28 January 2022

Thinking about heating

I had been pondering how to heat my house in the future, even before last spring and summer my boiler started breaking down repeatedly. It is just a bog standard gas boiler; that thing has no future. But what to replace it with? If money, time, and inconvenience don't matter, then a heat pump would be ideal, but the problem is that I don't really want to half-demolish the house in order to install a heat pump. Apart from the fact that I don't think I could at this moment afford it! But then what?

The good thing about my side gig is that it forces me to dive deeper into questions like this. If I want to tell other people what they can do about climate change, then I need to know it myself as well! So it focused the mind. So what else is there?

I want solar panels on my roof sooner or later, but heating your house with solar panels doesn't sound like the most logical thing to do. You take light and turn it into heat. Not as efficient as using heat directly for using the house! And there is such a thing as thermo-solar heating. You basically just have black tubes on the roof or thereabouts, and the sun directly warms your water. All sources I found, though, suggested that that is not enough to heat your house. It will be enough for your hot water demands, but what are these, anyway? I've been having cold showers for the best part of a year now, so my hot water demands are only for dishes. And how often do I do the dishes? Twice a week?

What about hydrogen boiler? If you burn hydrogen, you do not emit greenhouse gases. And the idea is good, but there are two issues with this; firstly: how is the hydrogen produced? If that causes emissions then you have not actually made an improvement. And there is not enough sustainably produced hydrogen around to heat the country's houses. And the other thing is that hydrogen is not yet supplied in the gas net, and you can't buy a hydrogen boiler yet. The best you can do is buy a boiler that can take a 20% hydrogen fuel mix, and hope that that will become useful in the near future. And keep your fingers crossed for how that hydrogen will be generated.

I came across another possibility, though: infrared heating. Infrared heating works well in draughty places. This does mean you can use them without first having to clad your house in a thick layer of cork or other insulating material. And if you have solar panels on the roof, and a big fat battery somewhere, then you could use the sun to heat your house. When the sun shines you probably don't need much heating, but you can store the energy, and switch the heaters on when you need them. I think the idea is good for a one-person household, especially one with a cat; the thing is that not all my rooms need to be warm. I only be in one place at the same time and only that place needs to be warm. And infrared heaters work rather quickly. You can just only heat the place where you are. And I tend to keep all my doors open so the cat can freely roam around the house; that does mean that if I heat one room, that heat will escape and start heating the rest of the house. And I might not be in that rest of the house. But with infrared heating, the heat is more likely to stay put. So I could keep all doors open and still only heat the part of the house I need!

Getting solar panels, and a battery, and infrared panels is altogether quite an expense, but I can do it in bits. I suppose the first thing needs to be the solar panels. Then I might be skint for a bit. The next thing will be the battery. And then the last thing will be the infrared heaters. I can just start with one to see how I like it! Suppose I don't like it, then I am still generating sustainable energy, so nothing is lost. And if I do like it I just keep adding more infrared heaters until the whole house is heated by them. It doesn't really matter there would be a redundant boiler gathering dust in a corner! And some radiators on the walls.

And then in the long run a heat pump could still be installed, but that is something I will think about when the time is right to do so. 

I suppose the time might have come to find some local installers of solar panels, and get a bit of an idea of what can be done. I have more or less south facing roof, so I think the location is fine. That part of the roof is not very accessible; below it is the roof of the neighbour's house, rather than just the ground. If you want to put scaffolding up you have to come from the side. That can't be ideal! But I suppose that solar panel fitters have seen and done it all, and are not fazed by a bit of an awkward roof. And the neighbour already has them, and he has a very comparable roof, so the type of roof shouldn't be the problem either. I suppose it would be a question of finding out how big, and what supplier and installer. And if I can find a setup that is satisfactory and feasible, and I make it happen, then I would have taken an important step in the right direction!

My not-very-accessible but south-facing roof


27 January 2022

Two MSc students

Not many of our students are particularly interested in foraminifera. Every year we are asked to submit project proposals for masters projects, and every year I submit projects that involve forams. And I always either get one student, or no students at all! But this year, for some reason, my favourite microorganisms were suddenly very popular, and I'm going into 2022 with to MSc students. They have chosen to separate projects. I hope they will both have a great and educative time with these versatile creatures!



26 January 2022

Welsh books from the same family

A fair while ago, I started a new book. It was probably after I finished the one about the local quarry hospital. And I started something I wouldn't finish anytime soon! So what was it?

