30 November 2019

More strikes

There was another strike announced. For better pay, better pensions, better working conditions. And who doesn't like these things? But I am not sure if demanding them is necessarily the right thing. I mean, yes, teaching more and more students with the same amount of academic staff and decreasing numbers of supporting staff is bound to compromise the quality of the education, and the quality of the life of the educators. And of the students, of course, but that is not what this strike, and thus this blog post, is directly about. But if we want to have enough staff to do the job properly and to stay sane, the university would have to do some serious spending. And the problem is that pretty much all universities are financially struggling. Striking does not just generate buckets of money out of nowhere! (It generate small heaps, though, as the university does not have to pay the striking staff.) And I suppose the same holds for pensions. And pay. I think I am paid well enough. Maybe it's support services who have a point here! The academics; in my view, not so much. Yes you can earn a lot more money elsewhere but that shouldn't be the criterion. If it were, everybody would moan until they got as much as a high-flying professional footballer and these earn stupid money.

But I digress. So yes, I would like to see our conditions improve. But that means greater things need to improve first. So I wasn't the most eager picketer there was. I never am! I always end up either feeling really bad about the students if I strike, or really bad about the union if I don't, or really bad about myself if I take the coward's exit and just work at home but officially claim to be on strike, so I just work but for no pay. And this time it was no different.

I striked on the first day, to show my good intentions. My only timetabled engagement was a meeting and I didn't feel overly bad about missing that. But my main task that day (week, month) was marking. And there are several issues with marking. One is: we get four weeks to mark any assignment. And the strike would be less than two weeks! So I saw it coming that if I would strike, I would still have to do the marking, but in half the time. And that would drive me bonkers! And I think you can refrain from giving a lecture; if the students are really interested in what you have to say they can go and dive into the library and look stuff up themselves. But they can't possibly go and mark their own work. And if you don't lecture about stuff, you have to remove that material from the exams, so the students might learn less but their grades don't suffer. And let's face it; most students are a lot more interested in the latter than the former. But I was marking assignments. The students put blood, sweat and tears into these assignments! If they then turn out to have done it for nothing I think they'd be upset. And rightfully so. So my issue was: I could either upset the students, work for nothing or break strike. And on the first day I worked for nothing, at home. From day two onwards, I broke strike. During that one day I already felt my stress levels rise, due to that lumpen pile of marking looming! I need to look after myself too. So on Tuesday I was back in the office. Marking.

I did soothe my sore soul a bit by donating into the union strike fund. And well, I'll see how it all pans out! Will the universities give in? But how? And will students end up with unmarked work? And how will they react? Stay tuned!

Image result for ucu union

29 November 2019

Plastering: a much bigger job

A week before I had started pulling the wallpaper from the plasterboard wall in the spare room. And this Saturday I had managed to peel the rest off. All of it! I hadn't left any base layer like I had done in the kitchen, which was not a wise idea. I still have some wavy bits in the plaster where there is air between plasterboard and base layer. But one learns so this time I was more thorough!

With the wallpaper out of the way, in theory the next job would be: plaster it! I was a bit apprehensive as it was a much larger area than what I had done in the kitchen. But it had to be done. But one needs preparation. So I first removed all the wallpaper from the floor, and applied masking tape on the woodwork. And I applied a sealing layer. And I procrastinated a bit more by painting the cupboard door. On pictures you can't see so well it hadn't had enough coats of paint when the previous owner had painted it. But in real life you can see it! And I brought my lovely platform in from the garage and built it up again. I didn't think my step ladder would be up to the job! And then I had to commit...

The wall is bare: ready for plastering 

I had started to make plaster in the kitchen. I was already jaded so I didn't measure anything; I just plonked some water into a buckets and kept adding plaster until it would feel good. But I soon realised I had overdone the water! So I got another bucket, decanted some of the slop, and brought the remainder int he other bucket to the right consistency. I could start! 
I started above the door, in a corner too small to use my plastering trowel. And I worked my way towards the cupboard with the boiler in. And it was not overly easy! And I spilled a lot. But after a while I had myself a first layer.

First layer on!

By then I was getting a bit peckish, and I had beetroot for dinner, so I went downstairs. I got some potatoes and beetroot ready for roasting and plonked them in the oven. They could sort themselves out while I would do the second skim! So I went up, added a bit more water to my plaster (it sets rather fast) and did the second skim. That's easier than the first! And when that was done I was tired and ready for dinner. I must have taken a while, as it was ready.

Second layer: done! 

Now I need to buy a bit more paint as I am running out of magnolia. And then I have to paint this. And sort out the bit where the wall touches the ceiling. Pulling the wallpaper off has dislodged some of the paint from the ceiling! And then I should do some caulking, and paint the skirting boards and door frames. And then I have two walls finished. Then I can go and focus on the other two walls; one of which being the one with the damp problem!

28 November 2019

Marking season

Term always starts reasonably calm! No marking to do yet. But then at some point the first assignment came in. It was the field trip report of my Ice and Oceans module. It was a lot of work!

I try to mark as fast as I can anyway, but I also wanted to get that job out of the way before the next big deadline came in. That would be both the first year's essays, and the environmental reconstructions the students had to do for my new module. And I just managed! I sent it off to the moderator the very day the other assignments came in.

