29 November 2015

Conwy Half Marathon

November is a nice month for racing, and the Great Orme must be beautiful. So when I saw the Conwy Half Marathon on Nov 22 advertised, a race that goes all around the great Orme, I registered. Several people had recommended this race to me! And I would even have company; Coleen, whith whom I had also ran the Anglesey Trail Half Marathon in January, would run too. So all good! Later the Cave Rescue Team would move a training exercise to that day, which was a bit of a pain as I wasn't keen on missing out on either event, but I chose to stick with the race. Not without some worries; it had been very busy recently, and shit weather, so I had only done my usual short runs recently. The day I shoudl have run further was so miserable I couldn't get myself to do it. And the only day I did was only a week before the race: too far! And I also hadn't slept very well the last nights. My-worst prepared half marathon ever! But well, it's only a half, so I would be OK.

When the day approached she mentioned some people whe knew would run too, and go for a meal and a pint afterwards. That sounded fun! So on the race day I was picked up from home, and brought to a pub owned by one of the other runners. This chap would drive us, and yet another runner, to Conwy. But he wasn't very punctual. Luckily the pub was warm and dry and had coffee.

We drove through the rain to Conwy, and struggled to park anywhere. When that was sorted I got restless. I had to dump my bag, and I wanted to go to the loo before the start. But we were late, and the organisation turned out to be flawed; they had bag storage, but they labeled every bag before putting it away. And they didn't have enough people by half! Nor did they have enough toilets! Walking through the start area was near impossible with the crowds and all the queues that snaked everywhere. It was a bit awful and I lost everybody. The race would start at 10AM; at 10:10 I was still in the queue for the toilets. I was feeling casual; I figued your time only started running once you crossed the start line, so well, starting a bit late would be fine. In the end I crossed the start at 10:15, together with many other people. It was a busy race!

Queueing up for the start, with a dramatic skyline

Ready to go!

We ran over the bridge into Llandudno, and soon entered a sandy coastal path. It's scenic and the sand is nice on your feet, but this early in the race the field hadn't spread out enough to make such a narrow path comfortable. You couldn't politely get past people most of the time!

On the sandpath

The the race got back onto the road, to cross over to the other side of the peninsula. There we finally got to see the limestone cliffs on the Great Orme. Very nice! And even the sun came out!

Along the eastern side of Great Orme

While running uphill I found Coleen back. Se wasn't enjoying the uphill bit. We stayed together for a while until she ushered me on. I proceeded to the top, and then started the nice and fast descent. The miles flew by! But maybe I went too fast; at the 9 mile marker I developed a stitch. I don't like them! I slowed down a bit and hoped it would go away. Luckily it did. At the 10 mile marker the worst was over and by 11 mile it was all gone. By that time I was tired, though! But that's fair I suppose. And by that time you start to get conscious of your result; I hadn't looked at my watch so didn't know quite how I was doing, but I knew I had passed the 2 hour pacers near the 10 mile mark, so I knew I was probably going to come in a few minutes within the 2 hour boundary. But when I'm closing in I become aware of the women near me, especially the ones that look like they're in my age category; every one you overtake is one position higher! I overtook all within reason, and when the finish loomed there were only men in sight in front of me. I accelerated a bit on the downhill bit to the finish, but not too much as I didn't fancy falling on my face in the last few metres. And I came in with a gun time of 1:57 so I knew my chip time would be 1:52. Not bad at all!

The mainland comes into view again

The castle, where the finish is!

I went to get my medal and race shirt, and considered getting my bag. I decided against; if I came back to the finish now I might see Coleen finish. I found a good spot but didn't see her. At some point I figured she must have finished while I was collectin gmy medal, and I had also got very cold, so I decided to go get the bag and proceed to the showers. I was glad I had an emergency blanket with me! The queue for the bags was as awful as expected. When I had the bag I also had my phone, so I found a text from Coleen, saying she indeed was on her way to the showers by now. I limped there too. I was properly seized up now after getting so cold.

What's my time? 

The showers were a blessing! They warmed me up again. And Coleen turned out to be in the same row of cubicles. It was nice to see her again! I also drank some extra water; I had run on less than half a litre and that's not enough. I often run myself a headache.

After the shower we went to the pub where we would meet. The others were already drinking. Unfortunately, the pub didn't serve food. I wanted food! But the others were more keen on alcohol. Not good! I managed to put pressure on the company, bt only enough to get us food by about 4PM. I had finished at 12! What are these people thinking! They were nice, but I might not do something like this again, viz. joining people I don't know for a pint after a race, as I seem to be one of the few people in this world keen on satisfying basic needs. I need water and food after a race! And I am never keen on a piss-up, and especially so in circumstances like this.

The pub where we ended up

After I finally had had my shepherd's pie (yay!) I was keen to go home. There was a train at 17:33 I could get, but Coleen didn't want to take it. She volunteered for the 17:59 one. And I considered my options; the latter would probably get me home quicker, as her bloke would pick us up from the railway station. A bus would probably not be so convenient. So I stayed for a last half hour and then we were gone! It was nice to be brought to the door, but then I was knackered. I was in bed within a few hours. Note to self: do run races but don't go to the pub afterwards!

