31 August 2012

Still no Snowdonia

Snowdonia was well worth blogging about! But I won't have (much) time the coming days. Stay tuned! I hope to get the first Snowdonian entry up early next week...

Office move

I thought I had a small office. I did not complain; it was located in some forgotten, out-of-the way corner of the building; the sun hardly reached there, so it hardly ever got hot in my office. I really don't like a hot office; it's very uncomfortable to sweat when you're sitting still, and heat makes my feet hurt. In Amsterdam and Norway my office was a sitting duck for summer sun, but finally, in the rainy southwest of England, I found solace.
The remote corner of the building where my office has been until now. 

But it couldn't last. The whole school was ordered to move house. We would move out of the twee terraced houses, and into a serious office building. I didn't look forward to that; the building was notoriously unventilated, and as I'm fairly low down on the pecking order, I would most likely end up in a quite stuffy office. Not nice.

The new building we all move to. The moving lorry shows it's already started for real...

As I am only a postdoc I would have to share; the plan was that I would move to an office with two desks. One for me, one for guests. Most of the time there would be no guest; the only person mentioned as using that desk was a postdoc working from a distance. She lives somewhere in the North, and would only rarely visit Plymouth, but if she did she would need a desk. That configuration would mean I would get a stuffy office, but at least a quiet one, with lots of space. It would not be.

One day I got an email, telling me what day my stuff would be moved. I was a bit puzzled; the mail was sent to three people. One indeed my promised incidental office mate. And then another postdoc. What was this? The other postdoc asked the very same thing.

Soon my office. I chose the desk in the far corner. 

If I lean as far left as I can I have this view, through the atrium, to the outside world.

It turned out that all these elaborate plans and consultation had, at the last minute, been swept away by the powers that be, and it was decided "my" office would hold me, the two other mentioned postdocs, but both sharing one desk, and then yet another desk for the next person the school would employ. What? I don't mind sharing, even if it means I get even less space than the already quite limited amount I originally had; we don't get much space in the new building. But I wasn't too chuffed about having to find out through enquiring why that email was sent to all three of us. If you change the plans, you tell the people involved. And the other postdoc had been promised a desk of her own.

All my stuff in labelled boxes

It will happen that way anyway. We did protest loudly against changing the plan without informing us; I hope we made so much noise next time management will not repeat such behaviour. And now I've packed my stuff to move into this 4-person-office. My old office will seem enormous in comparison! I hope the stuffiness and crowdedness won't be too bad... luckily the summer is practically over!

Farewell, Kirkby Place!

29 August 2012

Not Snowdonia yet - first a nuisance

The day after I came back from Snowdonia, Rick would give a talk in Liskeard, and of course I wanted to see that. I would drive up to another caving lady and then we would dirive together, picking yet another caver up along the way. But it wouldn't happen that way. When I got to my car I saw that the wing mirror was dangling down. Maybe someone had parked clumsily and knocked it off! Or it had been vandalism. Not nice.

I also noticed parking tickets. Again my parking permit had fallen from the windscreen. My trust in sticky tape had been too big! But walking around the car to put the parking permit back I saw my other wing mirror was even in a worse shape. It was dangling down, glass missing. I couldn't possibly drive like this. And it was evident: this was vandalism. You don't accidentally knock off the mirrors on both sides.

It was only my car; all other cars in the street were fine. Was this a personal thing? I don't have many enemies, but the last few months my downstairs neighbour seems to have it in for me. I hope it wasn't him, but just some boisterous youth who arbitrarily targeted my car, and not a personal vendetta. We'll see. The car is at the garage now. If it gets damaged as soon as it gets back it probably is personal. Not sure what to do then! I don't think the police will prioritise such things.

But not all was bad. The lady that I would share transport with came to pick me up. We were slightly late, but we saw most of the talk! Most people are really nice. Just too bad these few not-so-nice people can really spoil your day if they want...