When I was just about to finish I got an email that I also had to do the marking for the fieldwork module. It's all coming at the same time! So it's going to be hectic now until the end of term!

27 November 2019

Heating issues

I don't understand my heating. I have a thermostat. It does something! If I crank it up the heating goes up. If I crank it down to something like 5 degrees it goes down. But between, say, 5 and 20 degrees it does whatever it likes. And recently I thought it had gone a bit far when the thermostat was on 10 degrees but I was prancing around in my T-shirt. I'm sure it was 20 degrees or something! And I solved it for the time being by turning it down to five degrees but that, of course, turned the entire thing off, and in late November, that can be a bit too much too.

I have already asked several friends with practical knowledge if I can just replace the thermostat and that would be the end of things. They didn't know! I might have to do some light googling. Or phone a plumber. Because a thermostat that thinks 10 degrees means 20 degrees is not very environmentally friendly!
Me in a T-shirt: then it’s not ten degrees!

26 November 2019

Gentle trip in Parc

We had been having a new chap for a while and he hadn't been to Parc yet. So we needed to sort that out! And Miles was busy so I wouldn't be digging.

I drove to the parking lot and soon David and Paul appeared too. No sign of Ian yet! Or anybody else, for that matter. When nobody had shown up by 18:30 we decided to just go. And we would take a detour: David wanted to throw a bottle into a shaft we had looked at before (during the disastrous night) as he suspected it might come out in familiar terrain in Parc. The stopes are so high, they could easily lead to unexpected things!

We set off. It was a much nicer night than the previous time. It was a nice walk! I noticed very soon, though, that my new light came with complications: the whole lamp is in one piece, and that is evidently fixed at the front of the helmet, and that makes it front-heavy. It made my helmet dip over my eyes! That was very annoying. I'll have to think of something to sort that as this is a pain. Especially when trying to wrestle through shrubs!

And we found the shaft. The bottle went in, and we could hear it bounce off the walls for what seemed like ages. It goes forever!

Then we walked on. We knew the rough direction to walk in so we just went for it. We lost the path at some point, and plodded around on a steep mossy slope where your feet would sometimes sink down two feet. But at some point we got to a path. And then we found something David recognised: another shaft of Parc. I had not seen that before! And something, or rather someone, found us there. We saw a light in the distance. And it came closer! And it was Ian! How had he found us? But together we now went to the conventional entrance.

Some nice mushrooms we saw along the way

When in we first had a look at the old tidal experiment. Beyond it is the ladderway up the shaft of which we had just seen the top. I had never actually scampered up some of the ladders. It was beautiful!

The good-looking ladderway

The we went into the mail lode. Ian was impressed! And rightly so. David went into tour guide mode and showed him all the good bits. And we took some pictures along the way.

We got to Endean's shaft and there David decided he would have his sarnies while the rest of us went on, be it up or further along. But I liked the idea of sarnies. Ian wanted some tea. Paul had not brought anything but he is always up for a break. So we all sat down!

I tried to sort my sagging helmet out. I figured I could perhaps use my hear to rest the edge of the helmet on. I first tried to have a knot in the middle and that did keep the helmet up, but it blocked my view itself. So then I tried two knots on the side. That worked! And I looked a right plonker but who cares.

In the meantime, it turned out that only Ian was keen to go on, but he also had a lingering injury. So we decided to not go on at all. We just went back out! Along the way I noticed that my helmet plan worked but it was rather uncomfortable to have dreadlock knots pressed into my forehead. I need a better plan!

We were back at the cars at a reasonable hour. One day we should take Ian up the ladderway to Endean's shaft. He'll like it there!

25 November 2019

Try to sort out office plant

I like having plants in my office! A long, long time ago I bought a bunch on an on-campus plant sale in Plymouth, and I still have most of them. (I think I did it twice but I can only find one post about it.) They travel with me if I get a new job! They are a bit bigger by now, though.

I also inherited the plants of my office mate Paul when he left for Cornwall. And they're all doing well! They like the new office.

One plant liked it but started to behave strangely. It grew in a curve and grew new roots, halfway up the stem. It looked like it thought the pot was crowded and it wanted to find new ground. In nature you will probably find some useful soil a few centimetres from where you grow! If you're a potted plant: not so much. So I figured I needed to give it a pot of its own. But I would have to cut it loose from the other pot. Scary! But I couldn't ignore the hint. I took the risk and cut it. Now I hope it will be happy in its very own pot!

The plant was looking for something! 
Roots ready to go

Now it's two plants!

24 November 2019

Talk about climate justice

Climate is fashionable! And my inbox showed it. I had received a mail about a public lecture with the title 'Climate change: hope from despair?' by Kevin Anderson, a professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester, on a Wednesday. It sounded interesting, but I see Jenny on Wednesday nights! And I knew she tended to see someone else just before me, so we couldn't just both go and talk about it in Welsh. I mailed her anyway; sometimes her session just before mine ends up cancelled. Maybe this was one of those weeks!

