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!

14 October 2020

Snug heated house

I may have been overthinking things! I mentioned I had ordered a new thermostat. And that I only did that after about a year of pondering if I should, as it was clear the old one didn't quite understand temperatures. But could you just buy a new one and then it just falling into place? Or did you need an installer to make the boiler and the thermostat team up?

When the new thermostat arrived, it was a case of just pressing a button to tell the boiler to look out for the new thermostat, putting batteries in said new thermostat, and Bob’s your uncle! It was that easy. So now I have a house with functioning heating again, and it is actually quite nice! And these thermostats are quite expensive, but well, I suppose they’re worth it, if they work…

Old and replacement (yes I should set the time)

13 October 2020

Dictate your text

If all your work is done on the computer, and you make very long working days, you might end up with RSI. I first suffered from it during my PhD and it has been threatening ever since! And when I had to work at home, and only had a laptop there, things got bad again. I tried to sort things with hardware (chair, desk, keyboard, etc) and that meant things weren’t getting worse, but they weren’t getting better either.

When we record our lectures, the software provides subtitles; that gave me the idea to try the ‘dictate’ option of word. This is one of the first posts that I actually dictated to my computer rather than typing it myself! I must say, I like it. You still have to edit the text, because words doesn't seem to be able to do punctuation, and that's needed, but this does save me quite a lot of typing, and that helps my arms and shoulders. I think I’ll do more ‘typing’ like this!

It’s funny to see, though, that Panopto (which we use for recording lectures) replicates every ‘um’, but does have a try at punctuation. Word filters all the ‘ums’ out (or would I just 'um' more when I'm doing a lecture?), but makes everything one big sentence. Can these software developers get together and produce something that doesn’t do the ‘ums’ but does have punctuation? That would be fab!

12 October 2020

Financial hit felt

It had been in the news for a while: Bangor University had lost income due to Covid, and needed to think of something to balance the books. Fewer international students had showed up, there had been lost income from halls, catering and suchlike;  and I suppose some costs had increased as, for instance, cleaning regimes must have become more rigorous. 

We didn't know, though, how it would affect the School of Ocean Sciences. But that changed this week. On Wednesday the University published a document in which the details were given on how they intended to make the intended budget cuts. Unfortunately, it looks like my job is on the line. That was a bit of a shock, and a shock too for those who are in the same boat. We as a school had recruited really well! If we lose staff, who is going to teach all these students? But management (of School, College and University) clearly thinks they can do without several of us. I have now started exploring my other options. Am I certain of losing my job? No. But if I might, I had better come prepared.

It is less than three years ago that I got my first ever permanent job. And I knew that permanent jobs aren't really permanent, but I didn't expect to already fear for it this soon. It is a bit of a blow. I was so glad that my time of going from short contract to short contract, and moving large distances every few years, was over. But the security lasted shorter than my longest Postdoc job! I never really took my job for granted, so I’m not mentally unprepared, but I now have to quickly switch back into job seeking mode. Luckily I am quite resilient, and I will think of something else, but watch this space. These are interesting times, and big changes might very well be ahead…

11 October 2020

Welsh restarts

Back in March, my Welsh class went digital. Back then I thought we'd be back in the actual classroom by September. But we clearly aren't! I sat out the rest of the year in my course, but it wasn't the same. I suppose the talking is an important part of the course, but you can't all talk at the same time on Skype. In a physical class, you can just pair people up so they talk in pairs! I don't think you can do that in Skype. And you certainly can do it in Blackboard Collaborate, but we don't use that for Welsh class.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to start a new Welsh class in autumn. I mean, there was enough to do already! And if it would have been a traditional course I wouldn't have. But I browsed what was on offer, and I saw there was another local history course again. By the same chap! And it was only one hour. So I registered. 

It was on Skype again. There were quite many people! And the teacher worked it well, skipping between the screen with our faces on, and his PowerPoint. Not all was well; we were invited to chip in, but that only works when your microphone is on, and there were many instances of feedback. I had to take the earphones of every few minutes! But it was interesting. And when he chatted about stuff that went a bit over my head (his material covered quite a lot of historical figures Brits would know about but I don't) I just listened to the Welsh, which was what it was all about anyway. So a good call I'd say! 

10 October 2020

First weeks of distance learning

When I write this, we have just gone through the first two weeks of term. It feels like the first two years! You always get into the swing of things so fast. But this was a year like no other, so how did it go this time? I think we're OK! But not everything is ideal, of course. 

