27 November 2022

Final citizens’ assembly

We had our first citizens’ assembly on sustainability in the Ogwen Valley in summer. And then nothing happened for a while. And then we would have the second and third iteration in quite close succession! They announced the date of the third at the end of the second, but I forgot to put it in my diary. And then when the reminder email game, I realised I had already registered for that Conwy Half Marathon. Oh dear! But I suppose I could still attend most of the day.

After the race I didn't linger; I went straight home and quickly got ready. I walked into Neuadd Ogwen, and saw people were discussing at the tables. I just joined one that didn't seem to have too many people there. They were discussing energy. That sounded interesting! The obvious ideas had already been offered; solar panels, wind turbines, hydro. I added the only gonna get worse to it. I felt I had made a contribution! There were other tables where the topics were: nature, leisure, transport, housing, and maybe more. And we presented our ideas to the entire floor.


While discussing, I quickly ate a few sandwiches I had brought. I was ravenous after having just run 21 km! And I figured that lunch had already been. I was wrong, though; lunch was served after we had discussed for a bit. I totally had space for a bit more food!

During lunch I asked what I had missed. And that mainly had been a delegation from the local schools, who had had their own assembly. And after lunch we tried to think about how you would practically go about realising all the ideas we had been discussing before.

My table decided to go for some sort of playground where the equipment generates electricity when they are being played with. We figured that might be away to generate electricity that doesn't have too many disadvantages! Wind turbines seem to be out, as you don't seem to be allowed to build any that you can see from Eryri National Park, which pretty much excludes the entire valley. We were worried about solar panels because they require all sorts of where are elements of which were not sure if they are being mined in anything like a responsible way. And hydro may be detrimental to river ecology. So maybe children might be the least bad option! Although it is difficult to imagine they would generate an awful lot. But I didn't really feel the idea and I went to another table.

I found the transport table. We were thinking about how to encourage sustainable travel! I got stuck there. 

When that was done, the day came to an end! I must admit I was flagging a bit. All the practical ideas were laid out in the foyer; we were all invited to end our names to projects that particularly spoke to us, and we might be willing to help develop further. I think I added mine to 3 of them.

I then went home. Let's hope we will actually develop all these ideas! There will be a follow-up. Something will happen in February. Maybe that will be the stage where we start tackling all the ideas we have gathered so far! Stay tuned!


25 November 2022

Conwy half Marathon 2022

 I would finally run another race! My last race had been the World’s Steepest Street race in March. After that, I had had to miss two races! One because it clashed with a visit from my sister, and another one because I was ill on the day. And I had somehow missed the Bangor 10k.

I had registered a bit late, but I was looking forward to it. And I had devised a cunning plan: I would drive to the very first parking lot on the outskirts of Conwy I would encounter after leaving the dual carriageway, and then do the rest on bike. It would only be some 10 minutes. That would leave the stress out of trying to negotiate a congested little town. The organisers had been warning against it! And advised everyone to be there by 8AM, even though the start wouldn't be until 9:30. I don't like that sort of shenanigans.

On the day, I attached my race number to my leg, and got into the car, together with the bike. It was 8:30. The plan worked marvellously! And I was at the start a few minutes beforehand. I made a final call on what I would wear. It was a rather cold day, but if you run you tend to stay warm! I decided on a T-shirt and a jumper. The jumper could come off if needed. I also had a jacket, a hairband and gloves with me, but I left these with the bike.

On the beach by the car park; the Great Orme in the background

I started manoeuvering my way through the crowd. They were approximately 2000 runners, so it is important you don't start all too far to the front or the back. There were pacers, so I knew I should ideally start with the 1:45h pacers, as that was the time I expected to run it in. But the crowd was too dense! I ended up with the 2:00h pacers. But that was okay. And just before the start, of course, ‘Yma o Hyd’ was played. That's how you motivate a Welsh crowd!

At the start 

I first spent 4 miles running at a leisurely pace. A half marathon is long enough for you to need to play the long game! No need to throw all your energy away at the start. And it was a nice day! The entire route went over the road. I remembered some bits on a path by the beach last time. And that had been scenic, but logistically challenging. And the sun came out just before the 4 mile sign!

Sun and pompous buildings!

Between the 4 mile sign and the 7 mile sign it steadily went up, on the road that circles the Great Orme. The top of the road is on the far end of the Orme. And to be honest, I was glad to get there! Running a few miles back down on the other side was, of course, easy. But when I got to the 10 mile sign I was starting to show signs of wear. Not surprising, I suppose! But I dutifully trundled on through Llandudno and Deganwy. 

