28 March 2020

Lockdown

Well, that's it, then! We are in lockdown. It was bound to happen! Although the government was rather weathervane-ish about it. From pubs and restaurants being open on Friday to lockdown on Monday is a bit of a U-turn. But hey ho! If this is what the population needs then better called late than never.

So how is this for me? Well, I think I may be in the best position possible to weather this. I live in a huge house, I have a huge garden, and I can just do my job at home. So I have an income, a purpose, and space. And I won't see people in person, pretty much, except for a chat with the neighbour over the fence, but I'm quite comfortable on my own, and I have strong enough phone/internet signal to Facetime, Skype and Team people. I don't suppose it could be any better really! My only risk pretty much is RSI as I don't quite have as ergonomically tuned workspace as I had in the office. But I'll manage. And I am SO relieved I got that office chair before I couldn't anymore. And we are all still allowed out for exercise once every day. And I'm taking that liberty!

My bike has been pretty much mothballed now but I am back in a running routine. I suppose I don't have to come out of this any less fit. And the hills around here are quiet. I don't come across many people (population density is modest around here) but those I meet keep their distance! And I can sometimes trade running for walking. Especially in the weekends. A good walk is a lot longer than a good run! 

Altogether I will be fine the coming weeks. I'll just lay low and hope the measures work! Because this may be easy for me, but I'm sure it's really hard for people who are now left without an income. Or who are facing serious health risks working in an overstretched NHS. And for, say, people cooped up in apartments. Especially in cities. Possibly with either children that are too young to understand why they can't go to Grandma or soft play or whatnot, or older children who understand but may just get cabin fever. I hope these measures work and it won't have to last too long!

 What a meeting looks like now

27 March 2020

The gardening season has started

I had seen weeks ago that the grass needed cutting. I had lots of excuses why I didn't have to do it! But I finally got around to it. I suppose that kicked off the routine! I will now do it every two or three weeks. And when I was at it anyway I started another big session of trying to get rid of poppies. One raised bed had been dominated by them. I had ripped them out, but these things won't give up without a fight. So small poppy plants were coming up everywhere! Time to do something about it. For now, anyway. They will come back up.

I think my garden will get rather tidy this year. I think I should take regular breaks from working at home. I just don't have the same set-up, even with the new office chair. I have had RSI before; I don't want it again! And the perk of working at home is that you can do an hour of work, do fifteen minutes of gardening, do an hour of work, etc etc. Or two hours of work, a run, two hours of work. As long as we are still allowed out to run! Otherwise it surely WILL be the garden. And then it'll soon be spic and span!


26 March 2020

Socially distant lunch

Blimey does this blog age quickly. I tend to post with an up to 6 day delay! Normally I doubt people notice it very much but now it's quite evident. This is a post I wrote about Sunday, and I post it on Thursday. Life has changed since! But let's get back to Sunday.

A lot of people are now a bit cooped up. Some must self-isolate (but I know few of these), some have lost their daily activities, many now work at home, some have children that now don't go to school, some fall into more than one category. And we need to keep each other sane! So when I had to pop west anyway for an office chair, I contacted my colleague of whom I knew was struggling a bit with this working at home malarkey. And she said she intended to have a picnic at Penmon! And I decided to join.

It is strange to see friends and keep a distance! But better than not seeing friends. And it was lovely weather. We had a nice lunch on the beach! And a small walk afterwards. It couldn't be too long due to the kid. It was nice!

At the end the others left and I bolted on a short addition to the walk. It was lovely! Strange times these are. But we need to stick together (metaphorically) to get through this in the best possible way!

Walk with good distancing

Glorious coastline


Close-up of the limestone


Stone arch

Looking back towards the lighthouse


25 March 2020

Improve the home office

After my first day of working at home I felt my back. And my bum. I know my office chair is not all that; I got it when I was a child, and I don't think it was top of the range then. So far I had never used it so much that became an issue. But if it’s uncomfortable on the first day, it’s untenable in the long run! So I needed to act. I had a look at if anyone had a better specimen on sale anywhere nearby. And they did! I saw two. And intended to buy one the next day.

By that day, one of them was already sold. The other wasn’t! I drove up to the village where it was for sale, sat on it to try, decided it was a lot better than the old one, and bought it. The man selling it didn't have an awful lot of trouble in guessing why I was buying it! And with some pushing it went into the car. (That sort of stuff was what the Citroen was good at!) Then I had the task of getting it into position in the office. Never a sinecure in my infamously narrow-doored house.

It had come through the front door OK. Not surprisingly; that's a modern door! And the door into the old part of the house was OK too. That opening had been made relatively recently so that was fairly wide. But then the door into the living room. That one is really tight! I tried to get the chair through but it wasn't going to happen. Not like this.But the chair had armrests and these looked like they came off. So I took one off! And realised the back of the chair was only attached to the armrests. Aha. Oh well! I took that off too. And then the whole chair was easily taken up the stairs and around the corner. And then quickly reassembled! This is the first thing I write while sitting in my new chair. So far I like it! Bring on the Monday with a full day in this chair! I hope this will make a big difference...
 
How the chair got into the office

Put together and ready for use! 

 

24 March 2020

Socially distant walk

The government thinks we should still go outside for exercise! And I think that's a good idea. Who are you going to infect if you're going for a run? Or if you walk into an empty valley? And I'm not the only one who still wants to do that sort of stuff! So on the Saturday after my first day working at home I teamed up with Kate (Bob) and Chris. We had an epic walk in mind! And we could do that at a safe distance from each other. But we felt the wind and we decided that that walk might not be the best idea. We toned it down to pretty much the same walk Chris and I had had to tone down earlier due to him slipping and pulling a muscle.

We walked into the valley. The weather forecast was still insisting it was fairly calm weather but we were pretty much blown over! We persisted for a while but at some point, we decided it wasn't much fun. We could barely talk as the wind blew away our words! So we turned around. We had had some fresh air and some exercise. Time to go have coffee instead! But one day we would manage to get out and not be hindered by the wind or mishaps, as had happened before and before and before...

The view from where we decided to turn around

23 March 2020

Working at home

If you can work at home: work at home. That is the advice of both the government and the University. And I can! I don't prefer it; I have a lovely office at home, but at work my computer is better, and my monitors, and the internet connection, and my office chair... so I tend to only work at home for fairly brief periods. If I have a lecture in Bangor at, say, 11 AM and I don't want to first bike to the office and then to Bangor. And then back to the office. In stead I'll just work at home until it's time to bike to Bangor. But if I intend to make a full workday I go to the office!

