31 January 2022

New tablet

Last spring I was starting to use my graphic tablet again. My arms are getting better, and I good start using my hands again. But preferably not the mouse! A graphic tablet is quite like a normal pen. None of these weird clicking motions. And in the months in between, the tablets did good services, even when my arms that worse again.

I don't know how old this tablet is, but it was starting to show signs of old age. My previous tablet lasted all the way until it just wasn't compatible anymore with software on my computer, but this tablet is starting to falter independently. It still responds effortlessly to input, but the problem is that it also started to respond effortlessly to absence of input. And one thing you don't really want is you trying to do something on your computer and your tablet interfering with it. I checked whether perhaps it was dirty, I googled troubleshooting tablets, I did what I could. But I didn't manage to improve the situation. My tablet would just detect things and respond to them and be a right nuisance. It was time to do something about it.

Some months earlier, I knew the School had bought a number of tablets. At the time we were asked who needed one; not me back then, as already had one I had one myself. But now I wondered if any of these are still available. And they were not, but that School was willing to buy one for me. And I was glad about that; it's about time the University takes its duty of care seriously and gives me the hardware I need to be able to work without hurting myself. So it took a few days for it to arrive but then I could pick up a new tablet!

I went to the office and unpacked it. It was huge! Every tablet I buy or get is bigger than the previous one. And its use wasn't intuitive to me. I didn't have that much time in the office to do something about that, though; I had a lot of tutorials to go to, but when I got home I downloaded the user manual and checked YouTube tutorial. With the help of these two sources I managed to tweak the settings so it became easy to use.

With this new tablet I think I am better prepared for whatever work throws of me! And there is the other thing; I had received a desktop, but that didn't come with Dragon installed so I would have to install that using my hands. I really wasn't ready for doing that without the use of the tablet! So now I have the tablet, so now I can go and see if I can make this desktop my default computer, operated by voice. Watch this space!

Out with the old, in with the new

30 January 2022

Owning part of the house

I can clearly remember crossing off all the French classes I had to do in secondary school before I could drop the subject. I wanted to be rid of it, and I wanted to see the progress I was making towards that goal. I didn't like French! Later I was grateful for everything I learned of that language, but that is another matter. I wanted to visualise getting closer to my goal: not having to learn French in school any more.

There is something entirely different I would now like to get rid of. It's my mortgage! I've had it for four years now, and that is, of course, not enough to get rid of it, but it is four entire years of progress. And I'm the sort of person who likes to see progress. And I had pondered a bit on how to do this. And I had decided that what I could do is calculate how many square metres my house is. And then do a calculation of how much each square metre costs. And then calculate how many of these square metres I have already paid off. And then basically see the house becoming more and more mine. I could slowly work towards owning another room!

One day I was in the dentist's waiting room, and I had some idle time. I knew I had the dimensions of my house, as given by the estate agent at the time, on my phone somewhere. I started calculating the area of each room, and a total area of the entire house. It's not very precise; I don't think these estate agents care about a few centimetres here or there. And they didn't give any dimensions for, for instance, the entrance. But hey, this doesn't have to be precision work. I ended up with my house being some 94 m².

So that was the area of the house. The next thing was the mortgage. How much of that was paid off? And the problem with that is that you don't really know until you paid it off entirely. I know how much money I borrowed, and I know how much of that is still outstanding, but only when you get rid of it do you know how much interest you have paid in the end. But again; this doesn't have to be precision work. And I can keep an eye on my mortgage on the website of the mortgage lender.

I took the simple approach of taking the price of the house at which I had bought it, dividing that by the area, that way calculating how many square metres of the house I didn't own yet, and in that way also calculating how many I did. So now I can do some silly thought experiments on which parts of the house I would want to own first. And check how much of it is already paid off. Would I start with the lounge? It is my favourite room! You can relax there, and read a book, and socialise, and sit by the fire. But when it comes to the practicalities of life, it is probably more crucial to own the bathroom, or the kitchen. It would be rather impractical to not own the spaces that have things like running water, connections to the sewer system, and gas. And a bedroom would be nice too. And there is something unsatisfying about owning various spaces but not owning the connections between them. The landing, for instance, is not on my priorities list. It is a bit of a weird space. It used to be a reasonably sized room, before the staircase down to the kitchen was put in. Now you are left with a strange L-shaped space you can't do much with. It did function as an improvised living room before the real deal was done, though. But were I not to own it, I would have no way of getting into the lounge, or to the upstairs rooms. Choices!

It is all a bit silly, but I do like that I now having a visualisation of how my mortgage is progressing. And it makes it a bit more tangible as well! It's more satisfying to see a lump of money leave your bank account if you can point at the area in your house you bought with it.

Pedants might notice I have only calculated the house. Surely that is inaccurate! I also bought a garage and a big garden. But I chose to focus on the house. And only on the price of the actual house, and not the total amount I will pay, but I suppose that's okay as I calculate on the basis of what is still outstanding and not what I paid off so far. And when the moment comes I paid it all off, I can celebrate also owning the outside spaces. It might be a while, but it will have been worth it!

The living room; setting one back about £21,000!

29 January 2022

Efficient exam period

In the first semester, I am module organiser for two modules, and I teach on a few more. One of my own modules doesn't have an exam. That means that by the time the exam period starts, all the marking for that module is already done! And my other module is more or less 50-50 split with my colleague Tom. And then there is a module that is led by Tom that I teach on; this year more than before, in order to fill the void that Suzie left when she quit her job. That module has an exam as well. So in total, I was involved in two exams this exam period. One was done on the Wednesday, and one on the Friday of the same week.

