31 October 2021

Trying a scratch post

When I knew was going to have a cat, I decided to put up some improvised scratch posts throughout the house. The idea was good, but the cat showed remarkably little interest in them. She was more keen on the bed, the sofa, the carpet and the doormats. I was very happy with her being keen on the doormats! And I bought her a doormat all for herself. She uses that quite a lot.

I didn't mind about the bed. It's not a special bed by any means! And it lives in the extension, which means all the doors leading to it are big, so getting that (or any other) bed into that room is not a problem.

I was less keen on the carpet. That's not easy to replace! And it's expensive too. I also wasn't keen on the sofa; it's not a special sofa and it's not particularly beautiful, but it was such a hassle to get a sofa of any description into the living room, on account of the anomalously narrow door leading to it, that I really don't want her to destroy it. I tend to drape a blanket over it as that stops her scratching it. And even if she would scratch it; a blanket is a lot easier to get through the door.

Just that she was not interested in my scratch posts, of course, doesn't mean she is not interested in scratch posts at all. My friend Kate had a cat, but that cat seems to have moved in with her parents, and might not be coming back. She had a scratch post! She gave that to me. My cat immediately took to it. I just put it down in the hallway and she already had her claws in it. So it wasn't the idea of the scratch posts she didn't like; my attempts were just not good enough! And that also gave me the idea to turn the lowest post of the stairs banister into a scratch post. It would just need wrapping in sisal rope. So I bought a spool, and set to work. The cat was watching my endeavour with interests from a respectful distance. But when I was done, the only thing she was interested in was chewing on the ends of the rope. 

Later that day I did seem to hear scratching sounds coming from the direction of the stairs. And the day after I saw her use the post for what it was meant for. Success!

Under construction

Chewing on the end

30 October 2021

Modern lighting

I had decided that my office needed to be a bit lighter, so when I was in Bangor anyway I went to the shop to buy a new lightbulb. When I was rummaging among the bulbs I noticed they had something newfangled; lightbulbs that have two different possible light outputs. That puzzled me. But I thought it was a nice idea. I was a bit sceptical, though; I only bought one. Let's first see if it indeed works!

Once home I screwed the bulb into the fitting. And then I tried it out. Switch it on and you get mood lighting; switch it off and then switch it on again, and you get brighter lighting. It clearly works! And I quite like it. I might buy a few more of these. I think it is a fairly new invention, and normally I am at least 10 years behind everybody else, but in this case I might be right with the times, and enjoying it! I thought that was worth mentioning…

first setting

second setting

29 October 2021

Perks of a laptop

I spent a long time working at home, but when this academic year started some of my work went back to campus. I have fair numbers of contact hours with the students again. So far I haven't really been confronted with awkward gaps between contact hours, so I get generally just bike in, do my teaching, and bike again. But it will inevitably happen that I have some gap between lectures that the only reasonable thing to do is to go to the office and work there for a bit. Although as things stand, that office does not have a computer in it.

The other thing is that I depend on voice recognition software, and that only runs on my own computer. I can't run it on the network, so if I am teaching using the computer in a lecture room, I have to use mouse and keyboard, and that hurts.

When I saw both issues coming, I asked the University to give me a laptop. And they gave me one! My first foray with it wasn't successful; when I plugged it in, the system decided it wasn't properly configured, and refuse to recognise it. But in most lecture rooms you can just plug your laptop in, let it find the University Wi-Fi on its own, and run with it. Or, in my case, talk to it. I'm quite satisfied how it works. So I now also confident that when I need to use my office, I just can. I just bring the laptop and I'm sorted! Isn't it great when things just worked out…

28 October 2021

MATLAB progress

Not long ago I wrote a post about trying to dust off my Matlab skills again. So how did it go? Well! The title of this post sort of gives it away. But it wasn't a straightforward process. I did manage to play a bit with the data in the first graph, but the only thing I managed to do is remove data points, not add any. After some frustration I decided to just use my newfound graphic software to add the samples I wanted to compare the plotted samples with. It's admission of incompetence, but I could just get it done, and then decide that that task was done.

What about the second plot? I looked at the data I had generated with the script my colleague Yueng had helped me with, and realised they make no sense. I also managed to solve that with means other than Matlab. It wasn't looking good! And then there was the third task. That was really something I couldn't do without Matlab…

So how did it go? I still struggle to make sense of the whole scripts, but I now had one script that worked for the old data, and one that worked for the new data, and I figured that by studying the differences between the two, I should be able to write a script that could work with both data at the same time. So I set to work!

In the beginning it just didn't work. Then I changed a parameter and I managed to get a plot. The only problem with it was that all data points had the same colour, so the entire plot was useless. But it was clearly progress! And then the next iteration indeed plotted all the data, and all different data groups with their own colour. Success! Although I then decided the colours were not distributed well so I did another rejig. That worked too! And by then it was Friday evening and it was time to stop. But at least I ended the week in a triumph! I decided later I should choose a different colour map, but that should be a doddle. And then I need to manage to add both the third group of data points to this same plot, and to the original plot for which Yueng wrote the script. Will I manage that? I hope so! then I would have managed it all! 

