14 December 2017

Try another pair of boots

The previous weekend I had not got out of town! Too busy. The weekend before that I had been on a bit of a scamper to try out my new autumnal boots. But this weekend I would have some time for fun, and conditions were predicted to be wintery. I figured that was a good moment to finally test my winter boots! I had bought them almost a year ago! But season had been coming to an end, and I had also been busy.

I was knackered after a long week so I didn't plan to go out too early. When I wanted to have a (not excessively early) breakfast I noticed I had run out of milk. That meant: a trip to the corner shop. That pointed out to me the roads were ice! Oh dear. My driveway was ice too, and it's quite steep. Hm!

Luckily, I had some more coffee to drink, and some packing to do so by the time I was ready to go out all ice had melted away. Good! I had packed warm clothes, crampons and an ice axe just in case.

I had decided to go up the path of which I had done the very beginning a few months ago. All looked different now! And it sounded different too. The hill opposite was clearly the go-to place for the regional children to go sledging. And sledging is best done with some screaming!

First snow for the boots!

It was a bit sloshy and snowy but that was good. It gave my boots a bit of a test! Soon I was further than I had been in September. The day was a bit gloomy! It looked like dusk from the very beginning, but at least it was dry and I could see the horizon on all sides. I didn't encounter anyone but I saw footprints in the snow, and at one point I saw two dots in the distance who were undoubtedly the creators of those. I was following the ridge in the general direction of Tryfan and would just see how far I would get.

This was close to noon, although it looks like evening

 Snowy selfie

I had started at 11:30 and gave myself two hours to walk up. That would leave me two hours to come down too. By then the light would be running out! And by 13:15 I was hungry so I sat down. I had lunch next to a wall and then decided to come down. I went down cross-countrying; I always had liked the valley but it's a bit swampy. Today that didn't matter!


Small light patch between the mountains

I had already been quite deep into snow but now it got up over my knees in places. Good! The boots (and the trousers, which were also new) did their job well. I was very comfortable! After most of the way I came across the old tramway we had walked during a swamp hike. I could comfortably walk back!

 Snow up to my knees! The boots had to do some real work. 

 Back on the tramline

It hadn't been a very long or overly exciting walk but the boots have been approved of and I had got some fresh air and some winter feeling. Good enough!

13 December 2017

See the ceiling again in the dig

It was the evening between the two days of student presentations. I wasn't quite with it! I drove to Tanygrisiau without problems, but when I changed I noticed I had forgot my gloves. Oh dear. Gloves are good to have! And I also was wearing two different knee pads but that's only a style issue.

I met Miles at the manager's office which was starting to look very official. He lent me a pair of gloves. He has 8 shoe sizes bigger than me so it wasn't ideal, but better than nothing. He then joined the not-quite-with-it club by almost forgetting his bag. But we got to the dig! And took the drill up to the far end. Where Miles thought a drill bit would be waiting for us. It wasn't! But we had a chisel.

The first thing I checked was whether the wall had further collapsed. It hadn't! That's good. 

Neither of us really felt like going back to look for a drill bit so we just decided to work with the chisel. Miles wanted to attack a rock that made access a bit tight, and there was a rock higher up that I wanted to get rid of. I had stacked it somewhere along the way, as I was clogging things up lower down; but now with Miles in there too, the risk of one of us accidentally kicking it down was getting a bit big. It had to go! But best not in one piece. And we could reduce the rock we had blown up the last time a bit more with chisel and crowbar.

We did a fair amount of chucking stuff down. And we started to remove some stuff from above the rocks we had been trying to get rid of. The ceiling there stepped up vertically; there was plenty of space for loose stuff there. And as we hadn't quite got rid of the two aforementioned rocks, they actually sheltered us from falling rubble. A positive coincidence! And with a lot of that stuff brought down we could now see how far the ceiling stepped up. About a meter!

I couldn't document this as I had left my camera in the generator chamber. Not too far from the drill bit, we would find out. Oh well. We had a hot beverage too but then I suggested we go out. The weather forecast for later that night was atrocious, which was an argument that worked with Miles as he was in his rather open-to-the-elements Landrover, and I also wanted to still be sharp the next day. I had more presentations to attend!

When we came out there was hail on the ground. And there was more on the road. But nothing too bad yet, and I got home without incident, only just after 11. The Thursdaynighters, who were out a lot later, told tales of how bad the conditions would get later. We had escaped! And it finally starts to feel like we are getting close to making a breakthrough from that bottleneck we have been chipping away at for months...

