30 November 2012

What scientists think

I received a request for giving feedback on Elsevier, as I had recently published an article in Global and Planetary Change. Whether they wanted to improve service, or find out more efficient ways of getting money out of us hapless authors I don't know, but I'm an obliging creature, and I filled in their questionnaire. And at the end of it they gave a graphic summary of some of the answers given. I thought it was quite telling, so I thought I'd place it here too. Do have a look for yourself!

29 November 2012

Computer problems explained

I now know what the problem was. More or less. And it's a strange problem, but at least I will now know how to avoid it. What was the cause of all my misery? The combination of docking station and powered USB hub. For some reason, these two don't seem to go together. And I think that's strange; one would expect a hub to just work with whatever computer you plug it into. But well, the trail of broken hubs and external hard drives (and mouse! and some memory sticks!) is compelling evidence that at least this specific type of docking station and specific type of powered hub do not collaborate.

My hub had worked fine with the old computer. It had blown upon contact with the docking station. And that made me suspect the docking station might be the problem. I mailed a chap from the helpdesk, and he said "Oooh now then that could be the cause (...)" So we explored that route. A chap from the company that delivers the computers to this university came and replaced it. We tested it, and talked about what the problem could have been. He came up with the incompatibility possibility. Well that could have been it... without the hub it had all worked fine.

I checked the user's manual of computer/docking station. Strangely enough, what they say about the issue is "Certain USB devices, such as optical disk drives and hard disk drives, have high power requirements. Due to the power output limitations of the USB ports, you may not be able to operate more than one such item at a time." If there ever was an encouragement to use a powered hub, so one can run lots of high-power appliances at one time, that must have been it! Even though the chap I was talking to claimed a powered hub counts as a high power device, but I think it basically is the opposite. It's a device that has all the power one may need without needing any itself! So I accept that it was the combination of dock and hub that caused the problems, but I think that's still a flaw in the docking station. It should be compatible with powered hubs. 

So I'm now back to normal, just using the harddisks that still work, and just plugging them in wherever there is a port; it's veritable spaghetti here. But as I think the damage is not my fault I want financial compensation. I hope I'll get that; be it from the manufacturer of the docking station, the company that provides them to us, or university insurance (preferably not the latter - it's not the university's fault either, if you ask me).  I'll do my best to get that. But I won't buy a new hub with the money. Even though I still think they're marvelous inventions, they're just not a good idea at this very workspace...

It's good to be able to get back to work again. And I'll keep the blog updated regarding the fight for compensation!

27 November 2012

Micro-and macrofauna

It's that time of the year again; we're teaching a module on sea level change. This year it's more exciting than last year; this year, it's basically me running the practicals. A string of coincidences, either foreseen or unforeseen, means Roland is mainly otherwise engaged. It makes it more exciting!

The practicals take place in a room that's used by several disciplines within the faculty. The last practical we did would be followed by a session by eco-toxicology or something like that; one of the wet benches featured a wide variety of de-frosting fish...

26 November 2012

Computer problems - NOT AGAIN!!

I am close to tears now. I came into the office after 5 today, having participated in a course I will later say more about. I saw that there was a package for me - would it be the so long awaited hub? It was!

My computer problems began when I got a laptop as a replacement for my Georgian desktop. I plugged my hub in, and then everything went haywire. The hub, which had been working fine with the old computer, spontaneously died. And the external hard disk that held all my data died with it. It took forever to diagnose the problems, send both hub and disk back to the manufacturers, get my data back from other hard disks, get a replacement disk, re-organise my files, and get back to work. Everything was almost working, and getting the hub back would restore everything back to normal.

Keep dreaming. I got the hub, needed an USB port for it, so I unplugged what I thought was the most innocuous: the mouse. I plugged it back into the hub.

It didn't work. I plugged it back into the docking station. Nothing. I did a restart. It didn't help. I did a system restore. It didn't help. This mouse wouldn't come back to life. And the computer claimed the device was working properly...

