31 December 2020

Being taught to use Dragon

When I spoke with the occupational health nurse of the University about my RSI, she suggested that I could be given Dragon software. And she suggested I do a course to learn to work with it. That sounded reasonable! And so it worked out. First I downloaded the software, and then it was time to organise the training. I had imagined there would just be online tutorials, but that wasn’t how it worked out; I was trained by an actual person.

We would do two sessions of two hours. The first one mainly dealt with getting started, and text editing. The getting started was useful but overlapped with what I had already done my own; I had been practising with the software after all. So I had got used to my voice, and checked my microphone settings, et cetera. Then we came to text editing; writing, correcting, making bulleted lists, capitalising, hyphenating, italicising, justifying, and what not. And that is all very useful, but not the essence. I need to be able to not use my mouse! And that means moving between programs, manipulating spreadsheets, making PowerPoint slides and all such things. But the good thing is, that if you learn about manipulating text in Dragon, you also learn about the various commands, and how to look them up. And that is the road to being able to sort yourself out!

The second session was supposed to still be focused on Word, but we had done most of that. So we moved on to other programs; Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe reader came up. I had more questions than the instructor could answer there and then. And that is understandable! I suppose his clients are from all over the various walks of life, and all use different software. He can’t know everything about all of it. But he clearly set me up for Excel and PowerPoint, and told me that Adobe just is a program that Dragon struggles to work with. That is a pity! But he mentioned you can buy an add-on, SpeechStart, that might help. Dragon doesn’t recognise the various tabs in Reader, let alone the various options underneath them. But SpeechStart does!

The day after the course I got an email from the instructor; he had made some extra instruction videos for me that dealt with some of the questions I had about PowerPoint, Excel, and Adobe reader. Now that's good service! I think some of that will still be trying; making PowerPoint slides through voice control just looks like something that really tests your patience, but I suppose at least it can be done. Soon I will have to start practising!

I had been wondering if I should try to convince the University to buy me the second part of the course as well, but it looked like we had covered quite a lot of what is involved in it in these two sessions. And I know how the work to help function! So I think what l need to do now, is get the add-on, and then practice, practice, practice. And the fact that the blog is active again shows I’m on it!

30 December 2020

Finally seeing a medical person in person

 Having a medical problem during a time of a pandemic makes it a lot less likely to actually get to see medical professionals. I had been off work for many weeks, and still only spoken to people on the phone. When I had spoken to the local physiotherapist though, he had said that if the exercises he gave me didn't have the desired result, I would have to give a shout and then maybe he could actually see me. And unfortunately, his exercises indeed did not have the desired effect. I phoned the surgery again, and the lady answering the phone said she would ask him to phone me again. Still only a phone call! But what can one do.

When the day came he would phone me, it happened to be my birthday, so I kept a close eye on my phone. It is the kind of day when lots of people might want to phone you. And they did! But somewhere late morning I noticed I had no signal. That has happened before; it tends to mean the entire village has no signal. I checked the village Facebook page and indeed; it looked like both O2 and Vodafone were not working. That was no good! But I had to pop by the surgery anyway; I could just tell them I couldn't be reached.

I thought they would reschedule the call, but what actually happened was that they asked me to sit down while they would ask the physiotherapist to come see me. What? Actually see someone? I didn't expect that! I now wished I had put on a clean shirt that morning. But I was keen anyway.

Soon he called me up. And when I told him the issue was he asked me to make some movements with my arms to figure out where exactly the problem was. He agreed it was a soft tissue injury. And to my surprise, the least comfortable thing he made me do was exert pressure with my middle finger. One generally uses the index finger more! I did not expect that. But it will be useful to know when deciding on mouse settings.

He said that he could only do one of two things; refer me to hospital, or to some government scheme for getting people back to work. And he said the latter thing you could only use once. I suppose I might want to keep that for when I might be self-employed! So I went with the hospital. I know we are in a pandemic, but he said the waiting lists for hospital physiotherapy are surprisingly short these days. He said they would contact me and then I would get six sessions. I hope this will be soon! But I can imagine it won't. I'll have to see! And in the meantime just focus on becoming proficient in using a computer without using my hands. That was going to be terribly important anyway!

29 December 2020

Trying indoor food growing

The main growing season can be considered closed. I'm still growing things outside; I have peas, leek, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower outside. And one of the cabbages already provided a meal! But I wanted to know if I could use the higher temperatures in the house for some additional vegetable growing. So I planted carrots, pumpkin, kohl rabi, and beetroot. Some of it is in the conservatory, which is only marginally warmer than it is outside, and some of it I tried in the main part of the house. And the results? Not good! I think the conservatory is too cold while the house is too dark.

find the beetroot!

Not a big cabbage by cabbage standards, but it was a nice meal!

When I was using some garlic in the kitchen, though, I noticed some of it was sprouting. So I decided I have one more go and plant the sprouting garlic clothes. And they did come up! I have no idea if they have any intention to grow a nice head of garlic, but we'll see. It's nice to see that at least something seems to think my house is a good place to grow!

the garlic in  the windowsill

28 December 2020

Not back to work yet

The first four weeks were behind me. It was time to get back to work! At least, that’s what I thought. I phoned my GP as I am supposed to do that before my sick leave expires, but she was skeptical. She said RSI tends to take at least six to eight weeks to recover from. And I was at four! So she gave me another two weeks. And in these two weeks, I hoped my adaptations would get sorted. But I was a bit taken aback. Two more weeks? Four was already so bad! But I figured that this was the sort of mindset that had got me in trouble to start with. If your body needs to heal, then it needs to heal. And if there is work to do, then too bad. You only get one body! And jobs are replaceable. So I tried to resign myself to this ASAP. And continued my medication and exercises and all that.