Quite a lot of people were perfectly set up for working at home. They were nowhere to be seen from the first message encouraging them to stay home. I needed a bit of preparation; I am not a friend of OneDrive so I wanted to copy loads of files over to my external hard drive first. And my biggest immediate job was sorting out the alternative arrangements for the dissertation talks; I wanted to do that with full facilities available. So were were given a week to get out. I took four days of it. I sorted the dissertation talks (will talk about that in a separate post), did all sorts of other things that appeared, and loaded up my data. Then I loaded up all the plants that live in my office. And I left! As one of the last.

If things go pear-shaped I can still call on my work facilities; we're not fully banned from the building. So if there is a need I can pop back in! If one day I need a stronger internet connection. Or if I for some reason really need to use software I don't have here. I'm glad the option is there!

My plant found new homes. Some in my home office! For continuity. And I set to work. And it was different. Now everyone was at home! So now all meetings have to be done from work too. So everyone is now on Teams. And I hadn't really used it before. And it is a distraction! Your computer pings the entire time. It's worse than email! Or would I just have practiced ignoring emails? And people quickly invented the virtual coffee break. Just have a team for that. And then make sure you have a coffee at 11, and join a meeting! Not quite the real thing but it was good to see some familiar faces. I got in late; I had been using Teams on Office365, but you can't do meetings that way. So I had to first download the desktop app. And then try to join in. It worked!

I can't say I was as productive as usual that first day. But I'm sure I'll get into it. This is the new normal! I'm sure quite soon working in the office will seem a distant dream. Although I hope we can go back to how things used to be before too long...

My office plants will work at home too


 
The home office; I will spend a lot of time here!

22 March 2020

Worries about parents

My parents aren't twenty anymore! And haven't been for a long time. And the thing is that anyone can of course fall over at anytime, but let's face it, with octogenarians and almost-octogenarians, it's a bit more likely than with relative youngsters. And I know that if something happens, and I want to rush back to the Netherlands, it'll take me a while to get there. And I might not make it in time! But now things have gone a lot more complicated. Travel is frowned upon, flights are cancelled, train services are being reduced, the world is full of stranded travellers that see flight after flight cancelled, and elderly people are supposed to self-isolate. Hospitals and care homes don't let visitors in. So I suppose that if something went wrong now, that would not be the best time! But it would also be an unlikely coincidence, wouldn't it? Well, maybe not...

My dad is getting older. You can tell he gets slower, and has less stamina, and forgets more. He's never been famous for his photographic memory but he says it's a lot worse now than ever before. But he hasn't shown any sign of falling over yet! Good. Let's hope it stays that way.

My mother, however, managed to fall over and land in hospital. In the middle of the epidemic! I was very worried. Should I try to get to her? But she didn't tell me until the day she would get surgery (typical) so it made sense to await results. She told me at 6.15; I didn't get her on the phone until about 9:30. It was good to hear her voice! She sounded unexpectedly cheerful. The reassured me. She promised to let me know how the surgery had gone. I had a little cry.

She phoned me the day after. She sounded chipper! Fortunately. And she expected to be home again in three days. She also said they wouldn't have let me into the hospital! Everyone except patients and staff were stopped. So having come over wouldn't have done much. And of course I could try to get to her afterwards, when she's recuperating at home. If I would find transport (I had a look at flights; that wasn't faith-inspiring!) they would be let into the country. I'm a citizen! And I think trains still go so getting to her town wouldn't be the issue. But I would also have to go back at some point! And I'm not a UK citizen. The UK may well close its borders! I don't think being a resident counts for much. And the UK is rather inclined to try to keep foreigners out in the best of times. Add an epidemic and it's not looking good. And the radio news today said that social distancing and all the disruptions that gives can last for a year! I don't want to be stuck in the Netherlands for a year. Imagine that! I also don't want to be stuck there for 'only' three months.

I'll just stay home for now. I should just phone my parents a bit more often! That still works fine. And just hope this epidemic goes away and I can freely go see them again...

21 March 2020

Covid-19 in North Wales

Footage of Venice and Rome looks eerie. Even footage of London! But how are things in North Wales?

The difference is not massive I must say! Mind you, Bethesda has never been a tourist hub. Neither has Menai Bridge. And even if they would have; tourist season hasn't really started yet. So if you walk on the streets you don't notice anything too unusual. But of course, there are differences.

The university, or at least, the bits of it I have recently frequented, is unrecognisable. It's as good as deserted! The door is now locked 24/7 and only with a key card can you get in. And there are bottles with cleaning agent everywhere. I never thought I'd be the sort of person to go and disinfect doorknobs but I turned into one! One has to do one's bit.

The MSc suite; no students, but there is disinfectant...

The shops are not the same either. Yes, we too have empty shelves! No toilet paper anywhere. When it comes to fruit and veg I noticed a fair difference; in the Menai Bridge Waitrose, the veg aisle looked a lot emptier than normal. The Bethesda Londis was stocked as ever!

When it comes to the hospitality sector, it looks like Bethesda has a relaxed approach. The last time I checked the two Indian restaurant and the one Chinese restaurant were still open, but two of these only do take-away so I suppose that's less risky. And only one of the pubs on this side of the high street was closed. Neuadd Ogwen was closed, as expected! A pity but the reasonable thing.

The loo roll shelves in the Menai Bridge Waitrose

There are also lovely initiatives! We have a village Facebook group and people are offering support. And people are asking for specific kinds of help. And a gardener up the road was offering seedlings of edible plants for free to whoever wanted to come pick them up! That was sweet.

It looks like this could be a long haul! I am sure that would be hard. The university can manage a lot online, but of course ventures like bakers, pubs, hairdressers and outdoor centres can't. So I am now still working, just in a different way (separate blogpost to follow), but many won't be so lucky. Bethesda isn't a rich village as it is! And so far it looks like most economic activity takes place as normal. But for how long? The government has now told pubs to close. Not sure if that will be enforced. But it looks like open pubs will soon be a memory. Bethesda might not like it! But it wouldn’t like the virus spreading either. We'll see how this pans out...


Very quiet on the street! But that’s normal...

