29 March 2017

Dig comes to a slowdown

The time had come to start tackling the next chapter of the dig! I had reached the next chamber on, chamber X, weeks ago. The week after I had tried and failed to make the access route safer and easier. Then the week after that I had managed, but only at the end of the night. I had only had a casual look beyond, and Miles hadn't been through at all yet. It was time that changed!

Miles had announced on the forum he had hurt his arm. I figured he would not let that stop him. It did stop him going in early; there is no point being in there on your own if you can't do any work. When David and I got to the parking lot early I decided to not wait and go up. I saw big wet footsteps leading to the adit; Miles wasn't very far ahead! And indeed; when I got to Generator Chamber I saw an unusual light. Miles was in there putting his boots on. We could go in together!

We went straight to the end. Along the way I did look a bit skeptically at some slabs in the ceiling that wouldn't stay up forever; they would do for now, though. I went through and set up my tripod in the deep cold water while Miles had his first good look. I then joined him, which meant wading through the groin-deep water. We started prodding away at the collapse. It wasn't looking good. Miles figured it was just the level having collapsed. But that could be a bit of a challenge!

We prodded away at it for a while. We managed to removed quite some rock, but there isn't an awful lot of space to put it. This would only get worse. Miles was using his arm, of course. And we had music; Miles had brought his phone.

After a fair while we sat down for a break. We had coffee and tea but the chocolates were in the previous chamber! That was bad planning. One makes do, though. During our break we saw a light: it was Jay visiting. He hadn't been in our dig for a while! He didn't want to get into the water (he gets cold easily) but he was impressed by the progress we had made since the last time he had come to have a look.

 The collapse, photographed with a dirty lens (oh dear)

After the coffee we went back; I wanted to blow up the ceiling slabs. While I was coming out I saw another visitor approaching. It was Jason. He watched Miles negotiate the passage which is still far from Miles' preferred dimensions, and then I introduced the men. I let them do the chatting while I focussed my attention to the drill. Drilling was my job because of Miles' arm, and I was glad for it; I was very cold after having waded through the cold water. Miles was still dry due to his funky boots. The drilling did me good! But while I was charging the drill holes Miles announced he had to leave. We said goodbye and I finished the charging. Then I had a chat with Jason while the resin set. Jason wanted to witness the blasting. When that had happened we had a little look at the result, but then we headed out. I was very cold and it was getting a bit late too.

When we came to Generator Chamber we found Jay, who was keen to go out as well. Before we knew it David and Don appeared too. Good timing! We went up. Jason offered me his jacket as I was shivering. That helped! I felt much better pretty much instantly. While we were waiting for the last people to come up the pitch Paul and Sharon appeared; the latter was fairly new to us. I trust she will have a look in our digs some day soon. It's never happened before that the people elsewhere in the mine felt the need to come get us!

Next week Miles can't be in the dig, and I'm sure the Dig 1 people will be elsewhere too, so no digging at all will happen. Too bad! But I'm sure we'll be back after that! We will have to see how our dig goes, and decide it it's feasible. If we can't go through this collapse we will have to dig upwards through one of the earlier chambers to have a go at the next level up. Even if we have to give up one attempt we are not defeated!

28 March 2017

Talking to the parents

As lecturing staff you're supposed to do your bit for recruitment. The school has regular open days. I had worked on these before, as research staff; then you can be asked to do some science demonstration. This time I was supposed to talk to parents of prospective students to answer questions. I wasn't sure how I'd fare; I was educated in a completely different system, and I do know about the programmes I teach on, but I don't normally have anything to do with things such as what various programmes we offer, what the requirements are, how much freedom there is, if any special kit is needed, etc. I did my best, though! I even found a parent of a student who wanted to do my kind of stuff. Most of them are on the road to marine biology.

My job runs out before the new cohort arrives but we'll see. I hope I made a positive contribution...

