31 August 2022

Tidier garage

There had been quite some demand for space in my garage recently. Firewood was piling up, and I also welcomed the arrival of a new bicycle. But where to put all that wood, and that bicycle? There was an obvious answer; I had that tube that was no use to me standing in the way. So when that found a new home with Miles and Go Below, I could reorganise the space having come available so it could accommodate both bike and wood. And so I did!

I first screwed another bike hook into the wall. That was the bike sorted!

I then had to sort out the firewood. The builders working on Neuadd Ogwen had, at some point, given me two pallets. I had taken these apart into constituent parts, with the intention of sawing the planks into chunks and stuffing them into my log burners. But I now reconsidered; these planks would be perfect for making an additional firewood rack! So I set to work. And soon I had a new rack, modest but functional, tailor-made for the space having come available. The garage is a lot tidier now! And I could finally deal with some wood the neighbour had offered me. When he did that I really had nowhere to put it, but now I do! I will almost be welcoming winter as then I can start using some of that wood. I am sure that more wood will be coming in. That just happens! But once you use your log burner in anger, your stocks deplete quickly, so it is good that now in late summer I am full to the rafters. Still with space for bicycles!


30 August 2022

Cave rescue on the backburner

In June, we had the AGM of the cave rescue team. Unless we have this meeting online for reasons of culvert, we always tag a training on, and so we did this time. And it should have been the start of a busy summer; we had trainings lined up in July and August as well.

These two trainings did not happen. I can't quite remember why the one in July didn't happen, but the one in August was cancelled due to few people having indicated they would attend. But that is not the worst that happened to the team. 

We have a domain with Google; the run the team emails on the Google mail tool, and we used to have a documentation on Google web space. But there was some change through to, and we needed to migrate to some different space. And then something went wrong. And suddenly, we could not access our NWCRO mailboxes. The outside world can't contact us now! Not by email, at least.

If something is really wrong, the police can still contact us as per usual, as they use phone numbers. Callouts are also done by phone. So any emergency would just be dealt with as ever, but the day-to-day logistics of the team are severely hampered at the moment.

I hope we can come out of these doldrums fairly soon! I don't think the situation is less safe here in North Wales for anyone who might end up needing underground rescue, but ideal this situation is not. Dealing with digital issues is such a big part of modern life; you can't even lug someone with a broken bone out of a muddy mine without a lot of computer faffing happening sooner or later!

29 August 2022

Life with solar panels

Now that I have solar panels, I want to use them to the max! Whenever the sun is not shining, I draw my electricity from the grid, and I want to avoid that. So the more I can do during daylight hours, the better it is! 

I can, of course, guess when I am generating; I can see if it's daylight, I can see how cloudy it is, and I know what time it is so from which direction the sunshine is coming. And I can always look at my electricity meter to see in what direction it is moving. But I now also finally have the app! I can just check on my phone what my panels are doing. I like that! I can't see my electricity use; I suppose I can only do that once I get my smart meter. But I can keep an eye on when my panels get the first sun in the morning, and when it starts dropping off. Very useful!


When I am in the office during the day, the possibilities for maximising my panel use are of course limited. But if it is weekend or I am working at home I can move a fair amount of my electricity use to when I am generating. Months ago I bought some extra big thermal flasks; I tend to fill these up in the late afternoon. I then drink the tea later in the evening when it is dark, or I still have hot water that doesn't take much energy to bring back to boiling point of the next morning. At the time of writing, I don't start generating enough to power a kettle until way after breakfast. My roofs point SWS so I generate more later in the day. And I can use the water for doing the dishes as well.

I also bake my bread during daytime now. Before the panels, I often baked it during the night, so I would have fresh bread in the morning. But it seems silly to not use renewable power. Never mind that the bread might then be a little less fresh!

I also have a dehumidifier; I need that as otherwise the salt doesn't want to come out of the shaker in the kitchen. I bought that thing in Menai Bridge and it has served me well. But I now only run it during daylight hours.

My other (relatively) big energy slurper is the washing machine. I don't use that very often, but good thing about the washing machine is that you can use it on a timer. That doesn't work so well with kettles! So that will only get used during daylight hours.

Then there are the infrared panels, of course; but it is still summer and I don't feel the need to heat my house. They have not been used yet!

I suppose in winter I will have to live with the fact that I am not home during daylight hours, so I can't boil a single cup of water with renewable power. But at least the continuous use, from things such as the fridge, will come out of the panels during the short day. We'll see how it goes then!

28 August 2022

Getting over my aversion to online dating

I don't like online dating. I hate the idea of looking at strangers as potential partners. I much prefer just living  my life, meeting people, and occasionally falling in love. The problem is that that does happen, but that very rarely anything good comes out of it. In the best case nothing happens; in the worst case, I end up with my heart in tiny pieces. 

Is a relationship the main thing in life? No, it isn't. The important thing is to be a whole person on your own. But once you are that, why not share that existence with someone else? A combination of having to learn how not to give in to pushy people a bit late in life, and having had an itinerant lifestyle for years due to my life in academia with its short contracts, made me a bit of a loner in recent years. After a relationship I should not have been in, I decided that the important skill to learn was not to be in relationships I should not be in. And then you don't practice being in relationships you should be in! And if you keep moving to countries where you literally know nobody and therefore have to start a new existence without friends, you put your energy into being self-sufficient. But then one day you look around you and your realise that yes, you are the best support system to yourself that you could be, but that someone to regularly wake up next to would be nice too.