By the end of the week I had finished marking all my questions on Wednesday's exam. And by that Monday, of course, the other exam would be waiting for me. I thought that might be the rather big job, but I went through the short answer questions rather quickly, and it turned out that not that many students had chosen my long answer questions. So in two days that was out of the way as well! Now the other people on these modules can do their bit. I don't think of ever been this quick in an exam period. I liked it!

Dull, but GDPR-compliant exam-related picture  

28 January 2022

Thinking about heating

I had been pondering how to heat my house in the future, even before last spring and summer my boiler started breaking down repeatedly. It is just a bog standard gas boiler; that thing has no future. But what to replace it with? If money, time, and inconvenience don't matter, then a heat pump would be ideal, but the problem is that I don't really want to half-demolish the house in order to install a heat pump. Apart from the fact that I don't think I could at this moment afford it! But then what?

The good thing about my side gig is that it forces me to dive deeper into questions like this. If I want to tell other people what they can do about climate change, then I need to know it myself as well! So it focused the mind. So what else is there?

I want solar panels on my roof sooner or later, but heating your house with solar panels doesn't sound like the most logical thing to do. You take light and turn it into heat. Not as efficient as using heat directly for using the house! And there is such a thing as thermo-solar heating. You basically just have black tubes on the roof or thereabouts, and the sun directly warms your water. All sources I found, though, suggested that that is not enough to heat your house. It will be enough for your hot water demands, but what are these, anyway? I've been having cold showers for the best part of a year now, so my hot water demands are only for dishes. And how often do I do the dishes? Twice a week?

What about hydrogen boiler? If you burn hydrogen, you do not emit greenhouse gases. And the idea is good, but there are two issues with this; firstly: how is the hydrogen produced? If that causes emissions then you have not actually made an improvement. And there is not enough sustainably produced hydrogen around to heat the country's houses. And the other thing is that hydrogen is not yet supplied in the gas net, and you can't buy a hydrogen boiler yet. The best you can do is buy a boiler that can take a 20% hydrogen fuel mix, and hope that that will become useful in the near future. And keep your fingers crossed for how that hydrogen will be generated.

I came across another possibility, though: infrared heating. Infrared heating works well in draughty places. This does mean you can use them without first having to clad your house in a thick layer of cork or other insulating material. And if you have solar panels on the roof, and a big fat battery somewhere, then you could use the sun to heat your house. When the sun shines you probably don't need much heating, but you can store the energy, and switch the heaters on when you need them. I think the idea is good for a one-person household, especially one with a cat; the thing is that not all my rooms need to be warm. I only be in one place at the same time and only that place needs to be warm. And infrared heaters work rather quickly. You can just only heat the place where you are. And I tend to keep all my doors open so the cat can freely roam around the house; that does mean that if I heat one room, that heat will escape and start heating the rest of the house. And I might not be in that rest of the house. But with infrared heating, the heat is more likely to stay put. So I could keep all doors open and still only heat the part of the house I need!

Getting solar panels, and a battery, and infrared panels is altogether quite an expense, but I can do it in bits. I suppose the first thing needs to be the solar panels. Then I might be skint for a bit. The next thing will be the battery. And then the last thing will be the infrared heaters. I can just start with one to see how I like it! Suppose I don't like it, then I am still generating sustainable energy, so nothing is lost. And if I do like it I just keep adding more infrared heaters until the whole house is heated by them. It doesn't really matter there would be a redundant boiler gathering dust in a corner! And some radiators on the walls.

And then in the long run a heat pump could still be installed, but that is something I will think about when the time is right to do so. 

I suppose the time might have come to find some local installers of solar panels, and get a bit of an idea of what can be done. I have more or less south facing roof, so I think the location is fine. That part of the roof is not very accessible; below it is the roof of the neighbour's house, rather than just the ground. If you want to put scaffolding up you have to come from the side. That can't be ideal! But I suppose that solar panel fitters have seen and done it all, and are not fazed by a bit of an awkward roof. And the neighbour already has them, and he has a very comparable roof, so the type of roof shouldn't be the problem either. I suppose it would be a question of finding out how big, and what supplier and installer. And if I can find a setup that is satisfactory and feasible, and I make it happen, then I would have taken an important step in the right direction!

My not-very-accessible but south-facing roof

27 January 2022

Two MSc students

Not many of our students are particularly interested in foraminifera. Every year we are asked to submit project proposals for masters projects, and every year I submit projects that involve forams. And I always either get one student, or no students at all! But this year, for some reason, my favourite microorganisms were suddenly very popular, and I'm going into 2022 with to MSc students. They have chosen to separate projects. I hope they will both have a great and educative time with these versatile creatures!

26 January 2022

Welsh books from the same family

A fair while ago, I started a new book. It was probably after I finished the one about the local quarry hospital. And I started something I wouldn't finish anytime soon! So what was it?

There is a sort of scheme in the University, which has native speaking University staff volunteering to regularly speak with Welsh learners so they can practice their conversational skills. I have been speaking with a linguist, Peredur, for over a year now. And he drew my attention to a book his grandfather had written: Marged. He said it was one of those books that follows the main character over the decades. His description reminded me a bit of Traed mewn Cyffion by Kate Roberts. I had really enjoyed that book! Even though I was keen to read something a bit more modern after I was finished with it (it had been published in 1936). So I bought the book. It is a bit of a tome.

It starts with the main character, Marged, as a rather young girl. It starts in the 1870s. I don't know yet where it will end! I am as we speak approximately halfway through. It is not an easy read; it is set in the working class community of Llanrwst in the 19th-century, and it was written in the late 60s, so you get a combination of the book being approximately 50 years old, with language that pretends to be some 150 years old. And then in Llanrwst slang. It is a bit chewy! But I will have to step up my game.

