09 May 2021

Welsh exam done by voice

Everything becomes more difficult if you can't use your hands. And when it comes to computer work, that holds especially if you're not doing that work in English. I had had loads of trouble with the Welsh dictation software, but even with that software working, I was quite crippled. If you are lucky and you articulate well, the software can get some six words out of ten correct. And then you are left to correct the rest in software that doesn't speak Welsh. That is a complete faff! So I was looking towards my upcoming Welsh exam a little bit of trepidation. I figured I would be okay on the Welsh. But would I be okay on the technology?

The weekend before the exam I tried out the software. It wants to check lots of things, and you can see if it all works under a false name. The software wants to check whether it is compatible with your operating system, with your microphone, and with your camera, and it wants to know if it can detect your face. And you need to do a room check. These exams are done at home, and everyone gets a remote invigilator, and these invigilators want to see your room, to see if you are not hiding any fluent Welsh speakers under your desk, or something. So I logged in under some generic name and managed the checks.

When the actual day came I was ready at my desk at 3:30. My exam would start at four, and from half an hour in advance onwards I could do these checks, now under my own name. So I went through the whole rigmarole. And then I got a screen that said my checks were being verified. And that screen stayed there. And stayed there. And stayed there. Would these checks actually be performed before the exam will officially start? Luckily, with only a few minutes to go, a message appeared, saying that if the text would not be complete by four, they would be performed in the background, and I could start on the actual exam. I wish they would have displayed that from the start! That would have saved me some worries.

The verification window that made me nervous

Another problem was that suddenly, the letter "D" didn't work anymore on my keyboard. No time to deal with that! As I don't normally type anyway, that seemed not such a big problem, but of course as my voice recognition software doesn't understand Welsh, it could prove annoying. But what can one do! We weren't allowed to login earlier then half an hour in advance, and if I would do the normal things you do to remediate problems, such as switching it off and on again, I would probably have to do the whole logging in process again, with these annoying checks. I left it as it was.

I started. The first part was to correct a text with purposeful mistakes in. I wanted to be fast with this, as I knew I would need lots of times with actual writing exercises. I did what I could, and then moved on.

The next part was to summarise an English text in Welsh. I was okay with that! You were not allowed to use many words, but as writing for me takes so long, that was okay for me. But even here, a complication arose. When I was sort of done, the software suddenly told me the exam was suspended. The screen froze and I couldn't do anything. I still had 41 minutes left! What was going on? I quickly emailed my invigilator. And after some type minutes, I was back. I now had two clocks ticking back the time. One that was still ticking back from 41 minutes; the other one hadn't stopped and was at some 35 minutes. I figured I should have the full 41 minutes.

The disconcerting message that my exam was suspended

I started on the free writing exercise. I had to support my employer in their imaginary application for the prize of "employer of the year". Yeah right! I decided to use it to vent some of my frustrations. I wrote about how fantastic the School was with regards to gender equality and ethnic diversity. If only! But I didn't get far. My Internet dropped. It only dropped for a short while, but I have to do the whole set of checks again. That also involved a pass code that I didn't have at hand as I didn't think I would need it after the initial login. I didn't keep my email open. That might not be in line with exam conditions! So that was more stress.

By the time I was back, time was short, and I decided I couldn't wait for my voice recognition software. I switched to typing as it is faster. But it wasn't very fast; I couldn't type a "D". Every time I accidentally did, the voice recognition software opened a dictation box. It's not supposed to do that! The actual shortcut for that is Ctrl+Shift+D. But it had a weird mood and now all it took was a d! That was really disruptive. In hindsight, I probably should have closed the entire voice recognition software. But I was under stress and didn't think of it. And then suddenly time was up. I had not been given the full 41 minutes! And everything that is not in the exam screen is lost then. And I was typing in Word. So some of it was lost. I only had some 63 words in a 300 words exercise! So there clearly was not good enough. Oh well.

I emailed my invigilator to say I had run out of time. I suppose I will have to try again next year! And for now, I was glad to close down the computer and go downstairs for dinner. I was tired, and my arms hurt after all that typing.

A few days later I bumped into the lady from Canolfan Bedwyr, who had helped me prepare for all this. I told her of my issues. And she said there had been lots of technical problems all over the country. She said there would be another try in early autumn for people who hadn't been able to do the exam now for such reasons. She didn't know if I would qualify as a person with technical problems. I would like to say I am! The RSI is not their fault, and neither is the faulty shortcut key, but the fact that my exam was halted for several minutes is maybe not their fault either, but it is their responsibility. So I would like to make my case. But we will see. If not, I can try again next spring. By then I surely hope I have functional arms again, and can just vibe the whole thing without having pain in my arms for days after.

I expect to hear I have failed soon, and that might be as well the moment to discuss a second chance in a few months' time. I have never failed the Welsh exam before! And I think I wouldn't have, if my arms would have worked. But that is life I suppose. No one said it was going to be fair!

