28 February 2020

Weinstein found guilty

When I heard that Weinstein was found guilty I sighed a sigh of relief. No matter how powerful and rich you are, you can get convicted of sexual misconduct! I also knew the last word hadn't been said; his lawyers will appeal. But for now he is in jail and unable to keep committing crimes.

I said I was relieved. And I was! But should I be? What happened to innocent until proven guilty? Maybe he was innocent all along! And if he was, he should have been found not guilty and set free. So why was I getting ahead of things? 

One should not solicit sex from people over whom one wields power. If you are a movie mogul who can make and break careers, you should keep your hands (and other body parts) off young aspiring actresses. Weinstein never denied the sexual acts; he only denied it had been assault. But are you really free to consent to sexual acts with someone who decides if you will ever work in the industry again? Someone who decides if you can pay your rent? Me thinks not. So he had already admitted to things that to the best of my knowledge are criminal.  

Furthermore, there had been throngs of women who had stepped forward to accuse him. And entire books have been written about how he used his power and money to try to blacken their names! Accusing anyone is an excruciating thing to do. If you've just been humiliated to the core by some sleazy bloke, the last thing you probably want to do is talk about it. The last thing you want to do is give people the opportunity to remind you of it. The last thing you want is a hostile lawyer in court (if it gets that far) trying to convince everyone that you wanted that. That you are that kind of person. That you are a liar and a golddigger and someone who has had casual sex before so must be up for sex with practically anyone. So if there are literally tens and tens of women who are willing to suffer just that, that's not a good sign.

Yes I know that victims had kept in touch with Weinstein, and sent nice messages, and all that. But it is easy to say from your armchair (I've been guilty of this myself) that that proves nothing was amiss. What woman has not smiled in a threatening and humiliating situation in the hope of de-escalating things? Or just out of reflex, as that is what society teaches you? And how many women have ever wondered if they should speak out and relive the trauma and never work in their sector again, or just pretend it never happened? And then just kept the powerful man placated, if necessary with nice messages? Especially if they either didn't know so many others were suffering the same thing, or worse, if they knew lots of other people were suffering the same thing but nobody else dared speak out. Do you dare on your own? 

And yes it does happen that people make such things up, but that's rare. What is the probability that over eighty women make something like that up? In spite of the huge personal cost?

It's not a major factor, but still it doesn't help that he was a big chap and that your average Hollywood actress is rather petite. No I'm not saying that rape only happens to those who haven't bothered to become a black belt in karate so were asking for it. But it doesn't help, does it! When I expect trouble from a bloke who has problems with accepting 'no' I always try to guess how talented they would be in just using physical force to get what they want. It really is scarier when a bloke is big and heavy! And yes that is strangers and not people with a say in my career but still. 


So it really looked like he was guilty of criminal behaviour. But then there is the question of whether the legal system would deal with that in an appropriate way! I don't have enormous amounts of faith in how the justice system works when it comes to sexual assault cases. The reasons for that are from all over the globe, to be honest, while only the US legal system is relevant here. But knowing that didn't really help. Fear works that way! In the UK, conviction rates are pretty much negligible as the CPS will only take on the easiest cases. If you have been raped by some complete stranger who jumps from behind a tree and holds you at gunpoint right in  front of a CCTV camera and drops his passport on the scene you have a good chance he'll end up in jail. But in many other cases, you won't even get your day in court. 

And if you get your day in court, you probably need to agree to having your entire sexual history advertised to the world. You have to hand in your phone with all its personal information on it, and can't get therapy. No such restrictions hold for the defendant. And if you get your day in court, you can end up being blamed, because of the clothes you wore. Or because you didn't put up a physical fight (and end up beaten up in addition to being raped). Yes I know this is from all over the globe but as I said, this is about explaining my nervousness, not explaining why explicitly the US legal system is not always working properly when it comes to cases like this. 

And even if your attacker ends up in jail, it may only be for a very short time, because there is so much worry about their well-being, rather than yours. Or they are rich and powerful and get a nice lenient sentence in which they only have to be in jail at night. Yes I know, ten years later, that was rectified, but did it really have to take ten years? And I could go on and on!

Yes I know, there are cases in which the legal powers do what they are supposed to do, and there is proper care for victims. But it seems to be way too rare! So that's why altogether, I held my breath. Every time someone gets away with sexual misbehaviour, it is advertised to the world that you can just do those things and not much will happen, especially if you are rich, white and powerful. And sexual assault could happen to any of us! And being assaulted is bad enough, even if the legal system has your back. And if it doesn't, that's really, really bad. So I was really glad that the message this time is that maybe you get away with it for decades, and you may get away with some of it forever (a lot of it was beyond the statute of limitations), but you don't get away with all of it forever. And that's something. And that's why I was relieved. 

27 February 2020

Last round of pics?

With now every room in the house in use, I need a lot of pictures to festoon the walls! So I did what probably is a last push in filling these walls. I had had several framing sprees before but well, I have quite some wall space. I had been rummaging through my archive for good pics for a while, so I had amassed a fair few. And then I ordered a whole batch.

The Saturday after the pictures arrived was an Open Day. It was another windy day so I drove in. And that meant I had a car with me on a day I would be done at work during working hours. We send our visitors away at 15:30, so when we have done a debrief and tidied up, it's still before 5. So I went downtown! And found a nice dust basket in one charity shop (the spare bedroom didn't have one yet) and lots of picture frames in the next. And now I have so many I don't think I have to buy any ever again! Well, ever, that's a big word. But now I can have a final framing spree, and organise the pics in some aesthetically pleasing way, and then Bob is my uncle!

framed and ready to be hung! 


26 February 2020

Second trip of new group

There had been a bit of a gap since the first one but our second trip was upon us! And Kate was still in the SRT mood. She had chosen Wrysgan which surprised me a bit; the typical round trip only has a descent down a slab. But there's no need doing the standard round trip! There are more options. I had actually known that since 2013! And even as recently as December we had seen some newly placed anchors. But I'm a bit of a creature of habit and that's why Wrysgan surprised me as an SRT venue.