Not too long ago I was getting disheartened. And I had several people I love and admire point out to me that I am 46 years old now, and that if I had any talent in ending up in a loving relationship without involving the internet, I would have done so by now. And that I had nothing to lose by giving the internet a go. And who knows what I might have to gain.

I initially had a look at Fitness Singles, as I like my sport, but I figured you can't tell whether you are compatible with someone from just knowing what sports they engage in. So I swapped to a more general site. And I made my profile. I hesitated a bit. What to say there? I made sure to emphasise my quirks. If someone can't cope with one of those clichés who tries to buy vegetables without packaging, doesn't cook with meat, who has been showering cold for some 1 1/2 years and who doesn't have a TV, then I should not waste time on them and they should not waste time on me.

So how's it going? Not bad. There are some people on there that look interesting, and I have already met two of them. That didn't really go anywhere, but no unpleasant experiences either. And it would be naïve to assume you meet some metaphorical mr Right there straight away. But the first steps have been taken. Who knows what will follow!

27 August 2022

Cwm Glas Mawr

When I saw during a week that the weather for the coming Saturday looking good, I wanted to spend that day in the mountains again. And I quite like tacking on a night. So on the Friday, I quickly packed my bag. I was going to see Jenny in Bangor, so I decided to drive there, and then drive straight into the mountains afterwards. I had chucked a can of soup and a head of lettuce in the my bag and that would serve as dinner! And I had decided on Cwm Glas Mawr; a side valley from Nant Peris. I had explored it to a limited extent before, but I can't find the report on my blog. But that previous time it had been quite foggy, so I hadn't seen much. This time things would be better!

My clever plan was: park up near Pont Cromlech, follow the stream up to the nearest point where you can comfortably pitch a tent, and then have dinner there. The next morning I would pack it all up, go back to the car, exchange my big bag for a smaller one, and then do a proper explore of the valley. And so it happened!

I know the valley is quite steep and good spots for a tent are scarce, but I had faith. I also had to negotiate my way past two people who were playing in a part of the stream with a weir in it. Probably for reasons of hydropower. I was surprised; this was the only ugly bit of the entire stream. But later I thought that maybe this was the famous infinity pool (and it is). I honestly don't see the appeal!

The main road is right behind that wall! It's already this beautiful 1m away from it. 

Where I was heading

I found a little spot right by the stream and settled there. I was pretty hungry by then! That soup quickly vanished. My dinner was festooned by lovely evening sun on the mountains on the other side of the valley. This is the sort of thing for which you do this!

Beautiful evening light

After dinner I had a lovely bath in the stream. I also did bit of newspaper reading, and just staring at the landscape, until it was bedtime. And I slept well.

The next morning I made a big porridge breakfast, and then packed up. I was down quite quickly. This time, there were even more people in the infinity pool! And the layby I was parked on was still quiet.

My camping spot

Some 50 minutes after I had left my camping spot I was back there with my much lighter bag. And then the proper explore could continue! It was very beautiful. Soon I found myself in Cwm Glas Mawr sensu stricto, with its big split rock. There was a small group ahead of me, but nobody else seemed to be in the valley. I decided to stay close to the northernmost stream, when they chose a more southern route. I got to the scrambly bit I remembered from the previous time, and not much later I was standing in Cwm Glas. And this time without fog! I could admire Llyn Bach, and the impressive cliffs behind it. I also spotted a strange lithologic boundary. It looked like rhyolites lying on top of mafic volcanic rock. 

Behind me is the path out of Cwm Glas Mawr

Strange lithological boundary

Weird breccia

I wanted to explore the whole width of the side valley, so I proceeded to Cwm Uchaf. When I approached it I could hear voices. And these voices wouldn't stop. The valley is just underneath Crib Goch! And on a Saturday in summer with reasonable weather like this one, it would be fairly busy up there. And it struck me just how red the ridge is, when seen from this angle. I had always found Crib Goch, or the Red Arete, a bit of an exaggeration. But not anymore!

I had coffee and cake underneath the ridge, and then I leisurely made my way down. It is a beautiful valley with beautiful lithology! And when I got quite close to the road without having got hungry yet, I just sat in a beautiful spot and sent some messages I needed to send. I thought it would be a pity to not have lunch in this beautiful area! And I got sufficiently peckish just in time. But when I had eaten my sandwiches I went back to my car. By then the layby was absolutely crammed!

Looking at Llyn Glas

Crib Goch, not as red in the picture as it seemed in real life

Pretty stream

Pretty heather on a rock close to the road

It took me a bit longer to go home than expected; because my nose was pointing in the direction of Pen-y-Pass I decided to travel that way. But when I approached Llyn Ogwen, my car indicated the motor was overheating. I quickly pulled over! The dashboard hadn't been kidding. I am glad I have a box with useful fluids in the back of my car. I threw all the coolant I still had with me in the reservoir! And gave the car half an hour to cool down. Then I made my way home without further issue.

