30 December 2017

Back but not revived

I had tried to live healthily in the Netherlands! I tried to get my sleep as that's the most important thing. But I must have got it wrong anyway. I got back on Wednesday afternoon. I drove home, via the supermarket, and spent the remainder of the day unpacking, cooking, eating, etcetera. The next day started OK. I let in the gas fitter, I went for a run, and I did some chores about which I will blog later. I also got a message from Miles: was I digging? It was a Thursday after all! And I had lost track of what day it was but this sounded nice. I like digging! So I drove to cold Tanygrisiau for a short session. It was a moonlit night! And that was lovely, but I did feel a niggle in my throat. Oh dear.

We didn't make an awful lot of progress to be honest, but I did manage to bring down a rock I had had on my mind. We have a plan of action for the way on! It involves a smaller drill so we can drill rocks ahead without first removing the other rocks that protect us from things falling from above. Watch this space! During the digging I didn't notice my throat, but that meant little...

Then I went home, and woke up with swollen tonsils and a snotty nose. Oh no! That was what I had been trying to avoid. I was pretty much out for the day! I did pop to the shops for lemons, honey, and ibuprofen but otherwise I didn't do much. I even had an afternoon nap. I really got it hard!

Another unpleasant surprise hit me; the Thursdaynighters had been out! They hadn't bothered telling me. I know I'm in the dig quite often, but stopping inviting me goes a bit far. There's a lot of us who rarely give acte de presence! David said it wasn't on purpose but it's still not a good sign. I'm not sure how my Thursdaynighter 2018 will look. I would have hoped knowing I can stay would reinforce friendships but my oldest friends seem to only have been drifting off. Not good! But I will manage.

The next day I should have been out with the Thursdaynighters, but I cancelled. It would have been a nice opportunity for reconnecting but if I'm ill that comes first! I don't like being ill. And soon the excitement of proper house-hunting starts. I want to be healthy for that!

29 December 2017

Christmas visit to the Netherlands

I had accidentally taken my mother’s keys with me the previous time, so this time I could let myself in. It’s always lovely to see her! I was in for a short visit though; the next day I would scoot off to Amsterdam to see Roelof. I overslept! But I still had quite some time with him. He picked me up from central station and took me to a wharf which had been turned into a new age-ish compound with cafe, hotel, workshop and whatnot. All built out of reclaimed materials! Very cool. We just relaxed. I did have to put on a down jacket for it; thermal insulation isn’t their forte! But it was nice. 

He also took me to the NDSM terrain for a last beverage, just so that we could stretch our legs. I like these half-industrial spaces!

 The cafe Roelof took me to

 Near the NDSM wharf

That night we had the sort of traditional cousin dinner, this time with only three of us. In Weesp; I had never been but it was pretty! And it was nice to have some time with my sister and my cousin. The others couldn’t make it!

 Scenic Weesp

When we finally got to my sister’s were we’re tired and went straight to bed. In the morning I left again, to Hoorn; it would probably be the last time I would visit Monique there. Next time she would live in the east! 

As two people looking to move house we showed each other the houses we liked on internet. Children in the toy shop! It will be cool to see where we each end up. 

We also went for a last walk in the very Dutch landscape nearby with the dog. And she cooked me a nice curry! Consider that recipe stolen.

 The landscape near Hoorn

That night I went back to my mother. The next day I would be there. It was a nice calm day! I did go for a run, but otherwise we were mainly engaged in small domestic chores. I washed and waxed my hair, and mended a sock. That sort of thing! And in the afternoon we went for a drink with two of her neighbours. That was nice too!

 Christmas run

The next day I went for my last visit: my dad. I was the first visitor of the day; my sister and her family would follow soon after. Later her in-laws would complete the gathering. She did not know who I was; she suffers with dementia, but she seemed to not mind me at all. 

We first went for a walk with those present; I keep being impressed by how beautiful bits of the Netherlands are if you know where to look. And I think my relatives all live in these areas on purpose. It was lovely! And soon afterwards the last guests appeared.

