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 I had taken a somewhat outdated assignment, which was partially done in statistical software I don't otherwise use, and partly just by manual plotting, and reading values of a graph.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

08 October 2021

Fuel shortages

This country keeps surprising you! Years ago it surprised me by voting for Brexit. Now my surprise is being illustrated. A while ago the first signs appeared of a fuel shortage. And, of course, as soon there was mention of a shortage, the system turned into a positive feedback loop where people decided to get some fuel in before it would run out, which of course meant that it ran out. And soon I could see that happening in front of my my nose! In the first week of term I did keep an eye out to see what the situation was in my environment. And I saw precisely one gas station that actually sold gas in the entire week. When I saw that, I was driving a rental vehicle with a full tank. I did not need a lot of fuel that week myself; I could mainly manage by bicycle. But it was a bit disconcerting! One of my friends who lives in the middle of nowhere and really needs his car to get around, went to 10 petrol stations that didn't sell any fuel until he finally, at the 11th attempt, managed to fill up. I heard that when Kate visited me, she struggled to get home afterwards as there was no fuel to be had between where I live and where she lives.

When I had a plan to go walking with Kate I knew I needed to fill up beforehand, as I really wanted to be sure I could make it home as well. So on a Sunday morning I ventured out! And the nearest gas station did indeed sell some fuel! Most pumps were disabled, but I only need one. There was also a £30 spending limit.

When I was there anyway, I topped up the pressure in my tyres to make sure the fuel I had just got would last me as long as it could. And that would save me lugging my 30 kg bagpack around!

I don't know when the situation will get back to normal. One wonders what normal even his. The UK deserves everything that is coming to it; of course you suffer negative consequences if you withdraw from a trading block. Of course you suffer negative consequences if you try to keep foreigners out of your country, if these foreigners are the only ones willing to put up with the rather unpleasant working conditions you have created in your deeply unequal society. I think this issue with gas stations closed, big queues at gas stations that are open, and even knife fights on gas station forecourts, might make it increasingly unlikely that other countries will want to follow suit and leave the EU. I will just sit back and manage. I am convinced I can! And I really hope that the next time the electorate has a choice to make, they choose a bit more wisely than they did in 2016…

The most welcoming pump you will be likely to see these days

07 October 2021

Improvised addition to project water butt

 When I connected my water butt to the drainpipe, I didn't know how quickly it would fill up. I suppose I was being naïve! It is North Wales here, it will fill up in seconds. But that also means it is overflowing in seconds. As things stand now, the overflowing water just runs down the barrel and ends up on the ground. That is not how it should be! I would like the excess water to end up in the drains again. I suppose the more elegant thing to do would have been to somehow restrict influx, but hey, this is my first water butt project, and I am still learning. But when we had a particularly wet day, and I was inadvertently creating a private swimming pool in the upper garden, I decided to make an improvised solution and stick some lengths of hose pipe down the overflow hole, and lead them into the drain. I don't think it's a permanent solution but it sure guided quite a lot of water in the direction it was supposed to go! One day I will have to do a bit more of a proper job. It is autumn now; there will be no limit to how much water will be falling out of the sky. And it should end up in the river, and not in a big puddle next to my conservatory!

06 October 2021

Back onto the bike

Before lockdown, I got most of my exercise from my commute, and only ran during the weekends. When lockdown started, I started to run every day. I occasionally involved one of my bikes in my exercise regime, but I suppose about 95% of my exercise came from running in that period. But my commute is back! Term has started, and most days I have something to do in Bangor, so then I bike. And if I bike to Bangor and back, I don't run. One can only spend so much time on exercising a day!

My first week of term I biked to Bangor and back Monday to Thursday, and on Thursday I even went on my old bike. When I grabbed my gravel bike I noticed it had a flat tyre, and I figured that if I would fix it I would be late, so I just grabbed a different bike. That is why everyone always needs more than one bike! And the old one rides like a Chesterfield sofa, but said furniture isn't particularly fast. But I got there, and on time (be it a bit sweaty). Friday we were in the field, so that was the exercise I got. If I am in the field all day I don't go running afterwards. I haven't run a metre all week! I miss it. I will have to catch up during the weekend. My second week doesn't have things going on in Bangor every day, so then I can get a running fix. I'm glad!