I gave up on the mouse, and send a message to the support desk, using the touch pad of the laptop. Then I got worried about the external hard drive not showing its reassuring light. It wasn't working. I had plugged it where I want it: in the hub. I tried it directly in the laptop. Nothing. I tried a USB stick in the laptop. It got recognised! Then I tried the stick in the hub. Nothing. By the looks of it, the new hub hasn't survived being plugged into this computer for even five minutes. And by the looks of it, it has taken my brand new external hard drive with it. NOT AGAIN! I AM SO TIRED OF THIS! I know it's impolite to shout, but i just want to work! I just want a computer that works! And yes, as I don't get any central disk space at this ludicrous university, that does involve a battery of hard drives. And therefore a hub. Is that really too much to ask? I sent a follow-up message to the helpdesk. By now it's almost 7PM. I'm going home. I don't think it will be a nice evening... and tomorrow I just hope the helpdesk chaps show up. If they get my mouse to work I can at least get back to work in a reasonably comfortable way. I'll have to immediately run another back-up if my disk is indeed fried again. And then what? Send these peripherals back again? Not much use if the replacements won't last a minute... I hope they find out what's wrong. The hub is windows 7 compatible, the box says. It sure isn't compatible with this machine. If it's the machine that eats my peripherals that needs to be stopped. I am here to do research! Not to battle losing battles with hardware! @&$£+&%!!!!

23 November 2012

Presents from fate

I moaned about christmas presents in the last entry... but I got some from nature, and circumstance. These days I come home to lovely flowering plants! And I also get presents the traditional way: through the chimney. Is it Santa Claus? Is it Sinterklaas? Or is it just energetic autumn weather? Either way, there are large quantities of slate flakes and dust and whatnot coming down these days. In a way a nuisance, but in another way  something that helps getting into Sinterklaas mood!

22 November 2012

Christmas presents

"Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like." It's true! And then you have the variety: too many people spend too much money buying presents they don't want to give to people they don't like and who don't want them in the first place. I remember British christmas panic from my PhD days; Alex, my English office mate, would always get very stressed late in the year. All these people to come up with a present for! And he claimed that he was only a mild sufferer of end-of-year stress. Many presents aren't very inspired as a consequence.

The high street knows all of this, and is trying to make money out of it.My supermarket has shelves full of what they call "christmas presents". In other words: cheap, one-thought-fits-all presents. Is that really what you want to fill your house with? Is that really conveying warm fuzzy feelings?

And in this age of clutter, should you give people stuff that you don't want to give them, and that they are not to keen on? I doubt it. I think the whole concept of christmas presents has become a monster. It's very engrained in British society, so I don't think it'll go away any time soon, but I'm glad I'm Dutch, and I have relative immunity to that disease...

21 November 2012

More autumn Plym

It was another one of these Sundays; a beautiful sunny day, following a ditto Saturday which was mainly spent in the office. And without really doing it on purpose, we this time walked from a convenient parking lot, along the Plym, to exactly the spot where we had started our walk the week before! It involved some clambering and sloshing through muck, as we walked up along the side of the river where there is only sometimes a path, but that only made it better. And the day after it would be dark and rainy again. Good we got out for a short while...

The starting point

Dewerstone Rock; the most popular local climbing venue

View from Dewerstone Rock (we walked around, mind you!)

Decorative mushroom

Gratuitous pretty autumn stream

20 November 2012

Take the stairs

Atmospheric CO2 is rising alarmingly! Electricity prices are rising too! Obesity is an epidemic! These modern times ask for energy efficiency and for exercise. Or rather, they should. One thing that doesn't ask for any of this is the building I'm in. Or the big glamorous building at the south end of campus. And I'm not optimistic about the new Marine building. What is it that I think they get wrong? These buildings discourage use of stairs. Which I think is silly.

How do they discourage it? The staircases are very uninviting, they are narrow, and they are tucked away in obscure corners of the building. Take for instance the staircase I use for getting to the 5th floor, where my office is; it has grey PVC flooring, grey steel railings, and undecorated, white walls. It has few windows, and it is so narrow you can only pass someone with some difficulty. This is quite characteristic for the new buildings on campus.

The staircase in "my" building: not very attractive!

The funny thing is that the building that houses the labs, which is from the 60's of 70's, is quite a different story. The staircases are wide, spacious, and light; walking through these to the 8th floor seems so much quicker than walking to the 5th in my own building. And yes there is no decoration here either, but at least you get quite a good view over the city!