27 November 2015

Considering a car

Last year it took hundreds of pounds to get my rusty old car through MOT. This year I fear it could be worse; my exhaust needs perking up and the wiring of my lights needs replacement. And only then would even thinking about rust start to be relevant. It could be very expensive! So much so I wondered if the time would have come to scrap it. I wasn't looking forward to it; it would mean the hassle of buying another one. And I live in a small town now; how many cars of my preference would there be around here? If a place is not reachable by bike (that's not far) or public transport (good luck, this is North Wales) it would be difficult. I can drive up to see it, but if I buy it, I can't drive two cars back! And it's not as if I have many people around here whom I am comfortable to ask to drive me there.

But the David saw a car on Gumtree, just down the road. It looked like an OK deal! And as it was this close, he was happy to come with me to see it. (He might be happy to travel further but I'm not counting on it.) And he was invaluable! He knew the type of car this was needed a new cam belt every 72000 miles, and this one had driven 137000 or so. Time for a new one! And that can be expensive!

I asked the local garage what a new cam belt would cost. Quite a lot, it turns out! So I decided against this car. David then saw a promising-looking Nissan in Rhyl but someone beat me to it. I hope I find something before the old one's MOT runs out. I don't consider myself too picky, but I want a car that has 5 doors, a reasonably-sized boot, is affordable to insure, and is sold not too far away! Turns out that's hard! Wish me luck...

25 November 2015

Bringing colleagues to an underground birthday party

If I take pics underground, I often place them in the depository of the big nation-wide mine exploration website. Some time ago, one of the men took one of these pics (the one with the partly flooded chamber) and placed it on Facebook. It was quite a nice pic; one of our PhD students commented it was very cool. It's always nice if people are enthusiastic! I said he should come with us next time. A lot of people say what we do is cool, but very few actually ever show up. But this chap, called Richard, did! And by sheer coincidence we went to the very same place. It would be a special night: Mick's fiancee had her birthday, and she had brought her son + significant other along to celebrate.

The car struggled a bit to get there. My exhaust is a bit low slung these days, and with four in a car it was dragging over the tarmac. Oh dear. But we got there. We greeted the festive party (they were already there) and got ready. I had brought my normal helmet (for Rich) and my old one (for me). The latter uses a lot of batteries, and I realised I had left a batch charging in my office. Oh dear! But I could borrow some and all was well.

We set off in much better weather than last time. Soon we got to the entrance. Rich was ecstatic. Good! We started on our way, the usual route, and soon were in the chamber I had taken the picture in. I figured it would be nicely symbolic to get Rich to stand where I had been standing when taking the picture that had inspired him. To get there you had to walk a narrow-ish, smooth slate ledge next to a deep pool, and you had to go back the same way too. There was a big metal pin to hold on to, though, so I figured it was fair. I told Rich to follow me. He wasn't too happy, but he did it! But when he realized he had to go back the same way he hated me.

I didn't do any more of that stuff. This was the only part of the mine I figured he really had to see! The rest was optional. But I was keen on a specific bit. The previous time we had seen a traverse, and this time we wanted to do it. I struggled to find it, though. Luckily Paul knows his way around there. After some general scampering and admiring artifacts we got to it.

 Pics by Rich

I went up with Zen, Mick's step-ex-daughter-in-law-to-be or something, who had come with us before. She was a bit nervous as on that traverse, you're very exposed. But she managed, of course. I helped her into the rope for the abseil at the end, and while I was at it, did the same for Rob's son who, since Bog mine, had become a regular and was there too (the average age has never been this low!). Then I could come down myself. Box ticked! Then we did a birthday group pic.

 Pic by Rich

 Birthday collage by David

We went on. This time we didn't linger as much in the rest of the mine, but we did make sure to see most fo the sights. And this time I wanted to come out through the main gate! It's quite a gate and a half, and looks like it gives entrance to Mordor or something. We needed wo attempts to find it but then we got there. And were out!

 Pic by Rich

Back at the cars we had special cake, and champagne. A special night! And Rich is hooked now!

23 November 2015

Marking the modern way

It's marking season. I just finished marking the field reports of the field trip in Laugharne. Soon the field reports based on the Ice and Oceans field trip will be coming in. I decided to see if I could do the marking in the digital way; I'm sure soon enough that will be the only way, and I'd better learn soon. So I headed for the assignment submission site.

The marking as it looks in hardcopy

Some of the aspects of this site are intuitive, and for those that aren't there are tutorials. But I still struggled a bit; you can make some marking schedule (called a rubric) in which you can click on the sub-mark you give to a specific aspect of the assignment. This assignment has aspects worth 10%, 15% and 20%, and they are all judged on different things as they are different. And I didn't manage to put that amount of detail in the rubric. No worries; I phoned the technology support people, and they were quite willing to pop by and show me. That was nice!

