29 February 2016

Industrial core X-raying: the run-up

X-raying the cores for the project seems to have bene a bit of an afterthought. When we realised, after the first cruise, it would be a very good idea we scrambled around looking for a place to do it. For my transects, we took core sections to the local hospital. That was great! But it was also a logistic challenge. We don’t have much space in our cold store so we pretty much had to go get every small batch from Edinburgh. A lot of hassle! And then the second cruise happened. And the same happened. Pretty much. Although the outcome was different: this time it was decided to cough up some money, and do things on a larger scale. We would gather all the cores we wanted to X-ray, load them into a big van, and drive to GeoTEK; a company that builds core scanners of all kinds, scans for those who pay for that, and let people who pay less scan stuff themselves. We were in the last category. And we was transect leader Tom, affiliated with Stirling University, and me.

The cores had to come from Edinburgh. GeoTEK is in Daventry (between Birmingham and Northampton). I come from Bangor. This would still be a logistical challenge! And I wasn’t certain about a week in that place; on the map, Daventry looked dull as dishwater. It seemed to be mainly famous for having enormous distribution centres because it was nicely central and near major motorways. Scenic!

When we would lug so much material around anyway, we would also do some core exchange; one of our PhD students wanted to do XRF on some cores, so when Tom would drive down from Edinburgh anyway, he could bring some for her. I could in the same movement deliver some of the cores we were done with, to make space for the new batch. 

I had loaded up the van, with all core sections we had, when I heard from the PhD student concerned that Tom would only bring core halves. And these, of course, weigh only half! So I had to unload half. He had told me his van was loaded to the max; I could not give him more than I would take off him. Oh dear. 

After that I could go. An uneventful trip followed. I got to our accommodation, received the keys, and waited for Tom. I was glad I had arranged this apartment; Tom had suggested a ghastly hotel. In a ghastly surrounding. Now we were in a cosy apartment in a nice street! The landlord stated all of Daventry was soulless, but I would come to disagree with him. 

 My big van in front of our apartment

Tom showed up, with fellow driver and ready meals. Not my favourite (the meals, that is; the fellow driver was a nice chap) but one can’t be too picky. We were all tired after a long drive. After dinner and some discussion on the upcoming work we went to bed. 

The next morning I wanted to go for a run before work. Tom had to first drop the other chap off at a railway station before going to GeoTEK so I figured I’d walk! But that meant leaving at 8AM, so I had to get up early to fit a run in before that. 

I got up and by 6.45 I was off. It was already almost light! I went south; I figured it was a rather quick way of getting out of town. I didn’t get very far before I had to turn back. But the little rural road I was on was nice! And the early morning can be quite beautiful on its own. 

 Daventry seen from hill at 7AM

When I got back Tom hadn’t even noticed I had been gone. Later we left pretty much at the same time. I walked along the sunny streets and found it without problem. I went to where visitors were supposed to go and rang the doorbell. A nice chap called Tony opened, but he said the people I came to work with weren’t there yet. He offered me a coffee. But after a while we found out the others were in the other building they had. I hadn’t even noticed they had two! I was introduced to Briony, one of the experts, and soon after to James, the other. Tom appeared too. It was time to get to learn how to work the machine! Almost. We first got a tour along other machines and details on Briony and James’s resumés; only then was it time to work the machine. It was actually quite simple! It’s an elegant piece of machinery. And it yields great images. 

Our core sections (in boxes) in six piles

 The container on the right is "ours"

 Me at work

We would have to work hard at all hours we would be allowed to get as much done as we could. And the machine was mounted inside a container. Inside a big industrial building. If needs be the machine can be transported, container and all, and plonked on a ship or near a research institute or wherever you may need it. But it did mean we were closed off from the outside world That first day we had radiant weather but you couldn’t tell where we were. But we came to work! I would just have to get up early and run, so I’d get some fresh air. That way I would cope!