Ascending the Orme

If I feel like I can, I speed up in the last mile. But I was actually quite tired so I didn't! Only in the last few 10th of meters to die accelerate again. And I saw I indeed had to finish at about 1:45! Not bad. In 2015, it had taken me 1:52. But that was pre-lockdown. I knew I was faster now! I had managed the Anglesey Half Marathon in 1:42. But that race is a lot less hilly. 

I knew I had somewhere to go, so I basically took the medal and the T-shirt and left. I got on my bike, and comfortably got back to the car. I was barely inside the car and it started raining! My timing had been excellent. And I went home, had a shower, threw some food and drink in a bag, and left the house again. I had things to do!

Finished!

I later found out my exact time: 1:44:54. I was happy with that! And I was both within the 10% fastest women in general, and the 10% fastest women of my age category. Again, happy with that! I also saw that my colleague David had been as fast as I had thought he would be. He had only needed 1:35! And I could be faster: I saw the first mile had taken me 13 minutes, due to congestion. Next time I should spend a few minutes getting to the correct pacers!

This will be it for a while now; I'm not aware of any convenient races in the coming months. The next one I know of is a 10k version of this race in February. And after that it is already March! With the Anglesey Half Marathon and the Steepest Street in the World race. I am already registered for the latter…



Victorian life ended

I gave in. I admit it! Temperatures had been dropping recently, and it was getting uncomfortably cold in my house. Sometimes I would be walking around, being rather cold, but also knowing there is little point in lighting a fire as I either would be going to bed or leaving the house rather soon. And a home is a place you should be comfortable in. So I caved in, and after some 8 months (with breaks for visits by sisters) I switched the boiler back on.

On again…

My thermostat doesn't seem to be very reliable. Sometimes you set the temperature to 15° (or even 10°  C) and you are too warm. And sometimes you crank it up and pretty much nothing happens. But I try to keep the temperature just warm enough to be comfortable. No need to burn more gas than needed!

I will still use my wood burners to get the temperature in the living room up to a snug level. If I'm not home very much, I can just leave the thermostat in the ‘night’ setting. And the times that I am home on such days, I can just use the old methods to deal with the temperature. But I think I will leave the heating on for at least some level for the rest of the winter. There is a limit to how Spartan I turn out to actually be!

24 November 2022

Night navigation

There recently was some activity of the climbing club! Other than indoor climbing. I haven't gone indoor climbing with them for years. But when we had an AGM I thought it was a good idea to show my face. I will show up again when the climbing goes outdoors again in next year’s season!

Just before the AGM, Charlotte, who is our chair, had sent some emails around about courses we could do within the context of the club. And one of them looked interesting. It was an evening of night navigation. And I have no bad experiences with trying and failing to do this, but I was totally aware my skills could do with some honing anyway. And as well, it might be a nice social occasion. So I registered! And so did Charlotte.

On the day she picked me up, still in daylight. We would meet at Ogwen cottage. When we got out of the car it was quite cold! Before we had even started I had put on all the clothes I had brought with me.

In the end, there were seven of us; six participants, and Kelly, the lady leading the course. And we were expected to do things in pairs. I paired up with Charlotte.

While it was still light, she first let us practice things such as taking a bearing. That was not a problem. And the next thing she did was take us to a stretch of the old road there of which she knows it is 100 meter long. If you are either trying not to get lost, or lost and trying to do something about it, you might want to get a good grip on the amount of distance you are covering. And knowing how many paces you do in 100 metres is very useful! I had 66 on the way out and 67 on the way back. (You only count the steps of one leg, so effectively, a pace is two steps.)

We then properly started. We got onto the path to the lake, and after a while she stopped us and let us decide where exactly it was we were on the map. And I knew exactly where I was; I know this area quite well. But with the fading light I struggled a bit to properly see the map! I was making liberal use of the magnifying glass in my compass. Oh dear.

Into the hills!

Map practice

Atmospheric surroundings 

She then told us to measure as precisely as we could the distance to the next junction in the path. And calculate how many paces that would be. And then she told us to pace it out. And none of us got there! This was not too surprising; this path is not as smooth as an asphalt road, so you take smaller steps. I counted the additional steps I needed to take to get to the junction. That gave me the idea that on a path like this, it takes me 79 paces to cover 100 metres.