28 August 2012

Away from Southwest and Blog

It's been silent here for a while! I enjoyed a long weekend of hiking and caving in Snowdonia. Not going on a proper summer holiday, I will this year take many long weekends off instead. The next one will be visiting my mother! But I have to also get work done, so I don't know when I'll manage to post the first report on the very successful Wales trip. Bear with me!

23 August 2012

Pendennis Castle

The river Fal has a nice, deep, sheltered estuary, and that is good news for Falmouth, as the town owes its existence to it. However; something so desirable might also be used by others; such an estuary makes a marvellous location for an invasion from the sea. Henry VIII wasn't taking any chances, and had fortresses built on both sides, designed to shoot any invading fleet to smithereens. And on a nice Sunday Hugh and I decided to inspect these fortifications.

We decided to drive to the eastern side of the estuary, to St Mawes; on that side, the more modest of the two fortresses is built. And it modesty did not stop it from being in very good shape, and sitting very decoratively on a promontory, surrounded by ramparts and flower beds.

St Mawes Castle seen from the land

View in eastern direction from the fortress

The view is nice and peaceful on a day like this

Having seen this side of the story it was time for the main course: Pendennis Castle, on the western side of the estuary. Fortunately, a ferry runs across the water, so we got a nice boat trip as bonus.

St Mawes

St Mawes and its castle seen from the other side

Falmouth, with dragon boat racers in its harbour

Falmouth  itself was heaving with tourists (like us), but not many found their way to Pendennis castle. Which was unexpected; this one was clearly the more spectacular of the two! The fortress was cutely perched on top of a grassy promontory, surrounded by cannons of all sizes and ages. Inside they had put up a nice display with lots of noise and smoke. And as bonus it had a decorative early 20th century building on the side. It was a nice day out!

Small fortress on large lawn

The display; you can see the smoke, and just believe me there was much more noise...

Me with a cute small cannon

They had big, modern ones too!

The 1901 building behind an anti-aircraft(?) gun

22 August 2012

Fruit for cats

I warned you all: when you are exposed to cates, especially kittens, you tend to be grasped by a desire to bother the whole world with how fascinatingly cute is what they do. So when I visited them, and noticed the kittens were very interested in the apple core I had produced, I figured that that is most blogworthy. So here pictures of little cats licking an apple! Isn't that amazing?

Gigi figured it out first

See her brother stare in near-hostile fascination

And then he gets his turn too!

21 August 2012

Rescue: all together now

The wettest summer on record is a good time to hone your water rescue skills. We cave rescuers need some water skills as caves and mines might well be partially flooded (or entirely flooded, but then we don't go there) or at a river bank. And if we get water trained anyway we migth as well do it well. If there ever is a big flood, the conventional rescue services might end up a bit short of people, so if we train as well they can call upon us for back-up. And if we're back-up anyway we might as well train together, so we are used to each other. So with that thought in mind I drove to Newton Abbot for a combined training.

It was a big training! All three Dartmoor rescue teams were there (Plymouth, Okehampton and Ashburton), and us, of course. We would scour a marshy park for casualties, in teams. I was assigned to an Ashburton group with one Plymouth girl added. I would be their water saviour; they were all in their normal outfits, while I was in wetsuit. If they would fall into the river I would have to get them out. And if there would be casualties in water it would be me again to retrieve them.

The place was swarming with rescuers 

We set off. Within minutes I was overheating. But there was succour nearby; we found the first casualty on the other side of the river. One of the team radioed on to control to ask for a boat to get him off the island. The scenario was he had been surprised by the tide. We would wait for the boat to show up. That gave me time to cool down.

Me in my water helmet, followed by the rest of the team

I am a law-abiding citizen, so I politely asked if I could get into the water. And this is dartmoor rescue, so a foot of water is suddenly a major hazard. I was told it was dangerous! It could be muddy! I could only get in if I would hold on to a stick held on the other side by another team member, on the shore. Oh dear. Cave rescue has had to come out and rescue a guy from heat exhaustion in a cave. I don't think we have had to come out for someone who had stepped into a slow-flowing river. It is another example of people losing all perspective in H&S issues. Oh well. I got to bob around in the river. And after a while they decided to ditch the stick. It took a while for the boat to arrive.