27 February 2016

Big scale climbing

I like the weekly climbing. I know Indy isn't the most advanced climbing hall in the world, but hey, I only started climbing two months ago, I can still hone my skills there. But on Friday morning I got an email, inquiring who wanted to come for dinner that night, and I thought it'd be nice to join. It's a nice bunch of people! And during that dinner one of the men announced he would go climbing in the  bigger hall in Caernarfon the next day. Anyone fancied joining?

I figured I could sneak a climb in. And I was curious to see that other hall. I joined! I drove through the driving rain to Caernarfon and found the hall easily. Inside i found Simon. He showed me around a bit. This place was huge! The walls were extensive and toweringly high. Intimidatingly high!

While we were looking around a third person Mags, who I'd met the night before, showed up. We warmed up a bit and got started.

As we were with three I suggested I started on the nearby auto-belay machine while the others belayed each other. And it was scarier than I thought! I had tried them before, the last time in Indy, but this was a rather high one. I climbed a bit and then let go, in order to get used to the idea. Then I climbed up a bit higher and did the same. And again. And again. After a while I got to very close to the top. That would do. I tried a 6A on the same route. That was hard; I never made it beyond a critical point, but that's what I expected. It was fun trying!

We then swapped with Mags trying the auto-belay machine. And after a while Eifion appeared. Nice! We kept trying routes. I had fun! And it was busy but there were always available routes. Interesting ones! And after a few hours we went for lunch. After lunch we would move to the high part of the hall. I didn't want to linger too long as I knew I had to get ready for the winter hike, but I wanted to try at least some of these tempting routes.

 Simon getting into a rope with Mags and Eifion contemplating the climb

I tried a nice 5 something and then decided to go out with a bang on another impossible 6.  I wore myself out in the first third. That was good! This way I would leave early but still have peanut butter in my arms.

The main hall

I still have enough challenge to face in Indy, but this excursion further west had whetted my appetite!

24 February 2016


A dig can be a very long process. I expected our dig to be one of those. There was an opening big enough for a person, but there was a pretty much endless amount of loose stuff ready to slide into it, blocking it again. It might take a while to get that secured. But we would just keep chipping away at it. And we would even bring a wheelbarrow in order to make the shifting of loose slate quicker. And we had informed Miles, the Go Below chap, and he'd decided to join us to have a look for himself.

We had another unusual face in our midst: Llion, who had been a regular before my time, but had had an unpleasant car accident, and it had taken some two years to get over the medical and legal consequences. But now he was back! With an ankle that probably would never be the same, but that clearly wasn't going to stop him. I had heard a lot about him, and it was nice to put a face to a name.

We went in, carrying the wheelbarrow over the first big collapse, and rigging the pitch. We actually managed without David, even though the bolts are high up. Success! He was quite impressed himself and proceeded to abseil with the wheelbarrow. As you do. I followed, and took the opportunity to take a few pictures, as I had forgot my camera a previous time. This was my chance!

 The bottom of the chamber; from the blue rope you can see what Edwyn pulled down a previous time

The hole!

This is pendant above your head when you go through. Up close the cracks look more intimidating!

 When I had had my fun Miles went up; he hadn't seen it. David and Simon went with him. We heard all sorts of rumbling and crashing; they were clearly getting on with things. Good! We send Llion up too; he also hadn't seen it yet. And before you knew it it got quiet. Had someone managed to go through? Well yes! As we didn't want too many people in the chamber itself; it was very unstable, after all, and a rapid retreat needed to be possible, we couldn't all stand there and see what's going on, and I was in the tunnel with Don and Andy. But then a grinning David appeared; he had been through!

