31 January 2021

Lockdown flour

 Since I bought my bread machine, I haven't bought bread. So I obviously was a bit nervous when the lockdown baking bonanza resulted in flour shortages. A closed pizzeria selling off their flour kept me ticking over for a bit, but I was glad when I could buy a big bag of wholemeal flour online. But then it was only me, having to use up all this flour! I gave it a good go, but I recently noticed the flower was getting clumpy, and now it has started smelling (and tasting) a bit off. So it is time to get rid of it! I didn't quite reach the end of it. I think I managed to eat about 90% of it, or maybe even a bit more! Not bad. I will spread what's left out in the garden; it's just grain, so organic carbon, so I suppose in a way it is fertiliser now. And then I'll try to buy my flour again in and if I can't, then there's the local shop who started selling a wider variety of flour once the initial shortage had abated, but people were still doing lots of home baking. So I'll be fine! And the big bag has got me through most of a year. Thank you, farmers and millers and retailers! Here's to more lockdown with freshly baked bread…

30 January 2021

Lunch walk in the snow

On one grey Saturday, I had been wondering what I would do on the Sunday. That was going to be another grey day. But then I saw that the forecast for the Monday was amazing. So I decided I was just going to stay at home (except for my daily run) on the Sunday, and get some work done, so I would feel comfortable with escaping into the sun on Monday! And so I did. And on Monday I got my bag ready while it was still dark. And then they became light. And it was the greyest day ever! That was a disappointment. I went to the office after all.

It did slowly clear up a bit, though. And by the time it was lunchtime it was sunny! So I grabbed my bag after all and set off in the direction of Gyrn Wigau to have my lunch in the sun, looking out over snow! I like having lunch outside.

I managed to lose my glove on the way out and find it back on the way back, and I wasn't gone for very long, but I was glad I had made it into the sun. The next day it was going to be grey again! And the one after that, and the one after that… And I appreciate grey days too, but if you get one sunny day in goodness knows how many weeks, it's nice to enjoy it!

29 January 2021

Work attire

 In the olden days, I would wear shoes at work. As you do! But things change. As everybody else, I have gone off shoes. I now wear shoes for my daily runs, for my occasional walks, and for going to the shop. And the occasional other errand I have, like popping to campus or to the blood bank. So all in all, on a typical day I only wear shoes for about an hour. And the rest of the time I'm in indoor footwear! And I quite like it. While the weather was still okay I was just pottering around on my crocs, but when the weather got colder I moved to the lovely slippers I had bought way back in Norway. In Norway, you don't wear shoes indoors. You just don't! And it can be cold there, in case that needs pointing out. They never got this amount of wear, not even in Norway. I had to repair the soles as they were wearing through! When spring hits I'll go back to crocs. And then the question is: when will I go back to shoes? When will I go back to the office? I don't think that'll happen this academic year. But I will be comfy in my WFH attire!

28 January 2021

Phone mishap

 I was so happy when I got my current phone! I couldn't get on with my Samsung. And I had gone back to a very old iPhone model, but that one was really ready for retirement. And now I had something I liked again! But I am not always sufficiently careful with technology. I had already bent this one. It still worked, though!

One day, however, I went for a run, and I knew there would be a lot of snow on the hills so I was wondering if I should take a camera. And I have been mainly using my phone for that purpose in the recent months. So I put my phone in my pocket. It is January; it is now almost by definition so cold I wear a jacket of some description on my runs, and these have pockets. I have been bringing my phone more often recently. But this time, and you guessed it, I forgot to zip up the pocket. So I was only 100 m from home or so, and the phone came bouncing out of the pocket. It fell right in front of my feet, face down! I couldn't avoid stepping on it. And glass doesn't like being stepped on when it is lying on asphalt. So the front was entirely shattered. Shit! My lovely phone! And I am not up for renewal until somewhere in autumn. I probably have to go back to the awful awful Samsung again. Although I am going to dig deep in my memory to see if I can remember the password of that very very old other iPhone! And I should Google if you can have them reset to factory settings if you can't remember the password. That is a bit dodgy; that is exactly what you would do with a stolen iPhone. But I'm sure there are more people like me who just go back to their old phone but assumed at the time they would remember the passcode. And they don't!

There are phone repair shops in Bangor. I should find out if they are open during lockdown! Does a phone count as essential? I could imagine they do, given that everybody is relying on technology to communicate with anyone, really. It would be nice if I could make this thing last until October, when it has done its job.

and if it cannot be repaired? Then I think I will keep using the shattered phone for most things. I mean, it still works! You can't see the screen very well, but if I really need to see something I can switch on my computer. That Samsung is a pain in the bum! And wish me luck with the passcode of the museum piece iPhone…

27 January 2021

Another wintry run

 On a cold Sunday I decided to do my standard off-road loop, hoping that the mud on it would have been frozen and I would be able to just happily skip along the top. It didn't work out that way! The mud was just mud all the way until close to the highest point of the run. Then suddenly I stepped into 10 cm thick layer of snow and hail. Which was lying on liquid mud! I had to be a careful; in places the snow had turned to ice. And it was difficult to predict which batch of snow would hold my weight and which would send me to step straight into the mud underneath. I didn't go very fast! But the views were worth it. And from the hills I could see one hailstorm after the other trundle through the valley. It was quite beautiful! And I came back to a centimetre of hail on my doorstep. So maybe not what I had had in mind, but a lovely run after all!

The old and small reservoir of the Bryn Hafod y Wern slate mine is reflecting the dramatic skies

In the distance a hailstorm passes

26 January 2021

Scenic jail

 I have been on a mission to explore the environment for months! But until very recently, I must admit I had not been in the next road down. The main road has several short stubby roads leading down to the river; I live in one, and there are several more. The next one down is called Glanafon, or riverbank. And why not! It ends right at the river. But from my interest in local history, I knew it had originally been called "Lockup Street". It held the Bethesda police cells! But I suppose they haven't been in use since forever, and maybe the inhabitants didn't quite like the association, and that hence the name had changed.