08 May 2021

Last (half) fieldtrip of the year

We would have our last trip on Lligwy Beach, and on the day of my Welsh exam. And, as it so happens, on a day with a fair amount of predicted bad weather. Altogether, it could've been better. I had told Dei and Jaco I had my Welsh exam, so I would have to leave earlier.

On the actual day, I drove through the rain to the parking lot where we had gathered before. There was nobody there. 

A while later, there was still nobody there. I was wondering if something had gone wrong. I knew there was another car park. Were they there? I had a look. I could see that car park if I walked to the last dune before the beach. I was sure I would see two buses if they appeared! I wasn't so sure about the cars of Dei and Jaco. To be sure, I texted them.

I used my time to drink coffee and have a sandwich. I didn't think there would be time for that for a bit! Then I had another look. I saw two little figures in very visible jackets. That looked like Dei and Jaco. I phoned them. There was no reply. I sort of figured that if they realised I wasn't there, they would keep an eye on their phones. But by now I wondered if they didn't think I was going to be there at all. Should I just go there? Seemed a bit silly as they would have to walk past me to get to the beach.

Finally I got Dei on the phone. He admitted he thought I wasn't going to come at all. Great. I could have stayed at home! Instead, I was now walking through rain and hail to a bunch of students and staff they didn't even need me there. I was a bit grumpy. I could've prepared for my exam instead. It is quite easy to end up as a sort of a fifth wheel on trips like this, and this trip seemed to be exceptionally suited for a situation like that.

I got there, and in the pouring rain Dei and Jaco gave an introduction on the trip. Then we set off. The idea was that Jaco would first talk to students through the sedimentology of the outcrop, and then we would have the students measure the dip of the sediment beds, as they were deformed. There was published article about this beach, which suggests that the structural geology was quite complex. We, on the other hand, thought it was fairly simple.

We walked the end of the beach, and Jaco had to students look at the sandstones and the muds. He had them look at the conglomerates and the lateral extent. He had them look at the internal structure, and what it meant.

This took a while. While looking at all that, we made our way back to the start of the beach. He did draw attention to the inclination of the beds while we were moving along the section. We also pointed out desiccation cracks. But by then it was pretty much lunchtime. Only after that vote the students that measuring bedding planes.

I had pretty much not opened my mouth the whole morning. I had enjoyed the geological excursion, though. Jaco was pointing things out that I hadn't seen before; partly because he had done another recce without us, and partly because he just noticed new things and draw attention to those. I have been quite grumpy but I was feeling better now. And the sun has come through! That was better than the rain and hail.

I had my sandwich and my apple and my tea and I left. Time to get ready for my exam! This was a bit of an anti-climax to the module but so be it. Next year will be better!

 Pretty bridge between the two parking lots

Beautiful sedimentary rocks on the beach

07 May 2021

Uncertain welcome week - again

Last year it was unclear until rather late in the game what we were and were not allowed to do in Welcome Week. And it looks like this year, that'll happen again. I suppose the uncertainty is less now, as the situation in the entire country has become a lot less severe. And in the Bangor area, vaccination is moving fast. I expect that all the staff have now had their first inoculation, and I think they have started on the students as well. And Welcome Week is not until mid to late September, so there is a lot of time to vaccinate loads more people. I imagine that the students, the Peer Guides and the general population will all be less nervous about Covid by then. So I suppose we will be able to do a lot more things than last year! Things such as Peer Guides knocking on the doors of their freshers to go and introduce themselves, and check if everything is okay. Last year, that couldn't happen. And we might be able to do the trip to the beach. And they can go to the pub! So I really hope it will be more like a "normal" year. But it's only May, and a lot can change in a few months. Watch this space! At least organisation has started…

06 May 2021

Social weekend in spite of extension and exam

My main task for the weekend had been to finish painting the extension. I wanted the round that off! And I also was aware of my upcoming Welsh exam. The Tuesday after, I was supposed to finally do the written part of my Welsh qualification, of which I had done the oral part before the pandemic. And preparation had been severely hampered by the problems with the Welsh dictation software. I wasn't particularly prepared! But I still had the weekend.

One would assume that that would be enough to fill the weekend, but I also wanted to do at least something social. Then it became more than I had expected. And it was great! On Saturday, I spent the morning walking with Dani. We didn't go far, but even nearby, the environment is amazing. And it was good to see her. On Sunday, I went walking with Kate; we scampered up Ro Wen from Dolwyddelan. That was great too! The Ogwen Valley was packed, but where we were we didn't see a soul until we were pretty much back in the village. And in the afternoon I popped by Martin and Fran again. We did another round of drinking tea in the sun! And I brought cake. And the weather was so good even the cat came out to join us.