 Walk with family

We did the usual thing of talking, eating and drinking. Soon Joke and Nora did some intragenerational bonding in the kitchen, preparing dinner. And it was lovely! 

Soon after dinner the eldest guests left again. My sister’s family was starting to look sleepy too. I had some more tea with my dad and stepmom and then I was off to bed too!

The next day it rained. My dad offered to drive me to Lelystad Station, as that would get me a direct train to Schiphol, rather than the half hour wait on a cold station if I would travel from Harderwijk. Very nice! And that allowed for a bit more father-daughter talk. As is ongoing! 

Then the trip was over. Back to Wales, where life is in a very exciting phase! Who knows what house I’ll travel in next time I come to the Netherlands! 

27 December 2017

Sorting out the garbled module

Last year I was hired in February to teach a module that would start in, well, February. It was quite hectic! It’s a lot of work to prepare for a module and I wasn’t given much. But I managed. When I was done I didn’t know what would happen with it. For a long time, no module leader was listed. I also didn’t know who would deliver the lectures I gave. 

When the module came closer a module leader and lecturer appeared. The former was Tom, with whom I teach on several other modules too, and Katrien would take over the lectures. That would be quite something! She hadn’t taught that stuff in many years. 

Then they hired me. Quite soon afterwards an email arrived from Katrien, who at the time was bobbing around on the Southern Ocean; she hopefully assumed I would take my module back. I agreed! So I figured I should let Timetabling know that. I had a look at what had already been sorted. It was a mess! It looked like the lectures of those giving a few were OK; the people who give one weren’t on there, a student conference wasn’t timetabled and Katrien was booked for some 30 lectures instead of the expected 7. Oh dear. 

I gave them a ring. They were willing to help, but they said I had until noon the next day to say which time slots I wanted to keep. They weren’t supposed to change anything anymore, and they would soon close for Christmas. Oh dear! I decided to use some of Katrien’s lecture slots for the student conference, and I mailed the guest lecturers. One wasn’t happy with the abrupt request. We’ll have to discuss in the new year! But I saved him a slot. 

Although this time I know before Christmas I’ll be teaching this, firefighting and haste have already found their way into the module. Oh well. I hope I can keep that stuff limited to a minimum! It’s a cool module! 

25 December 2017

House hunting

Now I have a permanent job I can go look for a house to buy. I now live in a very convenient location (even uphill only some ten minutes on bicycle from work) but my view on both sides is of a soulless pebble-dashed seventies suburban house or row of houses. And it's so beautiful around here! So I would love to now move to some old miner's cottage with a view on wilderness, or something along that line. So I'm back on the property websites!

My two favourites are a miner's cottage at the edge of Bethesda, and a cottage next to a chapel at the edge of Llanberis. They are lovely! I also saw another one; in a nice location, big and cheap, and looking solid, but it didn't have a garden at all. Some people will roll over the floor laughing at the idea of me being responsible for a garden, but I think it would be nice to be able to have a cup of coffee outside. And some of these gardens are on really infertile ground so they might be rather low-maintenance!

When I was in Bethesda anyway, for Martin's do, I decided to wander past the miner's cottage. It was dark, of course, but I suppose seeing a house in the dark is almost as useful as seeing it in the light, as half of the time it will be in the dark anyway.

When I walked up I came past something that looked like a ghost house. What a pity it had delapidated to the extent of now being a mere ruin! But the road was lit yet atmospheric. Soon I saw the lights of the row of houses I was heading for. They really were at the edge of everything, overlooking the entire valley. Biking there would be a bit of a chore! But it was beautiful there. And there was even a bit of parking space. I loved it!