20 March 2020

Car with fixed wheels

Yes, a car with fixed wheels is a bad idea! I didn’t know I had one. But at the moment, I do. I only found out when I brought my car in for a service. They couldn’t get the wheels off! Every wheel has one anti-theft bolt.  And you need a special tool to get these off. And the tool came with the car, but it’s cracked. The garage didn’t dare put stress into that! They figured it would just shatter.

One of the bolts in question 

I don’t know why my modest car has this precaution. If you want to steel a wheel, wouldn’t you want a more glamorous one? But clearly, the previous owner didn’t think so. And I hadn’t noticed that when I bought it.

The garage had said they had phoned the nearby Vauxhall garage to see if they could order a replacement tool. And that the response had been that they couldn’t; they had to see the tool in question so the next Sunday I popped by. But it turns out that the parts division is closed on Sunday! But they said I could just give them the number on the box the tool had come in, so I didn’t have to appear in person. Hm! Weird.

I phoned them that Monday, but the number on the box turned out to not be the number they needed. It was a number IN the box they needed, and my box did not contain one. Aha! That was why I needed to come in person. So I came back. And a man came out with a whole suitcase full of tools. They come in all sorts of shapes! And the second last one was the right one. They didn’t have it in stock but they could order it. I would have to come back yet again!

The Saturday after I learned our Open Days were cancelled I popped to the Vauxhall garage again, and got my tool. As I was in the vicinity anyway, I popped by at a friend. That was nice! We discussed the virus situation over coffee.

New, pristine tool! And the old, cracked one for comparison.

That Monday I went back to my normal garage. Could they sort the situation out now? They would try! And in the afternoon I picked it up again. They had wrecked my brand new tool and had had to use drastic measures to get the buggers out but they had done it! I now have removable wheels again. I’m very relieved! And they didn’t even charge me; they said it was still part of the service they had done a while ago. That was kind of them! So if I now get a puncture I can hopefully just sort that...

What the tools looked like when the garage was done with them

Normal bolt on my wheel!

19 March 2020

All face-to-face teaching suspended

It was bound to happen! After international travel was banned, and then Open Days, it was clear the next thing would be to ban all conventional teaching. And it happened. So no more lectures! No more practicals. No more field trips. No more tutorials. Or rather; none of that face to face. I assume the field trips are off altogether now; we only have one audiovisual employee and we can't really make him do, and film, all trips. He might be busy making virtual Open Days already. And I don't know about the practicals. The lectures we can just record. The tutorials we can do on Skype I suppose!

The exams will also be done online. We'll have to think about how exactly! And the students have now pretty much all gone away. And several colleagues have already started working at home. So it's quiet here now! But we who are still here are busy adapting our work. Sending out emails to students about how all their modules (including the dissertation module) are affected, recording lectures that haven't taken place yet, making instructions of how to now do things such as recording your powerpoint presentation rather than presenting it in person. Thinking of new marking criteria. And getting familiar with 'Microsoft teams' to have yet another way to communicate with colleagues without being within infection radius. And wrestle through the torrent of updates from colleagues, and questions from students. Lots to do!

An important thing I now also have to do is thinking about how to change the project for my MSc student. We can't take him into the field! Can't let him work in the lab. So now what? Stay tuned!

Altogether these are strange times. But I hope the measures work! So far so good (considering circumstances); no confirmed cases in Gwynedd yet. But that will surely change. I hope everybody who gets ill will recover soon! And that all our students still get a serviceable end of this term.

Will the new academic year be all back to normal? One can only hope!

Bad picture of me about to record a lecture


18 March 2020

Last minute Fish Mine trip

I had only heard the cave rescue training was cancelled the night before and an email from new group member James (yes I know, still no group name) landed in my inbox. He wanted to do a mine I had never heard of, that very weekend! A bit short notice; this was not going to be an official trip, if there even is such a thing. I didn't get around to looking the place up until Saturday. Friday was busy with the fieldtrip, and then all sorts of stuff to be sorted, a fair amount of which to do with the Covid-19 situation. So I knew little about it, but it sounded fun. Small mine, some SRT. So I said it sounded great. And so did Chris and Kate/Bob. Kate/not Bob was otherwise engaged.

We gathered near Llandudno, all piled into the biggest car, and were off. Soon we were parked up. Time to get changed! And this was an unusually well-signposted mine. There was an information sign at the kissing gate to the path into the woods, and it had the entrance marked on it. That's unusual!

We walked up the path, and soon came across the lower entrance. Looked nice! But we kept going. We wanted to go in at the top, go all the way down, and then retrace our steps back up. We got to the top of the platform. Now we had to find that entrance! But we soon did.

The lower entrance

Arriving at the top of the platform. Nice views!

James rigged the first pitch. It was a narrow rift with a tree to rig from at the top, then a Y-hang, and then a deviation. And Kate hadn't done much SRT before! But we kept an eye on what she did and we all ended up safely down.

From the bottom of that pitch there was some crawling through mud involved. And then soem cleaner crawling. And then some seriously stooped walking. This was an old mine! It was clearly cut with pick-axes. And then you don't cut more than strictly necessary.

I came to a junction, On one side was the next pitch down; on the other side, a level went off into the distance. That was very stoopy too! But it had a few higher bits, where the miners had followed the ore vein a bit further up.

When we had explored to the end we had a sandwich. And we rigged the next pitch. And the next. And the next! The came thick and fast now. Not much to explore laterally. But James enjoyed the rigging, and Kate enjoyed the SRT practice, and we had a lovely time. Some of the pitches were a bit awkward! So good practice.

A rather typical, thus low, level

Me at the top of a pitch (pic by Kate)

Kate at the top of one of the pitches

Popping into the lowest level from a suspected air shaft. Pic by Kate.

We then reached the bottom of the last pitch. And the place got big! The Victorians had clearly been at work here. This was clearly a blasted level. And then you can have them big enough to stand up, and wide enough to swing a cat! 

We popped out into the sun. It was a lovely day! But then we went back in to get back up and out. Chris decided to go back to the cars; he had decided this wasn't a day for prussicking back up. So we came back up, and derigged, and went back down. The disadvantage of this way of coming out is that you need to do the crawling-through-mud thing at the very end! But on the way down you pass the lower entrance again, with its stream coming out, so you can clean up. 