The ladies did show up, and showed me all kinds of aspects of the site. Very useful! And then we got to the rubric. And it turned out that what I wanted couldn't be done. The software doesn't support it! So I could only have a scale from 0 to 10 for each question; for the 20 point question you could therefore only give an even sub-grade. And all questions needed to have the same rubric, so for the 15 point question I could only award multiples of 1.5. A bit clunky! I hope an upgrade somewhere in time will sort that. But now at least I know. I think I may start making my rubric for the next batch of marking now.

So how did I get on with my first digital marking-and-feedback session? Well, not bad! The site can do all sorts of things. You can highlight text and add comments to the highlighting; add comments in general, you can mark the various parts of the work and the programme then tallies it all up and published the mark on the site. The comments you think you may need more than once you can save them and drag-and-drop them onto any of the assignments. And the disadvantage is you need to stare at a monitor all the time, while staring at paper is a lot more pleasurable, but otherwise it's great. The drag-and-drop comments are really handy, and it's nice that if you change your mind about grading of a question the mark gets updated automatically. And you can read your own scribbles back; if you get a question by a student about the feedback (not that I expect any) you can read back what it was again you wrote. If you scribble on hardcopies you can't! And I can imagine it may help for next year; if there's a record of the comments you made you may anticipate the things that initially triggered them, maybe avoiding them for next time.

An anonymized example; notice the drag-and-drop comments on the right, the "similarity score" (in this case fictional) of 11%, which means 11% of the text was spotted before by the plagiarism check of the programme (which is nothing to worry about; the programme for instance flags up if several students mention the same foraminifera species, but they're supposed to do that) and notice the (equally fictional) grade on the right. Notice I used one of the drag-and-drop comments; quite a lot of the plots submitted looked like this, and you might agree with me the use of labels is suboptimal.

21 November 2015

Compact music

One of my new year's resolution had been to get a new phone. Sorted! I also had intended to get rid of my bulky music collection and restrict myself to digital music. But that takes a rather large receptacle for all this music. My small old iPod couldn't possibly to it. I didn't want to use my laptop for it, nor a phone. I just wanted to have a thing in my cupboard that played music and stayed there. I figured there should be specific items for this cause. I had been looking at these for years but they didn't seem to exist. Not the way I imagined them, anyway. I pictured a sort of CD-player-shaped thing with a huge internal memory and a display that shows you what music there is and which has functions for selecting it in various ways. But I think I think too old-fashioned! These days, you either use your laptop, phone or iPod. I had to do a rethink. And settled for the option of buying a large iPod, big enough for all my current music. If that would ever fill up I'd deal with that then.

I bought the iPod. In late May. And then I had to figure out how to actually sort out how to play that on my stereo. The old iPod had a docking station and that worked a treat. I assumed you could play a newer model on the same dock, provided you added an adapter gadget (like this). I bought one. It didn't work. I scratched my head. Slowly the steam-powered cog wheels in my head started to turn. Wait. What about plugging the whole thing straight into the stereo? That worked! I was very glad. Blimey am I getting old?

I had sorted the technicalities out, but not yet the practicalities. It's not very user-friendly to have the iPod lying down on a shelf. Would I find a way of making it stand upright? It had this rather impractical plug in its backside. I pondered a bit. Make a solution myself? Better not; other people can do that more efficiently. I found a little tripod online that was specially designed tohold phones and iPods. It surely would be high enough form the ground to accommodate the plug! And it was delivered in no time.

The whole construction has to tilt a bit in order to have its centre of gravity in a sensible place, but beside that, the solution works a treat. I should go on where I had left off in making sure all my CDs are digitized and added to the ipod! Then I can finally get to the final stage: getting rid of the CDs! The important thing is to do that before I move house again...

20 November 2015

To the theatre

Soon the theatre/cinema/general arty building in Bangor will open. They are already so open they show people around, but these people still see ceiling being painted and last chores being finished. I hope to go there early next month for a movie. But until then, the obvious places to go to for culture around here are either Holyhead for its cinema, Caernarfon for its cultural centre and Llandudno for both its cinema and its theatre. I hadn't been to any of these! I am rather busy as it is, and I don't really have a stack of friends to go to theatres and cinemas with (although it does happen) so my cultural life leans heavily on books.

Enter Marjan. She wanted to see a comedian in Llandudno, but the usual suspect (Jaco) didn't want to go. Would I? Of course! She booked it in summer. We'd go in November. And now the day had come! So which comedian would this be? It was Nina Conti, about whom I had seen a documentary, who I had seen on QI, and who I had heard on the radio (which proves she's not just a ventriloquist). She is good. And I looked forward to a night out with Marjan too!

We drove through the heavy winds to Llandudno, had a nice dinner in a restaurant, and went to the theatre. When we got in the venue was already packed! Blimey! That for a ventriloquist. She came on with a large handbag; this turned out to host her frequent sidekick monkey. They exchanged a lot of witticisms in which they mocked their own act ("Hello Lan... Landud.. eh..." "You just can't say that name" "No, and therefore neither can you"), and they didn't waste time starting to interrogate people on the front row and doing the usual comedian spiel. They also did a song. But her main act these days is putting masks on people and animating these with a little hand pump. When their mouths move she does the talking, taking advantage of the masked people's helplessness to make them say things such as that they play the guitar, and would love to do a song. And one of the people on the front row, which she had had a chat with, was the first victim. He managed the treatment well.