I really would like to be good at Matlab, but I don't think it will ever happen; as long as I have this job I won't have the time, and as soon don't have the job anymore I won't have a reason for using Matlab anymore. It will remain muddling until the end!

partial success

27 October 2021

Underground with lots of Yorkshiremen

Out of the blue a message from Yorkshire landed in my inbox. The North York Moors Caving Club was coming to North Wales again! That could be a good opportunity to meet up again. They already had a program: doing the local zip wire on Friday, a small underground trip on Saturday, and a big underground trip on Sunday. I couldn't join them for the zipping as I was at work, and the trip seemed a bit long for a weekend in which I had chores to do as well, but the short underground trip on Saturday sounded like a possibility. We made it happen!

We met up on a parking lot. There were many of them! Some twelve, and I only knew some four, but it is always nice to meet new people. And after some obligatory faffing we were on our way. The entrance wasn't far. And then I was underground, unrelated to cave rescue, for the first time in a long while! It was quite nice.

When we got to where the mine started to go in several different directions we spread out. I checked one side passage I never had explored before. And I found out I hadn't quite memorised this place; I had been confusing two different levels. But with three others I went to the furthest place you go. When we got back to the junction, there was no sign of anybody else. We assumed they had gone out! And that was true. But we found them back and we headed back to the cars.
It wasn't very late, but some of the men were quite hungry, so we headed for the High Street before they set off to their accommodation. The chippy and the kebab places were closed, but we still had the deli, and the local shop. The latter was well-stocked with cakes. After the Yorkshireman descended, they were considerably less well-stocked! It was good to see them support the local economy.
When they were revitalised it was time to say goodbye. I suppose they will be back next year! The annual North Wales trip is a bit of a classic…



25 October 2021

Goodbye road bike, welcome gravel bike

After a year or two of commuting by road bike I had decided that a gravel bike was more up my street. And I hadn't looked back since! I had even decided, and then managed, to sell the road bike to someone who would use it to its full capacity. So I was happy with my gravel bike. But bikes sometimes need maintenance, so sometimes this gravel bike would be out of service. The last time I hadn't been able to use it because I had a puncture I had switched to my trusted old black bike. That had, of course, brought me where I needed to be, but at considerable expense of energy. So I wanted an extra gravel bike, so I would always have a functioning bike to get me where I needed to go, and fairly fast at that. So I had been keeping an eye on online platforms where you could buy things like that. And one day a gravel bike appeared on eBay. It wasn't very expensive, it was my size, the seller was happy to ship it, so there was no reason for me not to bid on it. And I won!

About a week later there was a knock on the door. A man had placed a big box there. My bike had arrived! And it had been partially dismantled for shipping, of course, but it took only a few minutes to put it back together. I didn't try it out; I was getting ready for a day in the field with the students the next day. And that next day I was, of course, in the field with the students.

How it arrived

What it looked like later that day

In the end took it for a spin on Friday. It still didn't have mudguards, so I made sure to wear clothes that could get muddy. I went to Idwal cottage and back. And I was impressed! The bike is very comfortable, and has a wider range of gears than the other bike. I had figured that out from looking at it, of course, but that's different from actually feeling it. The small gear was small enough to come up the steep bits of the old road, and the big gear was quite big! This is a good bike to come crashing down long mild slopes. I think this will be my standard bike once I have made some additions and adjustments. And then the green bike can be the backup bike!

So what needs changing? I wasn't impressed with the braking power. As things stand I don't know how to adjust disk brakes, but I am sure that Google does, so I will just have to look that up. And I want mudguards and a pannier rack. And then I'm sorted! Commute, here I come, with a vengeance!

24 October 2021


 When I lived in Norway, I started using Adobe Illustrator. When I moved to Britain, I seem to remember I still had access to it. When I moved to Bangor, though, I found it did not offer this software to its employees. As an academic, though, you do get a discount, so I convinced my line manager to buy me a copy. But software does not have an endless shelf life! Moving from contract to contract and computer to computer I managed to take Illustrator with me, but the time did come that the computer didn't recognise it anymore. So now what?

For a while it didn't matter; my RSI was way too bad for me to do anything graphic anyway. But I sometimes really would like to use graphic software, even though I really have to be careful with to what extent I use it. So I decided to just see what it is you can get as academic staff these days. And the university turns out to be very generous; they offer you free graphic software. In theory, that is. I decided to give that new software a go. I didn't manage to download it from the University portal, but it being free anyway, I found it on its own website.