It had been beautiful! The landscape had been fully mountainous. And I had had a lovely night in my tent. I know I won't keep doing this; at some point nights will be so long and cold it isn't much fun. But for now I am still very much enjoying my mini adventures, which take barely any preparation, and don't take me away from the cat for too long. I hope I will be back soon!

26 August 2022

Being inspected as a host for a Ukrainian refugee

A few weeks after the start of the war in Ukraine I registered my spare bedroom on the "homes for Ukraine" website. And then nothing happened for a long time! Until July, when I received a phone call to check if I was still willing to function as a host. And from there things sped up. A few weeks after that I received a phone call from a lady who wanted to inspect my house. The council wants to check that when people put accommodation on the site, it is really habitable, and not some windy garden shed or something. I wasn't nervous about that. My house is a lovely house!

I was starting to wonder, though, how they do the pairing up of hosts and guests. I live a slightly left of centre life. And if someone moves in with me and is not in harmony with that lifestyle, it is likely that conflict ensues. So I hope they can find me a similar spirit. Someone who doesn't mind that I don't have television, is happy to try to avoid single use plastic, doesn't mind I don't heat the house to high temperatures, et cetera et cetera.

The lady who inspected my house (and who thought it was fine) was not involved in that process; she only did the inspections. The same day she had visited me I received an invitation for an online meeting for prospective hosts. So that would be an excellent opportunity to ask about exactly that! I think the council means business. I think they intend to place someone with me in the short term. And that is exactly why I registered, of course. But it is still scary. I am not used to sharing my territory! But I will do my best. Stay tuned; the biggest change in my life for a long time might be afoot!

25 August 2022

Rainy picnic with Miles

There had been a time when I saw Miles almost every week. That was during the heyday of our dig. But then lockdown happened and I didn't see him for a few years. And when lockdown ended, reconnecting happened in the rather faltering way. But this year things improved. He came over for tea, we went underground, and he came over for dinner. And when we would see each other again he suggested a picnic. That sounded great! The forecast wasn't ideal but I was sure we could manage. And we met up by Idwal cottage. From there you can choose between two lakes to sit by!

I decided to combine this rendezvous with a practical issue. A long time ago I had salvaged a big tube. I figured it would make an excellent passage through an unstable part of a mine. I knew Miles had already used a similar tube in the smoke flue of Cwmorthin, when a portion of that had seen some rockfall. But the dig had been dormant for years, and I wasn't part of a greater caving unit any more. If the Thursdaynighters ever need a tube like that, they will have to find one themselves. I am, of course, still part of the caving community, but my trips are ad hoc and not likely to involve projects so big they need a tube. So I figured the best thing to do with it would be to give it to Miles, as he was the most likely person I know to have a use for it. So I tried to fit it into my little car! It sort of worked.

Big tube in small car at Idwal Cottage

We met at Idwal cottage in the rather threatening sky, but we decided to have our picnic anyway. But we stayed there; there are picnic tables at the youth hostel and from there you have a great view on mountains like Tryfan and Pen yr Ole Wen. It was lovely! Miles had brought an excellent vegetable stew and I had brought drinks and dessert. But by the time we had finished our stew it started raining. And we figured it might continue with that for a while. So we quickly packed up our stuff and retreated to my house. There we had dessert and more drinks. 

Rainy picnic

Then it was time for Miles to go home. He left with the tube in the back of his Landrover. I hope we will meet again soon!

24 August 2022

Ankle declared healed

When I had visited the physiotherapist for my ankle I had been given some exercises to do. He had not been specific about how much and how often, though, and I had not been quick-witted enough to ask for that. So I had just been making it up! It didn’t feel very satisfying. So when he later emailed me to ask how I was doing we made another appointment. A shorter one this time; the only thing we needed to do is check my progress, and specify how often I should do how many repeats of the various exercises he had given me.

He was pleased with the progress, but admitted I wasn't there yet. But he was happy to tell me exactly how many exercises he thought I needed. He warned me that you can never be precise; when you make progress, you might not need all the exercises any more, and there might be days when something is not quite right and you need less. But at least I now had something to hold on to. Soon I was standing outside again!

From that day on I tried to make these exercises into a routine. The first set before breakfast, a second set around lunch, and a final set in the evening. And I slowly ramped up the running. And I could feel progress happening!

The clearest example, I suppose, was when I was doing one-legged heel lifts. Initially, that had been quite easy with my left leg, but really hard with the right one. And I could just feel the difference dissipate. That was what I wanted!

After a while I dared to do my old route again, with the dash up the steep side of Moel Faban. And it felt fine! I also tried a slightly longer route, albeit without seriously steep bits, and that felt fine as well. And then I declared myself recovered!

I don't think I will be running its much as I did in early spring any time soon. I have to be on campus quite a lot, and on days when I bike to the office I don't run. So the ankle will have plenty of rest. But I have faith now that on the days that I do run, I can run pretty much whatever I want. I am really glad! Hurray for physiotherapists!

