20 January 2021

Voice recognition in Welsh

When I am doing work, I used three languages. Most of it, of course, happens in English, but I try to do everything I can do like that in Welsh, and I have a few Dutch-speaking colleagues, so if I send them an email, I might very well do that in Dutch. But then my RSI hit. And I had to dictate everything. And all the software I used for that only spoke English out of these three languages. So I suddenly became a monoglot. On my phone, which I use for personal purposes, I just solved that by using recorded messages. The phone doesn't care which language I do that in!

When I write work emails, it's perfectly fine to do that in English if I could have done it in Dutch. But I had a bit of a problem with not using Welsh. I have put so much effort into learning it! And if I have an opportunity of communicating with a student in their native language, I don't want to let it slip! We don't have many Welsh-speaking students, but of the ones we have, quite a few feel quite strongly about their mother tongue. So I am proud to be able to let them though some of their education in Welsh! But now I suddenly couldn't anymore.

Just before I went off on sick leave, my Welsh tutor advised me to contact someone in the Welsh language centre (Canolfan Bedwyr), to see if there were any possibilities for dictating in Welsh. But well, then I went off sick. But I am back!

On Friday I contacted the centre. And within the time, I got a Teams call. I already was in one so I couldn't answer! But later that day I had a chat with their technologies contact. And he told me that indeed the University has software like that! And he showed me where to find it and how to get it installed. All in Welsh, of course. He wasn't native speaker either, and I think he was glad to find another keen learner. And he asked me to give feedback!

When we ended the call it was time to cook some food. And I didn't get around to trying out the software the rest of the day. On Saturday I downloaded the files. It wasn't easy! The firewall of my computer really really didn't like it. I had to overrule a lot of warnings that this software could hurt my computer. But in the end I got it done! But I also wanted to prune my trees and get firewood and talk with a friend and have lunch and go for a run and all that kind of thing, so I didn't try it out. But on Sunday I did!

I'm writing this after only having tried it a little bit, but I already have some impression. It is fairly self-explanatory. It has one big huge disadvantage with respect to Dragon; it doesn't work in real time. You have to say everything you have to say, stop the recording, and only then will it show you what it has made of what you have said. As I don't think it has a correction function, I can imagine it isn't crucial to see what is happening while you speak. It is not as if you can stop where the software went wrong and correct as you go along. But that does mean you can't keep track of you have said. And as the software isn't very sensitive, you have to articulate like the clappers, so you had best know what you will say in advance. That pretty much means writing it down beforehand. That makes it a lot less hands-free than Dragon! But still a lot better than nothing. So I will be using this. I can write emails to Welsh speakers in Welsh, and even provide feedback in Welsh to students. I appreciate nobody has the kind of budget to develop voice recognition software in Welsh as there is available for its English equivalent, so I'll try to just make the most of what this is! And I am sure it is only going to get better!

My first attempt with the new software! Not bad.

19 January 2021

Distant running Buddy

 When I am running, I feel like I am running in a perfectly normal way. You know, with your feet straight and your legs straight and all that. But I don't! I supinate like the clappers. I always wear my shoes out by just taking the sole off on the outside of my shoes. Especially on the right! My right foot supinates more than the left. I have no idea why. And it is not a problem for running, but it is a bit of a problem for the environment. By the time the whole protective outer sole has gone on the outside of my right shoe, the rest of the shoes are generally still perfectly fine. And that is a waste! Trainers are notoriously difficult to recycle. Or maybe I should just say impossible. I'm sure they either get incinerated or end up as landfill, and neither is a good idea.

I always buy my running shoes second hand; there are plenty of people who think something along the lines of "new year, new me", buy sporting equipment, and then find out they can't really be bothered to actually use it, and then sell it off again on eBay. And then I buy it! That's how I got my road bike as well.

When I select shoes to bid on, the one thing I always check is the state of the outside of the soles. If that's okay I'll buy them! And the last time I had a look I found a fairly cheap pair of shoes, that had quite a lot of wear, but just not where I produce it. The person who had been wearing these shoes seems to do all their propelling with their big toe! The soles were completely worn out in that location. But I never wear out that part of the sole. So it's okay! And I bought them.