Image from my walk with Dani

View on Moel Siabod

On my way to Ro Wen with Kate

 the top

Dolwyddelan looking good from above

So what about painting and Welsh? Well; I did manage to finish the painting. On Sunday I finished everything except the slat above the window. And on Monday morning 7 AM I finished that! It was still just about dry then, and the rest of the day it would be hammering down. I figured it was okay to paint it as it was well protected underneath the edge of the roof. So that's sorted now! Now I need to wait for another spell of dry weather, and some free time, to caulk the edges. And then I can put my rope back into the garage and admire my work from a distance! And rest easily for a few years as I think that will be it regarding maintenance for such an amount of time.

And the Welsh? I made sure I had read the documentation of the exam, and had done some old papers. Or at least; partially done them. When it came to the writing exercises I figured I should mainly wing it. If you want to prepare for that, you need to revise ALL your Welsh, and there was no time for that. I had also done the hardware check under a pseudonym. Everything seemed to work! Now let's hope it would also work on the actual day…

So in the end I hope I will look back on it as a good balance between chores and being social! I think I will…

05 May 2021

Sort out the Welsh voice recognition software

This post should have been published a while ago! I seem to have forgot. I had a chat with Stefano on the 12th, and with the information I gave him the went back to the programmers to see if they could sort things. We chatted again on the 15th. And then on the 19th. And on the 21st, I was sent another download link. I installed that version of the program, and hey presto, it worked! Only a short while before my exam, but it worked now. And I could send emails in Welsh again to my Welsh-speaking colleagues (mainly outside the school, of course). Hurray!

Original post:

I had been really happy to be able to use Welsh voice recognition software, as that allowed me to keep doing Welsh things, such as writing emails in Welsh, and mark Welsh language assignments. But it didn't last! At some point it stopped working. And that happened in a rather busy time, so I postponed trying to deal with it. And by the time I was ready to deal with it, the University had gone into the Easter break. So nobody was available to help me! But the Easter break came to an end, and the language centre was open again.

I quickly had a meeting with Stefano, the bloke who had introduced me to it in the first place. He asked me to send a few screenshots of error messages; he then shared them with a guy called Dewi, who knows more about the software. He came with a suggestion, but that didn't work. So we had to go back to square one.

I had another meeting with Stefano, and we tried several things, and some point he had the brilliant idea of checking whether I had been using various versions of the software. And I had! So we uninstalled the new version and installed the old one. Such a simple idea. I suppose I could have thought of that myself, but I clearly didn't. And Stefano said he thought that with that knowledge, and concomitant screenshots, Dewi would be able to think of something clever to fix my newer version. That one seems to have a much bigger vocabulary, so it would be nice if I can use that.

I do hope I can get the new version of working some day, but for now I am merely happy I have some working software again! I have a big exam coming up, and I wouldn't be able to do that without Welsh voice recognition software. It will already be difficult enough WITH the software; without it, it would be impossible.

04 May 2021

Teaching coming to an end

Once you have reached Easter, you have broken the back of the academic year! There tend to be only a few weeks of teaching after the Easter break, and then the exam period starts. We had three weeks between the two this year; in these weeks, we had lots of student presentations, and field trips, either real or virtual. I didn't have any more discussion sessions based on lectures. That had all been rounded off before!

A task that came up quite abruptly in that time was that we were asked to file our timetabling requests for the coming academic year. The interesting thing is that that request came before management had got around to thinking about who should teach what, when and how, but I suppose now it will be pragmatism that decides that. We'll have to make executive decisions on what to request.

When the last fieldtrip will have been rounded off, we have reached the marking period. I have a big, big pile of dissertations to mark. And there will be exam marking coming up soon. And by then the next academic year should be taking shape…

03 May 2021

Rig for paint

I had a 19 rung ladder to try to paint the top right corner of the wall of my extension. And it wasn't quite enough! Ideally, you don't stand on the top few rungs. If you do, then not only are you at risk of falling off, but also you have your face right at the wall. That's not ideal! So I was thinking about what to do about that. And I had a brilliant idea.

I made most of the painting work safe using my mine exploration rope as a handline. And that worked. But it is a 50 m rope, so there is a lot more to it. And then I figured I could use the entire extension as an anchor. What if I would lead the one end of the rope that was not in use out the front door, and then over the flat roof of the extension, and down on the other side? Then I had a rope I could attach myself to. And that would not solve the having-your-nose-against-the-wall issue, but it would solve the problem of potentially falling off. And that was the most important issue.

One evening I tried to harness my inner cowboy, and try to throw the end of the rope over the roof. That didn't work! I didn't manage to throw it far enough. I couldn't swing out much, as Neuadd Ogwen was in the way. So I postponed the whole thing a bit.