Peredur himself writes as well, and he has scored a book deal since we started speaking. His book will come out in spring! And I think I really should finish his grandfather's book before I buy and read his. So I have until April to finish the second half of the book. And then I can jump straight into the current generation of Davies writers. And his book will of course be as recent as a book can be, but it also pretends to be a lot older than it really is. I know yet how inaccessible the language will be. I will find out soon enough! After that I think I will really need to diversify my reading! I might actually read something in English from a different continent, recently written, just for the contrast…

Coming out in spring!

25 January 2022

CRTT call-out

I woke up in the middle of the night. What was going on? And the only reasonable thing that could be going on in the middle of the night was indeed going on: a cave rescue callout. There was a party overdue and they needed assistance. It was the same venue as the two New Year's Day callouts! There seemed not to be any casualties. But if you are underground for a lot longer than you expect, you might end up tired, cold, hungry, thirsty and struggling to face whatever challenge it is you might be facing. So we were needed! So I got out of bed. I put my clothes on, put the kettle on, got my kit from the garage, and quickly made a few sandwiches. I figured I shouldn't skimp on supplies; these people underground might welcome them. Soon I was in the car and on my way.

It was very quiet on the roads. And when I got to the scene I parked up and let the controller know I was there. He gave me a quick brief: it was a party of 12, and they were just a lot slower than they had anticipated. When that became clear a group of three had gone ahead to go out and contact Cave rescue. The rest was still in there, but we didn't know where. The controller suggested that the people that were there that already had their outfits on would start walking to the entrance; it is a fair walk. Me and two blokes who arrived just after me would start our way up when we were ready. And then we became four, and we set off at ten to four. We had only just set off when we were called back; we were asked to bring some haul bags and suchlike. So we accepted the additional burden and continued our way. It was a beautiful night, fortunately! That can't be taken for granted in January.

Someone who knew the way very well in the first group had left some tape to make sure we went the right way. Not every one of us was totally at home here. I wasn't. But with the help of the tape we got to the level from which you can see daylight through the Tyllau, if it is light. And the group was there! All of them! Success. This also meant that they had already done all the difficult bits of the mine. The only thing they now needed to do was find the exit, and that was what we were for, and help them as they were tired by now. It was about 5AM by then. I offered hot drinks, But there was less enthusiasm for that than I had thought. But that's okay; what I don't drink I'll just carry down the mountain again.

The group had a rather low average age, and quite a lot of them were women. I was glad I was there! Is is fairly standard, I was the only woman in the rescue team. And given these people were a sizeable group, I don't think any of them would have been uncomfortable with male-only rescuers, as they had each other, I still figured it was good to have female presence there. And it was good to see young cavers who were so much more diverse than we were!

After a very brief break for drinks and snacks we were off. These people had been in the mine long enough! And it was a bit of a scramble to get to the incline. Some of us adopted a particular caver to help them down. There were several who, by now, were quite happy to be taken by the hand. But by this time they had been underground for some 15 hours; who wouldn't? But soon we were on the incline, and even there some handholding was needed, but then we were in the adit. And then it is just a horizontal walk out! I had a nice chat with some of them.

When we were out we couldn't admire the view; it was about 6:30 and it was still dark. And the way is still quite steep in the beginning. And then we got back to the parking lot. The group was staying just 200 m down the road. So we wished them a great rest of their weekend, and they thanked us for our assistance. And that was basically it! I went to change. And we had a little bit of a chat afterwards, but everyone was tired and wanted to go home. And that included me.

When I got home I put my kit in the garage. But what now? Was it time to go back to bed? I had only had some three hours of sleep, if that! But it was light by now. Should I just muscle my way through the day? I supposed that was the better idea, but I was tired. I did have a bit of a snooze, which the cat thought was an amazing idea that she was keen to participate in, but then I had a shower and decided to attack my to-do list. And so I did!

This was the most serious callout I have attended in a long time. I think it went well! Everyone came out in one piece. And that's the important bit.

But it is only January, and we have been put on standby for groups who were late coming out of this very same mine system three times already. And once it led to an actual full team callout. How often will we be asked to show up in the rest of the year? And why this same system?

We think this has something to do with social media. The trip is the Croesor-Rhosydd Through Trip. And it is not unusual to see people mention it on Facebook or YouTube or whatnot. And we think it has become a bit of a must-do for the social media generation. A bit like that it seems you need to selfie on the top of Snowdon, leading to enormous queues near the summit. Now we have one group after the other doing CRTT. And just as not everyone who embarks on a trip to the top of Snowdon is properly prepared, which regularly leads to callouts for mountain rescue, not everybody goes into CRTT with proper preparation. To be honest; the first time I did it I wasn't as prepared as I should have been. But at least I had been doing SRT for some 2.5 years by then. And we got away with it. 

Now it seems that so many people are doing it that even if a small percentage of them need assistance, that will be an impressive array of callouts. But if that's the way it is then so be it! At least I only live 45 minutes away...

Scrambling. Pic by the team

Adit. Pic by the team

Out! Pic by the team

The cat enjoying a post-rescue snooze and snuggle

24 January 2022

Gyrn Ddu

The cat had run out of worm medication, so I had to pop by the vet's. They are in Caernarfon, which is to the west of where I live. I decided I might as well seize the opportunity to do a walk somewhere in the West. It is not a direction I go often! And I had had the look at the map. There was a ridge of three hills that way; I had never been on them. I had been on hills on either side; on the one side there was Bwlch Mawr, That I had once scampered up when I was on its flank anyway in order to visit Seler Ddu with the PCG. On the other side was the Eifl, where I had been once on either side of the ridge (south with my sister, north with Fiona). But this very ridge, with Gyrn Ddu as the highest hill in the middle, I had never been on. And I thought this might be a good opportunity!

