30 November 2022

First cold in a while

I suppose it was unsurprising! I had had a busy week. I had my normal teaching, and in addition I had a big pile of marking, and the dissertation topic allocation to finish. It was full-on! And then I had the very cold night navigation on Saturday, and the half marathon and the citizens’ assembly back-to-back. It’s a lot! I published both the marking and allocation on Monday.

On Tuesday I woke up with a sore throat. Oh dear. That was my hint for taking it a bit easier. And I hoped that would not be hard. I decided to drive as I was not feeling too good. And I got through a lecture and a guest lecture, a student meeting with someone who was angry he hadn’t got his first choice in dissertation topic, and a staff meeting. Then I should have been able to start doing the next batch of marking.

It wasn’t to be. In the meeting I heard a colleague had gone off on sick leave for the foreseeable future. And after the meeting I got the official email from my line manager asking me to redistribute this colleague’s dissertation students. Oh dear. Bad news for the colleague! And I thought I was done with the allocation. But no.

I managed until 4pm or so and then went home. I was knackered! I made sure to go to bed early, and turned off the alarm.

The next day I had no contact hours so I worked at home. A bit more relaxed! And it was nice to see a lot of the cat. And the days after that I wouldn’t have any teaching either, for reasons of strike and first aid course. I couldn’t remember the last time I had worked myself into such a state, that’s a good sign! Not so good I did it now. But I think the rest of the semester will be ok. Let’s hope so! 

Working at home with a cold: comes with big scarves and a feline office mate stealing your chair 

29 November 2022

Regular intruder at work

One day I was climbing the stairs to the building where my office is, and at the top of the stairs I found a student and a cat. The former didn't surprise me, but the latter did! And the students denied any involvement with the cat. He was just sitting there.

Feline doorman

I thought he might want some petting but he clearly didn't. A rather large paw with rather large claws was calmly placed on top of my hand. I took the hint.

Some two weeks later, when I was carrying my bike down on the Friday afternoon to go home, I found this same cat, but now inside the building! I didn't think that was a good idea. I mean, it is a university building, and people will be in and out over the weekend, but still, he was at risk of being locked in for large amounts of time. He wouldn't have anything to eat or drink, and no reasonable place to have a poo. I figured he had to go!

I used my bike to keep the door wedged open (two attempts needed), picked up the cat, and put him outside. Luckily, he didn't immediately run back in! He could have I suppose; I had, after all, wedged the door open. But he just trundled down the stairs, meowing pitifully.


...and evicted. And not happy about it. 

The next Tuesday I had a similar experience. I found the cat in pretty much the same place! And again I thought he shouldn't be in there. Even though he might suspect me by now, he just let me pick him up again. And again he was vocalising his discontent. But that didn't help. And again he had to trundle down the stairs.

I really like cats and it is cool to have an office cat! But our building just isn't the right place for him. I don't know exactly where he lives, but I hope he will be happy with just being indoors there. That should be the better option…

28 November 2022

Wall sorted

The wall is now really sorted! It was half sorted a fair while ago. And the men have now come back and pointed the part of the wall they couldn’t take down and rebuild. It looks like one wall again. And I hope it’s now more robust than before! That’s another big job ticked off the list…


27 November 2022

Final citizens’ assembly

We had our first citizens’ assembly on sustainability in the Ogwen Valley in summer. And then nothing happened for a while. And then we would have the second and third iteration in quite close succession! They announced the date of the third at the end of the second, but I forgot to put it in my diary. And then when the reminder email game, I realised I had already registered for that Conwy Half Marathon. Oh dear! But I suppose I could still attend most of the day.

After the race I didn't linger; I went straight home and quickly got ready. I walked into Neuadd Ogwen, and saw people were discussing at the tables. I just joined one that didn't seem to have too many people there. They were discussing energy. That sounded interesting! The obvious ideas had already been offered; solar panels, wind turbines, hydro. I added the only gonna get worse to it. I felt I had made a contribution! There were other tables where the topics were: nature, leisure, transport, housing, and maybe more. And we presented our ideas to the entire floor.