There is a sort of scheme in the University, which has native speaking University staff volunteering to regularly speak with Welsh learners so they can practice their conversational skills. I have been speaking with a linguist, Peredur, for over a year now. And he drew my attention to a book his grandfather had written: Marged. He said it was one of those books that follows the main character over the decades. His description reminded me a bit of Traed mewn Cyffion by Kate Roberts. I had really enjoyed that book! Even though I was keen to read something a bit more modern after I was finished with it (it had been published in 1936). So I bought the book. It is a bit of a tome.

It starts with the main character, Marged, as a rather young girl. It starts in the 1870s. I don't know yet where it will end! I am as we speak approximately halfway through. It is not an easy read; it is set in the working class community of Llanrwst in the 19th-century, and it was written in the late 60s, so you get a combination of the book being approximately 50 years old, with language that pretends to be some 150 years old. And then in Llanrwst slang. It is a bit chewy! But I will have to step up my game.

Peredur himself writes as well, and he has scored a book deal since we started speaking. His book will come out in spring! And I think I really should finish his grandfather's book before I buy and read his. So I have until April to finish the second half of the book. And then I can jump straight into the current generation of Davies writers. And his book will of course be as recent as a book can be, but it also pretends to be a lot older than it really is. I know yet how inaccessible the language will be. I will find out soon enough! After that I think I will really need to diversify my reading! I might actually read something in English from a different continent, recently written, just for the contrast…

Coming out in spring!


25 January 2022

CRTT call-out

I woke up in the middle of the night. What was going on? And the only reasonable thing that could be going on in the middle of the night was indeed going on: a cave rescue callout. There was a party overdue and they needed assistance. It was the same venue as the two New Year's Day callouts! There seemed not to be any casualties. But if you are underground for a lot longer than you expect, you might end up tired, cold, hungry, thirsty and struggling to face whatever challenge it is you might be facing. So we were needed! So I got out of bed. I put my clothes on, put the kettle on, got my kit from the garage, and quickly made a few sandwiches. I figured I shouldn't skimp on supplies; these people underground might welcome them. Soon I was in the car and on my way.

It was very quiet on the roads. And when I got to the scene I parked up and let the controller know I was there. He gave me a quick brief: it was a party of 12, and they were just a lot slower than they had anticipated. When that became clear a group of three had gone ahead to go out and contact Cave rescue. The rest was still in there, but we didn't know where. The controller suggested that the people that were there that already had their outfits on would start walking to the entrance; it is a fair walk. Me and two blokes who arrived just after me would start our way up when we were ready. And then we became four, and we set off at ten to four. We had only just set off when we were called back; we were asked to bring some haul bags and suchlike. So we accepted the additional burden and continued our way. It was a beautiful night, fortunately! That can't be taken for granted in January.

Someone who knew the way very well in the first group had left some tape to make sure we went the right way. Not every one of us was totally at home here. I wasn't. But with the help of the tape we got to the level from which you can see daylight through the Tyllau, if it is light. And the group was there! All of them! Success. This also meant that they had already done all the difficult bits of the mine. The only thing they now needed to do was find the exit, and that was what we were for, and help them as they were tired by now. It was about 5AM by then. I offered hot drinks, But there was less enthusiasm for that than I had thought. But that's okay; what I don't drink I'll just carry down the mountain again.

The group had a rather low average age, and quite a lot of them were women. I was glad I was there! Is is fairly standard, I was the only woman in the rescue team. And given these people were a sizeable group, I don't think any of them would have been uncomfortable with male-only rescuers, as they had each other, I still figured it was good to have female presence there. And it was good to see young cavers who were so much more diverse than we were!

After a very brief break for drinks and snacks we were off. These people had been in the mine long enough! And it was a bit of a scramble to get to the incline. Some of us adopted a particular caver to help them down. There were several who, by now, were quite happy to be taken by the hand. But by this time they had been underground for some 15 hours; who wouldn't? But soon we were on the incline, and even there some handholding was needed, but then we were in the adit. And then it is just a horizontal walk out! I had a nice chat with some of them.

When we were out we couldn't admire the view; it was about 6:30 and it was still dark. And the way is still quite steep in the beginning. And then we got back to the parking lot. The group was staying just 200 m down the road. So we wished them a great rest of their weekend, and they thanked us for our assistance. And that was basically it! I went to change. And we had a little bit of a chat afterwards, but everyone was tired and wanted to go home. And that included me.