My business with the vet was quickly resolved, so onwards I went. I parked up and found the public footpath. There is no path Over the ridge, but there is a path that starts you off in the right direction for all of kilometre or so. And then you're on your own! But it was okay. I walked up the rather steep slope of Moel Pen Llechog  in the clear noise of the road. By the time I got to the plateau at the top it was pretty much lunchtime, but I hadn't had coffee yet. So that happened first! One needs priorities in life. And the views were nice.

I headed towards Gyrn Ddu. In order to get there I had to cross a saddle with a lot of old agricultural land. It was an amazing landscape! And I crossed the actual public footpath. I wasn't going to follow it, though; I wanted to go over the ridge. So I left the comfortable path and scrambled through heather and scree slopes. Progress wasn't fast, but it was nice to be somewhere so rarely trodden. I was soon following a drystone wall that went in the right direction. It didn't quite go over the top of Gyrn Ddu; for that I had to veer off to the right and do some scrambling onto a block field. And the views were vanishing! I was wondering if I should just forget about the last peak: Gyrn Goch. But I sat down for lunch while contemplating that, and in that time the view cleared again. So I was good to go again!

I was on the top of Gyrn Goch in no time. From there I knew I just should bushwhack down the slope until I would come across a path. That would lead me back in the direction of civilisation. I was wondering if I would have the time and the energy to explore the quarry on the side of the mountain, but I was soon deciding I didn't. I just walked back to the car. It took me about half an hour. I'll come back one day to see that quarry! During my walk back I had a good opportunity for having a look from a distance. When you drive past, you need to keep your eyes on the road. And I don't think my plan for walking around would have worked. This will be for another day! But I am convinced you can get to the quarry from the public footpath. And if I am there anyway I might check out some farms that looked abandoned! I like these days where you tick something off the list, but something else immediately replaces it…

Eifl range from Moel Pen Llechog

Coffee and cake!

Old agricultural landscape

Scree on Gyrn Ddu

View on Gyrn Goch

Stone wall geometry

23 January 2022

Hesitant start of side gig

On the night my side gig would kick off I made sure to log in a few minutes early. I wanted to make sure all was well, and I like a few minutes of chat before the session starts. Unless I'm not ready on time, I always log into my Welsh session a few minutes early as well.

The technology worked. I was in! And I immediately saw that a participant was logging in too. Good! It took a while before she was in, though. But she got there. And soon afterwards I saw a second person logging in. And quite soon Cecilia, one of my contact people, appeared too. But after that, no new faces appeared. The first login counted for two; it was a married couple using one computer. But three in total, that'll still a lot less than I had hoped. Cecilia said she was going to check her email and her phone and what not to see if anyone had got in touch with her, with technical difficulties or something. But after a while she reappeared. She had nothing! What to do? Courses like this have minimum number of participants, and it is higher than three. Should we just call it off? Should we just see what the matter was and try again next week? Should I just do the whole session for only these three? There was some discussion. One of the participants also pointed out that they had been charged for this course, even though online courses so far had always been free. Would that be the problem?

After some discussion we agreed that Cecilia would find out if this was what the problem was, and that we would just try again next week. And for now the three participants wanted to know what I would have said if I would have gone along. I kept it a bit brief; I didn't want to run through the entire two hour session twice. So I focused on the climate bit; in the beginning I have some general introduction but I skipped that. And I skipped some stuff I had bolted on at the end.

It wasn't as I had hoped it would go, but it was nice to have a bit of a climate chat with three interested people. Altogether we were on the call for about an hour. And then we said our goodbyes! I would have another chat about the situation with Cecilia the next day.

I don't know what will happen now! Will we get sufficient numbers next week? I sure hope so! But even if not; the course exists now. And there will be other people interested. Cecilia had already had contact with a group of Quakers who were also interested! I think sooner or later this course will run. But well, I had had a nice hour! And that is worth something too…

21 January 2022

Getting better at Zoom

My side gig takes place on Zoom. I have used Zoom before, but I have never used it for teaching. When I teach I normally use Blackboard Collaborate, and if I just have one-to-one meetings I tend to use Teams. I am used to doing things like sharing screen in Blackboard Collaborate and Teams, but not in Zoom. So I would have a practice session with the Adult Learning Wales IT support team to run through it.

The first issue we had was some confusion that had its root 46 years ago. I had registered as Margo, as that is officially my name. But they had noticed I call myself Margot. So IT had first given me an email address with Margo in it, but then, on their own initiative, made another one with Margot in it. So first she had to wrestle with which account to use; did we need both, could she just kill one of them? But which? We settled on the account with the t. I am quite used to having accounts with that name.

Then there was Zoom itself. I started a meeting and invited Sarah, the IT lady, into it. The first thing that happened was that the software was using the wrong camera, microphone and speakers. That was quickly sorted. The next step was: showing my PowerPoint. If you present a PowerPoint, you normally put it in full screen mode. That means you have to share that entire screen with Zoom. But things got weird. I normally use two screens. My laptop screen is in their somewhere as well, but I don't really use that. It just shows the same as my main screen. But now suddenly my laptop screen and my main screen showing different things. One of them had the full screen presentation on it, and the other one had presenter view. And my cursor would only go onto one of these. And the problem was that Sarah saw my presenter view. That's not how I want it! In presenter view, your slides are quite small, because there also has to be space for the upcoming slide and for notes. Showing my PowerPoint like that would make the fonts quite small. We had to sort that. But I didn't understand what the computer was doing anyway!

Our session was also lit up by funny sounds coming from Sara's side: I heard growling, and it turned out that she had her dog lying under the desk, and it heard someone outside. Quite cute!