The others up there went too, one by one. Then I saw my chance! I slid through, and stepped into the tunnel that only we had been in since who knows when. Special! And immediately my eye was caught by the little caban on the left; maybe initially a trial tunnel, but later clearly enclosed with vertical slabs of slate, and furnished with wooden benches (now gone) and festooned with a marmelade pot. Very nice! I took some quick pictures, and looked at the entrance, if that is the word, to the next chamber. That was quite some slate there! I do not see us get through there. But who knows!
Andy in the squeeze

The caban; pic by Andy

The whole tunnel; notice the blockage at the end. Pic by Andy

After me Andy went in, tripod + camera and all, and he took some better pictures. He was the last. We could get out! It took a while, with all having to prusik up (David with a wheelbarrow), a wheelbarrow to carry over the collapse again, and the de-rigging. We walked back through the amazing moonlight. This was a extra succesful night; we had explored new territory and we had Llion back! Good stuff!

 Andy coming back up the slab

23 February 2016

New skills

Sometimes an assignment needs updating. Sometimes that means that you, as responsible staff, have to update yourself. For my Laugharne assignment, the students have traditionally been asked to plot data manually on a ternary plot, and to take a value for the Fisher's Alpha diversity index off a graph. That's a bit old school. I figured it was time to make the students use something more advanced. But that meant I had to learn to use something more advanced.

So what to use? For the plotting, I saw there had been students who had made the ternary graph in Sigmaplot or MATLAB. That gave me an idea! I had used Sigmaplot at some previous employer; I hadn't noticed we had it here too. So I decided to write a how-to guide for doing the plot in that program. It was a bit of a wrestle as there is more to it than you may expect, but I got there. That would do as far as I was concerned; one method will do and I don't speak MATLAB.

But the Fisher's Alpha? That's a tricky one. Some students had found an online calculator. Works for me; it was put up by trustworthy-looking people, and it generated fine results. It was a bit opaque, though. I'd rather find some other way.

Then I gave a presentation about my PGCertHE experiences.I did mention my intention to change the Laugharne foraminifera assignment to something more modern. One of my colleagues, Yueng, was in the audience; she's very tech-savvy, and she suggested she could do all of that in Matlab. She said I should pop by one day and discuss.

It turned out that several other assignments of the same module already use MATLAB; by introducing it to this assignment we are elegantly aligning the lot! And it's a very useful language to speak; not only for the students, but also for me. It sounded good! And the module leader, Suzie, had a ready-made assignment for introduction to MATLAB. I started there; she was very clear in her instructions so before long I had some nice example graphs on my screen. A good start!

Me taking my first MATLAB steps, thanks to my colleague Suzie

Regarding the Ternary plot: there is a script for that. I just have to understand it. And then to adapt it to my own needs; I need several groups of data points in each their own colour, and then I need different symbols for average values. I'll be needing Yueng for that!

For the diversity index there was no ready-made script. We'd have to start from scratch! So we first had to break up the calculation in manageable bits and then code them. Easier said than done. I decided to see if I could do the calculation in excel. And after some puzzling I did it. And it's a tedious process; we wouldn't want to do this for many samples, but it proved I had nailed the process. Now we only have to explain this to a computer!

I have struggled with command-based software before, and I don't find it easy, but I know that when it starts yielding results it's very satisfying! I don't know what the students will think of it; just that the previous cohort requested it doesn't mean the next cohort will appreciate it. But at least I will have learned a very useful skill!

21 February 2016

Solve your problems with brass

When my waterproof camera split along the seam it took me a while to think of a way to repair that. After due thought I settled on brass. It worked to a certain extent; the idea was good but the material too flumsy. I sorted that with bigger bits of brass! And that did the job all the way until the lens of the camera had blurred up so much it had become unusable. Moral of the story? With brass you can extend an object's lifetime to the max!

When I went walking with some of the climbing men, and my crampons wouldn't stay on, I did the usual thing of thinking how on Earth I would solve that. The answer is easy: brass! The problem with the crampons was that all the straps pull the crampons forward, and there is no strap or anything stopping them from slipping off. They just slide forward until they come off. What they needed was a sort of strap along the back, keeping shoe and crampon aligned. What to make that strap of? Not webbing or leather or anything; it might stretch. Brass, of course!