After work on Friday I had another go. I just put a ladder against the extension (at the front) and that way I did manage to get the rope over the roof. I could start scraping the top right planks! And so I did. It wasn't a big area I now had to cover, so it didn't take an awful lot of time. Even though it was a little bit awkward, standing so close to the wall. And the highest bits were still a bit difficult to get to. But I did it! And then I sanded it, and wiped it clean. And applied a layer of primer. Even though for the rest of the wall, that was the easy bit, here it wasn't the case. I have to hold the can of paint with one hand and the paint brush with the other. When I am scraping or sanding I only need one hand, and that makes it easier. But I did do it in the end. Success!

Adding the two coats of actual paint will also be awkward, but should be doable. Then I am not quite done; I still have to do the slat above the window. Some of that I want to do from inside the window. Why not! And then I have to caulk the whole thing. So this won't yet be the last blog post about this. But I think I will have a good sense of accomplishment when it is all finished!

the rig inside the bedroom

   not much to see at the front!

and what it was all about: safety on top of the ladder

02 May 2021

Tooth repaired - again

About 5 1/2 years ago, I had one of my lower incisors repaired. They crumble a bit! And a few weeks ago, I was eating a sandwich, and I was doing it a bit clumsily, and I felt another bit come off, this time from the other tooth. It looked like I had to go back and have some repair done on this other incisor! It wasn't a big piece that had come off, but I remembered how much better it felt when the left incisor had been repaired. And when I went to the dentist for my regular checkup (well, not so regular in pandemic times) he had a look. He said the earlier repair was already showing cracks itself, but that was more than five years ago, so I figured it had done a fair job. If I could have this tooth repaired, and that holding for more than five years, then I figured that was worth it. My teeth are becoming increasingly artificial, but I think it is still well within limits!

My teeth are all even again now, and not crumbly. It feels good. I hope that means I am indeed sorted for at least the coming six years…

01 May 2021

Second last fieldtrip of the year

 Our fieldwork module was coming to an end! We were about to do the second last of our day trips. And this one went to Rhosneigr. We would do two loops there; one around the small local lake, and then one over the beach. By the lake we could see granite intrusions, and the contact metamorphism that resulted from it. These granites are more then 600 million years old! Not at all the oldest rocks we had stood on; that had been about 800 million years old. But still quite respectable. Wales was still part of a continent on the south pole when that was formed.

On the other side of the lake we saw Ordovician sandstones. These are some 125 million years younger. Life had changed by then! We had almost crossed an Ocean by then. And the bit further on they turned into beautiful conglomerates, where Jaco did an impromptu lecture about transport of gravel by seawater. And we decided to have lunch there.

After lunch we went to the beach to look at the beautifully deformed muds and sands. If you want to see textbook examples of folding and cleavage, then go there!

When we were done on the beach we were done altogether. And then only the trip to Lligwy beach was still to come. That would be the week after. And that would be it for this year with regards to fieldtrips. Last year, we hadn't got past this trip, as by then the lockdown happened. I suppose that given the pandemic has by no means gone away, we had managed quite well this year with these trips!

Llyn Maelog

Lovely Ordovician conglomerate

30 April 2021

Territorial wars

I knew my garden was frequented by cats, even before I had one myself. So I figured it might be the stage for some territorial wars when I added a cat to this ensemble. I especially assumed the cat that lives at number 14, with the lady who runs the local chippy, could prove a challenge. And I was right.

That cat (I don't know her name) is also a tabby with white feet and a white belly. And I noticed she would still be brazenly stalking around the garden after Mevrouw Moor had taken up domicile in my house. Sometimes I would see her in the corner of my eye, assume it was my cat, and greet her, before realising it wasn't my cat at all.

The first time I realised there was indeed some sort of war going on was when it was dark outside, and I heard cats scream. Soon afterwards the cat came in through the catflap. She was coughing; I think she had screamed herself hoarse. I could only assume who her adversary had been. But later I have caught them at it. I once heard screaming, saw the both of them, and saw my cat scamper indoors. Not so difficult to see who had the upper hand there.

When I took the pictures below, I think we both saw the cat of number 14 through the glass. I grabbed my camera while Mevrouw Moor started hissing in the direction of the glass. So brave! The other cat growled back. But she wasn't going anywhere.

Mevrouw Moor made herself comfortable and did a bit more hissing. She started out hissing through the glass of the door, but later switched to hissing through the catflap. I think she knows very well it is a chip-activated specimen, and the other cat can't come in. So she was safe. But she looked on while the other cat marked her territory. That must have been difficult to see! But if you won't defend your territory, that's what you get. My cat is a lot more athletic than the other one, but I think the other one is much more ruthless. I'm not sure I would dare take that one on if I were her. And I got some funny pictures out of it. I think that territory won't be hers anytime soon…

Intruder spotted!