Me cooling down in the river; the red speck on the other bank is the casualty we kept an eye on

While waiting for the boat I got called out to the next site, where a confused man had wandered into a pond. Same thing there; they didn't let me into the knee-deep water without tying me to a rope.

That location had a casualty with a spinal injury too; she was put into a vacuum matress, onto a stretcher, and wheeled away. We moved on. I got to check for casualties under the bridges. Not tied into a rope! These mountain rescuers were becoming more reasonable as the evening drew on. No casualties under bridges, but we found a plastic casualty at a gate. With him (or her) the rescue was a bit more half-hearted. We imagined not only the casualty, but the stretcher and the ambulance too. It would be the last casualty we found. Which was fine; it was getting late anyway. I had to get out of all that kit, and put something dry on.

Attending to the "injured" casualty

We had a debriefing, where some issues were discussed, indeed including the perception of risks. But altogether it had been a success! These folks sometimes get onto my nerves, but in case of a combined call-out I'll have to put up with it anyway. And they are a lot of fun to hang out with. One of the girls turned out to do research on social networks in killer whales! People keep amazing. Next time we train together I'll try to be there again.

17 August 2012

New post on science blog

I managed another post on the science blog: do have a look!

Finally! The big Barents Sea paper!

It was more than three years ago I left the Norwegian Polar Institute. And now, the major piece of work resulting from it has been accepted. Sometimes science is a slow process.

I submitted it after I had left. We sent it in early 2010. It came back with lots of reviewers’ comments. Justified comments. I revised the manuscript and sent it back. It went through review again. And again. I struggled to find time to do all these revisions, as I also have this inconvenient situation called a day job. Only a few weeks ago I dedicated some days to the last revisions, and sent it in yet again. I thought the manuscript had to go through review again. I already was tired at the mere thought.

And then, when I least expected it, an e-mail came. It had been accepted! As it was! It’s over! And it still has to be formatted and checked, so it can’t even be found online yet, and it might take a while, but that’s all a trifle. I’m glad now! Don’t worry I won’t mention it here when it appears online...

Some of the forams involved in the study; these would be ~1/4 mm

So what is it about? Changes in the foraminifera ecology on the bottom of the Barents Sea. The cold water species are vanishing. And the biggest changes happen, roughly speaking, where the ice edge is in the spring maximum ice extent. I’ll get into detail on the science blog...

16 August 2012

Twitter - a revelation

There’s so much about modern life I don’t like that I often feel the need to hide underground in mud. But sometimes suddenly something modern is just what you had needed all that time. Cherry-picking is an awful thing to do in science, politics and several other disciplines, but in arranging your own life it’s just the thing to do. So I steer clear from R&B, reality TV, computer games, internet dating (to name a few things), but I do have and appreciate, for instance, an iPhone and iPod. An iPhone allows you to check your mail in otherwise lost time, such as waiting for the printer. And when Google Scholar and Google Maps came out I was instantly convinced. How easy that made things. And now there’s a new star in the firmament: Twitter.

Twitter is a brilliant way of staying up to date. For the non-Twitterers: you can choose to follow (almost) anyone who’s on Twitter too. Some people have locked accounts. But these are rare. So unlike at Facebook, where you can only see the updates of people who have acknowledged a connection with you, you can pick whoever you find interesting, regardless of whether this sentiment is reciprocal. I follow, in random order: people I know, news broadcasters such as newspapers, the BBC and Reuters, geo-bodies like AGU and EGU, climate people, science geeks, opinionated people like Stephen Fry and Michael Moore, and people in power. And that way I know many things that happen almost instantaneous. And yes, I get many messages more than once; if BBC world finds something worth mentioning, the generic BBC might think so too. But that’s a modest drawback. And yes, I have already found myself in the situation where I disagreed with someone, and instead of him offering any arguments he started hurling insults. Oh well. I can do with a thicker skin anyway. 

