26 November 2021

Caught up with term - or not

 I had started term already quite worn out. The combination of the dissertation module, the fieldwork and welcome week had left me cranky and stressed before term had even started. That is not ideal! And it meant I had to prepare everything in the last minute. And I kept feeling that I was behind, and needed to run to catch up. And every week I hoped that I would have caught up and that I could be a bit more relaxed. And it never really happened. It happened a little bit; in the weekend I got my bike finished (with help)  I made a bit of progress in my book for the first time in months. (Also helped by having been put on standby and therefore being a bit limited in my activities.) It lasted about two weeks and then I was already back to working until bedtime pretty much every night. When I had published the dissertation allocations and finished a big batch of marking, I felt so relaxed I went for a hike. But when I got back from the hike I was reminded of the next big batch of marking I had to do. That had been lying there for weeks while I was doing the other marking. That meant that for this batch, the deadline was looming already! And I still had to prepare for all my teaching sessions with the students. That can be a bit of work as well. So by the Monday it was all hands on deck again. I don't think it will end until Christmas! The marking will just keep coming in. And I have quite a lot of lectures still to do. I can only hope I can find more balance in the new term!

25 November 2021

Cnicht with Kate

I had finished a big marking job, and published the dissertation allocations. I decided I was allowed a break! I hadn't been on a walk since Tal-y-Fan with Kate, and it was time for a bigger walk than that. And she was up for it. And the weather forecast for the Sunday looked good! But that meant we needed to decide where to go. Kate was on a mission to visit some peaks she hadn't got around to her time in Wales so far, and she hadn't done Cnicht yet! So that was our goal. And we met up at nine in Croesor. The drive there was beautiful through the trees with some remaining yellow leaves, lit up by the morning sun. This could be a good day.

We went up to the top and it was beautiful. You don't get November days like that very often! And from there we needed to decide how to get back. I had been thinking of looping back over the North, but Kate preferred the south. There were several options there. We could just take the big path that runs past the entrance of Croesor mine, or the path that runs a bit below that, or over the old tramline and then down the very steep incline on the northside of the valley. We decided we would head for the tramline, and then decide what to do; if Kate didn't like the look of it (I've walked it before) we could just turn back and head for the path on the other side anyway. And that's what we did!

Kate didn't like the incline, so we went back and went down the path. But when we got to an incline leading to the bottom of the valley we couldn't resist and went down it. I had never been there! And if we walked down the bottom of the valley we would get more sun. And that worked.

I was glad I had let myself out of the office for a day! What a day it was. And it was good to see Kate. I don't know how much longer she will live in the area and it was nice to get a hike in. And I had done Cnicht several times before, but its views will keep amazing me!

Cnicht in the distance


Smiling hikers

View on a cloudy Wyddfa

Kate approaches the top

View from the top

View from our lunch break; Moelwyn Mawr on the left

At Rhosydd


Looking down into the valley


Hikers still smiling

24 November 2021

Supporting a local photographer

 I have spent a lot of time plastering my walls with pictures that remind of beautiful places I have been, and lovely people I know. Above my desk there are pictures from the glacier course I did in Norway, with next to that a picture from Greenland. I have relatives in the living room. There are pictures from Iceland and Norway and Svalbard and Wales all over the place. The vast majority I took myself. But some of them were taken by others.

Above the stairs I have some pictures of Bethesda in the past; three quite old pictures I found in the local charity shop, and a picture that has my house seen from the spoil heaps of the local slate quarry (Pant Dreiniog; not Penrhyn). But when a shop opened where they sell local produce, a local photographer  called Rhys Wyn Parry (who may or may not be this one) started to use it as an outlet at well. He takes pictures in the immediate surroundings. I know the surroundings well, but he clearly has a good eye for composition and light and whatnot, and a good camera. So by now I have bought two of his framed pictures.

One is hanging underneath the stairs. The other one has gone above the big fireplace in the landing. I like them! They remind me of why I love this landscape. And I am supporting the local economy. A win for everyone!

View on Tryfan above the fireplace

This is Nant Ffrancon, but it's hard to see that on a picture given its dark location


23 November 2021

Ontbijtkoek

 When I am visiting my mother she makes sure she has ontbijtkoek. For those who don't what that is; it's some sort of spice cake (generally made with rye flour) that you can eat as cake (sometimes with butter on top) or on bread. I do both! In Britain you can't buy it as far as I know, and importing it is prohibitively expensive since brexit. Not that I tried before brexit, but I have had a look since, and I'm just not going to do it. The ontbijtkoek would be reasonably priced, but postage would be ridiculous. So could I make it myself?

I had wondered before, but the rye flour was beating me. I buy my flour in the local Whole Foods Co-op, and they didn't sell it, as far as I was aware. But one day when I saw they had it in stock I immediately bought a bag. Ready for ontbijtkoek!

One Saturday I set to work. I had googled some various recipes to see which one I liked. To my annoyance, quite a lot of them actually used wheat flour. I had not bought rye flour for nothing! And I settled on one that had 100% rye flour, and used buttermilk. The local shop stocks that! And I like it, so if some would be left over, I would just drink it.

I was supposed to heat the buttermilk with syrup and sugar, and then add that to the flour and spices. Then I could add baking powder. I did all that. The recipe then said I should pour the batter into a baking tin. Pour it? Mine was a clump! I decided to just add some more buttermilk. And then I put it in a tin that wasn't anywhere near ontbijtkoek-shaped, but would have to do. And then the wait started! The recipe said at least an hour, but mine was thinner than standard, so I figured it would need to bit less time. And when I checked after 45 minutes it was already done. So what was the verdict?

My ontbijtkoek was chewier than intended, but it clearly tasted of ontbijtkoek! I figured the spice mix needed a little bit of finetuning as well, but it wasn't bad. The next day and was going to go on a hike, so I could try it out as sandwich filling in a suitable context! 