I wasn't quite sure where to start with all the organisational aspects, but I did some light googling and decided I would prefer a mortgage with a firm that tries to steer clear from oppression, pollution and the likes; this means my own bank, the Co-operative, is the most likely candidate. They're not endlessly ethical but better than most! And that they're my own bank makes things easy. So I decided to phone them first. They were very helpful. And they have already given me permission to start bidding. I can get an enormous mortgage! I suppose that's the advantage of having no dependants, and not having an expensive lifestyle so the money accumulates on my bank account.Tomorrow they'll tell me more. And I have an external advisor: Tasha offered help. Which is very nice of her! She buys houses all the time so she knows what she's talking about.

With the bank behind me I can move on. I have viewings booked for the second of January! Watch this space! Maybe they're not as great as they look; they may be small and damp and lacking in heating and insulation and whatnot. But one way to find out! And if these don't work out, others will appear! Watch this space...

The ghost house on the way to the house I would like to go and view

23 December 2017

Bonus digging

This week Miles had a camera crew in his mine that needed looking after, so he couldn't go digging. But he clearly felt the loss of some progress, and rather unexpectedly I get a message on the Saturday asking if I could dig on Sunday. Eh, yes, I could! I figured I had deserved a proper weekend after the rather busy week I'd had. And the suggested time period fit nicely between being the call-out for one of our chaps who was going to go underground with a friend (it is generally a good idea if someone knows where you go and when you should be back), and attending the Christmas do a colleague had organised.

I drove down, walked up, and met Miles. Soon we were in the dig. I got up first and had a bit of a prod. The week before Miles had started trying to bring rocks down from above a nice protective rock that prevented anything falling on your head, and I picked up where he had left off. But I'm terrible at it! It's the unsupported waving of a metal rod at distant rocks and that's best done with strong arms and big hands. I have none of that! Miles does. So after I'd been at it for a while, not even doing all too bad, I asked if he would take over. And he did! But he was only there for a short while when the wall started moving again. Oh dear! It looked a bit bad. I figured he might need a quick way out, so I slid down to the largish cavity below to make space. Instead of reassured he felt abandoned. Oh dear again!

There were two issues; one was a block that was about to come down. It did, without hitting Miles. The other was the block that had been above that one, and which Miles had fixed with a sacrificial drill bit. But now the drill bit was the only thing keeping it up. That wasn't much! After a bit of pondering we decided to try bring it down from a bit of a distance. Miles fixed some surplus firing line to the block and pulled. It helped a bit, but then the line snapped. But now the gap between block and wall was so big I could fit my belay belt around, and pull with that. That worked!

We retrieved the drill bit which didn't even look bent, and threw both blocks down. I prodded the wall a bit more and a lot more came off. I had thought the wall had been supporting the rubble, but it turned out it had been the other way around. Weird! But now we have more room to manoeuvre. I'm sure next time we can get some big blocks down and who knows how much closer to a breakthrough that will get us!

By then it was time for me to go. I said goodbye to Miles who had more work to do on the Manager's office, and changed from my caving gear straight into a party dress. Off to Gerlan! Where Martin threw his annual Christmas do. A very nice day! 

21 December 2017

Another birthday in a mine

A long time ago, I found birthdays important. But these days are gone! But still, a birthday is slightly more special than a non-birthday. And this year it fell on a Thursday, so the reasonable thing to do was to go underground. (Not that it necessarily isn't on different days.) Miles had a film crew to cater to that day so I joined the Thursdaynighters. They intended to go back to Pen-y-Ffridd, or bacon (bap) mine as we have started to call it, as the day after we would have the AditNow Christmas dinner and that would probably get late. And two late nights in a row is much!

We walked up, and picked up some firewood along the way. It was soaked but inside the mine it would dry out, and after a few months it would be fine. Once there David made a fire in a minute, and soon we were eating bacon, and sausages, and pork pies (one sees a pattern here). There were drinks too! Then I suggested cake. I had brought a tiramisu cake to celebrate both my birthday and my job. But the men wanted to go for a walk to let the food settle first. We did the usual scamper down, and then back up.

I then opened the cake. It was nice! Even though I' not much of a cake enthusiast. And to my surprise we didn't eat all of it. The Thursdaynighters eat cake pretty much every trip, and a lot of social pressure is put on me to join in. I don't like that! And now they wouldn't finish this cake. Oh well. The rest went into the campfire.