So now I have inkscape. I have only just started using it, but so far it does everything it needs to do. I am sorted again! And given that it is free I can get used to this and then use it for the rest of my life…

23 October 2021

Rainy day at Llyn Llydaw

 In normal years, I take my second year's students into the field in autumn, to look at glacial striations. I tend to have some 50 of them. Last year I didn't think that would be feasible, so I had done the whole thing online. That had been rather unsatisfactory, as it isn't the real thing, and to make things worse: by the time the students got their teeth into the assignment I had designed, I was off sick and couldn't help them with it. But this year I had faith we could go in person again! And that turned out to be true.

The Friday before we had been in the field as well; we had had an amazing day. It might have been in the middle of October, but I had at some point stripped down to a tank top. But for this trip we would not be so lucky; I had seen the forecast, and it was wall-to-wall rain. Not ideal! But these striations we are looking for are waterproof. And so should our clothes be.

It would be first time in a long while I would be in the field with my friend and colleague Lynda again. She had been quite careful during the pandemic! But she was comfortable with teaching on this trip. And I gave her a ride from campus. The students would travel by coach.

I had had a fair number of students email me to say that they didn't think they were medically up for it. Luckily we have a lot of online material so they can still participate in the assignment! A pity they had to miss it, but maybe they didn't think that way, with the weather in mind.

We got to Pen-y-Pass, where I handed out clipboards with datasheets, and compasses. Then we started to walk up. It was wet and windy but beautiful! And the students I was walking with kept their spirits high.

Not all students were equally fast; when I got to the top I found a sheltered space and waited for everyone to arrive. When we were all there I tried to keep it brief. We were all getting soaked! And I knew that they still had the online material as backup. But one thing I really wanted to do was go past a few outcrops, and decide with all the students whether what they saw there were striations or not. The bane of this field trip is students mistaking other features for striations, and then measuring these, resulting in usable data. I hoped this would be the first year where that could be avoided!

When I was satisfied all students got the brief I let them disperse and gather the data we needed. I didn't intend to stay any longer than necessary. My waterproofs were keeping up, but that didn't hold for everyone. We also had the first aider walk two students back down who had managed to make their way up, but now felt their health wasn't actually good enough to stay around. I also am first aid trained so the students were never without medical backup.

The students were being quite executive. And they managed to document the data in spite of the datasheets becoming useless in seconds. They were also not excessively spread out. I could see why! So earlier than normal we were all done and we could walk back down. I had made sure I had the contact details of the coach drivers, so if I would find a way of having signal I could phone them and ask them to pick us up earlier. And the good thing would be that we could wait in the café on the pass. There are worse things after half a day in the pouring rain than having a hot chocolate!

In the end we solved the problem of the signal (or lack thereof) by having the first aider drive down to town and phone the coach drivers from there. It worked!

I am confident this year we will have good data. I hope the assignment will be done well! And at least this day in the field will be memorable…

22 October 2021

Marjan 60!

Marjan turned 60! And I had been invited to the celebrations. Her plan was: first walk the little Orme, then have dinner in Llandudno, and then a ride in the local Ferris wheel. It sounded good! I put on an outfit that I thought was a nice balance between practical and festive, and drove to Landudno. There I met the others; apart from Marjan and Jaco there were three of their friends. And we set off. I had never been to the Little Orme! I had barely been to the Great one. It was a nice walk, and it was nice to have a chat. I had met the couple among Marjan's friends before, at Jaco's 50th, and the other lady was new to me. And we walked to the top, where we admired the view and took some birthday pictures. Then we walked down to the quarry on the east side of the Little Orme, and had tea with cake there. It was lovely! And then we walked back to town, where the couple said goodbye, and Marjan's son and his girlfriend joined us for dinner. I had never met the girlfriend so it was nice to be introduced. We went to Dylan's; I had been to the restaurant in Menai Bridge, but not very often. So going to its brother in Landudno was still novel enough for me! And dinner was lovely.

After dinner we walked to the Ferris wheel, and did a few loops in it. And then the celebrations were over! It had been lovely. I was privileged to have been part of this. Onwards to the next 60!

View from the summit of the little Orme

Summit pic: clockwise Marjan, me, Anna, Bettina, Jaco (pic by Hans)

The Ferris wheel

Promenade seen from the Ferris Wheel

21 October 2021

Rhoscolyn geology

This is the fourth year we are doing our fieldwork module. And strangely enough, there was one trip out of the six we do that I never attended: to Rhoscolyn. I mainly know the area for reasons of climbing. I also hadn't been able to attend the recce that Jaco and Dei had done. I therefore wasn't very confident teaching on that particular trip. So when it came up again, and I could attend, I decided to join it without having a particular part of the teaching assigned to me. If I would just watch the others (mainly Jaco, as this particular trip is pretty much start to finish within his area of expertise) teach, I could just imbibe the knowledge, and then teach on it the next time it would come around. I did read up on the area, but otherwise I didn't have to prepare much. And Dei had offered to pick me up from Bangor.