She was only getting started. She got one of the man's companions on too. Then she hid in a bag, with the monkey on top, and had him play the audience. This act makes the ventriloquism easy but it's hard to play an audience you can't see. But when she came out again she asked the people who had been proactive with the monkey on stage. At one point she had six people there. As she has only two hands it lead to people having to operate their own pump, or that of the person beside them. The clumsy, untrained timing of the mouth movements even added to the act.

She had me laughing out loud many times. A good night out! I was just a bit disappointing she ended in a rather silly way; she changed into a back-to-front nude suit and put a mask on the back of her own hand. This to me was a bit too much drunken students' humour and not on the same level as the ruthless manipulation of her audience earlier on. But I suppose maybe other people liked it. Then she was off.
 The hall during the break. I suppose taking pictures of the show would be hard, rude and a breach of copyright!

That left us to drive back through the by now even heavier winds. Marjan invited me in for a cup of tea and a look at the programme of our own, soon-to-be-opened theatre. She had done one of these guided tours, so she was well-informed. We immediately agreed on seeing a film together rather soon. I might get cultural again!

18 November 2015

East again

It was one of those nights again; our ringleader working in the East inspired an underground trip in the East. In a way it's inconvenient as it's far away, but in another way it's good as it broadens our horizon. A few weeks before we had been in Bog; now we'd do its neighbour Belgrave.

Logistics were a bit odd; David was in Bangor all day so I'd have to catch the bus with all my kit and meet him there. In a way that worked. In a way it didn't; the bus was late, and I had overestimated the number of bus stops near where he was. We overshot the building by a mile! I had to walk back. Oh dear. A grumpy David awaited me. And I was in two minds about the trip anyway; I was still tired from Buxton and I knew this would get late. David suggested I might bail out. I figured he was right. But then he drove past the bus station, the last point of reasonable return, so I was committed anyway. Let's go with the flow!

We drove underneath clear starry skies. And through rorrential rain. The two changed place rather quickly. I was hoping for clear skies during changing! We found the other in torrential rain, and after some faff which pissed of David more then me we went to where we'd park. We made sure to pack tightly! Not much space. We had been informed we needed two ropes, but the locals that were coming with us to show the way (and for fun) said one would do, but we wouldn't rig a pull-through as even the locals weren't certain of the route or the condition.

We changed in light rain and set off. We had two local guides. The started criss-crossing the landscape looking for the entrance. After we'd seen the entire neighbourhood we came to an adit that was the middle one according to some, and the top one according to others. We settled on that it was the top. And went in!

Our local guide had not been in for a while it seemed. We scrambled on with a map in hand. It was a nice old lead mine. We just scampered around a bit until the pitch was found and rigged. Some went down, but didn't see a way on. What? Was something amiss? Maybe we should just get back up. Good we hadn't pulled the rope down. There was a drop further on, but we didn't have an extra rope, and the anchors looked iffy too.

A dead resident

 Some stoping

We went back up. Some of us, including the two locals, hadn't come down. The idea of this mine was that you could come in on the top and in the middle. Not in the bottom. But the top and bottom level weren't directly connected; you had to drop from the top to the bottom and then climb to the middle level. This wasn't a free climb; you need a rope. So the local chap would go back out by the time we would go down the first pitch, come in at the middle level, and drop a rope down for us. He seemed to have gone down that rope to have a look, and it seemed he had come across a collapse with water backing up to it. Oh dear!

When we came back up the pitch we heard this story. We were glad all was well! But only later on did I realise the alleged collapse had been at the level below us. Was it even there? If the guy had forgot the route requires two ropes he may well have forgot the route further down, and maybe that water belonged there. Either way; we were all out safely. And we regrouped at the middle adit. David and I went in to have a look. It looked great! We should come back one day and do a more proper explore. But for now I was glad we were out early-ish. It was a long way home! And we first had to push one of the cars out...

16 November 2015

More is better

There is such a thing as a free lunch! One of my office mates bought a Mac. That left his PC redundant. And not just the actual computer, but also the peripherals. And he had two screens! I nicked one. It would be sad to let a good monitor go to waste, after all. And it's great! I often try to have too much open on the screen, and now I have twice the space. It's great! 

15 November 2015

Buxton, one year on

Things look better when you look at them together. I work full-time on a research project, or rather; I am being paid to work full-time on a research project and I try to do just that but I sometimes get distracted by teaching. And the annual meeting came up; that's the moment you have to bear all, in a way, but I felt I didn't have enough to show for myself. And I wasn't optimistic about the entire research project. Going to Liverpool had already increased my optimism, but the big annual meeting in Buxton which that was a preparation for would be the real deal. It was hard work to prepare for it but by five-ish on Friday I figured I was sufficiently prepared. That made me feel better! And really prepared I was not, but neither was anybody else; we left without knowing the program. I knew I would be in 4 or 5 talks but I wasn't quite sure for how long or when. Oh well. I had the data; the rest would sort itself.