11 December 2017

Student group presentations: how it went

It was clear beforehand some groups were more collaborative than others. After some of my lectures, one of the groups would stay behind in the lecture room to talk through their stuff. I was sure they'd nail it! But there were groups too of which members contacted me to say they struggled to get the group together. That's not such a good sign.

The day before the presentations one student asked me if their group could be moved as they had a doctor's appointment at the same time their presentation was scheduled. But it is a group activity! I asked if that was OK with the entire group. The answer only came 5PM. Oh dear. They wanted to be on a 9AM!

The next day the group  who wanted to present at 9AM was nowhere to be seen when we gathered in the lecture room. So all stayed as scheduled! It does make sense keeping things in chronological order.

Then it started! I had roped my increasingly ubiquitous sidekick Lynda in for support. Student presentations should be marked by more than one member of staff. She was rather sniffly but she was there! And we had our PhD student Ed. And Jaco sat in on one presentation.

The first group set the standard. They sorted the Oceanic Anoxic Events. They focussed on only one, which kept the entire day within the past 100 million years. The next group was the one I was worried about. One person had mailed they were ill, one seemed to be having that doctor's appointment, one had intended to drive them there but decided against, one didn't show up without explanation. Oh dear! The ones that were left weren't all equally prepared. When they knew they were two presenters short I volunteered to step in. I could do the bit of the person with the doctor's appointment, but the bit by the ill person was very biological and I couldn't do that. At least it's not required for the exam!

The discussions after the presentations were lively. Great! That's important. Possibly the most important bit. And all of it was recorded, so the students can revise with all the information provided. I hope it works!

Then we had the third group. They provided one explanation for the glaciation of Antarctica. They were quite smooth! They ventured into the alternative explanation a bit, but funnily enough, the next day the other group did the same thing in the other direction.

By a bit after one all groups were done. Good! I don't think many would have been fine with three more sessions like that. And it left me with going back to the office and trying to collate all feedback forms and notes and whatnot.

The next day didn't start so well; another message of illness. But this time it was Lynda! She was already in a bad state the day before. It had got worse! I sent an email to the people who had indicated they were willing to attend one or more sessions to remind them; they were needed now! But the first session I was on my own.

The second and third session I did have a sidekick. The second session, as well, was about as good as I could have hoped for! Great! And then it was over.

I think it worked. The students have access to the powerpoint files and to the recordings. And they could ask whatever they wanted during the discussions. I think it has worked! We'll see in the exam; I hope they do the questions pertaining to this part of the module well! And the others too, of course. We will see!

It took me a while to collate everything to grades and comments. Next week I will check with Jaco, Lynda and Ed if they agree with what I made of it. I expect so. It was past 8PM when I got home that night. And then I was tired! But satisfied.

File:Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica by NASA.jpg
Antarctica. Pic by NASA

10 December 2017

Student presentations: experiment

I've never taught the Palaeoceanography module before, but I've always participated in the concomitant student conference. James used to teach the module, and then invite the likes of me to sit in on some students talks, and mark them. I loved the concept! The students not so much...

The idea was that James had picked six interesting topics, related to climate and the ocean, and which all had something to do (even tangentially) with the modern day situation. They ranged from about 200 million years old to only some 3 or 4 million years. But most of the module deals with the last 2.7 million years.

In earlier years, the students presented on an article (related to one of the topics) each. When all students presenting on a certain topic were done, James would summarise the topic. As each student had only read one article, they would not see the connections before all presentations were delivered. And maybe seeing the connections would not work entirely. With James' summaries, hopefully, all did! The topics are part of the curriculum; the students have to know about it for the exam.

The problem with that system was twofold; on the one hand, it did not enhance critical evaluation of evidence or discussion among students; on the other, if a student would not show up, all information they were supposed to present was missing. And more and more students would refrain from showing up! A lot of them hate presentations, and it wasn't weighted heavy enough to convince everyone to try it anyway. I thought I change things. I made it a group presentation.

If every topic is dealt with by a group of about six students, these six will sit together and discuss (one hopes). And if one hates presenting then maybe they put more time into the making of the slides and let someone else do the talking. I hoped this change would sort out the issues!

I knew I also made things worse, in a way; not all groups would function as desired. There is always the risk of people trying to freeload. But one has to give things a try! And in post-university life one encounters group projects. Just that they have disadvantages doesn't make them go away! So a bit of practice can be a good thing.

Anyway. I know stuff about these six topics (Mesozoic Oceanic Anoxic Events, the Permo-Triassic Thermal Maximum, potential causes for the glaciation of Antarctica, the Messinian Salinity Crisis and the closing of the Panama Isthmus) as they are just part of geologic/climatic knowledge, but there is a limit as to how much detail I have ready to fence with. And I needed to be able to know it all in order to be able to fill the gaps the students might leave. So that is quite a lot of extra reading! Hence that I had a lot to do recently...