We signed the students into the coach, and then set off together. We would first go to South Stack. That is such beautiful place! And the weather was ideal. We were lucky. And we pressed the Jaco button and enjoyed the show. He talked about the general setting, and the stratigraphy in the area. And then we went to see it for ourselves. The promontory with the lighthouse shows clearly what the area is famous for: intercalations of mudstone and sandstone, which are indicative of a deep marine setting where mud slowly accumulates, and occasionally submarine gravity flow comes and brings in coarser material. And tens to hundreds of millions of years later, all of that got deformed by tectonic processes, creating the beautifully folded strata that attract so many geologists and other interested people.

He also explained the various types of gravity flows, and how you distinguish them. And he picked one particular sand bed and showed the students how you can tell it had been a turbidity current. And he said they would look at more of those at the next location.

Jaco providing the background

The lighthouse on the folded sandstones and mudstones

Jaco pointing at turbidites. Pic by SOS

Cliffs. Pic by SOS

Walking back up. Pic by SOS

The next location would be Porth Dafarch, where we first would have lunch. There were picnic tables there and it was lovely. I personally regretted the public toilets there were closed; I had hoped they would contain drinking water, as I had had another incident of my water bag emptying itself in an unsolicited way, so I had preciously little water. That is never a situation I like to be in! I also found out that Porth Dafarch is a difficult place to find a good spot to go to the loo. But I managed.

Porth Dafarch

Deformed turbidites on the beach

Jaco holds court. Pic by SOS

After lunch we did look at the turbidites on the beach, and we did manage to get some of the students enthusiastic about being able to distinguish the various constituent parts of a turbidite in the rocks half a billion years old. We also showed them a tertiary dike cutting through all that turbidite action.

Then it was time to move onto the last location: that was Rhoscolyn proper. We walked to the lifeboat outlook post, and from there to the cliffs where you can see even more deformed turbidites. They were spectacular, and even festooned with curious seals. And we ended the day with some massive quartzites. And then it was time to go back to the cars, and then home! Dei seemed to have forgot he didn't actually want to drive back to Bangor to get me back to my car, as he lives about midway between Rhoscolyn and Bangor, but I suggested I hitch a ride back with Jaco, for whom it would be much less of a detour. I think it had been a successful day! I know that the geology we saw is not very varied, but we spent an entire day on one particular lithology and got to see it at various spatial scales. I hope the students will now appreciate deep-seated sentiments with intercalated turbidites for the rest of their lives!

Rhoscolyn proper

20 October 2021

Re-learn MATLAB

 Five years ago I had done the biggest project in MATLAB I had ever done. I had really put some effort in! And I had substantial help from colleagues who are a lot better at coding than I am, but I had really given all of it a good try myself, and made the effort to try to understand what my friends had done. I had taken a somewhat outdated assignment, which was partially done in statistical software I don't otherwise use, and partly just by manual plotting, and reading values of a graph. I figured that needed updating! And with help it worked.

The year after I managed to put my new data through these scripts as well. And then I stopped gathering new data, as I was not given enough time on the fieldwork to produce anything meaningful. That meant I didn't have to bother with these scripts any more! I could just use the data I had already processed. But then everything changed when we went to a different location. The data suddenly had a different format. And I hadn't used MATLAB in years!

When the data came in during the fieldwork I knew I would have to process it. But I didn't have an awful lot of time to do it! It has to be done, though, so I did open the scripts and tried to change them to the new format. Of the four scripts, I managed to make one work. Then I knew I would not be able to spend the sort of time I would need to get the other 3 to run as well. So I asked for help! And my marvellous colleague Yueng was willing to lend me her skills. And in no time she had the scripts ready for the new data.

What I now need to do is play a bit with the data, and that means playing with the scripts. It is a bit of a steep learning curve! Coding doesn't come natural to me, but if I manage to make something work, it is wildly satisfying. I hope to get sufficiently comfortable with the software to be able to adjust scripts without help, to any of the requirements I might have. We'll have to see!

19 October 2021

Diversity in Ocean Sciences

 Maybe I should have called this post "diversity in Ocean Sciences or absence thereof" as our school doesn't really display much diversity. All our professors are white men, and straight, cisgender, able-bodied ones at that, as far as I know. When you come to the readers it gets slightly better; at least women are represented there, and one is even non-white! But with only one non-white person in the entire academic staff, and women only fairly represented in the lower ranks, and any representation of LGBTQ+ or disabled demographic, if any, having remained unnoticed by me so far, the situation is clearly not good. And just sitting there and concluding that is not going to make a change. So Yueng, our only Asian member of staff, decided to take action. She founded an organisation aimed at increasing diversity in the School. And we had our first meeting this week!