27 March 2017

Student beach trip

For the Earth, Climate and Evolution module I teach on, the students go into the field twice. They are short trips; they are picked up in Bangor at 9AM and are delivered back at noon. In between we have to drive to the starting point, brief them, do the trip, and get them back to the buses. That leaves little time! But they are still nice trips. This year the Cwm Idwal trip was blessed by amazing weather; the Red Wharf Bay trip would not be THAT good but at least there was no rain forecast.

In Red Wharf Bay we show the students the very old rocks of central Snowdonia (Cambrian to Silurian) and the volcanics rocks associated by subduction. In Red Wharf Bay we show them the slightly later rocks, from when the continents had stopped colliding and the rocks deposited were mainly shallow water carbonates. We have to fill in some geological periods from which there are no sediments in that bay. In red Wharf Bay this shows itself as glacial sediments from the last glaciation lying directly onto Carboniferous limestone. A gap of 360 million years!

My students were rather keen. When there was some time to spare some eagerly started to collect nice rocks, shells and gastropods. I failed to find a nice crinoid for one of them. And the sun came out about halfway into the trip! It was a nice morning out!

 One of the other groups on the carbonate platform

That same group admiring something from a distance

26 March 2017

Back to Beacon

The climbing club I am a member of, like most climbing clubs, climbs indoors in winter. We tend to go to the local climbing wall: Indy, three Monday evenings a month. The fourth Monday is for the bigger one in Caernarfon: Beacon. I had not been for a while; Beacon is further away and more expensive, so when you get there you want to do a proper evening of climbing. Work sometimes doesn't leave me enough time to make that work. I had bailed out a few times! But I had been the previous month, and had a good time. I had done some suitably challenging routes. And Beacon has more where that came from; the place really is big. This time I went again!

I started trying a route that wasn't classified as very hard with Eifion. He couldn't do it. Then I tried: it was hard indeed! It had a nasty overhangy bit that was hard to get past. Eifion kept the rope tight (we were on top rope) and with that slight bit of cheating I managed in the end, but my arms were properly pumped.

I then tried the wood route. Normally grips are made of some modern material, but Beacon has a route with only wood blocks and slats and such. I had been eyeing it since the first time I went to Beacon! Now I finally tried it. I couldn't get to the very top hold without a bit of help from my belayer but now I've tried it! It was fun. And hard work, again. My arms were so pumped they were lumpy.

I did a few slightly more easy routes but then Catrin, who I was climbing with, suggested going to the part of the hall with the highest ceilings. There she climbed a 4c, but that sounded a bit too dull. There was a 6a in the same place; I decided to try and lead that. It started OK, but I got to one point from which I really couldn't see a way on. I chickened out and swapped to the 4c.

When the rope was up, Catrin and Ika tried to climb the 6a on top rope. Neither could do it! The I  tried and neither could I. How have I ever tried to lead it? But by then my arms were done for the day. Time to go home! But it's nice to get to Beacon again once in a while. Although hopefully we will be climbing outdoors again soon! That would make anyone forget Beacon. Until next winter!

Ika and Catrin (left) getting ready to try the 6a

24 March 2017

General knowledge

There is a lull in my lecturing. What I now spend most of my time on is general stuff; teaching students writing and presenting skills, and marking things such as essays about rather widely varying topics. It's great! That brings you into contact with articles you never would read otherwise. I read stuff on the formation of the moon, on why the Antarctic has such a strange distribution of species over the range of water depths, and whatnot. I'm having a blast!

Having tutees is also great. I noticed some of them struggle to stand up for their opinions. If you ask them why they did something or how they would do it, they might hide behind their hand and say they don't know. I decided to try to give them some practice; I made up some statements about life in general and university life in particular, and had them argue for and against it against each other. That was great! It was lovely to see the dynamics and because of that already worthwhile, but I think it's good to work on one's general life skills as a student. I might still be working on that myself all these years later, but that is more an argument in favour than against.

Soon I will be lecturing again, but for now I'm enjoying this!