Then the adaptations started to come in. The plan had been get them sent to my home address, but that had clearly not happened. I started getting messages from the receptionist of the School that packages had arrived. The software came just as an email with a download link. So soon I had software, a vertical mouse, and a wrist support. Enough to start with! The keyboard hadn’t appeared yet, but the whole point of the software was that I wouldn’t have to use it very often. So that could wait. The more important thing was: the software training! Software is only useful if you know how to use it.

The new setup with vertical mouse, mousepad and ergonomic keyboard

I had imagined it would be online training; that I would be given access to online tutorials. As there was nothing to choose between regarding training, I hadn’t looked too closely at the details. But when I did, I realised it was training by an actual person, and that that had to be organised. And then I figured it was me who had to sort this. And it was coming close to Christmas! I quickly set everything in motion. I wanted to get this sorted soon. So I contacted Occupational Health, and the training provider, and the administrative powers that be, to try to get everything organised. It turned out the provider had to be registered with the University as a supplier of services, but everyone was very helpful and it was all sorted in time.

There was a catch; the provider provided training in two parts, and I had only been assigned the first part. That was learning how to use the software in Word. That’s quite intuitive! And the second part involved software like Excel, PowerPoint, email tools and browsers. That was where the real gains were going to be made! So I suggested I just do the second part of the training, and teach myself the first part, but the provider wasn’t up for that. I can imagine though; that might not make for a good business model. I tried to convince the school to get me the second part of the training as well. Watch this space for results!

On the eve of my phased return to work my arms are still not quite right, but there was clear improvement, and I had faith that once I would be proficient with the Dragon software, I could work a fair number of hours quite efficiently without doing more damage to my arms. So I had hope! And the new semester was already really close, so it was about time!

27 December 2020

Into the early snow

One November Thursday I walked out of the house and I noticed that there was a dusting of snow on the hills. The first snow of the season! I was excited. It didn't stay, of course, but two weeks later, there was more. And Kate was up for exploring it. So on the Friday I got my ice axe and crampons from underneath a layer of dust, made a packed lunch, and went to bed early.

We met at 730 on a layby. It was still dark! But we could see it would soon be light. We didn’t need head torches when we set off. It started out rather sloshy! But soon we were in the snow. Visibility wasn’t great, but it was beautiful anyway. And soon we got to snow that in places was so deep you could really sink down into it. And we got to Ffynnon Lloer. 

Tryfan and Llyn Ogwen in the early morning

Very soon we were in the snow

We reached the level of the lake and crossed the river

From there was rather steep up. I had to use my hands! Even though I had the ice axe just in case, I hadn’t really counted on anything like that. I’m not supposed to do grippy things! But Kate, who knows this route better than I do, said this was only a very small section that was that steep, and soon we would be on the ridge, where we could just walk. And she was right!

Me on the steep bit; pic by Kate

On the steep bit we did sit down for coffee and cake, and we looked at lots of people lower down in the valley. Most seemed to have skis on their backs! Rather them than me. And there were some more hikers too. We had a chat with the bloke in a red jacket.

A bit higher up we put our crampons on. The snow had only been here two days, but the wind had already blown it into ice. It was quite gusty up there! We soon were at the top of Pen yr Ole Wen. We just kept going and had some food at Carnedd Dafydd. From there it was a bit trying; the wind was cold and biting. I didn’t have skiing goggles with me! That was an omission. It wasn’t actually that cold, but the wind made it so. We kept moving. The bloke in the red jacket passed us again. And at Craig Llugwy we bumped into a small group of women; Kate knew some of them, so we had a chat. But not too long, as that would be cold. We headed for Carnedd Llewelyn. When we were close to it, some other hikers came in the other way, going downhill. Kate remarked that we would be heading that way too. I wondered then why we were struggling uphill in a howling gale. She just wanted to bag the peak! I wasn’t keen; I was sort of done being buffeted by the wind. And I managed to convince her. We headed downhill.

By the time we came down from the ridge I was looking properly wintery

A beautiful panorama made by Kate from the last high location on the hike

Within seconds we were out of the worst of the wind. The landscape was magical! It was really nice. And then my crampon came off. That wasn’t a problem; we were in soft snow now. I took the other one off as well. But when we got to Craig yr Ysfa I had to put them back on again; there are steep bits there too. I noticed my own improvised improvement had broken and had caused the one crampon to come off! I took out the shoelace that I use for tying my hair back, and used it to do an improvised repair on an improvised improvement. It worked!

I just had enough battery power left on my phone to take a picture of Kate taking a picture when the sun was low above the Glyders

Once we were on y Braich we sat down for the last time, to eat the last food and drink the last drink. And from there it was just a trundle back to the road. The snow got sloshy and then vanished. Then we were on soggy grass. And when we reached the road, we crossed it, and headed for the old tramline on the other side. That is a much nicer route to walk back. And by the time we got to the cars it was dark again! We had walked some 19 km, and scampered between 300 m and over a thousand metres altitude. I think it is fair to say we had made the most of the day! I was keen to go home, have a shower, and have a hearty meal. And phone my mum! So that is what I did. This must’ve been the highlight of my sick leave!

26 December 2020

Project public footpaths

My Dutch friends here in North Wales had tried out every single public footpath on Anglesey. It had taken them years! I thought it meant they were very patient. But I saw the charm of the whole project. And when I was restricted to places near my house for a while, due to my arms not quite allowing for either biking or driving, I decided to do something a lot more small-scale in my own surroundings. I wanted to try out all the public footpaths I hadn’t yet. I know quite a lot of them wouldn’t exist, but some surely would, and it would be good to know. So I set to work!

Of these parts, I wanted to know several things: did they exist? Were they beautiful? How soggy were they? Could you reasonably run on them? The first thing was generally a useful thing to know, and the second one determined whether I would want to revisit them. The sogginess was good to know so I would know under what circumstances to go there. And if paths were unusually good, I could even run on them! I’m always keen on new running routes.