We drove off on a blustery day. There were three of us; James, who is one of the project bigshots, Catriona, one of our PhD students, and me. I offered to drive as I knew my levels of working hard had been nothing compared to James', lately. I think I did the right thing; James slept pretty much all the way to Stockport. And in spite of strong wind and low visibility we arrived without incident. Time to greet people!

There were people who had been on the first cruise, or the second, or both; and there were people I only knew from meetings like this but who I had learned to quite appreciate anyway. So many people to hug and to ask about how they had been! It was a bit of a child-in-the-toy-shop feeling. It's a lovely bunch of people. And then there was lunch.

After lunch the talks started. And so much had been done since the previous meeting! So much more had we learned about the research question! It was good to see. If it's just you in a lab you don't see the progress. If everybody comes together you do.

My very posh hotel room, the only space I took a picture off. Too much to do!

We had talks until about six. I was one of the first to speak. And the last! And what I presented was a bit rough and ready but it was appreciated. And then the drink came out. Important too! The socialising which had started over lunch and during the tea breaks continued at a higher pace. It was nice! And useful. The radiocarbon folk wanted old material for extra calibration, a Canadian who interprets the Celtic Sea in a completely different way from what we tend to do in Bangor was keen on discussing some of my talk; I had been presenting the results from our MSc student who had not been able to be there himself, and all his results pointed squarely away from the Canadian's hypotheses. We were struggling to find a place to do our X-rays and were hoping someone would have ideas.

Soon it was time for dinner. It was nice! And then we were back in the main room for more socialising. And during all that we got to see some of the pics the cruise photographer had made, although most had already been available to those present on board.What I expected to happen happeend; it got late and alcoholic. At some point I figured I had had enough but then our deer-eyed Italian offered me a Laphroaig. Of course I couldn't resist. And for me, the evening ended after telling some nationality jokes with an Irishman and the aforementioned Canadian.

The next morning we continued where we had left off. I know one may suspect influence of the whisky was at play here, which I deny, but during the later talks I did get a bit tired of the endless summing-up of dates. Oh well! I sprang into action a few times more. I think everybody now knows where things stand, and if they have any further questions they know where to find me. And then the meeting was over. Time to hug everybody again! And head home.

I knew I would be chomping at the bit to move forward with this project. But I also knew in Bangor a pile of marking awaited, and an upcoming workshop, and a practical course I had to teach on, and an MSc student who needed guidance, and some students who needed a good talking to as they had behaved in an undesirable way... I may be rearing to go but I wouldn't do an awful lot of going! Maybe the week after. Let's hope the magic of the annual meeting lasts that long...

13 November 2015

Less old-fashioned

Four years ago I entered the world of smartphones. I haven't looked back since. It's great to be able to handle a few emails at home without switching your entire computer on. And... and not much more. I soon got into trouble with my apple ID. And in the end, the model was too old to be compatible with everything I might want. And the battery started to run out fairly quickly. I had already decided last year I should get an upgrade, but it always dropped down my to do list. I was still scampering around with the somewhat battered iPhone 3!

Then I had this meeting with Nora in town. I had nothing urgent planned afterwards, so I figured that if I wanted anything done in town this was the moment. So I went to Carphone Warehouse. And just asked if I could get an upgrade like that. And I could! I didn't remember any of the details of my contract but they just conjured them up from the system. The chap was very patient with me. So without any preparation I walked in and with a new phone for no extra cost I walked out. Success!

Was it that easy? Well there still was this issue of the apple ID to sort out. When I got home I sat myself down and tried to sort it all. With remarkable success! I managed to sort out the apple ID issues, and start backing up my old phone. That would take a while; I left it overnight.

The next morning the backup was complete, so I could go and transfer the data to the new phone. So I did! The new phone was a lot quicker getting the data than the old one was sending it. Then I tried to get access to my email. My gmail account was sorted in a jiffy. My work account was more faff. But quite soon it was loading the lot! Later on I realised that maybe mail was coming in, but it wasn't going out. More faff! But that was sorted soon too. And then mail stopped coming in again. Another app sorted that.

The biggest frustration was the contact list. I had saved the contacts of the people I had exchanged texts with since buying the phone, and I had tried to delete these first and then copy the lot over from the old phone. But accidentally it went the other way! So I only had some three contacts left! But fortunately all my messages had copied over. I spend quite some time manually saving the contacts from these. Unfortunately, the settings were on "automatic update" so all that work was wiped at the first update. Shit! I toggled that function off and tried again. So far so good!

When it was all sorted I could add all the sort of apps that make a mobile phone better than just a phone with email. Live train updates, a Welsh dictionary, a running route planner... the stuff that makes things easier and more efficient. Look at me, being all modern!