I have a little brass stock in the garage so I set to work. I made one brass strap, and then tried the construction out in the garden. No snow or ice there, but gravel and concrete does the job too. And after some minutes of stomping around I had a look. The original crampon was slipping already, while the altered specimen had remained perfectly in place! I didn't want to keep walking until it came off altogether. My back garden isn't that interesting. So I considered it a success and made a strap for the other one too. I can't wait to try them out for real!

The original crampon

 The altered one with the brass strap

A comparison of the two after a few minutes of walking around; notice the difference in shoe-crampon configuration!

19 February 2016

Bonus mountain trip

Soon I'll be on a proper mountain hike. I figured that should mean I now spend my weekends doing chores and work and such! I will have all the wintery fun in the world soon, and the pressures of work are high as always. I was late-ish in the office on a Friday, preparing for an upcoming meeting, and looking forward to a weekend of household chores, Welsh homework, and hike preparation. But then I received an email. Whether anyone was interested in walking up y Garn the next day? It was sent by one of the chaps from the climbing club. Going up y Garn in the snow! With nice chaps! It sounded too spiffing to ignore. I mailed back I was game.

The next morning I packed my bag and set off. Soon I was at Ogwen Cottage. It was windy! More so than I had expected. This was going to get fun. Soon Eifion and Simon, my companions, arrived too. They also noticed the bracing conditions. But we won't be discouraged by that!

We walked up to Llyn Idwal. We were in the shelter of the valley. It was a nice walk! When we got higher up the path got icy. Time to put on our crampons! It was the first outing for mine. I had bought them last year after a slightly iffy winter walk, but winter was fading out by then, and they had not seen use. I hoped they'd perform well!

Llyn Idwal from above

Putting on crampons. Pic by Eifion

We scampered up the icy track to the pass. It was properly snowy there! It was lovely. What was less lovely was that my crampons were slipping. I admit I hadn't bought the most advanced pair, and now I felt the disadvantage: they only had a little pin to keep your heel from slipping out, and it wasn't enough. I slipped right over. Oh dear! After a few attempts to sort that out Simon suggested I just take them off. We were on the ridge, anyway. I did.

We walked on. The view was getting grim! The valley we had come from looked threatening, and the snow was whipped up over the edge. But it wasn't so bad we turned back. We got to the top! There we had a quick drink and snack. The views were spiffing! But we didn't linger; there wasn't an awful lot of shelter. And the men had only paid for four hours of parking...

Reaching the plateau

The view was grim

At the top! Pic by Eifion

Packing up again, next to the frosty cairn. Pic by Eifion

When we got down we got to the trickiest bit. We wanted to drop down from the main ridge onto a perpendicular ridge that would lead us back to Cwm Idwal. But the ridge was snowy, and the wind was so strong it was sometimes hard to stay upright. And in order to step off the ridge you had to brave the blast of ice being blown over the edge. I had not brought my skiing goggles! I could hardly keep my eyes open, and I was stepping off a ridge without crampons. Oh well. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing did. And the wind didn't stay that bad. After the first bit it was actually quite a relaxed walk down. Good!

Descending into the darkness


 The landscape gets friendly

As by now the sun sometimes broke through the clouds, the views were amazing. I had a blast! In no time we were below the snowline, and all the crampons came off. We were back in a bit more than four hours; the men had got away with it, and even though we'd done a considerable mountain, we were back at 2PM. I know I may not have long in Wales, and this really was an opportunity to not miss!

17 February 2016

From one to three pitches

Last week we sent Rich down his first vertical pitch. This week we'd take it a bit further; we would send him down three! He'd only have to go down; it is a through-trip with all the pitches being pull-throughs. And aside from it having nice SRT training opportunities it was also a mine that was on the wish list of one the other chaps. Two for the price of one!