22 November 2021

Trying to improve Dragon on the laptop

Because I should be able to work both at home and in the office, I have a laptop these days. I had helpdesk help me make it run Dragon, because without Dragon I can't work. And it does work; just never as good as it did when I was still using the desktop. I had googled what to do about that, and tried to sort the settings, but I had never really made it work as well as it had done with my desktop. And during my PDR I got a well-deserved kick in the bum to go back to the helpdesk and ask them to adjust my settings somehow. So the next time I was on campus I did just that.

The bloke was on duty had a bit of a look. He tried to adjust my settings and that didn't work. He tried a different headset and that didn't work. He tried settings again, and then made it not work at all. That scared me. I said I wasn't leaving until he had at least restored it to what it was when I arrived. And he did! But otherwise he was at a loss. He said there was one lady in the helpdesk was good with Dragon, but she was not at work this day. He would ask her to phone me the next Monday.

I hope I can get this sorted. I am using my hands to a certain degree on purpose; the physiotherapist urged me to ease back into it. But with my Dragon not working very well I do too much of it, and it also slows me down. And if they can't make it work on the laptop I want an additional desktop. The University buys these in bulk so I can't imagine they pay an enormous amount for these things. We'll see!



21 November 2021

Personal development review

Every year we are supposed to have a personal development review. The idea is that you fill out a form with what you have done in the past year, what helped you doing that, what hindered you, what you want to do next year, and what will be needed to let you accomplish that. Then you discuss that with your line manager during the PDR, the agreed course of action is added to the form, both parties sign it, and then it goes into the archives. And a year later all of that repeats.

I had found them useful with the previous head of school, but my PDR last year with the current head of school had not struck me as a particularly useful exercise. I flagged up I had RSI; it is his job to then try to do something about it, but he didn't. I reminded him of his old promises to take particular tasks off me because they were incompatible with other tasks I have. Nothing happened. I suggested losing one module and gaining another one, and nothing happened. I never was told what he wanted me to teach. He never added the results of the conversation to the form, he didn't sign it, he didn't send it back. Basically he had just been talking at me for an hour and that was all. So it wasn't a particularly good experience! But this year everything would be different. As I am on a teaching contract, the director of teaching and learning would join the conversation. And that would change things!

After having felt completely battered by being sent home to work there without University facilities, and developing RSI and not getting support for that, then finding support through my Welsh tutor of all people, signing off sick, and facing the management-supported threat of redundancy while being off sick for a work-induced injury, I wasn't going to hold back. The head of school was going to read in my form that I didn't appreciate his lack of support with my RSI, his support for my redundancy, and his complete intransigence regarding who should do what tasks. And then we had the actual meeting.

I decided to go through practical things in order of importance to me. I first wanted to bring up the RSI. My manager needed to know that my first priority was to recover. And I mentioned I was struggling with that a bit since I got a laptop. And he rightly kicked me in the bum and said I needed to involve the helpdesk in sorting that. That was action point 1!

My second point was that I wanted him to know we can't work if he doesn't tell us in advance what sort of work we need to do. All academic staff had had a nervous summer; one of the biggest modules the school offers had not been assigned a module organiser. And any of us could be landed that. It was only just before the start of term he made a decision and decided that the person who had done it last year needed to do it again. That person was not pleased. And I was pretty grumpy that he had promised to take welcome week off me the minute he became head of school, but I was still organising it, just because he refused to choose someone else to do the job.

That led us to the third point. I wanted a decision on what I was going to teach, and otherwise do. I had suggested the previous year I would take over a module, and he had ignored that. He now promised to consider that again. I will keep nagging him until he makes a decision! And I mentioned I wanted to do teaching in Welsh. I had wanted to start that this academic year, but the RSI got in the way. I can dictate all my English, and that is quite efficient, but in Welsh it is not. I can only use Welsh as a written language if I can type without hurting myself. I have faith that by the coming September I will have reached that point. I already write short emails in Welsh with my hands! And Dei was there, and he would be the person I would have to liaise with, so I was sure we could now make that work. And the head of school was not going to actively discourage me from doing that with Dei present. And, of course, I wanted to get rid of welcome week. And with Dei there, who confirmed you can't physically do both that and the fieldwork to a reasonable standard, he took it seriously.

I didn't go into the whole redundancy issue, or his lack of support for me in regard to my RSI. Hopefully, these situations are in the past. And if he tries to make me redundant again, I don't think whatever he said in this PDR would make much of a difference. And if the RSI goes out of hand again I know where else to get support.

We then also talked about the things I could do to build up a portfolio that would allow me to first become a senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and then a senior lecturer. That will have to wait until I feel I have space for it; for now I am desperately trying to balance recovering from RSI with keeping the job ticking along. But he and Dei formulated some good ideas that I can act on when I feel able to.

Altogether it was a positive experience. I got to vent some of my frustration, and the head of school confirmed that he appreciated me and the work I do, and that if I think he is not doing his job I should just chase him up. And this time, actual notes were made. I will make sure that we finalise the PDR form, that it gets signed, and that promises made will not fade into the twilight. I feel better about things now! I hadn't looked forward to this conversation but now I am glad I had it. So watch this space; when will the first confirmation come in of a change being made?

20 November 2021

All students given a dissertation topic

Since 2018, it has been my task to give every third year student a dissertation topic. This quite a job. It started out badly, with me having to do it three times. The first time a colleague complained he had too many students, so the Head of School told me to redistribute with a given maximum. And just when I had managed that, with a lot of effort, he changed his mind about the maximum and I had to do it for a third time. I wasn't enjoying that.

The second year was a lot easier. I had streamlined the process in which the students indicate their preferences with a Microsoft form, but it was not uncommon for students to accidentally click the number of the topic next to the topic they actually wanted. That provided some faff after I have published it! But it was solvable.