While discussing, I quickly ate a few sandwiches I had brought. I was ravenous after having just run 21 km! And I figured that lunch had already been. I was wrong, though; lunch was served after we had discussed for a bit. I totally had space for a bit more food!

During lunch I asked what I had missed. And that mainly had been a delegation from the local schools, who had had their own assembly. And after lunch we tried to think about how you would practically go about realising all the ideas we had been discussing before.

My table decided to go for some sort of playground where the equipment generates electricity when they are being played with. We figured that might be away to generate electricity that doesn't have too many disadvantages! Wind turbines seem to be out, as you don't seem to be allowed to build any that you can see from Eryri National Park, which pretty much excludes the entire valley. We were worried about solar panels because they require all sorts of where are elements of which were not sure if they are being mined in anything like a responsible way. And hydro may be detrimental to river ecology. So maybe children might be the least bad option! Although it is difficult to imagine they would generate an awful lot. But I didn't really feel the idea and I went to another table.

I found the transport table. We were thinking about how to encourage sustainable travel! I got stuck there. 

When that was done, the day came to an end! I must admit I was flagging a bit. All the practical ideas were laid out in the foyer; we were all invited to end our names to projects that particularly spoke to us, and we might be willing to help develop further. I think I added mine to 3 of them.

I then went home. Let's hope we will actually develop all these ideas! There will be a follow-up. Something will happen in February. Maybe that will be the stage where we start tackling all the ideas we have gathered so far! Stay tuned!

25 November 2022

Conwy half Marathon 2022

 I would finally run another race! My last race had been the World’s Steepest Street race in March. After that, I had had to miss two races! One because it clashed with a visit from my sister, and another one because I was ill on the day. And I had somehow missed the Bangor 10k.

I had registered a bit late, but I was looking forward to it. And I had devised a cunning plan: I would drive to the very first parking lot on the outskirts of Conwy I would encounter after leaving the dual carriageway, and then do the rest on bike. It would only be some 10 minutes. That would leave the stress out of trying to negotiate a congested little town. The organisers had been warning against it! And advised everyone to be there by 8AM, even though the start wouldn't be until 9:30. I don't like that sort of shenanigans.

On the day, I attached my race number to my leg, and got into the car, together with the bike. It was 8:30. The plan worked marvellously! And I was at the start a few minutes beforehand. I made a final call on what I would wear. It was a rather cold day, but if you run you tend to stay warm! I decided on a T-shirt and a jumper. The jumper could come off if needed. I also had a jacket, a hairband and gloves with me, but I left these with the bike.

On the beach by the car park; the Great Orme in the background

I started manoeuvering my way through the crowd. They were approximately 2000 runners, so it is important you don't start all too far to the front or the back. There were pacers, so I knew I should ideally start with the 1:45h pacers, as that was the time I expected to run it in. But the crowd was too dense! I ended up with the 2:00h pacers. But that was okay. And just before the start, of course, ‘Yma o Hyd’ was played. That's how you motivate a Welsh crowd!

At the start 

I first spent 4 miles running at a leisurely pace. A half marathon is long enough for you to need to play the long game! No need to throw all your energy away at the start. And it was a nice day! The entire route went over the road. I remembered some bits on a path by the beach last time. And that had been scenic, but logistically challenging. And the sun came out just before the 4 mile sign!

Sun and pompous buildings!

Between the 4 mile sign and the 7 mile sign it steadily went up, on the road that circles the Great Orme. The top of the road is on the far end of the Orme. And to be honest, I was glad to get there! Running a few miles back down on the other side was, of course, easy. But when I got to the 10 mile sign I was starting to show signs of wear. Not surprising, I suppose! But I accepted some skittles from someone in the crowd, and dutifully trundled on through Llandudno and Deganwy. 

Ascending the Orme

If I feel like I can, I speed up in the last mile. But I was actually quite tired so I didn't! Only in the last few 10th of meters to die accelerate again. And I saw I indeed had to finish at about 1:45! Not bad. In 2015, it had taken me 1:52. But that was pre-lockdown. I knew I was faster now! I had managed the Anglesey Half Marathon in 1:42. But that race is a lot less hilly. 

