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