Sarah didn't quite know either. I did a quick Google. I first googled on how to present PowerPoints in Zoom, but that didn't help. Then I just googled how you can make PowerPoint put the full screen view on the secondary monitor. And that turned out to be very easy! So I just moved my camera around, put Zoom on my main screen, and presented on the secondary one, which I shared. And that worked! Sarah now had the view I wanted her to have.

We also checked whether I can see raised hands (yes) or the chat (no) while presenting. And lastly, I sent her off into a breakout room. That worked fine! And then I had no further questions. I felt ready for the actual presentation!

20 January 2022

Side gig admin

A new teaching job comes with new teaching admin! I had to get the course material together, of course, but I also needed to provide information for the participants so they know what they got themselves into, and a lesson plan for the organisation. The information for participants was not much work; I was just asked to provide a paragraph of information per session. As I pretty much had the material ready, that was easily done!

The lesson plan was more work. I was expected to submit a breakdown per 10 minutes what I would be doing in every session. That's a bit difficult if you've never actually met the people you will be teaching! Or not even group anything like them. I mean, if you have taught a course in University a few times, you get an idea of how it goes down with the average cohort of students. But I've never taught retirees before! But I made something up. I'm sure I am free to diverge a bit from this schedule.

Communicating all this was another thing. They were sending me emails on my private email account, and sometimes they seemed to get a bit lost. And some of them I seemed to not get it all. I noticed they had created an adult education Wales email address for me, but I assume that was just an alias of my private mail. That was a bit of a silly thought. I had a proper account, on Microsoft Office 365, but the login information had never quite reached me. Only the day before the course happened, I communicated with their IT support and got in. That was great! Now I don't have to worry about important emails being lost in my Gmail. I just have a separate mailbox for it. And all the other Office appliances involved.

It probably would have been a good idea to organise this a bit earlier, but hey, better late than never. I was almost ready to start!

19 January 2022

Back to the Roman Road

Having two jobs should not stop me from enjoying the beautiful surroundings here! So I decided that the weekend before my side gig would kick off I wanted to go into the hills. And I decided on a nice loop; I knew there was still new terrain to see in the vicinity of Llanfairfechan. And the Roman road goes there; even though it is clear and wide, I still like it. I was also still on the mission to one day see the field boundaries cut through by the Roman road, that I had heard about during an online lecture about regional geology, and while talking in person to the archaeologist that had given lecture. Before I had actually planned this trip I had already realised that it was probably not this stretch of Roman road where you could see this, but hey ho. No idea where else, though! The Romans were all over the place; there is an estimated 280 km of Roman roads in the area. Quite a lot of this is now obscured by modern roads, of course; but there is more in good nick than this stretch between Abergwyngregyn and Rowen. I'll ask the next time I see the archaeologists in question. I'm sure he'll pop up again one day.  

I decided to park up in the village, followed a public footpath in the direction of Bwlch y Ddeufaen, But veer off to the left a bit in order to hit the summit of Foel Lwyd; this was a hillock I had never been on. Not too long ago I had been on its neighbour: Tal y Fan, with Kate. But there was more to see! And then I would descend to the Roman Road, and follow it westward to the imaginatively named Garreg Fawr (big rock), which leads you back to town. And so I did!

The first part of my walk was on the road; that is never the most scenic. But this was only just a bit more than a kilometre. And then I was on a path. And a beautiful one it was! And it climbed out of the gorge and onto the plane above it. There I did my veering off to the left, and ended up enjoying the views from Foel Lwyd. From there you look down on Bwlch y Ddeufaen. It looked great!

Once I had tdescended down to the Roman road I was at Garreg Fawr in no time. I had never been there either! It was a pleasant walk back to the village. A good half day in the hills! And still new terrain after eight years of living here…

scenic bridge

on the plateau

Roman road in the distance (parallel with power lines)

view from Foel Lwyd

descending to Bwlch y Ddeufaen

looking back from Garreg Fawr in the direction of Drum

beautiful sheepfold

18 January 2022

Walk in the Moonlight

One evening I was sitting in my office, doing preparations for my side gig. My phone pinged; it was a message from a friend who had sent a picture of the village from above. In the moonlight. He had scampered up the hill! What an amazing idea! I felt like a bit of a dunce. There I was, being of the opinion that my day job was too busy, and somehow trying to solve that with an additional one. And he was out in the moonlight. I absolutely love moonlight! And I decided that even two jobs should not stop me from enjoying beautiful nights when they occur. So the day after I just nicked his idea and went up Moel Faban. And it was gorgeous! I didn't need torch at all.

When I got to the top a surprise awaited me; there was a tent there! I figured someone had gone there for reasons of solitude, and I felt a bit too much. I also imagined that if this tent was occupied by one person, they might be a bit spooked by the sound of approaching footsteps. What was the polite thing to do? Just keep walking, pretend I wasn't there? Or approach the tent and say hello, in an attempt to convey I had no bad intentions? I decided on the second. I approached cautiously and said "good evening". No response! Oh well. I kept walking.