We did it again! She did the same exercise for the next stream we would encounter. Repeating this sort of thing gives you an idea of how variable your pace length is. And as well; if everyone stops when they think they have paced the distance we have agreed on, you can see how far apart we end up standing. That was not too bad!

Standing still and measuring distances on the map, and taking bearings, did make us really feel the cold wind. It looked like we had all underestimated the weather a bit! A beginner’s mistake.

In the proper dark

At some point we walked a box. That is; we first walked a set number of paces north, then the same number of paces east, and then south, and then west. You can see how accurate both your pacing and your walking on a bearing are by checking how far from your starting point you end up. It wasn't bad at all!

Then we decided it was so cold we should make it back to the car. But not without some more practising; she suggested a certain point on the map, and asked us to get there using a bearing and pacing. That worked well. And then we did it again. We were pretty much walking back in the direction of the little quarry there, even though we knew the path through it was closed. In the end we just followed a fence. That was a bit adventurous; it was steep and boggy. But it was alright, and not much later we were back at the road.

That was pretty much the end of the course! We said our goodbyes back at the cottage. I had found it actually quite useful! The next time I need my navigation, I might be a bit more detailed. I am generally a bit inclined to use a broad approach. Just aim for a particular hill and not bother too much with where exactly on the way you are! And sometimes that just is the best thing to do. But sometimes I should practice my detailed navigation. You never know when you might actually need it!

23 November 2022

Emergency firewood cupboard repair

 Two years ago, I got some furniture for in my garage. Doesn't time fly! It feels like such a recent addition. But anyway; it wasn't the most robust furniture you would ever have seen. But it did the job! And the big cupboard held my painting supplies at the bottom, and various things in the top. And one day Kate got it into her head to remove a tree from her garden, and she didn't have a log burner herself, so she gave the entire tree, chopped up and all, to me. And some of that went in the middle. And next to the cupboard I stuck some of the firewood I still had to saw into bits myself. Quite a lot of that was parts of the stairs of Neuadd Ogwen

One day I got into the garage, and I noticed that some of the stacked firewood at fallen over. And then I noticed a reason why; my cupboard had gone unstable. It was leaning heavily to the left! And it must have  pushed over some of that firewood. Oh dear.

Oh dear (firewood already removed)

I know that meant I had another chore. I needed to reinforce that cupboard! A bit like I had done with the cupboard in my office. So the next Saturday, I emptied the thing out, and biked to the local builders merchant. They didn't sell any strips that were intended to be used for reinforcing furniture, but they sold metal strips that had a different purpose. Good enough. I just bought two of these! And then set to work.

Buying supplies 

To my surprise, this was a chore that was a lot quicker than anticipated. With most chores, it goes the other way! But quite soon I could move it back to where it came from, with three strips added to do it, and then felt confident filling it back up again with paint. The firewood didn't come back; that had by now ended up in the log burner. But the next time I have a bit of a firewood sawing session and I need somewhere to put the results, that space is available again! I think that cupboard will be good for years to come…


Reinforced

Sorted! 

22 November 2022

Professional development review: gender

As I mentioned in the previous post, we have a professional development review (PDR) with our line manager each year. And this year, I was apprehensive.

Periodically, the University does a survey of its entire staff. The results are not only published as a whole, but also School by School. We therefore knew where things are not going well in our School, and we know that separately for academic staff and support staff. It is really interesting to see the differences! It looks like the jobs are really different. I'm not surprised about that. 

After the results were published, our diversity and equality officer had sent us all a questionnaire. She mainly wanted to know more about where things go wrong. What exactly is it that is going wrong? Is anyone listening if you speak out? That sort of things. She really wanted to make sure that although work in the School can never be perfect, at least it would be as good as it can be, and that no one feels they have issues they can't discuss with their managers.

I answered that questionnaire. And it made me think about the things that aren't going very well, obviously. And I struggle with the gender balance of the school, and with the perception I have that females are taken less seriously. And it also made me think about the fieldwork module in which I really have to fight to be heard. And I think the students see that! And I think that has an influence. If the male staff don't treat females as equals, why would the students? And then you get situations where students will questions grades you give them without good reason, or blame you when something goes wrong, or things like that. Which are the parts of the job that I find frustrating and exhausting.

I had just done a day in the field where again I felt like I had two options: either be downright aggressive, or be completely snowed under by my male colleagues. And that is not a choice I enjoy. So when I was getting ready for my PDR, gender issues were at the forefront of my mind. And I decided I was going to bring it up. I hadn't done that before. If you stick your head out above the parapet mentioning issues like this, the response is often negative. But I decided that I should just speak out anyway. If I don't tell my line manager I feel the struggle for female representation as a burden, then he can't act on it.