On my regular hill again! Doesn’t look too steep on the picture, but I think it was what did my ankle in anyway…

23 August 2022

Pondering forams

My master student has been in the lab for weeks now. There are many foraminifera you can see in that time! And that some point he had picked a sample, I wanted to show it to me. He had grouped the specimens by proposed species. And there was one rather abundant species of which he did not know what the species name was. And when I had a look I realised that neither did I! And this happened with another species in a different sample. So I retreated to my office and dived into my documentation.

Ideally, he would try to find this himself, but the problem is a bit that there are so incredibly many species. Where to start? I have lent him my Cushman book, but in spite of that being a classic it still has its limitations. And I have a complete Ellis and Messina Encyclopaedia, but that is very unwieldy. And where would he start to look? So I figured I could reach a nice compromise by coming up with a few proposed species per unidentified species, and then let him tell me which one he thought it might be, if any. With many years of experience, I know where to start. 

I actually quite enjoyed diving into literature, Google images, my encyclopedia, my memory, and the World Register of Marine Species. And I did manage a few proposed species! I printed out the descriptions from Ellis and Messina for my student. I wonder whether he comes to the same conclusions as I did. And I certainly have learned something! It is exciting to come across a species you haven't seen before. But I think I will see more of these. We are not done in this estuary…

Would we have this species in the assemblage?

22 August 2022

Dinorwic with my cousin

On the third and last day my cousin Sandra would be in Wales, she and her family would pick me up at 11 am to drive to Dinorwic. That meant I had some alone time for chores before I would blend into their family life. 

When they picked me up it was drizzling, but that was okay. We drove to the Bus Stop and walked into the quarry. The goats gave acte the presence as well! We went up a few levels, exploring bits that I had not actually seen before. There is so much to see there! And it is fairly difficult to keep a clear overview of where you have and have not been. I was glad that they found it beautiful!

Negotiating a tunnel

Booker admires the depths

Scenic ruins

At some point we accidentally found ourselves going back in the direction of the cars, and we stuck with it. From there we went to the museum. We saw the introductory movie, the slate splitting demonstration, and the water wheel. And then we saw the old cottages. I was keen to see them! They had really impressed me the previous time I was there. This time you were not allowed to go upstairs, though. And then we saw the house of the chief engineer. And then we were out!

Photographing goats

The 19th century interior

I could not show Marcel (who is a diver) Vivian quarry, as a gate had been installed. So then we just went into Llanberis for some lunch. I dragged them to Pete’s Eats. Because I could! And from there we went back to Bethesda. I cooked dinner for them for their final night. It was nice to have food together! And then they left. They had to start preparing for their long journey back the next day. It had been lovely to see them! And I should not wait too long with going back to the Netherlands, as I can see them again then. I think they had a good time in Wales and I am really glad they did!

21 August 2022

Llyn Idwal with my cousin Sandra

During our family reunion this year, my cousin Sandra told me she was going to go on holiday on the British Isles that summer. She said she also would be coming through Wales. I was wondering if she could pop by. She said she had booked a camping for a few nights, but she struggled a bit to point it out on the map. Then she looked up the name: Gwern Gof Isaf. That is only just up the road! I was excited. I looked forward to meeting up with them.

Then they came she arrived. I said I was going to come over on bicycle, just because I can. And I wanted to be able to stay the night there. I love nights in the hills, and if I would just stay there, I wouldn't be in any hurry whatsoever. And I wanted to strike a bit of a balance between comfort and amount of weight to carry. I needed a tent and sleeping materials of course. And warm clothes. But what else? Ideally, I would bring cooking equipment too. I don't know at what time the others would get up, and imagine I would get up an hour before them. Without cooking equipment I would have that manage an hour without coffee! That is a lot to ask. In the end I went for some instant coffee and a flask. I figured my cousin would have comfortable kitchen equipment, and could provide me with a litre of boiling water in the evening. I'm sure you can still make acceptable coffee with that some eight hours later.

With that, my pannier bags were quite full. I wasn't moving very fast with all of that on my bike! And I walked the steepest to bits. No need to arrive as a panting sweaty mess. And when I rolled up to the camp site, I spotted some familiar figures. There they were!

On my way

It was really good to see them. I had seen my cousin and her son Booker in June, but she hadn't brought her husband, so it had been a long time since I had seen him. They hadn't brought their daughter, who is 18 and does her own thing.

They pitched their tents, and I scouted a bit for a place for mine. I wouldn't be pitching it until it was bedtime, but it was nice to scout in daylight. I also scouted the stream. And I just had a little shower already!

I already know the area there was beautiful, but now they knew it too. One disadvantage was that it was absolutely infested with midges. It was really bad! But what can you do.

I had suggested drinking a beer together, but they hadn't brought any. They were not on the particularly boozy trip! But they liked the general idea, and I quickly went to the shop with Sandra and Booker to get some. That gave Marcel some time to finish the pitching of the tents in peace.

When we were back he had pitched their shelter, that we kept closed against the midges. That way you can't admire the view, but at least you are not eaten alive! And we did a lot of catching up.

