29 August 2016

Matlab; ready for testing

I keep writing on this blog about my successes in MATLAB. And now I think all is well! The last time I mentioned I needed a script by Connor adapted, so the resulting graph looked better. And that's sorted (see below)! Yueng adapted it so the plot with only the modern samples looked good. Then I tried to adapt that script once again so it could plot both the modern and fossil samples. That didn't work so well. I'm struggling with that stuff! Then I asked for help again; Yueng came over, looked at my script, added one "end" and then it worked perfectly. Amazing! It meant I had managed to make the script read the larger file, and plot the two types of data with a different symbol with a different colour scheme, and had only missed one "end". I'm better at this than I thought! I was very impressed with myself. And grateful for Yueng's patience. I've now asked James to test out this new version. I hope that all goes smoothly!

Viking hand

On the James Cook, I noticed I had a small lump in my hand. It sat on the joint of my ring finger, just above the palm. It bruised easily and wasn't very comfortable. I wondered what it was. I considered going to the doctor but I tend to see if unusual physical features vanish of their own accord before I do so. So I waited! And it didn't bother me too much for a while.

Recently, it bothered me again. My pull-ups seemed to make things worse. And it felt like the tendon sometimes got stuck behind it. Maybe time, about a year later, to pop to the doctor after all! Which is what I did.

She felt the bump and mentioned it was some abnormal growth which would cause the tendon of my finger to contract and pull my finger in. I can fully stretch it now, but I run the risk of losing that ability. She didn't give me the name of that ailment, but I immediately knew enough! This was a description of Viking Hand, or, as it is more officially known, of Dupuytren's contracture. Oh dear. I didn't see that coming! The people I know that have it are in a later stage, which is a bit more prominent, and I hadn't recognised my mild symptoms as the same thing.

File:Morbus dupuytren fcm.jpg
 This is what my hand will start looking like (albeit in my case it will be my left hand, fortunately). Pic by Frank C. Müller

So now what? The website of the associated society suggests in the early stage you can get radiation therapy. Beyond that stage, surgery or steroid injections become options once the contracture becomes too much of a nuisance. Should I try to get radiated? I could imagine it's a hassle, and I don't know how fast the issue will progress. Maybe let things run their natural course? Or go and see if I can get onto a waiting list for treatment? As it's a slow disease I have some time to think about it.

A slightly wry thing is that steroid injections are a common treatment. They tried that on my feet, decades ago! It was torture. They couldn't really see where they stuck that needle, of course, so they went by my sounds; when I would start screaming they would know that they had reached the problem bit of my foot, and emptied the syringe. Not pleasant. Maybe fate is bringing these times back, for a laugh?

In the meantime I think of the people I know who have it too: the first was my close colleague Tasha, who introduced me to its existence by finding out she had it. When that happened it was already in the contraction stage; knowing Tasha, she just ignored it in the earlier stages. She would walk around on a broken leg for weeks.

Then there was my colleague in Plymouth Chris. And the latest is my fellow climber Tony. He's our best climber, and his hand is also already in the next stage. I am glad to see he can still climb really well with a hand like that! And he says it does not hurt, although he also mention discomfort while doing pull-ups. But that is a detail. My future, although now festooned with a nuisance, still looks rosy...

PS I remembered my old caving mate Lionel had it too. It didn't stop him either!

25 August 2016

Swimming with divers

We see a lot of underground Wales but there is a lot more to see if you can dive. I sometimes see a chap on our forum who does exactly that; he sometimes asks for people willing to help carry diving kit to the part of a mine where the dive will take place. I had never met him, but I am quite curious to find out what's there where we cannot go; so I applaud his efforts and am willing to contribute. And then a mail arrived from Phil: he would show the chap, Paul, the mine where we had been swimming before, and where we would like to take our ROV (which has been out of action for some two years now; such a pity!). If anyone wanted to join? And I was keen; I like underground swimming. And who knows what this may lead to.