Then on that Monday I got another mail. About two talks! One was that Tuesday. It was getting busy. The other talk, about receding Arctic glaciers, would be the next Monday, but I have Welsh class then. It looked cool tough! It would be given by an Aberystwyth glaciologist.

But the talk I could go to was called 'Climate Justice and Environmental Justice' and would be delivered by Eurig Scandrett. A Welshman, by the looks of it! Although his affiliation was Scottish.

I went. The talk was organised by, among others, the North Wales Quakers. I had not encountered them before! I was aware of them though; I bike past their building almost every week. It wasn't very busy! I had advertised it to my students but I saw none. And I only saw one other person from the School of Ocean Sciences.

The bloke turned out to be associated with Friends of the Earth, and was, if I understood it correctly, half activist and half academic. His field of work was sociology. So he wasn't looking at the physics of anthropogenic warming, but more interested in what can be done. And he was a fan of the grassroots movements. He was especially interested in the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, and the people opposing it. It is a hotbed of environmental injustice; the area already boasts a neoprene factory that belches out such substances as to have festooned the area with the nickname 'cancer alley'. And you can guess what demographic lives there!

Other than that he likes grassroots movements I did not get an awful lot out of it I'm afraid. I like grassroots movements too! Luckily these are now widespread in the climate sphere too. Not thanks to me I'm afraid. I suppose I should speak louder! I educate people on climate science, I always vote some sort of green (but my vote feels distance as I can't vote in my country of residence), I try to do my bit in my daily life, but I haven't been out there on the streets in a protest. I should make more effort!

23 November 2019

Winter biking

I remember last autumn being windy and wet! Not so much cold. But we've had some cold days now. And that means being a bit chilly on the bike in the morning! After a rather cold Monday morning, biking through the morning fog, I decided to ramp up my defences. The next day I biked in wearing my waterproof trousers (as a windstopper), serious gloves, and a head band. And these gloves make it a lot harder to change gear but my hands were nice and warm.

The next day, of course, it was mild again. I've not needed these gloves again! Maybe I should try a few more configurations. It would be nice if I could have warm hands and no issues changing gear! But well, what was that about the cake and eating it?

22 November 2019

To the Netherlands - by train

I have been feeling bad about travelling to the Netherlands by plane! But feeling bad never helped anyone. It was time to act instead. So after my quick trip to the Netherlands in November I figured that for Christmas, I should try the Eurotunnel. And now I have booked my tickets!

On a good day, I can get from door to door in six hours if I fly. This time it will take me some fifteen. A lot more! And it's also a lot more expensive. But if it all works that will be worth it! It is a bit frustrating that I need to spend so much time to even get to a railway station, but hey ho, I voluntarily moved to a town that has none. And I don't regret that! It's lovely living in Bethesda.

I might actually prepare by sorting out podcasts on my phone (I have never used my phone for listening to stuff, but 15 hours in trains and on stations asks for measures). And I will have lots of time for reading. Both in English and Welsh! And maybe I can do some repair work in the train. And I can bring things (or take them back) I otherwise can't. I hope I'll like it!

Pic from Wikipedia

21 November 2019

Onwards with the bedroom

I had made a very small start on ripping the wallpaper off the plasterboard wall in the spare room. It didn't come off easily! Phil immediately offered his wallpaper steamer. I've used it many times before! It came on the scene pretty much at the very start. I picked it up but the next weekend I was away. So it took the weekend after that to start its job!

The steamer it does help! So now the paper does come off, be it still while putting up resistance. I have no idea if I will manage to remove the paper and do the PVA-ing before my bag of plaster will have turned into a large plaster rock, but one way to find out! And in the worst case, the plaster lump will have to go to the recycling centre and I'll have to buy a new bag. But then I won't do that by roadbike!

One small panel stripped

A bit more stripped

20 November 2019

Garden has gone autumnal

It started in September! The autumn colours, I mean. And they went a lot more autumnal in the following months. And by now the autumn colours have largely given way to bare trees! The views are still stunning though. Everywhere, but also in the garden. Which has now pretty much gone to sleep for the winter. It’s the season to do things on the house! And stare out of the window overlooking the river as it's still gorgeous!

19 November 2019

Light issues, again

A good lamp makes a huge difference underground! I had been using a specimen for the past four years that had been made by one of the Yorkshireman. I had first used a prototype for one and a half years, and then the actual thing for the following four. But in that time I sent it back to him twice. It had issues! And now the third time had happened. I figured there was a wire loose or something. The lamp would switch itself on, and when on it would start strobing. And switching itself to a lower setting. All very unpleasant! Especially the strobing. So I contacted John again. And sent it.

Since the last time I had sent it back I had bought a lamp from Simon, of the Thursdaynighters. He has a side gig selling lamps. And he was clearing old stock! And Miles uses these lamps. If it's good enough for him it's good enough for me. So after the trip in Glyn lead mine I sent off the old lamp and mounted the spare (a Wisdom lamp) on my spare helmet. I still have my old PCG lamp (Not sure when I got that as I didn't blog about it, but the oldest pic I found of it was from April 2010) but I was hoping this new one would be better! I'll find out next week!