I decided to actually go and have a look to see if you could tell where the cells had been. Well, you can! You can't miss it, really. It clearly now is a residential building. And it has been extended to within an inch of its life. For a reason, I suppose; the cell building was notoriously small. Or maybe famously small, as I suppose it is a good thing if local authorities think they don't have to throw many people into a cell at any given time at all. And I suspect the actual cells didn't have any view over the river, but the people who live there now, and who have a river-facing fa├žade that must be much newer than the cellblock, certainly do!

It's still clearly recognisable! And also clearly seriously extended

You'll recognise it here again from the Magnolia side and the balcony from the step-shaped wall

25 January 2021

Using my Welsh for real

 One of the main reasons I started to learn Welsh was that I one day wanted to be able to teach in it. We don't have many Welsh-speaking students, though, so opportunities are limited. I tend to exchange emails with Welsh-speaking students in Welsh, and I've had students with questions about an assignment come in, and discussing it in Welsh. But I had never done a lecture in Welsh, I had never received an assignment written in Welsh, and I had never given written feedback on such an assignment in Welsh. And I still haven't done a lecture in Welsh, but the other two things have now changed.

When I found out that my colleagues had left a pile of (virtual) fieldtrip reports for me when I came back from my sick leave, I noticed that one of them was written in Welsh. My first Welsh assignment! I was keen. And reading it is one thing, of course, but writing feedback is another. I have struggled with that massively since my RSI got out of hand. My voice recognition software didn't understand it! The only way of writing Welsh without hands in Dragon is spelling it, and that takes forever. But then I discovered Trawsgrifiwr. (Dragon recognised that word right away! Wow!) And in spite of my very first attempt, which resulted in a fairly usable sentence, it is a flawed. I suppose the first sentence I tried with it was very simple. If I want to comment on the structure of someone's discussion, it gets a bit more complex and Trawsgrifiwr struggles. It really takes a large amount of editing to turn it into anything resembling understandable sentences!

I haven't done any statistical analysis, but I think that I gave this one student shorter feedback than the average English-writing student, but I have to be sensible with my time. I would decide beforehand what I would say, then dictate it slowly and clearly to Trawsgrifiwr, then edit it in Dragon, and then paste it into the software we use for providing feedback. It worked!

I hope he appreciates my effort! And I hope he appreciates that he can just submit assignments in his mother tongue. Am I aware of the paradox? That I myself made a concerted effort to do my education in something other than my mother tongue? When I was in university, we started submitting everything in Dutch in the first year, and submitted everything in English in the last year, and evidently transitioned in between. I can still remember the nerves of doing a presentation in English for the first time! I don't even think about that these days, but the first time sure was scary as hell. And we had teaching staff who wouldn't have been able to provide feedback in Dutch. So am I being a hypocrite? Well, no, I don't think so, as I did appreciate at the time when foreign staff would make the effort of learning Dutch. I wasn't in favour of forcing them to learn it to the extent they could do the entire job in Dutch, and I'm still not in favour of forcing that on Bangor University staff. So I suppose I am just facilitating this chap making his own choices!

24 January 2021

Trump gone!

 I remember waking up in the morning and hearing on the radio news that the Brexit vote had won. I was disheartened! I really didn't think this was a good idea for anybody. And I still don't think that, but that probably is for another blog post. I also remember at the same time feeling a bit of relief; the Brits had always been such stick-in-the-muds, always wanting preferential treatment, always being difficult. So at least the EU would function a bit less frictionally than it had before, with Britain out.

Then later that year I woke up to the news that Trump had been elected. That was worse! That was only bad. No side dish of relief. And I know I would have to put up with it for four years. And I could only hope it would only be four years! And thank goodness that was how it turned out.

With the day of his departure coming closer, tension was high, because he knew too his days were counted, and he would just be the kind of person to try to inflict as much damage as he could before he would have to leave. And he sure did some damage in the end! Having loads of people executed, pardoning his cronies, inciting a mob that would go on to storm the Capitol. There are rumours of him trying to start a war. But the day came that he would just have to leave the White House and it would all be over! Entirely over? Probably not. But at least this time in office would be.

I made sure I had the radio on when the inauguration took place. And sometimes my Internet, which I was using for listening to PM, is a bit wobbly and creates gaps in the broadcasts when it is buffering. And sometimes my voice recognition software stalls and I have to log out and log in again to get it working again. Both of these things happened! So I got a bit of a fragmented representation of the inauguration ceremony. But it was so amazing to listen to the voices of Harris and Biden, making history by being inaugurated, right when they were speaking them. Hurray! A new era has dawned.

I later watched some of the events afterwards on the BBC website; I was quite impressed (like everybody else in the world was) by the poet. The occasion clearly got to her as well, in the end! And with that, the day I had been waiting for for four years had happened. It would be silly to suggest all is well now, but at least there are decent people in the White House, and that matters, for the entire world.

23 January 2021

Squishy self-medication

 I have a scar on the sole of one of my feet. It's been there for some 20 years. And although I can feel it, it doesn't normally bother me. But recently it has started to become uncomfortable. I think that is because these last nine months I have been running more than ever before in my life. I run practically every day! In the olden days I only went in the weekend, while during the week my exercise came out of my bike. Then in the even more olden days, I ran 2 to 3 times a week. So my feet just have more to do now, and one of them was starting to protest. And I wondered if I could do something about it.

I had a look on the NHS website. There is a lot of information there, and I trust it. And it suggested that you can put a silicon sheet on a scar, and that that makes it soften and fade. That sounded exactly like what I needed! So I ordered one. And I tried it out.

So what I think? Well, whether it makes my scar soften and fade remains to be seen; that takes a lot of time. I suppose that with a scar this old, it takes even more time than average. The packaging says it sorts out scars of up to 20 years old, so I might be at the edge of what it can work with, but time will tell.