Bravely hissing through the catflap at a not very impressed adversary

 Stare-down contest

29 April 2021

Sneak in another footpath

If you do your exercise on a bike, you don't necessarily have to stay on top of it. So in the weekend after a lot of scraping, sanding, and painting I decided to go for a bike ride, and then check out a few nearby public footpaths I hadn't tried yet, when I was using lockdown to familiarise myself with pretty much all of them. These are the sort you are not likely to do from my front door. And it was lovely weather. They weren't very long, but now I have seen them too. There are a few more in that direction, so I might do it more often. I find it is a nice way of scouting out the environment while getting my exercise and not spending too much time on it. I could imagine me becoming a bit more varied in my exercise in the slightly longer run. With a combination of biking and running. And maybe even sometimes a combination of both!

28 April 2021

progress with painting

When I started painting the extension, I soon finished all the woodwork to the left of the window. The top plank had been a bit of a challenge, but otherwise, this was the easy bit. I was working on a wide ledge, wide enough for my ammunitions box to function as a stepladder, and I was tethered comfortably to my handline. And then the next phase loomed.

The next stage would be the planks that run the entire width of the extension underneath the window. That meant that the further to the right I went, the narrower the ledge would be, and as soon as I would reach the bedroom window, I would not be underneath my handline anymore. So this would be harder! But there was help at hand.

I was just parking my bike in the garage when the neighbour approached me. He said he would be away for a few days, but if I wanted to use any of his ladders in the meantime I could just help myself. Normally he has them chained down, but because he knew I was painting he had taken the chain off. That was very kind of him!

That next day I took him up on his word. I took the longest ladder from the wall, carried it into my garden, carried it up the garden stairs, lifted it over the fence, and put it upright where I needed it. The thing about long ladders is that they don't go around the corner very easily! But I got it there. And I tried it out. And it gave me excellent access to the woodwork above the very narrow part of the ledge. That's a win!

With that ladder in position I could make good progress. By now I had put my Petzl Connect to use, and I quickly found out I could safely move between the ledge and the ladder. That made for fast work! Within not an awful of time I had scraped all the woodwork below the window. I did have to insert a little piece of wood where the original plank had been rotting, but that was done in less time than I feared. Sanding all the wood, wiping it and then applying a layer of primer is a relative doddle. And as soon as that layer of primer is in position, then not only does it already look good, but the wood has its first layer of protection.

I had realised the ladder was not high enough for me to safely reach the higher planks. And the neighbour has more ladders where this came from, so in theory I could just add one, but I was hesitant to do that as one ladder of this size is already quite something to deal with. I feared I would drop a second ladder through his window if I would try to stack it on top of the first. But there are more ways of getting to height. Stay tuned for how I will solve this last challenge! For now at least I had provided most of the surface area with enough protection to make me feel better. When I write this, it needs one more coat of paint, but that is only half-an-hour worth of work. I'm sure I can squeeze it in one day…

This helps!


27 April 2021

Project water butt: part one

When I bought the house, I noticed it had a water butt. Very useful! But what was weird about it is that it had no influx of water. It just stood there, more then a metre away from where the gutters drained the roof. That seemed weird. Should the gutters not drain into the water butt? That's the whole point, isn't it? And I had figured I should change that one day, but I had loads of more important things to do than worrying about relatively trivial things like this. So the butt stayed where it was for three years.

As I had been sowing flowers, and had spread some grass seed where I had bold patches, and had bought new plants for my new raised bed, I had a lot of watering to do. And that meant I was quickly emptying it. And I thought maybe this was the time then to move it. When it was almost empty, and the remaining water was very dirty, I emptied it into the drain. And then I had to find a way to place it closer to the drain, and raise it high enough above the ground so that little tap on it would have some use. I had initially thought of blocks of slate (of course), but then I thought of the chimney pot (or whatever it is) I had found in the chaos of the garden. It didn't seem to be good for anything else, so it was worth the try. I wanted to increase the surface area for the water butt though, so I figured some slate could go on top. When I had been fighting chaos in the upper garden, I had also removed some ferns, and these had revealed some buried pieces of slate. These might actually do the job! So I stacked these on top. They were not sufficiently equal in thickness, though, so I went down to the waterside to find an additional piece of slate to make up the difference. And I found one!

I moved the rhododendron into the corner where the water butt had been, and created my special water butt table. It seemed stable! And it was high enough for my big watering to fit can underneath. And now it was right next to the guttering.

I threw a few watering cans full of river water in it. This is North Wales; if I would not weigh it down it might blow away in the next gale. And so far I am happy with my setup! And then I will see when I have time for a stage II: attaching it to the guttering…

  its original position

 its new position; high enough to fill a watering can, and close to the gutter

26 April 2021

Arm improvements!

My arms had clearly been getting better. After the initial stage when pretty much everything hurt, I had already made so much progress I could drive without any pain, and later even ride my bike without any pain. I generally was able again to do things that rely heavier on raw strength than on fine motoric skills. So after not having been able to do things like paint a fence or rip a tree out of the ground in the time when I was off on sick leave, I was now on a roll and doing all these things that needed doing in the house and the garden. But I was still entirely dependent on my voice when working my computer.

