30 January 2017

PGCertHE as good as ready

When my intermediate job was finished I had time for my PGCertHE. I just kept coming into the office and plough on with the portfolio. The time-consuming thing is festooning what you write with references! I am quite at home in the literature in my own field, but much less so in pedagogy. It takes a while to find the relevant articles and read them. But what's there to do; I just kept going. And then the day came all was done except the letter of reference James will have to write. The whole portfolio is written and formatted and ready to have that last document slotted in, and then submitted. Good! And James is a bit busy now as he is in the middle of moving to Cornwall, but the deadline isn't until mid March and I can now sit back in the knowledge I only have a few more minutes of work on this project. Lecturer job here I come!

29 January 2017

Blocked ear

I lay in bed, and felt my throat ache. I also felt how close my throat is to my ears. And I felt something not quite right in my left ear. I also heard funny popping sounds inside my ear; something was going on there. In the morning it was blocked.

That Monday I spoke with one of our PhD students; he said his ear had been blocked recently too. He had asked his GP about it, and they had recommended he drip some olive oil into it, to soften the earwax that was probably the problem. After about a week they flushed out his ear and he was fine. I started faffing with olive oil that very day. I hoped that would sort things! It didn't. I figured I may need to have my ear flushed out too.

I went to the GP surgery the next Tuesday; I was seen by a nurse. She stuck an otoscope into my ear, and said there was no earwax there. She called the nearest GP. She had a look too; she confirmed that, and said the blockage would be on the other side of the eardrum: a blocked Eustachian Tube. I suppose I could have known! If you can pretty much feel it jump from throat to ear you can bet it's not an external blockage. The GP said it would go away on its own initiative, in all likelihood. The bad news was that it could take many weeks. Oh dear! I was quite fed up with my asymmetrical hearing, and the dull feeling. I'll have to just endure that for a while more. Oh well! There are worse things. But I still hope it goes away relatively fast...

28 January 2017

On the radio

I've done my first ever radio interview! I thought I would a while ago; Radio Cymru had been in touch twice about an interview, but neither of these actually happened. Last week I received an email from Radio Wales; they wanted someone from the BRITICE project to talk about it, and about other climate-related stuff. Other guests would be Profs Bryn Hubbard and Edward Thomas from Aberystwyth University, and Ian Hall from Cardiff University. Big cheeses! And they would record already on Monday.

On Monday I biked to the BBC building. The receptionist welcomed me and gave me a coffee. A good start! Later she lead me into a small studio; it would be me on my own. The producer and presenter were in Wrexham.

I put on the headphones and waited a bit. Soon I heard the producer; he was checking everybody was in place, and that we all came through alright. Then there was nothing for a while. Then I heard someone typing and muttering; soon after he started reading the 12 o'clock news. I heard only him; no leader tune or anything. When he was done he chatted a bit with the other people there. Weird!

Me in the BBC Wales radio studio

After a while the presenter appeared. He kept us talking for a bit while technicians perfected the sound balance, and then we were off. I had been told he would first ask all of us to react to the recent news on 2016 being the hottest year on record, and then talk about things such as BRITICE. The first question I got, though, was worded such I was a bit taken aback by it. Later he asked about how exactly one traces an ice sheet. He hadn't asked why one would do that! This wasn't going quite well. I suppose a trained media person crowbars the things in they want to say, rather than wait until one is asked. I had been warned by the press officer, but it's hard to do it on the spot! You don't get time to think. Oh well. One learns.

Then the presenter closed off. Then he asked if there was anything we thought had been missed out. I did! I told him we hadn't talked at all about the why of BRITICE, so I got an opportuinity to elaborate briefly on that. Good! It isn't live, so that will be cut and pasted a bit earlier into the conversation. 

Then it was over. I took off the headset, gave the mug back, and went back to the office. It would be broadcast the next day, but at a time I have Welsh class. I listened the day after, online; the bit where I explained BRITICE was not used! Actually, BRITICE was merely mentioned, not discussed. I'm not saying much of substance. Oh well. One has to start somewhere! It was a useful experience. And my distant colleagues did very well!

27 January 2017

Back into the hills

Since the swamp hike last October I hadn't been for a hill walk. That's three months! Way too long. So when my contract was finished, I was confident I would finish my PGCertHE on time, I figured I could again. A weekend presented itself of which the Saturday was stunningly beautiful, but taken up by James' goodbye party, so I settled for the greyer Sunday. I would be trying out new hiking boots: in my own size, without orthopedic soles! Exciting in itself.