I enjoyed doing that! Quite a lot of paths were very beautiful. Some indeed didn’t exist. Some of them had river crossings that looked like they were mainly a good idea in the somewhat dryer season. Not very many were good for running, but some were, and I have already tried them. So now I know what’s there! And I like sitting in my living room when it’s pitch dark outside, knowing how many beautiful paths there are within ten miles of my house. That might mean I’m boring but I don’t care! I think enjoying your surroundings is a good thing. And I’m surely doing that.

25 December 2020

2020: a year for a kitsch Christmas

 This was going to be the first Christmas in the long time that I wasn’t going to go to the Netherlands. I regretted that; it’s nice to see family! But I wasn’t comfortable with travelling in the depth of a pandemic, and the thought of self-isolation afterwards didn’t attract me either. So I had to make my own Christmas!

I didn’t really have a habit of decorating my house for Christmas, but since I had my own house, and it actually had a functional living room, I had started doing it. The house had come with its own Christmas decoration, and it seemed silly not to use it. So I had only made the effort once, but this year it mattered more. And yes Christmas decoration is kitsch, but hey, it is Christmassy! I didn’t try luring in a plant to function as a Christmas tree this time, as I had the impression the plant that suffered that fate wasn’t very happy, but I put up the lights and just hung the tinsel from remotely suitable surfaces and structures. And the baubles could just be hung from the ceiling beam or arbitrary nails. I was happy with the result! It really looked Christmassy now.

And what to actually do? I had plans to just do my thing, but then a bit fancier; go for a walk if the weather permits it, do a run if it doesn’t, light a nice fire afterwards, and make an extra nice meal. I also wanted to video-call with some relatives; that way I would still feel connected to them. I figured I could make it lovely!

It looked like this was all going to happen, but when all the UK nations agreed on what to do with Christmas, and it turned out we could bubble up with two other households, it looked like I might actually see people in person too. I could have dinner with Jaco and Marjan! A real one, with all of us being physically present!

This also agreed to with all the nations, but it was evident that Wales had always been more careful than England. So quite soon the news reported that the rules would be stricter in Wales. Anything stricter and our dinner would fall through. But then I read the small print, and I saw that even though Wales now only allowed to households to combine, and I don’t consider myself to be high enough on the priority list of my friends to be that household, it was allowed to add solitary people! So I didn’t really count, and I could still have dinner with them, even if a household of relatives would do the same. And then the rules were tightened even more; you could only see one other household, and only on Christmas Day. But that would still work! My friends and I would just be these two households.

I also started making plans with my sister, who wasn’t looking forward to a COVID Christmas. We figured we could have Christmas dinner on a screen! And we decided to cook the same thing. Preparations are ongoing!

24 December 2020

Outcome of University budget cut plans

 I knew my highly appreciated colleague Suzie had decided to take voluntary redundancy. And I knew one of the biologists had also quit; she wanted to seek her fortunes further south. And I knew that the management of the School was chasing three more redundancies. To us, that looked like a bloodbath, and it also didn’t seem to add up with the financial information we had. We had compiled a big document that detailed all that, and made sure that both the people making the final decisions about how the University would effect the budget cuts, and the union, received it. And then we could do nothing but wait. And then suddenly there was a message from the Head of School. He called a meeting.

In the meeting, which was also attended by the Dean, he told us that we had been correct and that no further redundancies were needed. We could all keep our jobs! And that was good news. But we were angry about how this whole process had played out. Several of us made that very clear.

After that meeting, we had another small meeting without management. This was quite a big moment! And I had to do a bit of recalibration. I never expected the job losses would be as bad as management had made it sound, but I didn’t expect no further redundancies at all either. I had already made partial peace with losing my job! And now that peace went out of the window again.

I may very well not stay in academia until my retirement, but it would be foolish to quit my job while my arms weren’t functioning properly, we were in the middle of the pandemic, and BREXIT was looming. So I was going to stay! So soon this blog will be back to reporting on frantic distance learning in the new semester!

23 December 2020

Sick for a whole month

My recovery didn’t go very fast.  The first thing I noticed was that I didn’t get spasms in my arm muscles anymore.  When I was still working, I would get these.  But the unpleasant feeling in my lower arms stayed.  This worried me.  I was at the risk of losing my job, and my arms were damaged and not recovering!  How was I supposed to earn a living without arms?  The fact that the economy was bombing and was going to be bombing a lot more due to Brexit didn’t help.  And it was going to be a lone EU citizen, a possibly unemployed one at that, in the middle of all of that.  Not a reassuring thought!  And there isn’t much you can do to speed up the recovery process.  I made sure to do my exercises and take my medication, but it didn’t seem enough.  After a while I phoned my GP again, to see if I could see the physiotherapist.  My new surgery had one too.  He wouldn’t see me, but he was willing to speak to me on the phone.  He gave me some more exercises, and said that if they wouldn’t help in two or three weeks I should phone again.  He also encouraged me to try a riding my bike, and not wear my wrists splints too often.  So from then on my a meal times became a bit busy with both sets of exercises.  But that’s OK!  If I can exercise my way out of this then that would be perfect.

I also tried my bike a bit more, on his advice; I had to been running from my front door, and I was actually looking forward to a bit of variation.  So I rode my bike to a place where a big public footpath came onto the road, parked up there, and ran the footpath. That went well!  I later also biked to the foot of some slate quarry spoil heaps, and then climbed them to find out which one it was I could see from my window.  That was a success too!