Rich did well! We did the trip a bit quick; even though it hadn't been a very wet day in Menai Bridge, the mine was soaking. Large quantities of very cold water from above and below don't inspire a lot of exploration! Unfortunately, it also does not inspire much photography, as all the moisture in the air gets in the way. But one can't have it all! And it mattered little to me, as I've pretty much seen the length and width of this place. The others should just go back on a drier day. But first: back to our dig!
Getting ready to rig the first pitch. Pic by Rich

Dramatic picture of the approach of the second pitch. Pic by Andy

Looking down the second pitch. Pic by Andy. Notice the waterfall coming down!

 Distant ladder into orange gunk. Pic by Andy

 Wet level. Pic by Andy

15 February 2016

Climb, independently

It was Phil who invited me climbing in the nearby climbing hall. He said he wanted to go every week in 2016. He lasted two weeks! Then life caught up. A heavy commute, busy work and busy caring duties took their toll on his climbing resolutions. He cancelled a few times. Then one Monday he was sure to come. But then he had to phone to say he couldn't, again; he suggested I go without him. He'd ask the others (whom I barely knew) to look out for me. I had a nice night! The next week I sacrificed my climbing evening to our visitor, but then the next week I was back.

I hope it stays a habit. The people are welcoming enough! And some of them prefer bouldering, which I don't like due to my floppy knees; if I fall I want to fall into a rope, not onto my feet. But there tends to be always at least one person willing to go properly up. And for now it's dark and cold and storm after storm comes over, but hopefully things get better soon and we can go climb outside! That's always a lot more fun. But for now the climbing wall provides plenty of challenge! 

13 February 2016

Weekend trip to Netherlands

When I was in the Netherlands over Christmas I had a great time. My mother did too! I could tell. I decided I should not wait as long before visiting her the next time. I thought about when I could come over; I thought a weekend in between my Christmas travels and an upcoming trip to Norway would be a good idea. And then I realised that was only one weekend away from the preparatory meeting for this trip. So that would be it then! I'd go then. I made sure to book soon.

I flew on Friday. I left the office a bit earlier than normal and drove to the airport. I got a bit nervous; there had been an accident on the way there, and traffic didn't move. Fortunately, it started moving again soon enough for me to catch my flight. All went well and soon I stood in front of my mother's door.

Stationary traffic near the airport

The next day I had to get up early, as the preparatory meeting was in the Hague at 10. The Netherlands are small, but door to door this was still quite a trip! And I had only told the people who were organising this that I would be coming. All the others were surprised to see me. And there were two people I hadn't met yet; it was nice to see them before going on a demanding trip with them!

We had a good meeting in which we talked through itineraries, money, equipment, planning, food  and whatnot. It always takes a while to talk through such things with 11 people! And we even had a distracting toddler scurrying around (which won't join the Norway trip, in case you wonder). I'm looking forward to it. The trip there will be a pain but it will be worth it!

Random nice pic taken in the Hague

That evening I was back at my mother's. I hadn't planned anything else; I figured with the Saturday pretty much spent in the Hague I wanted to have the rest of the time with her. No rushing around! And it was nice. The next day I already had to leave in the early afternoon. My mother had bought beer fo rme; I had only had one, so she offered me another one for the way to the airport. I liked the idea! The intercity didn't go so I took the slow train. No worries; I had a nice beer, and a book to read!

The next morning I was back at my desk as if nothing had happened. It has been nice! It's not good for the atmosphere, but it is nice to see my mother a bit more often...

11 February 2016

Dig and play

A dig is hard work. The previous week we had intended to dig, but many of us were absent, and many of us were a bit under the weather. We decided to give it a miss, and just have a bit of a scamper! But we shouldn't do that too often. That dig won't dig itself! So the week after we wanted to go back. But we also wanted to chuck our new chap down a proper vertical pitch. What to do ? We decided to split up. David, Paul, Andy and Don went to the dig, and I would take Rich along the Catwalk, and down a pitch on the other side. Rob and his son Tom went with us too. I was the oldest! And most experienced! That doesn't happen often. It looked like I had to herd this rag-tag bunch along the route. No problem!

