20 September 2021

Forams in the lab

In the olden days in South Wales, I would take the student into the field in the morning, have them sieve their samples and put them in the oven after coming back from the field, and then count the samples in the afternoon. And when I say afternoon, I often mean afternoon plus evening. And under the increasing financial pressure of the University, the field trip got shorter and shorter as that is cheaper, and that meant that I didn't have time for all of that. To be entirely honest, the last two years I had to provide a bit of weak extract of foraminifera analysis to the students. But when I suddenly was faced with an entirely blank slate of this year's field trip, which in effect was longer as we didn't have to spend any time on travelling all the way to South Wales, I saw my chance. I booked a day in the lab! I looked forward to doing some proper analysis again.

When the students arrived in the lab I first had them sieve some samples. It turned out we only had four sieves with the correct mesh size! That is not much if you have 30 students. But we made do. Luckily, these small samples I had made them take are quite quick to sieve. And the sand flat samples are even quick at much larger size. So we made it work!

When all the samples were in the oven I took the opportunity of doing a bit of a lecture about what we were about to do. I could even show them a foram live as we had a microscope with a camera attached in the lab! I needed the lab technician to make that all connect, but he was happy to help. And then it was already lunchtime. That was good; that meant the samples had a bit more time to dry.

After lunch, not all samples were dry, but that was okay; we had sample splitters so I just split all dry samples twice, and that meant I had enough subsamples to make everyone have something to look at. And when people were done with the material they had, then they could just take another sample, that had dried in the meantime, out of the oven and process that. I think it worked!

Back in the days, I would never have more than six students to help with their foram identifications. They would never have done anything like this before! And I wanted to check all their identifications. The first time around, it is easy to get a lot wrong. So it was just me, and Katrien who is not a micropalaeontologist but has in the past stood in for James, so she had to quickly reacquaint herself with the material, and that was the crew that had to help these 30 students. That is quite hectic!

Once they were properly counting, things got exciting. There were some amazing forams in there, and some were quite unexpected. And there was one species I had literally never seen before. I have done saltmarsh research for years! I also had never seen documentation of it. I will need to find out what it is.

We didn't manage to pick every sample. But that is okay! We only had one day. And I think we have enough for a provisional training set. And next year, this training set will get bigger. If it takes a few years to have one at proper strength then so be it!

19 September 2021

Forams on fieldwork

 After the introduction day, and the day we put the mooring out, the time had come for my own day in the field! During low tide, I would take the students into the field to take foraminifera samples. I would do that in two batches; before low tide I would get one half of the students while Jaco did his sedimentological thing with the other half. And when tide would be at its lowest we would swap around. And then it would be time for lunch!

We first had to decide where to take samples. In our old field site I had a routine, but this was all new so we had to make decisions from scratch. I thought the best way of going about it was to first go and identify good potential sites while walking towards the centre of the estuary, and when we would get there, decide which ones we would want to use. We did that, and then we sampled on the way back. I made sure that the students took small samples. I wanted them to be able to count all the Foraminifera in their sample, or at least of a reasonable split of it. And we took coordinates of all of them.

I was teaching so I didn't take many pictures. But here is Jaco's group looking like they are walking on water

The first group and the second group had different ideas about how to sample the various zones in the marsh we had. That is excellent! That is the sort of thing that happens in science. We'll see how they come together.

After both Jaco and me were done sampling with the students, we had lunch. The next step would be to extend our plastic litter picking work, but we found barely any. I then thought I might go and do some proper vegetation identification in the saltmarsh. I had some fun with that! But the students were clearly tired. Well, we had made them come to the bus at 6 AM, so that was understandable. We just let them lounge a bit until we went to the village with the slipway. And when the last student got off the little boat we could call it a day again. Another long day done!

18 September 2021

First real day of fieldwork

 It had started! We had got through the first day of the field trip. That had only been an introduction; we would start properly gathering data on the second day. And we would start with gathering information about sediment transport and flow velocities and suchlike. Martin normally puts a mooring into the estuary on the day when he is in the field with the students, and then he retrieves it on the last day. Students then get the work with the dataset the mooring has produced in the time in between.