So what do I get to find out? What Curiosity is up to. What the latest science blogger has produced. That there’s a new, exciting article out in Nature. What the situation is with Assange. Which climate denier has tried to blacken Michael Mann’s name this time. That there is a new way of making scientific data public. If Arctic Sea Ice has reached a new minimum. The latest U-turnof Paul Ryan. And much more of that! I am hooked. And you can even use it as a helpdesk: it’s not unusual people just throw in questions they struggle with. If you have many followers, one of them might have an answer. And if they don’t, they may re-tweet, which makes you question reach an even wider audience. I got offer help when I tweeted about my age modelling frustration. It didn’t solve my issues, but it was heart-lifting anyway! I like Twitter!

15 August 2012

Cat alert

Kids, cats, dogs, horses; they all have the ability to take over one's mind. Try to have a conversation with a young mother about something other than babies: good luck. So now that I am an official cat-sitter, I feel the unstoppable urge to convey how cute the little kittens are I sometimes look after. And of course they're cute; ever seen a non-cute kitten? So it's adorable how they chase toys, it's adorable how they beat each other up, and it's adorable how they finally calm down, climb on your lap and purr away. Could anyone disagree?

The first time I came around I had only brought my underground camera; not only does it take somewhat hazy pictures, but it also has an irresistable strap...

14 August 2012

Congratulations to Jon

“Picture or it didn’t happen!” Or “blog post or it didn’t happen”? I rarely blog about event I can’t illustrate with suitable pictures. And then it seems like such events never happened. Last Saturday there was a memorable party: Jon turned 40. And I tend to shy away from taking pictures at social occasions; for one thing, I tend to be busy socialising, and for another, I don’t like feeling like a paparazzo.

Jon organised a big party for family, friends and colleagues; he’d rented his entire local haunt for the entire evening. At six in the evening it was crowded already. It had the atmosphere of a wedding; there was themed decoration everywhere, there was a wedding cake, there was a speech, there was singing, there was a commemorative book with a collage of pictures, there were embarrassing gifts... it was a good party!

The party ended (for us) in style; when the pub closed, four of us decided to share a cab home. But the pub is quite far away from everything, so we were told we might have to wait for an hour. We decided to walk instead. I would otherwise never walk that far! And lots over unlit park paths. Paul and Lou, the other two, were carrying a bottle of whisky around; that was handed to them by a colleague, with the message “ a wedding present! I had given it to Jon so he could give it to you, but he drank it, so I had to buy another bottle... here it is!” We almost had a swig on a pitch dark path. Thanks to Jon, his spiffing parties, and his inappropriate behaviour regarding wedding presents. Here’s to the next ten years! 

13 August 2012

Home improvement

I don't like pull cords! It was the second time in the duration of my occupancy that the licht switch in the bathroom broke. And the bathroom has no windows. Most impractical! And I don't have a ladder, so in order to replace it I have to balance on the bath, standing on my toes, reaching high above my head, not able to see what I'm doing, and it's all very unpleasant. This time I got fed up; I decided to lug the coffee table to the bathroom, and the side table too, and make a veritable pile of furniture so I could work in relative comfort. And it took some trial and error, one electric shock (wrong switch!), and google (yay!) to get it done, but I was succesful! And then I decided that since I had almost emptied my living room of furniture anyway, I might as well hoover! So I did. I went on a veritable cleaning spree. So what started with pain and frustration ended in an impeccable house. End well all well!

Two tables to reach the ceiling switch in the bathroom; one stool to reach the mains switch and the other switches. DIY by a short person...

11 August 2012

Horizontal rope

I'm a bit arrogant about rope work. I can do it! So when there was another SRT practice organised by the cave resue team I got ready for an uneventful evening. Which suited me fine: slamming into tarmac is not a good prepapration for die-hard rescue training. But I would have to step up my game.