Initially it looked like it was going to be the same people as on the first trip, but then more were announced; Kate and James would bring three new people. We could be with eight! But Don mailed he couldn't come, Kate/Bob had come back from far away but was otherwise engaged anyway, and the three people pulled out. That may have had something to do with the weather being good! We hadn't had that for a while so I could see why people would want to enjoy that. So in the end, it was actually the same crew as the previous time!

We parked up, with difficulty, as with this kind of weather it can be busy. A forgotten helmet halted us for a bit. And then not one but two pairs of gloves left in a car. We weren't being very executive, but it didn't matter, as it was beautiful weather and it's beautiful there and we were in good company. But we did make it to the entrance. We thought we'd go in and then up the steps, which I hadn't done before. But when we reached them, there was a group of children right above them. Hm! Maybe better wait until they would be gone.

We checked out the bottom of the wormhole. A lot of water was coming down! As expected. We could have gone up there; the children would not venture on that pitch, but it would mean getting quite soaked early on, and with a perennially cold person like James that seemed a bad idea. We went back and saw the children weren't near the steps anymore. So Kate started rigging! And while she was doing that the children walked past us and waited in the same chamber, and an instructor appeared above our heads. And it turned out the children had done an abseil in the next chamber, and needed to come back up here. Oh dear! We were in the way.

Kate rigging

We hurried up and got up the pitch. We derigged and were out of there! And we explored a bit where we ended up; I hadn't gone that way before. And we went further up. And hoped to do a traverse there, but that was being used by yet another group of kids. Bad timing! Instead we stopped for a sandwich. And decided to go out and pop back in higher up. The idea was to go to and through the wormhole and then back out. Kate had not seen it since lugging scaff around for it and was keen to see it again! And we would be close to the entrance so we could just scoot out and be back at the cars before we would get cold. But then Kate began being bugged by an old injury and we decided to cut the trip short. We would just go out! OK with me. We checked another possible entrance, and James started pondering a different round trip, with lots of rope work. Sounds like fun! Looks like we'll be back...

With all that scampering we didn't think of coming up with a name. Oh well. There is no hurry!

Break

 
Walking back down

25 February 2020

Busier and better Open Day

The first Open Day is always the hardest! So that one was thankfully done. And now we could do it better the second time around. And we better had as it was going to be busy!

Open Days are organised by a team of people: an academic (in this case me) who organises demonstrations and staff, an admissions administrator who books the rooms, organises the catering, deals with registration etc etc, the Peer Guide coordinator who sorts Peer Guides (also me), and the technical staff who make sure the lab is ready and the people doing the demos have everything they need. And I had just done one, the technical staff is a well-oiled war machine, but this would be the first Open Day for our admissions administrator. And that's stressful! I remembered my first Open Day and I was happy it was behind me.

I got in and started preparing. I made sure I had a schedule for the demonstrations, for either ten groups or eleven, and I brought monitors and a laptop to where they were needed, and all that sort of things. And then things started to go pear-shaped. The door to the lift wouldn't open, and we had people with mobility issues! And the computer in the lab wasn't working! And there was an UV light, that we needed for a demo, missing! And relevant people were nowhere to be seen minutes before they were needed! And not all Peer Guides showed up!

All got sorted, of course. We just plugged a laptop into the system so we didn't need the computer. Our administrator managed to fix the door. People appeared coolly in the nick of time. We recruited the person who needed the UV light as a Peer Guide. All worked out!

Then the visitors appeared and the hectic bit happened. I had to make the final group allocation and the final schedule! But when that was done and the groups were on their way it got better. We had quite a selection again; something with bioluminescence, ocean acidification, and tanks with everything from lugworms and nudibranches to crabs and starfish. And much more!

Visitors behind a tank with anemones

When everyone was being entertained I had time to eat some sandwiches. And I did some small chores. And then popped over to see how things were where the non-applicants (mostly parents) were. And got dragged into taking a group to a demonstration and to the ship. And then it was as good as over! It had gone rather smooth. Success! So we did a debrief, tidied up, and that was it! Our new administrator had done a sterling job but looked exhausted now. I understood! But with that, the second day was done! And then I could start organising the next one which will be in early April. I get to keep a few weekends to myself now!

24 February 2020

Solar panels, not porches

I wrote that Neuadd Ogwen was in scaffolding! And it is. But I thought that had something to do with it getting porches for the sake of sound-insulating the doors. But that's not it! It's getting solar panels. And these porches are in the pipeline but it could be a while. Oh well! Solar panels is a great idea too. Even better than porches!


23 February 2020

Parys Mountain with the students again

We do our Anglesey geology field trips roughly in chronological order. We had recently done the Precambrian and Ordovician rocks if Llanbadrig and Porth Wen. Now it was time for the Silurian hydrothermal vents of Parys Mountain.

The day before I went on a recce with Suzie, who had missed the previous trips we had done there. And teaching about stuff you see for the first time is hard. We were quick about it: it was crap weather! Luckily, that was the crap weather that had initially been forecast for the actual field day, but which had moved forwards. The forecast for the day after had improved dramatically! Only the morning was still forecast to have heavy rain. So we decided to leave two hours later than scheduled to avoid that.

On the Thursday we left at 11. We drove through some serious showers but when we got there, it was dry! But very windy. Everyone put on all the clothes they had with them. It was a cold wind!

When we got the Big Pit in view all students stopped to take pictures. I was glad they liked it! And at the viewing platform I talked them through the tectonic and temporal setting. And showed them the rhyolite with pyrite in. That was a hit! And then we made our way to the pit. On the side, from where you can see two fault lines (I think) we could pretty much lean into the wind. We didn’t linger!

When we got into the pit, the locked adit door drew a lot of attention. I told the students that the place has its own mine exploration club and that they welcome visitors. I wonder if some of our students will go and check the place out underground! They wouldn’t be disappointed.

We then looked at the central boss, and the sync line, and then sat down for lunch. I was hungry! And after lunch we looked at the black deposits, and with that the geology of the trip was done. Now we would add some bonus history! We left that to Dei, whose family has had involvement in the place for generations. We saw the buildings, calciners, flue, settling ponds, slag heaps, engine house and windmill. And then we had seen the lot! And we were back at the office by half part three. A successful day in the field! But then we’ll step back and go back to the Precambrian and Ordovician, when we visit Rhosneigr. Strict chronology is overrated!