Me in beautiful late light on the public footpath

On the slate heaps above the village

A bigger problem was keeping it together.  As I said before, I was scared. It's scary to realise your job is on the line, it's scary to have an injury that prevents you from working and that just doesn't seem to want to heal, and it's scary to be an EU citizen in a country that is hurtling towards a no-deal BREXIT. What didn’t help either was that the university at some point announced it was extending the VR scheme, but then refused to say for at least two weeks by how much they were extending it. That wasn’t helpful! In theory, they could just say at some arbitrary time that the scheme would end in the next five minutes. And then just hurl compulsory redundancy at whoever they wanted to still lose. That could be me! And then you got get only three months’ worth of wages to keep you ticking over until you have found another source of income, rather than the six months of voluntary redundancy. There is a lot you can do with three months’ worth of wages, but I think it evaporates quickly if you’re not even fit for work.

Aside from the uncertainty, I struggled with the lack of purpose. I had been working fulltime forever!  More than full-time.  And then suddenly not working four weeks on end is a shock.  I felt guilty that my colleagues were working themselves silly and I was at home, and not working at all.  But that doesn’t help.  I made a conscientious effort to stay positive.  My runs surely helped.  And at some point I started making schedules of what I intended to do each day.  Things like Welsh revision and brushing up on my grammar and such.  That helped to keep me on track! 

I can imagine that unemployment does a lot of damage to people.  Being sick at home caused me more problems than the entire rest of the pandemic and the switch to distance learning. And I'm not sure how much of my unease was due to not working, and how much to worrying about the gravity of the situation, but still. I must be a bit weird!  My biggest gripe with my life is that I’m always overworked, but then suddenly when I am not, I struggle to cope.  And it affects me more than 50,000 people dead.  Crikey.  But it might explain why I ended up with the RSI in the first place…

22 December 2020

Life on sick leave

After months of very hard work I suddenly wasn't working at all. So what was I doing? Well, there wasn't that much I could do; a lot of the things I could theoretically do involved using my hands too much, so that was off-limits. So much time now to do chores, and no hands to do them with! So I was basically left with reading, walking, and running. And that's what I did! I had more to read than I could shake a stick at; I could brush up my Welsh, my math, and my proofreading. I could even read for pleasure, but that didn't happen an awful lot.

My runs have become a bit longer, as I now have time, and it’s good on my arms. I have been exploring some new routes, and variations on old routes. I have to time it rather sharply now though, as the days are so short.

I also have been going on a few walks; once I went into Nant Ffrancon to explore one of the hanging valleys there I hadn’t been in yet. That wasn't such a good idea; I biked to the start, which was OK as it was uphill, but on the way back I had to squeeze my brakes a bit too much. So I decided to always go from home.

The hanging valley I visited; notice the landslide scar

One day I decided to chase my view; I can see a mast and a hill from my house, and I had been to both several times, but I had never managed to spot my house from there. It has to be possible if I can see them from my window! This time I brought binoculars, and now I have actually seen my own house from these landmarks. On the way back I just tried a few public footpaths I had never got around to.

My house is somewhere in this picture: honest!

Another mission was to see to what extend I could follow the old slate railroad out of town. The answer is: not very much! The route is blocked in very many places. And some just about accessible bits were clearly used for fly-tipping. There was one stretch where there was quite a nice path on the old rail track, but it just ended in a fence with a meadow on the other side. But now I know!

Where it was easy to follow the old railroad; at Felin Fawr

I later also chased up a lot of local public footpaths I had never explored before. Quite a lot of them have rather arbitrary starts or ends. But now I have the time to chase them up anyway!

A distant and soggy public footpath I hadn't tried before

20 December 2020

Sorting things out

I had called in sick on Monday afternoon. You can do that for a week. I was hoping that my sick note would come in before the end of that week, but it hadn't arrived by Saturday. So on Monday I had to start phoning around. I phoned my old GP and asked what the situation was. They said they had the sick note there, and that I could come and get it. Well OK then! I jumped in my car. Driving didn't feel good on my arms but it wasn't too bad. I got the sick note, and popped by a friend who lives near my old GP. It was nice to catch up in front of his house!

I went home and switched on the computer for the first time since setting my out of office reply. I had to scan the note and send it to my line manager. I also sent it to the occupational health nurse. She then sent a form for my manager to fill out, so she could start organizing adjustments for me. My manager then asked me to complete the form. Heck no! To be fair, he said that if I didn't feel able to do that, I could phone him. I did that, about five times, but he didn't answer. I left a voicemail, and even email to alert him to the voicemail. Days later he mailed me to ask if I had tried to phone him, and to ask if I had any teaching that wasn't covered. I found that rather problematic; he is my manager. He should know what my teaching is, and he is the one who should have organized people covering for me where needed. Sort it out, I am off sick!

At some point I had a discussion with the director of teaching and learning about my teaching. I am perfectly fine talking to people; they can just make a teams call that I can answer on my phone. What I am not so keen on, is doing anything that requires me rummaging through my files or something like that, as these are on my computer, and I don't want to have to switch that thing on. Anyway; I told him what I was teaching, which bits I had prepared to the extent that the students could work with my materials on their own, what lectures were already recorded and uploaded and which ones needed to still be prepared, and all that kind of stuff. All that would be taken care off!

For the rest I just continued with my routine; ice, ibuprofen gel, wrist splints, exercises and running.  And trying to stay away from my phone. And hope for the best! 

First contact with a medical person

When I signed off sick, the only thing I could do was take it easy and wait for my phone call with the physiotherapist on Wednesday. I went for a run! My arms never feel better then when I am running. And later I just did the usual thing of having dinner and such. And the day after I made a little phone stand so I could talk to my phone without having to hold it. And I did some home chores. And of course I went for a run.

On Wednesday I made sure I was ready for when I would get the phone call. She was supposed to phone at 9:20. But nothing happened! I got really scared. Would she just not call? And if not, would that be another three weeks of waiting? That would be awful!  When I had almost given up she finally phoned. Phew!