The biggest topic we discussed in the meeting was representation. You can't be you can't see! And we anecdotally know of minorities who leave because they don't think they have a future in a straight, white, male environment like Ocean Sciences. We can't suddenly have fair representation, but one thing we can do is show examples of possible role models in the wider scientific community. Yueng had made a document available with a whole list of diverse scientists. And I think we should use that list. If I emphasise all the people whose work I refer to in my lectures, I will inevitably be emphasising predominantly straight white males, as that is of course exactly the problem we are talking about here, but I think that after centuries of discrimination against everybody who is not a straight white male, it is fair to now discriminate in favour of them. 

We also discussed that it is important to keep an eye on hurtful prejudice. I remember Yueng asking me to swap some marking work with me; she had ended up with the dissertation of the student who had, in all ignorance (I was sure there was no malicious intent here) put lots of prejudice against the Chinese in his dissertation. If we educate our students better they might not do this, because they might see what it is they are doing.

I was also wondering if we should try to recruit from schools that are less lily-white than the ones we usually recruit from. I would really want to see a more diverse collection of professors in our school, but if your readers are not diverse you can't diversify your professors by promoting these. And if your senior lecturers are not diverse, you are not likely to get diverse readers any time soon. Et cetera. We should tackle this also from the bottom. And I am aware of the massive trap that might create; that is what the straight white males in management always say. Just recruit more female students, wait 25 years, and then you will have more female professors! It clearly doesn't work that way. And if a diverse cohort of students doesn't see itself represented in the higher ranks of university, will they pursue a career there? If all the staff mean well but are unable to deal with their own biases and prejudices and ignorances, will they get fed up and go elsewhere? That is what the women are doing now; why would it not happen to other underrepresented demographics? But I still think we should also walk that road.

There was a lot of talk about! And speaking was predominantly done by straight white people, of course. What else do we have? But it's the best we can do. For now… I really hope we can make a change!

18 October 2021

Sunset run

 I normally run in the afternoon, starting at about 3 or 4 PM. One Monday I had two online lectures in a row, at 4 and 5 PM. I didn't want to run before them because I figured I would be a bit restless with these two contact hours coming up. So I went afterwards! The sun was still up when I left the house. It was behind a hill, but I ran up another hill quicker than the sun could descend down beyond the horizon, so I did get to see it from bit higher up. While I climbed further, the sun then properly set. It was nice to see that from the hills! And as soon as the sun was gone, the moon took over, hanging majestically above the Glyderau range. 

Evening light over the Carneddau

The sun peeking over the hillfort

Ffos Rhufeinig heading for the sunset

The moon over the hills

It was getting a bit dark on the way back but I could see enough to keep running. And by then I was hungry and needed some food! Soon it won't be possible to run past 6 PM without a torch. I'll enjoy it while I can!

17 October 2021

Sold the roadbike

 I never had a bike as magnificent as my road bike. The thing was a beast of speed! And everywhere I went, I got comments on how good the bike was. That never happens to me otherwise. I tend to ride fairly arbitrary bikes of dubious provenance. But this thing was a bike competitive cyclists would happily ride. But it wasn't to last!

There were four issues with this bike: the first one was its emphasis on speed rather than comfort. I'm sure this is a lovely bike and smooth asphalt, but my commute was a bit more bumpy than that. And going over bumps on the super rigid road bike is not very comfortable. And I always felt like I was about to get a puncture if I would ride over a bump.

That brings me to the second issue: the narrow tyres meant it was a complete nightmare to fix a puncture. It is hard to get these tyres off, and almost impossible to put them back again. And that makes having to do a repair on the go unnecessarily stressful.

Then there were the handlebars. This bike is made for speed, and if you want to be speedy you want to be aerodynamic, so the handlebars were very narrow. But that meant it was difficult to stay stable in strong winds. Winds coming from the side would quickly become uncomfortable! And this is a windy country.

Then there were the disc brakes. They were extremely noisy! And it seems there was something wrong with them, and the bike repair shop seems to have fixed it the last time I brought it in for maintenance, but it did affect my riding comfort considerably before that time.

The last thing was the gears. It's a road bike, so it has pretty big gears. You want to be able to go very fast while going gently downhill. And you don't really have a small gear for going up the hill, as on a bike like this you want to go up that hill really fast as well. And I am more into comfort than into speed. There is quite a lot of downhill between where I live and where I work, and yes you can do that quicker if you have a big gear, but I tend to not go at full speed anyway. My commute is full of dog walkers, and if you go to fast risk running into a canine. And if I have a steep uphill bit to do, I'd rather get up there while not getting unacceptably sweaty than particularly fast. So all in all, I better off with smaller gears.

Altogether I suppose it is clear I shouldn't have had a road bike. When that became abundantly clear, I bought a gravel bike. I did notice the downhill bits were slower on this bike, but otherwise I was really happy with its performance. I happily bounce over bumps in the bicycle track, the wide dropped handlebars make the bike still comfortable when it is gusty, I can get up hills without issue, the brakes are silent, and if I have a puncture (as already happened) fixing that is not a problem. So altogether I am really happy with the switch!