 The moon. Pic by G.H. Revera (from Wikipedia)

22 March 2017

Back to where we were before

Last week I had been disappointed to not manage to get to the far end of the dig, as I had the week before that. The infamous door-shaped slab was still stubbornly in the way! It was a bit of a pain to try to get rid of it. I thought there were things leaning against it, so I didn't want to be there when it would shatter or fall over. I also preferred to stay out of the way while drilling. Drilling means vibrations, vibrations can bring stuff down! But this week I would have another try. It was me on my own; the others were elsewhere.

When I got to the generator chamber I filled up the generator of which the tank was only half full. Beyond I found some dig-related items neatly displayed on a rock, with a little arrow pointing into the dig. Aha, a message from the other side! I packed the items in my bag and went through the chambers we had already broken through to the working end.

I found Miles having already drilled several holes much further out; he was more on a mission to make the passage wider than making it reach further. As usual. We charged the holes up and blew them, doing a bit of causeway work while waiting for the resin to set. I had managed to get though the level as good as dry! But properly dry is even better.

We had quite a lot of rock to clear after blasting. We sorted it, and still had time for an attack on the Door. I decided I could risk getting a bit closer to it while drilling than before, which made it more comfortable. Or rather, less uncomfortable. And Miles had made an extra short charge! That would come in handy, as it was wildly difficult to drill deep enough holes for a classic charge in that rock. But with some effort I just managed, and one of my previous attempts was deep enough for the short charge. Time to give it a try!

Spot the six holes in the rock

After blasting I  saw to my dismay it was still standing. But it moved! And it seemed it was not supporting any of the other rocks! So I banged it with a crowbar, kicked it, shoved it, rattled it, and finally managed to topple it over. It was still a bit in the way so I shoved and pushed a bit more until I had shoved it properly out of the way. Success! There was another vertical slab, but that one was also standing free, and I could now topple that over too. The way was clear! Success!

 The view back into the passage! Notice Miles' light on the other side.

I tried to convince Miles to come through and have a look, but he decided he wouldn't. It was almost time for him to go home and he feared he would get carried away if he would come through. We will leave that for next week!

21 March 2017

Lovely morning in the field

It can be trying to be the module leader on a module that involves all kinds of activities, especially if they involve other people and off-campus places. If you're the dean, you might get distracted from  such matters. Our dean is module leader on the module I have been teaching on most years since I came here; it involves a practical and two field trips too. He asked me a few days if I was available for the practical. He also asked me if I knew anyone who could help with our annual trip to Cwm Idwal; he was short on staff. I subtly told him he hadn't actually asked me if I would be on that trip myself and that I wasn't registered to join. Oh well.

That day I got up and realised it was gorgeous weather. Great! I biked to the mainland where the students would be picked up by buses. I joined my colleague Lynda and got onto a bus. At the start of the trip we would meet Colin, the module leader (and dean).

He hadn't joked he was short on staff. We had 79 students and three members of teaching staff! We had two technicians with us to act as first aiders, so it could be worse, but still, each of us trip leaders had more than twenty students. That was quite a different kettle of fish compared to the five I had had the previous time...

I peeled of with my share of students and brought them to a hillock with an amazing view. From there you look into Cwm Idwal itself, and Nant Ffrancon, and Dyffryn Ogwen. I did a lot of the talking there; about the geology, the history of science performed here, and some of the glaciology.

I made sure I did all the talking (also about soils, botany, and a bit more about glaciology) on the sunny side of the valley. I wasn't wearing a coat, but I was wearing sunglasses! Lovely! And with the weather being like that the students were in a lovely mood as well. A good day!

I got back at the buses with only a few minutes to spare. The other two groups were late. Typical! But we loaded the students up again and set off, arriving back in Bangor just in time. Next week we'll do the beach trip again! Chances we'll have equivalently great weather are slim, but you never know...

Briefing the students at the beginning

Walking onto the hillock with the good view

Another group in the distance