She asked me a lot of questions about my situation. She didn't seem to be too alarmed! That was good. She suggested I have inflammations in the tissue around the tendons in my arms. And that can be treated. She said she would send me some exercises to do, and suggested I cool my arms with ice, and wear wrist braces. And put anti-inflammatory gel on my arms. And she said that if it wouldn't help I could switch to oral anti-inflammatory medication. And she would send me a sick note. But she also said I should swap GPs. I said I would!

When we were done I felt better already; I now knew what to do to recover as quickly as I could. And that she hadn't been too alarmed was good too. But I had stuff to do now. I quickly ordered the braces. And phoned the local GP surgery.

The first thing I now had to sort was get me a new GP. I had kept my Menai  Bridge GP when I moved house, not realizing you are not supposed to do that. But I suppose now I know, so I went to the surgery to sort that out. There is a pharmacy there too which was good for the gel. But the GP requiring information I didn't have, and the pharmacy having a lunch break, resulted in me making three trips. But in the end I sorted it!

I also defrosted the freezing compartment of my fridge; that would get me ice to cool my arms. And I went for a run. Of course!

So then I had a new routine. Ice, gel, exercises and runs. And I did some reading and chores.  The sort of thing I otherwise never have time for! And by Friday my arms were not feeling the least bit better yet, but I had hope that things would improve. This problem had built up over months; it was not likely it would be solved in a few days!  

19 December 2020

Signing off sick

I had realized quite a while ago that things were wrong with my arms. I had phoned my GP, but all they could offer me was a phone consultation with a physiotherapist in three weeks’ time. I took it, but it was not what I had hoped for. I kept trying to work only using my voice, but that doesn't quite work. Sometimes the computer just doesn't understand what you want, or it just cannot be done by voice. And then you have little choice but to use your hands.  And it got to the point where I was almost in tears when I knew I had to do that. Something needed to be done. I had already looked on the University website for advice on what to do and who to contact in case of RSI, but all I had found was some stuff that looked like the legally required minimum. One of those documents you see stuck to the in the workplace; that sort of stuff. But I just decided to phone the head of health and safety. He didn't answer.

The next day I spoke with Jenny. She said we have and occupational health nurse. She also knew her name; they both count as employees of human resources. So the next day I phoned her! She didn't answer either. But I sent her and email. Then that Monday I got a reply.

The occupational health nurse was very understanding and supportive. She suggested I called in sick, and she would contact my line manager so she could start making preparations for my return. She suggested different voice recognition software and training to come with that. That sounded good! I am entirely self-taught. She also hoped to get a diagnosis from the physiotherapist.

After talking to the occupational health nurse I sent an email to my manager to say I was ill, and shut down the computer, intending to not switch it back on for a long time. However, I realized I had forgot to send an auto reply, so I had to log back in. It is important that if people email me they know I can't reply. Initially it went wrong; I accidentally activated my old message from the summer that said I was on annual leave until a certain date in July. That didn't really help. But when I had sorted that, I could shut it down and go analogue. I still have my phone, but as working that also lead to pain I tried to avoid that as much as I could as well. I had started to use speech recognition on that too, but that was again a different software package, and it took some getting used to. To be honest, I'm still struggling a bit with it. The windows package is slow, but I can produce pretty much any texts with it, as long as they are in English. Not so much so with Apple! But now a was time to move back a century and just it on the sofa with a book.

So now I was off on sick leave. An unusual thing! I don't think I’d ever called in sick since coming to Wales. I tend to only be ill over Christmas. But it seems necessary now. These arms need some time away from a computer… 

17 December 2020

Blog flickers back to life

So here it is! After almost seven weeks. Another blog post. It's a bit weird to realise the last post was in October, while now we are properly in winter and the year is almost over. It has been a strange time!

I suppose I'll keep this post for just flagging up that something is happening again. And then slowly I will fill everyone in with what has happened in the meantime. I had been dictating notes to my phone during these weeks so there is a lot of text that I can now put onto the blog again! And when that's done, I can start going back to my routine of plonking my rather uneventful life on here, with a few days delay, on a regular basis! I'm glad I feel able to get back to this. I've missed blogging!

31 October 2020

Pause on the blog

 The RSI situation is getting out of hand.  I really don’t want to touch my computer for a bit.  And I know I can do a lot with my voice, but not everything, and if you start working with your computer, you might be tempted to fill in the blanks your voice leaves with your hands.  I must say I am impressed with how possible it is to do an entire blog post without touching mouse or keyboard.  But you can’t really do any of that without logging in!  So I’ve been writing rather consistently for thirteen years now, but it’s time to take a break.  I hope it won’t be necessary to break for very long!  I quite like blogging.  And it’s not as if there is nothing important going on these days.  I hope I will be back soon!

30 October 2020

Printer works!

 I had bought a printer, so I could do some work on paper in order to not use my mouse and keyboard.  I had initially set it up to connect by wifi; that seemed a reasonable thing to do.  However, it couldn’t find my wifi, and a printer that can’t find your computer is of little use.  In order to remediate that I ordered a USB cable, and about a week later that arrived.  I then had to figure out how to make my printer understand that that was now the means of communication!  It turned out that I had to uninstall the software, and then reinstall it, telling it that it now needed to communicate via a USB.  That seems to be excessive, but if that’s what it takes!  So I did that.  And now my computer and my printer can find each other.  That’s some improvement!  And the first thing I printed was a mark sheet for some student presentations.  A modest start!  But who knows what will follow.  My home office has gained an asset!