But what is it like to wear it? Well, it's great! It's like you walk on a little jellyfish, which absorbs all the shocks. So even if it won't soften the scar, then at least it takes away the symptoms. If your body has lost its bouncy tissues, then just glue some onto the outside! And I am certain this patch is not going to last very long given the battering it gets, but I can just buy more. Worth every penny spent!

22 January 2021

My step-great-grandmother

 My father has three given names. That is because he had three grandfathers. And I suppose that in the 30s, as the eldest son you just would be named after all the grandfathers you had. Even if it was an unusual number. But how did he have three grandfathers anyway?

I tell enough of the story in this blog post for it to make sense. And as this post is not really about how my grandfather ended up in the Netherlands I think I'll leave it there. The important thing is that my grandfather pretty much picked a new set of parents he preferred over the old ones. And never looked back.

Some 20 years after he arrived in the Netherlands, he became a father. And he and his wife then chose these three names. But recently I suddenly wondered why they came in the order they did. It was: biological paternal grandfather, maternal grandfather, and step-grandfather. And it suddenly struck me as weird. Would you not credit someone who has selflessly offered a home to a poor boy whom he was not at all related to? I mean, I suppose it is even more of a commitment to put a child into the world, but it is also a lot more common. And let's face it; some people at the time had some of their children not because they wanted to, but because the church insisted they would. My grandfather was a youngest child, and I would argue that his life at least made less of a practical change to his biological parents than to the self-selected ones. So I could have easily imagined they would have put the name of my step-great-grandfather first. My grandfather became chief engineer in the Merchant Navy, and I think there would have been no way in hell that would have happened if he would have stayed at home. But if your new father is a captain in the Merchant Navy, and not an impoverished patissier, things like that suddenly become a lot easier. But no; the patissier's name came first. Was my grandfather feeling bad about basically abandoning his biological parents? Was that what this was about?

I discussed this with my dad, but he just thought it was just a case of tradition being followed. You don't look at the bond people have or any of that; you just plonk someone's actual paternal grandfather's name first, and maternal grandfather second. And in the unlikely case there is another grandfather of sorts, they can follow behind. He may well be right! But then he said something that triggered this blog post. He said that there actually wasn't much of a bond between my grandfather and his self-chosen dad. It was the bond between my grandfather and his self-chosen mum that had been important here! And I had known that for years. And I have also wondered about why she never gets any credit for anything. And this time, I got so fired up I decided to write a blog post.

My step-great-grandfather is called Karel Jelle. My father's third name is Karel. His youngest brother is called Karel out right. Karel called his youngest daughter Jelleke Caroline, basically gender-swapping and order-swapping Karel Jelle's name. And my sister added a Karel Jelle tribute to her second son's name. That's four children named after the man! (Well, none of them are children now, but they were when they received their names.) And who has been named after the woman? The person who was probably instrumental in getting my grandfather to the Netherlands in the first place, and who bonded with him so well he decided to never leave again? Absolutely nobody! Zero people! I don't think that's fair. And I do smell some misogyny here. And I know I have not taken the opportunity to have children myself so I could name them after whoever really, but I don't think an under-appreciated ancestor is a good enough reason to reproduce.

I really think that when I get a cat (I like saying "when" here and not "if") I should name it after her. Just to do my bit! And she doesn't really have a good cat name; she was called Mina Maria Johanna Christina Moor (known as Mien), but I'm sure I can come up with something. This could take a few years but I'm on a mission!

My step-great-grandmother and my rather grumpy looking grandfather

21 January 2021

New terrain only 3 miles from home

 It was a Sunday and the weather forecast was good. Additionally, the weather forecast for the days following were basically one big fat weather warning for rain. So I figured I needed to take advantage of this opportunity! And when I looked out of the window in the morning I got the distinct impression that the weather forecast had been a bit optimistic, but I wanted to go for a walk anyway. And I had picked my goal: a small side valley of one of the big valleys directly above the village. And it is the easternmost one, while I live quite far to the west, so I decided to do the first bit by bicycle. I could park at the start of the public footpath. And that's what I did!

Already when I left the house I was quite looking forward to a coffee break. I had done some chores before I left, so it was that kind of time. After only some 20 minutes I sat down. That also allowed two young lads to pass me; they were clearly quicker than me. And so they should be! We chatted for a bit and they had much more ambitious plans than me. They needed to be fast in order to squeeze that all in within daylight hours! I didn't see the point of being ambitious; I could see that even the bottom of the valley in its highest reaches will be in the clouds. No point going all the way to the top if you can't see a thing! But they didn't see it that way.

I just trundled on into the valley, until I would peel off the main path. I was only 3 miles from home, but every step I would now take before coming to the ridge would be new terrain from me! And it was beautiful.

After some strenuous gaining of altitude I came into the side valley. By that time I had my head firmly in the clouds. But I could still see it was beautiful there! I decided to just wonder around a bit. I will surely have to come back; it felt like I only saw a fraction of the place. And that can't have been true; I know from the map it wasn't big at all. But if you can only see a small part of it at the time it feels like an entire world.

After having wandered around a bit on the eastern side I headed west; that was the way I knew I wanted to come out again. And when I realised I was fairly close to the ridge I said down for lunch. I wanted to have my food in the new terrain, and especially this new terrain as it was amazingly beautiful. And I also figured that on the ridge there would be no shelter whatsoever. Here it was peaceful!

After lunch I was indeed at the ridge in minutes. And it was windy there! I immediately put on quite a lot more clothes. And then just scampered back down. I was back at my bike in an hour! And that included another break for drinking something. So an ambitious outing this had not been, but that was on purpose, as I don't think ambitions have much of a place during a lockdown (not of the outdoor kind, anyway) and the weather wasn't good for that either, but I still had seen new ground! And I am absolutely determined to come back on a day with better visibility. This is one of the advantages of these unusual times; if you can only hike from home, you discover a little gems like this. It is so easy to get blinded by the big attractions like Snowdon, Tryfan, the Glyders and the actual Carneddau horseshoe, and then completely overlook the little nooks and crannies of the area. I would like to come out of this knowing the area really well!