It looks like both staff and students have got used to the new format now. Things are rolling along! And as I said before; it's not as if the traditional way of teaching has no disadvantages, so even if blended learning has some, it doesn't make it worse than what we had before. I have had sessions in which I asked students for input but them not managing to get their microphone working. I have had students being booted out of sessions by poor signal strength. I have had signal issues myself shortly before a session, and only being saved in the nick of time by things improving! And there always are the blips of people just being flawed. I forgot to record a live session. A colleague accidentally placed an announcement on my module website while they meant it for their own. That sort of stuff.

Some students struggle with the absence of seeing people in person. And with not being able to just sit in a group and discuss assignments. (Unless they shout at each other from 2 meters apart). And such things! But we've also heard of them loving the recorded lectures, and just watching them when it's convenient, with a fresh coffee in their hand, and being able to hit 'pause' if something distracting happens, or if they want to look something up, or something. Or play them at higher or lower speed, depending on demand. I like that! 

I also think we're getting better at using the platform! Mind you, we have to do all our undergraduate teaching on a platform we were only given access to in August. Or was it even September? So you can't blame us for still discovering things about it. And what works with the students and what doesn't. So I think we made it work somehow. And some of this will probably never go back to what it was before! But I think this country needs to improve its digital infrastructure. It's where the future lies! I think the traditional lecture is dead. And I think that's OK. When we are allowed to see the students again, we can have them still watch the lectures on their screen, and then just work with the material when we see them in a lecture room! I think that's a win. But it does mean all students need good internet. And not just students! 

09 October 2020

Vegan apple pie

I had been busy baking apple pies this season! One to use up some not-so-good hand apples, and one for a social occasion. But the friend who hosted the social occasion had a lodger, and he was vegan. There was butter and egg in my pie! So he wasn't having it. And I thought that was a waste. And I wondered if I could do a vegan version. I have a vegan colleague who really likes cake, so not only is it a good idea from the angle of animal welfare and carbon emissions to make a vegan pie if doable, but I figured I would find an enthusiast for it. So I gave it a try!

The local supermarket sold a vegan butter equivalent! So that was the butter replaced. I figured I could skip the shiny layer on the dough latticework; that's only decorative. But I wondered if I could use something to replace the egg in the filling, which tries, and fails, to stick the apple together. And I wondered if maybe jam would do the job. Finding vegan jam is a doddle. So I tried! I had some blackberry jam and I plonked that in. I only made a pie half the size as the previous one as it was an experiment. I forgot a bit about surface area to volume ratio and ended up with too little dough for a full latticework. Oh well. Better next time. 

It came out and it looked good! I cut it and it did what apple pie tends to do: it collapsed in a heap. Oh well. It tasted good! A lot better than my previous attempt at vegan pie. I mailed my vegan colleague! And let the cake cool. 

To my pleasant surprise, when it was cool it was actually quite coherent! Better than the non-vegan one. That jam trick works! I'll do this again. The apple tree has a lot more to offer and pie is great for variety on just eating them like that. And now I can do it more sustainably!

08 October 2020

Emergency office repair

My office had been the problem room! It had had a damp problem. I had tried to solve it with aluminium foil and thermal insulation. And so far it had seemed to have worked! There was no damp to be seen. But one day I wanted to faff a bit with the USB ports at the back of my computer. I stood on my desk to loom over. (I have so many peripherals that's easier than moving the computer around). And leaned against the wall! And felt that the wallpaper had come off. Oh dear. I was sure I could easily peel big strips off the wall. Problem not solved! The painter had not done a solid job. But would I want to get him back and do the job again? No! I need that office. And yes of course, I also have a guest bedroom which is not in use as in times of Covid, guests are an alien concept. I could move the office in there. But I didn't really want to. I thought about it a bit. Could I just wing this? 

My first thought regarding a way of winging this was wall anchors. If bits of your wall threaten to fall off you just anchor them down! So I googled 'wall anchors' but it looked like you could only buy antique ones, at high cost. Not so practical. 

Then I thought I could have a long shelf against the wall. That would push the wallpaper against the wall so it couldn't fall down! And I had long shelves inherited from Rose in the garage. So I went to do an inventory. And I saw one that came with a ready-made perpendicular plank! Perfect! And fake supports. The screw holes are not in these but in the perpendicular bit. No problem! I chose it. 

The next weekend I screwed it into the wall. I hope this works! And now I'll need some artefacts to put on it. It should pretend it's decorative, not emergency DIY! The day after I put it up I found a funny metal cup thing on my run. That will be my first shelf ornament! 

Shelf in place! 