At the car we met Chris again. It had been a nice little trip! I'm enjoying this! 
I also pondered that one reason I had been hesitant to quit the ThursdayNighters was that I didn't enjoy the aspect of being the only women there (some 98% of the time), but figured the way to attract more women is to have women. If I would leave they would be back to zero. And that might not be very inviting to other women who might want to go underground in north Wales. But that sorted itself; there's now a less unbalanced group in town! Success!  

Group pic

17 March 2020

Fieldtrip to the beach - while we still can

We had another trip scheduled in our fieldwork module. This time we were scheduled to go to Rhosneigr. I had missed the previous trip, and had no time for a recce, so I had to prepare in theory! I had said I would say some things about the blueschist at the base of the Marquess of Anglesey, and about the folding of the sediments on the beach.

As usual, Dei and Jaco went to pick up the students, while I drove the SOS car to the meeting point. We would do the blueschist first. I did my spiel there. It's remarkable rock; it has gone down 35 km into a subduction zone, and then come back up before it heated up to more than some 500 degrees.

After the blueschist we went to Lake Maelog near Rhosneigr. There we wanted to look at the ~600 Ma old granites. And the rock around it, that has been baked into contact-metamorphic rock. Dei did the bulk of the talking about these. And on the other side of the lake (it's not a big lake; geology changes quickly on Anglesey) we were back in sedimentary rock. And we had Jaco; he can talk a long time about sedimentary rock. He really kicked off when we came to an outcrop he hadn't seen before; it was unusually beautiful and he improvised a lecture on sedimentological processes as seen in the rock (including low-tech experiments!) on the spot. Rather cool!

Jaco gets up close and personal with the contact-metamorphic rock next to the lake

Dei lectures about granite

Scrutinising sedimentary rock

One does a trip near RAF Valley or one doesn't. Yes that smaller spot is a jet too. 

 Jaco explains the difference between the transport of clasts in turbulent and laminar flow

When he was done we were hungry. As Jaco was addressed by the local farmer who wondered what all the fuss had been about and Dei was wondering where his bag was I took the students to some picnic benches in the dunes.

After lunch we went to the beach. I there did my spiel about how the joints in a rock will fan out when they come to a hard bed, and converge back when they get back into soft rock. And how you can tell where the top of your fold is from smaller auxiliary folds. And spoke of when the folding gets so severe the hard beds start to look like strings of sausages.

When the students had gone to look for these features themselves, we let Jaco loose again. The hard beds were turbidites and those are his favourite thing! And he can talk about them for days. And by the time he managed to stop himself it was time to get back to the vehicles. We all felt this may well have been the last fieldtrip in the series. We have several more in the timetable, but let's face it, this sort of thing may get cancelled soon. How much longer can you pile students into a minibus and cart them around? As soon as you are outside, infection risks are low, but you have to first get the students (and yourself) to the outside location of choice. Well, if we have to stop here, I think it was a good finale!

16 March 2020

Virus affects cave rescue too

It was a busy week and the weekend wouldn't be quite as relaxing as I would have hoped. There was a cave rescue training scheduled! The venue was some hour away, and they tend to take a while. I would have to leave by nine and probably not be back until five. I could do without that! I was feeling the strain. But well, a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do. So I let the organisers know that I would show up unless work would get me first.

It would be an interesting training, anyway. The first one after the schism! And it would be highly likely there would be ThursdayNighters there. Maybe not many; the previous one only had one (other than myself, as I still was one then). But I didn't expect zero. It would be interesting to see what they would do when they saw me appear! And would it be a pleasant training? Possibly not. But I don't do cave rescue for fun; I do it because I think it's important that we have a team, as rarely as it's needed, and if I think it should be there I should put my money where my mouth is.

But then there was the Slate talk. And one of the team members showed up. Before the talk, he walked up to me to say the training might be cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns. I said I wouldn't mind! I could do with a break. And it's not as if one cancelled training is going to render us ineffective. And during the talk I felt my phone vibrate several times. When we were perusing a table with flyers and the likes after the talk, the other team member and I went through our messages, and le voila; indeed it had been cancelled. Good! I could take it easy, recover a bit, and thereby improve my immune system; surely a good thing. And we'll see when we'll be back training again!

15 March 2020

Slate and estates

A historical talk about slate! Even in a busy week I want to see that. Fiona had drawn my attention to a talk titled 'Estates and slate quarrying in Gwynedd'. And it was in the middle of the busiest time of term! But I didn't want to let that slip. So we went. We were early enough for a panad beforehand. And it was well-attended!

The speaker, David Gwyn, started. He said he had been a bit hesitant about the topic. Everyone with a glancing familiarity with the topic knows that the estates tended to have been run by characters of dubious views on society and equally dubious sources of money. The local estate, Penrhyn, which owned the quarry, owed its fortune to oversees plantations. And then they set out to increase it by squeezing the local community. The resulting strike is still by far the biggest thing that ever happened in Bethesda. But just because you don't like something doesn't mean you shouldn't talk about it. So he did! And with panache.


He first explained the topic wasn't straightforward; the two biggest quarries around were each owned by one big estate, but there were also big estates without big mines and mines not owned by estates at all and all sorts of permutations. But he went through the various estates, the various men at the head of them, how they related to each other, how they related to the quarrymen, and so on. He also went into the differences between the various quarries; e.g. he pointed out that the fact that the Penrhyn estate owned all the land in the quite far surroundings meant they could just build a railroad to the sea. Who could object? And they could also just make sure the nearby quarry owned by someone else couldn't. He didn't mention they could also sabotage that quarry's leat but it seems that's exactly what they did.

The audience seemed to have been largely local. The speaker sometimes said things like 'and we all know what this person got up to' and then the room murmurred agreement while I thought 'well I don't!' and was glad he explained anyway. And there were also things he didn't know; he voiced the hope someone in the audience would be keen to do a PhD in Victorian accountancy methods. And then dive into the financial archives of the estates. No voices piped up!

When he was done I sort of wished he would speak for yet another hour. I thought it was riveting! And then there were questions. And there were some words about the bid to make the North Welsh Slate Quarrying landscape an Unesco World Heritage Site (one day I'll come to delving into that myself and blogging about it). The man was involved! And he had an update. He said the bid had gone to government. And that after that, something happened that he never had thought to be possible. Boris Johnson had agreed with him! He added he hoped that Johnson would come around to his view on more topics, but that so far there had been little evidence of that. We're not holding our breath. But then it was over.