Fixing the puncture; it had been caused by a thorn

05 October 2021

Field trip with logistic issues

One of the modules I teach on that starts pretty much immediately in the new academic year, is our geology of Anglesey fieldwork module. And Dei, the module organiser, was of the opinion that it is nice to take the students into the field pretty much as soon as possible. So we started in the very first week! This year we found out, though, that there are disadvantages associated with that.

In the week before term started, Dei messaged us to say there were only seven students registered on the module. That was a bit disappointing. I did respond that I agreed it was, but that that did mean the logistics of the module would be very simple. And that we should enjoy that. And a minibus was hired. Sorted!

Then came welcome week, and its beach trip. During that trip, one of my colleagues went around and told all the students that if they could choose our module, but hadn't, that they should reconsider. And he must have had very good arguments. Immediately afterwards, the registrations for the module started to rocket. And two days beforehand, we suddenly had 17 students registered! That was a completely different situation. Poor old Dei had to scramble to organise transport for all of these. But he managed it! We had three vehicles, and three drivers, with the needed qualifications. One of the vehicles was so big that neither Dei nor me are allowed to drive it. But we had our lab technician Gareth with us so we were okay!

We always start this module with a trip to Llanddwyn island, with its world-famous pillow lavas and melange. The pillow lavas are associated with a mid-oceanic ridge, so the birth of an ocean; the melange is associated with a subduction zone, so the demise of an ocean. And then there are some other rocks in between; some deep-sea muds, and an outcrop of carbonate which is probably a fossil stromatolite, which grew on a seamount. You get the whole ocean, basically! And the island is very beautiful so always a pleasure to walk around on. And the weather was lovely too. The students seemed to have a good time!

Dei gesturing next to a pillow lava

Grim rocks

Lighthouse looking more cheerful

Some of the famous melange in the foreground

I did manage to shock one of the students with my usual consumption pattern when I am out in the field; during lunch I was seen eating a biscuit sandwich, which I think is a perfectly reasonable thing to do if you want to make sure your lunch has enough calories to keep you going, and over the course of the day I emptied three hot flasks and drank most of the water in my water bag. That is just how I function. But this student was speechless at both incidences. I suppose he will have to get used to it!

In the end the only just managed to pull off the logistics; the third vehicle had been hired from a different company than we usually use, and they had a strict curfew for the vehicle to be back. But we got bit carried away, and Dei only made it back to the rental company in the very nick of time. But all's well that ends well! And in two weeks we intend to visit Rhoscolyn with these students. I hope the weather will be similar. But either way; I look forward to it! 

04 October 2021

Welsh starts too

With a new academic year, I normally start a new Welsh class as well. I had been doing without for a while, as the previous period there had been nothing that seemed suitable. There had only been one class that I thought was at the right level and with the right topic. Some classes are classical language learning classes, but some focus on something like history, music, film or something along those lines, and such topic has to fit you. The interesting class had been at an awkward time that often clashed with my job. I would have had to miss a lot of classes! And that seemed a waste. I decided to just check if there were any spaces left just before the deadline for registering; if no one else wanted the space I could just do the sessions I was available for. But by then it was fully booked, undoubtedly by people with better availability than me! So I made do without.

This year there was a class available that was called "conversation and story" and that sounded good. It would still be online. And when term started, the course started too.

There were not many familiar faces, but that is okay. Nice to meet new people! And the course was clearly up my street; a combination of conversation and grammar. I need practice with both! So I am sorted again until Christmas. And then we will see what happens after that!

03 October 2021

Term starts

It has happened! Academic year 2021/2022 has started. It was of a lot of work to get ready for it, but when it started moving, the worst was over. And it went okay!

Last year we were teaching almost exclusively online. And this year things are improving. Anything that involves more than 100 students will still be online, but I do not have many sessions like that. That is basically only my dissertation module.

In most of my modules, I don't have anything near that number of students, so I can see them in person. What I do is I ask them to watch my pre-recorded lectures, and then I discussed these live. There is a bit of a catch; there might be students who are self-isolating, and can't be there for no fault of their own. We need to cater for them too. So when I have a live session with most of the students, I need to make sure I am also in an online session at the same time. The students who are online can hear what I say, and they might be able to see me as well, but that depends on the technology in the lecture room. They can ask questions in the chat of the online session if they want. So once in a while I have a small look at whether anything has appeared in the chat. And then I can just answer verbally.