It had been interesting to organise it all. By the time I was tasked with organising everything, Martin was properly off work so I couldn't really consult him. I just asked the technicians, and Guy, where about he might want to place such a mooring. From last year's documentation I found out what it actually is he puts out there. So it was an educated guess that I got permission for from NRW. (And from three other organisations involved, if not five.) Fortunately, he largely agreed with what I had come up with. In the end, he placed it a few tens of metres from the location I had proposed…

But I am getting ahead of things. First we had to get there. So we did the usual routine of me signing in the students onto the bus, and meeting everybody else at the parking lot. There we needed to do a bit of logistic juggling to get all the material for the mooring (which is quite heavy) as close to its destination as we could with the School van. And we asked the students to carry all the stuff. They did that without complaining! And it was a fair distance.

Once we got there, Martin put the mooring in while explaining why he put it there, why he oriented it the way he did, what the instruments were he put there, and what he hoped it would measure and how. And when everything was in position, and everything was explained, we walked back to the bus, and sat down for lunch.

Setting up the mooring

We now had a few hours to fill until we could send a subset of the students to the slipway in the nearby village, to get onto one of our really small boats and do a set of CTD measurements. That was the only activity we needed to do during high tide! Most other things require low tide. And for reasons of covid, we now had a coach for transport. So everybody had to arrive and leave at the same time. In non-pandemic times, you can transport each group of students to their own activity! But this year, we needed to make long days in the field, as we needed to use both the low and high tides to their maximum. 

I had sorted a few options for activities during this wait for high tide. From the labs I borrowed a set of identification guides. We could just see what we could identify in the way of vegetation, seaweed and molluscs. But I had also borrowed a set of litter pickers from the council. We could do a bit of a concept transect, collecting marine litter! And see how that would work out. We went for the litter. We first had to think about what sort of hypotheses we would want to test, and what sort of data we would need to do that. The student had some good ideas. And then we set off.

On the first day, we had seen that the wave regime on either side of Llanddwyn Island was quite different, so we split the group into and did two trial transects. Then we got together again, and compared what approach each group taken. If he wanted to take this research further, we needed to have a unified approach! So we blended the methods of the two groups to get the best of both, and then split up into smaller groups to do some more transects to get more data. We could all do one! And then we gathered all the plastic found in one bag and went back to the bus again. The bus drove all of us to the village with the slipway, where we waited until all the CTD measurements were done, and then the bus, now full, could head back to Bangor. Martin and I helped Pete, the technician, wrap up for the day and then we could head home too. The second day was a wrap!

17 September 2021

Fieldwork kicks off

 After the last preparations, the time had come to actually start the fieldwork! And we started early. We wanted to start the trip with a walk through the interesting parts of our fieldwork area, but what we find interesting is often only visible during low tide. And we wanted to start in the field! So our timing was decided by the tides. And low tide was early. So we met on the main campus at 7 AM. By our standards, that is not particularly early; in earlier years I have had to students show up at 4:45 in the morning. I met them at the bus stop and took a register. Because of one and a half years of mainly online teaching, and most students not being particularly keen on having their cameras on, I was unusually unfamiliar with this cohort. But that would change!

We headed for the gate of the woodland where we would enter the land managed by Natural Resources Wales. We would there meet a man who would give us the key to that gate. And then we could start!

I got there before the bus; with my modest car I can take a more direct route. I alerted the rest of the staff, who were already there, to the approach of the bus. We asked the students to get off, after which the bus driver drove deep into the woodland to his designated parking spot. The man from NRW showed him the way, and was accompanied by Dei. Together they would then go and meet us, while we started our walk. And we started on my saltmarsh! I told them about that the saltmarsh was probably the best place in the entire system for finding out about the history of said system. If you go any further inland, you are in an erosive environment. If you go further offshore, you are in the high energy environment where enormous amounts of sediment get reworked everyday. Only in the saltmarsh do you get calmer and relatively undisturbed deposition! And therefore a good sedimentary record. And because the marsh gets inundated every tidal cycle you get marine microorganisms in it, and therefore also marine micro-fossils. And these can help you with your interpretation of the sediments.

I next stop was a bit of a walk. We were going to the sand flat, not far from where we would put a mooring in the next day. There Martin did most of the talking. His mooring would be keeping an eye both on that very sand, and also on the currents moving it around, so he had a lot to say about it. By the time they reached it, Dei and the men from NRW, Graham, had rejoined us. And from there we walked around most of the area. Further stops focused on the rocks of Llanddwyn island, and on the difference in wave regime East and West of this promontory. We also looked at the dunes. And then we had a break by the main car park; the figure at some students might need to use the public toilets there. And when we were there anyway, we had some lunch. And after that we went into the dunes, where Graham explained about what his organisation does in the area.