File:Great Salt Lake 2.jpg
 Great Salt Lake; a few million years ago the Mediterranean might have looked a bit like that. Picture by Bobak Ha'Eri.

08 December 2017

Weekend of hard graft

I thought I would be doing daft stuff with the Yorkies. I ended up almost the entire weekend either at the kitchen table, or on the couch, with a pile of scientific reading. What went wrong?

I had let some preparation work for my big module pile up (more about this later). So I had been working the whole previous Sunday, and I still had more. If you're that busy you don't go around chasing people up too much... I had let the Yorkies know I'd love to catch up on Friday night. I assumed they'd get in touch when they would be done with their day programme (which would probably involve being somewhere where there is no signal) and then I'd drive down to meet them!

By five-ish there was no sign yet. I brought a pile of reading and went home. Once there I phoned the one Yorkie; it was dark by now, surely they were out of the hills? But there was no answer. They were staying a bit in the sticks, maybe they had no signal where they stayed, either! I started cooking a meal for myself.

The next morning there still was no sign of them. I decided to just go and work! I knew what they planned to do but wasn't sure if that was their final decision, nor did I know when they would set off. And the trip they wanted can be long; I wasn't sure if I could  spare that much time! So I just stayed home. And read.

The next day I did that too, until about three. Then I stopped! I went to see Guy and Kate (and of course, Pi and the cats!) That was lovely. And the evening I spent with Jaco and Marjan. A relaxing end to a strenuous weekend! But without Yorkies. A pity!

File:Gashydrat im Sediment.JPG
The white stuff is clathrate; one of the topics I had to read about. Pic by Wuzel007

PS it stayed busy for a while; hence the late post!

05 December 2017

Progress in the dig

The dig had been a bit neglected recently! But this week things got better. We would have a normal-length night in there (no malarkey of me being late or Miles having to leave early) and we used it well. I suggested to Miles that for a change, he goes up to the far end and does what he thinks is right there. I could continue my throwing-stones-down regime below him, without risking throwing anything on his head. And he agreed!

I was making lovely progress chucking things down, while he was rummaging at the coalface. It turned a bit challenging; the wall was losing structural integrity. Oh dear! But he managed to coolly sort the situation, at least for now. Then he could proceed! First he somehow managed to remove the rock I had split the time before. And he decided he wanted to take one step back and blow up a rock that probably would bring down a lot of loose stuff. He struggled a bit to drill it, as it's not a big space and it can be hard to find a position in which you can drill, but he did it. I went and got the supplies (in two goes, as the first time I had forgot the actual explosives) and he charged the shotholes.

After the resin-setting tea break we blasted. One of the shotholes had not been adequate! So the rock was damaged but not shattered. Oh well. We can do a bit more next time! Maybe we can swap places then, although the advantage of me doing the throwing is that if any rock gets stranded along the way, I'm a bit quicker at scampering down and sorting that out. But then again; I can fold better into drilling position in the far end! But at least we now have a modus operandi in which we are both inside the dig; that is a heck of a lot more efficient than me at the top, and Miles at the bottom, having to stay clear most of the time!

03 December 2017

Observed again

Observations with a bloke called Tom: part2. I had observed one Tom in October, and now it was time to be observed by the other Tom myself. He had picked my lecture on climate change for the occasion. And it's a challenging lecture! There's alot to the topic. I had 50 minutes.

I would not only have Tom as an extra person in there; I had also just the day before met a new colleague: Stella (not my former office mate). It turned out she was working part-time as an outreach person who would go around visiting schools in the surroudings, encouraging schoolkids to go and pursue their education at Bangor University, in Welsh. Or at least, that's how I understood it. And that's cool; another person to speak Welsh with! And when I mentioned I had once given a lecture about Milankovitch cycles to A-level students she was very interested. When I pointed out I would lecture about that very topic the very next day she decided to join. Nice!

I like the topic. I figured it went OK! I also managed to get the actuality in there: climate involves volcanoes, and just that week a big one was threatening to erupt. That didn't go unmentioned!

After the talk Stella ran off to a meeting, and I had a little chat with Tom. He had liked it! He's a biologist, so he didn't have much background in it, but I had managed to capture his imagination. And he had some good tips on how to further improve.

It turned out he had also got a bit of inspiration from how I did things. I suppose a win for all! I must say I think this observation scheme seems to quite work for me...

File:Mount Agung, November 2017 eruption - 27 Nov 2017 02.jpg
 Mount Agung on November 27th 2017. Pic by Michael W. Ishak