The third year was difficult again. The pandemic had started, and we didn't know how long it would last. We hoped it wouldn't last very long. And with that in mind, we moved all the practical modules to the second semester. Surely it would be over by then! But if some modules moved to the second semester, some other modules have to move the other direction. And it was decided that my dissertation module would have to make that move. The thing is, you want the students to be hitting the ground running when term starts. That is not a problem if they start in the second semester; you just do the topic allocation in the first semester, and in January they properly start with it. But if they have to be ready by the start of the first semester, you have to do all the preparation in summer. And that isn't very pleasant; it would be nice to get a summer break. And you have to communicate with the students, who might not be paying an awful lot of attention to the University accounts given that it is summer. And staff might be away. It was difficult; at some point I was texting students to tell them I needed their topic preferences. It is easier if you can do it all via email! And another thing was that the module didn't have a website yet; these are not released in summer. And we really depend on these websites. But I managed to get it sorted. I also introduced a period of time in which the students could check their submissions. That helped.

This year we were back to the usual semester, so that was good news. But there was bad news as well; every year I have to do this allocation with more students and fewer staff. Evidently, that makes it harder and harder. I wasn't sure if I would manage to give all the staff the same maximum number of students as the previous year. In 2018 I had 133 students, in 2020 147, and now 178. I already had to raise the maximum number of students per member of staff once. The number of staff has only gone down! This year I had two staff fewer than the year before. It was going to be tight. But my first attempt was to stick with the same maximum. The previous year, not all staff had had their full number! And mathematically, it was possible. But there is the situation, of course, that you can only assign topic to a student they have expressed interest in. And some staff are just a bit niche, and very few people choose their topics. So it was going to be difficult! And I had a deadline.

With some hard work, I managed to allocate all but five students a topic. Two of these had not submitted their preferences, so that was out of my hands. For the other three I would have to just kindly ask the few staff with space if they would take them on with a topic that was a bit outside their expertise. That got sorted in minutes! I just gave the leftover student to the staff member with the fewest students already allocated. Then I could make a tidy list and publish it to the staff. They didn't see any problems! And that meant I could publish it to the students.

With 178 students, there will always be a handful that are not so happy with what I have given to them. So I indeed got a trickle of emails they from students who were asking me why they hadn't received their first choice. And quite a lot of them check how many students do have their first choice, and the answer can be: none. If, by the time I get to allocate a topic to them, the member of staff whose topic it is already has the maximum number of students, then they can't get their first choice. I can understand why that is not intuitive, but that is how it works. The limiting factor is how many students one member of staff can have; not how many students can do one particular topic. And they all understood that. So it looks like I pulled it off! I am glad. And because almost everyone now has the maximum number of students, it shouldn't be too difficult to decide who has to 2nd mark how many dissertations. (If you have less than the maximum number of dissertation students, you get a lot more dissertations to 2nd mark. That's how I tried to balance it out!) Almost everyone gets the same number this year! But that's for the second semester…

The fashionable topic of the year: seaweed! Pic by Ansgar Gruber


19 November 2021

COP26

It is over. COP26 was supposed to be historic. And I suppose it is historic, actually; just a historic failure. When we came out of COP21 in Paris, it soon became clear that that left us hurtling towards a 3° temperature rise by the end of the century. Climate Action Tracker was thinking quickly, and seems to have already calculated we are now heading for a rise of 2.4°, assuming that everyone will stick to the promises made during the climate conference. And of course that is an improvement on 3°, but it is still way, way too much. And the IPCC report that came out earlier this year made it abundantly clear: we needed to act now and otherwise it would be too late. We didn't act. And the president of the conference knows it. I found his final address touching. 

I hope that everyone who has children will be teaching them a lot of resilience because they will be needing it. We will be heading into some unprecedented super-interglacial. I can't imagine it'll be easy to make that transition. I might not live to see it. But other people will. It will be scientifically fascinating. What would a super-interglacial look like? Imagine the people like Agassiz, who were the ones who realised that there was such a thing as a glacially cycle, finding out that within some 250 years we would have broken the entire cycle! Humans are strange creatures.

Pic by UK government




18 November 2021

New social life

One day in summer I got invited over to Martin's for beer by the weir and a barbecue. There were six of us in total. It was a good night, and before too long we were all exchanging cat pictures. Little was I to know that that would be the start of something bigger that certainly still is moving along. I have socialised with the same crew quite a number of times now!

I have now also been over for dinner to Sue and Dean's twice. Getting there was interesting: she had sent me a little map so I would know which house was hers. A slight issue with that map was that all sorts of landscape features were encircled, but not her house. Martin had to come to the rescue and tell me where she actually lived. That way I got there! They have a gorgeous house. And they also have a gorgeous cat: Peas.

When they were at my place, Sue and Dean had been greeted enthusiastically by my cat. Sue had warned me, though, that I could not expect the same treatment from theirs. Guy weighed in; he knows Peas too, confirms that I should not expect any interaction with him. So I was warned. And initially he indeed ignored me. Martin said that after years he had reached the stage in which the cat would sometimes look at him disapprovingly.

Then dinner was done and we moved to the living room. The cat was laying on the armrest of the sofa, and I decided to sit next to him. He was okay with that. I then started to pet him. He was okay with that! So I kept at it. I think I have been scratching his head for at least an hour. The others didn't know what they were seeing. I don't know what it was that made him so okay with my intimacies. But I was chuffed! It is always nice to get to flirt with a pet. 

When I got there the second time he hadn't forgotten me, and the same happened again. I have a new friend. But even though the cat is the only one who gets a picture in this post, it is more important that I feel accepted by the humans. It's nice to suddenly be welcome in circles to whom you were an outsider before. I didn't know if the barbecue would be a one-off, but given that it is now November and I haven't been ostracised yet I have faith it is not. I think it is time I invite the lot over for dinner at mine. Only Martin has ever had indoor dinner here yet! It is time to change that. And I hope many occasions will follow.

Peas


17 November 2021

Unglamorous Welsh skills certificate

It had been a protracted process. And a difficult one. When I started out trying to acquire my Certificate in Welsh Language Skills, I had no idea that first, a pandemic would get into the way, and after that, severe RSI. But that is what happened. I managed to do the oral part of the examination without much difficulty, just before the pandemic made that impossible. But then the written part was first postponed, and then moved online. And by the time I did it I struggled with using Welsh on a computer. I did have access to Welsh dictation software, but this was not anywhere near as well-developed as English dictation software is, and there was even something wrong with it on the day. When my time ran out I was certain I had failed it, and even more certain I had a lot of pain in my arms. I could feel that exam for about a month afterwards.