In the end, family issues prevented Phil from actually swimming the mine himself, but that was OK; Edwyn and I were around, and I had swam it before. And I had forgotten where we had entered and exited the mine, but Phil did have time and energy to guide us to the entrance.

I drove to Edwyn, got a cup of coffee, and then we drove to the lakeside cafe to meet the others. Paul, his wife and dog, and another Derbyshire caver were already there. And then Phil appeared too. We went for another hot drink in the cafe and then we were off. To my surprise, the divers changed into their wetsuits at the parking space. It's quite a hike up the hill! And it was August! Edwyn and I carried ours. The other caver didn't have one, so he probably shouldn't get into the water at all.

We walked up, and soon Paul stripped to the waist. His wife informed me she now understood why I was carrying and not wearing the suit. But we got there! Phil had said the entrance was at the bottom of the first incline, but there was no sign of it; some scouting by Edwyn revealed it was at the bottom of the second incline. Good job Phil! But we got away with it. I started to change into an exhaustive layer of neoprene. This place is cold!

Edwyn saw the neoprene build-up I was working on and decided he might have to bail out. He only has what you could call neoprene dungarees; not enough for this place! So the two divers and I went in. We swam the first chamber, and shone our torches in the next. Didn't look diveable. We swam across and repeated the exercise. Same! We then swam one more and reached the end. Hm! Where was this alleged incline? But we admired the hobnailed bootprints. And swam back. From the other side of the third chamber, suddenly an onward passage came into view. Aha! That must have been our goal. But the divers realized it wouldn't be easy to get the kit to that place. They already struggled to get out of the water without kit! But at least they now know where it is, and what it looks like, and they can make an informed judgement on whether it's worth the effort. And I had had a nice Sunday swim!
 An old picture by Simon of Phil swimming one of the chambers

On the way back we could have stopped at the chamber with the artifacts, but we didn't; the divers had left their dog in the car and didn't want to leave him there for too long. And we were all getting cold. Especially the divers, as I was wearing neoprene gloves and a hood, and they weren't! So when we got out I went to my dry clothes immediately to change. Nice and snug! I also fancied a cuppa so I went out with Edwyn while the divers took some pictures of the first chamber.

After we had all come out and gone back to the cars we discussed the matter a bit, but bot Edwyn and I had stuff to do, so we wished the Derbyshire folk all the best and left. At his place more coffee followed and then it was time to go home and do things such as writing this blog post. I'll keep an eye on the forum to see if our guests will try to indeed dive this place!

24 August 2016

No mud run

Mud runs sound fun! I think I'd love a combination of a race and an assault course. So when I drove east with James (for a meeting that didn't make it to the blog) and saw one announced on a banner beside the road, I memorized the information on th banner, and registered later. It's not cheap, these mud runs! It was £65. I suppose providing a lot of obstacles comes at a price. I figured it would be worth it!

In the week coming up to the race I suddenly received an email with the subject "Order REFUNDED for Land Runners UK - Pen Y Mynydd Mud Run Challenge - 2016"; what was that about? I checked; the refund had indeed taken place. But why? There was nothing on the website suggesting the race was cancelled, and I hadn't requested a refund. What was going on? I mailed the email address listed in the email for further information, but didn't hear anything back.

The race would be a fair distance away. I suppose I could go anyway in case this was all a mistake,  and explain the situation, but I didn't want to drive for nothing. It could be cancelled after all. And I didn't feel welcome anymore! I decided to forget the whole thing. I had had a lot of stuff going on the previous days so a calm Saturday would actually come in handy. So no mud run debut for me! Maybe some other time!

This didn't count as a mud run

22 August 2016

Underground where before we just walked past

Twice I walked past Cwt-y-Bugail mine. Once scouting, and once with my parents. It looks like a nice cute small mine. And you get there via a very nice leisurely tramway! So when several of us had been away at the Cropredy festival for two weeks, and I had been having lots of guests, and many of us had not been underground for two weeks. And many of us were tired. Someone suggested Cwt-y-Bugail, and we went for it. With my dad I had seen the junction in the tramway we would be coming from; it was nice to now see it the whole way. And then the mine! I would finally see it. And there was more to it than I thought. The spoil heaps are so small, but we ended up seeing many impressive chambers!