I knew I had somewhere to go, so I basically took the medal and the T-shirt and left. I got on my bike, and comfortably got back to the car. I was barely inside the car and it started raining! My timing had been excellent. And I went home, had a shower, threw some food and drink in a bag, and left the house again. I had things to do!


I later found out my exact time: 1:44:54. I was happy with that! And I was both within the 10% fastest women in general, and the 10% fastest women of my age category. Again, happy with that! I also saw that my colleague David had been as fast as I had thought he would be. He had only needed 1:35! And I could be faster: I saw the first mile had taken me 13 minutes, due to congestion. Next time I should spend a few minutes getting to the correct pacers!

This will be it for a while now; I'm not aware of any convenient races in the coming months. The next one I know of is a 10k version of this race in February. And after that it is already March! With the Anglesey Half Marathon and the Steepest Street in the World race. I am already registered for the latter…

Victorian life ended

I gave in. I admit it! Temperatures had been dropping recently, and it was getting uncomfortably cold in my house. Sometimes I would be walking around, being rather cold, but also knowing there is little point in lighting a fire as I either would be going to bed or leaving the house rather soon. And a home is a place you should be comfortable in. So I caved in, and after some 8 months (with breaks for visits by sisters) I switched the boiler back on.

On again…

My thermostat doesn't seem to be very reliable. Sometimes you set the temperature to 15° (or even 10°  C) and you are too warm. And sometimes you crank it up and pretty much nothing happens. But I try to keep the temperature just warm enough to be comfortable. No need to burn more gas than needed!

I will still use my wood burners to get the temperature in the living room up to a snug level. If I'm not home very much, I can just leave the thermostat in the ‘night’ setting. And the times that I am home on such days, I can just use the old methods to deal with the temperature. But I think I will leave the heating on for at least some level for the rest of the winter. There is a limit to how Spartan I turn out to actually be!

24 November 2022

Night navigation

There recently was some activity of the climbing club! Other than indoor climbing. I haven't gone indoor climbing with them for years. But when we had an AGM I thought it was a good idea to show my face. I will show up again when the climbing goes outdoors again in next year’s season!

Just before the AGM, Charlotte, who is our chair, had sent some emails around about courses we could do within the context of the club. And one of them looked interesting. It was an evening of night navigation. And I have no bad experiences with trying and failing to do this, but I was totally aware my skills could do with some honing anyway. And as well, it might be a nice social occasion. So I registered! And so did Charlotte.

On the day she picked me up, still in daylight. We would meet at Ogwen cottage. When we got out of the car it was quite cold! Before we had even started I had put on all the clothes I had brought with me.

In the end, there were seven of us; six participants, and Kelly, the lady leading the course. And we were expected to do things in pairs. I paired up with Charlotte.

While it was still light, she first let us practice things such as taking a bearing. That was not a problem. And the next thing she did was take us to a stretch of the old road there of which she knows it is 100 meter long. If you are either trying not to get lost, or lost and trying to do something about it, you might want to get a good grip on the amount of distance you are covering. And knowing how many paces you do in 100 metres is very useful! I had 66 on the way out and 67 on the way back. (You only count the steps of one leg, so effectively, a pace is two steps.)

We then properly started. We got onto the path to the lake, and after a while she stopped us and let us decide where exactly it was we were on the map. And I knew exactly where I was; I know this area quite well. But with the fading light I struggled a bit to properly see the map! I was making liberal use of the magnifying glass in my compass. Oh dear.

Into the hills!

Map practice

Atmospheric surroundings 

She then told us to measure as precisely as we could the distance to the next junction in the path. And calculate how many paces that would be. And then she told us to pace it out. And none of us got there! This was not too surprising; this path is not as smooth as an asphalt road, so you take smaller steps. I counted the additional steps I needed to take to get to the junction. That gave me the idea that on a path like this, it takes me 79 paces to cover 100 metres.

We did it again! She did the same exercise for the next stream we would encounter. Repeating this sort of thing gives you an idea of how variable your pace length is. And as well; if everyone stops when they think they have paced the distance we have agreed on, you can see how far apart we end up standing. That was not too bad!