When the results came in I was flabbergasted to find out I had actually passed, and even with merit. I was glad, though! Just plonk that on my CV, thank you very much. Normally there would be a ceremony on campus where the pro-Vice Chancellor would hand the certificates to the successful applicants, and there would be drinks and nibbles. And when I had received my results, I had been told that this year would be no exception. But the university reconsidered. They decided that covid situation was still too severe to have an actual in person gathering. They would just send us our certificates in the post! And we got a congratulatory email on behalf of the pro-Vice Chancellor, and Canolfan Bedwyr. It contained a little animation.

When I opened it I was a bit underwhelmed. It started with just a bland message from the pro-Vice Chancellor. It wasn't even recorded! It was just an animated text. And then there was a message from Sian from Canolfan Bedwyr; she at least had made the effort to record a message. But I see her every two weeks in person. So it's nice she congratulated me that way, but it had faded completely in comparison to having her congratulate me in person the first time I saw her after the results came in.

So I now have the hard-won certificate, and I am glad, but only because I know I got it against the odds. Not because the University festooned the certification with any sense of occasion whatsoever!



16 November 2021

Checking for nerve damage in my arms

The last time I had seen my physiotherapist, she had suggested and it might be a good idea if I would have my nerves in my arms checked. She had wondered if my posterior interosseous nerve might be in trouble in the Arcade of Frohse. Google it if it means little to you! One day the letter came that invited me for the appointment at hospital. That was great! So one Wednesday morning I drove down (I was teaching afterwards so there was no time to bike).

After a while a man called me in, and asked me to take a seat. He asked me what the issue was. Then he proceeded to start with the investigation. He had some sticky pads with electrodes, and a handheld other electrode, and started to send currents through my arm. My sister had warned me this is awful; she had undergone the same thing some 10 years earlier. It didn't start out so bad; he started with very low currents. But then he cranked it up. And up. So it went from barely perceptible to rather unpleasant to making your arm twitch and you making involuntary sounds to actually jumping up from your seat screaming. My sister was right: it is awful! And I had no idea what the graphs on screen he was generating meant.


At some point I was glad to notice he know enough. Enough, at least, about what happens if you send a current through my arm. He wasn't entirely done, though; the second part of the investigation involved sticking a needle in my arm and measuring the natural electricity. When he brought the needle out he said that at that point, British people tend to run a mile. I said I wasn't British, and he suggested that therefore was more pragmatic. I suppose I might be; I was very aware of the big difference in discomfort between being electrocuted and having a relatively modest needle stuck into your arm. So I didn't mind at all him perforating a bit!

When he was done he said that he had seen I surely had nerve damage. This didn't mean the hypotheses of the physiotherapist was correct, though; the issue was that he detected it both below and above the elbow. I have no symptoms whatsoever above the elbow. Any nerve damage there is probably entirely unrelated to my RSI! So now what? The physicians said that if you have the damage that high up in your arm, the problem is often in your neck, where the nerve comes out of your spinal cord. He was going to suggest a scan to see if anything was amiss there. I have no idea what they can do if it turns out that that is the case. But a scan; well, if it doesn't do any good it also doesn't do any harm. Maybe they find out something useful.

I then went home. This day hadn't gone how I hoped it would go! I didn't understand my RSI any better than before, and I had fresh memories of very unpleasant treatment. But well, sometimes medical treatment is bit of a case of trial and error. That's just the way it is! I will just continue with the exercises my physiotherapist gave me. If I just do that I hope I will end up back to normal eventually anyway…

15 November 2021

Sheepfolds galore

I had seen a public lecture advertised that caught my eye; it was about sheepfolds in the area, by Nigel Beidas. It sounded like the sort of topic that looks hilariously dull if you just see the title, but which is actually very interesting when you learn more about it. So when I figured I would not have to worry about my second job I decided to register. And my friend Charlotte did the same, so we went together.

We went to the vestry of a local chapel (one of the few that is still in use as a chapel, as far as I know). There we first witnessed the organisers overcoming some technical challenges; some people were attending the event via Zoom, but that did require the sound not creating destructive levels of feedback. And then the speaker was off!

He started by explaining and fluent Welsh that when he grew up in Nottingham had no idea that one day he would be standing in the Welsh chapel talking about Welsh sheepfolds in Welsh. That is how life turns out sometimes! And it turned out that he liked walking around in the area, and liked taking pictures of sheepfolds, and that when he retired his colleagues had given him a drone. And that allowed him to see his sheepfolds from the air. That way you get a perspective on the can't get standing right beside them. So after him having explored many of sheepfolds in the area, he had been asked to share his newfound knowledge with us.

He explained that the sheepfolds in our area were special, due to the landscape just being open and wide and not having many barriers in. That meant that quite many farms let their sheep graze in the same large area. And that in turn meant that when the farmers round up all the sheep, they need big general pen to gather them all, and then a plethora of smaller enclosures to separate the sheep from each different farm. In most of the UK, they can be of a smaller scale as the landscape has more walls and suchlike, so you don't mix sheep from many different farms. And I had noticed that quite many sheepfolds around here are veritable pieces of art, but I had not realised this was specific for the area, or why exactly this was.

He showed us many examples. Some were very higgledy-piggledy, and somewhere much more structured. Some were in excellent nick and some were falling into ruin. Some were right by the river, with a specific enclosure for first washing the sheep before you shear them. And he showed one near Mynydd Llandygai, where all houses have a patch of land, and people tended to have a few sheep, and the sheepfolds only need very small enclosures.