Martin sketching something in the sand

We managed to fit everything quite neatly into the allocated time! So when he was done talking, we went back to where the bus had parked. It was time to go back to SOS! There were things we could only show the students on a screen; if you stand in the landscape, you cannot possibly get a clear overview of it. Sometimes aerial photography, or lidar measurements, or that kind of larger scale views were needed. So we presented there what we couldn't show in the field. And then the first day was already done!

Session in our covid-safe lab

Some of us stayed behind for a bit; we still needed to iron out some details about the logistics for the day after. This would be Martin's day, and he had not participated in the preparations, so we needed to do things such as verify that all the things I had assumed correct. And we made it work! So we could all go home, and get ready for the next day. The first proper day where the science would start! The ball was rolling now, and it wouldn't stop rolling for over a week!

13 September 2021

Final sprint fieldwork

 Organising a field trip is always a lot of work! And quite often, a lot of it has to be done at the last minute. In the last week several things happened: we got permission for the fieldwork from Natural Resources Wales, we arranged access with them, we found out where we are allowed to park (not the usual place), we got permission for placing a mooring, we found out about students being ill, Martin came back from having been gone and needed to be brought up-to-date, the handouts needed to be printed, litter pickers needed to be organised (more about that later), we needed to publish the module website and inform the students of exactly where to be when, et cetera et cetera. It is unavoidable a lot of things are done at the last minute! But this year it was worse. And I will be glad when I am in the field and it has all started. It doesn't help much that straight after the fieldwork, welcome week starts, and I need to be prepared for that too. And welcome week as well has a lot of things that need to be organised at the last minute. I imagine I will dedicate a blog post to that as well…

When I am writing this, it is the evening before. I will need to get out of bed really early as we need to use the low tides! Wish us luck…

The cat checks my preparations 

12 September 2021

Project water butt: tested

 I had recently connected my water butt to the guttering of the extension. I did that when it was dry, of course. And it stayed dry for a while afterwards! But then one night I was lying in bed and I saw a flash. And then I heard thunder. And I knew this would make a difference to my water butt! So in the morning I had a look. And it was full! It only took one thunderstorm. That surprised me.

Notice the reflection on the water surface

I am glad it works. And I don't think I will ever have to get water out of the river again. But one thing I need to sort out now is that it drains into the drains! I still have the remaining guttering, and I can put a piece of garden hose in the overflow hole. This chore will have to wait until after the field trip. For now, it will just spill water wherever! That's okay. But it will be nice to have this project properly finished. 

11 September 2021

Late harvest

 When my pumpkin plant started to make pumpkins I was hoping they would grow big. They showed little sign of doing so. And then I had to put the plant outside because I was going on a hike. It didn't seem to like that very much! Some of its branches turned rather brown. But that didn't do anything bad to the pumpkins. It even grew an additional one.

When I had given up hope that the pumpkins would still get big, and I feared the entire plant would soon die, I decided to go and harvest. I got me three pumpkins! Each one the size of a considerable satsuma. Better than nothing. And I also made a start at the potato harvest. I dug up two plants. The harvest was good! These potatoes will keep me going for a while.

I cooked pumpkin so that night. It was enough for two nights! Next year I want to grow them outside all the way. It looks like the slugs don't like pumpkin, and outside the plant will have a bit more space. And then I can keep my conservatory!

The pumpkins

And the potatoes

10 September 2021

Proper mountain bike trails

 Two weeks after trying out my mountain bike on the nearby trails I took things a step further. I had asked my friend Kate if she wanted to show me some trails in the nearby woods. And she did! So we met up on the parking lot. This was going to be the first time in my life I would do a mountain bike trail! Where I had had my debut, the paths had been designed for pedestrians. I was sure this was going to be different! And I imagined there would be easy trails in there. 

Kate appeared and pulled a rather sophisticated mountain bike out of her car. I wasn't worried about that; I know the important thing was the rider. My bike might be completely inferior to hers, but that would be insignificant compared to the difference in skill level. But we would see how things would go! Kate explained that in the woods, you have to do some of the routes on the gravelly forestry roads. The mountain bike tracks are not an independent network. But the good thing about that is, that you can pick and choose which bits you want to do and which you want to skip.

We started biking up a gentle hill. So far so good. It was actually a bit of a while before we got to the first part of the actual mountain bike trail. I invited her to go first! I know I was going to be very slow. But it was quite a doable route. She was waiting for me at the end of it, where it ended up on the forest road again. And she asked if I wanted to just do this bit again, or go onto the next section, which was a lot more challenging. But I thought things were challenging enough as they were, so I went for a rerun of the original route. So we did!