The staircase in the building that contains the labs

When this building was built, CO2 levels were maybe 80ppm lower than they are now, and who knows how much lower the average English BMI was. It was good to have these staircases back then, but we really need them now! If I ever enter the newest building on campus I'll search, with fear in my heart, for the staircases. I'll report back!

Pay tax

Starbucks was dragged to the pillory. Amazon and Google followed close behind. One does not raise much public sympathy with trying (very successfully) to avoid paying tax. I don't think they should; they earn money enough. If they suddenly would abandon the tax havens and whatever else they have that keeps their money away from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the management top might not trouser the plethora of millions they do now, but I don't think they would get into such financial trouble they would have to fire people. And I think they should. Pay tax, I mean; not fire people.

Do they listen to me? Well, in an incremental way. If I don't buy their products and don't use their services I'm doing my part. With Starbucks that's easy; I rarely get my coffee there anyway. Amazon and Google are more difficult. I'm using Google right here! And Amazon; I used to buy lots of stuff from them. I tried the past week not to. And then you notice how accustomed you are to them. I, for instance, wanted a case for one of my hard disks. Amazon sells good and reasonably priced ones. I thought I'd try elsewhere.

 From the Amazon website

The nearest shop in office paraphernalia does not sell hard disk cases according to its website. The nearest electronics specialist has some, but they're not very much to my liking. Where else do you buy that stuff? Googling (oh dear!) didn't reveal much. Neither did walking through town.

I found another online shop that had something that looked good and wasn't particularly expensive. We'll see! If I have to search that hard every time I'll lose more than HMRC gains...

Gratuitous Dartmoor autumn pics

A bit over a week ago, it had been a beautiful Saturday, which I, as I explained in a previous post, had spent in the office. There was still more to do, but I also wanted some fresh air. Hugh felt the same. So we had a nice, short, between-work-and-household-obligations walk. Lovely!

19 November 2012

100ft crawl

To some, a 1000 ft crawl may sound as bleak as a 1000 ft stare. To me it sounds as glorious as a face that launches 1000 ships! So when it was announced there was such a trip on offer, I didn't hesitate. Even though I had heard horror stories of it being a streamway, with places where, if you don't crawl through fast enough, the water backs up over your head...

We would all go underground in the same area; there was a less demanding trip available for those not so keen on extensive crawling. We first got the other trip going; then we set off in search of our muddy adventure.

There were five of us. We all slid and glided down the steep slopes to the stream. The entrance would be somewhere on the other bank. But where? After only a few minutes of happily splashing around in the river, in the dark, Richard recognised something. We had found it!

Josh and Richard vanished. Then Bernard gave it a try. But he got stuck. He contemplated his options while Alex and I slid in too. He would try it a bit more; it would gain him a few bruises, but no access. He decided to join the other group.

Then we were four. Richard was a bit hesitant to slide into the first puddle; you have to go through on your belly. But after that first puddle, things don't matter too much anymore.

Fairly soon we came to a junction. Josh wanted to go the not-so-standard way. We agreed to all go, which got us to a deep puddle soon. It was fed by a stream coming out of the wall; that was the way on... Richard tried it, but couldn't get through. Then Josh wanted to try it. That involved him first crawling over Richard. From where I was wedged, that looked rather amusing. Josh got in! I decided to try too. Which involved me crawling over Richard too. That musty have been amusing from where Alex was situated...

Me quite near the entrance; I'm still relatively clean, and the cave is still relatively wide...

It was tight. It felt like it was possible, though it would take quite some force! But I soon realised that this was one of these places where you indeed run the risk of blocking the stream. With your head at the wrong side. I decided to wiggle back out. Alex decided to not even try.

We went back to the "normal" route. And that was eventful enough! Some of it is crouched clambering, quite some is knees-and-elbows work, and only a small part is belly-crawling. In varying amounts of mud. Somewhere along the route, the tunnel splits, and you have to go sideways through either of the two passages. One also has to be careful with the sometimes narrow floor; Josh got his boot stuck, and it took two to get it back out...

Josh consulting the survey, with Richard in the background

After a while we reached the end. And then we went back. That was rather quick; we now knew what to expect. Soon we were back at the first junction; there was one passage on the survey from there. It lead to a sump. Josh was unstoppable and wanted to check it out. I followed. It was quite nice actually; the streamway there was active, so the rock was clean. And I could walk (be it  crouched) almost all the way (quite unlike Josh, who is taller).