What I wanted to train on was rigging, but the training officer had forgotten to bring the stretcher, so there was none. Where the stretcher would have been, I just went up and down the rope, and then helped a member who doesn't really likes dangling from ropes above menacing depths.

As I do actually like rope work I went to a higher cliff with a more complicated route, and went up. And this route had horizontal bits! That was fun! Not necessarily difficult, but I had never done something like that. So it was not only novel fun, but also a nice training in humility. That's needed too, once in a while!

10 August 2012

Manners in Beirut

It was a sunny day. I was biking home rather early; there was a cave rescue training that night. And my commute home is nice and quick, as most of it is downhill. So in a nicely high gear I was cruising down North Road West. A good day!

Then all changed. Suddenly a woman and a dog appeared from behind a parked car, straight in front of me. I shouted "watch out!", thought I would run straight over the dog, then realised I was going to hit the woman instead, slammed into her, flew through the air, and landed in a heap on the tarmac.

I was a bit dazed. Slamming into a hard surface always knocks the air out of you, but if you've first had a massive adrenaline burst from knowing you would slam into someone at high speed, it's worse.

I sat up, and told the woman I hoped next time she would PLEASE look where she was going. She had crossed the street, and was standing there, apologising, and asking if I was alright, but not coming anywhere near me. I answered truthfully I wasn't too sure if I was alright. She apologised again. I had a look at my elbows, knees ans bicycle; the damage looked modest. I was still shaken, but there were cars approaching. Quite unlike the woman, the drivers of these looked where they were going, and seemed to not have an inclination to run me over, but I still figured I had better get out of the way. So I stood up, still a bit shaky; picked up my bike, and went to the side of the road.

By then the woman saw her chance and walked away. Not very chivalrous. Yes she did apologise, but what about helping me up? She just left me lying there.

I bent my bike back into shape and rode home. What else could I do? But I was sore, and felt rather abandoned. At home I inspected the damage further; a chafed elbow, and bruises on elbows, knees and hip. Not so bad. But then the adrenaline burst kicked in after all. I burst out into tears. I could do with some sympathy, so as there was nobody around I resorted to modern communications. I texted Hugh, who promptly phoned me and was all worried, and vented my spleen on Facebook. Immediately I got a response: "Sorry to hear that Margot. Were you in Beirut? Aka North Road West/ East Stonehouse?". Well yes. It was bad enough this incident happened; it's worse to find out people actually expect such behaviour in this part of town...

09 August 2012

Underground catwalk

It had been a day of solid spreadsheet work. My eyes were square and my head filled with numbers. So when the evening trip turned out to visit a very muddy venue I figured that would be a spiffing chance to solve all that.

This mine is quite a walk from where you can park your car. So we had a nice, though somewhat sweaty, walk through the woods. It's not easy to find a sartorial ensemble that accommodates an uphill walk on a somewhat sticky evening, AND wading through chest-deep cold water. Dave struggled a bit.

When we arrived at the entrance we sent the newbies in first. Then those who had been there before went in. Dave was following at some distance. When we got in we had the fun of seeing how those unfamiliar with the chest-deep and cold gloopy tomato soup of Wheal Russel liked it. They did indeed conclude it was cold. And deep. And weird. But as could be expected they liked it!

When we reached the entrance chamber they were suitably impressed. It IS pretty! So I took my chance when everybody else went on. I put my camera down and tried some pictures. And while I was faffing around like that I noticed I heard very heavy breathing behind me.

Mine tunnels can transport sound rather well. I could hear Dave come in. And come all the way through. He was zonked when he reached me. And when he had his breath back he suggested we go in together; me with one of his flash guns. I was flash monkey again! It was a good idea.

My own pictures would not turn out too well, so choosing this auxiliary post was a good one. And I ended up with underground glamour photos! And, as I noticed in the shower: also with a nice two-tone body. The lower part bright orange; then a high water mark at chest height, and lily white above that. Might be my new look for the summer!