As I was yawning my head off by then we didn't go anywhere to have a drink and mull things over. Maybe after the next event of such kind! If there will be any anytime soon. This is not the time in which gatherings are viewed in a particularly positive light...

14 March 2020

New (old) paper and the response

In 2009, I came to Britain to do a postdoc job on sea level change in the North Atlantic over the last 500 years. It's 2020 now! But lo and behold, a paper came out just now. Read it here. It's open access!

Why did this take so long? Well, this was the paper to bring everything together, so we first had to publish all the papers about individual field sites, like this one. And then the idea was that Roland would write up the sites that didn't merit a record of their own, and the overview, all into one article. But that was a faff! Some of that was just circumstances; since we did the fieldwork, of course, Roland had moved to York University, and become Head of School, and whatnot. And writing something that is part synthesis and part data paper is hard. And several reviewers didn't like it much. And several journals rejected it. And we needed a new co-author with particular skills. So it took forever! But now it's out. Hurray!

What it does, in a few words, is look at several records on either side of the North Atlantic. And we found a pre-industrial period in which a certain part of the US East Coast experiences quite rapid sea level rise. This suggests that the various factors at play here (ice melt, vertical land movement, inhomogeneous oceanic warming, strength of the Gulf Stream, wind patterns etc etc) that decide sea level there can come together in such a way that this area got WAY much more than the global average of sea level rise. And if it did that then, it can do it again!

The US East Coast is vulnerable anyway; most of it is quite low-lying, and a part of it is probably actively sinking. The ice sheet on the northern part of the continent pushed the crust down into the mantle; the mantle material had to go somewhere and went sideways. And when the ice sheet vanished, that mantle material started flowing back. A bit like sitting on an airbed with someone else! If the other person (the ice sheet) gets up, you sink down. The same here. And then of course there is the rather variable Gulf Stream that also influences sea level. A lot is going on there! So the people there should be prepared.

All this seems to make so much sense. But not to everyone! I soon got an email from a journalist who drew my attention to an article in an American journal (online or otherwise) that had taken our article to mean that sea level rise was steady and hadn't accelerated and never would. Not sure how they managed to read that into it! But they had. And she wanted to provide an answer to this article. And she asked me for input. It was not a good week for it.

On a Wednesday night, after coming home from my meeting with Jenny, I set to work. She had asked for text with references. I assumed she would rework the text but hadn't asked for details. I started banging out a text but when I was almost done I saw my word looked dodgy. I figured I had better save this now. But I couldn't! Something was wrong with my word. And I didn't manage to copy it across to anything else, like Notepad or something. Shit shit shit! It vanished altogether and I couldn't find a temp file either. And yes I suppose someone better schooled in IT would not have let it disappear but it had gone outside my abilities to retrieve it. And I had been typing while actually already wanting to be in bed! That was disheartening. Luckily I remembered what I had roughly written, so I banged out notes, and retrieved the references. My browser was working fine! So the references were recovered by just hitting 'back' a lot in Google Scholar. I saved that and went to bed.

The next day I wrote it out again and sent it off. And the day after I go the mail that said it was done. She had just published my text as was! Oh well. I suppose it will do. Not the most polished text I've ever written but it'll do! And I didn't know she had asked the rest of the world to comment too.

Will this help? Probably not. I mean, I am one of the authors! If you twist our words from the article you'll twist our words when we respond to the twisting. This publication clearly thought climate scientists are a bunch of lying bastards anyway. And then why would we not lie in a comment? But well, sometimes one has to try even if one knows the other side won't listen. I suppose you can't win! You can't not call out this sort of thing, but it will probably change precisely nothing in the minds of the people who read that sort of stuff. Their minds have been made up! Whatever information you throw at them. We follow the data...

Picture form the fieldwork in the US we did, the results of which are incorporated in the article

13 March 2020

Virtual Open Days

We had had two of the Open Days of a series of four. And then the Covid-19 situation worsened. So we're still on course to make them happen, but we are also starting contingency work. We want to have virtual Open Days! Which involves recording the speeches that people give, and recording the demonstrations, and recording whatnot so people can just see what we get up to without having to come up here. And I thought that would mean a lot more work. But I had our admissions lady on the phone and it seems that the marketing team are going to sort it out! Well, that I don't mind. I suppose that my job before and during an Open Day is mainly to make sure that people know when to be where. But if the whole thing is getting recorded the pressure is off. When the recordings are made doesn't really matter! As long as they are made. So for now I seem to be able to sit back, and wait for news! The Covid-19 update emails are coming thick and fast. But let's face it; there is a fair chance that Open Days, which involve plonking lots of people (sometimes over 150) into one big lab and making them touch loads of surfaces, will be cancelled before too long. But the good thing is; once we have the virtual Open Days we can use them for years to come!

How long will we still be allowed to do this?

PS and yes the Open Days have been cancelled by now! On the day I published this...

12 March 2020

Hectic time of term

In the second term, I am doing the bulk of the teaching in two modules, organising the dissertation module and organising the Open Days. And we have all the modules that require tutorials, and the fieldwork module. So it’s busy! And I try to be prepared beforehand but well, that’s never complete. The one big module is Earth, Climate and Evolution, in which I originally taught six lectures, but then my colleague who taught eight of them retired and I had to take these on too. And taking on lectures from someone else can be a lot of work; some people teach from memory, and only use their slides as a prompt. Such lecture slides can just be a series of seemingly arbitrary pictures! And many of these can also be quite old. So I spent a lot of time on these the summer before I would teach these lectures. But this year I also wanted to blend his an my lectures together a bit more. That takes time! And then add an interactive part.

The other module is a MSc module. These are much work anyway! And I felt like it needed tweaking when I inherited that. But every year, only so much tweaking gets done, so even after having done it several times I still have a lot to do.

And then there's the tutorial modules (to call them that); the ones in which you have a smallish number of students and give them more personalised guidance. That can be a lot of work! And in the fist semester, only of of these modules runs, but in the second semester, it's all three. And then, of course, I need to sort the dissertation module, and organise the Open Days. And I've been struggling with that workload for years! Last year I addressed it with my line manager. That did help. A bit. I am now not responsible for the Earth, Climate and Evolution module anymore. But these fourteen lectures are still there. So as a supermarket chain says: every little helps, but it's not a big change. Hopefully handing over the climate modules will! I'm sure that means more work next year (changing my part of the module to whatever the new format will be) but after that it should get better. And I haven't yet managed to lose my Peer Guiding and Welcome Week tasks! We have the new lecturer who would be the logical person to hand that to, and he's happy to take over, but that needs to be OK'd by the Head of School and he's busy with the strike and the virus threat and whatnot. So no news there yet!