This did mean I spent a large part of the day on the bloody phone and whatever came with it. Boring! But sometimes useful! And when it was a dull day anyway (with atrocious weather too) I decided to do a few more chores. Check out what that warning light on the dehumidifier means, buy some shirts to replace ones that had started to show too many holes, find a solution for an iPod problem (there's a theme here), buy another pair of running tights. So it may have been a dull day but I think I'll benefit from it for a long time!

12 November 2015

Meeting the Welsh

I suppose I have been moaning about the Welsh not being particularly keen to speak Welsh to learners. And I may have mentioned how hard it is to get back to Welsh once people have laughed at you. Both factors combined resulted in me pretty much only speaking Welsh to either Welsh tutors or fellow learners. Well, things are changing; due to a combination of me finding new routes through society, my confidence growing, my colleagues being nice and a healthy dose of luck, I have increased my pool of people to speak Welsh with considerably lately! And it feels good!

It started with me talking languages at a coffee break with one of our technicians. I came out as a Welsh learner, and at the end of the conversation, I asked if we could converse in Welsh next time. And he said we could! And he has not addressed me in any other language since, whenever it was just us! in the company of non-Welsh-speakers this may be considered impolite so then he might, but I'm really glad he's being supportive.

I then found the courage to confront one of he other technicians who had immediately switched back to English when I had tried to establish a conversation in Welsh before. That had rather discouraged me. And now I had success! One more down, half a million to go! And then I bumped into our Welsh-speaking PhD student at the hat party. I'm making progress! One of these days I'll overcome my fear of speaking Welsh to David and then I'm really rolling!

From David the step to caving is small of course; he straddles both worlds. Underground I have Phil to talk with in Welsh. And lots of other people within the group also speak Welsh but generally not with me; probably out of habit. But once I manage to include David maybe a critical mass will have been reached! Watch this space!

And then there also is the internet. Two sites have moved my efforts along. One is saysomethingin, which is a language learning site that happens to have Welsh (and Dutch! And Cornish! And more!), and which is very popular among Welsh learners. It has a page designed to bring learners and fluent speakers together. I thought that was spiffing and mailed a woman who lived nearby. We got mailing and she agreed to meet up. But she told me to phone her to decide on where and when - eeek! Phone her! In Welsh! That's scary! I postponed for a while. But then I finally gathered enough courage. She didn't answer - that was relief, actually. But she phoned me back. I had my first Welsh phone conversation and it worked! The line wasn't good but we understood each other! And we are both busy and haven't managed to actually meet up yet, but contact has been established and I trust we will meet up later on.

And then there's clecs, the Welsh social media site. Twitter in Welsh, in a way. It's really the small-town variety with smalltalk and cute cats and people being nice to each other and suchlike.But it's a place where people get to know you in Welsh, so they'd naturally address you in that language if they'd meet you. One lady, Nora, is very active on it. She once posted a picture of a page in a 19th century book she had. I loved it! And I mentioned I have a grammar book of a comparable age. She said we should meet up over coffee! My idea. So we did!

She was great! We chatted for almost two hours. And she's a veritable language warrior. She insists on being served in Welsh in shops and such. And gives shop managers a hard time if they can't provide! You go girl! Of course she was a Welsh tutor - I suspected as such. So in a sense I haven't moved beyond the usual suspects with her, but it was good anyway! I think we'll do that again!

11 November 2015

Follow the tourists

We go into Cwmorthin, the mine which is the venue for most of the activities of Go Below, very often. It's a huge pace, and you can go countless many times and still see new bits. But Go Below owns at least one more mine, Rhiwbach, and most of us hadn't been there. We had wanted to go a while ago, but hadn't managed to get our hands on the code of the lock. And this week we would initially do something else, but we needed Phil for that and he couldn't come, so we would give Rhiwbach another go. It was a dark and stormy night!

While we drove past Llyn Ogwen I casually mentioned to David, who had been after the code the time before, that I assumed he had been successful in the meantime. He jumped. And said he had bt had forgot to bring it! Oh dear, now what. He had had the code mailed to him, and he can read mail on his phone, but had left it at home. And one can do a remote log-in via someone else's phone, of course, but that requires signal. Did I mention we we driving down a largely empty valley in Snowdonia?

Paul, who wasn't driving and did have his phone on him, tried phoning some of the others too, who might know. No success! Maybe we would have to abandon Rhiwbach after all. But Paul had an idea. Miles, the founder/owner of Go Below, lived along the route. Maybe we could just knock on his door? It was worth the try. And it worked! He must have been mildly surprised to find three dripping mine explorers on his doorstep, but he didn't blink and just gave us the code. We were go!

We found the others and quickly got changed. And we walked up the hill to the entrance. It was an unusual walk. The horizontal rain drove us on over the slate waste and through the eerie woods. It was very atmospheric! And after a while we reached the gate. Success!