I had brought my cameras, and had some attempts at taking long exposure pictures. I had not actually brought a tripod. That doesn't help! But you can sometimes just balance your camera on a rock or something like that. The results weren't great but better than nothing. I was glad I had got out, even though it was only for a walk that was as long as my standard run! There just is something about moonlight. And maybe next time it will be me in a tent in the middle of it…

17 January 2022

The continuing fight for ergonomic hardware

 Since I had swapped my desktop for a laptop, my arms had been getting worse again. Somehow the laptop didn't communicate with my voice dictation software as well as the desktop had done. And a lot of improvements had been made, after some initial inertia; the Dragon helpdesk have helped me with audio input, and the University IT helpdesk had been doing some tampering I don't understand. But altogether it still wasn't at the same level as it had been. IT had claimed this was probably due to the laptop having a different version of Office than the desktop; maybe Dragon didn't really work well that? But I checked my version of Dragon, and it was totally compatible with this version of Office. So when the University opened again after Christmas I got in touch with IT again. They had earlier suggested that maybe reimagining the laptop would help, so I asked them if that might still be an option. But then they answered they had got me a desktop ready. I suppose reimagining the laptop wouldn't work if there was nothing wrong with the combination of office and Dragon. I was chuffed! If a desktop doesn't help then at least it doesn't do any damage either. So I went to Bangor and picked it up. The bloke I had been communicating with had asked if I had mouse, keyboard, et cetera? And I answered I indeed had all the peripherals. So when I appeared the bloke on duty duly appeared with just a desktop. I accepted it, thanked him, and left. And when I got home it dawned on me that something was amiss. Yes I had screens, cables for screens, mouse, keyboard, network cable, head set, the works! But there was one thing I didn't have, and that was a power cable for a desktop. Oh dear. And without power they don't work. I wondered if I should contact them, or just quickly get a cheap second hand cable from eBay. I decided for the second option! I didn't have any business in Bangor for a while. So now I had a lovely desktop but it was just standing around like a paperweight.

As soon I have the power cable I need the establish the next issue; will I be able to install Dragon on it? It is a personal licence. And I have already installed it on the second computer, namely my laptop. Will the licence allowing third machine? I really hope so! Watch this space…

16 January 2022

Back to the physiotherapist after a long time

 It had been summer when I last saw my physiotherapist. That was when she said she wanted my nerves to be tested. She had a hypothesis about what the problem was, and testing how well my nerves would conduct electric currents would allow her to test it. And in autumn, this happened. And now it was winter and I would see her again; she would have got the results from the test, and would be ready to think about what next.

She indeed did. She agreed her hypothesis had been disproven by the results of the test. And she wanted to find if she could find any evidence for the next hypothesis by the man who had conducted the test; would I have protuberances in my spine that stopped signals travelling into my arms anyway? She wasn't convinced. But she was happy to send me down to x-ray to have it properly ruled out.

In the meantime she suggested I strengthen my chest muscles. And stretch them. Ehm, the link with my arms wasn't immediately clear to me but I'm happy to give it a try. It wouldn't do any harm! Although I find my chest muscles bit elusive. They are bit hidden by other body parts! I'll have to find a good way of both training them and stretching them, and then incorporating it into my routine. It is getting bigger and bigger! But if it helps then it will all be worth it.

But first she sent me to the x-ray department with an A4 sheet of paper. I didn't expect things to move that fast! I only waited for a few minutes and then I was already called up. And the taking of the images didn't take more than a few minutes either. My physiotherapist will give me a call to tell me what the result is. And in the meantime I need to go and update my exercise regime!

15 January 2022

Add flexibility to exercise regime

Once upon a time, I prussicked out of a mineshaft; a pitch of 50 m (can't find the blog post...). That is quite a lot! And it was a bit awkward to come off at the top. It was a capped shaft, and the rope was fixed to the ceiling. You have to somehow hang underneath the anchor point and wrestle your way up to a shelf so close to the ceiling you can not sit on it. By the time I got to the top, my muscles were very tired, and I was struggling a bit. I got there, of course, but I decided there and then it would be best if I were a bit stronger. So I decided to work on that.

Not much later I ordered a chin-up bar. This is many years ago now! But I still use that chin-up bar every day. And that was where my morning routine started. It has grown since. I added push-ups because they seem to be very good for you. And I later added core strength exercises, as it seemed silly to have strong legs from running and strong arms from pull-ups and push-ups, but be weak in between.

I later had to add stretches of my gluteus maximus as otherwise it seizes up during everyday activities such as walking to the shop. But I had started to notice I am a bit stiff in general these days. And that isn't good for anything, really! So I decided to do a bit more stretching every morning. I googled some exercises, and I started doing them. I am still in the stage where I am trying several things out to see what works for me, but I intend to keep doing some flexibility exercises every morning. Hopefully, I will for instance be able to touch the ground with my fingers when I am standing with my legs stretched, in the not-too-distant future. My morning regime is still only a few minutes, and even if it were half-an-hour that would be okay. I like keeping my body in reasonably good shape!

Going underground for the first time in a long while, by the way, was also a good reminder of why I do this sort of things. It is winter and I haven't climbed in months, and I barely ever go underground, so my daily life just does not involve any activities that require upper body strength. But if you then want to suddenly be able to hand-over-hand up a rope, you had better kept your strength up artificially! And I suppose that getting into a mine like Parc, which is mostly gated, is a lot easier when you're not a stiff rake…

Wonky picture of me failing to touch the ground

14 January 2022

Short walk

 I hadn't seen Kate for a while, and it was time to reconnect. She suggested I walk near the coast. And we gathered at Sychnant Pass, From which we walked to Maen Esgob and  Waen Gyrach, And from there a loop around Foel Lus. And then back the way we came. It was lovely! Nothing spectacular, but it was good to get out and have the cobwebs blown away, in good company. Again soon!

Waen Gyrach 

Afon Gyrach

13 January 2022

Extra chair

When I have more than three people in my house, a certain level of improvisation is needed. In my living room I have a sofa that at a push can function as a three-seater, and I have one comfortable chair. If more people want to sit down they need to sit on one of my chests, or on a straight-backed wooden chair I skipdived from Neuadd Ogwen, or on my pouffe. Or the ground.