The main valley

Pretty waterfalls along the way

This way a small valley can look big

The ridge is coming into view

20 January 2021

Voice recognition in Welsh

When I am doing work, I used three languages. Most of it, of course, happens in English, but I try to do everything I can do like that in Welsh, and I have a few Dutch-speaking colleagues, so if I send them an email, I might very well do that in Dutch. But then my RSI hit. And I had to dictate everything. And all the software I used for that only spoke English out of these three languages. So I suddenly became a monoglot. On my phone, which I use for personal purposes, I just solved that by using recorded messages. The phone doesn't care which language I do that in!

When I write work emails, it's perfectly fine to do that in English if I could have done it in Dutch. But I had a bit of a problem with not using Welsh. I have put so much effort into learning it! And if I have an opportunity of communicating with a student in their native language, I don't want to let it slip! We don't have many Welsh-speaking students, but of the ones we have, quite a few feel quite strongly about their mother tongue. So I am proud to be able to let them though some of their education in Welsh! But now I suddenly couldn't anymore.

Just before I went off on sick leave, my Welsh tutor advised me to contact someone in the Welsh language centre (Canolfan Bedwyr), to see if there were any possibilities for dictating in Welsh. But well, then I went off sick. But I am back!

On Friday I contacted the centre. And within the time, I got a Teams call. I already was in one so I couldn't answer! But later that day I had a chat with their technologies contact. And he told me that indeed the University has software like that! And he showed me where to find it and how to get it installed. All in Welsh, of course. He wasn't native speaker either, and I think he was glad to find another keen learner. And he asked me to give feedback!

When we ended the call it was time to cook some food. And I didn't get around to trying out the software the rest of the day. On Saturday I downloaded the files. It wasn't easy! The firewall of my computer really really didn't like it. I had to overrule a lot of warnings that this software could hurt my computer. But in the end I got it done! But I also wanted to prune my trees and get firewood and talk with a friend and have lunch and go for a run and all that kind of thing, so I didn't try it out. But on Sunday I did!

I'm writing this after only having tried it a little bit, but I already have some impression. It is fairly self-explanatory. It has one big huge disadvantage with respect to Dragon; it doesn't work in real time. You have to say everything you have to say, stop the recording, and only then will it show you what it has made of what you have said. As I don't think it has a correction function, I can imagine it isn't crucial to see what is happening while you speak. It is not as if you can stop where the software went wrong and correct as you go along. But that does mean you can't keep track of you have said. And as the software isn't very sensitive, you have to articulate like the clappers, so you had best know what you will say in advance. That pretty much means writing it down beforehand. That makes it a lot less hands-free than Dragon! But still a lot better than nothing. So I will be using this. I can write emails to Welsh speakers in Welsh, and even provide feedback in Welsh to students. I appreciate nobody has the kind of budget to develop voice recognition software in Welsh as there is available for its English equivalent, so I'll try to just make the most of what this is! And I am sure it is only going to get better!

My first attempt with the new software! Not bad.

19 January 2021

Distant running Buddy

 When I am running, I feel like I am running in a perfectly normal way. You know, with your feet straight and your legs straight and all that. But I don't! I supinate like the clappers. I always wear my shoes out by just taking the sole off on the outside of my shoes. Especially on the right! My right foot supinates more than the left. I have no idea why. And it is not a problem for running, but it is a bit of a problem for the environment. By the time the whole protective outer sole has gone on the outside of my right shoe, the rest of the shoes are generally still perfectly fine. And that is a waste! Trainers are notoriously difficult to recycle. Or maybe I should just say impossible. I'm sure they either get incinerated or end up as landfill, and neither is a good idea.

I always buy my running shoes second hand; there are plenty of people who think something along the lines of "new year, new me", buy sporting equipment, and then find out they can't really be bothered to actually use it, and then sell it off again on eBay. And then I buy it! That's how I got my road bike as well.

When I select shoes to bid on, the one thing I always check is the state of the outside of the soles. If that's okay I'll buy them! And the last time I had a look I found a fairly cheap pair of shoes, that had quite a lot of wear, but just not where I produce it. The person who had been wearing these shoes seems to do all their propelling with their big toe! The soles were completely worn out in that location. But I never wear out that part of the sole. So it's okay! And I bought them.

I've been running on them a lot! And it's perfectly fine. I like this idea of one person wearing out one part of the sole, and then someone else coming in and wearing out the rest. And by the time two people have had their way I suppose it may be time to indeed bin them. Next time I'll try to find a pair like that again!

As good as new, as far as I am concerned!

18 January 2021

New Welsh course started

 New Year, new Welsh class! The previous semester I had done a course about local history. I had done it before, and hoped that there just would be a lot of new material. And there was quite some, but also was quite some overlap. Additionally, this course was done through Skype, by a tutor wasn't overly confident with the software. So it was mainly him talking, and all of us participants in one big virtual room, and we were sometimes invited to give input, but I think we all felt a bit bad about saying too much. Only one person can talk at the same time!

This new course was about Wales, Welsh and the Welsh. This sounds a bit broad, but we'll see what he manages to cover. The first class was about dialects. The tutor (which I had not met before; that is unusual, as I have been stalking the Welsh learning community for years now) told us some things, made us do some exercises, asked us to listen to some sound fragments, and regularly sent us off into breakout groups. I really liked these breakout groups, as then you can finally discuss some things among yourselves. We were always in the same groups, and mine was three people big; that way you can get some words in. I enjoyed it!

I can't remember what the next session will be about, but we have a Team for this course and I have faith the tutor will upload documents beforehand. I like how this class makes the most of online learning! I think I made a good choice.

17 January 2021

Three household Gruble game

 I had had loads of fun with my sister playing a game of Gruble (I think it's called Scattergories in English) for New Year's Eve. And we thought we should do it again! And she had the brilliant idea to ask if my local friends Jaco and Marjan would want to join. And they did! So one drizzly Sunday evening we played again.