When we had done it twice we proceeded to the next section; this one would be the challenging one. Kate said there were sections where she gets off, so I knew I would most certainly also get off the bike. Probably very often! And this track indeed was a lot more rocky. I walked many bits of it. At one point I heard someone behind me, so I quickly got off the track. Two people came past with an appropriate speed. I don't think I will get to that level anytime soon!

Kate was waiting for me again, and we had a little break with water and a snack. And then we went to do the third section. That was indeed a bit in between the other two. I got off the bike several times again!

Then we had to decide what we would do next. She mentioned a rather uneventful look a bit further up, so we did that loop as well. Even though she had claimed it was uneventful, I walked several bits of it! When we had done that loop we had to decide what to do next, and I voted for lunch. It was practically noon. So we biked back to the parking lot and got our lunchboxes out. We sat down in the ruins of the mine mill there. Kate there said that we should go to Coed y Brenin some day as well. She has now seen the limits of my capabilities, and figured that there would be trails that would suit me there. It sounds like fun! She also said I may want to hire a mountain bike at least once, just to feel how much difference a better bike makes. I suppose that is a reasonable suggestion. I didn't feel like the bike was struggling with what we had been doing, but you can't compare until you have tried a different bike too! I remember years ago swapping skis with the woman, and noticing how easy skiing can be if you only have the right kit. And I will never be a good skier, just as that I will never be a good mountain biker, but there is a difference between being pretty much hopeless, and vaguely competent.

So what was the verdict? I had fun! But I don't think I'm made of mountain biking material. I think I should just find some easy trails in the surroundings, where I can have some exercise on the bike. Just as an addition to running! I do not want to dedicate the time needed to get good at this, supposing I even could. I know practice makes perfect, but I just never have had the need for speed. Even on my road bike on an asphalt bicycle path I don't go full pelt; it is way too likely that some unobservant dog walker appears out of nowhere and makes your life difficult. And if I come off the bike and hurt myself, I am toast! I live alone; if I can't look after myself, then who will? And I know this is a rather injury-riddled sport. I have not forgot Martin breaking his collarbone and having to deal with seriously reduced quality of life for about a year! So I think I will bike like I climb; with no talent and no ambition, but quite happy to do fairly safe stuff just to be doing something challenging (challenging for me, that is) in the beautiful surroundings with nice people. Come to think of it; that's pretty much what my approach to skiing was as well…

clumsy selfie

coming down a path (pic by Kate)

On this picture it looks like a normal bike path! It was more challenging than that. But indeed; I am a lightweight for getting off here. Pic by Kate

09 September 2021

Community activities

 I mentioned earlier on that Gerlan, one of the original villages that was later absorbed into Greater Bethesda, nowadays has a plant library. It is placed on a little square, which is the location of a chapel that has been demolished. And I recently got an invitation for an event there! There would be a singer, and there would be cake, and it would just be a nice place to have a chat with other people in the community. So I showed up!

Unsurprisingly, my friend Dani was involved in the organisation, so I saw there. I also saw my friends Caro and Juan and their baby. And Judith who lives in that street too. I enjoyed the music (by Dafydd Hedd, who had a very good set) and the cake in a quiet chat with my friends. There also was a piece of paper on which you could indicate what you thought the community could do with this somewhat odd square. I imagined a silent disco. Other suggestions involved a greenhouse, a climbing wall for children, a green screen, and a skateboard ramp. It sounds like there is plenty of inspiration out there! It is already in use for modest amounts of growing plants, both edible and otherwise, and fruit trees, but there is plenty of space for more. I like it if people use spaces like this to boost the community!

Juan jots down an idea

Dafydd Hedd

Nice cake!

Pics by Dani

08 September 2021

Combining meetings with needlework

When I went camping during our epic slate trail hike, I was reminded of the fact that there is a tear in my sleeping bag liner. And I managed to tear it even further. The rip is now almost a metre long! That is getting ridiculous. I had to do something about this. And then I remembered that in the early days of online meetings, I had sometimes done repair work during the meetings where you don't have to concentrate all the time. I still have some of those. So I decided to start the repair that way!

I had decided I was going to repair the liner by stitching a length of ribbon to it. So during one meeting I just set to work. And it worked a treat! I had enough attention for the meeting, and I made the start on that big repair job. Everybody wins! It will take a few more meetings, but I am sure that the new academic year will provide these. And by the time term calms down a bit, and I have time to use a sleeping bag liner, I will have probably managed to repair the entire length of the tear!