When I got home I put my kit in the garage. But what now? Was it time to go back to bed? I had only had some three hours of sleep, if that! But it was light by now. Should I just muscle my way through the day? I supposed that was the better idea, but I was tired. I did have a bit of a snooze, which the cat thought was an amazing idea that she was keen to participate in, but then I had a shower and decided to attack my to-do list. And so I did!

This was the most serious callout I have attended in a long time. I think it went well! Everyone came out in one piece. And that's the important bit.

But it is only January, and we have been put on standby for groups who were late coming out of this very same mine system three times already. And once it led to an actual full team callout. How often will we be asked to show up in the rest of the year? And why this same system?

We think this has something to do with social media. The trip is the Croesor-Rhosydd Through Trip. And it is not unusual to see people mention it on Facebook or YouTube or whatnot. And we think it has become a bit of a must-do for the social media generation. A bit like that it seems you need to selfie on the top of Snowdon, leading to enormous queues near the summit. Now we have one group after the other doing CRTT. And just as not everyone who embarks on a trip to the top of Snowdon is properly prepared, which regularly leads to callouts for mountain rescue, not everybody goes into CRTT with proper preparation. To be honest; the first time I did it I wasn't as prepared as I should have been. But at least I had been doing SRT for some 2.5 years by then. And we got away with it. 

Now it seems that so many people are doing it that even if a small percentage of them need assistance, that will be an impressive array of callouts. But if that's the way it is then so be it! At least I only live 45 minutes away...

Scrambling. Pic by the team

Adit. Pic by the team

Out! Pic by the team

The cat enjoying a post-rescue snooze and snuggle

24 January 2022

Gyrn Ddu

The cat had run out of worm medication, so I had to pop by the vet's. They are in Caernarfon, which is to the west of where I live. I decided I might as well seize the opportunity to do a walk somewhere in the West. It is not a direction I go often! And I had had the look at the map. There was a ridge of three hills that way; I had never been on them. I had been on hills on either side; on the one side there was Bwlch Mawr, That I had once scampered up when I was on its flank anyway in order to visit Seler Ddu with the PCG. On the other side was the Eifl, where I had been once on either side of the ridge (south with my sister, north with Fiona). But this very ridge, with Gyrn Ddu as the highest hill in the middle, I had never been on. And I thought this might be a good opportunity!

My business with the vet was quickly resolved, so onwards I went. I parked up and found the public footpath. There is no path Over the ridge, but there is a path that starts you off in the right direction for all of kilometre or so. And then you're on your own! But it was okay. I walked up the rather steep slope of Moel Pen Llechog  in the clear noise of the road. By the time I got to the plateau at the top it was pretty much lunchtime, but I hadn't had coffee yet. So that happened first! One needs priorities in life. And the views were nice.

I headed towards Gyrn Ddu. In order to get there I had to cross a saddle with a lot of old agricultural land. It was an amazing landscape! And I crossed the actual public footpath. I wasn't going to follow it, though; I wanted to go over the ridge. So I left the comfortable path and scrambled through heather and scree slopes. Progress wasn't fast, but it was nice to be somewhere so rarely trodden. I was soon following a drystone wall that went in the right direction. It didn't quite go over the top of Gyrn Ddu; for that I had to veer off to the right and do some scrambling onto a block field. And the views were vanishing! I was wondering if I should just forget about the last peak: Gyrn Goch. But I sat down for lunch while contemplating that, and in that time the view cleared again. So I was good to go again!

I was on the top of Gyrn Goch in no time. From there I knew I just should bushwhack down the slope until I would come across a path. That would lead me back in the direction of civilisation. I was wondering if I would have the time and the energy to explore the quarry on the side of the mountain, but I was soon deciding I didn't. I just walked back to the car. It took me about half an hour. I'll come back one day to see that quarry! During my walk back I had a good opportunity for having a look from a distance. When you drive past, you need to keep your eyes on the road. And I don't think my plan for walking around would have worked. This will be for another day! But I am convinced you can get to the quarry from the public footpath. And if I am there anyway I might check out some farms that looked abandoned! I like these days where you tick something off the list, but something else immediately replaces it…

Eifl range from Moel Pen Llechog

Coffee and cake!