18 November 2019

Plastic-free dental hygiene: the follow-up

I had made the transition! I had stepped away from plastic toothbrushes in blister packs and plastic tubes of toothpaste and all that. And I knew I only had a limited supply so I ordered another batch. A different toothpaste, floss in glass, and another toothbrush. It's worth finding the best! And I tried these too. But I was starting to have doubts. I was all happy being low on plastic but my teeth didn't feel quite clean. You only get two sets of teeth and well, you lose the first one quite early on. I have to make do with the second set for the rest of my life!

The first, entirely plastic-free toothbrush (resin bristles) didn't quite do the job. I could feel stuff that the old toothbrush would get rid of after brushing with it! And I figured it was the brush, not the paste. When I was using the new toothpaste with the old, plastic toothbrush I did feel clean. So that plastic-free toothbrush is going into the woodburner! The next one, with unusual black bristles, had a wood handle but the bristles are plastic. So only a reduction in plastic, not an abandonment of the stuff altogether! But it felt better than the resin one. Not as good as the entirely plastic one yet. I think what I'll do is stay with the toothpaste, but take turns with the toothbrushes. Plastic in the morning and wood in the evening. I know that to save the planet we need to do things that are uncomfortable but I am not willing to jeopardise my teeth!

17 November 2019

Unexpected and wet underground trip

Someone had asked about some entrance not far from Capel Curig on the mining forum. The answers suggested there was not much there. It would be cold and wet though! And then we decided to check it out for ourselves. I found out it was called Glyn Lead Mine later. It sounded uneventful but hey ho, a new venue is a new venue. And the weather forecast wasn't good.

We met at a parking lot. It was raining! David, Paul, Ian and Edwyn were already there. I decided to change in the car. That was easier in the Citroen! And then I waved Edwyn goodbye who had forgot his neoprene socks, and wasn't up for exploring without these.

We started walking. We thought we knew where the entrance was! But we clearly didn't. We rummaged through the woods; Paul and I ended up going a bit higher uphill while Ian and David stayed low. Paul and I had just found the top of a shaft, and were wondering how we could get a look in without endangering ourselves, when we heard a call. David and Ian had found the adit! Closer to the cars than we had expected. The entrance was right at the roadside! We went in, even though it didn't look inviting. It was indeed quite wet!

With rather cold reproductive organs we sloshed our way in. I had expected it to go some 20m or so, but it just went and went! And we found junctions, and stopes, and ladders, and whatnot. And a shaft we shimmied over on a beam. And a shaft going up; maybe we could find the top of it? Maybe this was what Paul and I had found?

Altogether it was a great trip! What a little gem. Yes it was cold but hey, one warms up afterwards. I tried to take some pics but my headlight was playing up and my lens fogged up. David took some too; these are undoubtedly better! We should show this place off to all those who weren't there that night...

When we got out we technically had another adit on the other side of the river on the agenda but we were all cold. In one part of the mine the water had been chest deep! So we legged it back to the cars. The men popped to the pub after having changed but I went home. I had a fire going in minutes! A good end to a good trip...

Some lead white drippies on the walls

The water must have been higher int he past; notice the lovely tide lines

Paul posing with a ladder

Looking up into a very high and narrow stope

Lovely artefact

16 November 2019

Open door policy? Not in winter

During most of the year, I have my office door propped open at pretty much all times. It's a bit more social! People can see you're in, and just pop in. But my office gets cold in winter. And the corridor is always even colder! So in late October I started keeping my door closed. I also insulated my window again, of course. It did lead at least twice to people not calling me for lunch because they thought I wasn't in. I am a bit more isolated this way, but also better insulated, and I think that's more important. If people want me they can knock!

15 November 2019

Forgotten cave rescue training - with tail

I had picked a weekend in November to pop to the Netherlands. Normally, I cook for several days in the weekend, so I don’t have to cook on Monday (home around 10, due to Welsh class) or Wednesday (home around 8, due to Welsh practice) or Thursday (home pretty late, due to going underground). This time I couldn’t. I figured I’d improvise on Monday, and then just do all that cooking on Tuesday.  But then I got an email reminding me of cave rescue training that day. Oops! Forgot about that. Oh well.

The Thursday before I had felt a bit under the weather. And it looked like the underground trip would not go underground at all! It was starting to look like a pub night in Trefriw. And I don’t see the point of driving all the way to Trefriw to drink the one half pint I can have if I still have to drive home, while actually I want to be in bed. So I bailed! And indeed, it turned out to have been a pub night. The right decision. So I had the night off, and this time to cook in advance. And I did! So that was sorted.

That Tuesday I had had hot lunch at work, and drove straight to the training. The main thing was that we needed to be briefed on data protection laws relating to the sort of information the police gives us in case of a call-out, and the sort of information we exchange during a rescue. If we’ve not been briefed we can’t be on the call-out list!

When we were done with that we went to the climbing wall and did some more hauling. We do that again and again but I keep forgetting in between how you do fairly standard things as rigging a Z-rig with safety rope and releasable deviation at the top (for getting the casualty around the corner). We clearly still don't do it often enough! I wish you could buy miniature kit (belay devices, jammers, karabiners, pulleys, etc) so I could practice rigging at home, for not much money, and using not much space. Maybe you can actually; if anybody knows about that do give a shout!

unspectacular pic of the climbing room

When we were done it wasn't very late. Good! We put the kit back and then we could go home. Or rather, everybody else could but not me. I had parked behind the building. There had been space there, in spite of lots of fire brigade vehicles. they were doing an exercise too! Some others had been parked at  the front or the side.

