09 December 2023

Just some fossils in a wall

I mentioned my second University Senate meeting in the previous post. This time it was in Pontio. When I walked towards the door I was distracted by some beautiful fossils. I had been aware from it having been built that the stone used is full of them, but it is a big building, and there is always something new to see. And they were so gorgeous I figured I share them here. 

Probably an ammonite 

Solitary coral


08 December 2023

Politics and the university

Anything to keep foreigners out. Rich, white, Christian or atheist foreigners are fine, of course. I suppose they also should be cisgender, straight, and able-bodied. Come to think of it; if they are rich enough, they don't have to be white, Christian, or anything like that. If you are some Saudi oil billionaire you can just come in. People who actually contribute to society should stay out. They have the duty of being the scapegoat for everything that's wrong with Britain.

The Tories are desperately trying to hang on to power by being unpleasant to foreigners. Now they have decided on a whole range of measures to keep legal immigrants out. The most striking measures are that you can't have a foreign family member join you unless you earn at least £38.700 (it used to be £26,200), and that care workers (who have absolutely no chance in hell to earn that amount of money) can't bring dependants with them at all. 

I'm sure this policy will work. Fewer perfidious foreigners will come in. But wtf do they think they will achieve with this? Will foreigner-bullying give them an election victory? Very unlikely. And even if it does; how much damage will they do before that? How much misery will they cause to people who, in this international age, have started a relationship with someone of a different nationality and residency? How many children will be separated from a parent because the parent cannot afford to be with them?

Additionally, the radio was full of people who run care homes, who said that they would have to close when this measure would come into force. The government says they should recruit within the country, but they said they had tried, and it doesn't work. They also admitted that if they just offer a higher salary, they would, but there is no state support for doing that. And I am sure there are a few rarefied care homes for rich people who do offer that kind of salary, and I am sure they would be able to recruit, but that would mean social care would be only available for the rich. Which would be exactly what a Tory government would want to happen, but it is also deeply awful. And if the state isn't supporting you, and your clients are not filthily rich, you just can't offer the sort of salary that would be needed. So you'll have to close. And where will the residence then go?

Another issue is that, largely again for reasons of government decisions, British universities heavily depend on income generated by overseas Master students. UK students already pay a fortune for their education, but international students pay almost twice as much. Universities are practically bludgeoning each other's heads in in order to secure the highest number of international students. And now the government has just decided to actively discourage anyone to show up. Great.

That was another meeting by the University Senate; my second. A lot of things were discussed, of course; student recruitment, the financial situation, student satisfaction, the whole lot. But also, of course, the new policies, and what it would mean for us. Given that they had only been announced two days before, the university hasn't had much time to contemplate things. The person who spoke about the situation did sound confident. But we'll see how this pans out! This could be really big. But I also think that the government will realise that toppling over universities might not be a very good election strategy. I really hope they reconsider. And I also really hope it backfires, and our next government will be Labour. Who, hopefully, would have the wisdom to bin these policies as fast as you can say "xenophobia"…

A random job ad for a lecturer from the University job vacancy page. Someone who gets this job on the lowest space scale might be full-time permanent academic staff, but still not earn enough to have a spouse come over!

07 December 2023

Icy roads and summer tyres

I mentioned it before! I don't like riding to work on spiked tyres. More than 99% of the road will be asphalt; you would only need the spikes for isolated patches. And it's worth it if you don't fall over and break your collarbone; that's a big win. But it does mean that almost 100% of the road you are riding around with an enormous extra amount of friction. And it really is hard work!

When it got cold I kept going on my normal tyres. I won't put the spiked ones on unless I am absolutely sure I need them. But one of these days, there was more black ice on the road than I expected. I had to be quite careful! But it worked out in the end. And I biked back the same way; I knew I had to be careful because I had seen on the way to work where the ice was. Not all of it was gone. But I managed to negotiate everything successfully.

It got warmer again. And then cold again. Again I set off my normal tyres. And again I had to be a bit careful. And all went well until I got to the stretch of the road that had been the worst the previous time around. And this time, it was worse than that! Quite some sheet ice, sometimes over the entire width of the road. Quite often you might be able to escape the ice if you move to the middle of the road. There's not that much traffic there; one would expect to get away with that. But that day it just wouldn’t do.

This time I chose on several occasions to just walk. It just looked so slippery! And at one point, I only _just_ managed to keep my bike (and myself) upright.

I only just managed to make it in time for my 9 AM meeting with a dissertation student. And luckily, this time I had to bike back from main campus, so I took a completely different route back. And it had got a lot warmer in the meantime as well. The coming days had predicted rain. To be honest, I hope I don't need the spiked tyres this winter. But it's only December and I already had two icy days! There probably will be a lot more to come…

06 December 2023

MSc student

Sometimes I don't quite get around to blogging about certain things. At the moment, I have a Master's student. She was allocated to me in September, but at the time I think I was quite distracted by things such as our fieldwork. So I don't think I mentioned it at all!