I am struggling now to keep up! I try to be the duck that looks calm. But I can feel the effects. I hope I manage, as I normally manage, to get through this second semester without falling ill! If I reach the end of my lectures without falling over I think I'll have made it. I will then have to dive head-first into the dissertation module, the Open Days, several field days and a pile of marking, but I think I'll be OK. And well, maybe we won't even have Open Days anymore! Will the University risk stuffing a big lab full of some 150 people for an Open Day in a few weeks' time? We'll have to wait and see. And after the last of the planned Open Days it will be Easter! And that is when you know you've practically made it!

11 March 2020

Damp mine recce

When the new underground group was established I started pondering where I wanted to go. And one mine I was keen to have a look at was Britannia Copper Mine, on the flanks of Snowdon. I had walked past more than once, but always on a mountain walk, and not having things like a torch or wellies with me. So I was keen to go for real one day! But I wasn't quite sure what would have been needed so we figured maybe a recce was a good idea. And we did that! After a heavy week in the office, both Chris and I were keen on some fresh air. And for the first time, Kate (Bob) joined us. We had to get there early; the only logical place to park is at Pen-y-Pass, and that parking lot is full really early on. So we gathered on a nearby lay-by, and drove the last bit in one car. And the weather forecast had been OK but we drove up in rain! Oh dear. Not much visibility either. But well, what can one do.

We started on our way. It was a bit drizzly; nothing too onerous! But it was quite windy too. We walked up past Llyn Llydaw. And then, barely seen, we reached Glaslyn. And I knew there was a conspicuous entrance there. We would look at that first! I donned wellies for the occasion. Chris and Kate just resigned to wet feet. It didn't go very far! But now I new. And we used the dry level for a cuppa.

 Reaching Glaslyn in the fog

The first level

Then we had a look higher up on the hill. We knew there was a lot of spoil higher up. You can see it on the satellite image! And it was clear here in the field too. But we didn't see any entrances. And the weather was atrocious by now. We decided to go back down to lake level and look a bit more there. So we walked along! And after a while saw a structure. And we found an entrance. It was a bit wet so initially i just went in alone, in my wellies. But there was so much to see the others followed. I followed the level to the end, including an over-the-knee in water bit. I advised the others against following there; not worth the damp! And there was a level a few meters up but well, exploring that would involve a lot of lugging kit up the hill. It took us some 75 mins to get to the lake! With light kit. Not sure we will ever bother with heavy stuff. A drill would be doable but it was a rather wet spot; you'd be hypothermic before you would be finished. And your drill would have short-circuited. A ladder would be ideal but that's a pain!

We went out and looked around a bit more, but we were getting cold and wet. We decided to bail! And made our way down the scree slope, with difficulty. It was the sort of scree slope that's a challenge on any day but with wind in which it's difficult to stay upright in the flat it was extra interesting. But before we came down all the way Kate stopped us. She found another entrance! And it was so wet we didn't want to go in. I had already changed into my boots. We left it for another day!






We made our way back to the path. And then back to the car! And the parking lot has a cafe. We went in for a hot chocolate. That was a lovely thing after such a damp morning!

I had figured we would have to do this mine in winter as in summer it's so busy. But we decided we could just ramp up the earliness. If you get there at dawn you can park! So we might not have to wait too long (I consider the busy season to start at Easter, and that's soon, and before Easter I'm very busy) for the proper trip.

When I got home I checked the pictures on AditNow; the best bits of the mine, as far as documented, are in the adit we considered too wet. Now we know! And we can come back with a clearer idea of what to expect! And maybe wait for a day with better weather...

10 March 2020

International women's day

'I don't like International Women's Day'. It's not a strange quote but a bit unexpected from one of the official speakers at the Bangor University's International Women's Day event! But she explained; what she didn't like was that they were invented in 1911 and we still need them. And we do! At BU too; higher management is not rife with women, and we have a pay gap of about 10%. And a leaky pipeline. Lots of female undergraduates, postgraduates, PhD students, postdocs, and junior lecturers. But from there on it tails off. If I remember correctly, we have about 25% women among the professors in the entire university. And no that's not a pipeline thing; that's what people told me in 1993, and if that were true, surely by now these women would have come through that pipeline. They haven't! And Ocean Sciences is doing rather badly. No female professors (I think 6 male ones), 1 female reader, a minority of senior lecturers. And junior females leaving. Three have left since I was hired! And the men that have left for reasons other than retirement were either a professor, or the husband of a junior woman who wanted to leave and managed to find jobs for them both overseas. So yes we still need it!

Particularly poignant was that the woman who didn't like IWD was our only female pro vice chancellor. Our VC and the other PVCs are male. And she had just announced that very week she was stepping down as PVC! I do hope she gets replaced by another woman. It would be a bit embarrassing if the entire senior management would be a bunch of blokes. And she cared about that stuff! She mentioned she barely ever missed a graduation ceremony, as she knew that if she did, the entire front of the stage (with the dignitaries) would consist of only blokes. And she didn't like that! Rightly so.

She was only stepping down from her role as PVC, BTW; she stays on as an academic. And she promised us she would continue a project she had started, with digging out the forgotten female icons from the history of BU, and have some of their portraits hung in the Council Chamber (where, for instance, we meet before graduations). The walls are thick with portraits but of men only! She was set on changing that. Good! Next time there is a graduation (in July) I'll check!

So who was it she was speaking to? A very small crowd! The event had been heavily advertised but there was barely anyone there. They had booked a huge lecture theatre but that only emphasised how small the audience was. A pity! From Ocean Sciences there were the current and previous Head of School (one of them chairing the event), two researchers, and our newest lecturer. All male, by the way! I salute them. And then me. Good in a way SOS' representation was so male-dominated; men are likely to hear more things that are new to them on events like that. Women in academia know what it's like to be a woman in academia!