When I got to my car I saw a big lorry thing there, with a bus-like vehicle behind it. Oh dear. That looked like a complicated situation. It turned out the fire brigade was done, but the bus thing had had gear box trouble and couldn't drive off. Two remaining fire fighters were trying to winch it on top of the lorry! And that was hard; the vehicle was so wide it only just fit on top, and winching it on was a precision job. And it had to be tilted to get up, but that posed the risk of it dragging with its bum over the ground. Oh dear. But they did it! And not much later they had moved out of the way. An unexpected tail end of a rather uneventful exercise!

big stuff in the way

14 November 2019

Videoconferencing, or not

We have a new module! I don't think I mentioned that in detail before, at least not since that post about designing it. It used to be the old Paleooceanography module. But we have no PalOc research groups anymore, and it just made sense to tone the module down a bit in that respect. And then you have time for other things. Jaco had an idea for it: he figured we could make it more applied. The students tend to like that! Applied things are very evidently relevant, and it gives them skills immediately usable in the workplace.

As part of the module, we would invite external speakers to come and give a lecture. Jaco had a lot of contacts in various sectors, like the oil industry, people working in environmental jobs, and more. One of them is actually an honorary lecturer (or something like that) right here, so that's easy, and one other lives so close she can just physically show up, but we have three speakers that will have to talk via videoconferencing. And the first person to do that would be my old PhD supervisor, Dick Kroon, who's based in Edinburgh. And the university can do that! We have a special room for it on the main campus. So I booked it for some of my lectures.

He would speak at 12. I knew the Edinburgh videoconferencing technician and our equivalent has liaised. I thought they would make contact half an hour beforehand. So I made sure to be there half an hour beforehand too! But the room was locked and there was noone there. I mailed our technician to say I was ready and waiting.

Nothing happened. Nobody appeared. The technician didn't answer the phone. What was going on? In the end I got him on his mobile number. And some unrelated person came to open the door. It was 12 already! It turned out the technician with whom I had liaised would not physically show up. He would sort out the situation from his office. Was the idea. But he had sent his colleague. He, however, had a different problem to sort out first, so he was late.

In the meantime we could see Dick, but not his slides. We could hear him though! We briefly caught up. And then, after a while, the technician appeared. It turned out he had only been asked to be there by 12. That doesn't give much space for trial and error!

Then the fight for making it work started. We were all stressed! And in the end, we didn't manage to get anything better sorted out than having Edinburgh sent us their powerpoint. We could click through the slides! But it was 12.45, and the students were timetabled the next slot too. And Dick had stuff to to. We had to cancel!

I found it very frustrating! We let the students down: there was no lecture. We let Dick down: we wasted his time. We were stressed and that didn't do anything for the technician who was trying to help. And he was stressed himself! So he was trying his best without feeling appreciated. And the bloke who had been in charge of all this had stayed safe in his office. I don't think communicating is his forte! Altogether it was a disappointment.

The next day we tried again; this time we went a lot less hi-tech. Our speaker talked to us via Skype. We couldn't see him but he could see us. And he had mailed us the slides; I would just click through them on his instructions. And that worked!

That Friday, Dick would have another try. I hoped it would go well! He's an excellent speaker and it would be awful to not be able to have his lecture delivered! But these distance lectures can clearly be a bit of a headache. We have notified the Head of School, hoping he can use his influence to convince the university that they need to employ enough technicians to make this sort of thing possible. I hope it works!

13 November 2019

Book (in English!)

I don’t make much time to read. And I tend to have a Welsh book on the go. But sometimes I want to read something different. And some time ago, I bought ‘the silence of the girls’. For those who haven’t heard of it: it’s pretty much the Iliad, but told though Briseis, a Trojan woman who is captured and enslaved by the Greeks.

I read the Iliad in primary school (yes I was a swotty kid). I can’t say I remember an awful lot of it! I suppose maybe I could have re-read that first, but I didn’t. Maybe I will now! It would be interesting to compare the two versions.

I thought it was a great book! The main character is painted really well. And so is Achilles, the only other character whose thoughts are shared. And I thought there was a good balance between the mundane daily life in the Greek camp and the explicit presence of the Gods.

I had brought it to the Netherlands to have something to read, even though I was almost three quarters in already. But I found my mum about as far through the Handmaid’s tale. We decided to finish the respective books and swap! We’ll see. If she doesn’t like it I might just take it back the next time and read it again!

12 November 2019

Quick visit to the Netherlands

I normally come to the Netherlands at some point in summer! But this year I didn’t. I had plenty of visitors, plenty of work on the house to do, and plenty of work to prepare for the new term. And the main draw of the country is my mother, and I had seen her in spring. But after summer comes term, and term is busy. And the risk then is that I don’t come back at all until Christmas! But that would be too long.