Rotting timbers in the entrance chamber

Grotesque dripstone formations

Coming out

07 August 2012

Throw your bloke off a cliff

When do you find a rope hanging down a cliff, where you can practice your abseiling- and prussicking-back-up skills? During a caving trip. Is that a good time to practice? Maybe not; trips involving rope work tend to take enough time without people going up and down the rope unnecessarily. And if you're practicing something that may hurt you severely if you get it wrong, you had better not feel hurried up by people who want to get underground. Do we have training sessions? Well, yes; there have been two in my time at the caving club, which boils down to less than one a year. So when Hugh wanted practice, I had a rope, and we knew there are probably anchor points in the abandoned Dartmoor quarries, we seized a free Sunday to go and give it a try.

The weather was very Dartmoorish: grey skies and wisps of fog. We walked to the quarry where we had seen the Dutch army train; that had given us the idea there must be anchors to fix your rope to. But imagine our surprise when we got there: the UK army had picked this much more English day to train! The quarry was all rigged, and a score of heavily packed, knackered-looking young men just marched into the quarry. I don't think they'd enjoy it as much as we expected to. They looked like they wanted a hot chocolate and a warm bed.

This encounter didn't faze us; there is another quarry. We went there, and rather soon we found anchors above a cliff! Perfect! So I made a beautiful Y-hang and attached the rope to some of the stakes while Hugh got into his harness. And in the pouring rain he started descending. All went smoothly, although he did notice near the bottom it pays off to try to go down as straight as possible, as otherwise you might find yourself swinging sideways at some point. And he landed in a thistle.

My spiffing rigging.

Rain evidently doesn't stop this man.

Goin' down!

When he was down I hadn't even had the time to put my knee pads on. So he came back up, and then it was my turn. It was a nice descend! I went down slightly straighter, which meant I didn't do any swinging, but of course there was a big thistle where I touched ground as well.

Hugh came down again, and I suggested he might try a change-over, go up a bit, and then do another change-over to come back down again. All very useful practice! Then I went back up, so he could see how I did it; he had a decidedly different technique, and I wondered if mine wasn't more comfortable, but it helps to have seen it.
Hydrologist dwarfed by large quarry

When he came up he decided his own technique was still the best. And then we were hungry and quite wet, so we called it a day, packed up, and walked back to the car. When we walked past the other quarry we could still see the silhouettes of the soldiers against the leaden sky...

Walking back along the water-logged Moors

We went for a nice meal plus pint in the Princetown pub. It had been a good day! And when we drove back our comfort was again accentuated by the silhouettes of the soldiers, also marching in the direction of Princetown, but by my guess not in the direction of a cosy, food-serving pub...

04 August 2012

Skeptical about converting skeptics

"The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic - great example of science at work!" a friend twittered. And I do tend to see the sunny side of things! But this time I failed to share the enthusiasm. I had a look at what this converted skeptic had to say, and I emerged with a bad taste in my mouth. Is it just me? Judge for yourself! I wrote on my science blog what my issues are. Maybe I am a dug-in inflexible climate scientist who just can't accept anything from someone who is associated with the Koch brothers. (Or as the Anti Europa Partij calls it: a so-called scientist who has been lying, cheating and robbing!) Or maybe I have a point, and this man is a liar who has managed to convince the most intelligent and knowledgeable of people! Read for yourself...

02 August 2012

Gratuitous cuteness

Friends and colleagues got themselves two kittens. And nothing beats a kitten in popularity. Especially kittens that other people have the responsibility for. The friends will sometimes be gone, and then other people will have to take over in feeding the little felines. So a veritable stampede of volunteers went to their place to be shown where the litter is, where the food is, and such useful information. And to be introduced to the two little cheeks themselves. And those that like hits on their blog should not let such an opportunity slip! There's kittens to be seen here! Kittens!

Monti, the little male

And his sister Gigi