It was pretty much the first thing to come up. And John was listening. I think I've managed to communicate where I think the problem lies. And Dei was supportive too. He also was very embarrassed! After all, the example I used to illustrate the problem was the field trip module that he leads. And he is one of the people I always have to defend myself against. And he is aware of the problem, and he clearly doesn't intend to be part of it, but as soon as he sees a rock he wants to tell the students about it. And doesn't think about anything else. So if it happens to be my job to talk about that rock, then too bad, he will start talking anyway. And I bring it up with him in person on a regular basis, but I think that now it has been discussed in a PDR, it has reached the forefront of his mind a bit more. He might be a bit more considerate the next time.

I also mentioned that when it comes to my suspicion that this sort of behaviour gives the students the impression that women are just less important, and that therefore you can just try to steamroll straight over them if you want to, I only have anecdotal evidence, and I can't prove anything. But I did mention that one thing I can prove is that this school is haemorrhaging women on the way to the top. We are in the process of losing one right now. I think we have lost seven women who were generally in the lecturer stage since I got to work here, and the only man who wasn't yet a professor who left was dragged along by his irate wife. The only other men who have left were already full professors. They clearly didn't have the idea that our School was not a place where they could reach the top. And this time, the men acknowledged that this was  indeed an issue.

Apart from this particular field trip module I am not sure if anything is going to happen. But at least I have raised the issue! I was a bit nervous doing that; remember the previous time I raised gender issues to an all-male audience. The only thing I achieved then was that  I united them against a common enemy, and that I got bullied. Not ideal! And of course, at work the idea is that people can't do that; the University has policies against that sort of thing. But it remains scary to raise your voice in an environment that you experience as not very woman-friendly. I'm glad I did it anyway. And I hope this will be a tiny little step in the right direction!

21 November 2022

Professional development review 2022

Every year, we have a professional development review (PDR) with our line manager. We talk through the things that are going well, the things that don't go so well, what changes we want to make for the coming year, what is needed for a potential promotion, et cetera. Sometimes that goes well, and sometimes it doesn't. This year, I wasn't really thinking about my teaching and my research and suchlike. My main focus was on what I will deal with in the next post. But let's discuss the other bits here.

The first thing we discussed in the PDR was my RSI. And that was useful! I am struggling a bit to have two ergonomic set-ups: one in the office and one at home. For instance, I prefer to work with two monitors, but you can't have two monitors both at home and at work. They just won't give you that many! So I am using my old TV as a monitor, but that doesn't recognise my graphics tablet. And then I have to use the mouse. I really don't want to use a mouse.

I also am very dependent on my headset. I dictate everything! If my computer can't hear me I am screwed. And a while ago my microphone stopped working. I went to IT to get another one, but that one broke within two weeks. The next one broke the next day. I think they are buying the cheapest of the cheap! I brought this up too. And my line manager said I should just ask our head of technical support to order me a proper one. This is helping!

I also said my teaching load was manageable. And we discussed the possibility of making sure that Welsh language students can do their dissertation module in Welsh. Soon we will have an additional Welsh language lecturer, and she will be a biologist, so that really really broadens the range of topics we can offer that you can write up in Welsh.

The last thing we discussed was roles to hold within the School. Since Welcome Week and Open Days have been taken off my hands, my contribution to that sort of thing is a bit small! And I know it couldn't stay that way. And John, my line manager, suggested three options. The first one was International person. I don't think that is officially the title of that role but I forgot what it is. And it is a two-pronged role; you are both responsible for international students coming here, and for our students going international. I am not entirely sure what in practice you do in this role, but I know who has been doing it in recent years, so I can go and have a chat.

The second one was plagiarism officer. That basically means that you need to be the person in the school who knows exactly what the rules are, and can apply them. And if students are found to break them, they have to answer to you.

The third one was equality and diversity officer. That is quite close to my heart! I don't think we are equal and diverse enough yet. Not by a mile. And I am bothered by that!

John told me to think things over, and talk to the people who were currently fulfilling these roles, so I would get a clear idea of what they entail. And then get back to him with which ones I thought I would want to take on. Wow, I even get a choice! 

Altogether I came out of the meeting feeling very positive about things. This does not speak for itself! But I get help with the things that I struggle with for reasons of RSI, and I even get a say in what new roles I will take on. This is going well!