We also talked about stuff; my new status inspired a fair amount of it. Edwyn gave me some advice on where not to buy a house. Chris confessed he may have been looking at pretty much the same houses on Rightmove. But we talked about other things too! Such as future underground trips.

Not much later we packed up and went back to the cars. It may not have been very late but I was knackered! Not surprising. And the next day would still be quite busy! But it had been a nicely relaxing evening.

Opulence! Pic by Ed.

20 December 2017

Mad dash to essay marks

I had been rather busy with preparing for the student presentations in my Palaeoceanography module, so even though the students had already submitted their essays I had not even started marking them until the presentations were done. I had figured that wouldn't be a problem; I didn't have many contact hours the week after, so I figured I could do it then. I had promised to release the grades by Friday!

There's always more to do than you see coming, and marking takes time. Especially essays. If it's a practical write-up or something like that it all goes a lot quicker; you tend to be able to see in one glance if an answer is correct. In an essay you have to check if the introduction sufficiently sets the scene, if all relevant information is presented, if all information is critically evaluated, whether the conclusions reflect the text and if the reference list is complete and correctly formatted. That's done in a bit more than a glance!

On Monday there were all sorts of emails coming in that I had to deal with. On Tuesday my day was interrupted not only by the biggest news in, pretty much, my life but also by student presentations, and on Wednesday we had a Board of Studies meeting. It just wasn't going fast enough! I decided I should work late on Wednesday. Just bring two meals and stay in the office until it's done. I worked and worked and it became six o'clock, and eight o'clock, and ten o'clock. I know that if I overdo it I get ill, and that wouldn't help, so by a quarter to eleven I called it a day. But then I had to go home, drink some tea, and let my brain settle a bit so before you're asleep some time has passed. The next day I was tired! Surprise surprise. I knew that day would be short due to underground activities. And I know I can skip these if work gets too heavy, but that was my birthday, and I really didn't want to be alone in my cold office on a day like that. So I cut out my entire running-and-exercises regime and just worked.

I was doing the marking in alphabetic order, and by the time we went underground I had reached the W. It would have to do! And then on Friday morning I finished the last few essays and send the work off to Lynda for moderation. Only after that did I put a document with general feedback, and the marks (and the way they were built up) on the website. Lynda had the excel sheet so she had all the information. And then I had to introduce our Friday seminar speakers; this time they were both internal (if they are PhD students they get half a slot).

I had promised the students some extra feedback on abstracts, as it's useful practice; I hadn't done that yet so I did that after lunch. In the afternoon we would have the SOS Xmas do. That would start at three; by half past three I was sorted and headed for the booze.

While I was there I saw I had a message from Lynda; she didn't have access to the website. Oh dear! I went back to the office and gave her that access. Then I went back to the celebrations. A while later she mailed all was done. It was about five o'clock. The party was petering out a bit. I scampered! I went back to the office and released the grades and the feedback. It may have been half past five but it still was Friday! I had made it! And with a reassured mind I could do some more work and then close down and head for the AditNow Xmas do, which was on the same day. And the next week I had another pile of marking waiting for me, but this has a slightly less tight deadline! I'll manage...

Some students wrote their essays about Heinrich Events: periods of massive iceberg discharge

18 December 2017

The big news: a job!

It was a normal Tuesday afternoon, and I was in my office, trying to get as much essay marking done as I could before I would have to attend student presentations from a module I wasn't teaching on. And then the Head of School walked in. He was carrying a stack of envelopes.

I knew he had been hoping to be able to hire me on the long term. I knew a post that looked like mine featured in the University's plan, be it only for a few months, but hey, that could be a mistake. I knew the HoS had been 'quietly hopeful'. And I knew the university had promised to tell everyone before Christmas what they were in for.

The HoS, David, was smiling when he gave me my envelope. That's a good sign! I opened it and read the document inside. It said I had been assimilated, and that my contract had been changed into a permanent one! I didn't know what was happening to me. I had been hoping for that for many, many years!