The project she is doing sort of builds on from two earlier projects: one project that another student did quite a number of years ago now; I had to hand this student over to a colleague, as during a crucial part of the project, I was off on sick leave because of my RSI. This student basically tried to figure out if foraminifera are good indicators for pollution in estuaries. She compared estuaries Parys Mountain (biggest copper mine in the world in the late 18th century; the site also contains lead, zinc, and silver) drains into with the Cefni, which has no mining of note in its catchment area, and where we do our September fieldwork. 

The other project was nothing to do with me; that was something having to do with pollution only, again from Parys Mountain, but this time not related to foraminifera. That was Lydia's project. She went downcore. And she found clear fluctuations in the amount of mining pollution. Would you be able to see changes in the foraminifera assemblages as well? The other project had proven that at least at the surface, you'll find forams and very polluted sediments. 

For now, she is focusing on using Lydia's samples to get an idea of how many forams are in there in the first place. When we have a clear idea we can either go into the field and get her own samples, or we will have to sit down and redesign the project, because there just aren't enough foraminifera to go around. But luckily, this is a joint project; I am doing this together with my geochemical colleague David. If there aren't enough forams I am afraid there might be some more emphasis on his side of the project! But let's first see what these pilot samples yield. Many, I hope!

The first foram found! Pic by my student.

05 December 2023

Trying to renew my car sharing scheme membership

It was only last year that I joined the local car sharing scheme. It feels so much longer. But with it being more than a year ago now, I did come to the point where the scheme wanted to check my situation. (I wanted to drive to Chester in the shared car but couldn’t.) Once every year, British drivers are asked to log onto the DVLA website (the body that issues driving licenses) and get some code with which the car sharing company could check if they had committed any disconcerting number of traffic offences. People with foreign licenses can’t do this.

I phoned the company to ask what my options were. They said I should go to the post office to have my license verified, so I went to the local supermarket as it has a post office counter. But they said they didn't provide this service, so I would have to go to a real post office.

There is a post office in Menai Bridge, but I didn't go there for a while; I was busy marking. But as soon as the marking was done I popped in, and ask them if they could sort me out. They had no idea what I was talking about. I showed them the webpage where British drivers can go, and they said they did not provide a similar service. I had to go back and phone the car sharing company again.

They said it was not a case of checking for traffic offences; they said I just needed it verified. That the post office can do. So the next working day I went back. I got that sorted, scanned the resulting form in, attached the other sources of information they wanted as well, and hit "send". And then I just had to wait. But not very long. 

The next morning I already had a reply. It had come in the same day! But after my bedtime. These people have strange working hours. The message welcomed me back, and said a new card would be sent to me. Can’t they just reactivate the old one? But ok then. As soon as I have it I will be back in business! 

04 December 2023

Not a birthday on Parys Mountain

It's great to have some friends to celebrate the standard milestones of life with. But this year Susan and Dean were busy in december, so weren’t around for my birthday, or the adjacent weekends. They suggested we do something the weekend before that. And I'm okay with that! And we had made a plan; we would either go underground, as they had become curious about what that's like. Or go to Parys Mountain, as they also were a bit curious about that. They know I take students there. And we would let the weather decide. If it was going to be raining, we would go underground! And it wouldn't be raining.

Martin drove us there. We had packed for a picnic. But it was very cold! Not that that was unexpected. We did the normal trip and I told them what I normally tell the students. And I think that quite soon we were starting to wonder where we could shelter from the wind and have our picnic. The most obvious option is the windmill, but that is traditionally the last thing you see. We also checked out two ruins, but they weren’t very sheltered. So in the end the picnic happened in the windmill after all! It was indeed quite nice and quiet in there. I had made a quiche, and Sue and Dean had brought cake. It was lovely!

Pic by Martin

After the picnic we went back. The initial plan had been to go to an Indian restaurant in the village, but it turned out that it had been closed for a while. We are clearly not very observant. So instead we went home, by the fire, drank tea, and in the end ordered some Indian takeaway. We had that by the fire as well.

By the time the others left I must admit I was knackered! I wasn't quite sure how much of that was because of the rather tiring week I had had, and how much of that was still from getting very cold on Parys Mountain. (I didn't put on my down jacket until we sat down for the picnic, but that had probably been a mistake.) But it doesn't matter. I quickly retreated to bed, and could look back on a lovely day with marvellous people!

03 December 2023

Marking handover

I have marked the students’ field trip reports! It was such a relief to get that done. And it was _just_ within the deadline. The next pile is only coming in a week later. That is comfortable timing; the scary thing is if you are still battling with the previous pile, when the new pile has already been gathering dust for days if not weeks. With the deadline, of course, not shifting. 

The new pile will be big though; that other module has 79 students. The work to be marked is my relatively new assignment about shelf sea stratification over timescales of thousands of years

I must admit I was not optimally committed to my other tasks while I was trying to get that field report marked. Because I now have nothing for a week, and then the full four working weeks to finish the next batch, I can keep several different plates spinning now! And I need that…