I've been running on them a lot! And it's perfectly fine. I like this idea of one person wearing out one part of the sole, and then someone else coming in and wearing out the rest. And by the time two people have had their way I suppose it may be time to indeed bin them. Next time I'll try to find a pair like that again!

As good as new, as far as I am concerned!

18 January 2021

New Welsh course started

 New Year, new Welsh class! The previous semester I had done a course about local history. I had done it before, and hoped that there just would be a lot of new material. And there was quite some, but also was quite some overlap. Additionally, this course was done through Skype, by a tutor wasn't overly confident with the software. So it was mainly him talking, and all of us participants in one big virtual room, and we were sometimes invited to give input, but I think we all felt a bit bad about saying too much. Only one person can talk at the same time!

This new course was about Wales, Welsh and the Welsh. This sounds a bit broad, but we'll see what he manages to cover. The first class was about dialects. The tutor (which I had not met before; that is unusual, as I have been stalking the Welsh learning community for years now) told us some things, made us do some exercises, asked us to listen to some sound fragments, and regularly sent us off into breakout groups. I really liked these breakout groups, as then you can finally discuss some things among yourselves. We were always in the same groups, and mine was three people big; that way you can get some words in. I enjoyed it!

I can't remember what the next session will be about, but we have a Team for this course and I have faith the tutor will upload documents beforehand. I like how this class makes the most of online learning! I think I made a good choice.

17 January 2021

Three household Gruble game

 I had had loads of fun with my sister playing a game of Gruble (I think it's called Scattergories in English) for New Year's Eve. And we thought we should do it again! And she had the brilliant idea to ask if my local friends Jaco and Marjan would want to join. And they did! So one drizzly Sunday evening we played again.

I suppose this is a very lockdown thing to do! If you can only see people on a screen, then it doesn't matter how far away everyone is. Why not have people in different time zones there! As long as you can find a time that suits all.

We first had a trial round as the Menai Bridge contingent hadn't played before. And we had to restrict ourselves to 2 languages. But that was okay! We had lots of fun. My sister won. And afterwards we chatted a bit more, but not too much, as it soon was bedtime for her.

I think we will do this more often! I suppose this lockdown is not going to end anytime soon. And why not have a game evening? And I like Scattergories!

16 January 2021

Leftover marking

 In the New Year I went back to work! And rightly so; a new term of teaching was about to start. And that needs to be prepared! And that is a lot of work. And of course, we had to absorb the teaching of the colleagues who had left us. So there was lots of do! So, I got straight to work on that, didn't I? Well, no.

In autumn I had had a virtual fieldwork assignment. I had gone off sick not too long before its deadline. But it was my assignment! I had inherited it from James, so it wasn't really my idea, but I had always ran it and marked it pretty much on my own. I would have colleagues with me in the field, but otherwise it was just me. And nobody else in the school seemed confident the mark it. So even though the deadline had been mid-November, not a single report had been marked! And the students weren't clamouring for it, but well, they would have had reason for that. So I wanted to get that out of the way. But it is quite a job to mark it. And it is even worse now; everything is slower if you work your computer by voice. But well, it needed to be done! So I just sat down and started ploughing through the reports.

I really hope I can finish this soon, because immediately afterwards, the exams are coming in. And we have student essays to mark; for two modules. And as I said, I also have to prepare my teaching for when that starts immediately after the exams! I suppose I should stop blogging and get back to it…

15 January 2021

More snow than you can shake a stick at

 The mountains had been beautiful for weeks, but the weather has been very good. Additionally, I was working full-time again. So I didn't get to enjoy them that much! But the first Saturday of term had a very good weather forecast, and I intended to make use of that. I look for it to having my lunch sitting on the rock, surrounded by snow in all directions, with the sun cheerfully shining over all of that! So I chose a direction to go in (long smooth valley; nothing risky as this is not the time for that sort of things) and packed my bag with food and drink and warm clothes and suchlike, and also my crampons and snowshoes and ice axe, to be prepared for everything. And I set off. The weather was gorgeous. And the start of the walk was treacherous. All the slushy snow from the day before had turned into solid ice! And my little dead-end street doesn't get attention from the council, nor does it get enough traffic to remove the ice and snow accidentally. I almost wanted my crampons! But I shuffled my way out of the village successfully.