David had me check what the contract actually said; he had given me the envelope closed so he didn't know himself. It didn't give much detail. It just said I would be a 'lecturer'. Mainly in the School of Ocean Sciences but also deployable elsewhere when appropriate. That's a bit generic! It should have said 'Teaching and Scholarship lecturer in Ocean Science'; I'd have to contact HR to have that changed. But what a moment!

David had the rest of the pile of envelopes to deliver so he was off. I was in a daze. I stumbled into Jaco's office, which is opposite mine, and I told him. He gave me a big hug. I staggered  back (I had these student presentations to attend) but before I could go there, Dei stormed into my office. He had heard. And he is the Director of Teaching and Learning (or something) so I would fall into his team. He was jumping up and down and gave me a hug too. Lovely!

I then had to snap out of it and listen to student presentations about turbidity currents. But when that was done I did a small round and told people like David (the underground one) and Guy what had happened.

It's so weird! I had been staring unemployment in the face (I had just found out the day before the University of Lincoln wasn't interested) and now suddenly I was sorted forever. I can put roots down! I can go and buy a house! I can become all grown up! And I will now be busy forever as junior lecturing staff tend to get wrung dry, but hey, better wrung dry in a very interesting job that effortlessly pays the bills than wrung dry in pretty much any other job. I'm happy!

16 December 2017

Quiet Sunday

After the heavy week with a lot of preparation work, then the actual presentations, and then the sorting out the paperwork until 8PM I was knackered. On the Saturday I already took it fairly easy, but I noticed that I needed to take it easier. I was tired! And the weather forecast for the Sunday wasn't very goo. I decided to stay home and catch up on chores! Do the laundry, write a letter, update the blog, water the plants; all these unremarkable things. It was lovely! It still filled pretty much the entire day. At the end I think I had about 45 minutes of reading a book. But I needed it! I rarely have days that I barely get outside, but this time I did and I enjoyed it. And I had the gas fire on, and candles lit, and I had even bought myself a little bottle of wine! I hope not to need days like this too often but I can't say it's such an unpleasant thing...

15 December 2017

CasCare certificate

My name is Margaret! At least my last name hasn't changed. In September I had passed my CasCare exam, and I had noticed the instructors had made a dog's breakfast of my last name. I corrected them. And in December I received a message saying that my certificate was waiting for me at Ogwen Mountain Rescue Base. And when I was driving past anyway I decided to go and pick it up.

A friendly lady opened the door and retrieved it for me. It had my last name correct, but I was Margaret! Oh well. Then she offered me a brew. I never say no to that! So I sat down with a cup of tea. There were two blokes doing the same thing. In spite of the snowy weather there were no call-outs yet; these guys had just been for a hike and had just popped by as a brew is nice and they figured a call-out would come sooner or later.

I noticed I was really tired when I was sitting down like that! It had been a long week. I didn't linger too long. Leaving came with one complication; the driveway to the base had been strewn with salt, and that had attracted some overly keen horses. They weren't supposed to be there! I closed the gate in their face. We couldn't really keep them off the driveway. Oh well!

Now I have the proof that I passed the exam. Now I need to keep my knowledge in shape! At least the worst of the semester is over now, so I might find a bit of time for it... if I ever need it I better have all that knowledge ready for use!

There it is!

Uninvited guests

 Tryfan looks grim in the fading light

14 December 2017

Try another pair of boots

The previous weekend I had not got out of town! Too busy. The weekend before that I had been on a bit of a scamper to try out my new autumnal boots. But this weekend I would have some time for fun, and conditions were predicted to be wintery. I figured that was a good moment to finally test my winter boots! I had bought them almost a year ago! But season had been coming to an end, and I had also been busy.

I was knackered after a long week so I didn't plan to go out too early. When I wanted to have a (not excessively early) breakfast I noticed I had run out of milk. That meant: a trip to the corner shop. That pointed out to me the roads were ice! Oh dear. My driveway was ice too, and it's quite steep. Hm!