I suppose this is a very lockdown thing to do! If you can only see people on a screen, then it doesn't matter how far away everyone is. Why not have people in different time zones there! As long as you can find a time that suits all.

We first had a trial round as the Menai Bridge contingent hadn't played before. And we had to restrict ourselves to 2 languages. But that was okay! We had lots of fun. My sister won. And afterwards we chatted a bit more, but not too much, as it soon was bedtime for her.

I think we will do this more often! I suppose this lockdown is not going to end anytime soon. And why not have a game evening? And I like Scattergories!

16 January 2021

Leftover marking

 In the New Year I went back to work! And rightly so; a new term of teaching was about to start. And that needs to be prepared! And that is a lot of work. And of course, we had to absorb the teaching of the colleagues who had left us. So there was lots of do! So, I got straight to work on that, didn't I? Well, no.

In autumn I had had a virtual fieldwork assignment. I had gone off sick not too long before its deadline. But it was my assignment! I had inherited it from James, so it wasn't really my idea, but I had always ran it and marked it pretty much on my own. I would have colleagues with me in the field, but otherwise it was just me. And nobody else in the school seemed confident the mark it. So even though the deadline had been mid-November, not a single report had been marked! And the students weren't clamouring for it, but well, they would have had reason for that. So I wanted to get that out of the way. But it is quite a job to mark it. And it is even worse now; everything is slower if you work your computer by voice. But well, it needed to be done! So I just sat down and started ploughing through the reports.

I really hope I can finish this soon, because immediately afterwards, the exams are coming in. And we have student essays to mark; for two modules. And as I said, I also have to prepare my teaching for when that starts immediately after the exams! I suppose I should stop blogging and get back to it…

15 January 2021

More snow than you can shake a stick at

 The mountains had been beautiful for weeks, but the weather has been very good. Additionally, I was working full-time again. So I didn't get to enjoy them that much! But the first Saturday of term had a very good weather forecast, and I intended to make use of that. I look for it to having my lunch sitting on the rock, surrounded by snow in all directions, with the sun cheerfully shining over all of that! So I chose a direction to go in (long smooth valley; nothing risky as this is not the time for that sort of things) and packed my bag with food and drink and warm clothes and suchlike, and also my crampons and snowshoes and ice axe, to be prepared for everything. And I set off. The weather was gorgeous. And the start of the walk was treacherous. All the slushy snow from the day before had turned into solid ice! And my little dead-end street doesn't get attention from the council, nor does it get enough traffic to remove the ice and snow accidentally. I almost wanted my crampons! But I shuffled my way out of the village successfully.

I took the long road to the start of the path; there is a lovely public footpath, but it runs close to houses, and the inhabitants don't like it to be used in times of this pandemic. And the path itself starts in woodland. This looked magical with the snow and the sun. And when I got out of the woods, the shrubland was magical as well. But clouds are starting to appear! And they were increasing in size and number. Oh dear. Snow is never the same when it's very cloudy. For a start, you can barely see it! But the sun still sometimes managed to break through the clouds, so I pushed on.

The wintry village under a cloudless sky

The fairytale-like woods

Nant ffrancon looking absolutely amazing!

I started out just on my boots; that was fine. It was clear that some people had even gone here in much more relaxed footwear. Among the footprints in the snow I saw one set that clearly displayed the word "crocs" in the middle of every footprint. Rather them than me!

When the path became obscure, and the terrain difficult with grass in clumps I put on my snowshoes. Even with those, the terrain was difficult to negotiate! But I got a bit higher up on the hill and things improved.

Selfie with glacier glasses

Some Carneddau horses

Difficult terrain near the stream

A rare beam of sunlight on the plateau

I was following some footsteps, and suddenly two of its makers came into view. They had decided to go back because the snow was too deep. And while later I found the last person who had contributed to them; she was sitting on a rock enjoying a snack. It turned out she was Bangor University physical oceanography alumnus, and had worked in wave energy. That was cool!

When I moved on I soon found the place where she had turned back. It was an impressive hole in the snow! But I pushed on. And soon I hid the steepest slopes I had considered negotiating. It took me up rather fast, but that meant ending up with my head in the clouds, seeing nothing. I didn't think that was a good idea. So I took off my snowshoes, traversed to the edge, cast a look into the valley below, had a drink, and then traversed back and onwards. My idea was to get to the eastern side of the valley, and walk back that way, so my walk would be a loop. Soon I had to put the snowshoes back on. The snow was incredibly deep and soft! Even with snowshoes I sank down into it over a foot all the time. It was hard going! But after a while I reached easier terrain. And the sun started to reappear a bit. And there were skiers on the slope; it was fun to watch them.

Where the physical oceanographer had decided to turn back; notice the difference between snowshoes and no snowshoes…

Looking back down towards the sea

The sun returns a little bit! (When it was gone, photography wasn't very successful)

A bit of a comedy shot; you can just see me walk down, suspecting nothing, and then vanishing into the stream… 

The going was fairly easy until I got lower down on the slope again. There are terrain was again a pathless swamp with hidden streams, soft deep snow, boulder fields, and clumpy grass. That was a challenge! I was glad I saw a small creature (a weasel?) to make that part of the walk a bit more rewarding. And that some point I even vanished into the snow. I had fallen through the snow bridge over a small stream! It's not that easy to climb out again if the snow is almost half a metre thick and you are wearing snowshoes. But I did it. And I went on!

I was glad when I hit the path again. I had done enough difficult slogging through deep snow! I took off the snowshoes and walked out of the hills. The sky was already orange.

I had assumed that the roads in the village would have thawed by that hour, but no! It was interesting to walk back to Gerlan. Once I was there, though, the roads were okay. Except, of course, the very last bit: my own street! But I got home and could nestle on the sofa with a hot drink. These three hot flasks I had had with me had, of course, not been sufficient! And I was resigned to the weather warming up the next day. At least my street would be less treacherous! And I had had a good day in the snow. It's amazing you can do that sort of thing from your front door!