Work in progress

07 September 2021

To the vet

One day I noticed a bit of a nick in my cat's tail. I didn't think much of it; she often comes back out of the garden with wet patches and various seeds in her fur. Something might be gluing her fur together there. She sorts that out. But then the nick didn't go away, and she developed a bald patch. Oh dear! It looked a bit like she had an irritation there, and she had groomed it bald. It reminded me of a mosquito bite you scratch until it bleeds. And I decided to phone the vet.

The vet said it didn't sound serious, but that they hadn't seen her for a fair while, so that I better come in. So we made an appointment for the next day.

Close to the time I wrestled her into a travelling basket. She didn't want to go in, but once she was in she didn't complain too much. And then we went to the vet. She meowed all the way! I don't think she likes car trips. It broke my heart. It's the first time I did anything like this to her! And she sounded so mournful.

The vet first wanted to have a general look at her. That didn't start well! She tried to explore the entire room, climb onto everything, walk over the keyboard of the vet's computer, and all that sort of stuff. But he did manage to put her on the scales. And he decided he was too heavy! Oh dear. I can feed her a bit less, but I'm not sure how much caloric value she just manages to harvest out of the garden.

He was happy with her eyes and ears, and with her body temperature. But he noticed the tip of one of her fangs had broken off. He wasn't impressed by that. I had noticed it too, but she didn't seem to be bothered by it, and I also couldn't remember that not being the case. It very well might already have happened before she got to me! I didn't think much of it. I sometimes have the top of my teeth falling off. And yes I do get the dentist to make them look intact again, but I doubt she has the same considerations about her teeth as I do. But the tip falling off doesn't hurt, as far as my experience goes.

Then he got to her bald patch. He wasn't worried about it! He said he would prescribe me some ointment I would have to put on the patch, and then the idea was that it would go away.

When he was done I reluctantly took the cat into the waiting room. It was absolutely full with dogs! And they were making quite a racket. But one after the other the dogs left and the cat settled.

The vet came back to offer me a quote for having the cat's tooth pulled. I said I would think about it! If she is bothered by her tooth then it needs to happen of course, but she shows no sign of this. And the vet said cats can hide it if they are bothered by something, and the broken bit might let bacteria in. But I am slightly sceptical; of course the vet says it needs doing; that is how they pay their mortgage. I wanted to have a bit of a look at scientific literature to see if there is evidence for pulling teeth being the right course of action here.

I then just paid, and was relieved to be able to take the cat home. She was very quiet on the way back! But luckily, when I let her out of the basket, she seemed perfectly okay again. The trip doesn't seem to have traumatised her! I'm glad.

She might have to go back for a much more serious intervention, but let's deal with that when it happens. For now she is back and I can stow that travelling basket away again!

Ready to go to the vet

06 September 2021


 Term is almost starting! And with term comes teaching on campus. And the teaching can sometimes be spread out over the day. I might have a session at nine, one at 1 o'clock and one at four, for instance. I don't want to just pick my nose in the hours in between such contact hours. In the olden days, I could just find myself a computer somewhere on campus, and get some work done. But since I talk to my computer all the time, I need a computer and privacy. I basically need to be alone in the room! And that computer needs to have my voice recognition software on it. The software I run is installed on my hard drive, and not on the University Drive. So on main campus, my options are limited.

In the olden days, I would just go back to my office in Menai Bridge. It is much closer than Bethesda! But there is no computer there now. So I needed one of two things: an additional computer in the office, or a laptop. I figured the University would be more keen to get me a laptop than to give me two computers, so I just sent an email to IT services and my line manager, alerting them to the situation that I would soon need to be able to work in two places, and that I figured I needed a laptop for that. And to my surprise, IT services pretty much immediately emailed back and said "we have a laptop ready for you, come bring back your desktop and trade it in for this laptop". Wow, that was quick!

That next day I had too many meetings to squeeze a big computer swap in between, but the day after that I went to IT headquarters with my (actually very new) desktop. It is a crazily busy time, so I had just shut down, pulled out all the peripherals out of the actual computer (and I have a lot!) and took it away. All my information is either in the cloud or on external hard drives, so I didn't worry about just handing in my entire computer. But I was a bit worried about my voice recognition software. If that wouldn't work, I couldn't actually use the laptop.

I handed in my desktop, and the chap at the desk checked whether I could indeed log in to the laptop. And I could! Then I asked him to check if my voice recognition software would work, and he checked that. We did have to actually take it from the desktop and manually place it onto the laptop, but he was happy to oblige. I suppose they are not so busy before the students come to town! And now I had a computer that ran Dragon, so I took it home.