This was my year of trying to have a healthier work-life balance. So I should manage to see my mother! I missed her. So when I noticed there was a weekend in early November when I didn’t have anything timetabled on either the Friday before or the Monday after, I decided to book flights. My mother was pleasantly surprised!

As it was only a weekend, I didn’t want to travel around too much. So I decided to just see Monique and my mother. That way the weekend was full! And all the other people I can see over Christmas. 

After most of the working day I drove to the airport, and in the evening I reached my mother. Time for a glass of wine! I was a bit sad to see that now, she needs a crutch to walk around in the house. But I suppose that was bound to happen sooner or later!

The next morning I went for my usual run. The autumn colours were amazing! But I was a bit sad to see the current building of my old school had lost its facade. (I went to school in a building up the road, but the school had moved to this building just before my final exams.) It now had a new, glass one! I thought it was very ugly. Such a pity! 

 Autumn colours in Amersfoort 

Pretty building 

Later that day I got the train to Monique. It was good to see her! Her youngest dog was a bit upset about my arrival, but as soon as I sat down she decided I was a perfect item to fall asleep against. She  would keep doing that until I left the next day! 

The next day we first went for a walk with the dogs, of course. It was a beautiful day! 

On the dog walk

In the train back I finished my book. And then it was time for wine with my mum again! Later the moon oversaw the conversation as it went deeper. We’ve known each other all my life but still, there is enough to talk about. 

The next morning I already had to leave. But I’ll be back for Christmas! And I’ll try to travel by train that time...

11 November 2019

Allocating students: the second year

Last year it turned into the worst week of the year! I was expected to do the allocation of dissertation topics, and concomitant supervisors, to the 3rd year students. My predecessor had told me it was a horrible job but not quite explained why. I was soon to find out.

The student give their top 4 choices out of a list of quite a lot (187 topics this year, I think). And there are 133 students. So you end up with a 187 x 133 matrix with preferences. And then you have to sort that into a neat list of students, titles and supervisors. And that's not easy. The previous years I had done it as my predecessor had done it, but that had been vetoed by the Head of School, and it had been a right pain to do it again. (And again.) But that was last year.

This year I knew in advance what he wanted: he had imposed strict rules on how many student I could give staff with various contracts. So that was clear! It also meant things would be very tight. We had a lot of biology students for not quite enough biology staff! So how to manage that?

When students choose the same topic, the one with the highest mark in our Science Communication module gets priority. Why? Well we needed a criterion. It had to be manageable and objective and make some sort of sense. That year, when I did it for the first time, the students complained, but when I said that that were my criteria, and that I would be happy if they thought of something better, they quickly withdrew the complaint.

Giving the students with the really high grades a topic is a doddle. But certain types of topic (and this certain members of staff) are very popular, so after a while, these are full. So the first four members of staff are booked full pretty soon. And then you end up with the issue of all the students with lower grades who have only chosen topics from these same four people.

One thing I do is ask all staff which topics from other staff members they are willing to supervise. Sometimes someone offers a topic of which you think 'I wish I had thought of that!' Or maybe just 'I could do that'. So when the popular people are full I have to use other people doing their topics. And with a bit of luck, that works. Note that this year, the students only see the topic, not the supervisor, so they don't know who they'll get. That gives me a bit of flexibility!

In the end it was tight. We have enough staff members for all the students, but not enough biologists for all the biology students! So some have to be supervised by non-biologists. Luckily, the essence of a dissertation is the same, no matter what the topic is, so that's generally OK. And we can always touch base with the biologist who proposed the topic if we need help with things like finding data.

So in the end I just made it work! I did another check and pulled out some editing errors, and then published it to the staff. Did this look good to them? When it did, I published it to the students. And then there was silence. I naively thought that meant all was well.

The way I published the list to the students was through the teaching website. And the site doesn’t send announcements immediately! So the silence just meant the students hadn’t found out yet. And then, in the evening, the emails started coming. Oh dear.

The emails fell into a few categories; the biggest one was students mailing me saying ‘I have been assigned a topic I didn’t choose’. And most were right! I must have made some errors copying things across. I should automate that really; that’s the sort of stuff computers are good at. But these queries were easily sorted out; just check again, and then just copy the correct title across. The supervisor was always correct so nothing went really wrong!

Then there were some students who had that query but who were wrong; they turned out to have mid-clicked when submitting their choices. And that can be a problem! I had two biologists who had accidentally chosen physical topics. But all biologists were full! This was solved by one choosing a rather biological topic offered by a non-biologist member of staff instead, and the other one by a biologist offering to take on one more student than the official limit. Well, if they volunteer, I won’t say no!

Then there were the students who were disappointed they had only been given their third or fourth choice. And they tended to get the response that I understood their disappointment, but that that was the best I could do. Some were very savvy and had checked if their first choice had been taken. If not, they assumed this topic was available, and wanted to have it. To these I explained it wasn’t the topics that were the bottleneck, but the numbers of students per member of staff, and that the topic they would have wanted to have was offered by an already fully booked staff member.

There was one case where a student complained the topic he had been given was wholly inappropriate given that it fell entirely outside his degree programme. But he also admitted he had chosen it! This bloke has some cheek. I’m sure he’ll get far in life!