This man was not, as far as I know, a historian or anything like that; he just liked roaming around and taking pictures of sheepfolds. But he had been learning quite a lot about them anyway. And he was still keen to learn more! And when he was done and opened the floor for questions he did learn some more. One person the audience knew the name of one of the sheepfolds he had shown a picture of. The speaker had said it is difficult to find their names! And sometimes they went by several names, depending on who you asked. And one lady from the Carneddau partnership suggested they could combine his data with their LIDAR and see if anything interesting would show up.

Altogether it was only about an hour, but I was glad I went! I will really look with different eyes to the sheepfolds I will see around. And maybe I will even bump into the speaker!



14 November 2021

Standby for big cave rescue mission

 On Sunday morning my phone pinged. There was a big rescue underway in South Wales, and our team was put on standby. It was possible they would need our assistance! We would get sufficient notice if that would be the case. So I didn't do anything drastic, but I got my kit out of the garage and got it ready in the hall. And I had a bit of a look what the best route to drive south would be. Otherwise I just did my thing. And was a bit surprised at the level of activity this year.

At 13:30 we got another update. We were still not needed, but we still could become needed any time. And then another update came 18:45: we were unlikely to be called out that day. And I just hoped we would get the message we would be stood down that evening, or perhaps during the night, so I would wake up to a message of reassurance. That didn't happen, though!

The next morning I saw there was no message. So the casualty had to still be in that cave. And then I heard the radio news. The rescue mission was on it! And then it turned out to also be on the BBC website. At least that meant I could talk more freely about it. Anything that is on the BBC website is something I can discuss! It was now common knowledge the incident was in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, where I had been twice (here and here). And it is an enormous system so I had only scratched the surface.

I also had a message from one of the men in our team; because he is an expert rigger he had been personally asked to come down and help. He had driven down in the morning, been underground from 2 PM to midnight, and now had to drive back north again. And show up at work next morning!

I just went to work. I didn't expect to be called out; it was clear they were picking people with particular skills, and they were probably going for riggers and casualty carers, and I am neither. I can only rig for personal use; I am not very good at big elaborate rigs for stretchers. And I had let my casualty care certificate expire.

In the evening we finally got the message that the casualty was out. A great job! He had fallen Saturday afternoon, but because the cave is so big and so full of technical challenges, it had taken all this time to get him out. I have no idea (yet) how long it took the casualty's companion to get out and raise the alarm. Given the size of the cave that could have taken a while too! But it seemed the casualty was in a fine condition considering circumstances. A great result. And I could put my kit back in the garage. This sort of thing doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it is good there are rescue teams available to sort the situation out!



13 November 2021

Bike sorted

The previous weekend I had put some effort into my beautiful new bike. And I hoped I would be able to finish it the next weekend. It's no good if it just stands in my house somewhere! It needs to be on the road. And I mentioned something along these lines during the concert to Martin, and he is an old hand at bike maintenance. I am quite good at improvising nonmatching bicycle parts together, and keeping things just about working. Mart is more the kind who keeps his bikes in the sort of state where they look like they were taken out of the showroom about 10 seconds ago. He immediately started to talk about how to end up with perfect disc brakes, and that he had everything needed for that. Enough for my bike too! So on Friday I enquired if that offer still stood, and it did, so on Saturday I biked back up the hill.

I had spent the rest of the morning on the mudguards. I had been wondering how to sort these out. The arms were not long enough to get around the disc brakes of the front wheel. How to lengthen them? But then I thought that just one arm was probably enough. If I would just straighten the V-shape out, and then re-bend it with uneven arms, then the long arm could keep the mudguard in position. The short arm I could just manoeuvre out of the way. So I set to work! With the help of my gas torch a new bend was easily accomplished. And it worked! And because I was curious I weighed it: 13.5 kg. Almost twice the weight of the road bike, but this was including the lock! Still a lot lighter than the black bike!

Manipulating the brackets of the mudguard

That meant that everything was finished except for the brakes. I was totally sure that Martin would have all the tools needed. I wouldn't have been so sure about tools for improvisations as I had done with the mudguards! But this meant that the only thing I felt I needed to bring were the actual brake pads. And the entire bike, of course.

When I got to the top of the hill I saw Mart had already brought out a bike stand. While he made coffee I put my bike in it. And after the coffee we set to work! And that basically boiled down to me replacing the brake pads, and Martin doing everything else with me making sure I saw what he was doing so next time I could do it myself. I hadn't really thought of the finer details of tuning your brakes after you have replaced the brake pads. It makes sense that you have to; you have to do that with cantilever brakes too! I'm sure I now have the best-tuned brakes in Wales.

work in progress

When the bike was back together we got the gunk off our hands. In the meantime, it had started bucketing down like the clappers. I knew that was going to happen! And I was resigned. Martin looked out of the window and asked if perhaps I wanted another drink. And after one more coffee and some general gossiping about the surroundings, the rain had abated a bit and I went home. He had warned me that I would need to wear in the brakes. But I figured I might do that the day after. Right now I was working on getting home quite efficiently! I knew the Sunday would be dry. And they were not at all slippery as I had anticipated.

I was glad that the bike was now ready for commuter duties! I had a lecture on Monday; that would be the reason for its debut. I was looking forward to it!

12 November 2021

No side gig yet

When my job turned out to be on the line I started to think about other options. I had even managed to apply for a job just before I signed off sick. That application led to a job interview about six months later. This was for freelance teaching in adult education. I thought it was actually an excellent idea to start teaching a course. I could do that in the evenings. That way I would start building up some experience, and connections. I agreed with the educational body that we would try to have me teach a short course on climate change. I already have all the knowledge; I only need to adapt my material to a new audience. And surely the topic would attract people; this was the year of cop26. So it was advertised! By then my job was not on the line any more, but that doesn't mean it never will be again. We are not out of the pandemic yet, and therefore also not out financial danger. And we had already been in financial danger before anyone could suspect we would be dealing with a pandemic in the first place. So yes for now my job is secure, but that doesn't mean I will stay at Bangor University until my retirement! 