So how did it go? To my surprise, it went rather well! Most students are there, and then sometimes there is a message in the chat. The system isn't flawless, of course; I had a student, for instance, who said they couldn't hear me. I couldn't help that; the other online students could, so the problem was not on my side. And I once accidentally was in a session in last year's module. If you go to the website where all your modules are listed, you by default see the ones from the previous academic year. I have no idea why! So it was easy to accidentally go to the wrong version of a website module. But I realised what the problem was after not too long.

It is absolutely lovely to be able to teach to actual people again! Teaching to a screen is just not the same. It is quicker, of course; I don't have to bike to my screen. But so far (and that's a week) I quite like how this year is going!

02 October 2021

Run from the other side of town

It happens all the time that several members of staff are involved in marking one piece of work. Normally, all of that happens online. (I say normally; that is only true since a few years for coursework, and only true for exams since lockdown, but I suppose that feels normal by now.) But our fieldwork involved field notebooks, and these are actual pieces of paper. It had been unusual to mark them, but a nice change. And then I was done, and the next member of staff needed to do their part. Martin had decided he was next, so I could just deliver the books on bike. I was done at about 2:30; basically time to go for a run! And then I thought of something clever. I have recently been running the same route again and again; it is very beautiful, it isn't too long for a workday, and it starts at the front door. I had chosen this particular route as it is off-road for most of the way, and I expect autumn to stop me from running there. It will get too muddy and slippery! And I wanted to enjoy it while I could.

Martin lives so far east if you start running uphill from his house, you end up on the next leg of the Carneddau. I don't normally run there! There are pretty much two ways of getting there: one is over the road (how I cycle), and the other one is running sideways out of the village, and then just turning right until you get to that next foothill. I don't like the first option as I actively try to avoid the village when I run, and I don't like the second option as it involves public footpaths that are rarely used, and the least pleasant part of that is a river crossing that isn't practically there. So you end up fighting your way through hostile vegetation, and then crossing a river that is really difficult to cross without getting wet feet. And I do sometimes bike to a starting point of a run, but I generally prefer to just run from the front door and not having to think about a helmet, keys, clothes to wear biking back downhill, et cetera.

This time I was going to bike anyway. So I put on my running clothes, strapped the box with the notebooks to my pannier rack, and set off. All went well; the box was safely delivered into Martin's hands, and he had no problem at all with me leaning my bike against his house and then going for a run. So I was off!

The two obvious options from there were either to go up through the valley (that leads to Ffynnon Caseg) or over the ridge, towards y Drosgl. I chose the second option as I didn't think path through the valley was very good for running. And over the ridge is quite steep in places but that's okay. And it was quite windy! I didn't intend to go particularly far, but once I was on my way I was enjoying myself immensely and was tempted to go all the way to top of y Drosgl, but there is no clear path there, as the main route skirts around. I didn't feel like bushwhacking so when I encountered the main path I turned around. And with the several steep bits that took a while as well! All in all I was gone for about an hour. All my cobwebs had been blown away.

When I got back to my bike Martin offered me a cup of tea. That was gratefully accepted! Maybe I should do things like this more often. Yes there is the faff of first getting on your bike, but it sure is nice to run in a slightly different environment!

View through Cwm Caseg to yr Elen

It was windy up there!

Gyrn Wigau

01 October 2021

Starting to murder the buddleia

 When you have a garden for the first time you learn all sorts of things. For instance, I became aware of the amazing growing power of buddleias. There was one growing right in front of the conservatory, threatening to block the view, and after cutting it back a few times and the shrub growing back pretty much as fast, I decided to kill it. I did the same with a specimen that was trying to crowd out my apple tree. And I tried it with a specimen that was overgrowing the upstairs garden. It looks like my garden is a dangerous place for this species! But the biggest one of all is next to the house, by the kitchen. Every year it looms over the road and over where I park my car. And the neighbour had worries about what it might be doing to my foundations. So it had to die! But I decided that when I was super busy. So nothing happened.