I didn't want to go too far or too high, as I was still a bit under the weather, and the weather was on the mountains; I picked a valley I had seen from a distance but not 'done' yet. I had noticed a line on the other side of the valley from this walk; I might have mistaken it for a path or a tramway. I decided there that I wanted to go there too. I had later come close but still not quite done it.

Now I drove to Rachub, took five hours to find somewhere to park, and set off. It was a nice morning! A bit grey, but that suits the landscape. Soon I was in the valley you have to cross to get into the valley that was my destination: Cwm Caseg. From the other side I had a nice view on the first part of my walk of almost one and a half years ago. Later the two valleys separated. This one was as empty as the previous one! There were some hut circles, and a sheep fold. That was about it.

Just outside Rachub the slate industry past is still very evident

The side valley 

A nice sheep fold on the crest of the hill

Heading higher up in the valley

Where the path stopped on the map I saw something went on. A tramway? No, a leat! That's nice. I followed that into the cirque at the head of the valley. It clearly was a potentially soggy route, but it was close to freezing, so the ground was still quite hard. In the cirque there was quite a lot of ice on the ground. Nice!

 Selfie by a stream

Near a pretty stream I had lunch. Then I headed back. The clouds were coming down a bit and the views were therefore not improving. I followed the leat to where I had found it, and realised the line on the mountain side I had seen before was that very same leat. Why had it been worth digging that? There isn't, and wasn't, much happening higher up in the valley by the looks of it...

I followed the leat back so as to have a different route as the way in, and to satisfy my curiosity. Soon I was back in the valley I had to cross. A helicopter seemed to be looking for someone in there. Not me!

I got back to Rachub, where I encountered some people who were trying to load a big fridge into a car. I gave them a hand. And got flirted at by their Border Collie. Good times!

It had been a nice trip. I was back at the car a bit after 2pm. I'd been out for some five hours, and my feet were fine. Great! Not that I had expected anything else. These feet of mine are doing well!

26 January 2017

Goodbye to James

It was a party. And a very sad day. Soon it will be February, so very soon James will be a resident of Cornwall, and an employee of Exeter University. But before he went, he decided to throw a party.

The sclerochronologists and the BRITICE people gathered at his place for a nice day. We just sat around chatting, had lunch, and went for a stroll in the sun. Not a long or fast one; we had two toddlers with us.

 Walking James goodbye

 It was a beautiful day

When we got back James showed us where he would live; he had found a delightful house to rent. Later we had dinner, and after that we played some games. It was all very low-key and pleasant. But very soon there will be a big gaping hole in the School of Ocean Sciences! We were all very aware of it. There were tears. But I do think James will be very happy there. Thanks James, for three lovely years! I hope we'll meet again.

25 January 2017

Another breakthrough

It was going to be an uneventful Thursday. I thought! Initially, Miles had suggested digging that day, but unforeseen circumstances had come in the way, and I was resigned to a day in the office and just a walk-around underground trip afterwards. It didn't go that way!

In the morning I found a message from Miles saying he would head down anyway. Great! I packed my car and drove to the office; I'd find out there what time we'd meet. He suggested noon; that left but little office time, but hey ho, digging is more fun. We met up and went in.

I got down first and started the generator. We'd need it! Miles started by making the passage we had come through for the first time some two and a half weeks ago a bit more comfortable, which had him drill holes for explosives. I started making my way into the chamber; we had so far veered only meters from the chamber wall at the bottom, but we knew the top of the chamber featured access to a higher level. It could, though, be quite some work to wriggle one's way through the entire chamber which was full of broken rock; we didn't know how high it was piled. I started clearing a narrow gap between big rocks, in order to slither in. It looked promising! The gap was wide enough for me and clearing out rocks went fairly well.

After a while we were ready to set off Miles' explosives. This time we we using fuses rather than electricity, so we could only reasonably set off one at a time. We did, and had a cup of tea while the smoke settled. These fuses produce a lot of it!

When we came back, Miles started clearing rubble while I continued with my quest. Then we set off another one. This time we had some food while waiting for the smoke to clear. We decided to leave the last one for when we would go.

Then it was time to have a look at the next collapse. Miles prodded here and levered there and scratched his chin and then had a look at the bottom left corner. I hadn't paid any attention to that bit myself! It looked easy to clear the first bit. We started to scrape away at the rubble. Minutes later I was in. It went a fair way! I had to shove some rocks out of the way but there was space to put them. After a while I came to a funny drop. I chanced it! And then I came to a spot from where my way was blocked. But I could see past the blockage, straight into the level! It was so close! I figured I would only have to blow up one rock to get through. Exciting!