For having a paid gig on the side, I had to ask permission for the University but I got that. What I did not get was any enthusiasts for my beautiful course. It ended up being cancelled. In a way that's sad. The good news, though, is that that means I do not have a second job to spend time on, and worry about, in addition to the job I already have. We will try again in the new year! We'll see how things go then. At least I have months more to find bits of time in which to polish my teaching material. If I end up dropping out of academia, I will have more time to do things such as promoting my own course! And this is not the only string on my bow. I am not wedded to academia anymore. I see a possible future outside it! In spite of this rather limited success at my first foray beyond the University doors...

11 November 2021

Another bonfire

When I got invited to a Halloween bonfire night I had invited my friend Dani along. She had other things to do. But by coincidence, she was in the process of organising a bonfire night herself. This one was associated with Guy Fawkes night. That was the week after! And she invited me in turn. And it sounded good so I went. I brought some firewood, some more clothes, a mug for mulled wine, and some extra drinks. It was at the same location as an earlier social event: a bit of a strange space at the top of her street. It works fine for gatherings like this! And it is an open space so it requires reasonable weather, but we were having that.

When I got there I immediately spotted Dani, and her neighbour Caro, and more of  the usual suspects. And I quickly got myself a mug of mulled wine. It was a nice relaxed evening! And I quite like how that street has a busy social life. You can't really do that in my street; only four people live in it in total, and one is a bit of a hermit. I don't mind tagging along with this lot! It's still the same village, and I quite like feeling part of it, and feeling like I have something to contribute. And having some warm wine with nice people by a fire is never a chore!



10 November 2021

New phone

Just over two years ago I got me a new phone. I was really chuffed with it! It was an iPhone 7, and it did what I wanted it to do. But about a year later I managed to bend it while I was on the run in the general area of Rhydd Du. That's not good for a phone! And then last winter I also managed to smash it. That, too, is not good for a phone. And when I went into down to have the screen repaired, the repairman said the phone wouldn't survive because of having been bent. I said it had already survived five months that way; it would probably survive a bit longer. So he repaired it, and I was right; it lasted! And it wasn't perfect; if I used it, it would get hot, and that in turn would drain the battery. So given that I am on a contract with upgrades every two years, I knew it would only have the last until October. But then I didn't get a message about my upgrade. And then I started actively trying to find out what the situation was with respect to my upgrade. And it turned out that the relationship between O2 and Carphone Warehouse had broken down. That was the culmination I had used for my telephonic needs! So now what? I could upgrades directly through O2, but I decided I was going to take a different route. There are shops in town where you can buy refurbished phones, and there is no need for me to have a brand-new one. So one day I had to go into town anyway booked into the nearest shop that sold phones like that. And they had a nice iPhone SE on offer. It pretty much is an iPhone 7 but with more computing power. So I went for it! I have been totally happy with my old phone except for the damage I did to it.

When I got home I transferred all my data from my old phone to the new one. I also transferred the protective case, and the screen protector. The transferring of data had a few glitches but by the end of the day I had it sorted. I barely noticed I had a new phone! It's the same size and the same model, and because of the protective case it isn't obvious it has a different colour. But I did notice that my battery suddenly lasts a lot longer. And I might notice the bigger CPU as well. But I hope I am sorted now for the coming years! And the Samsung has now gone to charity. I hope someone else is happy with it!

Transferring the data

09 November 2021

First work in the office

The main reason I had asked for a laptop was that I knew I would sometimes have several engagements in the general Bangor area, with time gaps in between, that I would ideally fill with some work in the office. But as I don't have a computer in my office, I would rely on a laptop. And I got one just before term started. I have already used it for lecturing, but I didn't have the expected gaps yet. Until I suddenly did! And I saw it coming, so I took my old television to the office and installed it as second screen for the laptop.

I ended up in there for less than an hour, but at least it was a short period well spent. And I have now tried and tested the system. It works! (That can't be taken for granted; I couldn't get it working in the teaching lab back in September.) Soon I will have more of these intervals on campus and I have faith will be able to spend them well. And I might get to see a bit more of my colleagues if I do a bit more work in the office! That would be a nice change…






08 November 2021

Public Service Broadcasting concert

One day I got a message out of the blue from Sue. Did I want to come to a concert by Public Service Broadcasting? I quickly hit YouTube as I didn't know the band very well. I knew their latest single but that was it. YouTube showed me a lot more (like this). It was clear that these were a bunch of industrial heritage enthusiasts. It's not directly my style; I quite like vocals, and they are more the voice-over kind of band. But it was interesting! And I like my industrial heritage. And I hadn't been to a concert in about a thousand years. And the company would be good. So I said yes!

Then time passed and the concert came nigh. I suggested car sharing, but that offer was not accepted; Sue and Dean wanted to be free to leave whenever, and Mart was busy with the cat and wasn't sure when he could make it. So we all drove up independently! Poor environment, but well, I tried. We all arrived almost at the same time. And without much ado we went in to listen to the support act: Eera. I had never heard of her, and neither had the others, but she impressed all of us. She was up there all alone, but she did well! And for the last song, two of the members of the main act joined her on stage.

The main act came on, dressed all in white. They took a bit of a Kraftwerk-like position on stage; a bunch of serious-looking blokes behind stands that did not only contain keyboards but also computers. And they were off! They don't leave a lot of empty space in the music; these keyboards are set to work. It made it rather immersive. And they also had a light show to keep your eyes busy. And it didn't take very long before the images of spacecraft or coalmines or suchlike started to appear on the back of the stage. And most of the vocal contributions were indeed voice-overs from the historical footage.

Most of the time, support act Eera took her place among the men. She had changed into white as well, and donned almost comedically big classes. But her vocal skills complemented the largely instrumental music of the band. To be entirely honest; towards the end of the show, I was a bit out-voice-overed. Later there were more contributions; several times, three brass players suddenly appeared, and brought some extra oomph to the contract. They were quite energetic! More so than the Kraftwerk tribute they added to. 

Though this was a sitdown concert, and covid restrictions were still in place with the entire audience expected to wear facemasks, the band did encourage getting up and dancing. They even have a song called 'people, let's dance!' (with Eera). But they soon realised they were probably asking us to break the law. Not everyone cared; the three people in front of us were quite inclined to not make this a sitdown concert. But we stayed seated. 