The walk up was nice. When we got close we saw a white Landrover approach. Would that be Miles, of Go Below? It turned out not to be. Instead it was a chap for South Snowdonia Mountain Rescue, scouting locations for an exercise. Having bumped into us he wondered if a shared exercise would be in order. We thought it would! But we also thought the midges were getting unbearable so we parted ways; we wanted to get underground, where the midges don't go.

Discussing with the MRT chap

We explored one entrance, which contained some machinery, a loaded-up cart, and a fallen-over crane. Nice! We also spent some time just lying around and looking at the darkening sky and eating apples. A relaxed night! Another entrance allowed us to drop a level. It went a fair way! I didn't try to take pictures in that part of the mine; I didn't have my tripod with me and the chambers were huge. But it was enjoyable.

The fallen-over crane

Some of the best sleepers I've ever seen underground

Pretty much everytime you see a spoil heap on the surface it's worth checking underground! Which means I still have a LOT to explore...

20 August 2016

Organising forams

It's not the first time this happens to me. One works on a project, you get students working on it too, and then you want to use their results but realise there is at least one issue with their identification. And then you have to do it all again. I should learn and be more involved in the counting; if you don't do it when they're actually doing the counting you run the risk of having to do it all again on your own, often with very little documentation of hat the student had doen in the firts place.

The previous time this happened, the student had at least sorted the forams to a certain degree. But now we had had two students who had been involved in the Laugharne fieldwork, during which we make them pick 100 specimens, and not sort them but just identify them. So that was what they were used to and that was what they did. They had just placed one or two forams on each of the 64 numbered rectangles on the microslides we use. As they both had tried to count to 300, they had many slides per sample, and there was no way of having an overview. And then I tried to make a type collection from the forams these students had picked. And then I saw we did not agree. If I went to a sample in which they claimed a certain species was abundant I often found few, and sometimes I found nice specimens of a species they claimed not to have. And they had only given us total counts; not count sheets with what they had called the specific foraminifera on the various rectangles, so we could not reconstruct what they had called what. A problem! What to do?

I discussed with James; he suggested we get external help in. I had been the one student's main taxonomy adviser, and our former colleague Anna had helped the other. So if Anna would pop by, we could make sure we agreed on everything. And she would! Which was good news; she is not only good with cold water forams, but she is also very nice. And she would be in town for unrelated business anyway. All good!

We first looked at the type slides; fortunately we tended to agree on taxonomy. Then we had a look at the students' samples. We started with organising one sample each of the one student and discussing what we called all the species. Then we went on to the next. And when we were at it we ended up reorganising them all. It's a bit of a chore; one of the samples had been spread out over five slides and sorting all that is a pain. But I'm learning! My arctic taxonomy has not been this good since I left Norway. And at least we now have thoroughly identified samples with proper documentation. And I think I have managed to convince James to at least make sure that our current students hand over documentation of their slides before they leave. Better to have them organise their slides, but well, count sheets is a start. But for now I'm having a trip down memory lane being neck deep in forams again!

The way the students left their slides

The way we leave them

18 August 2016

Visit by Sanja

About a week before my dad arrived I suddenly got the email from Sanja. She was sailing along the British west coast and figured she could pay me a visit. Talk about surprises! I wasn't sure if she would show up while my dad would still be there but I figured all would sort itself out. And it did.

For reasons of sailing (about which I don't know much) they kept to the west coast so they ended up in Ireland. No problem! There is a ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, which Sanja said she'd take. From there she wanted to bike, but Anglesey was a bit larger than she initially thought. She'd arrive at 18:40 and it's a fair way. I suggested I load my tent onto my bike and ride her way. There is a very convenient bike route (route 8) all the way from Holyhead to pretty much my house, so it figured to find a place along the way. I thought something with a lake would be nice, and the only feasible lake was Llyn Coron. I had no idea what it was like, but I liked the nearby Aberffraw dunes. I just hoped the lake would be good too! I missed my local adviser David, who was away, and probably busy, so I didn't want to phone him. It would have to do.