29 October 2020

Tweak the office chair

At the start of lockdown, I bought an office chair. It had non-adjustable armrests, and they were a bit too high. In order to be able to fit them underneath my desk, I had to lower the chair by a ludicrous amount. That just wasn't good. Since moving my entire office home, I have been using my University chair. But having a chair without a purpose seemed silly. And as the armrests come off, I thought I maybe could tweak them. I could just put something in place of the armrests that wouldn't stick out so high. So I set to work.  I took one armrest off and replaced it with bits of skirting board. So far so good. Unfortunately they could twist, so when I removed the other armrest the whole system sagged. I could have predicted that, actually! Oh well. I went back to the drawing board. I took a piece of left-over floorboard from the garage and tried that. It was a bit of a faff to firstly align the drill holes perfectly, and secondly make depressions in the wood so the bolts could be sunk in a bit, but in the end I had an office chair with a fixed back that fit underneath the desk! And if I ever want that chair to look official again, I can just put the armrests back.  So I say that's a success! 

First attempt: not a success


28 October 2020

Small craft project

Some time ago, a person living nearby had put out some wood with a little sign ‘free firewood’. It seemed no one else was keen, so I went for it! These people had clearly been doing some home improvements. There was skirting board and ceiling joists and flooring. And in the aftermath of the 2019 swamphike, Henco suggested one piece of flooring could easily become a chopping board. I agreed! But you can imagine that making a new chopping board is not something that easily ends up at the top of the to do list. But now about a year later it got there! I cut it to a rectangular shape, sanded it as I feared unpleasant varnish at the surface, and I cut a sort of handhold into it. Done! So now I have a new chopping board. Very nice!  

27 October 2020

Autumnal run

I am still doing my daily runs. In summer, I had established two standard running routes; one up the valley on the cycle track, and one down the valley through two neighbouring villages. The former is still okay, but a latter involves two crosscuts between the high road and the low road that become bordering on impassable in autumn. One crosscut floods, and the other one get so muddy you can't really run. But too much of the route is on the road to do it on off-road shoes. So it was time to explore a few more options!  

I've been exploring some runs on the other side of the Valley in the direction of Mynydd Llandygai. That's mostly on the road, and if not on the road, then on fairly solid paths. And one of these days I decided to run part of my alternative commute to work, and bring a camera, to document the very autumnal run. Hence this post! And I think I have enough options that avoid flooding and mud now. I am ready for winter.  

Autumnal running attire

The Ogwen

26 October 2020

Situation in University and School

Some two weeks ago, the University dropped the bomb. A bomb in the shape of a document in which they explained how they intended to lose between 150 and 200 FTE. My school needs to lose some! And we're not the only ones; on the contrary, most schools do. And no schools are enjoying that. Neither is the union. And there is a consultation process happening, but not everybody is convinced that this is performed properly. The University and College Union has consulted its members, and it looks like the membership isn't impressed. And the result is that you can now find in the news the fact that the union membership has voted for a motion of no confidence in the University management. I do not know what consequences that will have, of course. Nobody does. But it looks like we are following the very modern trend of being in turmoil and having a strong sense of “us” and “them”! The situation isn't ideal.

And in the school? Well, it's not good. I do hope that the situation in the rest of the University is not as bad. In a situation of budget cuts, you expect the management of your own school to fight for your school. But within the school there is a strong feeling that we have management fighting against us! It is trying to effect more redundancies than the University has asked for (University demands 3FTE, Head of School is going for 4FTE), and only within the targeted group. A voluntary spreading of the load is not accepted. I didn't see that coming. In earlier budget cuts, I had faith the (previous) Head of School was fighting to avoid redundancies, rather than fighting to achieve them. It's not quite clear yet where this is going, but it's not looking good. I think I will have to end this post, as I tend to do these days, with the phrase ‘watch this space’!

25 October 2020

New printer

I am on a mission to avoid using my mouse and keyboard as much as I can! And most of that effort is focusing on using voice recognition software, but there are, of course, also more old-fashioned ways of going about this. One of these is just working on paper. I know being paperless is more environmentally friendly, but sometimes other matters are more pressing. So I decided to go and buy myself a printer. Just a basic one. It will allow me to do some things such as practising proofreading, or marking coursework, on paper. When I had to be in Bangor anyway, I popped by in the computer store. They only had very expensive printers, though! Everybody is thinking the same as me. Lots of people are working at home nowadays, and they need to be able to print things, and additionally, lots of parents buy a printer so they can use that for their children’s education. Hence the shop having barely anything! But that's where Internet comes in; you can still buy reasonably priced printers online and have them delivered at home. And that's what I did! 

It arrived the next day. I unpacked it that evening. It all worked; it did some test prints and everything looked fine. I went to bed before I had actually tried printing anything for real. The next day, though, it was time to try to print something. But the computer couldn't find the printer! That was a bit of a bummer. I feed my Wi-Fi into my computer via a LAN cable, but that sort of seems to mean that's anything that is not connected to a cable can't detect it. You can detect my grasp of the technology here. Anyway, I figured I might want to connect the printer to the computer via a cable. It does come with a USB port. They don't give you that cable though, when you buy the printer. So I had to order one separately. I hope it comes soon! I suppose if the need is high I could just unplug the LAN cable, but if the cable comes soon I’ll just use that. Anyway; no stories of success yet! It's a bit like the new computer; the pace of the blog these days is such that I feel compelled to post things when they are still in progress! But then I can say: stay tuned and watch this space!  

24 October 2020

Trying to work the entire computer by voice

When my arms started to hurt worryingly much, I stopped typing text and started to dictate it to Word. But then I realised that I didn't have to stop there! Why not use your voice to do everything else as well? I know the technology exists! So I Googled “speech recognition” and saw where it took me. I quickly found how to switch it on in Windows. However, I needed authorization for that, and that was what got me my new computer. For some reason, I didn’t need authorization in the new one! So I was able to switch that on, and then it was only a question of starting to learn how to use it. I trained my computer on my voice for a bit and set to work! 

Some of the functionality I find very easy to use: opening applications or switching between them, for instance. I have now also mastered the “show numbers” command , which shows you all the various buttons you could press. I still sometimes get things wrong; I sometimes accidentally delete text I have just dictated, and if I try to close a tab I tend to accidentally close the entire programme. I also quickly learned that I should not listen to the radio on my headset, and then if I walk away take the headset off and leave the radio on. The radio will keep talking into the microphone, without my head to block the sound, and it will make the computer do the weirdest things. 