Old agricultural landscape

Scree on Gyrn Ddu

View on Gyrn Goch

Stone wall geometry

23 January 2022

Hesitant start of side gig

On the night my side gig would kick off I made sure to log in a few minutes early. I wanted to make sure all was well, and I like a few minutes of chat before the session starts. Unless I'm not ready on time, I always log into my Welsh session a few minutes early as well.

The technology worked. I was in! And I immediately saw that a participant was logging in too. Good! It took a while before she was in, though. But she got there. And soon afterwards I saw a second person logging in. And quite soon Cecilia, one of my contact people, appeared too. But after that, no new faces appeared. The first login counted for two; it was a married couple using one computer. But three in total, that'll still a lot less than I had hoped. Cecilia said she was going to check her email and her phone and what not to see if anyone had got in touch with her, with technical difficulties or something. But after a while she reappeared. She had nothing! What to do? Courses like this have minimum number of participants, and it is higher than three. Should we just call it off? Should we just see what the matter was and try again next week? Should I just do the whole session for only these three? There was some discussion. One of the participants also pointed out that they had been charged for this course, even though online courses so far had always been free. Would that be the problem?

After some discussion we agreed that Cecilia would find out if this was what the problem was, and that we would just try again next week. And for now the three participants wanted to know what I would have said if I would have gone along. I kept it a bit brief; I didn't want to run through the entire two hour session twice. So I focused on the climate bit; in the beginning I have some general introduction but I skipped that. And I skipped some stuff I had bolted on at the end.

It wasn't as I had hoped it would go, but it was nice to have a bit of a climate chat with three interested people. Altogether we were on the call for about an hour. And then we said our goodbyes! I would have another chat about the situation with Cecilia the next day.

I don't know what will happen now! Will we get sufficient numbers next week? I sure hope so! But even if not; the course exists now. And there will be other people interested. Cecilia had already had contact with a group of Quakers who were also interested! I think sooner or later this course will run. But well, I had had a nice hour! And that is worth something too…

21 January 2022

Getting better at Zoom

My side gig takes place on Zoom. I have used Zoom before, but I have never used it for teaching. When I teach I normally use Blackboard Collaborate, and if I just have one-to-one meetings I tend to use Teams. I am used to doing things like sharing screen in Blackboard Collaborate and Teams, but not in Zoom. So I would have a practice session with the Adult Learning Wales IT support team to run through it.

The first issue we had was some confusion that had its root 46 years ago. I had registered as Margo, as that is officially my name. But they had noticed I call myself Margot. So IT had first given me an email address with Margo in it, but then, on their own initiative, made another one with Margot in it. So first she had to wrestle with which account to use; did we need both, could she just kill one of them? But which? We settled on the account with the t. I am quite used to having accounts with that name.

Then there was Zoom itself. I started a meeting and invited Sarah, the IT lady, into it. The first thing that happened was that the software was using the wrong camera, microphone and speakers. That was quickly sorted. The next step was: showing my PowerPoint. If you present a PowerPoint, you normally put it in full screen mode. That means you have to share that entire screen with Zoom. But things got weird. I normally use two screens. My laptop screen is in their somewhere as well, but I don't really use that. It just shows the same as my main screen. But now suddenly my laptop screen and my main screen showing different things. One of them had the full screen presentation on it, and the other one had presenter view. And my cursor would only go onto one of these. And the problem was that Sarah saw my presenter view. That's not how I want it! In presenter view, your slides are quite small, because there also has to be space for the upcoming slide and for notes. Showing my PowerPoint like that would make the fonts quite small. We had to sort that. But I didn't understand what the computer was doing anyway!

Our session was also lit up by funny sounds coming from Sara's side: I heard growling, and it turned out that she had her dog lying under the desk, and it heard someone outside. Quite cute!

Sarah didn't quite know either. I did a quick Google. I first googled on how to present PowerPoints in Zoom, but that didn't help. Then I just googled how you can make PowerPoint put the full screen view on the secondary monitor. And that turned out to be very easy! So I just moved my camera around, put Zoom on my main screen, and presented on the secondary one, which I shared. And that worked! Sarah now had the view I wanted her to have.

We also checked whether I can see raised hands (yes) or the chat (no) while presenting. And lastly, I sent her off into a breakout room. That worked fine! And then I had no further questions. I felt ready for the actual presentation!