First artefact

07 October 2020

Middle age reached

The Oxford English Dictionary suggests you are middle-aged from 45 on! So I have two more months. But the OED only suggests, and I personally think I'm there already! I have reading glasses! I had started to notice I couldn't focus anymore on things close to my nose. And trying other people's reading glasses showed me how comfortable they are. You can just see things! So I figured it was time to get me a pair. I know you can just by them cheap in the supermarket but I thought I may better get my eyes tested. It' d been a while! 

One Saturday I popped to Bangor to get tested. My distance glasses were still fine, which I expected, and the optician said I had just entered the lowest region in which reading glasses make sense. So I wanted a pair! And picked a frame. And booked an appointment to come to get them.

Two weeks later I did. So now I am middle-aged! I knew it was about to happen. My two sisters are only marginally older than me and they already had them. I was bound to follow! And now I can see small writing again. Comfortably. And when I posted the picture below on Facebook, my Finnish sister immediately posted a picture of her with her pair: they were almost identical! I liked that. I had seen her reading glasses, of course, but hadn't thought of them when I picked my frame. But we look fairly similar so it's not strange that what looks good on her looks good on me! And she has much better taste, so picking something similar feels like a triumph. 

And what's next? I suppose I'll manage like this all the way until I need my glasses too often, and then go varifocal! That's central middle age. I'm still only in early middle age...

06 October 2020

More struggles with the heating

I've been wondering about my heating for a while. I figured my thermostat wasn't very good. It would give me rather random temperatures! And I tried to find out if I could just buy another one. But I struggled to find out how much of an issue that would be. I asked a friend whose brother is a plumber, and I googled my head off, but I just didn't manage to find out if my boiler would just communicate with a different thermostat if I would buy one. So I kicked the whole issue into the long grass. And in spring, I switched it all off. And didn't think much more of it. 

Then it became autumn and heating became relevant again. Especially as I spend a lot of time at home, and to make it worse, I sit still a lot! And you don't want that in too cold a room. But when I switched the heating on again, it wouldn't work. The boiler said the thermostat didn't have enough battery power. So I changed the batteries. And nothing changed. Then, to be sure, I bought a brand new pair of batteries. Still nothing. I tried what I could think of; I pressed all the buttons of the boiler (including the 'off' button). And after the Nth button press suddenly the heating came on. And on. And on! It became warm soon. And I had the thermostat at 10 degrees. And brought it down to 5. But the heating was on full blast. Bad idea! I don't want it hot in my house. I switched it off again. 

It was time to contact my plumber. He said I indeed needed a new thermostat! And by then I had found a Youtube video where a man shows how you connect the very thermostat I had to the very boiler. Not to be taken for granted: the boiler is discontinued. So I had faith I would manage to pair them up! So I ordered the same thing again. Talk to people who know about plumbing and they will try to convince you to have weird modern systems with which you can control the individual radiators from your phone. Too much for me! Give me a mechanical device. Less that can go wrong. 

It will be important to have working heating over this winter! And it should also be able to work at modest heat. I don't like my house too warm, and I like the thought of all the emissions from this unwanted heat even less. I hope I can fix this! 

New lockdowns

The pandemic never really hit north Wales hard! I suppose it’s sparsely populated and that helps. It had been rather quiet here. But the virus has started to make incursions now. All counties east of here (Wrexham, Flintshire, Conwy and Denbighshire) have now gone into lockdown. Not a strict one, but people can't be indoors in private with people from other households (you can still go to a supermarket and be indoors with strangers), or leave the county without a good reason. So even if I would have had time to go for a hike or go underground with Kate, I couldn't, as she lives in Conwy! The boundary between Conwy and Gwynedd runs a bit weird. 

I am keeping a close eye on the numbers in Gwynedd. We may be next! And it wouldn't affect me much; I don't have time to leave the county anyway. Or go on hikes with whoever. And I haven't been indoors with other people either (except in the Netherlands, where different rules apply). But it could stop face-to-face teaching, and with north Wales in lockdown my chances of ending up in the Netherlands before all too long are slim. I'll have to keep an eye on it! In Scotland, headlines about student halls going into lockdown appeared twelve days after the start of Welcome Week. We are have gone past that! And infections in the county are rising, but not catastrophically. The next few days will probably tell us how things will go in this neck of the woods...

05 October 2020

Starting to tackle the upstairs garden

I had spent some time taming a corner of the downstairs garden. (It sounds weird, this upstairs/downstairs phrasing applied to a garden, but that's how it is. For those that haven't been here: the 'upstairs' garden is what originally was the garden; the 'downstairs' garden is half a former slate yard that was added to the house, and connected to the original garden by stairs, in the eighties. The other half is the neighbour's.) But when you start you see opportunities elsewhere. So I also looked at the upstairs garden. I faithfully cut the grass, but otherwise I don't do much there! Hence it being a bit of a jungle. But when I started pruning a rose bush in order to make it block the stairs less I got carried away. I also wanted to get rid of some flowers I think may be Crocosmia: they basically covered the path entirely. As pretty as their orange flowers are, they shouldn't do that so they had to go. And I removed them on one side of the path! I forgot to take a 'before' picture, unfortunately... 