I remember that back in the days, when I was writing up my PhD and had RSI as well, I would often go kayaking in a nearby park, as back then I never lost the ability to do activities that require strength. And I figured it was probably good to get some blood circulation going on in my arms. I still think it might have helped! But this time, of course, my RSI was much worse, so I was much more restricted.

Initially, any use of mouse, keyboard or graphic tablet would hurt, and will keep hurting for a long time. Then in spring things were going so well (after some physiotherapy) that I noticed I was starting to use my mouse again now and then. And that was clearly a bad idea! That quickly got me back into 24 hour pain. I decided to physically remove my mouse from my desk, so even if the working the computer by voice was cumbersome, I would not be tempted to use it. And that helped; soon I was not having pain in my mouse arm again. It did make me wonder, though, if I would ever recover. I've been trying to recover now since November! Shouldn't there be some progress by now?

I just kept on with the exercises, though. And then it started to pay off! Finally! My setup is that I have a mouse on the left and my graphic tablet on the right. I still avoid the mouse. But I noticed I could use the tablet a bit without repercussions. And that is such a help! That makes it so easy to get your cursor to where it needs to be. So now my working speed has seriously improved! And my optimism about whether I will ever be back to normal as well! So many months in, but I am seeing progress. I can now even use software that is a bit clunky by voice recognition software. I will keep doing my exercises and I hope one day I can even use the mouse again! That would be the day!

And increasingly common sight

25 April 2021

Too old to run

I am being facetious; I am sure I am not too old to run. But this week it felt a bit like that. Only very recently I had started to have to stretch on a regular basis, as otherwise my bum would seize up during my runs. And now I had a niggle in my left knee. I don't know what it is; I don't think it is anything serious, but I thought it might be better to give the knee a bit of a rest. I don't want to give myself a rest altogether, though, so I decided to do a few days of exercise on my bike. And I just took one of my somewhat longer loops on country roads that I normally run, and just biked it. It is less exercise on bike, of course, as when you are going downhill you don't do anything. But I could imagine it is not that much less than one of my somewhat shorter runs. After all, I am not only lugging myself up these hills, but also my 20 kg bicycle. I am not going on the road bike on purpose; one reason is that when you go uphill, you have bigger gears, which makes it heavy going. Yes I know this is exercise, but it has to stay fun as well. And when you go downhill, you'll bounce all over the place. The road bike is quite rigid with tiny tyres, so if you hit a bit of a pothole you get catapulted into space. On my commute that's not much of an issue, as most of it is quite well-paved. But these little country lanes can be a bit more variable in quality.

It was actually quite pleasant. I did it three days in a row, and by the third day I actually managed to remember to wear cycling glasses, to keep the insects out of my eyes. On the fourth day I had to get tested in Bangor so I wheeled out the road bike again. Almost a week of biking! But I'll try to run again soon. I want to know what this knee can and cannot do. And if this problem doesn't go away on its own initiative I might have to see if I can find a physiotherapist for it…

24 April 2021

Extension repaired after all!

 On Saturday, I was frustrated that the men who should repair my extension hadn't shown up, and hadn't answered their phone. I had phoned 16 times. I was wilfully ignored! But then, on Monday, I suddenly got a text again. They could come the next day! And I thought they had been rude, but what I really want is my extension repaired, so if they were still on it, then so was I. I said okay.

They arrived too late, but then they set to work. I couldn't see what they were doing, as I had to teach. But I could hear them hammering away in the background. And then I was done teaching I came to have a look. And they were almost done! And it looked fine!

I had discussed with them whether they would use wood or plastic, and even though I really like wood and really don't like plastic, I had already started painting the extension. And I knew it was a devilish task to paint the upper planks. It was really not doable for me to maintain any wood any higher than that. So I opted for plastic! That would last a fair number of years, and would not need maintenance. And when it would eventually degrade anyway, I could just hire these men, or equivalents, and have the work redone. It doesn't seem to be too much work! So it came with delays and frustration, but now at least the top 20 cm or so of the extension is weatherproof again…

23 April 2021

Arenig Fawr

 I had spent the Saturday waiting for workmen who didn't show up. That had been frustrating! It had been a beautiful day, and we have only been allowed to see people socially for a short while, and it felt really wrong to waste a beautiful day like that. But luckily, Kate was available for the first part of the day on Sunday as well, so I still got a lovely walk in good company in. As she had to go elsewhere afterwards, I suggested we stay in her area. For me there is still a lot to explore there! She had suggested three options that were all new to me, and I chose Arenig Fawr. 

As I drove through her village to get there, we ended up driving in convoy. And we found the starting point.

We booted up and set off. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day again! And I really needed that walk.
We started with lovely views on an abandoned quarry, and did some bushwhacking towards the top. The top turned out to be really pretty! It looked a bit moon-like. We had lunch at the top.
On the way down to a bit of a roundabout way, around the reservoir there. It was a lovely walk! I really appreciated her idea.