At some point it was time to go to sleep. Sandra and family hadn't quite got the kitchen ready, so I left without hot water. I would just have to hope they wouldn't wake up too late! And I pitched my tent close to Craig Caseg Ffraith

Quite soon, the wind picked up. My tent is a bit flappy! I struggled a bit to sleep. But it was nice to wake up at such a beautiful location. It started raining, though, so I quickly picked up the tent and went back down to the camping. And the others were not awake yet, so I just sat in the shelter with my newspaper, hoping for a coffee in the not too distant future. And not much later, they were voices coming from the tents. People! And that meant: coffee!

Lovely spot for the night

Soon the others arrived, and in the process of coffee making started. We had a nice relaxed breakfast, and we also decided on the program for the day. I had mentioned that Charles Darwin had done fieldwork in Cwm Idwal, and that made my companions want to go there. It also helped that I confirmed it is really beautiful there. And the rain was supposed to stop about noon the latest. So we went! I knew I would have to get my bike back home anyway, so I went ahead on bicycle, and meet them there. That got it already a quarter of the way home.

The path through the old quarry was closed due to rockfall, so we just went on the path. Sandra mentioned that someone from the campsite had suggested it is beautiful to go up Devil’s Kitchen. I thought that was a bit ambitious. We hadn't brought much in the way of food and drink! And can you keep an unprepared 11-year-old away from his devices for that long?

Marcel was even interested in the stuff I tell our students when we take them there! I enjoyed nerding out. There is so much to see there. 

Family pic!

When we came to the junction in the path we decided that indeed, we would not go up to the ridge. Instead we completed the walk, and then all went back to Bethesda. Sandra and family went to buy some lunch, and I got the garden furniture ready. I was ravenous by then, and it was nice to eat something! And I liked showing them my house and garden. And cat. They were impressed.

Cwm Idwal

After lunch are we made a plan for the next day. Marcel had voiced interest in Dinorwic. I love Dinorwic! And he convinced Sandra, so that was the plan for the next day. They would pick me up at 11. And when we had made that plan, they went back to their campsite. I was quite tired! I supposed the flapping of the tent had something to do with it, but I am also not used to spending days in the company of a child. And Booker is quite a presence. But that's okay! I now had some quiet time with only the cat. And I was looking forward to doing it all again the next day! 

20 August 2022

Onwards with the ivy

I had cut the stems of the ivy climbing up my roof and threatening the roof. But I had not got very far! But after some weeks I got my act together and placed my ladder against the front of the house. It was time to see how much I could remove! And I was making good progress, but I was being careful. The ladder didn't reach all the way up, and you shouldn't be standing at the very top of a ladder and exert force, as any jerky movements can have you flying off said ladder, with disastrous consequences. So I managed to remove quite a lot, but nothing at the very top. I will have to borrow Alan's extra long ladders for that. And I will really need those for the side of the house, which is higher. I hope I can remove the lot! Although just cutting off its food supply will do the job of stopping it from further damaging my roof. Watch this space, and keep your fingers crossed for no ladder related accidents!


19 August 2022

Heatwave night in the hills

We were having a heatwave! And that does mean cloudless skies and beautiful sunsets. It also means that it is a bit hot outside, obviously, so these features need to be strategically enjoyed. One evening I went for a another bike ride with Martin, and we managed very well to time it such that we had just enough daylight to come home safely. So we had gone as late, and therefore as cool, as we reasonably could! 

One night I really wanted to spend in my tent. By the time the sun is going down, it isn't very hot anymore. And then you can have a lovely evening by your tent looking at the sunset, and have a cool night’s sleep, and have your lovely outdoor breakfast before it gets too hot again! And then you can just be in the office again at 9 am. I really love that sort of mini trip.

I decided to go to the vicinity of Twll Pant Hiriol, where there is a stream. It is less than an hour on foot, but it is beautiful there, and I don't go to that very river very often. And I know you have a good view on the sunset! That also means that the morning sun doesn't burn on your tent.

I set off shortly before eight, and had my tent pitched just in time for the sunset. After sunset it is light for a fair while still, so I could just have a lovely bath and phone my mum without the need for a torch. But soon it was bedtime. It was a lovely temperature for a night in a tent. (I know, any temperature is lovely for a night in a tent if your equipment is suitable, but this was the sort of night when it isn't sweaty, but you also don't need to bring in a particularly thick sleeping bag.)

On my way

Low sun seen from behind wall

Where I ended up

The next morning I woke up at the usual time. It was light! And my tent was beautifully dry. (This was a big change from my previous night in a tent by Llyn Trawsfynydd, which left my tent absolutely soaking wet.) I decided I was going to walk to the crest of the hill with my stuff to have breakfast at; in the morning, the view over Anglesey wasn't that spectacular, and I had better have a view in the other direction. So I wandered up, sat down in the shadow of y Gyrn, and made my coffee and oatmeal.

Breakfast with a view

By the time I was done it was actually getting warm! I wasn't too sad to leave again. And not much time later I was back home, greeting the cat. Time to put the bag down and get into the office!