I then pretty much cleared the ground there all the way to some old slate boundary. And the next time I was in Bangor I bought some plants for it! And I took down the clothes line on one side. That makes things look better. I need to come up with a tidier was then just rolling it up and laying in on an old quarry tile, but there is no hurry. 

Altogether I want to pretty much clear out everything except the rosebush and a rosemary bush (I still think this theme has something to do with the previous owner being called Rosemary (Rose for short)). And then use most of that space for edible plants. I have some mint and sage waiting! And I have peas all over the place. And I can try lots more next year. My cabbages are still going strong! Still not making enough cabbage for a meal, but hey, I have time. But I digress. My upstairs garden is a lot of work and it progresses slowly! Next thing is: the rest of the Crocosmia. Then at least the path will be, and probably stay, clear! 

One corner almost tidy now! 

04 October 2020

Special occasion: pandemic fieldtrip!

We had moved most face-to face-teaching to the second semester, back in summer. We just hoped that by then things would have improved by then, and such things would be a lot easier. Will that be the case? Quite possibly not! But one hopes. But not all face-to face teaching moved; the biologists were doing lots of practicals, and our field trip module would run in both semesters. We did want to make it worthwhile for the students to have come to campus! So on the second day of term we went into the field. We were going to beautiful Llanddwyn. And it was more beautiful than the previous time we took the students here! Last year it was awful weather on that trip

It was a bit different from normal. In previous years, we would always make sure that one member of staff would travel on the coach with the students. Not this year! We staff are in a group with much more risk that the students. The students are not likely to get seriously ill, but due to their living conditions and their general penchant for socialising (I sure did back then), they are much more likely than us grumpy loners in our big houses are to get infected. So we didn't join them in the bus! I had volunteered to follow the bus in my car, so the students were not unaccompanied. So I went to Bangor, welcomed the students, gave everyone a squirt of hand gel and checked their face masks before they would get onto the bus, and then got into my car and tried to keep up with the bus driver. I managed, and we got to the destination There we met the others: the other staff who had come in their own cars, and some students who had done the same. 

One student had heard along the way he had to self-isolate as he had been in the vicinity of someone who had tested positive. He bailed out of the trip and went for a walk. A pity! But with the rest we went on. We looked at the pillow lavas, the agglomerate produced when the volcanism creating the basalts was still messy, a volcanic bomb, and the boundary between sedimentary and volcanic rocks. These were outcrops for Dei and Jaco. And then we were hungry and sat down for lunch! 

After lunch it was my turn. We walked to the outcrop of limestone and I explained what it meant. I think it went well! I had practiced, after all. And then we went to the melange. That one was mine too! I tried to make them find all aspects of the Ocean Plate Stratigraphy in the mangled fragments there. A bit tricky as everything has been so deep! And then we were done. We were good to walk back. And we delivered the students back on time! 

I'm glad we got that fieldwork in! We can't be sure we can go again. We might be in lockdown again by the time we have the next one. I hope not! But time will tell... 

Jaco points out an interesting horizon

Me talking about the melange

03 October 2020

Starting the online lecturing

My first contact with the students was a 'meet your tutor' session during Welcome Week. It didn’t go well! My connection was poor and I struggled to have a meaningful conversation with the students. They were generally upbeat though; that was good. But I was worried. This was with only some seven students; how would it be with 50? Or 150?  Luckily I have my own helpdesk, and over the weekend I did what I could. Would it work?

I had my first official online teaching session on Monday at noon. I was a bit nervous! I had asked the students to watch a pre-recorded lecture, and had prepared things to do with the information in it. I would have some 50 students! I got into the session on time (you can get in 15 minutes in advance), uploaded files I would show, get my pre-types questions ready to copy and paste into polls I would do (you can't prepare them in the actual programme), and sorted the attendance monitoring. In a session you give the students a sort of PIN code they them feed into the attendance monitoring software and then they count as present. But with 50 students, everybody except me has their camera and microphone switched off, so they could in theory just enter the code and then go off for a run or something. But well, no system is water tight. The software worked! 

And then we started! There was still some confusion about what they had had to do and where to find that, but that was expected. It was the first day of term! Nobody was used to this. About 90% of students were there, and I did get a response if I asked things! I had hoped people would switch their microphones on and answer vocally when I asked something, and that didn't happen, but well, the chat works too. It's slower, but if that is what it takes I'll settle for it. 