During the encore, even two people in novelty spacesuits came onto the stage to dance. But then it was over! And we went out again. 

It was quite late for a week night so we just all went home, in our separate cars. It had been more a concert than a social occasion; during the music, you can't talk much, and between the two acts, we were quite hindered by the masks. I do some of my understanding of what people say by lipreading! And that wasn't happening. But I was glad I had gone! My first concert since forever, and well worth it! 

A pic from an earlier concert; I didn't take any pictures myself. Pic by pahudson


07 November 2021

New assignment ready

In summer had been working on a new assignment. My colleague Suzie, who had left, had done an assignment in a module I am also teaching on, and now something needed to replace that assignment. The honour fell to me. So I set to work! I like having things prepared on time, so I wasn't going to wait until term was already well on its way.

Then I was suddenly asked to organise our annual fieldwork. So I dropped whatever it was that I was doing, and I set to work on that. The new assignment would have to wait. My teaching in this module tends to fall towards the end, so I knew there would be time to sort it out after the field trip. It is not how I like doing things, but one has to make do with the circumstances one is dealt.

With the fieldwork assignment now sorted, I have finally returned to this task. And I have now got it ready! That is a good feeling. I hope it will work out well. I don't have to make it available yet; there is a bit of time to think about it and make changes. But if things get tight I can just press a button and my assignment is ready for the students. Wish me luck!



06 November 2021

MATLAB denouement

My last update regarding Matlab was that I had just one more plot to make. Would I manage to plot the fossil samples on my scatterplot? Well! Yes and no.

I tried it, and without help I didn't manage; I got the modern samples on the plot, but not the fossil ones, and not the key. That was clearly not good enough! And I knew it would take me forever to sort it out myself, but I decided I didn't have forever and I needed help. My first point of call was my colleague Yueng, who had helped me before. But she was busy. She was willing, though, to look at it the week after. I did want to publish my results ASAP though, so I decided to try Martin. He is actually the module leader of the module for which I need this. He directly benefits from it if I get my stuff sorted on time! And I know he is a Matlab wizard. So I asked him. And I got an email in the morning saying he was willing to look at it; he had an initial look, and already noticed the script was looking for something in the input file that wasn't there. But he said he had to go and teach now, and would have another look in the afternoon.

The script had given me the following error message:

Unable to perform assignment because the left and right sides have a different number of elements.

Error in f_nmdsPlot_mod_and_fos_2021 (line 125)

       hdl(l) = plot(scores(I, 1), scores(I,2), 'd', 'markersize', 10, ...

That was all very well, and it did vaguely point in the right direction, but I had no idea what the script was either missing or finding superfluous. But now that Martin had pointed it out, I knew where to look. That input file I have made myself; I can work with that! So while he was teaching I improved my import file, which was not as simple as I had hoped; when I had sorted it, Matlab decided single-handedly to change one column of data to "NaN". Luckily, it accepted me manually putting the values back in. And then the script ran. Hurray! I mailed Martin back saying that he inadvertently had already solved the problem, and thanked him profusely. I could move on now.

The way it ran would not get me a prize for beauty, but I didn't mind that. For instance, I had spurious entries in the key (see my earlier results), but it is child's play to just remove these in graphic software. The colours were not the best, so I changed these too. But then I could go and finalise my assignment!

To my surprise, I received another email in the afternoon. Martin had tidied up my script. For instance, the spurious key entries were now gone. And he had packed all the separate commands into one script that automatically calls them up. That makes it a lot quicker to run the whole thing. I should not be surprised at that level of perfectionism, but I just hoped he hadn't spent much time on this as without these tweaks, the work was good enough. By my standards, anyway. And my first attempt at running his new shiny script ended up in another error message. Oh dear.

I waited until a time I wasn't very tired and/or distracted, and gave it another go. And I managed to make it run! Smoothly, as expected. I still played a bit with the colours as several sample groups had a rather similar shade of green, but then I finalised a plot and put that in the actual assignment. And then I was ready to publish it! The students have a session to work with this data in late November. They might be ready by that time, and not need it! But I feel I have taken the imperfect data we gathered on the fieldtrip (you want a bit more time on things like this) and turned it into a useful assignment. I hope the students agree with me!

A tidy plot with modern and fossil samples! 


05 November 2021

More Scattergories

Early on in the year, when lockdown was still in force, I had spent an evening playing Scattergories with my sister and Jaco and Marjan. (I have the Norwegian version called Gruble, and my sister has the Finnish version which probably goes by an entirely different name altogether.) It had been fun! We decided we should do it again. But as things go, it ended up being somewhat kicked into the long grass. But when my sister reached out to Marjan for her birthday, the enthusiasm for another session was rekindled, and soon we had one scheduled.

We added loads of categories ourselves 

Somehow the task fell to me to organise this. I didn't want to spend my evening off on my work computer as I spend more than enough time staring at it, but I also didn't want to play on my phone as the other players would be very small pictures on my screen. The obvious solution was to use my old laptop. Since having moved my office computer to my home office, this computer hasn't seen an awful lot of use, so when I started it, it was a bit of faff to get software like Zoom working. In the end I gave up, had my sister get everyone together in appropriate software, and used my work computer after all. So be it.

This time it was only the three of us; Jaco was on fieldwork. And we set to work!

We had some fun coming up with answers, and also with judging whether the answers we gave were correct. Is "beggar" a profession? Are breakfast parafernalia outdoor gear? What is a jackdaw in Dutch, and does it live in the woods? Why could only two out of three Dutch women come up with "the Netherlands" as a country starting with an N? Is alcohol and drug? Is hornfels a material?

We had a good time. I even won! I suppose my biggest pile of points gathered in one round in which we had to come up with adjectives starting with a B. That is just a question of opening a trapdoor in your mind and letting the words tumble down! But it seems that not everybody's brain works that way. My brain is perhaps not very structured, which is a problem when I am trying to do any coding, but it can produce large amounts of fairly random information. So I need throngs of colleagues to help me write some simple scripts for plotting up faunal data, but I can win a game of Scattergories all by myself!