We were back at the cars at 1 PM. Early enough for her to go where she needed to go! And late enough for me to feel like I had had a proper day out. And I added a small bonus: I decided to stop for another sandwich in the completely empty landscape just south of Penmachno. I had driven through that many times, and every time I am amazed by the sheer amounts of nothing you see there. So now I wanted to finish my last flask of water and my last sandwich looking at it at leisure. A very successful day altogether!
Remnants of a bridge

Lovely quarry

Kate in front of the summit

The moon-like landscape

The view roughly south from the top

 the way down

The completely empty landscape just south of Penmachno

22 April 2021

Starting painting the extension

When the repairmen didn't show up, I decided to do something useful with my day. And with them not showing up, I had the extension to myself. So I popped to the local builders' merchant and got me some paint. And then started the work.

The first thing I needed to do was make sure I could do anything safely. You have to stand on a ledge above a considerable drop in order to do work on the extension. And when you're working, you're not focusing on staying up there. So I wanted to be secured. And I had figured I could do that by running my climbing rope from the bedroom window to a window in the conservatory. I could use that as a handline I could clip into. So I made my first rig! I retrieved my climbing gear from downstairs and improvise something. It was sufficient.

The ridge I have to stand on gets progressively narrower when you go further right. When you go to the right of the bedroom window, you are also not secured to anything above your centre of gravity anymore. I can of course still be attached to my handline, but at quite an angle, so were I to fall I would swing out quite a lot. I'm not so keen. I like my tether to be vertical, going up from where it is attached to me! I'm not so keen on horizontal tethers. So I decided to start on the left. I supposed it made sense to first get comfortable where it was still easy, and then build up my confidence as I moved further right. I mean, I have done much more dangerous things either underground or on climbing walls, but thanks to Corona that was quite a while ago, and additionally; then I tend to be able to concentrate on navigating the circumstances. Now I would be busily waving a paint scraper around.

Starting on the left also meant I had to bring something in that would increase my height. I can't reach the top planks! So I dragged my ammunition box out of the garage and put that on the ledge. That would give me enough height! This wouldn't work on the right, as the ledge is too narrow, but I will deal with that once I get there.

With my handline and my ammunition box in position, I could don my overalls and set to work. I first had to remove as much of the pesky vegetation as I could. I had already done around of removing ivy when I still had hope that the previous set of workmen would actually show up and go do the work, but the thing with vegetation is that it grows back. But it was quite easy to remove quite a lot of it. Then I could start paying attention to the paint. It was flaking like nothing on Earth. So I scraped and I sanded. And after a considerable effort I put on a layer of primer on the first four planks! A start had be made. I am just tackling the situation plank by plank. Once I have one or more planks (four if they are at the level of the window and therefore very short; just one if it's one of the continuous ones underneath the window) ready for paint, I just paint it. So at some point I had four planks with the first layer of paint, four planks with only a layer of primer, and several planks partially scraped. That way I will slowly make my way from the left to the right. And then I have to do some caulking.

I also improve my rig as I moved along. I had first just connected two knots with a carabiner, but I later made a rig that is easier to keep at tension. And I traded my cow's tails for a Petzl connect, which is easily adjustable. And I pondered about improved rigging on the right. Stay tuned for that!

Altogether this will take me a while! But then I have an extension wall that is ready to face the harsh Welsh weather again for a few years. And it doesn't look particularly good; I suppose in order to achieve that I should have used paint stripper, or something along those lines, to really get rid of all the old paint, but I can't be asked. This is only for durability, not for looks!

 the situation before I started

The flaking paint and my first safety measures

me doing some scraping. Picture by the neighbour.

 using the bedroom as an anchor

First results 

21 April 2021

Failing to get the extension repaired

When I bought the house, the extension was already in need of some repair. Some of the wood was very rotten, and the paint was flaking off like it was going out of fashion. And I had asked the bloke who had sorted out my plastering, and the roof of my garage, to sort this too. He may have been a plasterer himself, but he clearly also could do project management, and subcontract roofers and whatnot. But he had stood me up on this job. Multiple times!

With the peak of the pandemic hopefully over, and spring having come with its warmer and drier weather, I thought it was a good idea to give it another go. I would just try to get someone else to do it. And I saw two vans driving around, with lettering on them that suggested the owners of the vans did exactly this kind of work, so I looked them up and gave them a ring. Both came to have a look. One got the job.

He was supposed to come one Friday. And he didn't! He then said he could come on Saturday. But he didn't. I phoned him. And phoned him. And phoned him. Nothing! And I was really grumpy, as it was a beautiful day, and I had been contacted by two friends about meeting up. I had said that I was not available on the Saturday. We have only been allowed to see people for such a short time! So keeping my Saturday free for a bloke who didn't show up was rather frustrating. But getting angry doesn't help, so instead I went to the local builder's merchant and bought some ingredients for some DIY. If I can't get anybody else to do things, at least I can do things myself. I can't do the repairs of the wood, but I can make a start on repainting the outside! And I have plans for the water butt as well.