Standing still and measuring distances on the map, and taking bearings, did make us really feel the cold wind. It looked like we had all underestimated the weather a bit! A beginner’s mistake.

In the proper dark

At some point we walked a box. That is; we first walked a set number of paces north, then the same number of paces east, and then south, and then west. You can see how accurate both your pacing and your walking on a bearing are by checking how far from your starting point you end up. It wasn't bad at all!

Then we decided it was so cold we should make it back to the car. But not without some more practising; she suggested a certain point on the map, and asked us to get there using a bearing and pacing. That worked well. And then we did it again. We were pretty much walking back in the direction of the little quarry there, even though we knew the path through it was closed. In the end we just followed a fence. That was a bit adventurous; it was steep and boggy. But it was alright, and not much later we were back at the road.

That was pretty much the end of the course! We said our goodbyes back at the cottage. I had found it actually quite useful! The next time I need my navigation, I might be a bit more detailed. I am generally a bit inclined to use a broad approach. Just aim for a particular hill and not bother too much with where exactly on the way you are! And sometimes that just is the best thing to do. But sometimes I should practice my detailed navigation. You never know when you might actually need it!

23 November 2022

Emergency firewood cupboard repair

 Two years ago, I got some furniture for in my garage. Doesn't time fly! It feels like such a recent addition. But anyway; it wasn't the most robust furniture you would ever have seen. But it did the job! And the big cupboard held my painting supplies at the bottom, and various things in the top. And one day Kate got it into her head to remove a tree from her garden, and she didn't have a log burner herself, so she gave the entire tree, chopped up and all, to me. And some of that went in the middle. And next to the cupboard I stuck some of the firewood I still had to saw into bits myself. Quite a lot of that was parts of the stairs of Neuadd Ogwen

One day I got into the garage, and I noticed that some of the stacked firewood at fallen over. And then I noticed a reason why; my cupboard had gone unstable. It was leaning heavily to the left! And it must have  pushed over some of that firewood. Oh dear.

Oh dear (firewood already removed)

I know that meant I had another chore. I needed to reinforce that cupboard! A bit like I had done with the cupboard in my office. So the next Saturday, I emptied the thing out, and biked to the local builders merchant. They didn't sell any strips that were intended to be used for reinforcing furniture, but they sold metal strips that had a different purpose. Good enough. I just bought two of these! And then set to work.

Buying supplies 

To my surprise, this was a chore that was a lot quicker than anticipated. With most chores, it goes the other way! But quite soon I could move it back to where it came from, with three strips added to do it, and then felt confident filling it back up again with paint. The firewood didn't come back; that had by now ended up in the log burner. But the next time I have a bit of a firewood sawing session and I need somewhere to put the results, that space is available again! I think that cupboard will be good for years to come…



22 November 2022

Professional development review: gender

As I mentioned in the previous post, we have a professional development review (PDR) with our line manager each year. And this year, I was apprehensive.

Periodically, the University does a survey of its entire staff. The results are not only published as a whole, but also School by School. We therefore knew where things are not going well in our School, and we know that separately for academic staff and support staff. It is really interesting to see the differences! It looks like the jobs are really different. I'm not surprised about that. 

After the results were published, our diversity and equality officer had sent us all a questionnaire. She mainly wanted to know more about where things go wrong. What exactly is it that is going wrong? Is anyone listening if you speak out? That sort of things. She really wanted to make sure that although work in the School can never be perfect, at least it would be as good as it can be, and that no one feels they have issues they can't discuss with their managers.

I answered that questionnaire. And it made me think about the things that aren't going very well, obviously. And I struggle with the gender balance of the school, and with the perception I have that females are taken less seriously. And it also made me think about the fieldwork module in which I really have to fight to be heard. And I think the students see that! And I think that has an influence. If the male staff don't treat females as equals, why would the students? And then you get situations where students will questions grades you give them without good reason, or blame you when something goes wrong, or things like that. Which are the parts of the job that I find frustrating and exhausting.