I went back. The strange drop backwards was a bit of a challenge. In the end I managed upside down, without a hat. This part of the passage was clearly the crux. It soon acquired that name. But having made my way past it I could report back!

We decided I'd first make the passage a bit less uncomfortable by taking a hammer to the sharp edges of the Crux, while Miles would drill some holes around the entrance to make the passage bigger. My hammering action worked; I tried the Crux-new-style and it was a lot less uncomfortable. I could pass now upside up while wearing my helmet! Good enough for me.

Miles was done with his shot holes. That meant the drill was free for another one, in the rock that blocked my way! With the Crux now being reasonable, I was up for it. I took the drill down and with some difficulty made a hole. Success! I then placed the charge and wired everything up and we were ready for another round of blasting! We first did the electric one in the back (I didn't want to do that one with a fuse) and immediately afterwards the one in the front. Another forced tea break! Which was good, as I really wanted some tea by then. We sat in the next level, seeing the white tentacled  cloud slowly creep towards us, then engulf us. Scenic!

After a while we came back to have a look. I went in, tried to squeeze through, but failed. The rock I'd blown up was largely (and sufficiently) gone, but there was one beyond getting in my way. It was rather large! I went back to get a hammer and a crowbar. I first hammered a bit at the slivers of rock still in place, to give myself more room to manoeuvre. Then the hard bit started; trying to get rid of the big rock while half pendant in the air with only my lower body supported by rock, with no space for my helmet. Pulling the rock tended to mean pulling myself off my perch. It was hard! But I am stubborn, and I just kept lugging at it until it moved. I managed to shove it to the side. Success! I slithered past, and wormed my way upwards. It fit! Only just, but it fit! I was in the level! Through by Easter? Through in a few hours!

 The level!

I took a picture of the pristine level, with its clear water. I would probably stir up some mud if I walked through. Then I did! The water was knee deep and very cold. I got to the next chamber and had a little look at it. It looked good! It was collapsed, but there was a big gap along the wall, even bigger than the one we had found in the previous one.

The collapsed next chamber

I didn't explore any further as, admittedly, I was absolutely zonked by now. I squeezed back into the passage, thereby emptying my boots into my suit, and managed to get back, hammer and crowbar and all. I reported back to Miles. He won't fit through until we've done quite a few more work with crowbars and explosives, but this is going well! But it was enough for one day.

We gathered the stuff we had to bring back, set off the last charge, and left. It was just after seven. I was not only tired but also hungry and dirty! I was keen to get home and address all these issues. I hope we'll be back soon; I want to have a look at that next chamber while still fresh! And I want to take a crowbar to the narrow bits. Working from the other side will make things a lot easier!

24 January 2017

Climate Feedback

The word of 2016 was 'post-truth'; that's unsettling for anyone, but maybe for scientists a little bit extra so. And with a climate denier now in the White House the scientific community has to pretty much grasp any opportunity to get some solid information into the world.

Last month I received an email from an organisation called Climate Feedback; they aim to festoon articles in the media about climate matters with comments from climate scientists, so that any lay person can easily check if such article carries off the approval of the scientific community. Additional information is provided too: links to relevant other articles, illustrations, etc etc. Anything we might think might further elucidate the matter. I say we, as that email asked me to join Climate Feedback. I did!

This month I received my first request to add comments to an article that had appeared online; it dealt with 2016 having been the hottest year on record. By the time I got down to it, many other people had already been commenting, so I only filled in two gaps I still saw. But I did my bit! And I think that's important. And I know we are probably preaching to the converted; I don't think any climate denier would bother to read our stuff. But maybe some interested lay people benefit from us peppering text like that with extra information! I do hope so...

23 January 2017

The 185 hours have passed

It's done! I've filled the 185 hours of my Sheffield contract. I am free now to pursue my PGCertHE, do things I enjoy, catch up with chores, and try to keep all teaching commitments away from me until the teaching job actually starts. I have managed to produce three more radiocarbon samples since coming back from Edinburgh. Not a bad score! I pretty much knew one of the cores wouldn't yield anything, and there was another one which was barren too. So this is the end! Lectureship, here I come!

I know there are four samples in this pic, but one of them is too small for a radiocarbon date

22 January 2017

100 years of solitude

I read another classic! And this one was only published in the eighties, so it wasn't a Jane Austen-like classic with an overdose of oppressed women. I enjoyed it!