I soon heard "this is not a sump, this is just a hole! But how small do you have to be to fit through?" And if you've known Josh for more than two minutes you know he will try. He did. He had to take his helmet off to fit through. He could see it went somewhere! So he tried to crawl through. Before he vanished too far, he told me "if I shout, pull me out!". A wise thing to say. Not much later he shouted "pull!" so I grabbed his suit and gave it my best midwife impression. It turned out that indeed, he had blocked the stream, and the water was rising, but he was wedged in so badly he could hardly move on his own initiative. Luckily I have sufficient pulling power, and *pop* there he was again!

Josh entering a very small hole

 Josh almost vanishing

After some evaluation of what he'd seen we decided it was beer time. We crawled back out. Outside we found Bernard, who had come back to the entrance to wait for us. That was nice; this way he could take a picture of us looking all the same. And then it was time to wash the worst of the mud off in the stream, clamber back up the hill (with hardly an idea of where we were going, but "up" meant "out", eventually), get changed, and drive to the pub. Where we could just have a pint before we got too tired and the pub too closed. That was nice! I would be slightly bruised for days to come...

Alex, me, Richard and Josh. Does anyone notice all the guys are in red and blue, while I am in green and yellow? No? Oh dear...

16 November 2012


With attempted theft of both my bicycles and my car, further vandalism on the latter, frequent occurrence of loud, drunk people roaming the streets at night and waking me up, an alcoholic downstairs neigbour who likes too loud music at sometimes ludicrous hours, several flyers from the police coming through the door asking if I'd seen a crime or a person they were interested in, I am interested in policing. When suddenly elections for the Police and Crime Commissioner came falling out of the sky, I decided to vote. Do I really know what a PCC is for? No, not really. Did I read more than the blurbs of the various candidates on the election website? No. Should I have voted? I think so! A blurb is more than nothing. At least my vote was one that didn't go to the UKIP candidate! And this might have been my most powerful vote ever; only ~15% of the electorate showed up...

The results could come in any time now!

15 November 2012

Computer problems: an update

I've had the computer now for over two weeks! It's been trying. But it's getting better.

The problems with the computer itself have been solved. I have received a replacement for the faulty external hard drive. I have copied everything over to it, and I have configured SyncToy to back it up on two other hard disks. I must say, that package works rather nicely! I used to use Nero Autobackup, but that's a most clumsy program. It makes back-up files that are cryptic, big, and difficult to get rid of. It took me a long time to remove the autobackup clutter. SyncToy is much more elegant.

The replacement hard disk! And some homeless USB plugs...

I have also received my new digital pen; I got it to sort-of work. It seems to be rather dependent on the mouse; if you have the mouse configured left-handedly, the digital pen can only do right clicks. No use! I now changed the mouse back to right-handedness. Which means the digital pen will only do left mouse clicks. And I operate the mouse with the wrong fingers. It's far from ideal, but that's all I seem to be able to get with this hardware! Maybe I should have invested more; I bought a fairly cheap Trust pen, but maybe I should have coughed up more (~2.5 times more) for a Wacom; they have a better reputation. My old one was a Wacom; it shows its quality by having served me all the way from my PhD to my 3rd postdoc position! And would have gone on if its software hadn't gone outdated...

The new digital pen (left) and the old one (right)

I'm still waiting for my hub... I run out of USB ports. As soon as I have it I want to make an extra backup on an extra drive, so I have everything in three locations. And I'm safe! And then I have an empty disk for in case one of the ones in use gives up.

Once the hub is here, things can get back to normal! I look forward to it...

Cinderella has space

I have now been walking on new insoles for almost four days now. They clearly do the job! They don't feel symmetrical; maybe 'll go back for a check-up. But altogether I'm satisfied. Does that mean I'm now walking on shoes size 4? No...

I still have one pair of shoes my "real" size. I bought them for my PhD graduation ceremony; I couldn't find anything I could fit my soles in... and a Dutch ceremony is fairly short (1.5 h? 2h?), so even though you have to stand during all of that, I figured I would manage. However, when I attended that ceremony, the shoes were somewhere in a moving company's lorry somewhere in Europe. Not very useful. But I never got rid of them.