18 August 2022

Data analysis in Welsh

I started learning Welsh as soon as I moved to Wales. When I hoped I would be using it for teaching! And on a small scale I have; I once had three Welsh speaking students in the small module, and if they had questions we dealt with it in Welsh. But I have never before created Welsh teaching materials, or lectured in Welsh. But it was about time, after more than eight years, that I would. And I had a chat with Dei, who does all the Welsh language teaching in the School, and he suggested I join the Welsh language version of the module "Environmental Data & Analysis". I already work in the English version of the module; I take students to the beach every year within its framework. But it was time to start to do it in both languages. And I thought that would be good; it is a module that deals with science in general, and that is always useful. The terms I would learn would be widely applicable!

During a meeting with the other Welsh speakers from the School of Natural Sciences it was decided that I will try to make Welsh language versions of some very good instructional videos made in English by our colleague Jenny about general data analysis. So I set to work!

What I'd do is: I make a transcript of what she says, then make a translation of that, make a PowerPoint, and then narrate the PowerPoint with my script. It is quite a lot of work! Because my use of Welsh is largely colloquial, I really have to look up things such as "variable" and "generalisation" and "inferential statistics". And I regularly struggle with things such as prepositions.

When I narrate, I also need to be able to be confident in the material because otherwise I think I will sound too robotic. You can generally tell if someone is just reading from a text! I want to avoid that. But it does require a bit of practice. One word I kept tripping over is still Welsh word for generalisations: cyffredinoliadau. It just doesn't yet roll of my tongue. But I will get there!

The first presentation has been narrated. One down, two to go!

Example slide

17 August 2022

Permanent solution to dental hygiene issue?

Whoever reads my blog must be aware that I try to avoid doing avoidable damage to the environment. But I won't do it any cost. A few years ago I had tried to become plastic-free in my dental hygiene habits, but I had given up on that. I just didn't think the wood and bamboo toothbrushes (with things such as cornstarch bristles) did a good enough job of keeping my teeth clean. And I won't sacrifice my teeth! So I had gone back to plastic toothbrushes. My toothpaste and floss is still plastic-free. But I did feel bad about this. You need a new toothbrush every so many weeks, and it builds up!

One day I was having lunch at work, and a colleague told us about an electric toothbrush, which is made of recyclable materials, that she had bought for her husband. And I was listening. That sounded really good! When you buy one, you get a compostible bag with it, and if you have used up your brush head you can send it back to them for free, and they recycle it. It sounded marvellous. So I asked the name of the company: Suri. I quickly ordered my own. And I can charge it with solar power! So that's sorted me out.

When it arrived I immediately tried it. It tickles! But it absolutely does feel very clean afterwards. So I think I now have made the switch for good. I'm glad I accidentally found out about this company!

16 August 2022

Making up new dissertation projects

Quite a lot of students come to the School of Ocean Sciences because they love marine mammals or coral reefs or stuff like that. Not that many come to the School because they love microfossils or the physics of waves or suchlike. So when each year the third year students have to choose a dissertation topic, it is always a bit of a task to make that work. Too many students who want to do something with charismatic megafauna; not enough staff who can supervise that. My topics tends to not be overly popular, but I keep trying to think of something that might attract a fair share of students. This year I decided to throw in climate activism and mass extinctions. It's not directly what my speciality is, but I have tried to offer topics on my speciality and it just doesn't attract enough people. So I'm branching out! I hope it works. I do personally think these are interesting topics, and I know the data is out there. I will know early on in the new academic year what the students think…

Permian–Triassic boundary at Frazer Beach in New South Wales, with the End Permian extinction event located just above the coal layer. By Dippiljemmy - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=102350820

15 August 2022

Last attempt at finding the cause of my nerve damage

When you have RSI, the most important thing to do is take away the cause. That might even solve the problem in the long run. A bit of physiotherapy undoubtedly helps too. But otherwise? I'm not sure. But when the NHS got on my case I really hoped they could make a valuable contribution, somehow. They checked the nerve damage in my arms and found out that it reaches a lot higher than my RSI does. So then they wanted to know more about that! Above the elbow I have no symptoms, so I'm not too worried about what goes on there. They checked if maybe the nerve struggles to get out of my spine unhindered, but an x-ray didn't show anything weird. Their last hope was an MRI scan.

The day came that that would happen. I had to be at Glan Clwyd hospital at 8 am. I got up early and drove there in my new favourite car: the co wheels vehicle. Soon I was pulling my nose piercing out, and laying down in the machine. The actual scan was quite comfortable, actually! You can't see much, the machine is noisy, so you don't get any meaningful input from the world and you can just daydream a bit. It seemed to be over in such a short time.

The results will come to me through my GP or Ysbyty Gwynedd (who asked for the scan) or something. They are expected in a week or two. I don't have high hopes, but if you don't scan you don't learn! Who knows what comes out of this. And in the meantime, I just keep stubbornly doing my physiotherapy exercises

Glan Clwyd Hospital by Richard Hoare, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76432790

14 August 2022

Small group climbing at Allt Ddu

I had been enjoying the climbing recently! And Charlotte was rallying the troops for a session at Allt Ddu (aka bus stop quarry). I was up for it. It turned out that not many other people were, so it was just the two of us. But that was okay!

She came to pick me up. She had warned me she didn't have a book, so when we got there we had to just eyeball the routes to see whether we thought they were feasable, or just work from memory. Which worked fine for me.