Luckily, I had some more coffee to drink, and some packing to do so by the time I was ready to go out all ice had melted away. Good! I had packed warm clothes, crampons and an ice axe just in case.

I had decided to go up the path of which I had done the very beginning a few months ago. All looked different now! And it sounded different too. The hill opposite was clearly the go-to place for the regional children to go sledging. And sledging is best done with some screaming!

First snow for the boots!

It was a bit sloshy and snowy but that was good. It gave my boots a bit of a test! Soon I was further than I had been in September. The day was a bit gloomy! It looked like dusk from the very beginning, but at least it was dry and I could see the horizon on all sides. I didn't encounter anyone but I saw footprints in the snow, and at one point I saw two dots in the distance who were undoubtedly the creators of those. I was following the ridge in the general direction of Tryfan and would just see how far I would get.

This was close to noon, although it looks like evening

 Snowy selfie

I had started at 11:30 and gave myself two hours to walk up. That would leave me two hours to come down too. By then the light would be running out! And by 13:15 I was hungry so I sat down. I had lunch next to a wall and then decided to come down. I went down cross-countrying; I always had liked the valley but it's a bit swampy. Today that didn't matter!


Small light patch between the mountains

I had already been quite deep into snow but now it got up over my knees in places. Good! The boots (and the trousers, which were also new) did their job well. I was very comfortable! After most of the way I came across the old tramway we had walked during a swamp hike. I could comfortably walk back!

 Snow up to my knees! The boots had to do some real work. 

 Back on the tramline

It hadn't been a very long or overly exciting walk but the boots have been approved of and I had got some fresh air and some winter feeling. Good enough!

13 December 2017

See the ceiling again in the dig

It was the evening between the two days of student presentations. I wasn't quite with it! I drove to Tanygrisiau without problems, but when I changed I noticed I had forgot my gloves. Oh dear. Gloves are good to have! And I also was wearing two different knee pads but that's only a style issue.

I met Miles at the manager's office which was starting to look very official. He lent me a pair of gloves. He has 8 shoe sizes bigger than me so it wasn't ideal, but better than nothing. He then joined the not-quite-with-it club by almost forgetting his bag. But we got to the dig! And took the drill up to the far end. Where Miles thought a drill bit would be waiting for us. It wasn't! But we had a chisel.

The first thing I checked was whether the wall had further collapsed. It hadn't! That's good. 

Neither of us really felt like going back to look for a drill bit so we just decided to work with the chisel. Miles wanted to attack a rock that made access a bit tight, and there was a rock higher up that I wanted to get rid of. I had stacked it somewhere along the way, as I was clogging things up lower down; but now with Miles in there too, the risk of one of us accidentally kicking it down was getting a bit big. It had to go! But best not in one piece. And we could reduce the rock we had blown up the last time a bit more with chisel and crowbar.

We did a fair amount of chucking stuff down. And we started to remove some stuff from above the rocks we had been trying to get rid of. The ceiling there stepped up vertically; there was plenty of space for loose stuff there. And as we hadn't quite got rid of the two aforementioned rocks, they actually sheltered us from falling rubble. A positive coincidence! And with a lot of that stuff brought down we could now see how far the ceiling stepped up. About a meter!

I couldn't document this as I had left my camera in the generator chamber. Not too far from the drill bit, we would find out. Oh well. We had a hot beverage too but then I suggested we go out. The weather forecast for later that night was atrocious, which was an argument that worked with Miles as he was in his rather open-to-the-elements Landrover, and I also wanted to still be sharp the next day. I had more presentations to attend!

When we came out there was hail on the ground. And there was more on the road. But nothing too bad yet, and I got home without incident, only just after 11. The Thursdaynighters, who were out a lot later, told tales of how bad the conditions would get later. We had escaped! And it finally starts to feel like we are getting close to making a breakthrough from that bottleneck we have been chipping away at for months...