I had just done a day in the field where again I felt like I had two options: either be downright aggressive, or be completely snowed under by my male colleagues. And that is not a choice I enjoy. So when I was getting ready for my PDR, gender issues were at the forefront of my mind. And I decided I was going to bring it up. I hadn't done that before. If you stick your head out above the parapet mentioning issues like this, the response is often negative. But I decided that I should just speak out anyway. If I don't tell my line manager I feel the struggle for female representation as a burden, then he can't act on it.

It was pretty much the first thing to come up. And John was listening. I think I've managed to communicate where I think the problem lies. And Dei was supportive too. He also was very embarrassed! After all, the example I used to illustrate the problem was the field trip module that he leads. And he is one of the people I always have to defend myself against. And he is aware of the problem, and he clearly doesn't intend to be part of it, but as soon as he sees a rock he wants to tell the students about it. And doesn't think about anything else. So if it happens to be my job to talk about that rock, then too bad, he will start talking anyway. And I bring it up with him in person on a regular basis, but I think that now it has been discussed in a PDR, it has reached the forefront of his mind a bit more. He might be a bit more considerate the next time.

I also mentioned that when it comes to my suspicion that this sort of behaviour gives the students the impression that women are just less important, and that therefore you can just try to steamroll straight over them if you want to, I only have anecdotal evidence, and I can't prove anything. But I did mention that one thing I can prove is that this school is haemorrhaging women on the way to the top. We are in the process of losing one right now. I think we have lost seven women who were generally in the lecturer stage since I got to work here, and the only man who wasn't yet a professor who left was dragged along by his irate wife. The only other men who have left were already full professors. They clearly didn't have the idea that our School was not a place where they could reach the top. And this time, the men acknowledged that this was  indeed an issue.

Apart from this particular field trip module I am not sure if anything is going to happen. But at least I have raised the issue! I was a bit nervous doing that; remember the previous time I raised gender issues to an all-male audience. The only thing I achieved then was that  I united them against a common enemy, and that I got bullied. Not ideal! And of course, at work the idea is that people can't do that; the University has policies against that sort of thing. But it remains scary to raise your voice in an environment that you experience as not very woman-friendly. I'm glad I did it anyway. And I hope this will be a tiny little step in the right direction!

21 November 2022

Professional development review 2022

Every year, we have a professional development review (PDR) with our line manager. We talk through the things that are going well, the things that don't go so well, what changes we want to make for the coming year, what is needed for a potential promotion, et cetera. Sometimes that goes well, and sometimes it doesn't. This year, I wasn't really thinking about my teaching and my research and suchlike. My main focus was on what I will deal with in the next post. But let's discuss the other bits here.

The first thing we discussed in the PDR was my RSI. And that was useful! I am struggling a bit to have two ergonomic set-ups: one in the office and one at home. For instance, I prefer to work with two monitors, but you can't have two monitors both at home and at work. They just won't give you that many! So I am using my old TV as a monitor, but that doesn't recognise my graphics tablet. And then I have to use the mouse. I really don't want to use a mouse.

I also am very dependent on my headset. I dictate everything! If my computer can't hear me I am screwed. And a while ago my microphone stopped working. I went to IT to get another one, but that one broke within two weeks. The next one broke the next day. I think they are buying the cheapest of the cheap! I brought this up too. And my line manager said I should just ask our head of technical support to order me a proper one. This is helping!

I also said my teaching load was manageable. And we discussed the possibility of making sure that Welsh language students can do their dissertation module in Welsh. Soon we will have an additional Welsh language lecturer, and she will be a biologist, so that really really broadens the range of topics we can offer that you can write up in Welsh.

The last thing we discussed was roles to hold within the School. Since Welcome Week and Open Days have been taken off my hands, my contribution to that sort of thing is a bit small! And I know it couldn't stay that way. And John, my line manager, suggested three options. The first one was International person. I don't think that is officially the title of that role but I forgot what it is. And it is a two-pronged role; you are both responsible for international students coming here, and for our students going international. I am not entirely sure what in practice you do in this role, but I know who has been doing it in recent years, so I can go and have a chat.

The second one was plagiarism officer. That basically means that you need to be the person in the school who knows exactly what the rules are, and can apply them. And if students are found to break them, they have to answer to you.