14 January 2021

Snow gets in the way

 We had had snow on the mountains for a fair while! And on the second last day of the year, it even snowed in the village. But that was just sleet and that vanished soon. But on Friday the eighth, it snowed again in the village, but this was more persistent. When I went out for my run, I stepped into the slush in the street, and I had to focus on not falling on my face rather than getting some exercise. It got better when I reached the path in the woodland. But that had really really slippery bits too! And when it rose significantly above the valley floor, things got really bad. It would have been okay for walking in walking boots, but for running it really was not a good idea. So for the first time since moving to this house I aborted my run and just went home! Not even storm Francis had managed that. I know that this snowfall would mean there would be a lot more proper snow in the hills, which would surely be something to be enjoyed on the Saturday, but for now it hindered me in my exercise. But that's okay! I can lose one day…

Not very good running conditions. And noticed the uncharacteristic amount of clothes…

13 January 2021

Two screens again

In October, I got me a new computer. I had used the old one with two screens. It is great that if, for instance, you are marking, you can have the student's submission on one screen, and an excel sheet with grades in on the other. Or, perhaps, have the student's submission open on one screen, and a downloaded version of the same document on another, so you can easily check the citations against the reference list. And then the excel sheet sharing the screen with one of these. Things like that! But the new computer didn't come with VGA ports, and it only had one HDMI port. And that was okay for connecting one screen, but I never managed to connect the other. I did buy VGA to DVI adapter, but I didn't manage to make that configuration work. And before I had managed to get help from our helpdesk, I signed off sick.

I managed with one screen while I was trying to get to grips with Dragon. But as soon as term started again, and the helpdesk was back in the office, I contacted them. One of the men did a remote login, and dug deep into my settings. But he couldn't manage it either! In the end he gave up and told me to come in with my old monitor and just trade it in for a different one. And that's what I did! They did make sure it had a DVI cable. And it turned out to be the same monitor as the other one, so now I have a beautiful symmetric setup.

When I plugged in the new monitor immediately came to life! That's how I like it. So now I can work again with my usual screen setup. It makes a big difference!


12 January 2021

Making decisions about field days and practicals

 The new year has started, and we need to make decisions about our teaching. And the crucial decisions, of course, are about face-to-face teaching. When we binned all our days in the field in spring, we assumed we would be back to normal in autumn. And by autumn, we thought we would be back to normal in spring. But this pandemic keeps calling the shots! What with this new strain, which is so infectious it is threatening London, I don't like the idea of herding people into a big bus and taking them to an interesting field location. And I don't think the people in question like that idea either! And I know vaccination has started, but they started with the elderly and those working in the NHS and social care, and these categories don't include students and staff in ocean sciences. So were at the back of the queue! And so we should be, but it does mean we can't assume vaccinations will make fieldwork safe until, well, I think at least the summer. So we have been deciding to bring several more excursions and practicals online. Is that ideal? No of course not. But is it safe? Heck yes! You can stuff as many people into an online classroom as you want. The virus won't get in! But I really hope that by the next academic year, we can take students into the mud, and up close and personal to rocks again. That's the real thing!

11 January 2021

Water meter

The neighbour mentioned to me one day that he had had a water meter fitted. He said that was just done for everyone who wanted one. If you have a water meter, then you only pay for the water you use, rather than for some estimated amount. I use a lot less, I think, than the average person. I don't shower very long or very often, I don't wash my car, I don't water the garden with drinking water, I don't flush the loo more often than necessary. So altogether I think I will save myself a lot of money if I have one installed. And once I have one, then maybe seeing how much I use will even inspire me to use even less.

It was a doddle to request one of those water meters. And very soon afterwards I was phoned by the organisation to make an appointment for the thing to be fitted. And they came to see where it should be installed. But then nothing happened for several months. But in early January, suddenly a Welsh water van appeared, and a lot of noise followed. 

A short while later there was a knock on the door. They were already done! The water meter was installed and ready. Some other people, probably surfacers, would show up within a few days to fill up the hole. And they did! And then all was sorted. I wonder what my first metered bill will be like…

10 January 2021

Thoughts on the legacy of 2020

I think everyone agrees that 2020 was a remarkable year. And it is possible that its influence will be felt for a long time. On the other hand, it is possible that as soon as everyone has been vaccinated, we all go back to what things were like before. I suppose we will have to wait and see!

I personally think some things will change. One thing that I think is here to stay is working at home. Some people don't like it at all, but some people really take to it. And a lot of employers have previously been very resistant to the idea. Mine included! But if you have just demanded from your employees that they work at home for about a year, you can't maintain your resistance. I think that from now on, people who want to work at home at least some of the time will just be able to do that. Me included! And I also think that quite some companies will take the opportunity to reduce the amount of real estate today own. If fewer people work in an office, you don't need that much expensive office space! I wonder if the University will do something like that too.

I wonder if people will also change the way they greet each other. I could imagine that people are reluctant to hug and kiss, and stay that way for so long the new habits will have formed before the pandemic is over. We'll have to see!

University education is also likely to never be the same again. Our management had been encouraging us for years to modernise our teaching, but we are always chronically overworked and we never got around to it. But now we suddenly had to! I don't think this will really be the end of the classical lecture ("the sage on the stage") but it sure will be a rare kind of event. And I personally really like uploading my recorded lectures, and then seeing the students for some discussion session of sorts. And I not the only one!

I also think that the flight to the countryside might not be reversed. If working at home becomes more normal, people can live further away from the office, because they don't have to go there that often. The newspapers were full of articles about people fleeing the big cities and trying to buy property in nearby villages. And a friend of mine, who lives in a tiny village some 20 miles up the road from here, said that all the houses that had been for sale in that village had got snapped up in no time at the beginning of the pandemic. Yes it is possible that some people who move to the countryside end up missing the cultural life in the city, and then want to go back, but I think it is more plausible they'll stay!