Then one day I was waiting for Kate to appear; she would drop by for lunch. I wasn't quite sure when exactly she would appear, and I decided to turn that into an advantage; if I was at the front of the house and see her coming. So I grabbed my saw and made a start! I started with the branches that were crowding out the car. The biggest bits of wood I cut into stove-sized pieces, and the rest went to the riverbank. I managed to process two big branches before the kitchen called. It already looks tidier! And there is a lot more to do but I have made a start. I'm sure I will find time to reduce it a lot more in size! And then I will be relying on the plant poison Rose left me to make sure it doesn't come back…

How it started


30 September 2021

Pre-term beer

The last three or four weeks before term this year been quite hard. So I had decided I really needed a beer before I would throw myself into term. And I had remembered that Martin mentioned he had brought a crate of beer from Germany, and that he thought I should go and sample it. So when the weekend approached I asked if that offer still stood. And it did! And usual suspects Sue and Dean (who live just downhill from him) would join as well.

I hadn't done that for a long time; just gathering for some alcoholic drinks! It was lovely. The last time I had done anything like this had been with pretty much the same crew, by the weir. Maybe I should do this more often. And I surely should invite them down to my neck of the woods one day. Maybe for an autumn barbecue or a night by the fire! That does mean everybody has to travel uphill to go home but I'm sure that is acceptable side-effect…

29 September 2021

Final sprint before term starts

I am always surprised how much work there is to do in summer if your work in academia. And this year was worse than normal! The previous year had already been quite trying, with us having to suddenly make the transition to online learning in a summer. That had been difficult, and I am still feeling the after-effects through my RSI.

This year should have been easier. I had to make a new assignment for a module my colleague Suzie had been teaching in, and that was a fair amount of work, but otherwise things were not out of the ordinary. Until I had to organise our third year field trip. That changed things! So I threw that assignment aside and set to work on the fieldwork. And when I was not working on the fieldwork, I was working on my dissertation module is that needs to be ready by the start of term, and that is also a lot of work. Or I was working on welcome week. I was quite worn out when the fieldwork was over, and then I suddenly only had one week to get absolutely everything else ready for the new term. I lead on two more modules, and nothing had been done on these. And then there are the usual preparations for things such as the tutorial module. And there was dissertation marking to do (Masters dissertations). And there was the time I had to spend the welcome week itself. By the end of it I had been working basically from breakfast to bedtime for 19 days in a row and I was feeling the strain. And the problem with that is that is a self-perpetuating system; it isn't very nice to know you are already worn out before you have started teaching, so then you are one out and feeling bad about being worn out. But I did get my sites ready and my marking done and my tutorials prepared. And of course, then term was about to start and there was not really any rest for the wicked, but at least I could now sometimes take an evening off, or part of a weekend. I needed it!

28 September 2021

Welcome week

 Welcome Week is over! I hope all freshers have had a good first week in Bangor. I must say that with increasing student numbers, it is increasingly hard to organise something good for them. At least we do are best! And it is a team effort. I have support in the things I am supposed to do from one of our marketing people, Laura. It is really nice to have someone who can help! Especially if you have to be on fieldwork the week before everything happens.

And then there are the Head Peer Guides. And then, of course, the peer guides. They all have different tasks but they are all crucial.

When the actual Welcome Week approaches, it is less work for me and more work for the Head Peer guides. And they were great! They were a good team, but I know they were really tired by the end. I was really tired to, but in my case that was more because I had to quickly get everything ready for a term straight after a fieldwork, and not because welcome week itself is so tiring for me. But it is for them. I am very grateful to them.

So which of the activities did I actually attend? I did three of them: meeting my tutees, drinking coffee with the mature students, and the beach trip.

It was good to meet my tutees! As I did not know what the weather would be I had agreed to meet them in a seminar room. But the weather was good, so we went outside, and ended up on a terrace, having a drink. I enjoyed that! They are quite a varied group but I hope they will turn into small group of friends.

I also attended the mature student welcome. Only three mature students showed up! That is a bit of a disappointment but I think these three had a good time.

At the end of the mature student coffee break, it so happened that the cornet of one of the Head Peer Guides ended up in the hands of my colleague Tom.