I took the long road to the start of the path; there is a lovely public footpath, but it runs close to houses, and the inhabitants don't like it to be used in times of this pandemic. And the path itself starts in woodland. This looked magical with the snow and the sun. And when I got out of the woods, the shrubland was magical as well. But clouds are starting to appear! And they were increasing in size and number. Oh dear. Snow is never the same when it's very cloudy. For a start, you can barely see it! But the sun still sometimes managed to break through the clouds, so I pushed on.

The wintry village under a cloudless sky

The fairytale-like woods

Nant ffrancon looking absolutely amazing!

I started out just on my boots; that was fine. It was clear that some people had even gone here in much more relaxed footwear. Among the footprints in the snow I saw one set that clearly displayed the word "crocs" in the middle of every footprint. Rather them than me!

When the path became obscure, and the terrain difficult with grass in clumps I put on my snowshoes. Even with those, the terrain was difficult to negotiate! But I got a bit higher up on the hill and things improved.

Selfie with glacier glasses

Some Carneddau horses

Difficult terrain near the stream

A rare beam of sunlight on the plateau

I was following some footsteps, and suddenly two of its makers came into view. They had decided to go back because the snow was too deep. And while later I found the last person who had contributed to them; she was sitting on a rock enjoying a snack. It turned out she was Bangor University physical oceanography alumnus, and had worked in wave energy. That was cool!

When I moved on I soon found the place where she had turned back. It was an impressive hole in the snow! But I pushed on. And soon I hid the steepest slopes I had considered negotiating. It took me up rather fast, but that meant ending up with my head in the clouds, seeing nothing. I didn't think that was a good idea. So I took off my snowshoes, traversed to the edge, cast a look into the valley below, had a drink, and then traversed back and onwards. My idea was to get to the eastern side of the valley, and walk back that way, so my walk would be a loop. Soon I had to put the snowshoes back on. The snow was incredibly deep and soft! Even with snowshoes I sank down into it over a foot all the time. It was hard going! But after a while I reached easier terrain. And the sun started to reappear a bit. And there were skiers on the slope; it was fun to watch them.

Where the physical oceanographer had decided to turn back; notice the difference between snowshoes and no snowshoes…

Looking back down towards the sea

The sun returns a little bit! (When it was gone, photography wasn't very successful)

A bit of a comedy shot; you can just see me walk down, suspecting nothing, and then vanishing into the stream… 

The going was fairly easy until I got lower down on the slope again. There are terrain was again a pathless swamp with hidden streams, soft deep snow, boulder fields, and clumpy grass. That was a challenge! I was glad I saw a small creature (a weasel?) to make that part of the walk a bit more rewarding. And that some point I even vanished into the snow. I had fallen through the snow bridge over a small stream! It's not that easy to climb out again if the snow is almost half a metre thick and you are wearing snowshoes. But I did it. And I went on!

I was glad when I hit the path again. I had done enough difficult slogging through deep snow! I took off the snowshoes and walked out of the hills. The sky was already orange.

I had assumed that the roads in the village would have thawed by that hour, but no! It was interesting to walk back to Gerlan. Once I was there, though, the roads were okay. Except, of course, the very last bit: my own street! But I got home and could nestle on the sofa with a hot drink. These three hot flasks I had had with me had, of course, not been sufficient! And I was resigned to the weather warming up the next day. At least my street would be less treacherous! And I had had a good day in the snow. It's amazing you can do that sort of thing from your front door!

14 January 2021

Snow gets in the way

 We had had snow on the mountains for a fair while! And on the second last day of the year, it even snowed in the village. But that was just sleet and that vanished soon. But on Friday the eighth, it snowed again in the village, but this was more persistent. When I went out for my run, I stepped into the slush in the street, and I had to focus on not falling on my face rather than getting some exercise. It got better when I reached the path in the woodland. But that had really really slippery bits too! And when it rose significantly above the valley floor, things got really bad. It would have been okay for walking in walking boots, but for running it really was not a good idea. So for the first time since moving to this house I aborted my run and just went home! Not even storm Francis had managed that. I know that this snowfall would mean there would be a lot more proper snow in the hills, which would surely be something to be enjoyed on the Saturday, but for now it hindered me in my exercise. But that's okay! I can lose one day…

Not very good running conditions. And noticed the uncharacteristic amount of clothes…