When we got to the crag we found a family from London on holiday. They had accidentally ended up in Allt Ddu, trying to get to Dinorwic. We pointed them in the right direction. And then we could start climbing.

We found a very easy route and Charlotte climbed it. I then top roped it. There also was an alternative start to the route, so we did that too. We got our money's worth from that route! And from the top I had seen a route on the other side. It looked like you could fix a top rope there. So when we were done with our first route, that is what I did. But when I got to the bottom of it I realised it was easier than it looked from above, and we could easily have led it. Oh well! We first did it on top rope and then led it.

Charlotte then suggested I then led the route that we had done in the beginning, and I was up for that. But she was being eaten by midges while she was belaying me, so once I was down again we called it a day. A modest session, but worth it! And lit by a beautiful setting sun. And once we got back to the cars we caught up again with the tourist family who were duly impressed by Dinorwic. 

I suppose I might have got my head into climbing again. I hope there will be a next session, and I will try to climb a bit harder then!

13 August 2022

Back in the office, back onto the gravel bike

I knew that the day would have to come that I would go back to the office on a regular basis. And I totally understand the merits; that way you do associate with your colleagues a lot easier. I decided to ease myself into it. I started going in about one or two days a week. It is a bit of a faff; I need to bring my laptop, of course, with all its paraphernalia. And that is one pannier bag pretty much full to the brim. And I have to bike all of that up every hill.

Now that my master student has made a serious start at foraminifera analysis, I come in quite a lot. Learning foraminifera identification requires some help. And I do have lunch with my colleagues.

It also means that there are several days a week where my exercise is my commute. And that is okay but not ideal. I really like my runs! I did move my standard route to a more direct one: I now by default take a route that is pretty much as straight as it can be, but it takes two hills the other route avoids. My previous standard route is about 5 miles longer than the new one. So the new route takes less time, and gives your heart and lungs more action. Altogether a good idea!

Altogether, my life is a lot more like used to be before the pandemic than it has been in the past few years. And that has advantages and disadvantages. That's life!

Almost home!

12 August 2022

Will I build a wind turbine?

So I spent an entire weekend learning how to build a wind turbine. But will I build one?

Part of the answer is: I will not put a wind turbine on my own terrain. I have now seen how much effort it is to build one, and I can see why you wouldn't want to put one somewhere where the conditions aren't optimal. They advised against putting them on buildings, for reasons of turbulence. My own house would create turbulence, and there also is Neuadd Ogwen nearby, with its considerable arse. And I, of course, have a considerable garden, but it is metres below the house and the row of houses to the west, so you would need an absolutely gigantic pole to mount it on. And I don't think that is a good idea.

View past my house looking west, which is more or less the dominant wind direction here

Are any other options? Well, maybe! Susan was probably speaking in jest when she said I could build one for her garden. She lives in splendid isolation on the hill. It might work for her! And it sounds like a nice project to take on. So maybe I should bringing up again to see how serious it could be. And I myself was thinking of my Welsh tutor Jenny. I have never been to her house, but I know she has extensive fields, and she is a veritable eco-warrior. We could build one together while speaking Welsh. Everybody wins! Next time I see her I will suggest it.

I myself will have to make do with solar power for now. But this has not been a wasted weekend! Apart from the fact that I enjoyed it, I have hope that my newly learned skills might be of use somewhere here in the wider community…

11 August 2022

Learning how to build a small wind turbine: part II

I woke up at the usual time after a nice night of sleep. Today would be the day we would hopefully finish our turbine! I first did my physiotherapy exercises, then had a few coffees while reading the newspaper, and then worked a bit on my blog. Then it was time to snap into action! I first went down to the reception to ask if I could perhaps charge my electric car for a bit. And I could! So I retrieved it from the bottom car park and put it in the charger, near where we were at work. Then it was time for breakfast.

After breakfast we first had another hour of theory. And then we were back to our barn! We had our blades to finish, but we also needed to get our coils set in resin out of the mould, and make a disc with eight magnets in it. I first helped to get the coils out of the mould, and tidy the resin disc up. Then I got to do some work on the blade, but not for long; I was then asked to saw a disc with slots for the magnets out of a piece of plywood. That was fun!

Making the disc with slots for magnets

Then everything started to come together. Esther oversaw the selection of the blades, and the process of fixing all three together. Tom was focusing on getting all the other bits together. We slotted the magnets into position, and secured them with a very large Jubilee clip. Then the discs with the coils and the magnets had to be mounted on the same horizontal axis, with the right amount of distance between them. All the metal needed was provided; the pole, the construction that holds the tail, the ball bearings, et cetera. Tom had explained it was not feasible to make these in a weekend course. The fittings of the tail were made the way anyone who can weld could make them; the ball bearings, of course, were not home made. These had been reclaimed from a trailer, I think. 

The final product! 

The course was supposed to end at 4 PM, and people had travel arrangements so we couldn't overrun much. Things got a bit hectic! But we managed to get the whole thing together. It didn't have a tail, but tails are one of the parts that are most open to improvisation. And we didn't have any wind. But if one person spun the blades and another one pressed the wires together, you could feel the resistance. And we did check it worked with a little light attached to the circuit. But then we needed to stop!