But what to do now with the road bike? Keep it for in case? Sell it on? I decided on the second option; I figured there must be someone out there who can use it for what it is intended for, and have a blast with it. And it worked! I put it on Facebook marketplace, and after a while bloke got in touch who was interested. It turned out he wanted the buy it for his girlfriend who was about to have her birthday, and who intended to take up triathlons. I think she will appreciate it a lot more than I did! I really hope she will have lots of fun with it. And does well in the races.

So I am now back to normal; on bikes that won't impress a single bike connoisseur, but very content! Everybody wins.

Picture from my 'for sale' ad

16 October 2021

COVID pass

Some time ago, the Welsh government had a vote about whether or not to introduce covid passes. The vote was incredibly close; the covid passes were accepted with a difference of only just one vote. That didn't surprise me much; what I was bit taken aback by was how quickly it came into force. And I had checked; the sort of events for which you need a pass like that are not the sort of events I tend to go to. It was fairly big indoor events, or really big outdoor events. And the biggest event I had coming up was a concert, but that was for calm people so we would be seated, and as soon as you are seated you don't need a covid pass. It is more for concerts with a moshpit and suchlike.

I did want to know how much faff it was to get one. Just suppose I suddenly do want to go to a big concert! Or I see an opportunity to go to the Netherlands. So I visited the NHS website. And as it so happened, it was a complete doddle to get a pass. I just got both the national and the international version. I'm covering my bases! And now we'll see if I ever use them. But if I need one, then either I already have one, or I have already found out how to get one, as the national one expires, so might need to be renewed. I was quite surprised by how smooth it went! So not too much hassle to suddenly be forced to have one, if you had an event coming up just after that vote in the Senedd…

15 October 2021

Save the apples

 It is apple season! I have a reasonable crop this year. Initially, I decided to keep the apples on the tree, as I figured that would be where they would keep the longest. But there were creatures already feasting on them, and I had not forgot the year when my last apples had been stolen (I don't seem to have mentioned that on the blog). And the damage in an earlier year. So this year I decided to take the crop down and store it indoors. I hope that will turn out to be a good decision! I really enjoy having my own apple tree. And if this works I do it again next year!

14 October 2021

Autumn night in the garden

 I had greatly enjoyed having a beer just before the start of term with Martin, Sue and Dean. So I decided to invite the whole bunch down to my place. I had hoped we could sit in the garden and enjoy the autumn colours! But I figured we needed to decide that on the day. So I just suggested they show up with a warm jacket, and said I would prepare a fire indoors and one outdoors, and that we would decide on the spot which one we would light. And so it happened!

During the day I had prepared soup, bread, and guacamole. And I had placed my fire bowl outside. It was raining in the afternoon, so I figured we would be indoors. But then the sun came out!

Sue and Dean arrived first. And things escalated fast. Sue had brought catnip toys with catnip in, and stronger stuff than what she already had. And the cat figured that out immediately! So when Martin arrived only minutes later, the cat was already high as a kite. And that was not a problem, as that meant Martin amused himself with observing the rather daft cat while I gave the other two a tour. And then we decided to head outdoors! The weather was amazing. And we had a lovely night! We never bothered to go indoors. It stayed warm enough all evening and the midges were not an issue. And we could see enough to get to our drinks. And the cat even came out, when she had recovered a bit from her trip, to do the rounds and see from how many people she could get cuddles (answer: everybody). I think it was a success!

The previous time we had met, by the way, Sue had said in jest that she only took people who have a two-tier garden seriously. I can now confirm my garden has been judged sufficiently multilevel. In case you wondered!

13 October 2021

Annual killing spree

The Japanese knotweed is slowly coming closer to the house. Every year I go out with my poison injector and try to fight it back. So far with little success! But I keep trying. I am not entirely sure what else I could do.

Last year I had only got the injector out after a serious flood, so there was little left to inject into. This year I had feared the same would happen. I had struggled to find the time in September, and there is no reason why you wouldn't have had a flash flood by early to mid October. But as it so happened, it was okay! So after the second week of term I assembled my murder weapon again and set to work. And then we'll see how much comes up again next year…

12 October 2021

Suzie again!

Good friendship manages to come through periods in which the friendship can't really blossom. It took me years to build up a good friendship with my then colleague Suzie, but then when lockdown hit, the friendship was strong enough to be able to weather the storm. We made sure to catch up on screen while that was the only thing we were legally allowed to do! And then lockdown was released, and for a while we could meet, but only outdoors. We met once, but we had chosen the venue badly, and a long-eared bat took up quite a lot of our attention. We barely caught up!

The tide has turned now! We can freely meet up indoors. I had been trying to arrange that we would. That was not straightforward; the logistics of having a baby and a small child makes pretty much everything in life difficult. And there were matters for which she needed to be back at her parents' house. And the baby seems to be prone to catching colds.