Lunch in the Big Pit

Suzie talks Black Smokers

22 February 2020

Mr Jones

You wouldn't say from this blog but I like films! Well maybe there were some hints. The Aesthetica short film festival in York. The Tromsø International Film Festival. I enjoyed these! But my film heydays were in Amsterdam. You have a lovely arthouse cinema on every street corner! I saw quite a lot there. And here in North Wales we have, of course, Neuadd Ogwen that occasionally does films, and Pontio, and then in theory also Venue Cymru in Llanddudno and Galeri in Caernarfon. But I find there is a big difference between being able to casually bike to the cinema or having to either bike almost an hour, or to drive. So I don't go so often! And the variation in films on offer of course is still modest, even with four venues. But I had been alert to opportunities to get some more films in and Chris provided that. I had suggested seeing a film (none specified) a fair while ago, but there had been nothing that floated my boat, but then I heard of Mr Jones.

Mr. Jones (2019 film).jpg

It's a film about an actual Gareth Jones who was a Welsh journalist in the thirties. He was wondering how the Soviets managed to build planes and factories and whatnot when in theory, the country should have no money. He goes out to investigate! In spite of the Russians having their ways of keeping foreign nosy people out of their business. 

SPOILER ALERT

I was attracted to a real story, and I was intrigued about this Welshman I had never heard of, in spite of sticking my nose into lots of Welshness. (He was from the South; that may have had something to to with it!) And I know little about the antics of the Soviet regime in that time. And the trailer looked a bit Hollywood but my curiosity won. I suggested it! And Chris was up for it.

It would be a long day: full day at work, then Welsh practice, then quickly to Pontio to eat a pizza and then the film. But it was nice to try a pizza while leafing through the programme; we might go to something else as well if it looked good.

Then the film started. The main character is breaking his head over how the Soviets do it and tries to go to Russia. And he manages. He has a contact there, but he gets murdered before Jones even gets there. And that makes him even more determined to find out what he was uncovering. And along the way he meets an attractive lady. I already knew from the reviews the lady was fictional! But well, that's what happens if you let a commercial studio loose on a story like that.

Jones figures the Soviets are squeezing the Ukraine empty and he sets off to investigate. He shakes off his Russian minder and starts stomping through villages. And what he sees is not pleasant! Almost-deserted villages, dead people, more dead people, starving children, Soviet soldiers forcing the locals to load grain onto trains that swiftly move Moscow-wards. He knows enough! But he doesn't get to go home and report back; he is captured, and six British engineers are too. He is let go, but made perfectly clear that if he doesn't report back that all is well in the Ukraine, the engineers will die. But he knows that quite a lot more people will die if this famine goes unchallenged so he reports the truth anyway. The film doesn't mention what happens to the engineers. I also don't know if they were fictional too.

I sort of expected the film to end when he got home but it goes on; he accepts a job as a fairly insignificant reporter for a fairly insignificant newspaper, but still manages to get the attention of media mogul Hearst and get the story published. But the world goes to pot anyway of course. The attractive woman sends him a latter from Berlin, where she has been sent, and she's not optimistic about what's going on there. And Jones decides he is still needed and sets off on new adventures. And then it ends.

And then you get to read he is murdered, probably by Soviets, only a year or so later when he is reporting from Mongolia. That is so sad! But this film will help keep his memory alive.

So how was it? It was a bit heavy-handed. The barbarities he encounters are a bit overdone, his own difficulties a bit picturesque too (after two days he sleeps in an unclimbable-looking tree and eats bark), and the acting has, to my taste, too much overacting of the heavy breathing and difficult stumbling kind. He is perceptive or clueless depending on what the script wants. The soviets are totally useless when they spot him snooping around a grain train. It's a bit Hollywood!

Chris, being a walking encyclopaedia, noticed immediately that the town that plays Barry (South Wales) is not actually Barry. (It's a Scottish town.) And that Jones speaks North Welsh with his dad! I hadn't noticed. I had only noticed that James Norton speaks Russian that is very convincing (at least to non-Russian-speakers like me), and that his Welsh is perfectly believable too (he is English). I missed the subtleties! The film does not suggest there is a difference between Russian and Ukrainian, but well, that hardly distracts from the story.

So what was the verdict? I wouldn't go again. But I learned something. I prefer films a bit more subtle but well, this was only the first. I'm sure we'll see more!

21 February 2020

Annual glaciofluvial day

It was that time of year again! Time to go to Lleiniog; an Anglesey beach with amazing sediments exposed in a cliff section. We have nine demarcated rectangles on the cliff we ask the students to log. They are asked to record things like composition, grain size, sorting, roundness, colour, structure, etc. They have learned the theory already and now they get to do it for real! I am not involved in the rest of the module but I have been doing this trip since I got this job.

The routine is: I go there on my own early in the morning with nine laminated A4s with the letters A to J on, a hammer and pegs. I check if our demarcations are still there, and if they aren’t, I make new ones. And I hammer the signs in. And by the time I’m done, my colleague Lynda arrives with the students. We get one group in the morning and one in the afternoon. The group we don’t have is nearby, either surveying or coring, or both.

The sediments are from some 20.000 years ago; they tell the story of enormous ice masses and powerful meltwater streams and all that kind of spectacle. We are lucky to have that on the doorstep!

All went according to plan. Thanks to storms Ciara and Dennis I had to make several new demarcations! But I had a good time on my own on the beach. I also got the best weather of the day!  And when I was almost done I received a text from Lynda; she was on her way. I drank some coffee while waiting for the bus. And had a flapjack. Certified nut free! We had a student with nut allergy so we had to be selective with our foodstuffs...

The weather in the morning

When the students got there Lynda did her spiel, and set them on their way. We wandered around a bit, checking how they were doing, and answering questions. This trip tends to be fairly hands-off! The students generally just get on with it.

Lynda does her spiel

I resisted the temptation to put a section there! 

Logging a section next to amazing sediments

It was a bit of a cold, windy and wet day. Not ideal! But what can you do. By the time everyone was done, and Lynda talked them through what they had described, I think everyone was glad to go for lunch.