As it was Guy Fawkes' day Paul had decided to be lit by his carbide lamp. I thought that sounded cool and had brought mine too. I had preferred to light it inside; I figured lighting it in horizontal rain would be asking for trouble. So I lit it, but realised it's a bit of a useless exercise if everybody else as powerful modern lights. I stuck with it anyway, just for the heck. Until I was admiring a flooded chamber and noticed the flame wasn't only coming out of the nozzle, but also out of the sides. Oh dear! What to do? It's carbide; you can't extinguish that with water. I just put it down to contemplate the situation. Someone suggested blowing it out. I din't think you could, but lo and behold: you can! I now had a sooty and hot lamp. Oh well. It would cool down.

Oh dear. 

One of the flooded bits

The stitch drilling

I just held on to the lamp while we explored. This place had nice blue flooded chambers and interesting traverses. It also had some artifacts left. And there were ropes around (thanks to Go Below) that especially Edwyn and me eyed with desire. We'll have to go back some day with full kit.
We also found some strange stitch drilling we didn't understand. It looked good though!

At some point we were watching a rope that was dangling down a waterfall. Can I resist? Of course not! I was already wet up to the sternum due to a look into flooded chamber so I had little to lose, and I like clambery things. I came down that way too, because I could. Then we headed up further towards the exit. We came past an air shaft. You could go out that way! And it was getting late, I was keen to do just that. Some of us did while Paul led the rest through the more conventional exit. That was the most impressively gated entrance I think I've ever seen (we came past it around the outside)! Blimey. Too big to take a picture of, though.

We made our way back to the cars; quite a walk. I knew I couldn't leave until David and Paul had had cake but once they had had two pieces each we set off. I want to go back there! So much water and quite some ropes to have fun with! Let's hope Miles doesn't change the code...

08 November 2015

Preparing for Buxton

There were many of us, people who work on the BRITICE-CHRONO project, on the boat this summer. But there are so many more! Those who do the fieldwork on land, those who don't do fieldwork but do modelling or AMS dating or whatnot. And all need to be kept in the loop. Once a year there is a big meeting in Buxton where we all report back. Very useful!

This year there is a lot to say; both cruises have been done so there is a lot to talk about. I am involved in 4 of the 8 marine transects. This meant this time I would be expected to talk about all of them, and also about the general state of things. A lot of work! It was good though; it forced me to somehow visualise all the different types of data we have. Seismics, stratigraphy, radiocarbon dates, taxonomy, and all of that spatially distributed. It was a lot of work but I finally got to see the pattern!

It was hard work. And then I received an email from James: more radiocarbon dates came back. And that's good as we had been waiting for them for many months. But it also meant I had to incorporate these too! More work. And the day I received them we were just on our way to Liverpool to have a meeting with the chap who was heavily involved in the terrestrial stuff, so we could align the land and the sea a bit. It's nice to know in advance what the gist is of what people will say!

The view from the coffee room in Liverpool

The meeting would start on Monday. I went into the weekend without knowing when I would speak. The presentation on the general status of the marine work had been collaboratively made. I had made sub-presentations for the separate transects, but none of that had been integrated with the other speakers on these topics (generally the transect leaders). I don't go into a meeting that ill-prepared very often! But I suppose from here we can wing it. We have the data. We'll manage! And it will be great to see everyone again!

07 November 2015

Supermodel smile

I have pretty healthy teeth, but sometimes something is left to be desired anyway. My lower incisors had been slowly crumbling. They have cracks running through the enamel and wear and tear sometimes takes advantage of these. I remember a bit coming off six years ago, somewhere in the middle of the frozen wastes of Arctic Finland. Somewhere this year another piece came off. It was getting a bit unpleasant! The sharp jagged edges aren't nice on the tonge. My dentist noticed too during the routine check-up, and suggested he do something about it. I agreed!

It was a bit weird: a dentist's appointment for something other than a routine check or some plaque removal. This time real stuff was on the cards! That never happens! But it was still very modest. The dentist did a bit of grinding, which was a bit unpleasant as you smell the burning apatite and it's unnerving that it comes from your own body. But it didn't hurt. He then molded some putty on top, polished it, and ready I was. And it felt great! No sharp edges, and the feeling of structurally intact teeth again! I was very happy. I couldn't wait to get to a mirror and finally get to see it too. I don't think other people will notice very much, but I sure do and I'm pleased!

Before and after!

05 November 2015

Back to lead

We had gone to Bwlch-y-Plwm once to take Mick's stepson underground. He didn't show up, but his girlfriend did. It was a good trip! Now we would do the same mine again, so the aforementioned girlfriend could take some friends underground. Guess what happened? Indeed; she didn't show up, but her friends did. Did it matter? No!

The previous time we'd done this trip it had taken us forever, but this time, Phil was keen to do it fast. My idea! I was slightly under the weather and going fast means being home early (unless things go wrong further down the line). I like! So we ran up the hill, Edwyn rigged the pitch in a jiffy, and one after the other we dropped the first pitch, while Edwyn already rigged the second. We were rolling!

The entrance; a picture from the previous trip by David

It took slightly longer to get the two newbies down; they had never done anything like this and the first pitch is a bit awkward to get onto. But they did it! The chap even whooping with joy. He'll be back, I'm sure.