The beach trip was attended by about half the students. We were lucky with the weather! And they did the usual sand sculpture competition. That looked like a lot of fun. After that the energy went a bit out of the event, but we are all the sunny beach, and there was enough to enjoy.

sand sculpture competition. Pic by SOS

proud sculptors. Pic by SOS

View from higher up

Now there will be a short period where we will do a debrief with the head peer guides, and then one with the college, and then it will be over. I hope that next year will be easier with respect to covid restrictions, but I could imagine it will be extra difficult otherwise as the University is hoping we will have 20% more freshers then! We'll see…

27 September 2021

Using the entire office

I have had a desk for doing some work at home since forever. And when I was expected to suddenly work from home because of covid, it became my default desk. I am glad that it had been replaced by my university desk months later, but the desk was still there. The office is big enough for two! And I had made sure I had a reasonable office chair.

When we were done with the fieldwork, we had the notebooks of the students to mark. I was the person to start this process. Normally we don't mark anything on paper anymore; everything is online. But this isn't! And my university desk is full of computer paraphernalia, so for the first time in a long time I settled down at my old desk for some serious marking. It was all right! I actually quite like marking on paper. And I brought my ghetto blaster up to make the work more pleasant. That desk is not in use very often, but it is not in the way either, and for opportunities like this it is really pleasant to still have it!

25 September 2021

Welsh language moves with the times

I have not got into the habit of stating my preferred pronouns. Maybe I should, but it can be hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I think it is in general good idea though! If that just becomes the norm then people with preferred pronouns you might not guess don't feel like they stand out too much. Not sure where I should put them; maybe I should start on my university webpage! If and when the start of term frantic scrambling calms down a bit I should sort that. We have students who use 'they' and maybe they feel more welcome if they see there are people who acknowledge there is choice in pronouns. And my main language of communication is English. Unfortunately, I don't think English has found particularly good way of providing pronouns for people who are not keen on either he/him or she/her. I personally think that by using the plural, you lose information. I think there is merit in being able to tell whether someone speaks of one person or several. And it should be possible. I was very chuffed when I found out the Swedes had just come up with a new pronoun. And why not? Swedish is a living language.

With this issue in the background, I was interested when I saw on Facebook that someone was compiling a dictionary of words in Welsh associated with the LGBQT+ community. It seems that some people use words that are outdated and have connotations of denigration. And this person wanted to make sure that everybody who wants to use inclusive terms knows what terms to turn to! I thought that was a great project. I think Welsh is a language that has disproportionate number of learners. All children in Wales learn Welsh in school, but only some 25% of the population considers themselves Welsh speakers. That means there must be a lot of people who speak Welsh to a certain extent, but probably not good enough to know off by heart how to avoid political pitfalls! So I commented on that to say I thought it was a great project. And more people piled in to say similar things.

One person provided an interesting link. It was related to a petition for introducing a new pronoun in the Welsh language. The Welsh Senedd had rejected it; it seems that they had said they cannot legislate that sort of thing. That has to grow organically. And I can see their point. But it did mean that petition might still have value. If enough people hear about it and start using this new pronoun, it might take off. And then we have a pronoun that is not gender specific, but also singular. And I think that would be a great thing!

So what was the proposal? It seems that in general people just use plural in Welsh as well, so 'nhw' in colloquial speech and 'hwy' in rather old-fashioned and formal context. ('Hwy' is pronounced 'hooy'; that sounds about as formal as Sesame Street, but hey ho.) And the proposal was to use ŵ (pronounced 'oo'). I think I'll just start using it. That is one speaker in less than a million! If I spread the word a bit I might be able to be small part of a big societal change. And that would be great. And then we've done Welsh; maybe English will follow one day.

24 September 2021

Public lecture and more suspected railways

I had been on fieldwork all week, I was tired. And busy. Because the next thing to happen was the Welcome Week, and immediately after that, the new academic year would start. So when I found out there was something going on in the village, with activities spread out over the entire weekend, I was a bit sad as I knew I couldn't really join. And I like joining local initiatives! But I did give myself permission to go for an evening lecture on the Friday. I had just enough time between coming home to have a meal and a shower, and then I was off to Neuadd Ogwen. So what has attracted me there? It was a lecture by a man I had heard lecture before, and I had found that fascinating. He is a local historian who knows pretty much anything worth knowing. Back then before lockdown he had spoken about estates and the Welsh slate industry. I'm not sure it was a very catchy title, but it absolutely was fascinating. And that was not all!