By the time I write this the emails seem to have stopped. Good! As it is time I get back to working on my first semester modules. The dissertation module doesn’t officially start until the second semester! But it sure does eat time and energy in the first semester too...

10 November 2019

Cofiwch Dryweryn

It started in the late fifties. Liverpool needed drinking water. More drinking water. And the idea was formed to drown a valley somewhere not too far away and use the thus constructed reservoir as storage. And they chose a valley: the one of the river Tryweryn. On what base? I don't know. But it was in Wales, and it had a village in it: Capel Celyn. Did that do down well with the inhabitants? No, of course not. But it was down to parliament. And for every Welsh person, there are about twenty English ones, so there was no stopping the English vote. That village got evacuated and the valley was flooded. This also flooded a railway line; Bala used to be accessible by rail but the line went through the valley.

In 1965, a Welsh journalist decided to vent his anger in public. He painted 'Cofiwch Tryweryn' ('remember Tryweryn') on a wall, somewhere near Aberystwyth. And in the decades after, the slogan has been vandalised, repainted, painted over again, corrected (the journalist forgot to use a soft mutation), and whatnot many times. And in February 2019, it was vandalised again. And that time, the Welsh figured they'd fight back. Maybe thanks to social media? But from then on, messages of 'Cofiwch Dryweryn' started to appear all over the country. Bethesda has one. Roman Bridge has one. Lots of places have one! And even the room where I have Welsh class has one. So now the message is spread wider than ever before! I don't think Capel Celyn will be forgotten soon. Come to think of it, 'Cofiwch Gapel Celyn' would make more sense...

The message in the room where I do my Welsh class

09 November 2019

Help some builders up a wall

They weren't builders! But there is a big building company in the area that Phil works for, and they have a bunch of office staff that is on a mission to try out various physical pursuits They seem to have been dragon boat racing, climbing Snowdon in the middle of the night, and now they would try indoor climbing. And they had booked a session in a new climbing centre in Llandudno: the Boathouse. I hadn't heard of it! It is, as the name suggest, in what formerly was the boathouse of the RNLI. It's in the middle of Llandudno, which is unusual as normally these things would be right on the shore, but Llandudno is special; it's on quite a peninsula, and by having the boathouse in the middle they can launch that boat as easily on the west side of the Great Orme as on the east side. But they must have gone somewhere else!

Anyway; Phil figured that eight complete beginners would mean not much would get done. So he joined, and asked me too. And I complied! And there was some confusion as he had told me both the  wrong date and the wrong time, but we figured it out in the end.

We drove up and he talked me through who would be there. And when we got there, he introduced me to the actual people. And then the instructor appeared and the session started.

He had to first teach them to tie in. And then he had to teach them to belay. So it was a bit dull in the beginning. But just for in case I had put my climbing shoes on. Phil hadn't! So when the instructor needed a volunteer I was ready. So I climbed up and had him lower me down. And then we did it again, but I threw myself out of the wall, somewhere halfway up. On his request, mind you. Then he let the people belay an empty rope. And then we were ready for the real thing. But there were only ten minutes left!

We made sure that every belayer had a back-up, as people were still rather inexperienced. But people went up! Some with more panache than others, but that was to be expected. And then a lady asked if I wanted to climb. That was nice of her! Later I realised she had told me she had fear of heights. Maybe that influenced her choice between climbing and belaying! And she had been flawless so I was happy to scurry up a few routes with my life in her hands. And then it was over!

It had been a bit uneventful, but I think it really helped that Phil and I were there! Without that, we would never have got to the climbing bit. And that's the fun bit. And it was nice to meet some new people! And see a new venue! I hope all goes well with that place. I like it when people find something cool but redundant and turn it into employment for themselves and others, and some healthy fun for the general public!

Pic by one of the participants

08 November 2019

New duvet

I can be a bit slow getting things done! I got my driver’s license in my thirties, for instance. But now I think I’ve outdone myself. I had a duvet when I was still living at home. It served me all year around! Which is weird. As it is a summer duvet.

I don’t remember when I started the habit of adding a blanket when it was cold. But the blanket has a funny shape: it’s too short and wide. It does help though!

Another coping method has been sleeping in my double bed. That has a duvet I bought when I was living in Amsterdam. Some time in the nineties! And that’s an all-season thing. A thin and a thicker duvet you can attach and use together when it’s cold.

This week I decided that after some thirty years, I was going to buy a winter duvet, in addition to the summer one, for the single bed. I was a bit surprised myself it took me that long. But it was lovely! I was very snug...

The new duvet in the old cover, and the old one in the new one’s packaging, and the now retired blanket

07 November 2019

Small mine walk

The first night of the annual swamphike, we camped among the relics of a very small stone mine. And when I looked up its name (which turns out to not be very imaginative; it's on the flank of y Gyrn, and it's called Gyrn Mine) I saw there was no documentation about it on AditNow. And that always makes me want to jump up, go there, and take pictures! I'd done it before with a mine in the next valley, and with one actually quite far away. I still have on on my to do list for which I need quite some time as it's quite high up in a valley. And there's one quite near y Gyrn; I've walked past it several times, including during the last swamphike. 