We decided on how to meet each other at the end of the trip and went our separate ways. At the Catwalk (some wobbly planks bolted into the wall, with a hand line) I first did a kit check. I knew from a previous trip that the hand line is bolted rather high; my short cowstail doesn't reach it. Neither would the cowstails of the others! We improvised a bit with slings and krabs and quickdraws until everybody was more or less equipped for the trip. It wouldn't be a set-up worthy of a Health and Safety instruction video, but it would do.

I figured I should go first. It's easier to see the catwalk from the end than from the beginning; this way I could keep an eye on people! And I had to bring the rope. I had unthinkingly given my rope bag to David. Oh dear! I hung the rope from my harness, hoped it wouldn't snag, and set off.

Tom came second. He did well! The Rob followed. That left Richard. He revealed he wasn't so keen on the wobbliness of the planks at some point, but didn't want to stay behind, and went on. Spiffing! Only in November he had been terrified to walk a short, broad ledge next to a modest drop; now he was happily scampering across some very exposed, wobbly planks avove a high drop. He's doing well!

On the other side there was another traverse; a lot shorter, but it had no planks. We did that too. From there I went aead; we had seen bolts in the wall and ceiling, but from a big distance you can't really see how to rig it. I decided I couldn't reach the furthest bolts, but I could reach a chain-with-krab in the ceiling; perfect for a pull-through! And that was what we wanted anyway; it would be a bit much to send these not-so-experienced people back up the way they came.

Me on the ledge. Pic by Rich.

 Me coming down from the ledge. Pic by Rich.

I rigged it, and sent Tom down. All went well! He's a confident chap. Then came Rob; he had a slightly cobbled-together assemblage on, and it needed some tweaking before it looked like he could safely descend on it. But we got there, and he was down too. Good work! That made Rich next; he did very well. Then I could come down, take down the rope, and go and have a look at what the others were up to.

We had designed a system for signalling whether we were still where we had started off; they clearly were, so we went their way.  Rich had had enough, so he decided not to come with us down the pitch. Tom, Rob and I did go. Soon we found the others.

I wanted to see what progress they had made, so I stuck my head through. It looked better! But still a lot to do. It was getting late, so I was keen on leaving that for another day. I had seen what I wanted to see; I then tried to set a good example by immediately leaving. When I got to the pitch I heard Rich sing; he doesn't like being alone in a dark mine tunnel and will sing away his unease. Quite atypically for a mine explorer, he can actually sing. Maybe his choice of songs would not be mine, but hey ho. My desire to reach my bed was stronger than my desire to hear Rich, so I went up the pitch anyway. On my new ascender; it was great! No slippage!

A while later we were all up and out. We'll have to come back soon for more progress. But I am also keen on more SRT; both to see what Rich is up to, and to enjoy my new croll!

10 February 2016

Safety upgrade

If I don't write things on my hand I forget them. Even, sometimes, if they are matters of life or death. I had come up a 50m shaft, noticing my chest ascender slipped. I later came up a pitch in Cwmorthin, noticing my chest ascender slipped. Then I came up a 40m shaft elsewhere and figured I really really really shouldn't use that ascender anymore. Then I finally remembered to act. I decided to buy a new one. When I was at it, I also checked my hand ascender; this was of the same age. It looked a bit worn too, although it still functioned normally. I decided to buy a new one of those too.

My rope kit was still my first set, which I had bought in 2010. (This is the first blog post in which they feature). And it had seen a fair amount of use! It was probably indeed about time to retire it. I found a nice set on eBay. The next time I came up a rope I was very glad to feel no slippage at all! It was delightful! Thanks, old kit, you served me well for almost six years!

The old and the new kit

The teeth of the two chest ascenders; the difference in feel is bigger than the difference in looks!