The second pitch is a lot more comfortable. Soon most of us were down. I knew David had brought some polyprop rope to fix a handline down a precarious bit we thought connected up to some bit where we had tried to climb up the year before. I was curious to see how that would end! But he was the last man down, so I did some scampering first. At some point I found the newbies near some dig, suggesting they supposed they weren't allowed to go there? I was surprised by the suggestion; not allowed? Not very often-heard words underground. We checked it out ! No idea who had been digging but it looked promising. And a long term plan...

Then finally David appeared. He had started rigging the polyprop rope, but it was too short, so we rigged a climbing rope too, for now. He was a bit nervous about the whole enterprise; this potential route was festooned with lots of loose stuff that could come down any second. But it looked like it went! Soon he could see the top of where we had already been. And the climbing rope was just long enough to get there. I went first, heavily photographed, and made it down without having too much stuff on my head. Soon David followed in similar style. Edwyn had stayed on top of the pitch; he would take the rope with him, and go out the dry way, while we would continue the wet way. Everyone happy!

Me in the new passage. Pic by David

We had some cake afterwards (we had Mick, after all), and then we went home. I got there around 11PM; unprecedented! We should do that more often; rapid trips with enthusiastic newbies and new territory! But I won't hold my breath...

 Me on the traverse; a picture from the previous trip by Simon

03 November 2015

Observe someone else

Part of the PGCert project is getting good ideas from colleagues. One way to achieve that is by having them observe your teaching and provide feedback on it; part of it can be you sit in on their lectures and get ideas from that. I decided to do a session like that; I picked a lady who is our only teaching-only lecturer,and I picked a session where she applied the "flipped classroom" concept. The idea is that you have the students teach each other and you yourself merely moderate. It takes advantage of the fact that teaching something is a very efficient way of learning it yourself, and it also trains the students' group-working (if the teaching is done in groups, which in this case it was) and presentation skills. Everybody wins!

While I had done my observed teaching in a rather awkward lecture theatre, me observing someone else was worse; the lady had one of those lecture theaters with windows that can't open. I taught there; it's awful, the oxygen runs out in minutes if you have tens of people in there. And when I walked in I noticed the oxygen had already been depleted by the attendees of the previous lecture. It was awful! And the feeble attempts of the air conditioning only produced noise, not a relief from the stifled atmosphere. Not an ideal venue for teaching teaching innovation But what can one do!

Group by group the students took to the stage. They gave really good presentations! And the bit they presented themselves they are likely to never forget. And what was taught by others probably stuck as well as if it had been taught by a lecturer! I thought it was a success. And of course there were blips; one group of students who accidentally presented the wrong material, some inaccuracies in explanations, some aspects of the material slightly glossed over, but Cara, the lecturer, set it all straight. When all groups had presented she got everybody involved again with an online quiz that didn't count for a mark but gave the students an idea on how much they had retained of the information. And then she set them free, back into the oxygen-containing world!

I was glad not all went well; if you want to do an exercise like that yourself one day it's good to know there are issues you should be ready for. But altogether I think it was a great session. Well worth trying out at some occasion! And on a more pragmatic note; this brought me one step closer to my teaching qualifications...

  Random pic of stuff you can do statistics on

01 November 2015

Hat party

In autumn, my office mate Juan seems to feel the need to party. Is it the upcoming changing of the clock that he wishes to distract himself from? Is it the two months of term that have worn him down so much he needs something to replenish? I don't know. Either way; last year he threw a mustache party. I showed up early and left when everybody else arrived. I had teaching to see to! I needed to stay fresh that weekend to get lecture prep done.

This year he chose to inspire people to change their appearance by throwing a hat party. I thought I'd do the same as the previous year; arrive early, leave early. And I went for an easy hat solution; I'd just wear my caving helmet. Not the one I regularly use, but the spare one. Just in case! And wearing a caving helmet saves one a bicycle helmet and a light.

It was a nice party! As most people there never see me in a helmet they didn't think it was a particularly lazy solution. I got to catch up with some old friends and get to know some new people. And Juan kicked off some dexterity games; limbo dancing (mainly for those who had come hatless, but others were encouraged too), and pickin-up-a-cardboard-box-with-your-teeth without having knees or hands touch the ground. I'm shit at limbo dancing, but I stood my ground with the (regularly decreased in size) box. Until it was so low to the ground my headlight got in the way. And then I popped my knee. Ouch! Game over.

In between the frivolities I also had a chat with Cai, one of our PhD students, and a proud Welshman. I came out as a Welsh learner to him, and we then had a lovely chat in Welsh! That was nice. I am slowly increasing the number of people to speak Welsh with.

The evening ended on the dance floor, where I'm sure my Dutch skills stood out a bit (not in a very positive way) between the South Americans and an Italian. Oh well. My intentions are good! And I left a lot later than initially intended (there we go again). But still early (and sober) enough to do a full day's work the day after! And the party might even count as practice for the pub crawl that was planned for the week after. I don't like pub crawls but this one is Jess' goodbye. And that's important!