But one learns! I'm sure I'll get better at this. And it really really helps in taking the strain away from your arms. I'm sure my voice can cope with hours more exercise per day than in recent times! 

See me do a screenshot hands-free!

23 October 2020

New computer

On Monday, I wanted to make a change to my computer. However, given that this is a University computer, I did not have authorization to make the change. I still wanted to change, so I emailed the IT helpdesk to ask if I could get the authorization. I didn't expect the response that came. They said that, actually, my computer is so old, that I could get another one; I could make the change on that one. And well, I accepted! As you do. And they weren’t hanging about, and by Wednesday I actually had the computer. It was a nice light small model. It didn’t quite immediately start working; it needed some sort of code to activate but IT was quick to send that to me. The other thing about it is that my old computer used VGA to connect the monitors to it. This computer does not have VGA ports.  IT had given me one HDMI cable to connect a monitor, but I have two! Until I get me a VGA adapter plug I can now only use one of my monitors, but that will soon be sorted. And when I have all the cables, I should do a serious round of tidying up because at the moment it looks like the flying spaghetti monster has crash--landed on my desk. I have a webcam and speakers and a headset and an external hard drive and a tablet. My mouse and keyboard are not even on the cable; they are wireless, but still the amount of cables is outrageous. I have my cable ties ready! 

And the change I wanted to make? Well yes that worked! But that will be a new blog post altogether.  Stay tuned.

The cable mess; I will add a glamour shot after I’ve sorted out the second screen and tidied the cables! 

All tidied up! Second monitor not connected yet though. 

22 October 2020

Last rendez-vous for a while?

There had been a lot of rumours around that Wales would face another lockdown soon. I found that rather likely. So I suggested to Suzie that we get together one more time before that happens. And we did! This time she came to my place with her small son. We just had a civilised cup of tea in the garden. I had made yet another apple pie for the occasion. I think it will be the last one; The apple tree is almost empty. But it's already mid to late October so I can't complain. 

The last time I had been in her garden I had worn a tank top, shorts and sandals. This time the down jackets came out! But it was lovely anyway. It was really nice to team up again, in person. I don't know when the next time will be!

The day after our session in the garden, the lockdown was indeed announced, and it would come into force that Friday. So I am glad we took this opportunity! By the time we come out of lockdown again, it will be well into November, and meeting outside will be increasingly unlikely. But well, there is still video calling! 

21 October 2020

Apple tree alone

My apple tree had been standing in a corner of the garden among lots of weeds and wild growth. When I had initially started removing all this wilderness, I had revealed it was actually in a raised bed. I had sowed grass in the space between the raised beds, and everything had become a lot more tidy. I didn't initially find the time to empty out the apple tree bed, but it's been weeks, and now I have! There's nothing in it now except for the apple tree itself. That's quite sparse. But that's okay.

I intend to have some low vegetation around the tree. It might have to wait a while though. What I have done for now is just put down slate directly underneath the tree, because I don't want to have to go weeding underneath it, given that the tree is only inches from the ground. Around the tree I do want to have plants, but I also put some big slate slabs down, so I will have a bit of a path on which I can walk around the tree.

The whole corner of the garden is very civilised now. The grass is already coming up. I'm sure that next summer it will all look great! I don't think next year will be a good apple year but so be it. I can't have it all. 

20 October 2020

Keep tweaking the lighting

Not too long ago, I had put up my beer lamp in the lounge. It didn't stay there for very long, though. It was hanging right above my sofa where I do most of my (winter) reading, And the light was a bit too weak for that. So I quickly swapped it with the lamp on the other side of the room, which is a bit brighter. That helps! But then I had started and I didn't stop there.

There were still two lighting issues to be solved: one was my office, where the main light is from a ceiling lamp in the middle of the room. When I'm at my computer, that lamp is behind me. I spend quite a lot of time on camera, and then being backlit is not such a good idea. So what I needed was light coming from the other direction. I had improvised something with the standing lamp, but that came from a bit of a weird angle and I wasn't quite satisfied with it. So I decided to put my other beer lamp into use as well! I took down the stable lamp in the kitchen, put my other beer lamp in its place, and put this table lamp up in the corner of my office where my desk is. That did the job! So now my office is more snug than it used to be. And I like snug stuff.

There was one more corner of my house that really needed some different lighting. I have a storage space in the basement and it doesn't have any windows. Evidently, this is quite dark. That space too only had a ceiling lamp in the middle, which failed to light up the corners. And I had run out of lamps, but I decided to just improvise something; This was rather utilitarian space and didn't need to be particularly snug. So I just fixed a hook into the wall, attached a light fitting I had lying around to it, and Bob was my uncle! It doesn't look very good, but it does the job; I can now see my cupboard with things such as DIY materials.

I'm sure I will be doing some tweaking of light in the future; that is one of the things I find important. But for now I am very happy with my improvements. Bring on the dark season!

New lamp

19 October 2020

Beautiful autumn

Late September coma the trees were still entirely green. That has changed now! I really enjoy the beautiful autumn colours of my garden. And, of course, the beautiful autumn colours elsewhere. I like autumn! And  I thought I just show some pictures here to make other people enjoy along.  

Early afternoon light

Morning light (a few days later)

Beautiful sunset

What tree is this, anyway? 

18 October 2020

If not academia then what?

I explained that in earlier post that my job is on the line. So if I lose it, what's next? The situation has not been resolved yet, but it's important, of course, that I have thought about alternatives. And I have!