11 December 2017

Student group presentations: how it went

It was clear beforehand some groups were more collaborative than others. After some of my lectures, one of the groups would stay behind in the lecture room to talk through their stuff. I was sure they'd nail it! But there were groups too of which members contacted me to say they struggled to get the group together. That's not such a good sign.

The day before the presentations one student asked me if their group could be moved as they had a doctor's appointment at the same time their presentation was scheduled. But it is a group activity! I asked if that was OK with the entire group. The answer only came 5PM. Oh dear. They wanted to be on a 9AM!

The next day the group  who wanted to present at 9AM was nowhere to be seen when we gathered in the lecture room. So all stayed as scheduled! It does make sense keeping things in chronological order.

Then it started! I had roped my increasingly ubiquitous sidekick Lynda in for support. Student presentations should be marked by more than one member of staff. She was rather sniffly but she was there! And we had our PhD student Ed. And Jaco sat in on one presentation.

The first group set the standard. They sorted the Oceanic Anoxic Events. They focussed on only one, which kept the entire day within the past 100 million years. The next group was the one I was worried about. One person had mailed they were ill, one seemed to be having that doctor's appointment, one had intended to drive them there but decided against, one didn't show up without explanation. Oh dear! The ones that were left weren't all equally prepared. When they knew they were two presenters short I volunteered to step in. I could do the bit of the person with the doctor's appointment, but the bit by the ill person was very biological and I couldn't do that. At least it's not required for the exam!

The discussions after the presentations were lively. Great! That's important. Possibly the most important bit. And all of it was recorded, so the students can revise with all the information provided. I hope it works!

Then we had the third group. They provided one explanation for the glaciation of Antarctica. They were quite smooth! They ventured into the alternative explanation a bit, but funnily enough, the next day the other group did the same thing in the other direction.

By a bit after one all groups were done. Good! I don't think many would have been fine with three more sessions like that. And it left me with going back to the office and trying to collate all feedback forms and notes and whatnot.

The next day didn't start so well; another message of illness. But this time it was Lynda! She was already in a bad state the day before. It had got worse! I sent an email to the people who had indicated they were willing to attend one or more sessions to remind them; they were needed now! But the first session I was on my own.

The second and third session I did have a sidekick. The second session, as well, was about as good as I could have hoped for! Great! And then it was over.

I think it worked. The students have access to the powerpoint files and to the recordings. And they could ask whatever they wanted during the discussions. I think it has worked! We'll see in the exam; I hope they do the questions pertaining to this part of the module well! And the others too, of course. We will see!

It took me a while to collate everything to grades and comments. Next week I will check with Jaco, Lynda and Ed if they agree with what I made of it. I expect so. It was past 8PM when I got home that night. And then I was tired! But satisfied.

File:Marie Byrd Land, West Antarctica by NASA.jpg
Antarctica. Pic by NASA

10 December 2017

Student presentations: experiment

I've never taught the Palaeoceanography module before, but I've always participated in the concomitant student conference. James used to teach the module, and then invite the likes of me to sit in on some students talks, and mark them. I loved the concept! The students not so much...

The idea was that James had picked six interesting topics, related to climate and the ocean, and which all had something to do (even tangentially) with the modern day situation. They ranged from about 200 million years old to only some 3 or 4 million years. But most of the module deals with the last 2.7 million years.

In earlier years, the students presented on an article (related to one of the topics) each. When all students presenting on a certain topic were done, James would summarise the topic. As each student had only read one article, they would not see the connections before all presentations were delivered. And maybe seeing the connections would not work entirely. With James' summaries, hopefully, all did! The topics are part of the curriculum; the students have to know about it for the exam.

The problem with that system was twofold; on the one hand, it did not enhance critical evaluation of evidence or discussion among students; on the other, if a student would not show up, all information they were supposed to present was missing. And more and more students would refrain from showing up! A lot of them hate presentations, and it wasn't weighted heavy enough to convince everyone to try it anyway. I thought I change things. I made it a group presentation.