Lynda and I joined Graham, who had been leading the surveying, in a new cafe. We had some lovely warming food! And then went back for the second round.

The second round went pretty much the same as the first. And at about half past four we were done. And it shouldn’t have been any later; timetabling had given me a tutorial at five. Not ideal! But what can one do. I was back on time. Onwards! And I could leave my field kit ready as I would need that again the day after, and the day after that!

20 February 2020

Spring!

It's only Febuary but my garden has woken up. It will be some one and a half month before the clocks change, but the days are already noticeably longer then in winter proper, and the trees are having a go! Small leaves are appearing everywhere. Soon the hawthorn will be in bloom! And soon I will be spending considerable amounts of time in the garden again. Nice!

The rosemary is in bloom

The crab apple tree is awake

More leaves


19 February 2020

Walk in the remnants of the storm

After the Open Day I felt I needed a bit of time outside! I felt cooped up. With all these storms I had also commuted by car several times. So I wanted a walk! And I checked if Chris was up for one too. And he was! Work had kept him away from lovely landscapes too this week. And we decided to stay close to my front door: we'd pop into Cwm Pen Llafar. I hadn't been for a while! I had walked into it with my dad and stepmom, and walked above it the previous Easter. But that was it! I had first been a fair while ago.

Dennis was still officially out there but during my run I had noticed that the wind wasn't so bad. And I had suggested Cwm Pen Llafar as the wind would be coming from the southwest, and the valley heads to the southeast so I figured it would be sheltered. We set off, and in the beginning all was quiet. We headed the scenic way; through Parc Meurig, Caerberllan, and then through the woods and the fields. What a good idea! Any next time I'll do it again. We even came across a very charming pig.

Walking past the falls in the woods

The mountains looking great in the distance 

The charming pig

When we walked into the open bit it did get a bit gusty. So far it had mainly been muddy! It hampered conversation but otherwise it was OK. And that landscape never ceases to amaze me! I thought maybe we should have a drink and a snack when we would be in the shelter of the ridge.But when we got to the ridge we found out my assessment was wrong. The valley was a wind tunnel! Oh well. We walked on. It is a really lovely valley!

Horses on the path

When we got to the cirque at the top we found a big block that provided shelter. There we finally had our drink! And after that we went the same way back. And the wind had changed; now we had it in the back. That was actually quite nice. And when we got into the open bit we saw bad weather come from the direction of Ogwen Cottage. And then it hit us. It was hail, propelled by the remains of Storm Dennis! Blimey we were being blasted. And pretty much blown over. It was quite spectacular! But it didn't last. And we did quite some drying up on the way home. It was a good walk!

18 February 2020

Frogs getting frisky

When Storm Dennis had pretty much left, I went for a run. I saw a lot of water around! And on a stretch with a ditch next to the path, the water in it moved. I had a closer look. And saw lots of frogs! And lots of frogspawn. I was intruding in a frog orgy! And I realised I may have had a rather unrealistic view of how frogs procreate. I had always imagined something rather calm. A frog leaving  spawn in peace. And then some time later another frog doing that too. And I hadn’t really pondered when the eggs get fertilised. It looks like that happens there and then! It could happen a fair time beforehand. Or, fish style, afterwards. But no! This was everything happening at the same time and the same place. Well I hope their spawn will grow up to be healthy frogs!

I suppose the frogs only show up in full page view

Lots of frogs! 

Caught in the act

17 February 2020

Storm Dennis

Storm Ciara had caused quite some trouble in the area, and she was barely gone, and Dennis was on its way! And he would hit us in an Open Day weekend. Not ideal!

Dennis was expected to be less vigorous regarding wind but more so regarding rain. So what was it like? The Friday was gusty but not awfully so. It wasn't biking weather but that's OK. And when I woke up on Saturday it was quite unpleasant outside! Gusty, and lashing with rain. But no traffic issues yet it seemed!

The Open Day was wet and gusty too, but not detrimentally so. And afterwards I drove home without issues. No floodings! I did see a warning on Facebook regarding the road having flooded a bit further southeast (like the week before). But what can one do. I hunkered down.

The next morning I wondered what the river would look like. It had still been raining in the night! But it wasn't particularly high. There is a big rock in the river and any self-respecting rain storm obscures that completely. Ciara had managed that. But Dennis hadn't!

Other places weren't so lucky! On the news I heard about problems, mainly in South Wales and Yorkshire. York was doing it normal wet thing! I had seen that from close up while living there. I know Dennis has caused a lot of people grief but it seemed to have left Bethesda alone!

The rock still visible! Unlike the week before...

16 February 2020

First Open Day of 2020

One down, three to go! We had the first Open Day of the calendar year. These are Open Days for people who have registered at up to five universities, know which one of these have given them an offer, and now have to make up their mind which offer to accept. And I was a bit nervous about it! One reason was: it was the first, so I hadn't done one in almost a year, and the other was: the weather. Storm Dennis would be out there! Would people show up? Would they be able to get back? Anyone who had kept an eye on that sort of thing knew that there had been travel disruptions when Dennis' sister Ciara had raged only the week before. We would have to see!

I had made a draft group allocation and schedule of which group would see which demo when. But I can only finalise that when I know who really is coming! And that means: I can only do that when the visitors are here. And that means the pressure is on. The visitors get a welcome talk by the Head of School and then they have lunch. And then they go off in their groups!

This time I was nervous as I had lots of demonstrations, and some people setting up nicely in advance so I knew all would be well, but some were nowhere to be seen, even when the visitors were almost there. That gave me some stress! Luckily, all worked out. Everyone showed up and did their thing! And we had all sorts: scallops, snails, ocean circulation, dolphins, the deep sea, flocculation, etc etc. (No we did not have any actual dolphins in there but we had a demo about them.) I would have enjoyed it I'm sure.

File:Epitonium billeeanum (Wentletrap).jpg
 Not our snails! But a nice picture (by Nick Hobgood)

There also was no sign of traffic chaos. Great! I had been scared the new bridge would be closed to high-sided vehicles due to the wind, causing great traffic jams. If the lorries have to come over the old bridge they tend to have to go at snail pace through the arches, and manually pull in their wind mirrors, as it only JUST fits. And then all other traffic is stuck behind that! But it seemed that only motorbikes and caravans were banned from the new bridge, so the buses could go that way. Without any difficulty!