At home I had the task of organising all my peripherals again. That involved some uncomfortable lying underneath the desk, plugging as much as possible in underneath the desk, and plugging everything I needed access to, or which had an insufficiently long lead, on top of the desk. And the computer worked! The second screen connected effortlessly, and it connected to the network without problems too. I also managed to make it communicate with my keyboard and mouse. So far so good.

Then there were Dragon, and my graphic tablet. My tablet allows me to avoid mouse clicking, where Dragon can't do that, or where it is just a lot more efficient. So Dragon allows me to work the computer, and the graphic tablet helps with allowing me to use my hand a bit without that doing too much damage. Only when I really need to, I will use keyboard and mouse. For logging in I need the keyboard, of course, and when I communicate in Welsh I have to just type. But when I do these things manually I pretty much use up my quotum. I really don't want to be using my hands for anything else! But then the microphone button of Dragon was on red, which is off, and it wouldn't come back on. Nothing I did made it come on. Oh dear.

I then wanted to know if the computer recognised my headset at all. I thought of trying it in our lecture capturing software Panopto, but I would first have to reinstall that. I can't do that without Dragon! I then decided to try it in Teams, as that comes pre-installed. I just randomly phoned a colleague. He couldn't hear me! So my computer was not recognising my headset. Oh shit. I can't troubleshoot that without Dragon! I felt my adrenaline levels rising. It is such a busy time, I need a computer, but a computer without functioning Dragon is pretty much the same as a computer without mouse and keyboard for everybody else. I needed help!

I first emailed helpdesk from my phone; they don't have a functioning phoneline at the moment. But then I realised they would still be open. I could just bring in my computer, my headset, and my graphic tablet (which also wasn't functioning properly) and ask for help. So I jumped into the car!
When I got back to IT the same bloke was still there. And he sorted everything! He managed to connect the headset and the tablet, and I briefly showed him what Dragon can do. He was impressed! And then I could go home and actually take this computer into use. It did still involve some faffing; I use not only Dragon but also SpeechStart, and in my hurry I had left that on the old desktop. But it only costs 30 quid so I just bought it again. And then I could really start! I needed to tune some settings; I needed to get rid of as many notifications that get in the way and need to be clicked away as I could, and make sure Dragon functions the way I like it to, and then I could start doing my day job. By then, of course, it was dinnertime.

I pretty much lost a day to this exercise, but it is a good investment; I now have the possibility of working both in the office at work and in the office at home. That is worth something! I even managed to snaffle a desk chair for my office on campus. The original one now lives at home! But there are enough going around. So I intend to bring my old television to the office as a second screen, and buy a spare headset as I am absolutely helpless without one, and then I have two functional offices! I can just drag the computer in between the two. Semester one, here I come!

New setup

05 September 2021

Pondering heating

 Some time in early May my boiler stopped working. I had to start having my showers cold. But it was May, so that wasn't a big problem. I took my time trying to figure out what was wrong with it, but in the end I had to phone the plumber and he sorted me out. But it was still nice weather, so I just continued showering cold. That way it took me a while to realise the boiler had broken again. Again, the plumber had to come to sort the situation out! And then it happened again. It is clear this piece of equipment is walking on its last legs. And I don't want to replace it with something similar. But what to replace it with?

Being repaired again

It seems that the most environmentally friendly option is a heat pump. I have a friend who has one! But she was not living in the house when that thing was installed. And I am living in mine. These heat pumps are only a good option if your house is really well insulated, and I don't think mine is. It is also recommended you use it to heat underfloor heating, and I don't think my Victorian floors are particularly good for that. And I also spent so much time on my ceilings! I don't want to have to rip half the house apart again. These heat pumps are also prohibitively expensive. I can probably have a new boiler, installed and all, for between £2000 and £3000. A heat pump would run into five figures! I don't have that kind of money lying around.

I don't think in this rainy climate I could use solar panels only to heat the house. They produce most energy when you don't need it for that! And then there is thermo-solar, where the sun does not provide you with electricity but only with hot water, but for some obscure reason, that hot water can only be used as water, so for showering and doing the dishes and such. It seems not possible at this time to run your heating on it. A bummer, as it seems to be beautifully efficient.

I am clearly not done thinking thoughts about this. Another thing I could do is get me a dual boiler that can run on either natural gas or hydrogen. If the hydrogen economy takes off, I could plug straight into it! But I'm not even sure if it will. I will have to look into that.