My first thought is: I am a bit of a language pedant. When I was in secondary school, I always had to work for the sciences, while the languages happened naturally to me (as long as they were Dutch, English or Latin; that is; my skills in French, German and Greek were less stellar, but I didn’t do these for A levels). So maybe I should do something with that talent, plus my experience in science. What I was thinking about this becoming a proofreader, or maybe even a copyeditor, of specifically scientific texts. And I know it's quite a step to go from having no education in that direction, and having no experience either, to somehow get to the point where I could make a living out of it. But I think people do that sort of thing all the time; they lose their job, they decide to take a different direction, just work hard at it, and succeed. And I think I can do it! If someone writes about geosciences or climate science or that sort of things, I know what they're talking about. That helps! And the pandemic doesn’t stop written text from being produced. And a lot of it needs proofreading. I have no idea what my chances would be to get into scientific proofreading early on, but it's good to have a goal. I might have to start on user manuals or something, but I hope to build up a portfolio and widen my opportunities. And I suppose scientific publications are mainly in the hands of few large publishers like Elsevier and John Wiley & Sons, and these are not situated in North Wales, but  I imagine that in this day and age you could agree with an employer to work from a distance. But this is getting ahead of things a bit. Let's start small!

One of the things that I have learned in my time in academia will come in handy mightily here: learning new skills really fast! And yes I know this blog is full of typos but this is a leisure project. I'm convinced that I could brush up my language skills to such a degree that I could do this professionally within too long. And I would have some time before the redundancy money runs out. And start-up costs are not very high. You need the skills, a computer and an office. That’s pretty much it!

Before I manage to earn a living proofreading, I also should be able to get some a sort of short jobs to keep me paying the bills in the meantime. I've seen other people do that; a friend of mine works for track and trace now, after she quit her job. I have had a look at local job sites, and there are jobs advertised in things such as hospitality (!) and delivery driving. I am not above any of that. And I also saw that there is a job site that lets you search jobs you could do remotely. That widens the field! I already saw that there is quite some demand for tutors. This is not surprising given the effect the pandemic has had on education. I already got me an A level maths book to brush up my skills (I did my A levels some 27 years ago!), so I could do maths tutoring if necessary. Again, ways of earning money with as good as no start-up costs! So there are possibilities, and if it's possible then why couldn't I do it?

Another thing I thought about, as a plan B, was that there is a strong shortage of secondary school teachers in sciences in Britain. That shortage is so big that if you have a degree in a science, you can basically retrain as a secondary school teacher, and be paid for it while you are still in training. I know that it's another very stressful job, and that a lot of teachers quit within five years, but then again; if that would keep me ticking over for a few years, then that would buy me time to consider even more options. And I suppose me speaking Welsh would help here. That is something I did get out of this University! I learned the language. But would I find a school to do the training in within commuting distance? But this is only plan B so I don't have to worry too much about this for now.

Altogether I have enough to do for now! I have to explore my options in the proofreading world, and I have my A levels maths to revise. In addition to my already much more than full time job. I won't have to be bored! Not that that was one of my concerns anyway, ever. But onwards! Watch this space for updates on the University situation. These are interesting times…

17 October 2020

Mens sana in corpore sano

I had had problems with RSI for months. I had worked really hard to get the blended learning off the ground. But then then I found out that my job was on the line; that they didn't do anything for my motivation. I also noticed that I was enjoying my first few runs after finding out less. And my arms started to hurt more. I suppose the whole body, including the mind, is just one unit, and if you affect one part of it, you affect the rest too. So have I recently been using my keyboard or mouse more? Well no, but my arms and shoulders do hurt more than before. I don't think that is me fooling myself to be honest. I am also more scared of RSI now that I know I might be depending entirely on myself soon. 

I had recently started dictating my text to my computer, but that exercise has taken quite a flight now. I try to dictate everything I reasonably can! (Including this.) And I am learning to use punctuation in Word. It turns out you have to actually specify the punctuation. It doesn't always go well; it happens regularly that I say ‘comma’, and Word thinks I am talking about a coma. But that is easily edited out; carefully, though, with my sore shoulders. I will have to become really good at avoiding using mouse and keyboard! But practise makes perfect and I am sure as hell practising! 

16 October 2020

Walk with tutees

It must be weird to be a fresher this year! First, your A-level results are messed with, and then you move to a new town to start university. The Welcome Week is strange as you can't meet people other than your flat mates indoors. And then most of your teaching is online. And if it isn't, you have to sit 2m away from your peers. And local lockdowns loom. And even national ones!

In order to keep some normality going, I suggested a pastoral walk with my tutees. And most were up for it! And the time I had picked accidentally had OK weather. 

I met them by the Main Arts building. The first time I saw them in person! It was a lot nicer than seeing them on a screen. And we walked up the hill that overlooks, well, pretty much everything. And we just chatted a bit. 

It was just a walk but I think it's nice to get some fresh air and some actual human interaction! This year is not replete with it. Unless the situation changes again, we will do this again!

The view from where we met

15 October 2020

More tidying up of upstairs garden

I had started tidying the unruly jungle next to my conservatory. And it was time to continue! I wanted to get rid of all the assumed Crocosmias that were obscuring the path. And I figured I may as well get rid of the raspberries as they didn't spark much joy. So on a Sunday with OK weather I took my spade and set to work. And got rid of the lot! And I found hidden slabs of slate. 

When all was ripped out I went down to the riverbank for more rocks to demarcate the plant bed from the lawn. The river was low enough for that! Not to be taken for granted in October. And then I planted several plants there that had so far been living indoors. The aubergines moved out, and an apple mint, and two small plants from the Friday market, and some peas that had so far lived in a pot. I might now take the pot indoors to see if I can grow something in it over the winter. It would need to be something that doesn't need much light! The conservatory gets too cold, but not much else gets a lot of light in the house. 

This is only the side of the garden next to the drop to the rest of the garden. There is a lot more chaos to fight on the other side! But one thing at the time... 

Work has just started


And remodelled!