If every topic is dealt with by a group of about six students, these six will sit together and discuss (one hopes). And if one hates presenting then maybe they put more time into the making of the slides and let someone else do the talking. I hoped this change would sort out the issues!

I knew I also made things worse, in a way; not all groups would function as desired. There is always the risk of people trying to freeload. But one has to give things a try! And in post-university life one encounters group projects. Just that they have disadvantages doesn't make them go away! So a bit of practice can be a good thing.

Anyway. I know stuff about these six topics (Mesozoic Oceanic Anoxic Events, the Permo-Triassic Thermal Maximum, potential causes for the glaciation of Antarctica, the Messinian Salinity Crisis and the closing of the Panama Isthmus) as they are just part of geologic/climatic knowledge, but there is a limit as to how much detail I have ready to fence with. And I needed to be able to know it all in order to be able to fill the gaps the students might leave. So that is quite a lot of extra reading! Hence that I had a lot to do recently...

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 Great Salt Lake; a few million years ago the Mediterranean might have looked a bit like that. Picture by Bobak Ha'Eri.

08 December 2017

Weekend of hard graft

I thought I would be doing daft stuff with the Yorkies. I ended up almost the entire weekend either at the kitchen table, or on the couch, with a pile of scientific reading. What went wrong?

I had let some preparation work for my big module pile up (more about this later). So I had been working the whole previous Sunday, and I still had more. If you're that busy you don't go around chasing people up too much... I had let the Yorkies know I'd love to catch up on Friday night. I assumed they'd get in touch when they would be done with their day programme (which would probably involve being somewhere where there is no signal) and then I'd drive down to meet them!

By five-ish there was no sign yet. I brought a pile of reading and went home. Once there I phoned the one Yorkie; it was dark by now, surely they were out of the hills? But there was no answer. They were staying a bit in the sticks, maybe they had no signal where they stayed, either! I started cooking a meal for myself.

The next morning there still was no sign of them. I decided to just go and work! I knew what they planned to do but wasn't sure if that was their final decision, nor did I know when they would set off. And the trip they wanted can be long; I wasn't sure if I could  spare that much time! So I just stayed home. And read.

The next day I did that too, until about three. Then I stopped! I went to see Guy and Kate (and of course, Pi and the cats!) That was lovely. And the evening I spent with Jaco and Marjan. A relaxing end to a strenuous weekend! But without Yorkies. A pity!

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The white stuff is clathrate; one of the topics I had to read about. Pic by Wuzel007

PS it stayed busy for a while; hence the late post!

05 December 2017

Progress in the dig

The dig had been a bit neglected recently! But this week things got better. We would have a normal-length night in there (no malarkey of me being late or Miles having to leave early) and we used it well. I suggested to Miles that for a change, he goes up to the far end and does what he thinks is right there. I could continue my throwing-stones-down regime below him, without risking throwing anything on his head. And he agreed!

I was making lovely progress chucking things down, while he was rummaging at the coalface. It turned a bit challenging; the wall was losing structural integrity. Oh dear! But he managed to coolly sort the situation, at least for now. Then he could proceed! First he somehow managed to remove the rock I had split the time before. And he decided he wanted to take one step back and blow up a rock that probably would bring down a lot of loose stuff. He struggled a bit to drill it, as it's not a big space and it can be hard to find a position in which you can drill, but he did it. I went and got the supplies (in two goes, as the first time I had forgot the actual explosives) and he charged the shotholes.

After the resin-setting tea break we blasted. One of the shotholes had not been adequate! So the rock was damaged but not shattered. Oh well. We can do a bit more next time! Maybe we can swap places then, although the advantage of me doing the throwing is that if any rock gets stranded along the way, I'm a bit quicker at scampering down and sorting that out. But then again; I can fold better into drilling position in the far end! But at least we now have a modus operandi in which we are both inside the dig; that is a heck of a lot more efficient than me at the top, and Miles at the bottom, having to stay clear most of the time!