I hope this elderly boiler will at least work through the winter now. If it doesn't it could be worse; I have two wood burners, after all. And I know that burning wood produces a lot of CO2 as well, but if the other alternative is the house not being heated at all I know what I will choose. I burn waste wood; if I wouldn't burn it I would bring it to the recycling centre. My guess is that the recycling centre then brings it to some power station that burns it for energy as well! So I suppose that wood is going to end up on fire anyway. But if I get a few months to think about it I hope I can come up with something that is both feasible and kind for the climate!

04 September 2021

Making the most of a sunny bank holiday weekend

 I feel a bit under pressure as term is almost upon us. But we are having a bit of an Indian summer, and it would be completely stupid to not enjoy that when it was even a bank holiday. So between the chores I did manage to squeeze some outdoorsiness in. On Sunday I went for a short walk to Llyn Anafon with Caro. I had guessed that that wouldn't be too busy, and I was correct! We saw the odd dog walker, and, strangely enough, two cars driving up to the reservoir. No idea why people drive up there. But I was chuffed with our choice. It's beautiful there! We could have walked back over the crest of the hill but Caro didn't think that was a good idea, so we went back the way we had come.

With Caro in Cwm Anafon

Llyn Anafon

That wasn't the end of my outdoor plans. I went home to do chores, but I had decided I was going to spend a night in the hills. I had not slept outside since the Slate Trail, and opportunities would not be coming thick and fast any more. This was one I should take! And I first had to decide on where to go. And I decided on Cwm Gwern Gof, as this was a nearby valley I had actually never been in. That really needed to be remediated! There were no public footpaths in it, so it was probably to be quiet there. And there was parking available too. Decision made!

I left just after dinner. I drove to the parking lot by the campsite, and started off on my way on the path that I had so far only used for getting to Craig Caseg Ffraith. If I go there, over year off to the right, but now I kept going straight ahead. There was a path, and it even had things like the occasional gate or stile, so even though there was no public access, it's clearly not unusual to go there. And really close to the campsite I saw a man come the other way, but after that I neither saw nor heard anyone.

The start of the valley

View back over the Ogwen Valley

I didn't have a clear idea of where I wanted to camp, but at least I wanted to not be able to see the campsite any more. That was fairly quickly done! And then I decided that I was in no hurry, and I wanted to at least be able to see the head of the valley. But I also wanted to have a bit of shelter, as my small tent isn't very windproof. And I saw a bit of a cliff from the distance, so I decided I was going to have a look in that area.

I walked a bit further than the cliff, just so I would have had a good look at the entire valley. And when I decided it was time to cross the valley, I first dropped my bag, and walked up the ridge of the valley on the right. From there I could look down into Cwm Tryfan. It looked glorious from this side! And the sun was just trying to peek through the clouds between Tryfan and Glyder Fawr. What a view. But it was time I find a place to sleep, so after walking along the ridge for a fair distance just because the view was so beautiful, I went back down to my bag, and then crossed the valley. I know that could be a challenge; these valley floors are often very swampy, but it wasn't too bad. I made it across without difficulty. And then I came to the stream by which I wanted to camp. It looked rather orange! Would it be drinkable? And where would the orange have come from?

Late sun between Glyder Fawr and Tryfan

After some brief scouting I found a small flat area right by the river that was a bit lower than the surrounding topography, so a bit sheltered. And it had two big rocks, one of which at a lovely angle for leaning against. That did it! I had found my spot for the night. I pitched my tent. And then it was time to have wash. I was quite sweaty from the walk up! But the river sorted me out with that. And I always feel really good just after a cold bath. I did make sure to put on warm clothes. It was feeling autumnal! I had also tasted the water; it tasted of iron, and as far as I know there is nothing wrong with drinking water has a lot of iron in it. That was reassuring.

Me and my home for the night

The washing room

I then drank tea (fresh mint tea from my own garden!) until it was time to call it a day. The last thing I did was stare at the stars that are coming out, and at an unexpected light on the hillside on the other side of the Ogwen Valley. There were more people out at this hour!

I slept well. When I woke up it was getting light. I saw it was quite early, so I dozed on for another half-hour. Then I got up. It was looking even more autumnal than it had done the previous evening! But that was okay. I made sure to wear lots of clothes while I was making my breakfast. And after breakfast I packed up. I had decided I was going to walk to the head of the valley, then go back to the ridge approximately where I had left it the previous night, and then walk back over the ridge. I knew it was possible to descend the ridge at that end, as I had done that before a few weeks before. So I set off!