One day we almost managed. She had suggested the best way of seeing each other would be when the oldest kid would be in school, but that would be during working hours. However; I am on campus pretty much every day, and I need to have lunch anyway, so the idea was that we would have lunch in a café. And while we were trying to organise that, Martin joined the plan, as he also hadn't seen her in ages either and hadn't been enjoying that. The first attempt was aborted for baby reasons, and moved to a day when I actually didn't have anything to do on campus, but I was perfectly willing to bike to Bangor especially to see her.

Then the actual day came, and another text arrived mentioning baby issues that prevented Suzie from appearing. Bummer! I texted Martin to ask what he wanted with the situation; I figured he would already be in Bangor, teaching, and with no lunchbox in his bag. He might want to just continue without Suzie, or maybe prefer to just get a quick sandwich and get on with things. There was no reply. It is not unusual for people to switch their phones to silent when they teach! He probably had no idea Suzie wasn't coming. And then the moment arrived that I needed to either jump on my bicycle to make it, or not show up at all. And I figured that if I expected to have lunch with two friends, and I would walk into a café and meet nobody at all, I would be a bit deflated about that. So I went anyway. And that seems to have been the right decision.

And then the day came eventually worked out! I had been teaching until 12, so lunch then was an excellent idea. We went to the same café! We knew now it was good (Domu, in case you wonder.) And when I got there Suzie and the baby were already there! It was really nice to see her, and that we were in a comfortable environment with little risk of disturbing bats made it even better. A bit later Martin joined and we could finally catch up on the many months before.

I hope this won't be the last time we do a thing like that! And maybe we can also involve Menai Bridge in all of this; it's closer to where Suzie lives, and unlike me, Martin actually works in the office on a regular basis. An I am sure I will sometimes have to go there myself. And if not, I can just bike a little bit further for the occasion. It will be nice to be able to properly pick up where we left off when the pandemic got in the way!

11 October 2021

Cat in bed

Two months ago I mentioned I sometimes left the door open, so the cat could join me. And it has now become a clear habit. When work became unpleasantly hectic with the field trip and welcome week and term in really close succession, and I didn't have much time for the cat during the day, I would just try to make up for that at night. And she would pretty much come join me every night! And it was nice and snug. And there were no further occurrences of her are you bringing live prey into my bedroom.

I now just keep the door open by default. And I have noticed I miss her when she doesn't show up! There was one night where she was nowhere to be seen, and I had trouble switching off so I couldn't sleep. And after an unknown period of time tossing and turning I decided that if I couldn't sleep anyway, I might just as well not sleep near the cat. So I went upstairs to where she was sleeping on the other bed, and cuddled her a bit. She seemed to enjoy that! But then I decided I needed to go to the loo, and she decided she needed to check her food bowl, so we evacuated the room. But when she was done in the kitchen she came join me downstairs. Success!

If I move much, she tends to run away; I don't know if she just finds it annoying, or whether she thinks that if I stir it means that I am about to go to the kitchen to give her food. But it has happened several times I wanted to scratch her head, but had to move in order to be able to reach her, upon which she bolted away. But one night I managed to get within reach without her running away. She really enjoyed the attention! And even though she had started out curled up like a fur hat, she ended up all stretched out. She reached from my midriff to my knees! It was really nice. I managed to make her do that twice now. I think this bed sharing thing may be the new normal. Although her hunting habit seems to change with the seasons, and as soon as she starts bringing mice in, the deal may be off again! 

Cat in bed (during the day, in this case)

10 October 2021

Finally: interview in Welsh I thought went OK

It is not unusual that BBC or other broadcasters contact University ask for a specialist to comment on something in the news. Most of the time, it has something to do with biology and I don't respond. And if it is in English language medium, the pool of people they can fish from is, of course, rather big. When it is a Welsh medium broadcaster, the pool becomes a lot smaller. Within Ocean Sciences we have, as far as I know, just Dei and me in the academic staff, an ocean modeller and a geophysics-focussed man in the research staff, and a lady specialising in marine plastics among the PhD students. And then a lot of support staff, but the media tend to want a scientist. So marine biology is not very well covered in the Welsh media.

I had been roped in by BBC Cymru twice before; once because I was a European citizen and they expected me to be able to say something useful about Brexit, so that had nothing to do with Ocean Sciences. The second I was quite recent; that had something to do with a book published by my colleagues, and which for some reason had been linked with outrages sealevel rises in the popular media. And now had that gone? What can I say! Not so well. The first interview was five years ago, so after only a few years of learning Welsh. And the interview was done through a wire. If you're not quite confident in a language, you really don't want to have to respond to it if it comes into your head through headphones, and you can't see the person speaking. And the second time was this year, so after many years of Welsh practice, but still through headphones, talking to an invisible person. I wasn't particularly satisfied with that interview either. I didn't hear it back, though; I don't remember why not.