To be honest, this pandemic has made my choice of house even better. When I first saw it on Rightmove, I disregarded it as I thought it was too big. I later decided that people didn't come up with the slogan "location, location, location" for nothing, and that I was never going to find a house that was that cool in such a perfect location. And then I ended up working at home for a year! That extra bedroom, which became my office, sure came in handy. And when I thought I was going to lose my job, I figured I didn't really have a reason to live this close to the cycle path any more, but then I didn't end up losing my job, and I expect to be commuting again before this year is over. So then the house is perfect again! But I think I am digressing. But if I ever want to sell this house, I think I will manage, as I have tried and tested it, and it is a perfect pandemic house.

At the moment, it so happens everyone is more preoccupied with what 2021 is already throwing at us; this might be an even weirder year than 2020! But then I suppose they might go down in history as a really weird two-year period. I might have to write another post like this in 12 months' time…

09 January 2021

Back to work

On January 4, it finally happened! I properly went back to work. My phased return started after the training ended, put the training only ended half a day before the Christmas holiday. So I think a bit of rounding off is in order here! And of course I had been doing some work, mainly in order to get good at using Dragon, but that felt different. Even though I marked an entire assignment, I was mainly doing it in order to be so proficient with the voice recognition software that I could hit the ground running when the new term would really start.

So how did it go? It immediately felt normal again. I expect that was bound to happen! And I indeed hit the ground running. I negotiated all the software by voice. And it wasn't without its challenges; I think I crashed Excel at least six times the first day alone, as it doesn't seem to like being operated by voice, but I think I now know what to avoid. And these first days of the year tend to be low in scheduled activities, so the difference between my holiday marking and the real deal was small.

I did reluctantly go back to my normal runs, which are not too long so as to not take too much time out of the working day.

I now have a bucket load of lectures to prepare, virtual field trips to sort, practicals to take online, marking to do, and projects to propose. And soon the student enquiries will come in! It will be full on. But what else is new! As long as I can do it all by voice I am sure I will get out of this term a lot better then I did with the previous one…

08 January 2021

Miscellaneous walks and runs

 I am still out everyday, generally for a run, but sometimes for a walk. I am not going to blog about every single occasion, but it having been the Christmas holiday I have been able to do some unusual routes! When I am back at work I will have to make do with adventures of limited duration. But the amount of time available combined with the beautifully wintry conditions here created some good photo opportunities. So I just thought I'd plonk some pictures here. So that others can enjoy them too!

picture from a walk a long time ago with Kate

After that walk I decided to drink some tea with a view on a slate quarry

The spoil heaps of said quarry

A lovely view uphill into Nant Ffrancon

A dramatic sky I ran underneath; this was the middle of the day! And I was on my road shoes but I didn't fall on my face...

Happy in the hail

The snowy Carneddau in the distance

On the last day before going back to work on January 4 I went into the snow! Headed for y Drosgl. These little dots are skiers!

Frosty rocks

 the snowy Valley I had been in on the last day of the year

The day coming to an end, and with that, the Christmas holidays

07 January 2021

Dragon: a review

I have been dictating to my computer since October. I started in Word, and then soon after switched to the Microsoft voice recognition software. But when I still ended up with awful RSI, the University offered me Dragon. I only got trained up in that literally a few hours before the end of term, so it hasn’t quite been put to the test yet, but I am using the Christmas holidays to get used to it. As soon as I have to go officially back to work, I will need all the skills I can have! My arms are getting better with regards to heavy work, but it still only takes a handful of mouse clicks or other mouse manipulations to make my arms hurt. I really need to be able to use Dragon to not use my arms at all!

So what is my verdict so far? Well, I don’t really see why anyone would still want to type text if they have access to Dragon. You can even get away with not typing if you only have Word dictate, or Windows speech recognition. It works quite well, and quite often, the correct function is quite good. For instance, earlier in this paragraph I said “access”; it is quite thinkable that the computer will think I am actually saying “excess”. Windows speech recognition is quite good at taking that possibility into consideration. If it’s misunderstood something you said, and you say “correct that”, you tend to get a long list of possible options. The problem is, though, that you probably also get lots of impossible options. I mean, I am not famous for articulating, but sometimes windows speech recognition really goes to town with making a dog’s breakfast of what I said. And you can spell things, but that can be a bit cumbersome. If you just list the letters, it tends to confuse between P and B, and M and N and such. I seem to be physically unable to articulate so well the computer understands I am pronouncing a P. So then the only option is the NATO alphabet. And that can be a bit cumbersome!

The thing that really infuriated me, though, was that sometimes the computer just doesn’t get it when you are making a choice. It gives your options as a numbered list, and you just give the number, and say okay. But it happened quite often that I wanted, say, option two, only for the computer to ask “what was that?”, and taking about ten turns to understand my increasingly impatient “two!” But in the end, you always get there.

And in Dragon? Well, my experience is that it is better in understanding you the first time around. If you make it correct things, it tends to give you a very limited list of alternative options. The good thing, though, is that it understands spelling a lot better. I can just list the letters, and nine out of ten times, that works flawlessly. NATO alphabet not often needed!

So that was dictating text to Word. What about everything else? Well, one thing I really like about Dragon is that you can open a dictation box in different programs. In a dictation box, you can manipulate text to your heart’s desire, and only transfer it to the programme you’re in when you’re satisfied. So you can spell out difficult URLs in the address bar of a web browser, or you can write and edit an email in Outlook, or any of that. Windows can’t do that, so I was always composing text in Word, and copying it over into whatever it needed to go into. Dragon is a lot more user-friendly that way!