Morning scene

I enjoyed my views into Cwm Tryfan again. And when I got to the plateau, I enjoyed that view as well. And I wasn't the only one! I noticed another little tent perched by the edge of a little lake. Nothing was stirring there.

It was a decidedly autumnal morning. I had put on a hat for breakfast, and it didn't look like I would be taking that off any time soon. I slightly regretted not having brought gloves. And it was still August! And I wasn't at a particularly high altitude. There were no autumn colours yet, but then again, you don't get these in an area like that. I don't know where the nearest tree would be but it would be a fair distance! The grass doesn't change colour much.

Autumn vibes

Due to bogginess, I had to make a bit of a wide loop to get to the ridge I wanted to follow back to the Ogwen Valley. That was okay! I was not in a hurry. The views were not necessarily as good as they could have been, as I spent some of the time with my head in the clouds, but it was nice to walk there. In all these seven years, I had not been here!

Gallt yr Ogof: the ridge over which I walked back 

The landscape went from grassy to heathery, and surrounded by heather I had another coffee break. And soon after that I reached the fence which indicated it was time for me to now make a left turn and return to the valley floor. I knew the path was small, and easy to lose, and I duly lost it at least once. I did end up in some treacherous terrain where I was acutely aware of the potential for mis-stepping and injuring my knee, but I got away with it. And I got back to my car without incident. I got back at about 9:45. It had been a good morning! Will I squeeze in another night like this this year? Stay tuned!

Gallt yr Ogof turns heathery

03 September 2021

Making a new exercise

 One of my tasks this summer was filling a pair of rather large shoes. They are only large metaphorically: they are my colleague Suzie's. Or ex-colleague, as I should call her. Her specialism is flocculation, and she did a practical with a big cohort of second-year students that involved that process. But unfortunately, she is gone now. And I know very little of flocculation. But someone needed to do something to fill that hole in the module. And I ended up being that person.

The good news is: I know what I want to do. My former colleague James had done a lot of work in the Celtic Sea, using a plethora of proxies to reconstruct the state of the water. Was it mixed, was it stratified? And if it went from one state to the other, when did it do that? This sounds, perhaps, like a rather academic question, but I assure you it isn't. It matters enormously for the amount of primary productivity in the water column whether it is seasonally stratified or not. And primary productivity is, of course, crucial for sequestration of carbon. And it is also the base of the food chain. So if you want to understand how the carbon cycle worked, and changed, on the timescale of thousands to tens of thousands of years, you had better learn how to recognise seasonal stratification in the fossil record. And James is just the kind of man to find that sort of things out. And my plan was to make the students work through what he had done, understand what he had done, and then apply his methods to a different sea. They would have learned from the best, so they should then be able to apply their knowledge anywhere!

The exercise in which they work through James's data is structurally complete. It doesn't look good yet! And even though that is not crucial, it is nice if your Sway documents look attractive.

Do I have a dataset from another sea ready for the second part? No, not yet. Do I have the assignment ready? No, not yet. The summer looks so long and empty, but it is not. Before you know it you have to submit your timetabling requests for the New Year, and that means you need to already know exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it. And over summer I am always busy getting all the staff and all the documentation ready for the dissertation module. And then there is welcome week! And this year, I got the full responsibility for our fieldwork module. So I had to park my practical for a bit. It is actually quite interesting to design a new exercise from scratch. I just wish we would ever have sufficient time for doing that sort of thing!

01 September 2021

Project water butt finished!

Months ago, I had moved my water butt to a much more favourable position than in which I had found it. It was now located near there guttering of the house. However; being near guttering is not good enough. If the water coming down these pipes doesn't actually enter the water butt, your water butt it's still only an ornament. So during a bank holiday weekend, I finally grabbed my saw and set out to guide the drainage pipe into the water butt. I had never done anything like that before, but it's not rocket science. 

It wasn't even that much work. The guttering is now pointing straight into the hole in the lid that I cut particularly for this purpose. I will now have to wait for rain to see if it really works! But I have faith. And that means that the days when I have to take water from the river, if I have some potted plants that really need some additional moisture, are counted. I don't want to use drinking water for this! And there's nothing wrong with getting some water from the river, but this is a lot more efficient. I felt very accomplished when I was finished! I had been pondering this chore for three years and now it is finished. Bring on first autumn, and then next summer, when all that accumulated water will come in handy!

Finished job! And yes there is a butternut squash plant draped over the water butt. It had to go somewhere when I left to walk the Slate Trail!