Altogether I think we had a good night. I'm sure we'll do it again! But it could be a few months…


04 November 2021

Campfire in the forest

From shop to campfire. In July, I wrote that we had a new shop in town. It's little shop where local producers sell their wares. The local cheesemaker uses it, and a local organic farm, and a local photographer, and lots of other people. It is a great initiative, and I go there every week (it is open for two hours on Friday and four hours on Saturday) unless I am unavailable for some reason or other.

One day I went there, and a man handed out soup table for some reason or other. I like soup! So I had some. And a chat. 

From then on he was there every Friday, so I saw him every week. I found out his name was Harri, he lived high up on a local hill, and he was running an initiative that fights food waste and food poverty at the same time. That sounded like a very laudable initiative! And it explained the soup as well. I even bumped into him and his girlfriend on the top of Moel Faban during my sunset run. It's not a big community!

One Friday he told me he was organising a Halloween bonfire night in the nearby piece of woodland, and he invited me to join. It sounded good! I did intend to keep an eye on the forecast; if it was bucketing down it didn't sound like a particularly good idea. But on the day it was actually beautiful, and I thought I'd show my face. So after dinner and buckets of tea and jumped on my bike and set off. I decided to park my bike against a lamppost. I put my head torch on and wandered into the trees! I was certain I was at the right place, as I saw a plausible bloke with a bag going in the same direction. And I was also certain I would find the fire; they tend to attract attention after dark. And I was right!

I found the fire with some ten people around it. I only recognised Harri, but that was exactly what I expected. I sat down and had a drink. Some people were making music. On the other side of the circle I people construct sentences with phrases like "phytonutrients" and I thought I should join that discussion. One of them turned out to be a PhD student in our brother-like College of Natural Sciences. That made sense of the jargon that was in use there! They were pondering sustainable aqua- and agriculture. 

I also chatted with a well-travelled lady from Deiniolen who knew one of my colleagues, a France-bound Bristolian who knew the joiner who had lain my floor, a Spanish graphic designer, and a few more people. It was nice bunch! And various foodstuffs such as vegetarian sausages and home-made flapjacks were doing the rounds. Someone else was making chai, and doing it well. But I had a lot on and I didn't want to stay long. And I ended up saying goodbye before I had exchanged much more than a sentence with Harri. But that's how things go I suppose. He's probably back next Friday with his soup. And it was nice to have a few drinks around the campfire with people I might come across more often. There is bit of a local scene with left-leaning people, and my favourite shops Cadwyn Ogwen and the Whole Foods Co-operative, which I frequent, are part of it. I might start recognising more faces in there!



03 November 2021

Accoutrements for the bike

When I buy a bike, I tend to add things to it. I don't see bikes as fit for commuting unless they have mudguards, a bell, a lock and a pannier rack. And they don't tend to come with that. And my latest acquisition had come with a bell, but nothing of the other things mentioned. And when I tried it out I also noticed I needed to look at the brakes. So I bought a big pile of parts. And then I needed to fit them!

The pannier was not much of a problem; that just fit. The rest was a bit of a faff. I wanted some system for keeping a lock in place that kept the lock out of the way; not damaging the bike; and that would easily release but that wouldn't come off the bike altogether and get lost. I designed something with leftover straps and buckles from a disused backpack and waited for a suitable Teams meeting to fit it all together. 

The mudguards had not come with the necessary nuts and bolts, so I needed to improvise that. And at the front, it was a complete faff to somehow fit the brackets around the disc brakes. That needed some serious intervention. And then I hadn't even sorted the brakes out yet.

The bike is coming together, but it will at least take one more weekend before I can inaugurate it properly!




02 November 2021

Run y Drosgl

I have my favourite run from my front door: straight to the top of the nearest hill (Moel Faban). From the top you have amazing views over the surroundings. That view really lifts me up. I expect to have to abandon it fairly soon, though, as the path leading up will inevitably get very muddy. But I will enjoy it as long as I can! It is nice, though, to also get different views. I had really enjoyed running a bit further east, in the direction of Gyrn Wigau and y Drosgl. I have done it a few times since! Sometimes biking as far as I can and then running the rest; on the way out it does mean ten minutes in the village, and I normally try to avoid the village, but on the way back you can do the bit on asphalt really really fast. I have also gone from the front door, via Pontuchaf. I quite like having added that area to my standard repertoire.

One Saturday it was going to be very good weather, and I decided I was going to take this to the next logical step; run all the way to the top of y Drosgl. Practical this is not; there isn't really a path to the top. The rather good path skirts along the slope in the direction of Bera Bach

But a nearby mountaintop does beckon. So I went for it! I did take my bike to the edge of the village, and then I was off. And it was beautiful! Gyrn Wigau appeared quicker than I expected it to, and from there it isn't far too the path that runs underneath the top. But I had to leave the path to get to the top. That part of the route obviously went rather slow! The hummocky grass isn't very nice to run on, and neither is the boulder field. But the view was absolutely worth it! The surrounding hills were gorgeous in the sunshine. It was a bit windy there, and I knew I shouldn't linger too long, but I really enjoyed it. And from there I went back again. Quite soon I had to get out of the way of two mountain bikers who were coming down the hill as well.

On the way back I had the sun in my eyes so I was squinting, and the wind in my ears so I could hear nothing else, so I ended up retreating into myself a bit, but that was okay. When I got to the farm road again that leads to the asphalt road where my bike was parked I had to squeeze myself through a herd of sheep. Very Welsh!

Back at the bike I checked; it had taken me about 40 minutes to get to the top, and about 30 minutes to get down. And while I was biking down it started to rain. My timing was impeccable!

I think next time I will leave the top of y Drosgl; I am not a fell runner, after all. But I might extend the route to below Bera Bach... 

Looking back in the direction of the village

Summit selfie

Bera Bach and Mawr

Cwm Caseg and yr Elen