The new insoles are indeed much thinner, but still too thick to allow me to wear them inside these shoes. A pity! I think I can move to a size 5 now. I might go shoe-shopping on Saturday... for now I'm wearing size 6 with woolly socks!

A new insole!

13 November 2012

New building! Hurray?

Plymouth University is building. My old office mate Alex, who did his undergraduate studies here, wouldn’t recognise the campus anymore. The building I’m in is only a few years old. The big eye-catching one on the south end of the campus is even younger. Our old offices (who had only just been painted; a job that clearly had been long overdue) will likely be turned into students’ accommodation, just like the building that holds the staff restaurant. On an old parking lot, a theatre is built. On what was a field, a new Marine Building has been raised. And the latter event had most effect on me. 

This building (the low one in the foreground) which holds the staff canteen is rumoured to be torn down... not many will miss it, I think. The tall building in the background was the School of Navigation back in the days; now it is students' accommodation. 

I am associated with the Marine School. As we, sea level people, clearly do marine research, we are on the Marine Institute mailing list. We get invited into Marine School events, and we often present our research there. I am, though that is trivial, wearing a Marine Institute lanyard while writing this. Would I move into the Marine building? No, as I am with Geography. Would I have, otherwise? Who knows…

The funny thing about the Marine building is that it doesn’t fit the Marine Institute. For instance, Gerd, the coastal geomorphologist, is in the adjacent building. They evidently hadn’t thought the building through very much. And the people I know who are in it aren’t happy with it; it’s open plan offices. Nobody likes these. So it sounds like this building is just a status symbol for the VC, and not a good housing for the institute. A bit like the one I'm in...

The new Marine building. Most marine people I know are, however, in the building to the left.

And us? Well, we moved into the space vacated by Gerd and companions. That was a mess too, as I already described. 

But at least there would be a bit of a party when the building would be officially opened. There had been mention of some celebration for months. Finally, an email with a promising subject landed in my mailbox. I thought it might be an invitation! But no. It said:
"To: All Staff, Plymouth University

Royal visit (30 October 2012) important campus parking and access information
Due to the opening of the Marine Building, and the large number of guests expected, it will be necessary to close a section of James Street to all traffic from 7am to approximately 4pm tomorrow (Tuesday 30 October 2012). Vehicle entry to/exit from campus through James Street South, off Cobourg Street, will not be possible for the duration of the day.

With the exception of permit holders and guests attending the event, there will be no other vehicle access permitted to campus for parking/unloading/deliveries. All deliveries should be re-arranged for an alternative date to ensure the number of traffic movements on campus, will be minimal. 

Should you be expecting an essential delivery that cannot be rescheduled, please email security.teamleaders@plymouth.ac.uk so that alternative arrangements can be investigated.
 Access and egress for permit holders who park in Portland Villas and Babbage, along with all guests who have parking arranged for the event, will be controlled through the Portland Villas barrier off North Road East.

Access for permit holders who park on the East side of the campus, i.e. Fitzroy/Mary Newman, will be off North Hill exiting onto Endsleigh Place.

In addition, as the Marine Building – which is normally open during the day – will be locked, it would be worth advising all staff and students based in the Marine Building to ensure they bring and wear their University card for the day.

Staff are advised that they can watch the live stream of the event at www.plymouth.ac.uk/marinebuilding and follow on Twitter at #HRHTheDukeofEdinburghplymuni."

From the University website

Very inviting! We were supposed to stay away and watch online. At least it's consistent; these buildings are not built to the demands of the employees, and in order to make that clear, employees are not even welcome at the opening. I’m not quite sure if university management is especially talented at winning over the hearts of their people. Another email clarified that, indeed, that is not their priority at all: 

"To: All Staff, Plymouth University

Important campus developments

Dear Colleagues,

I want to let everyone know about some important campus developments that will further enhance our position as a first choice University for prospective students.

It is our intention to create an additional 800 student study bedrooms on campus to be available from September 2014. These new facilities will meet a significant shortfall in demand for approved, allocated accommodation for first year students. 

A recent national student satisfaction survey showed that on campus student accommodation was one of the key factors in choosing a university. We enjoyed excellent recruitment figures this year, however of those who wanted to join us, but were unable to do so, the key reason was because we could not guarantee accommodation.