So who else spoke? The chair and the VC started. We had Orla Feely as the keynote speaker. I suppose we were lucky; she had come over from Dublin, and we BU employees are not allowed to travel on university business anymore, so it surprised me that travel the other way was still allowed. But I'm not complaining! She gave an interesting talk; some of it with the sort of stuff you expect from a talk like that (praise for the women who paved the way before her, a tale of academic success in spite of rampant sexism, etc) but I liked that she got specific about practical things too. She had been involved in what is colloquially known as women-only professorships. (I think they are technically underrepresented group-only professorships). They will happen in Ireland soon! And I think that's great. Professorships have been male-only for centuries so some positive action here is something I support. And I hope these underrepresented group-only professorships will also include chairs for males in disciplines where they are scarce (these exist too, just not in my field).

During the last graduation ceremony, my guess is that about 95% of nursing graduates were female. That's not right too! I think society is being done a disservice if there are entire disciplines entirely dominated by one demographic. And how well are we doing on race? Sexual orientation? Etcetera? Not well, as far as I can see! So still a lot to do.


09 March 2020

Future of our oceans

As titles for public lectures go, 'the Future of our Oceans' is quite wide. But some people can pull that off! And I was about to find out that Jacqueline McGlade is one of these people.

I had seen the announcement. It wasn't a convenient time! It was in the middle of one of the busiest weeks of the academic year, and it overlapped with my Welsh practice. But sometimes you need to make time for something. Jenny would initially join me, and then we could discuss the matter afterwards in Welsh, but for her this was an unusually busy time too, so she pulled out. But I went!

It was packed. We were asked to move in, so any empty seats in the middle of a row would get filled. That was how busy it was! And I saw many familiar faces. It is the kind of lecture to appeal to Ocean Scientists!

The speaker was introduced by our Head of School (who was having a busy time too, due to the Covid-19 virus and its implications). He spoke of her fascinating life! For instance, you don't get many Bangor University alumni that end up both being the Chief Scientist and Director of the Science Division of the United Nations Environment Programme and living in a mud hut in Maasai territory. But she pulled that off!

He also mentioned that she had been on the radio programme 'The Life Scientific'. I think I heard fragments of that while doing other things! But now I will definitely listen to it again. Intently, this time!

Anyway. What did she actually say? Well, a lot! She spoke of the vast quantities of plastic already out there in the oceans. And how people try to quantify it. And what risks it brings. We all know about seals with a piece of fishing net around their necks, and turtles eating plastic bags, but there is much more to it. She said research had been done on what kinds of bacteria (and such life forms) can live on oceanic plastic. And one of them is cholera. We can expect epidemics coming from the sea! How many people can see that coming? She also mentioned that there are so many plastics out there that no toxicological studies have been done on. At all! And it even seems to be the case that manufacturers don't want to even tell you what's really in their materials. And you can try to find out after it ends up as trash (zap it with X-ray fluorescence, for instance) but that's time-consuming and expensive.

She also mentioned how that plastic ends up in the sea. Some of it simply is lack of funds. How many harbours don't have a waste management facility? She also discussed how technical solutions for one problem can create problems elsewhere. And she discussed how green-washing is causing trouble. Manufacturers like to put a 'biodegradable' label on all sorts of things, but that seems to be allowed if these things are only biodegradable under very restricted circumstances. And 'in the sea' tends not to qualify as such! We in Bangor had an issue in the university that the regional waste facilities couldn't biodegrade our biodegradable coffee cups. So then it's useless. And people might not really focus on consuming less packaging if they think this packaging is harmless. Even if it's not!

She also said that beach cleaning sessions are pretty futile; the next tide will bring lots of waste back. But she pointed out that if you've done a back clean, and you've seen what ends up on beaches, you may then try to avoid using that kind of material in the future. We can't really feasibly clean the oceans; we will have to reduce the input! And personal choices matter, but she believed more firmly in legislation. Some countries had just banned the use of plastic bags. It can be done! And that works best if all countries work together otherwise the plastic bag manufacturers just move elsewhere and keep producing the same amount.

She kept us all on the edge of our seats. She was a great speaker! I can imagine they asked her. And we were lucky to get her. And just in time; I don't think the university will host overseas speakers anymore now, for a while!

When she was done there was time for questions. Interesting ones were asked! One of our students asked how she stayed optimistic. Someone else asked if we can filter the plastic out of the oceans. And I asked something a bit trivial but the questions started to tail off by then; in the beginning, she had said that 75% of plastic that ends up in the ocean does so between May and October. I was pondering that. Was that just the monsoon? But she had forgot by then she had said it. And her slides weren't up anymore. A bit of a goose chase for that information ensued! And yes it was the monsoon. Blimey I didn't know that effect was so big.

The question I liked most was: imagine you are given a billion pounds (or dollars, I forgot) to make a difference, what would you do? And she had an answer ready; build waste management facilities in Asian ports currently lacking one. Makes sense! Asia produces very large fluxes of plastic. And quite many ports won't be able to afford this themselves. And it creates jobs for the local population!

Then it was time. The chairman thanked her and we went on our way. I had a small chat with two acquaintances and then I got onto my bike. It had been worth it! And I'm sure going to listen to that radio programme...









08 March 2020

Covid-19 Travel ban

'Today, the University’s Executive has decided that staff and students should NOT travel overseas on university business.'

That was how a message from the Governance and Compliance office started. After this start, there were nuances; if you can convince your Dean of the necessity of your travels you can still go. But it's clear; the Coronavirus has spooked higher management so much that we are supposed to stay within the UK. And even travel within the UK is not business as usual; we have been asked to 'consider' that.

For me this is OK. I have no plans of going anywhere anytime soon! But we have lots of people who were gearing up for fieldworks in all sorts of places. And conferences. And PhD vivas. This is going to disrupt so much! And I understand; it's better to cancel your fieldwork that to die, or cause someone else to die, but blimey, imagine you are on some big grant to do conservation work on tropical coral reefs and suddenly you can't go. The ban was issued by the university, not the funding body! And even if they understand; you won't be able to do the work, so not able to publish it, or write proposals building on that work. It must be hard. And I suppose universities all around the world are making decisions like this, so I suppose lots of fieldwork-heavy disciplines are equally hit around the world, but still.

I suppose we might be among the most worried Schools. I suppose people studying law don't have to travel so much to do that. Or those studying Welsh literature. And so on! And not all research is overseas, of course; plenty of seas around. But we have quite some people studying tropical reefs and they are probably stuffed...

07 March 2020

35 years ahead of the crowd

It rarely happens I am ahead of the hype! An early adopter I am generally not. But now it seems I have been decades ahead of what’s cool.