I had decided a while ago I really should buy a more comfortable chair for underneath the stairs. There is space! And that skip-dived chair can go somewhere else. The first time I tried to buy a chair that would go there and fit through the door I failed; someone else was quicker. And then I saw someone put an IKEA chair for sale on the internet. And it was a chair I had good memories of! A long time ago, when I moved to Norway, I rented a house, and had my stuff sent for. It takes a while for stuff to travel from the Netherlands to Arctic Norway. I had to make do in an empty house for about a month! I had borrowed some basics from colleagues; a mug, plates, some cutlery et cetera. There was a bed in that house so that was sorted. And I borrowed exactly that IKEA chair from someone. That was what I had for sitting on. Until my stuff came. But for one month, that chair was basically all the comfort I had.

I picked the chair up that same day. It fit inside my car. And it fit absolutely effortlessly through the door! And even if it wouldn't have, it was IKEA, so it can be taken apart. When I put it in position, though, I realised that my living room does not really allow for IKEA. It really stands out like a sore thumb. Hadn't given that enough thought.

I wondered what I would do with that. Maybe put it in the upstairs bedroom, and only bring it out and I have more than two guests? Or maybe just hide it under a cloth? The comfortable chair I already have there is terribly ugly, so that has spent its entire time with me (which is since my Amsterdam times) hidden under one as well. I even already had a backup cloth ready, because the cloth over the original chair is getting worn.

I got that cloth out and threw it over the new chair. It's not that bad! I might leave it in position for now. And then the straight-backed chair can live in the upstairs bedroom so I can put my clothes on it at night.

Is this a permanent solution? Not sure! But you can't have enough comfortable chairs and I'm glad I now have one more comfortable seat to offer visitors. And that thing sure is comfortable! I might sit in it myself a lot as well actually…

Comfort: yes; looks: no

Looks obscured

12 January 2022

Gluing the wood burner

One day late in the year I noticed that the fire rope that seals the door of my wood burner was coming loose. Oh dear! What to do? How do you fix something like that? It is a bit of a strange environment on the inside of the wood burner. But that evening, Miles popped over for a cup of tea, and he is the sort of person to have dealt with that sort of issue before. He said you can just buy fire resistant glue for this exact purpose. That was useful advice. I ordered it that same evening! And in the days before it arrived, I just used the log burner with a dangly seal.

And then the time came to actually use this glue! How good would it be? The instructions said you needed to first keep the two surfaces pressed together for 15 minutes, and then let the heat of a fire inside the wood burner set the glue. I didn't quite have enough clamps to keep it all perfectly in position for 15 minutes, but it seemed to be good enough. And the fire did the rest.

When I had a look the next day it looked like it had worked! And I still have more of that glue. If it comes off again I'll repeat the procedure. These things one learns when one owns a house! And things in it. I am ready again for lots of lovely fires…

Seal coming off...

cleaned and glued

Fire doing its glue setting work


11 January 2022

Pronouns, finally

At the start of term, I had decided I should put my pronouns on my staff profile. But I knew it wasn't at the top of my to do list. But one rainy January Saturday I was in the office anyway (registering for races, among other things!), and I did it. I have no idea how many people actually look at my staff profile, but well, what can one do. I suppose what I really should do is put it in my emails, but when I tried to put the usual banner on my emails with things such as my job title in, I didn't make that work, and you can guess how high on my to-do list that ended up. But the first step has been taken!

10 January 2022

Registering for races again

The previous time I blogged about a race, I started the post by stating that I hadn't raced in ages. This was summer 2018. And when I had said "ages", I had meant less than a year. The race before that had been the Bangor 10k. But after that last race I would leave a hole of almost 4 years. That is so much! And some of that was lockdown, of course, when there were no races, but obviously lockdown didn't last 4 years. And races have restarted again. I didn't register for anything in the first semester of the academic year 2021-2022, but I figured it was time again. 

When I had a look during the Christmas break I saw a race called the World's Steepest Street Run. That sounded right up my street! I kind of like running steeply uphill. And this race then goes down the not so steep way. That's how I like it! You make your muscles, heart and lungs work hard on the uphill, you don't have to have acrobatic skills to negotiate a steep downhill. And it's not very far away; it's in Harlech. They admit, by the way, that the title of steepest street in the world is currently held by some town in New Zealand, but they say that street doesn't have a race on it, so this is still the race with the steepest street. It works for me! And it's only 6.2 km, but given how much you probably have to give in the beginning, I'm sure that is enough.

When I was at it anyway, I decided to also register for the Anglesey half marathon, which I have run several times before. Bring it on! It felt good to be registering for races again. I'm sure I'll enjoy them!

09 January 2022

Side gig becomes clearer

Later this month, my side gig starts. I will be teaching climate Science to people who are not associated with the School of Ocean Sciences of Bangor University. I had been thinking about what to teach them for months. But in preparation for it actually happening, I had a meeting with my contact people in the south. My initial contact had been with people from the northern region, but in the north there didn't seem to be an awful lot of enthusiasm for my course. And in the south there was! I had a meeting with two ladies who talked me through the practicalities. We talked about all the paperwork, and that is important, but what I found more interesting was that they told me about the people I would be teaching. It turned out it was a club of mainly retired academics from arts and humanities, from the Llanelli area, who came together regularly to learn something new. They sounded like an interesting bunch! And it also gives me a bit more direction in how I should pitch the course. Very useful!

It's a bit daunting to take this new commitment on, but after this chat with the two very friendly ladies (and a camera-bombing cat) and the new information about the group, I am starting to look forward to it! I hope it will all go well. I will have to cross some t’s and dot some i’s in my teaching materials, but I think that will be okay! Watch this space for how it goes when it actually takes off…

08 January 2022

Underground again

One of our students, Lydia, is active in the University caving club. And she found out, of course, that I am interested in going underground too. She is also friends with the chair of the University caving club: Amelia, who is in a different school; she had recently joined the rescue team. And after one practical Lydia and I ended up chatting and she said she thought she and Amelia and I should go underground on day. And I thought it would be great. I hadn't actually met Amelia yet, due to me having had to miss one training and another training having been cancelled, but I was keen to meet her. And I get along very well with Lydia. And we decided that the Christmas break would be a good time.