As some of you may already be aware, we have been working with UPP as our student accommodation partner since the late 1990s. Recently, we began discussions to explore how we might create more student bedrooms on campus. We also looked at how we might better accommodate our academic and professional services staff in space that better suits new teams, structures and our teaching and research priorities, and reflects our position as one of the world’s leading modern universities.

The plans show how we can create a new western gateway into the campus, further integrating it with our city. This will be achieved through the refurbishment of all the current University accommodation, with houses mainly used as offices on Portland Villas, Kirkby Terrace, Kirkby Place and Endsleigh Place becoming townhouse-style student accommodation. The plan also includes redevelopment of Pitts Memorial Hall and Gibbon Street, which will be further complemented by a bespoke new build planned for the corner of John Street (to the south of Portland Villas) and the demolition of Isaac Foot with a new building on that site.

The plans will create a vibrant campus student village, offering a diversity of accommodation types, and most importantly of all, offering guaranteed accommodation for all of our first year students.

This is the next phase in our ongoing long-term investment in our campus, where we have spent some £300 million to date. We will continue to invest to support the student experience and ensure that we maintain a contemporary and fit-for-purpose estate with inspirational surroundings for our students, staff and local communities.

I am pleased to invite you to join us to view the UPP student accommodation plans and ask any questions. These will be on display in the Portland Square Building, Atrium B, from noon to 8pm on Wednesday 21st November and Thursday 22nd November and 10am to 2pm on Friday 23rd November 2012. The plans will go before the Plymouth City Council Planning Committee on the 5th December and, subject to approval, we will then be able to share more information on timeframes as we move forward.

In the meantime, you can also send questions or feedback to spacestrategy@plymouth.ac.uk.

Best Wishes,

Professor Wendy Purcell
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive"


So altogether it looks like the university has decided it won't try to prioritise research, and won't try to attract students with excellent teaching, but just by offering them an easy house. It might be a winning strategy, in a financial sense. But is it really a good idea to dedicate your campus to glamour and student flats, and leave a lot of your staff disgruntled? Time will tell...

12 November 2012

Speedy manuscripts

From 0 to 1 project manuscripts in a week! At least, that was how it felt for me. The first manuscript about our old project will be submitted this month. It is a review paper Tasha is writing; she decided to use one of our field areas as an example. So it counts as a project paper. I was involved in the fieldwork, lab analysis, and discussion, so I’m on the author list, but Tasha did the writing. So by the time I got to see it, it was not only already in a state of near-readiness; it was also in a state of near-deadline-ness.

As we have distributed our field sites between us, and she “had” these, I didn’t feel like I had contributed that much to it. When I mentioned that to Tasha she mentioned some specific aspect of the paper could do with some closer attention. I took the hint, and left the lab to itself and dedicated myself to it. When it wasn’t done on Friday I went back to the office on Saturday. At 6PM I was done. My head was reeling. Maybe it hadn’t been the most enjoyable Saturday, but now I feel much more involved, and also much more comfortable with my name on that author list. I think it’s a great paper! I look forward to its publication. That’s quite worth some weekend work!

09 November 2012

New computer: highs and lows.

Let’s start with the bad news. The bright light in all my digital trouble was the computer itself: it worked like a dream. Fast. Without complaining. But that lasted less than a week. By then my computer had taken up the habit of bombarding me with error messages. It started with a window saying “Microsoft Pen & Touch Component has stopped working”, and a button for closing this programme, appearing first thing after logging on. Soon it gives three of such messages in succession. The other ones are: “Host Process for Windows Tasks has stopped working” and “Group Policy Script Application has stopped working”. The computer worked fine otherwise, but I was a bit worried anyway. So I contacted the helpdesk. Soon a chap appeared in the door opening. He figured the first issue was easy: I had connected my old digital pen to the computer, but it wasn’t compatible with windows 7. That was an easy one… I could have figured that one out. The tablet is quite old!