I had enough material to fill the slot, and I think it went well, and at the end of it all I was so chuffed! It had gone so much better than expected. And the next time, the students would be more familiar with the practicalities. And you will always have students who haven't done the prep work; I mean, sometimes a session like that just creeps up on you. But I think this works! And as usual, you see the students for which this works; if there are ten whose internet connection is so unstable they can't meaningfully interact, you won't be able to tell. But I suppose it's the same with face to face teaching. They never all engage! So I think this can work. And I really like this format of information conveyance beforehand and information processing on the day. It has always been difficult to convince the students to do prep in advance, but I think it will become completely standard now! 

So all in all it was a good start of what education is now in 2020. One session down, gazillion to go! 

02 October 2020

More covering up of sartorial accidents

Five years ago I got silicone on my trousers. I decided I couldn't get it out, so I could cover it! I embroidered something over it. A foram, of course! These trousers have died since. But now they have a spiritual successor. 

When I was about to go to the Netherlands the last time, I noticed one pair of my shoes had sole problems. I briefly checked my other pair and decided they were good to go. I didn't check very thoroughly! That pair also had the sole coming off. Oh dear. Luckily my mother had glue. I tried to sort it! And glued everything else as well. Glue on my dress, glue on my jumper. Glue can be hard to remove from fabric! It didn't matter too much on the dress; that is patterned so a bit of glue doesn't stand out. But the jumper was monochrome so there it did. I tried freezing it so the glue would become brittle but that didn't work! So I went for my other solution: just hide it. So my needlework skills came out again! And this time the stain was elongated, and yes there are elongated forams, but I went for something abstract. I made a curl, but that looked a bit too much like a Nike swoosh, so I gave it a second curl. Sorted! Well, I suppose I need to tidy it up a bit still. But that jumper can last me for decades more now… 

Glue stain with outline of embroidery

Almost finished! Doesn't look professional, but doesn't look like glue anymore either...

Overseas helpdesk

I had Monique on videocall! It's always nice to catch up. And we did! We are both up to date now. But I also moaned about how slow my internet is, in spite of all my gadgets. And she actually lives in this century! So she immediately came up with several things I could do to 1) figure out what the problem was and 2) how to sort that. Good to have modern friends! As soon as we hung up I set to work. And think I managed to improve things already. Furthermore I found out you can get fibre internet at this address. I've ordered it! And they say there may be a bit of a wait but so be it. Better late than never! And then I may be ready for this. More ready than before, anyway! Stay tuned! My situation may improve... 

01 October 2020

Light from the past

Back in the nineties (!), I had a rather stylish addition to my interior! Or rather, maybe more a studentesque one. The local booze shop sold big bottles of beer, and not only was the beer nice, but the bottles were so big you could hand a lightbulb into them once you'd emptied them and use them as a lamp! The orange glass give a real nice warm glow. These lamps have come with me ever since. I can't really remember in which houses I have actually used them; until two years ago, I have been renting in the private sector and not all landlords are happy with that sort of addition! But I decided it was time to deploy one again. I like my living room cosy but functional. I had an awesome lamp in there, based on an antique milking machine bottle, but that was a standing lamp, and not a high one. It wasn't really good for reading as you sat in your own light! Something higher was needed. So a beer lamp!

I dug both the bottle and the light fixing out. I put a British plug on it and tried it. It didn't work! Hm. I tried a different bulb. Nothing! Oh dear. Some rewiring was needed. I found a left-over ceiling fitting, connected that to a lead and a plug, and tried that. That worked! I then put a light switch in between and tried again. Still worked! So I drilled a hole and hung up the lamp. Sorted! Now my living room is nicer than it was. With vintage accessories! And the milk lamp (I see a theme here) can move elsewhere. I suppose it's a decoration in itself! It doesn't even have to radiate light to do its job... 

Beer lamp in situ! 

Not on TV

A bit more than a year ago, when the world was entirely different, we had a TV crew in our dig. They belonged to the BBC programme 'Hidden Wales'. We took the presenter all the way to the work face! He was fearless and full of enthusiasm. And I had a go at being camerawoman. The real cameraman wasn’t keen to venture into territory like that! It was a good night.

The broadcast of the programme would be in spring. But spring brought different things. 

It’s autumn now and the series has been broadcast! I haven’t seen it as I don’t watch TV. But other people do, and they told me the entire dig hadn't made the final cut. A pity! But not a big deal. I still want to see the series some day; I really liked the first series! I’m sure it’ll come out on DVD or something...