And then there was a request about the beach where I go every year with the first-year students. Dei initially took that on; he had already answered by the time I came out of the lecture and noticed I had lots of emails about the situation. But later he emailed me to ask if I would be willing to take over. And I was okay with that; not only do I know about this beach because of the trip with the students we do there, but also because this beach actually plays a role in the BRITICE-CHRONO project I worked on. So I know about the location and about why it is so important.

And why did the Welsh broadcaster, S4C, want to  talk about this beach? Is it so happens, there is a house just north-east of it, and it is perilously close to the sea. And now the owner had unsuccessfully applied for permission to improve the sea defences. There were lots of people who were worried about what damage the work would do to the amazing glacial sediments on the beach. And now they wanted someone to talk about why these glacial sediments were so amazing. I was glad to hear they would have someone else entirely to talk about the actual work on the sea defences, as I had no idea about these.

Dei was very happy I was willing to take over, and soon I was on the phone with S4C. And we agreed to meet on the beach. It was a beautiful day! And we had made the appointment based entirely on availability, and not on the tides. And so I found myself looking at the high tide. There wasn't much beach to walk around on, admiring the sediments! But it would have to make do. And soon my contact, Dafydd, appeared and introduced himself. While he was assembling his equipment had a small chat about what exactly he wanted to talk about, and how. I was hoping it would be willing to get wet feet (he said he had wellies in the boot of his car) so we could actually get onto the interesting part of the beach. He didn't seem keen! And in the end we settled for him just filming me with the interesting outcrops in the distance behind me. The unfortunate thing with that was that the sun was also in that direction, so I probably just looked like a black silhouette, but it would be silly to film in the other direction as then I would just have been talking in front of some fields and a parking lot.`

The beach seen from the parking lot

And then it started. He just put up a tripod with a camera, and a tripod with a microphone, and from behind the camera ask me questions. And I try to answer as best as I could in Welsh. I sometimes hesitated to search for words, but I wasn't self-conscious about that. And I think I got the message across. I felt good about it! It was great that I could look at him and watch him speak. A slight complicating factor was the sound of the waves, but I could hear him well enough, and it is just a lot nicer to talk to someone who is physically present. If Welsh interviews are like this then they're okay!

When we were done he asked me to do the same thing again but now in English. I was happy with that. I turned out to have said something I had omitted in Welsh, so then he asked me to say it in Welsh as well. Some editing would have to glue all of that together!

When we were done and got back to the cars he asked me if I was willing to do some of the interview again, but now with the sun on my face rather than in my back, and I was happy with that too. And then it was a wrap!

I wasn't gonna see my own interview, of course, not having a TV licence, but I was happy with how things had gone and went back to the office. Given that this actually went quite well they might ask me back… Watch this space!

09 October 2021


 I had come through the first week of term! And there was still plenty to do, but I wanted to have some fun during the weekend as well. So I contacted Kate to see if she was up for that. And she was! She suggested going to Tal-y-Fan; a modest hill above Penmaunmawr. I thought that was an excellent idea! I had not been, and I had actually not been in the general area much at all recently. The parking lot she suggested we use was one I think I have only been once, during one of my marathon training runs. So it was time I go back.

Even though Tal-y-Fan is not very far as the crow flies, the way we would approach it meant quite a drive. The logical approaches from the Conwy Valley, so that means driving a big U. I suggested we meet up in Betws-y-Coed and then drive together. That would save us fuel, which is always a good idea, but in these current times even more so. And it is much nicer to share a car! And she agreed. And I had managed to get some fuel in the morning so I had no problems getting to Betws. 

We drove over the tiny road to the parking lot and parked up. It is a beautiful drive, and just standing on that little parking lot is already amazing. This looked like a good idea! We had to walk down the road a bit to get to the start of the public footpath, but that was hardly a punishment. And soon they were in the hills. It was a bit soggy underfoot, and it was windy, but that was okay. The weather was rather changeable so I had the keep changing between sunglasses and a hat against the rain all the time, but that also was okay. And in not too much time we were at the top! We almost blew off. And we decided to head north a bit, and then loop back via the East to get back to where we had come from. It was beautiful walk! The landscape was empty and autumnal. We had a nice tea break with cake in the middle. We came across two walkers, and saw a little group in the distance. That was all! On a fairly sunny Sunday.

On the second half of the walk I recognised some of the terrain from an earlier Swamphike. This area was nice to see again this well. And altogether we only walked for a few hours, but we both felt our cobwebs had been blown away! Ready for a new week of teaching…

View from the parking lot

At the summit, holding on to my hat in the wind; pic by Kate

Summit selfie

Descending onto the plane north of Tal-y-Fan

Rudimentary building we used as a tea break shelter

Empty landscape

There were a lot of rainbows that day

dramatic skies