I packed some random foodstuffs and two Welsh beers in addition to my tent and accoutrements, and started biking. It was a fair way! I got there about 19:15 and scouted the terrain. It wasn't exactly as I hoped; the lake was smelly and the creek leading into it was worse. That wasn't good! Swimming looked unlikely and drinking water was yet to be found. I walked along the path and luckily did find a small stream that looked good. A good tent spot was quickly found. I unloaded the bike and planted it at the entrance of the path; we hadn't made any clearer plans than "meeting in the NW corner of the lake", so I thought indicating the path would help. I then settled with a book. After a while I heard a thump! And that was Sanja leading her bike over the bump at the start of the path. Yay!

I showed her the tent spot and the water source. It was a bit muddy but would do. Then we pitched the tent and gathered the food (she had also brought random foodstuffs) and had a picnic, overlooking the lake in the fading light. It was great! As we had spoken Norwegian in Tromsø I wanted to speak that now too. Having mailed to and fro the past days had brought the language closer to the surface. So it worked! She forgave me for the occasional Welsh phrase that slipped out.

It turned out she was working for a consultance firm established by a chap who likes to go off on a boat for long periods herself, so she had taken a year off to sail from Tromsø to at least La Coruna. From there they'd see. She liked the job. It sounded great! And her boyfriend had also managed to take a year off. It sounded typically adventurous! So we discussed what our lives were like, and I was brought up to date regarding other Tromsø folk. It sounded like most were doing well!

Time flew and at some point we had to go to bed, which we did. I had, of course, not drunk enough, and I was sweaty which I very much dislike when going to bed, so I slept badly. Oh well! I woke up to a calm pink morning, crept out of the tent, and started making coffee. Then I called Sanja. Then we had breakfast.

Llyn Coron in the early morning

Our home for the night 

We then loaded up and biked home. It was a fair way! Once there it was time to enjoy some mod coms: tapwater, for instance. Some tea was in order! Sanja was keen to have a shower after three months on a boat. Then it was lunch time. And after that we walked into town; Sanja wanted to know what it was like. On the way back we came past a bench overlooking the strait. We sat down and just enjoyed the view. We were sleepy! We didn't do much more that day. We cooked and ate dinner and made plans for the next day; I had to go to work but Sanja would bike to the Ogwen Valley and climb Tryfan. I possibly would be climbing that next evening but I didn't know where yet. I'd just see!

When I got up in the morning the climbing mail was there. We'd be just beyond Tryfan; perfect! I wrote Sanja a note to say where exactly we would be and went to work. After work I drove to what I thought was the agreed place, found out it was the wrong place, found some others, drove to the correct place indicated by Eifion, texted Sanja where we would be, and then got ready for climbing. It was a beautiful day and the Ogwen Valley is stunning! And the climbing was good. But I was a bit restless. Would Sanja appear? That shows I still have a lot to learn. 

I wondered if she would have biked home anyway. I didn't want to be out climbing late while she was at my place! I don't get a guest like that every day. I told the others I was leaving, got my rope back, and walked to the car. Along the way I thought I saw a small figure on a bike. And it was Sanja! We caught up a bit but quickly plonked her bike in the boot of the car as we were plagued by midges. We went home, but there we needed to get some food. The four crosses didn't serve food anymore; neither did the Anglesey Arms, the Bridge or the Hide-out. We saw the Taste of India being open but they only did take-away at that our. Grudgingly they served us that, and then we could go home, eat, and go to bed. The next day Sanja would leave! The boat was waiting.

I biked her to the roundabout where route 8 signs started and said goodbye. I should make sure I go and visit her too one day soon!

Arty goodbye pic with lots of shadows

And a less ary one in which we are actually recognisable