I had, years ago, read "Love in the time of Cholera", also by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I had loved that. It was a very calm book in which a timeline that in many books will only take a few months took decades. And with a title like above I figured this next book would be more like that. Nothing could be further from the truth! I started twice; the first time around I got so lost in all the characters and goings-on I had to go back and jog my memory. There were too many characters in it, too many battles, too many love affairs, too many deaths, and I couldn't keep up. But the book reads fast so it was OK to have to do part of it twice.

The story deals with seven generations of one family; one of the founding families of the (metaphoric) town Macondo. It is not set in a reality that's easy to pin down, but it seems to run from somewhere in the 19th Century to somewhere early in the 20th. I liked the magic realism in it; there is, in my opinion, nothing wrong with a prophesy here or a ghost there or someone living for 145 years, as long as it is narrated well. And it is. Do I believe in destiny? Well, no. But it is interesting to read a story by someone who seems to quite decidedly do. Break the filter bubble, start with yourself!

Not having read it in the original language and not knowing much at all about Colombia, I must have missed a lot of the context and cultural references, but it didn't hinder me. So I'd recommend this book to anyone who doesn't mind a narrative in which a confusing number of people carry the same name (such as twenty people called Aureliano, and then in addition an Aureliano Jose and an Aureliano Segundo), in which a lot happens, and in which not all laws of physics are obeyed. And me? I now started a book about Dutch expats. After that I think I'll try fiction again!

19 January 2017

Recover in the dig

We hadn't gone underground on Thursday. I had felt like going to bed immediately. That should have been a sign! But I sometimes am still slow to catch on. I enjoyed going to bed by 10PM; normally we only start making our way up by that time. The next day I figured I would be fitter than ever with this novel bedtime. But I clearly needed the sleep!

I had a long day in the lab. The lab is rather cold. My house isn't the warmest either. And the day after I had thought of going into the hills, but it was raining, and I had an unexpected errand in the post office which is only a stone's throw from my actual office, so I spent a few hours in there. working on my teaching qualification portfolio. But it's cold in the office too. Somewhere in the afternoon I felt my tonsils flare up. Oh dear! That 10 hour working day in a cold lab + going back to a cold weekend office had been too much. Shit!

I went home and took it easy the rest of the day. I also cranked up the heating. But what to do the next day? No way I could manage to stay at home and drink tea. And then an email by David appeared. Anyone up for the dig the next day? Me! One might question that decision, but I knew I would be better off snug in a furry suit in the dig than working hard in the cold office. I went to bed early and awaited David the next day. He showed up in his normal car: it worked again! Wahey!

We went up and in. We decided to first have a look at a part of the mine where we knew Miles cum suis had replaced some rotten old beams. I had seen that place for the last time with the Yorkies; I figured it must look profoundly different now. The new recycled telegraph poles were looking spiffing! They had also taken down a lot of loose bits from the roof. It looked very tidy and safe!

 David admiring the telegraph poles

We then went back; along the way we picked up two scaff poles along from the pile. We first had a look at Dig 2; we knew Miles had been doing work there too, this time when we were chickening out. That work was impressive too! The passage now was big enough for a herd of cattle.

Then we went where we were due. Dig 1! Our main purpose was securing the Void. David was putting scaff in and I was the errand person; sometimes the guard, if he did dangerous things. When I wasn't needed I just made myself comfortable, switched my light off, and closed my eyes. A nice way to spend time when you're not feeling well!

When it was getting safer we worked together in the Void. At some point I was trying to put a swivel in an awkward position; I was touching the roof with my head while doing that. The Void is not a place where you want to do that! Bits will fall out on your head. And they did. They were bigger than comfortable. Suddenly a hand appeared and supported the roof. Proof of God? No, David being considerate! That was nice.

 The amount of scaff we have put in there

When we had put lots of scaff in we had lunch. Then we went in once more; David would finish scaffing while I would move through, and try to photograph the next chamber along. I knew it was big! I thought I knew how big. I didn't. I went to what had looked like the end, and a portal opened. The chamber was twice as big as I had imagined! What a place. Photographing it took forever. I took 30 second exposure time pictures, and the camera needs to think about these for 30 seconds too, and it doesn't always go well, and moving from one camera position to another is slow when you're clambering through a chamber filled with huge pointy slate blocks with tripod in your hand. I was starting to worry about David starting to worry. When I was coming close to the chamber entrance I suddenly heard a shout. With my throbbing tonsils I managed to shout back loudly enough to be heard. Then I saw a light appear!

The gaping portal I ofund where I had expected the back wall to be. Estimated height of the arch: 8m

When David and I were reunited we headed back out. He had had a poke in the next chamber up. Now we were both knackered; I suspect David might have been a bit under the weather too. We came back to what is now known as the "shed area", as that is where we keep our tools; we made sure we didn't leave kit behind the void now. Then we went up and out. On the way back we had a cuppa at Mick's, where I also had a flirt with his biggest cat. I got home exhausted! But content. Probably still better for one's health than a day in the office...