When the visitors appeared I did my hasty fine-tuning of the schedule. Some people had looked at the forecast and let our admissions team know they had decided to come to a different Open Day. There were still some we expected who weren't there and one who was there but whom we didn't expect, but strangely enough, less so than normal. I printed out the schedules and handed them out. And then I set everyone on their way!

There was one group who went to the wrong demo so I had to re-tweak the schedule again and find the other group with which they would swap. And then it was around 2pm and I could go and have a sandwich myself. I can never have lunch when the others do, which is OK, but if I don't drink for too long I wear myself out. If I leave it too late I feel bad the rest of the day! And that had happened. I think I need to have a water bottle near next time.

Once it was rolling it rolled! In spite of the weather, I think people had a good time. And next week we can do it again, and then better!

15 February 2020

Neuadd Ogwen gets additions

Last spring, I heard that Neuadd Ogwen, the multipurpose hall next door, wanted to do some main work. They had a bunch of derelict lean-to's they wanted to put to good use, and they wanted to add porches to increase the noise insulation of the loading doors. And these doors are placed such that noise coming through can then travel fairly easily into my house. So I liked the idea! But I had no idea on what timescale this would happen. Until I went to see a film (or art project, or whatever) and bumped into Dilwyn, the manager, He said things were starting to happen! And he was right. Days later I came out of my house to see scaffolding against the building! I suppose that is for the porches. Good! I suppose that will also mean lots of building traffic and such but I'm sure we can all do our thing without getting into each other's way too much. And then in the end they have porches!


14 February 2020

Merging and spicing up lectures

I had been lecturing on my 'Earth, climate and evolution' module since forever. I used to have six lectures: two on climate, two on evolution and two on the Quaternary. Two colleagues would do things like rocks, the formation of the Earth, plate tectonics and historical geology up to the Quaternary. But then last year I had to take over from the chap who had done the bulk of the lecturing. He had retired! So I spend a lot of time over the summer familiarising myself with what he had been teaching. And in spring, I taught it.

When preparing I did notice there was some overlap between his lectures and mine. Now I was doing both, I should iron that out! And I also wanted there to be a bit more action than just me standing there, talking. So this year I went back to these lectures, and tried to make them a coherent whole, and add some interactivity. For the latter, I used 'Kahoot'; some site you can use for asking MCQs (and other types of questions) that people then answer on their phone. I made sure I put some questions in that were either exam questions or questions quite like that. Then the students have already thought of such questions! The exam is MCQ, and we don't publicise old MCQ exams. We do with open question exams, so the students know what to expect.

It was a bit of work but it seems to be paying off. The first lecture I used Kahoot it clearly livened things up! And I am feeling better about teaching the bits that previously overlapped. It's time-consuming but in the end I think it will lead to greater satisfaction among both the students and me!

A stromatolite with toddler wellies for scale (taken on our field day recce); the stromatolite features in one of the lectures



13 February 2020

Sort out the home office

The room so far often referred to as 'the spare room' had been ready for a while! But I had not got around to take it into use. But a stormy weekend that wasn't very good for outdoor activities provided the perfect opportunity.

The first thing I did was hang up curtains. That involves drilling and thus dust! When the curtains hung I hoovered the place. And then I could put things in. I started with the desk! I had to take it apart to get it through the door but that wasn't too much work. It was quickly rebuilt. And with the desk (and computer) basically the office was an office!

First step: empty, clean, and with curtains

Office!

The next day I emptied out my big cupboard, and took it apart as far as I needed to get that out too. And then rebuilt it. I wasn't entirely sure where to put it but I put it somewhere and it would do. And then the mail work was done! I hoovered the room the desk and cupboard had come from and then moved the bed to a better position. It had been crammed into the corner a bit. And now, with the furniture spread out over two rooms, it could stand pontifically in the middle (yes that's a Dutchism). And I decided to take the curtains in. They are too long and drag over the floor. So I took them down!

I also moved the shelving to the bedroom. If I have guests they have somewhere to put their stuff!  And I brought a chest of drawers up that had been waiting in my master bedroom until there would be space upstairs. And then it was time to ponder pictures. There were none in the office! For now. But that had to change.

I first raided the bedroom. That had lots of pictures! And I could nick some. I spend a lot more time in the office so that has priority. So I hung a big picture above the desk, a moderate one above the radiator, and three smallish ones next to the big built-in cupboard.

The office is now sort of ready! I might want to put a comfi chair in even that room. There's plenty of space! And I love comfi chairs. But it works already! And it will be more comfortable; for some reason, it's warmer than the bedroom. And given that I like my offices warm and bedrooms cold that's fine. But doing work at home is now done in more comfort! And if I (or someone else) now want to sleep in the spare bedroom that's nicer too; the bed now has a bedside cabinet with a lamp and an alarm! Which, for space reasons, it hadn't had since moving into that room.

I'll have to do a bit more selecting, printing and framing pictures to finish it all off, and of course finish the curtains, but that's OK! The bulk of the work is done!

12 February 2020

Storm Ciara

There was a storm forecast! And these forecasts tend to come true. The weekend was supposed to be very gusty but it would start on Friday. I was stubborn and went to work on bike anyway. But I made sure to leave at about five; the wind would only get stronger so I didn't want to leave it late! And I wanted to be in Neuadd Ogwen (with dinner in my stomach) by seven so I couldn't leave late anyway.

It was getting gusty and rainy while I biked home! I was glad to get there. And when I was in Neuadd Ogwen I heard the wind howl around the building. And I could listen to that same howling later in bed! That's so snug.

The next morning it was OK and I made sure to get my run in. And then I hunkered down and did indoor stuff! And in the evening I lit the fire. Chris popped by for tea. He doesn't have a log fire at home but at least he could listen to this storm while staring into the flames! I had to be a bit careful, though; I had lit the fire, several candles, and an oil lamp but soon my eyes started protesting. Getting out of the room with all the fire sorted that. I think it was the oil lamp! Just candles and a log fire doesn't have that effect. A pity! But a small one.