When the time came closer, Amelia dropped out due to other commitments. And then Lydia and I were left to finalise plans! And I found out she hadn't been to either of the mines adjacent to the parking lot in the Gwydyr forest. So we would just go there and then choose.

I picked her up from Bangor and drove to the Gwydyr forest. And in spite of the weather forecast which had suggested a washout, we were staring straight at the Milky Way. That was fab! There we decided to go into Parc. It seemed a reasonable place to start! And I was thinking about going down the ladderway and have a look downstairs. There is also the flat rod of Endean's shaft, which is well worth a look. We would have to make it up as we went along! But I packed my rope, and of course plenty of victuals. And off we were.

I was surprised to see how low the water level was near the entrance. Traditionally it was knee deep! But it was only a few inches now. I could imagine this was a Thursday Nighter job. And that's fine; if they can't be morally upstanding, then let them be useful! So we trundled in. And we first headed along the principal lode in the direction of the flat rods.

Along the way we came across a ladder going up from the main level. We couldn't resist! We shimmied to the bottom of it (a metre or two-three above ground level) and went up. And up. And up! I had been up there before but my memory isn't very good so it was as good as new to me. And it was entirely new to Lydia. And it was clear she was up to all the available shenanigans in a mine!

Lydia on a ladderway

We then walked on in the direction of Endean's shaft. It is a bit of a trek! And we stuck our heads into all side passages. And then we got to the shaft. We shimmied up! And Lydia was impressed with the woodwork in there. And we had a play in the actual shaft with all the vertical rods, pipes, and ladders. And then we went the other way; there is a connection to another part of the mine, which I think isn't Parc anymore, but of which I am not quite sure if it is Llanrwst or Cyffty or even something else. But what I do know is that it is full of yellow sludge. But Lydia was undeterred! As by now I totally expected. And I tugged a bit at the fixed ropes there. I decided to chance it! So I grabbed two of them and started making my way up through the yellow gunk. I got up about half way before I realised it was probably a good idea if I put a jammer on the rope. As these ropes are lying around in sludge at all times, they are quite slippery! And it gets steep. But with my jammer I got there. I got quite covered in yellow along the way. I clambered through the hole at the top and waited there for Lydia. I also checked the rigging. It's a bit rusty! But it would do for today.

Lydia and a flatrod

Lydia came up to, also quite altered in appearance. We would both need a serious shower afterwards!
We went up the scree slope and into the side level. We explored the whole level there, including a dance over the flooded winze. We also stock our heads into a shaft. But we didn't venture beyond the far end of where I had been before. It heads to a questionable plank over a considerable drop on the left, and a slightly suspicious-looking filled-up stope on the right. And I was by now quite keen on going back to my bag and having a drink and a snack! And Lydia didn't think that was a bad idea, although she did tell me she was a bit infamous for not eating or drinking enough while underground.

Flooded winze

We went back down all the way to the bottom of Endean's shaft, where my bag was. We had some water and cake. And we decided to just go out. It wasn't awfully late, and there would still be some time before we would both be home. And we had bit of a kit rinsing session near the entrance, where there is some water coming conveniently gushing out of pipes. When we got out I tried to take a double selfie; I figured there might be enough light outside for me to be able to work the camera. I was mistaken! I was trying to aim the camera and both Lydia and me, but I had no idea where Lydia was. She was right beside me but I couldn't see her at all. Total darkness all around! It didn't make for excellent selfies but well, it did the job.

Then the only thing left to do was change back into our civilian gear and drive back home. I had had a great time! I think Lydia had too. I suspect we might do this again…

Slightly deranged-looking post-mine selfie

07 January 2022

Standing by and standing down on the first day of the year

 I had spent the first day of the year on a nice walk, and then dealing with the damage to strong winds of New Year's Eve had caused in the garden. Then I had had a shower and dinner. I had just said down on the sofa with a cup of tea when I checked my phone, which was lying there in the charger. To my surprise, there were two messages on there! From the cave rescue team. In the short time I had been showering, cooking and eating, we had had been put on standby, and also stood down again. Crikey! I was glad the overdue party was actually safe and well, and I settled on my sofa with my tea, feeling very snug. And then the next message came in. We were put on standby again! Less than half an hour after having been put on standby the previous time. And it was the exact same venue. This was getting weird. But I gathered my mind out of the snugness, and got my kit ready in case there was going to be a full callout. But only just over half an hour after having put on standby, we were stood down again. We had been put on standby, and stood down again, twice, within the hour! I think that is a first.

It is clear that quite a lot of people in the underground community think it is a good idea to celebrate the New Year by doing a beautiful trip in North Wales! And at least they do make sure there is someone who keeps an eye on whether they come out on time. It is the done thing; if you go underground and nobody knows where you are and what time you are expected to be out, and something goes wrong, it could be a while before someone realises you might be in trouble and alerts the appropriate services. But two parties overdue in such close succession, and then also both found to be out and safe within minutes; that is unusual.

The controller who had called us out twice had, as one would expect, wondered if maybe this was just the same party? Maybe they had told several people to contact cave rescue if they weren't out by a certain time (8 PM, one assumes), and that had resulted in the two messages to the team? But he had verified this, and it really was two separate parties, one having gone in about an hour after the other. Oh well! I suppose this means the system works. If people are late, their emergency contacts know what to do, we all get ready to step in if needed, and then everything works out anyway and nobody has to leave their nice warm cup of tea. Let's hope most messages to the team end like this!