The other messages, though, were more serious. The helpdesk guy warned me it might mean my computer has to be re-imaged. That means: losing all the software. I only just had re-installed Illustrator, Acrobat, C2, Endnote, PaintShop, Dropbox, SigmaPlot, Skype, iTunes and R! It just continues, doesn't it…

But I mentioned I’d start with the bad news. Yes, indeed that means there is good news too! I had my data backed up on 4 external hard drives. Two still work fine. One already had given me some issues. And one was big and brand new. That last one died as soon as the new computer got installed. Noo! All my work data was backed up on 2 hard disks, so that was fine. But I had some private files that I only had on that disk, and on the one with issues. So I tried to retrieve my files form that disk. My new computer didn’t recognise it. My own laptop only did for a tantalisingly short period. So I brought it to ICT. Could they get the data off? After days of things seeming to go either way, the final call came. No, they couldn’t. Bummer. But as I had the ICT guy on the phone, he suddenly thought of something. This university has a Digital Forensics Laboratory. I had never heard of such a thing, but it sure makes sense! And they have the tools to get to data that’s really hard to reach. So I was referred there. An associate professor in the lab in question received me in a most friendly of manners. And a few hours later I had my data back. He hardly had to bat an eyelid for that. Yay for digital forensics!  

A new digital pen is on its way; I don't want to do without. And regarding the broken hub and other hard drive: they are back at the manufacturers: with some luck, I will get replacements!

 The battery of external hard drives I keep my data on. One might understand the use of a hub here...

08 November 2012


I can’t remember when I started to walk on orthopaedic soles. Somewhere in my time as a student. I graduated in 2001; it must be over 10 years. 

I do remember the time when I didn’t realise it wasn’t normal to get pain in your feet; I vaguely remember a visit to a museum as a primary school child. We were shown around, standing still at many works of art. I was in agony. I wanted to sit down on the floor, but I didn’t dare. I was surprised the other children didn’t show their pain. How was I to know they didn’t have any? I also remember many hikes I did as a girl scout. I think I knew by then pain shouldn’t be part of that. I was in agony quite often, but I didn’t want to give up. I was playing the “tough girl” card at the time. 

I also remember the time when I was trying to have the cause of the pain in my feet addressed. I went from physician to physician; I was medicated, electrocuted, injected, and operated on. Nothing helped. So then we turned to fighting symptoms, in the form of orthopaedic soles. It limits your choice in footwear, but at least it keeps you walking. I’m still not very good at loitering and hanging around, but as long as I walk at a reasonable pace or more, I tend to be fine. 

I stuck to my mother’s orthopaedic shoemaker, as she had good experiences with it. (I’m not the only one in the family with foot issues!). But after all these years, when I visited my sister, I decided to look elsewhere. She has insoles too (surprise!); though our feet are rather similar, her soles were profoundly different. Mine are chunky things that make me wear shoes of up to three sizes too big. I just can’t fit both the sole, and my foot, in anything smaller! But my sister’s were a fraction of the thickness. And still did the job. I wanted that! It’s not good to wear the wrong size shoes all the time. And it is annoying to be so limited. Many shoes just won’t be combined with such a massive insole. 

 My current insoles

 And the size of the shoes I have to wear to fit them in

When I had seen what is possible, I decided to have a look if I could find a local specialist who could do something similar. A small google job later I had found a chap some ten minutes up the road. An appointment was soon made. 

I told the guy I was looking for thinner soles. He looked at me, and wondered if I actually needed soles. He looked at my feet, twisted them, prodded them, asked me about them, made me stand, walk and run. He turned out to be very opinionated, and quite opposed to general practice in what he called “Europe”. He said there it’s the shoemakers making the soles, while in the UK it’s the podiatricians. Such as him! But he decided insoles were something that would help me, after all.

I think the guy knows what he’s talking about. He took a cast of my feet, and we have an appointment coming Monday; then the new soles should be done. I’m eager to see what he’ll have done! If he has made soles that are as good as my old ones, but thinner, that would be very good news for me. And good news for the local shoe shops, as I now only have shoes that either fit the old soles (size ~EU39/UK6) or no insoles at all (my heels and running shoes, size ~EU37/UK4). I am thinking of wearing the old shoes out. The podiatrician doesn’t recommend it; he said I should swap to the new insoles, and thus new shoes, in a matter of weeks. But it’s not him who’ll have to do the shoe shopping!

I’ll report back next week… this might be quite a big change for me!