I had spent quite a while reading an amazing book about Welsh slate; its history and archaeology. And guess who had written that? Indeed! This very man: David Gwyn. And if that's not a recommendation then I don't know what is.

It even got better when I got in; I found my friend Dani by the bar. That was a nice coincidence! I ordered a beer and then we set down together. 

Then it started. This time he would do his talking in Welsh. I was wondering about that a little bit; I had noticed that the book about slate I had read had been translated from English. And I doubted he would not be capable of writing a tome like that in Welsh himself! There must have been the reason why he had written it in English only. But it wasn't really my business.

David Gwyn in action

What was my business was the content of the talk. He started with a bit of an overview of the history of the area, with the first Pennant became Lord Penrhyn, and then his descendants with their pinnacle of unpleasantness George Sholto Douglas Pennant. He had been lord Penrhyn at the time of the Great Strike. And he spoke of how Penrhyn Quarry developed. He also mentioned the aborted idea to dig a canal to the Menai Strait. And he spoke of the relevance of what was going on on the side of Bethesda which was on Penrhyn estate, and the side that wasn't. And he mentioned the road to Ogwen cottage, and called it Lon y Lord. That was when my ears pricked up. That is how I recognise one of the small country roads here, that I regularly use for running purposes. It is called that, not after God, but after lord Penrhyn; this was the route the slate took before the railway was built. It is an old packhorse road! And it goes from the village to the harbour, so that next total sense. But why did Lord Penrhyn need a road going in the other direction? That is not where you want to bring your slates!

David Gwyn did offer a partial reason: this road was older than the road that is now the A5. It seems that Lord Penrhyn had heard of the plans by Telford to construct a road all the way from London to the ferry port in Holyhead, in order to connect London to Dublin. And he thought he might already build some of it. Maybe it was a bit of a vanity project! Maybe he wanted to say that that the project was partly due to him. But Telford turned out to have different plans, and built the entire road on the other side of the valley.

At the end of the talk there was time for questions. And I was keen to learn more about Lon y Lord! And nobody else was raising a hand so I went for it. And I asked him why on Earth the owner of a slate quarry wants to build a road that leads to pretty much nothing. And the speaker explained that the road towards Ogwen cottage had not just been an attempt to lure Telford onto the Penrhyn-built road, but also part of the scheme to boost tourism in the area, and make money out of that. What is now Plas y Brenin had previously been a hotel, also part of the Penrhyn Empire. And that made my ears prick up again; I had already been pestering archaeologists before about the path between Tryfan and Capel Curig. I had figured it looked like an old tramline, but I never understood why anyone would put one there. 

There were some more questions. And then it was over. Dani said her goodbye and left, but I was keen to stay behind for a bit. If he knew about the road going halfway between Bethesda and Plas y Brenin, maybe he knew about the route doing the second half! Had it been a railroad? And why?

He said that as far as he knew, it had never been a railroad, but if I had any evidence to the contrary he was interested in seeing it. He gave me his business card. So I said I would contact him! And then I went home as well. And there I gathered my evidence.

There is this facility called Digimap; I have mentioned it before. It allows you to look at old maps. I had used it to figure out how old the salt marsh of the Cefni estuary was. But you can look at paths between Tryfan and Capel Curig as well! And in the 1880s, which was the oldest period for which Digimap offers evidence for this area, you could see an unmarked route following what is now a public footpath, going straight as a line, and splitting in two locations. Why would a road need to split? If two vehicles needs to pass each other, the only thing you need is a passing place over a few metres long. You don't need to split the road and make it run parallel to itself! But if you are running trains, then you do need that sort of infrastructure to allow trains to pass each other. And having a split on either side of the track (one near Tryfan and one near Capel Curig) makes sense. So I took some screen dumps and sent them to the email address on the business card.

I already had a response to next day. David Gwyn had emailed me a much older map; this one was from 1816. And on this map, the road was indicated as 'Old Turnpike Road'. So it really was a road early on! And even as a road, it was straight as a line. But on this map, the track did not split. That must have been a later addition. But why? Unless it had been a railroad. But why have one between Tryfan and Capel Curig, if there was no sign of a railroad between Bethesda and Tryfan? So I still had questions.