The third one was equality and diversity officer. That is quite close to my heart! I don't think we are equal and diverse enough yet. Not by a mile. And I am bothered by that!

John told me to think things over, and talk to the people who were currently fulfilling these roles, so I would get a clear idea of what they entail. And then get back to him with which ones I thought I would want to take on. Wow, I even get a choice! 

Altogether I came out of the meeting feeling very positive about things. This does not speak for itself! But I get help with the things that I struggle with for reasons of RSI, and I even get a say in what new roles I will take on. This is going well!

19 November 2022

Student allocations done

 One of the bigger jobs of the autumn is done! I have given all students a dissertation topic and supervisor. And it was less hard than it was last year. We had considerably fewer students! And that really matters. And next year, the cohort will be bigger again, but by that time we hopefully have a few more staff.

The biggest hiccups this year were, I suppose, firstly  that just  when I wanted to start the process I got an email from a colleague. She said she had handed in her resignation, so she would be gone by the time the students would start their projects. That was a bit of a bummer! Her projects are always very popular. I could still offer her topics, though; we have one man who is scientifically close enough to her to be able to supervise all her projects. That saved me having to ask all the students who had chosen her projects to submit a new round of choices.

Secondly; another colleague had let me know she would be offshore during a crucial part of the semester. So she couldn’t have dissertation students either. And I forgot! So I had to quickly redistribute her students.

We also had five members of research staff willing to supervise students. I never give them many because they only do it out of the goodness of their hearts, but it is nice to be able to have that room to manoeuvre.

In the end I managed to spread the students out rather well. The person with the most students is the man who is basically standing in for our leaving colleague as well as being himself. He didn't mind having seven students. Everybody else has four, five, or six. That is a lot more relaxed than last year when many of us had nine! 

Monday morning I will release the list to the students. I hope they like it! If so I think it will be a good year for dissertations…

Most popular topic: the influence of ecotourism on cetaceans
(Pic by Ivo Kruusamägi)

18 November 2022

Learning R in Welsh

I’m teaching in Welsh now. And I had suggested I add to the teaching in statistics, as that is a universally useful skill. And you never learn something like when you teach it, so I would benefit from that myself!

It is a bit hard work going through the materials in Welsh; so much new vocabulary. And the material is not complicated; it is only first semester of the first year, after all. But it’s heavy on the memory! 

After a few sessions in Excel, the exercises are done in the statistical program RStudio. And that is again quite a bit of work! This is the first time I actually need to know the vocabulary associated with programming. But it is well worth it. I have used R before; that is basically the original program, which is command based. RStudio, the newer addition, actually has a user interface. It is indeed a lot more user friendly!

When the session with R came up, I first wrestled through the course material in Welsh. And then I had to actually install the software! But when I had done that, and I had already closely read the instructions, I could do the exercise in minutes. This RStudio thing is quite marvellous! I think I might use this more often. 

I think I am getting what I need out of all of this; I am practising my teaching in Welsh, I am extending my vocabulary, then I am learning very useful new skills! I think I made the right call.

RStudio in action

17 November 2022

Giving up on 2022 Interrailing

The last time I went to the Netherlands, I flew. I felt bad about it! But it is a lot quicker. And I didn't have an awful lot of time. If you spend all your time in a train you barely see the people you are travelling for. But I wanted to stop flying. And not flying, in my situation, means Eurostar.

During the previous citizens’ assembly I spoke with my friend Caro, who is German and therefore regularly travels there. She said it was a lot cheaper to buy an Interrail ticket. With that ticket you can then reserve seats on the Eurostar. It sounded like a good idea!

Soon I looked at a potential trip, checked how expensive it was, and then checked what I would pay for an Interrail ticket that covers the same period. And the difference was indeed considerable! So I bought a ticket. And then had to actually sort out the seat reservations.

It sounds so simple. There is a page where you can do just that: make seat reservations for the Eurostar from the Interrail website. And getting to the Netherlands didn't seem to be a problem! But I also need to get back. And there the trouble started.