I might have to go and scout out tradesmen again. Will this work ever be done?

The brown-painted wood and the horizontal stuff underneath are where a problem is

The state of the wood

20 April 2021

Marking the bicentenary

Last year, Bethesda was 200 years old! But it was not a good year for celebrations. This year actually isn't either, but one has to make do. So this year the village got some stuff organised. One of the initiatives is that they put out a call for pictures of the Bethesda High Street. If they were old pictures they wanted to recreate the modern versions. I didn't know what they were going to do with it, but that became clear!

Another thing that happened was a series of lectures. I assume that in normal times, they would probably have organised them in Neuadd Ogwen, but as it is 2021 they were done on zoom.

On Friday evening I made sure to be ready for the lecture on the development of Bethesda. There have been villages in this area since forever, but Bethesda as we know it now started with the road from London to Dublin (which is now known as the A5) being built. Slate quarrying was already happening in the area, so as soon as the road was there, someone built a chapel along it. That chapel was called Bethesda, after the pools where miraculous healings took place in Jerusalem, according to the Bible. The area had before been known as Glanogwen, but now it became Bethesda. And within no time there was a pub called "the Star", where the parking lot is now. And some 20 years later, my house was built.

The lecture spoke of the three estates that cover the area that is now greater Bethesda; Penrhyn, Coetmor and Cefnfaes. The speaker went into detail on the planning, and the division between the areas of the village that are on the various estates, and such things. He said that that legacy is still there, and he was pleading for somehow connecting them better nowadays. He suggested the site of the old Pant Dreiniog slate quarry, which is now mainly a field for walking your dog, could be used for that. And he was wary of increasing tourism, as he feared the village could turn into some sort of St Ives, where way too many of the houses are holiday lets. He also wanted more connections with Jamaica. In case that connection is not evident; the lords Penrhyn made their fortune with sugar plantations in Jamaica. I'm sure they added generously to their fortune with slate quarrying, but without the slave labour in the Caribbean they wouldn't have been able to buy up all the small slate quarries that they turned into one big one. And he figured we have the debt here!

After the lecture I went out onto the high street, as I had seen an announcement of the various pictures of the high street (and other areas) being projected on the gable end of the local charity shop. That was quite beautiful!

It is all a bit improvised. I suppose some mass gathering would have been nice, as local cohesion is important in this context. But maybe we can still do that once it is a good idea again!

 from the presentation

19 April 2021

More plants

 When I had to go to Anglesey anyway, I popped by the garden centre on the way back. It was time to buy some plants to fill the raised bed in the upper garden. And I wanted to fill some voids in the lower garden is well. So I loaded up the boot with plants that I found pretty and that seemed to fit the circumstances of my garden.

I put them all in then I hope they will all grow up to be big happy plants. I hope this part of the garden will soon look a bit more mature!

18 April 2021

Structural Recce

The easter break is over, and soon we will be going back into the field with the students again. One of our upcoming trips is to Traeth Lligwy; a beach on Anglesey where Old Red Sandstone is exposed. I had been there for a recce a long, long time ago, but for some reason I had never actually done the trip. And it seemed that the last time, things didn't quite work out for some reason. So we wanted to go and have a look before we would go there with the students, to check we know exactly what to do with them and where. Just show them the lithology? Let them measure it? Something else?

We were supposed to go on a Wednesday, but one of us had forgot to put that in the diary, so we had to move to Thursday. That was fine; the weather was equally nice. So I drove up and walked onto the beach. Dei would already be there with a GPS. He was already measuring the lithology; the sandstone beds and finer beds, which are really clearly seen in outcrop, have been deformed, and you can measure strike and dip of the beds over the width of the beach, and get a clear idea of what is going on. So when I found him I joined him. We were a bit confused; there are also fault zones in the lithology, and they complicate everything. And sometimes you think there might be one without being able to detect it, because the inclination of the beds just changes in strange ways.

After a while Jaco appeared too. As this is a sedimentary environment, this is his cup of tea. No microfossils for me, and no geophysics for Dei! We went through the whole section together. Some of his confused us; we had an article about this very section, but we couldn't match up will do so in the field with what we saw in the article. That is unusual!

We figured we would ask the students to indeed measure the inclination of the beds over the width of the beach. Maybe they would get an idea of the overall structure that way. But we will make sure we also have some time for looking at the lithology. It has all been deposited in an arid environment in the Devonian. You get to see channels, and channel overspill, and surface processes, and material affected by the surface processes then ripped out again by a flash flood and redeposited in very messy layers. A lot to look at!

I think we can pull this one off. And I really hope we have the same kind of weather when we get there with the students!

I think this beach has been eroding; this access ramp is only milddly fit for purpose

Dei with his GPS on the red sandstones

The deformation of the beds