09 February 2016

Paris, the legal side

One of the things I like about universities is the variety of interesting knowledge that sloshes around. If there are public talks you can pick up all sorts of knowledge that's quite outside your field. Sometimes you come across a talk about something very relevant to your own discipline, but seen from a completely different angle.

I forgot how and where, but James bumped into a lady from our Law School. They got talking. The lady turned out to be very knowledgeable about the legal aspects of climate change. That gave James an idea. And not that much later, she gave a guest lecture in my office mate Paul's Climate Change module, about the Paris climate sumit. As this is interesting for us all, everybody was invited. And I went.

The COP21 delegates. Pic: Presidencia de la República Mexicana

I knew the Paris agreement was not anywhere as robust and binding as I would like to see, but having a lawyer explain the details brings the message properly home on how little was actually achieved. First of all, there is agreement, but only this spring will countries sign up and ratify it. And even if they may have agreed on it, they can still decide NOT to ratify. If not enough countries ratify the whole thing falls apart entirely.

Even if everyone ratifies the deal, then still it is a paper tiger. It may be legally binding, but an agreement has only been made to ATTEMPT to limit global warming. And furthermore; if you break your commitments and pump endless amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and global temperature sky-rockets, there are no sanctions imposed. The only thing that could happen is that someone sues you. But who would? The small island nations? Their economies tend to heavily depend on foreign aid, so they're not likely to bite the hand that feeds them. And who else? There is hope; in the Netherlands, quite such a lawsuit already happened, which was great. They won, but the state shamelessly decided to appeal. This could be a long process!

Is there really no good news? Well, I suppose there is. What we really need is a mentality change. If it becomes not done to exhaust greenhouse gases, then it will pay off politically to indeed curb one's emissions. It's a bit like having a bike light in the Netherlands; 25 years ago, it was compulsory but nobody did it. In the years since it has become the norm to actually obey the law. (Not having lived in the Netherlands for the past 8 years, I hope my knowledge is actually enough to make a statement like that). If Paris has contributed to limiting global warming becoming something the (global) electorate rewards, then it has been a success after all! But only time will tell...

08 February 2016

Modest scamper

We were all full of enthusiasm to keep digging. But then life got in the way; one man was ill, another on holiday, another too busy. The men we did have were not all at their best; one had a cold, the other a sore back... we were few and not too strong. We ditched ideas of going digging and decided to show Rich some more of our "local" Cwmorthin.

We did the "usual" round trip. It's nice! And not every week we need enormous excitement. And now Rich got to see a bit more of this extensive place. A good night out!

 Me having crossed abridge the others weren't keen on. Pic by Rich

A tantalising hole in the ground! Pic by Rich

07 February 2016

Teaching again

I had realised the previous semester I had probably taken on too much teaching. It wasn't in my contract anymore; I was now doing it for my PGCertHE. Unfortunately, you can't use all of it for that. You have to do an "intervention"; you have to take an aspect of teaching and change it (improve it, ideally, of course) and critically evaluate what you've done. You only do one. I had enough teaching for two.

Another thing is that you need to do observed teaching at least twice. I had plenty, but first I didn't get a tutor (who will be your observer) for many weeks, during which a lot of teaching came and went, and then she wouldn't come with me into the field, although during the induction I had been assured you can do your observations anywhere, not just in a lecture theatre. So then I still needed an observation and had no teaching left. I asked James if he had an hour I could take over from him. He did! In fact, he had six. There we go again. I wasn't keen on taking them all, but then I also figured James would be absent a lot this semester, and struggle to do it himself. I'm doing it again! I suggested I do the first four hours and then we see who does the last two. He may be around for these. But it's far from unlikely I end up doing them all...