The next morning, by the time it got light, I could see the river was a raging torrent. Cool! It still didn't get close to the garden but it looked spectacular. And when I later went to the local shop I had to step over sandbags to get in. I had a little chat with the lady at the check-out! I felt like a proper village resident when we chatted about that the water had come in, and that we had heard about fallen trees, fallen power lines and landslides blocking roads. All that happened around the village! And the next day it would still be too windy to bike so I have to use the roads. But I'm sure these trees and power lines will be gone by then!


The river in storm mode

11 February 2020

'Atgyfodi' in Neuadd Ogwen

When I walk to the supermarket I walk past Neuadd Ogwen. And recently I saw a poster on the door. It advertised 'Atgyfodi' (to resurrect) without much explanation. I decided to look up what that was. The website said it was a combination of two films: one an amateur film made by pupils from a school in Bangor about the reservoir that drowned the village Capel Celyn. It was made at the time! So it started with images of the pristine valley, and village life going on, and also documented the houses being evacuated and then torched (not sure why that!) and then submerged. Slick it was not but interesting it was!

The second film was a sort of an art project. A bloke had had a rummage through the archives of the national library and St Fagans National Museum of History, and pulled out lots of images and snippets of dialogue and suchlike. And then he had gone out and shot more footage, and recorded more sounds, and then blended it all together to form some sort of multimedia collage. I like history and I can use some practice with my Welsh, but I had to just appreciate this as art. The sound fragments were generally played several at the same time and then with music over the top! So I couldn't make out a thing. The native speakers in the room couldn't even make much of it. So that didn't quite work out! But some unapologetic culture without educational purpose doesn't go amiss either.

Altogether it was a longish night; it was supposed to start at seven, but the projection didn't start until half past. And after the collage, there was a Q&A with the rather talkative artist. So I wasn't home until 21:30! What a wild night out!



10 February 2020

Glorious field day near Cemaes

We had prepared well for our day perusing the Precambrian to Ordovician rocks east of Cemaes. And not the actual day came! I had left home early it promised to be a glorious day, so I wanted to bike to work. And from work I left with Suzie in the departmental 4WD. We would go to the first meeting point together while Dei and Jaco picked the students up in minibuses.

When we got there, Jaco was already there! Soon Dei appeared too, and we could start. First, Dei would take us all to the beach. Because he could! There wasn't a lot to see other than a quartzite sea stack but hey, a beach is nice. And when we got up from the beach we walked past another melange; a sort of configuration of various types of rocks you get when a subduction zone does some messy eating and crumbs end up in its beard. In a way! We had seen them before on Llanddwyn, but the melange there is unusually pretty. Here it was a bit more mundane. And we spotted a dyke in the rock too.

Starting on the car park

Admiring the sea stack


Then we got to where Dei would say something about the lime kiln there. And then Suzie took over, talking about stromatolites! And from there I talked about the thrust fault you can see in the cliff face on the other side of the bay. And then we were hungry. Time for lunch! Some of us had small look at the cave here; St Patrick seems to have lived in it. The story has he got shipwrecked on a small island in front of the coast and he figured he may well make the most of things and was a local cave-dweller for a while. Now the location has a cute church that bears his name!

Suzie points out a stromatolite

St Patrick's cave!


We went back to the cars for lunch. And then we went to the next location. We had some more unconformities (whether thrusts or not) to look at! Jaco and I were dropped with the students as we couldn't park here. Dei and Suzie parked the vehicles further on. We walked to the ruined porcelain works (I call them brickworks here), and from there we went up to get a good view. Jaco talked about the lithology and had the students draw the headland. And then in the end he talked them through what he thought should be on the drawings! And by then Dei and Suzie had reappeared.

Drawing unconformities

We walked to the outcrop with the conglomerates lying against the quartzites. There I did another spiel about the tectonics, and let Jaco talk about the sedimentology. And by then it was sort of time to call it a day! We did look, as a bonus, at the actual brickworks there, but then went back to the vehicles. Day done! It had been a success!

Amazing deformed Ordovician conglomerates!

Jaco talks sedimentology with a drumhouse in the distance

09 February 2020

Post-ThursdayNighter schism at work

It had been weeks since the big ThursdayNighter schism. And a lot of the dust had settled! Not all had been quiet; since the last update, one more had nailed his colours to the mast, and joined the ThursdayNighters' stance. He had been a bit ambivalent so far! I had seen him in the old year, and he had been glad to see me, but hadn't wanted to talk about what had happened. Later he seemed strangely reluctant to declare if he wanted to be involved in the trips of the new, so far unnamed, group. I wasn't sure what to make of that! I figured time would have to tell. And now it has. It's a pity, but well, after all that came before not much shocks me anymore.

Later that day I was also contacted by the wife of one of the men. She told me she thought my blog postings amounted to public shaming, and she didn't approve of that. But she added she also didn't approve of bullying. She said this sort of stuff should have been resolved with dialogue! And I quite agreed, but well, that ship had sailed with the first email. She was also the one who suggested the new group picks a name that isn't too combative. It was good to see we could just talk. But it was a bit of a painful contrast with the ThursdayNighter methods!

So since then life has been just nicely rolling along. They do their thing and I do mine! And that works well. But of course, that is only avoiding the ThursdayNighters as a whole! And they are individuals too. And they have jobs. Hypothetically, they could be colleagues! What would that be like?

If one or more of them were, then that could complicate things. They could be academic staff, that I would have to teach with. Or they could be support staff, and then you might need them for boat work, or they could come on field days and entire fieldworks! That could be uncomfortable. If someone or something causes you a lot of pain, you tend, as a rule of thumb, to be hyper-vigilant in their or its presence since. And that doesn't go together well with teaching.

One could only hope, in such a situation, that they would have their office is in a different building from mine. And don't attend the lunch- and coffee breaks I do. And as well; that the first contact would be something low key, like a meeting or something, to test the water. If that could be got through without risen adrenaline levels that would be a good sign!

So how is my working life since the big schism? It's fine! My work suffered the first few days when the blow was fresh. But it's been weeks and I'm on a roll. And I am confident that it will stay that way. Bring on the rest of the semester!

