am quite happy spending my weekends alone, doing chores, going for a run, or going for a hike. I also don't mind going to things like movies or weddings on my own. But not needing other people very much anymore does have its downside: as I am cramming my leisure time full of what pretty much is investment in myself (improving my health and fitness, improving my skills) there is little time left for other people. I'm turning into a growling loner! And that would be pushing things too far. Liaising with people is important. I now sometimes look back on the last few days and realise I should have been more social at several occasions. Oh dear. It is very, very good to be able to depend largely on yourself, but if you turn into some antisocial sod you've let it go too far! I need some recalibration I think.

Typical case of me being on a scamper on my own