18 January 2017

Double dressing

I have a rather warm dress. It came in handy at the last wedding I attended; the one of our postdoc Martyn, as it was was both in October and outdoors. I showed up in a more festive dress but rather soon I had to double up on clothing as it got cold.

I once wore the warm dress to the office, but, rather atypically, it got too hot there for it. I couldn't really take it off without being inappropriately dressed. I was stuck with it!

Recently I felt like wearing a dress again, so I did, but it was a thinner one, and I needed all the jumpers in the world on top of it, which made it feel less dressy. These days I am mainly sieving samples in a rather cold lab, so I thought I might wear the dress again. If I would end up in the (warmer) microscope lab, though, it might immediately get too warm. What to do?

I decided to just copy my own behaviour at the wedding and wear a thin (but this time less festive) dress under the thick one. If I end up somewhere warm I can take one dress off! I am sure I have just invented the wheel, but it still felt like I was being rather inventive. When I write this, BTW, it is almost 5PM and I still have not had much need for removing the thick dress. I only had a bit of a moment of doubt when I had lunch with aforementioned Martyn in a well-heated room, but that didn't last long enough for any stripping. I might do this more often! 

16 January 2017

Sieving like mad

When I came back from the BGS with my last batch of slab samples I did not have a lot of time left. I started to sieve! I sieved relentlessly the rest of the week. All but two of the samples (I had brought 38) were done. It wasn't necessarily very pleasant; the wet lab is cold and splashing around with water doesn't improve things like that. But it was satisfying to see the pile of samples to sieve shrink rapidly!

15 January 2017

No Thursday trip

I had got away once. It would not happen twice! When I was driving to and from Scotland, many signs along the roads warned of forecast heavy wind. Luckily, that was forecast for the Wednesday, when I would already be back. I had an uneventful trip!

Then it was Thursday. There was another weather warning issued by the Met Office; this time for snow on the hills. Snow on a Thursday isn't pleasant; we drive back from a remote area in the dead of night. If it is slippery and snowy that can be unpleasant! Even getting to the meeting point in unfortunate weather can be difficult. But I didn't worry too much; the worst seemed to be further south.

David's car had broken down in the old year (this had prevented him from going underground on New Year's Day) so he depended on his rather slow Landrover. That meant that we would have to go with my car to our underground venue. That didn't help; David's car is better at, well, everything except containing large volumes of whatever. And David was less optimistic.

 From the Met Office website

We would go and dig, but a lot of people had pulled out, for various reasons; I was starting to suspect it would be only David and me going. Which is fine! We can get a lot of work done with only the two of us. I went home from work ealry and got my kit ready. Then I waited for Davidto show up. Then my phone buzzed.

It was David. He had decided to pull out! He had kept an eye on the detailed weather forecasts and figured we might very well get there, but then not manage to come back home. Getting stuck in snow on a very cold night after having got cold, wet and tired underground is not a very attractive prospect. And without him I didn't want to go either! Firstly because well, risking snowy roads in a bit of a summery car with a man with 29 more years of driving experience is one thing, and even getting stuck for the whole night with a trusted friend is one thing, but risking it on my own didn't sound so pleasant. And going into the digs on my own didn't sound good either. The one dig is not a one person place; it still needs securing. The other one clearly is, as Miles is in there on his own on a regular basis; he would actually be in there until just before we'd arrive (bad timing). However, we're not all Miles (I might go so far as saying only Miles is Miles), and I would probably only have risky things to do, given I'd be without equipment. So I pulled out too! And that was the end of the Thursday Night trip. It must have been a bloody long time ago that we last cancelled!

Sitting on the sofa on a Thursday Night felt weird. It got worse when Miles appeared on the underground forum, fresh from the dig, and commented on our lack of tenacity. But what can one do? I decided to make the most of it. I had been quite tired the whole day; probably as a result from my mad dash to Edinburgh. Now I could have an early night! But it was only 5PM, so that would have to wait. I started by having some dinner and reading a bit of newspaper, but soon I went down to business. I faffed a bit with some caving equipment I had bought, repaired my tripod, got the bins ready for rubbish collection day, did my Welsh homework, gave myself a haircut, did some admin, and blogged (this!). I did lots of chores that otherwise would have had to wait for the weekend! Maybe during the weekend there will be another opportunity for going to the digs... I don't have many chores to do anymore!