08 February 2020

Almost everything has started

The second semester is busy! I have my two climate modules, and the geology module (even though it now is Jaco who leads that), and the dissertation module, and the Open Days. And the usual first year tutorials. And second year tutorials too! And the MSc students get their projects. And there are the days in the field with the Anglesey Geology module.

I had already been assigned a MSc student, and met up with my first year and dissertation students, but now I have met up with the second year tutorial students too. And the climate modules have started! And next week I start lecturing in the geology module. And the preparation for the first Open Days is in full swing. 

My fist meeting with the second year students went well! I have ten, so if you want to talk to them individually you don't have much time per student. And you have to keep the ones you're not talking to meaningfully engaged too. Can be a challenge! But I think it went well. I think this will be a good year in this respect!

For the geology module, I am trying to make the lectures a bit more engaging by inserting quiz questions. It's software I haven't used before! I have used questions before, but then I had been using hardware. You can borrow clickers from central services and have students answer your questions with these. But then you have to first book them, then pick them up, distribute them to the students, collect them afterwards, and bring them back. And that is not all too bad but if the students carry a device in their pockets anyway, why would you? So now I'll be using external software that the students use on their phones. I hope it goes well!

So altogether things are rolling but so far I'm keeping up! Let's hope it stays that way...

06 February 2020

Repeat recce for field day

New year, new field days! We have our fieldwork module, for which we had already been in the field in the previous semester. We had done Llandwyn island, and the others had done the turbidites of Rhoscolyn (I had been elsewhere that day).

Our next day would be near Cemaes. We had done a recce for that trip in 2018, but one forgets. As I had had some issues with struggling to play a proportionate role in these trips I wanted to be extra prepared. So I wanted to go back and remind myself! And my colleague Suzie was in the same boat. Or rather, she is in a worse boat as at least I was educated as a geologist; she is a biologist by training. So all these tectonics and lithologies and whatnot don't come naturally to her. So I had suggested we go together! And she would bring her son. That would slow us down (he is not even three) but her husband would work over the weekend so he had to come. And getting him some fresh air is an added bonus!

I drove to her place. I hadn't been! It looked lovely. And after an initial coffee we got into her car and set off. It's a bit of a drive! But that's OK. When we got there Suzie put Idris into a waterproof onesie and we were off. You don't move awfully fast with such a small kid but we were not in a hurry! And after a while we got to the first outcrop. I was glad we had reccied; I initially headed slightly too far downhill. I won't do that on the actual day! At the outcrop Idris go some fruit while we talked through the geology. It's the site with the amazing Ordovician conglomerates lying on Precambrian quartzites. The quartzites had been quarried for fire bricks; I explored the concomitant brickworks here.

Idris and Suzie

Marvellous conglomerates!

We then went back to the car. The next stop would be Llanbadrig Church! There was an interesting unconformity to see there. And we had just found out there were stromatolites there too! We had looked for them on our recce, but we had been looking in the wrong place. But my colleague Dei had unearthed some information that suggested there were near the church. So we would have a look!

We first had some lunch on a bench. And then we went stromatolite hunting! Stromatolites still exist (I only know of them in Australia) but they are ancient. Precambrian! And soon we found them! They were lovely. Even Idris was impressed. Even though I think he was even more impressed by the possibilities a certain rock offered to let him pretend he was on a boat. To each their own!

Stromatolites! And glasses for scale. 


By then we had exhausted his patience and we went back to the car. By now Suzie had to carry him! And on the way back to Suzie's he fell asleep. It had been, he had declared, a Long Walk.

Funnily enough, Dei went recce-ing too. He texted us he was at the church just when we hit the main road. Oh well! At least his later texts suggested he had found the stromatolites too. But not surprising; we had only found them thanks to the documentation he had provided.

At Suzie's we had a cup of tea (or three) and I had a flirt with her handsome cat, and we even did a puzzle with Idris, and then it was time for me to go home. Mission accomplished I think! Bring on that day in the field!

05 February 2020

Walk to Dinas Dinlle and beyond

I had already decided I should go and look at Dinas Dinlle back when I found out about the lovely thrust moraines that were there! And that was years ago. And having seen a presentation about it (mainly about the hillfort on top of the moraines) made that decision more urgent. So when my friend Fiona (new on the blog!) suggested a walk I suggested Dinas Dinlle. And she thought that was a splendid idea!

We drove up and first walked along the shore, where the waves are eroding the hillock the hillfort is on. And the moraines were spectacular! We were almost blown out of our clothes but it was worth it. And then we walked over the top too! There it was the sort of struggling-to-stay-upright kind of windy. Oh dear! But again, worth it. From there the next hillfort to the NE really stands out. I'm not sure how much is to see there, but I suppose I should check it out one day!


 Thrust moraines!

This is what's left of the top surface of the hillfort. Notice the bank on the other side.

Looking from the other side: not much to see I know! Imagination has to do the work. 

It's not a big place so we were soon done. But not quite done walking. And Fiona suggested we also head in the direction of Nant Gwrtheyrn, where the National Language Centre is. Maybe one day I'll do a residential Welsh course there. It's a famously pretty valley and there is lots to see in the surrounding regarding mining relics and such. Great!

We walked to the granite quarry on the other side of the hill. It's pretty! And we even saw a goat with a very young kid. Poor thing! The first of February is a bit early for one of those to already be around. It was very cute but we worried about it. We walked to the other side of the hill, and then had lunch overlooking the valley. And then went back! Seeing another goat-with-kid. Oh dear. It was not a huge walk but one has more to do. It was great to get a good social walk in in busy times! And a good dose of history is a lovely bonus...

Art on the parking lot! Pic by Fiona

 
The granite quarry

Fiona contemplating mine-related ruins, with Nant Gwrtheyrn in the distance

04 February 2020

Llyfr Glas Nebo: the play

We had read the book 'Llyfr Glas Nebo' in Welsh class. And now we'd go see the play, in Galeri in Caernarfon. (The Welsh tutor who had organised the tickets lives in Caernarfon; hence that we didn't go see it in Pontio in Bangor). I had not been so I liked the change! And it wasn't bike weather anyway.