I was chuffed with our progress. I also now knew just how much work this was. And it didn't even involve sourcing the materials, making the coil gadget, and doing any welding! So quite a serious investment of time and effort.

I now had to bring two ladies who had initially intended to travel by bus to the railway station. If they would have taken the bus, they would have missed them final moment of assembling our turbine! And after I had hugged them goodbye I could point the nose of my car back north and go home. It had been great weekend!

10 August 2022

Learning how to build a small wind turbine, part I

Years ago, I had read an article in the Guardian about short courses you could do around the UK. I hadn't been looking for anything, but I tend to read the newspaper cover to cover (except the sports section) so I read that too. And there was one course that really grabbed my attention. It was "building a tiny house" at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. I hadn't heard of that place back then, but it did plant something in my brain. And doing that course didn't quite fit with my life at the time, but I never forgot about it.

When I had a summer ahead of me and no plans of going seriously abroad, I pondered what I would do with it. And one of the things I thought of was doing an interesting course. So I headed for the CAT website. And there I found the course "build a small wind turbine". And that sounded fab! I quickly texted Kate to see if she would be interested as well. She was, but she didn't anticipate being in the country at the time. So I registered on my own.

I really like renewable energy! I was already on the path to getting solar power, but that only works during the day, and the wind might also blow at night. I didn't think I would generate very much with a wind turbine, but at least more than nothing. And it would be an interesting skill to learn. So I looked forward to it! And then the day came.

I drove down in the electric car of Partneriaeth Ogwen, and checked in. It was a weekend course so a room was included. The room looked nice! So I got rid of my big bag, took my small bag with things such as a notebook and a water bladder, and went back down to reception. There were some 10 people sitting there silently. I joined them and started conversation with some random people. I figured we had something to talk about: our desire for wind energy! And I was right. But then the instructors appeared and took us to a lecture room. The instructors were Tom, who led the course, and who had done that 71 times before, and Esther, who was less into construction and more into placement.

My room

We also need a little round of introductions. Some people had much more concrete plans of what to do with this course than others! One man was already living off grid, but he mainly relied on solar, and that can be an issue in winter. One man had inherited the  ancestral farm on the Irish west coast. One man had come all the way from Belize. One lady wanted to start an off grid sort of communal living project. Et cetera!

I liked the little theoretical lecture. Tom explained why are blades needs to have the shape it has, and why you would put six coils opposite eight magnets. And he explained what sort of electronic ware you need to have between your turbine and whatever you want to power with it. That sort of thing! I learned a lot. And then we started working. Tom and Esther took us to a beautiful barn on the amazing terrain of CAT. I really liked the place! I already decided I want to come back.

What we started on were the blades. We subdivided ourselves into groups of two, and started on a blade per group. Blocks of wood in the correct size were provided. Tom had said that in the end, they would just pick the three blades that were the most similar to each other, and make them into our final product. I thought it would be an enormous amount of work, but we had to go tools and it was a lot quicker than I had thought! I especially liked the draw knives.

Starting on the blade. Pic by Sheridan

I had teamed up with a lady called Sheridan. And while working together we also just got to know each other. 

From time to time, Tom dragged people out of their work on the blades to have them make coils. The course had a custom-made coil making device, and it took three people to work it. We made our two coils! And then it was time for lunch.

At CAT, do you get fed well! And I suspect they had grown most of the food we ate. All of it was vegetarian. Vegan options were also provided. I think they know who they are and what audience they attract!

After lunch we had to solder in the coils together in the right configuration, and cast them in resin. Tom was very apologetic about the resin. It is hydrocarbon based, and can't be recycled. But it is difficult to avoid! We also incorporated some glass fibre for tensile strength.

Finished coils in the mould for the resin

ChristmasWhen we had cast it all it was time to stop. There was about an hour until dinner time. Esther mentioned a pub not far away, but Google Maps indicated it was about a 30 minute walk, so going before dinner made no sense. I just retreated to my room to have some time on my own. And after dinner I went for a run. I had decided I could do that first, and then join the others in the pub.

I had no map and very little internet signal, so I was running largely blind. I first went around random paths in the quarry where the centre is located. But after a while I saw a cut in the hillside not too far away. That looked like a bigger track, going somewhere. I made a beeline to it and indeed, it was a fine agricultural road to run on! And it went to a big wind turbine. On the top of the hill I had much better internet signal, so then I could see on satellite imagery that the track looped back to the Centre. Surely it was used by vehicles used for wind turbine maintenance. So I continued! Unfortunately, the quality of the track went downhill rapidly, and soon I found myself confronted with an impenetrable tangle of ferns and brambles. I gave up! And just retraced my steps. That way I had to run a lot longer than I had intended, but I really didn't want to have to wrestle through such hostile vegetation over a considerable distance.

Run views

Time to turn around 

I got home, had a shower, and hot-tailed it to the pub. There was a nice group of some six people there! And they were still having a good time so I just joined in. When it got quite dark we walked back. One interesting day done! And would we manage to have the turbine ready the next day by the close of day? Stay tuned!