Does this serve a purpose? Not sure! If there was anything spectacular to see, someone would have already uploaded pictures. But I like ticking them off a list in my head! And if anyone then ever wonders what these mines are like they can just check the site. And it gives me a goal! Sometimes that helps in deciding which direction to have a stroll in.

And how did it go? One Saturday afternoon I popped out to have a look. I got there in about 50 minutes. And in that time, the clouds descended! That didn't help my pictures. But people will get an impression.

On the way back I decided to go over the top of y Llefn. From there I could nicely see Bryn Hafod y Wern! And soon after I was home and made some rice pudding (I had too little bread and too much milk, so what does one do?). And I had got some lovely fresh air!

Approaching the mine

What it looks like from below

Moel Faban on the way back

06 November 2019

The spare room gets complicated

When I had taken the wallpaper off the spare room I thought things would move fast from then on! But I was wrong. There are two complications. One is: I decided I can skim. And that's dangerous! One wall still has wallpaper and I figured I would just put up with that. But when I figured I could skim it instead, I decided the wallpaper had to go! But that's more work. And that was before I knew how hard it would be to get the wallpaper off. It turned out to be a bugger! I even borrowed Phil's steamer again to see if that would make a difference. It did, but it was still hard.

The other complication is: the damp situation. I thought I had solved it by having the ventilation channel cleaned! But no. It did make the place fresher but I later still noticed condensation on the wall, approximately where the chimney had to be. Bummer! Now what?

One day the neighbour knocked on my wall. He had a roll of insulation material in his hands! It turned out he had had a similar problem in his bedroom. And he had solved it by covering the wall in said insulation material, wallpapering over it, and painting the wallpaper. He showed me! So I decided to give that a go too. I bought the material, and the glue, and glue for wallpaper (I don't know why you can't do both with the same stuff but I trust the neighbour here), and lining paper, and a wallpapering brush. So that will be a LOT more work than just painting the wall! What a bummer.

It also means I should put back a strip of lining paper on the one wall that still has that. It would be weird to have two adjacent walls papered except for one strip. So three out of four walls are proving a lot more work than anticipated! Luckily the fourth one, with the window in, does not pose big problems. At least not at the time of writing. I am almost ready with filler and paint! And then I can even put the curtains up. And then make a complete mess of the other three walls!

Awaiting action

One wall is OK! (Needs a bit of caulking, and painting of the skirting board)

The problem

The wall that won't give up its wallpaper

The wallpaper

05 November 2019

Early-ish morning run

Normally I run at around ten. I often run on a Sunday, and then I get up, have breakfast, and then do some chores while listening to Broadcasting House until my breakfast has settled. And then at ten the Archers starts and that tends to be when I decide my breakfast has settled sufficiently. But due to circumstances I went a bit earlier this week. I was out by eight! I had had half of my usual breakfast so it didn't need to settle so much. And the valley looked amazing. I wasn't the only one of that opinion: I ran past three people sitting outside their tents in the verge of the cycle path. I wouldn't have thought of camping there but why not? They were having their morning coffee with an amazing view. It was quite nice! And when I got back I had the other half of my breakfast. And by ten I was out of the house doing other chores. I could do this more often!

04 November 2019

Roast vegetables

Some time ago I cleaned the oven and since I've been keener to use it. And I made a big tray full of roast veg. And liked it a lot! So I decided to do it again! And is that worth a blog post? Well, why not. But this is nice food and you spend a bit of time cleaning the veg and cutting it up but after that you can just go elsewhere and let the oven do the work. And you can make enough for almost a week in one go. My kind of cooking!



03 November 2019

Relaxed bimble in Cwm

I wanted to ThursdayNighter again after having caused a bit of a stir! It was time to let things get back to normal. I hitched a lift with Chris. He was a bit worried about me! That was sweet. But I had got the issue off my chest so I felt fine.

We would go to Cwm; Paul had bought some cheap turbine and wanted to see if he could install it somewhere in the mine. We didn't have faith in it. Using hydropower in the mine has been tried many times before, with much better equipment in better-skilled hands, and it has remained difficult. So we didn't think he'd stand a chance! But hey ho, a it of faffing doesn't kill. So we gathered at the usual car park. It promised to be a busy night! We ended up being 11...

We walked up under a clear sky. We decided to do a reverse round trip. One of the chaps, Ian, had not been before so he was in for quite a trip. We went down the back vein incline, down the staircase, etcetera, to floor D. When we came to the ladder David asked who would go up it. Ian was up for it! And me too. Nobody else. We got up and onwards. And we went on to Compressor Chamber as we figured the others would go there too. They were busy looking at the old waterwheel. When we went towards them we came across the drill and that distracted us a bit. But after that it was tea time!

Admiring the deads

The drill

Paul and a whole string of dafties then spent another hour (or so it seemed) wandering around, wondering where to put the turbine and how to connect it. Oh well!

Then we went down to Queen Mary Caban. There we lingered too. Then it was time to come out! It wasn't overly late. And it rained when we came out.

Some then went to Mick for a cup of tea but Chris and I didn't. I like early nights and Chris had to be up at stupid o'clock the next morning. But I feel like things with the ThursdayNighters have been reset! Good!