The Panama Isthmus features in my lectures; a good excuse to put a pic in of the Panama canal I took in 2001

Of course my tutor was ill during the approaching of the first lectures. I still don't know which lecture will be observed and by whom! It's not going very efficiently. But the good news is: teaching something only once is frustrating. The first time around you spend an awful lot of time on it, and you always think of things you could have done better, The second time around you can improve all these things while only spending a fraction of them time! And indeed; I thought the first lecture went smoother than the last. I look forward to the next!

I was lecturing in Pontio; they purposefully built it so you can approach it from an old arch-shaped building left over from what was there before.

From the arch you walk straight to an entrance. They made sure this paert of the building is translucent, so you can see straight through to the turret of the rather beautiful Main Arts building 

The lecture room has chairs you can shove to the back, so it can be used for multiple purposes. And notice the chap hoovering in the back; they keep it rather clean! 

05 February 2016


Scientific disagreement keeps science moving. One locally famous battle is the discussion on the big sand ridges in the Celtic Sea. They are so prominent they are even mentioned (although not shown) on the Celtic Sea Wikipedia page. This page says they're tidal. Are they? I think not. Many explanations for their genesis have been proposed; two of these have stuck to the present day. My dear colleague James is in the "tidal" camp. We have a chap, who is in the camp that thinks they are glacial, in our project; he was with us on the boat when we tried to resolve it ourselves. Both James and this chap, Dan, were on the day shift, while I was doing nights, so I missed all the scientific firework. As seismics don't penetrate well into these ridges, and neither do cores, the discussion remained inconclusive.

Dan showed up in Buxton for our annual meeting. We had new work to present; soem of that by our finished MSc and beginning PhD student Ed. All his work pointed in the direction of the ridges indeed being glacial. Ed himself wasn't there, but one can imagine Ed and Dan were keen to discuss. I suggested Dan should pop by in Bangor before he would move to Brazil (long story). I didn't hear anything about that since.

Until Friday. I suddenly got an email stating Dan would be visiting the next Monday. Blimey! Talk about short notice. But I was glad to see him! He's a lovely chap, and not only that; he always asks all the questions I wished I had thought of. I am always keen to pick his brain! And we made sure he'd hobnob with all our MSc and PhD students; he'd ask these very uselful questions to them too. Invaluable!

I spent the Monday evening with Dan and Ed. The next day I was keen to let them have a bit of rummaging without me; I had teaching to prepare for. And then I saw that my old PI Ivan was coming to Bangor for a viva. Also without warning! I was keen to see him too. Not only as a former PI; he's a lovely chap too, and he's even a runner and a caver. And he did amazing work on my Iceland paper.

I had just agreed to see him quickly between work and Welsh class when I received a message: the Cave Rescue team was put on standby. Oh dear! As if not enough was happening. Luckily we were stood down soon after. So I got to go see Ivan undisturbed. It was nice! It would have been nice if people give notice when they visit, but it has worked out; I've done my networking! And I hope that Dan's incessant questioning of everything that can be questioned has rubbed off a bit. We'll see!

03 February 2016


If all goes well I do my normal pre-breakfast run every second day, and then a longer run in the weekend. It doesn't always happen! I only did one before my last half marathon. This time it's starting to look slightly better; I've done two weekends in a row. But I've changed tactics; generally I try to run off-road in the weekend, but as we had one extreme weather event after the other lately, I've now developed the budding winter tradition of picking a nice country lane to run on. You don't get much running done if you're at a constant risk of sinking down in the mud, or slipping and falling on your face. So these weeks I explore quiet parts of nearby Anglesey. I drive for a few minutes, then run a bit down a small road, and go back. It's nice! This week I did a tiny bit of off-roading at the farthest end, and although it was a dry day, the previous days had been far from that, and I didn't venture far from the comfortable road. I got rewarded with a ruinous church! Nice. I think I found a nice balance between not spending too much time planning and driving, and getting a nice run anyway.

Back-lit horses with mountains in the background

Sunny but menacing weather!

The delapidated church

The road not taken; it looked too soggy