And what about moving around in a web browser or in file Explorer or any of that? Well, whatever programme I am using, I still find that cumbersome. When I was just using Dragon, I found it harder than when using Windows speech recognition. With the latter program, you can just ask “show numbers” and you see everything you could click on. If you then just name the number you want and say “okay” then you get there. It doesn’t always work; sometimes the programme recognises several options lying on top of each other, and then it can be hard to find the one you need, as it can be at the bottom. And if there are too many options, it can be hard to make yourself understood. The programme is likely to understand you when you say “13” but that likelihood is smaller when you say “876”. So it’s not perfect, but it is very useful! And Dragon doesn’t do it. I found it devilishly difficult to move around a browser with Dragon alone. I tend to use the web version of email, so that was a browser too, and it was deeply frustrating. Whatever I seemed to say, the computer interpreted it as me wanting to archive arbitrary mails. It was infuriating! I found out that that doesn’t happen if you use the desktop app, so that’s what I do now, but for some reason that displays my emails in some awkward way and I haven’t managed to rectify that. But at least, I can say things such as “previous message” without all my emails vanishing into the archive.

For a while I just had both voice recognition programs open, switching regularly between them; using Windows voice recognition for clicking things, and Dragon for the rest. But then I got SpeechStart! And that replaces that function. And it does it better than windows! It recognises the times in Adobe reader, for instance. Windows doesn’t, as far as I can tell. So now I can manage with only Dragon and SpeechStart. But I still can’t use web email without detrimental effects.

If you don’t manage to select what you want using SpeechStart, though, you can still find a way in Dragon; you can either ask for a mouse grid, which divides your screen in various rectangles that become smaller with every iteration, and then just ask it to click on the rectangle of your choice. Or you can manipulate the mouse around. You can tell it to move in one of eight directions. And both these options are really slow, but they allow you to click anything you might want to click.

I also still find negotiating file Explorer difficult with whichever software I use. I hope practice makes perfect! As you can’t really do your job without rummaging around in your files. And if you have to make your mouse move around to get the right directories, things take forever. And if things are not working well, the temptation is there to just grab your mouse and get things over with. And I should not give in to that temptation! A mouse is for emergencies only.­ I need to find a new balance in which I can work normal hours without hurting my arms!


06 January 2021

Looking back on a strange year

 The year 2020 is over! And what a year it was. It didn't start very well for me, due to 2019 ending with the bullying episode with the Thursday nighters. So my first mission was to deal with that! And that wasn't easy, as much as I would have liked to let it just slide off me like water from a duck. It just kept bugging me. But in the end, I managed to let go. I noticed it was dominating my runs, when my brain isn't occupied with anything else, and it can return to things that bother me. But I don't want my lovely runs to be blighted by unpleasant thoughts! So the only thing I could do was somehow shrug it off. In the end I managed. I have noticed that with other things; when I run, things that bother me have free rein. Paradoxically, I can't run from them when I'm running! So then I have to face them, and make a concerted effort to just lift them out of my head and leave it behind. I am still practising! But it's a very useful skill. I suppose I need to get even better at that in 2021.

Then, of course, the big event of 2020 hit. In short succession, it went from something happening on the other side of the world, to something that stopped people from travelling internationally, to something that made us have to practice social distancing, to something that sent us home from the office. And I thought it was going to be for a few weeks! I just couldn't imagine this would go on for months on end. Little did I know.

Working at home was something I needed to get used to; normally I see colleagues every single day. Now I saw nobody. I didn't like it in the beginning! And there are aspects of it I never liked. I like the casual contact you can have when you are on campus. Just popping in to see if someone else also has Internet problems. Or just discussing grades with teaching administration in person. Any of that sort of things! But after the initial period of adjustment, I quite took to it. I like my house! And I like being able to have lunch in my own garden. And the initial tight restrictions, where you were not allowed to use your car for leisure purposes, made me explore my surroundings like I never had before.

Working at home, of course, had a problem; we were not allowed to bring our computers home, so I did several months on my laptop. And that wasn't ideal! And I developed RSI. And the work stress was considerable; we suddenly had to make all our teaching for the new academic year covid-compatible. That is a heck of a lot of work!

In summer I managed to scoot to the Netherlands in the short window in which there were no travel restrictions. I am so glad I went!

Then summer was over, and the strangest academic year ever started. I was nervous! We had never done anything like this before. But then we had the first sessions, and it looked like we were pulling it off. I was chuffed! And I felt like we were all banding together to deliver the best we could to the students. Even though my arms hurt, I felt positive.

Then the bombshell hit. Me and my closest colleagues were singled out for job losses! We were basically told we were not needed. There went my feeling of all together pulling off an amazing feat. It was pretty harsh. And this was as well around the same time that I was phoning my GP, pretty much in tears, because I felt I needed help with my arms. These two things together were not good.

Then the strange period followed in which I was sick at home, coming to terms with not being able to do any job I would qualify for, facing losing the job I had, and all of that while brexit was looming. That was trying! But then I heard I wasn't losing my job, and that I would get voice recognition software plus concomitant training, and things looked up.

And then it pretty much was Christmas holiday. A strange Christmas! But, in spite of 2020, an enjoyable one.

So how will I look back on this year? I am sure it will forever be one that stands out. And it was trying! But I learned so much. I learnt to better deal with things that really bother me. I thought I already knew how to enjoy my own company, but I have taken that to the next level. I have learnt so much about my direct surroundings. I have learned how to provide online learning. I have learnt to come to terms with my permanent job not being permanent at all. And I have made plans regarding what to do if I leave academia. I think I am mentally prepared! And I have learned that I now have such power over my mental health that life can throw quite a lot of things at me and I will still come out on top. I know life was only threatening my health, my financial situation, and my status as a foreigner in a country that prides itself on its hostility, and that life can throw much worse at people. But still. I mean, only my arms were hurt; the rest of my body was working fine. Except for one cousin with long Covid, the pandemic has left those near me pretty much alone. But I still take strength from having weathered this.

So what now for 2021? I intend to become so good at voice control I pretty much don't have to use a mouse at all for the entire year. And I hope I will get vaccinated. And I hope everybody else does too! And I hope I will be back working full-time in no time. But that I will have the wisdom to not work myself an injury for an employer who might just as well turn around and decide they don't need me. And I hope I will get to see, and hug, the people again I wish I could have seen and hugged last year! Stay tuned…

PS I also learned Dragon can't decide whether it's "learned" or "learnt"!