I summarise the plot in the previous post. And how was this expressed on stage? I was about to find out. It started. Lots of people were on stage, everything happened at the same time. The toddler was already there, but the woman's hairdresser colleague from the olden days was still there too. So this was a compilation of different times. Confusing! And then we got into the narrative. Times were quiet. The toddler was already ill, but things were ticking along. They were growing vegetables and trapping animals. And they found the notebook which would be Llyfr Glas Nebo.

The toddler was a puppet. That worked OK! After the first minutes you look past the people operating her. And the woman and the son were very believable. The actor playing the son was clearly older than the son himself but not in a distracting way.

Later you get a flashback in which the war/nuclear accident happen. The time change is mainly done by the boy wearing a clean shirt and playing younger. And then neighbours are introduced. These were rather cartoonish, but well, the play has enough misery in, so a cheerful note was an understandable choice. And then the shit hits the fan! The Wylfa explosion was done well with sound and light.

The play didn't quite have the same level of detail as the book, of course. There was much less criticism of modern society in it! And much less the subtleties between mother and son. And much less the details of their efforts. And I probably would have wondered a bit what the mutant hare (also a puppet) would be doing there if I hadn't read the book.

What I thought was a bit of a stretch that they have the posh neighbour also play the other survivor, without much change in looks. But maybe they thought a fake beard would be a bit too fake. In the book he sure has lots of facial hair!

The book ends with the return to modern society as heralded by a helicopter, a police car, and the lights coming on on Anglesey. And even though these first two are really easily simulated in a theatre, they weren't there! And the play ends with mother and son standing on the roof of the lean-to, and then a backstage light comes on and the play ends, but without the book I would never have guessed that that were the lights on Anglesey (as I assume they were). Oh well!

So what do I think in the end? As good as the cast was, I prefer the book! More space for subtleties. And these are, in my view, the best bits. And I am a LOT better at reading than listening in Welsh. I sometimes struggled to make out what was said on stage. (Our tutor later said even she struggled to make out what the mother was saying, so it wasn't just me!) But that also means I need the practice!

So altogether it was fun and useful to see the play. But I'll be going back to reading now. And listening to Radio Cymru. A good balance of doing what I'm good at and enjoy, and doing what I'm bad at and need practice in. I just have to get familiar with the schedule; It's Six Nations time now and that might feature very prominent in it, and that's not the kind of radio I'm looking for!

03 February 2020

Llyfr Glas Nebo: the book

With Welsh class we had been reading a book! It was Llyfr Glas Nebo (the Blue Book of Nebo) by Manon Steffan Ros, who had also written ‘Blasu’. And they had picked it, I presume, because they knew it was being turned into a play, and we could all go and see that. We steadily read it, a chapter at the time, and we finished it in the very week we'd go to the theatre.



*Spoiler alert*

What is it about? Well, the nuclear apocalypse seen from the small north Welsh village Nebo, through the eyes of a woman and her young teenage son. The whole war is entirely in the background; the woman hears about the bombs on the radio, and immediately turns prepper. And soon after that, the electricity blacks out and doesn’t come back on. She retreats to her remote house with her son. And then Wylfa explodes. And they both get very ill.

When they recover a bit they find the world largely deserted. The neighbours have survived but they walk off to a certain death. And there’s nobody else left! Not that she can tell, anyway. They just start growing vegetables and trapping animals and try to survive. And raid dead people’s homes.

The book in the title is a notebook they both write in. They suspect there is barely anyone left on Earth. And the boy is worried that later generations (if any) will not know about the time 'before'. He barely does! His mother, though, remembers it all too well. And they decide to write it together; with both their rather different perspectives in it. You get the nice contrast between the two societies! And you get the strong impression the author does not like modern life. The mother paints herself 'before' as a scared woman in an indifferent, technology-obsessed society. And now there is nobody left she can't care anymore about what other people might think. And she got strong and got on with it! And finds beauty in the world as it is now. The plants they grow, the lake they wash in. The boy sees that beauty too, but is unsure what to contrast it with. He barely remembers the time before! And struggles to imagine a world in which you walk past other people on the street and think nothing of it.

So what happens otherwise? The woman meets another survivor, and has another child with him, but that child, a daughter, dies as a toddler. She never tells her son about the man. There is a mutant hare.

And then, towards the end, suddenly signs of civilisation reappear, in the form of a helicopter and a police car. The mother is distraught! She’s not keen on going back to how things were (surprise, surprise). And then the lights come back on on Anglesey and the book ends.

I quite liked the daily life stuff! Not so much the beginning and end. I thought that neither the apocalypse nor its undoing were very credible. But if you would just accept the premise of this family living their life with only interaction with one other person, and you leave out the end, I think it’s great! Some things puzzle me; why not tell her son about the man? Why not introduce them? Was she scared he would want to move in and destroy her world as she had built it up? The book mentions she hopes the man comes back to get to know his daughter; why not also the boy then? However; I do like the author doesn't explain everything. She didn't do that in Blasu either.

The author is rather prolific and I think I'll read more by her! But first I'll read a Welsh classic. Stay tuned for that!

02 February 2020

Last day as EU resident

It's sad but I am resigned! I don't think it was a good idea for the UK to leave the EU, but there we are, it's happening. By tomorrow I will be an EU citizen in a non-EU country. I have been there before, of course; Norway isn't in the EU. But there's a difference between never having had something or losing something!

What will the practical implications be? Well, nobody knows, of course. Will the university get into big trouble because the EU citizens are not coming anymore? Will travel be disrupted? Will xenophobia rise? Nobody knows! And what about the EU citizens like me? That's unclear too. I think the UK will tread carefully; if they make life too hard on resident EU citizens, there's little stopping the Spanish doing the same to the plethora of UK pensionados living there. And pensioners tend to vote Tory so Johnson won't want to piss them off. But I can't say I am fully at ease; if the Tories think nothing of taking people's passports away, will they hesitate to take a settled status away? And I know that, quite unlike Shamima Begum, I have the skin colour the government likes, but I also know that said skin colour is no guarantee.

At least there was a cheerful note on the day; we still have our Friday Cake Competition and this time, there was a EU cake! I liked that. Half the school now has blue teeth but that is trivial. Political baker, I salute thee!