A map from ~1900

Where the track splits close to the village

The map from 1816

What I found interesting was as well that he mentioned the only railroad in the Ogwen Valley he knew of had been an incline railway associated with the leat on the northside of the valley. I had noticed that leat quite early on (picture in this post), and been puzzled by it. Why was there a leat there? I think it had been his own talk, just before lockdown, which had finally made me understand the leat much closer to my home. That was meant to power Bryn Hafod y Wern. That leat, by the way, is not active anymore, but the one in the Ogwen Valley is. 

A few emails in and I was already a lot wiser than I had been at the start! But I was clearly still on the mission to find out why the path to Capel Curig had these splits. Who knows, maybe one day I will find out!

23 September 2021

Last day: coring

 After my day in the office I was looking forward to the last day we would be in the field. We would try to take a sediment core! We need that for my assignment. And there was no guarantee we would get one. We have had lots of material problems with coring in recent years. We also didn't really know what we would find. We had seen some results from the BGS, but they tend to be more interested in the bedrock, so you get a bit of a simplified image of what they have cored up in order to get to that.

As the coring can happen during any state of the tide, we didn't have to get up early. The bus left Bangor at 8:30. And at the site, we split the students in two. Half of them came with me, and half went off with the geophysicists. In the middle of the day we would swap over.

I spoke a bit about my we were coring there, and what we might expect. And then the technicians started the engine. The first section came out nicely! And we cut it. And then the great reveal happened. So what did we get?

We only had some 12 cm of saltmarsh sediment! And below that there was only sand. Homogenous sand. That is not very good for environmental reconstruction. But that is what we got!

I first explained to the students how they should log this section, and set them to work. When they were done, we cored a second section. That was only sand! So that was quick logging. We also cored a third section, but lunchtime was approaching, so I decided to leave that and opened. That reveal would be for the second group!

When the going was easy; only two people on the drill, and plenty of sediment for the students to describe

The 1st two core sections; pic by SOS

We sat down with our sandwiches, and then went to the gate where the bus would drop off one set of students and pick up the other. The only staff there were Katrien and I, but some decisions urgently needed to be taken, so we just made an executive decision with the two of us about a new deadline for the students handing in their field notebooks, and for what we would do the next day. That was our contingency day, and the students had indicated they needed time to work on their notebooks, so we just decided there and then that they would have that time, and that we would be contactable online to help them with questions. I am sure the other staff would be happy with that.

With that over, it was time to finish off this coring! But when I started talking to them I saw some munch desperately on snacks, and I found out they hadn't had lunch yet, so I gave them half an hour for that first. And I thought it would be nice to 1st see the coring in action, and only then open the core section that was already ready, so we got the percussion drill in place again.

After having cored through 3 m of suspected sand, the going was tough. It took a long time to get the barrel down another metre, and it took pretty much all the staff hanging from the drill with our entire weights to do that. Sometimes you get to know your colleagues well on fieldwork! But once it was down, the hard work had only begun. Now we needed to get it out!

With two people on each lever, and a lot of stubbornness, we managed to get it up. We had also slightly bent one of the pieces of metal! But some hammer action sorted that out. The work was still not over, though: we needed to get the liner out of the barrel. And that means screwing off the shoe and the top, but the threads had suffered a bit from the onslaught of the coring. The technicians grabbed all the heavy tools they could find and started working on it! And in the meantime we cut the core section that was already waiting for us, and I started core description with the students. It was another metre of homogenous sand! Needless to say this was quick section to log. This group managed to log all four sections (in the end, the technicians got the core liner out, so we had an additional metre of homogenous sand). I think I might need to do another recce before we go out there again. Maybe a location bit further down in the estuary would work better. It would pose logistic difficulties, but it might be worth it!

Muscling the core barrel back up; pic by SOS

It's finally out! So we can split the previous section; pic by SOS

Trying to open the barrel

When we were all done we went back to the parking lot, and then to where the bus would arrive. That would bring the geophysics students. The coring group could then just join them and be brought home. But when it arrived, there was a little bit of time left, so we asked all the students to get out and did a bit of a debrief. We thank them for being such a great group on this trip in which they had basically been guinea pigs. And they thanked us for pulling it off. It was all very nice! And then we waved them goodbye. The day after we wouldn't see them in the flesh, so this was the end of the actual fieldwork! First episode in North Wales done!