Netflix is advertising a series called ‘the letter for the king’. And that's based on the translation into English of the Dutch book 'Brief voor de koning' which I think came out in 2013. And I read that book in primary school! I loved it. I was about six or seven I think. So that's actually almost 40 years ago! And the book came out in 1962 so people could be 58 years ahead of the crowd, but clearly not me.

My memory of the book is patchy. I remember how it starts! And there's a scene fairly early on where he comes across a allegedly cursed stone, and some enemies, and survives but falls ill. And him finding a friend in the mountains. And then there's some stuff with him being attracted to two different girls. And the scene where he finally gets to the king from the title. The rest I pretty much forgot!

In spite of forgetting a lot, I do think the makers of the series have taken some liberties with the story. I checked the trailer! So much I didn't recognise. And a reminder can do miracles but I drew lots of blanks. Oh well! I suppose they have Tonke Dragt's permission. She's still alive! I hope lots of people will enjoy this latest incarnation of the story...

06 March 2020

Striking - again

It seems like there’s a strike going on more often than that there is not! We striked in November, and in March, and now we’re back at it. And why was that again? The Union has four gripes: Pensions, Contracts, Pay and Workload.

The pensions thing has to do with that the universities and union disagree about how they should be sorted; there has been independent advice, but the universities didn't listen to that.

Contracts at universities are becoming increasingly precarious. I have felt it myself with a string of contracts lasting shorter than a year (like this and this), and I've seen it around me too. And it seems I haven't seen nothing yet; there are schools where zero hour contracts are the norm. And that's not right.

The pay issue concerns pay that hasn't kept up with inflation. And a clanging pay gap between the genders and the various ethnicities. And not much in sight that indicates a change.

The workload is something I complain about a lot. We have to recruit more and more students, but we rarely get more staff to deal with them. And we lose support staff left and right. And I know the university needs the students, but I am not convinced they are powerless to address the workload issue. I remember from an earlier round of strikes that the union had offered pay cuts so we could do the same work with more people, and the university wasn't having it! And they have a habit of throwing money in badly managed building projects. That could be done better too!

So I'm on strike again. I waited until the third week I must confess. The first strike day was on the day of our Parys Mountain trip. The second was the day before an Open Day. And the next three were during reading week. We have no contact hours then; nobody would notice us striking! And we wouldn't manage to prepare anything. The idea is that when the strike stops because an agreement has been reached, everything goes back to normal. And if you have been on strike during reading week then you don't have your lectures and tutorials and exams ready and everything goes to pot. Bad idea!

I picked a day with lectures. I struggle to cancel tutorials! And the second semester has loads of tutorials. And well, yes, I did do work at home. But the lectures were cancelled and I won't receive pay, and that's enough to get a message across. Let's see if this goes anywhere!

05 March 2020

Pics on walls

I wrote I had got me a last round of printed pictures and pictures frames. Soon I had the frames filled! But the essence of the work is, of course, putting them up. And I have now done that.

When I saw the final stack of frames (bigger than the one here) I wondered if I had space for that all! But I was underestimating my house. I scampered through the house, putting them all up, and to me it doesn't feel crowded. I like it! I have so many memories to look at now.

More pics for the office

The spare bedroom got all the pics that were left over when the rest of the house was done




04 March 2020

XY Chelsea

It's not the mess you make; it's the mess you leave behind. If you are a data analyst for the US army and you tell the people on the ground where to go to kill people, including civilians, that is making a mess. But if you're doing it, and you realise it's wrong, and you then do whatever you can to stop it, you've cleaned up to the best of your abilities. I was fascinated by Manning (then still known as Bradley) when the story broke. To be complicit in something awful, and then making it public, even though it's evident that that will come at enormous personal cost; that's quite something.

And then she turned out to be transgender. Blimey! As if that doesn't give you enough to fight for in your life. Then to take on the entire US military! And end up in jail, where you are powerless anyway, and where you are probably 'the other' to the guards anyway, but extra so if you don't confirm to nice black-and-white gender expectations. Especially in a male prison. And she came out alive! And I know it has been close, but she did.

When I saw a documentary about Chelsea Manning (XY Chelsea) advertised I wanted to go. And I found Fiona willing to come along! And we didn't have to hurry to get tickets. A blockbuster this is not. 

One thing I was surprised by in the blurb of the film was that she was heralded as a Welsh hero. Eh? I thought American? But the documentary explained her mother is Welsh, and even lives in Wales. I had no idea!

So what was the film like? It started with a free Chelsea and then flopped to and fro through time. You see her legal team get the call from the White House about the sentence being commuted. You see the house she grew up in. You see her come out of jail and try to acclimatise in her first days of freedom. You see her discover Twitter. You see the the leaked footage that received the most attention. You see the jail from the outside. And much more.

In the footage, you can pretty much keep track of time through her hairdo. As she was held in a male prison, she was forced to have a short haircut. But once free she lets it grow (of course). And you see it get longer and longer while she does public interviews, attends rallies, and in the end, even runs for Senate. (And loses.)

You don't at all get an analysis of the effect of the leaks. You don't get an analysis of very much. You don't get much in the way of what it's like to present as a woman in the outside world, even though you left it to go to prison presenting as a man. You mainly are a fly on the wall in her day-to-day life. When you see her campaigning they don't really go into what she's campaigning about, or against. I'm sure it's a highly curated view but it's not polished! There are warts there. And a bit more depth would have been nice but this would do.

For me the most poignant scenes were one where an interviewer asks about the solitary confinement she had to endure. And you see her struggle. And she says she doesn't want to think about it. Or be reminded of it. And that she is happiest in the rare moments when she manages to not think of it. (I'm fairly certain she won't read this so I'm not making it worse!)

The other one is one in which she says that her adversaries will never give up the fight. Never. And that that means she might as well keep fighting too! Even though it's hard. She's never going to have a nice quiet life so she might as well try to make a difference with the hard life she has.

And with these scenes in mind it's hard to stomach she is back in jail. And has at least been kept in solitary confinement for some of the time.

After the film we popped to a cafe to digest the film. There was enough to think about! 

I hope she will be out soon. She's served her time! And I hope a next time around she will get elected into the senate. She's a flawed human like all of us, but blimey, not just any! One who will put civilian lives before the reputation of her country. One who is willing to suffer immensely for what she believes in. We can all do with more of those!

XY Chelsea Poster