All was fine between Amsterdam and Brussels. But I also need to get from Brussels to London! And that just seemed to be a problem. Every possible itinerary I tried, I could not book a seat on that stretch on that website. And the site does have a button with "more information" you can click, and that gives you a different site where you might be able to sort that, but it quickly descends into a lot of faff. I did find, in the end, a place where in theory I could make a reservation for that stretch, but it required the number of my Interrail pass. Fair enough. But the panel indicated it needed to be a paper pass! And I had a digital one. So it wouldn’t work. This was getting really frustrating. I later just tried different dates to see if maybe that helped. But it didn’t. I gave up.

An Interrail pass is valid for a year, so I figured I could just try again, in spring or summer. Surely it should be possible! And in the worst case I could just go interrailing in Britain. Pop over to Scotland or something! 

For Christmas, I admit I just booked flights. How can I get to the Netherlands otherwise if I can’t travel between Brussels and London? This is a total nuisance. But at least I’ll be getting there! 

The issue

16 November 2022

Independent bike maintenance

I only started using disc brakes when I moved to my current house. My commute was suddenly quite long, so I needed a good bike to perform it every day in speed and comfort! So first I bought a road bike. It had excellent brakes, but they were very noisy. And the bike surely was fast, but not very comfortable, so I sold it on to someone who prioritised speed.

Then I bought a gravel bike; also second hand. It also had disc breaks. And the pads were worn when I bought it. I had let the local bicycle shop do the maintenance of my road bike, but now it was time to step up my game and start doing it myself. But I was allowed to ease myself into this! When I mentioned this chore to Martin, he offered to help me. And he did most of the work. And so I had absolutely perfect brakes.

In this country, do you need your brakes. You wear them out a lot quicker than in the Netherlands! So I had already noticed a while ago I needed to replace my pads. And that is something that moves itself up your priority list. They are, after all, a matter of life or death. So one day when I was in Bangor anyway, I bought two new sets of pads. Next time I need to replace them I have a spare set ready!

It was time to find out if I could do it without Martin. And just replacing them is quite easy. Adjusting them then is the difficult part. The front brakes were okay very soon, but the back brake needed a bit of adjustment. I had to improvise a bit as I missed a particular allen key. I will need to buy that one! Maybe next time I am in the vicinity of the bike shop.

I never reached Martin levels of perfection, but it was good enough for me! And as it so happened, I went up the hill to have tea with him not long after I was done. On the way up I tend to not use my brakes. But on the way down I noticed how much better they worked! I am satisfied. I think the bike needs some professional maintenance anyway, but at least I can replace brake pads. And I am good for normal braking, and emergency stops, for months to come!

Look; no help! 

15 November 2022

Finishing the Laverbread

When my sister was visiting, we ate cockles with laverbread. That's the traditional Welsh way of eating the shellfish! And I had a tin of the stuff in the cupboard anyway. But our dish didn't require the entire thing. What to do next? I did not want to go back to the beach to gather so many cockles that that would use up the rest of the stuff. That would be about a week of eating nothing else!

I turned to Internet. And I found a recipe for laverbread quiche. It was a bit of a misnomer; it basically was a vegetable quiche that you could add laverbread to. But that did what I wanted it to do! I decided that leek, the national vegetable of Wales, would be the right accompaniment. And I decided the quiche needed a bit of bite so I decided to also add halloumi. The seaweed is quite salty, and so is the halloumi, so these tastes can probably compete. And then the leek is the milder background.

The actual execution was not a problem! I make vegetable quiches quite often. And this one was a success! The seaweed really makes the quiche rather special. And I have managed to use up all the laverbread. So I have avoided food waste, and I have enough excellent quiche in the fridge to last me for a while! It's a win!

The laverbread 

The quiche before the top went on

Finished product

14 November 2022

Windy day near Cemaes

It was time for the second field trip in our Anglesey geology module. We should have had two already, but we had had to cancel one for reasons of bad weather. And the second one was a bit borderline; it was sunny, but also very windy. And for this last trip of the semester, the forecast was not that dissimilar. This year, the module has not been blessed with good weather! But we decided to give it a go. We did change the location around; originally, we would have gone to  Rhoscolyn, but that involves teetering on cliffs on the west coast, and that didn't seem to be a particularly good idea. We decided to stay on relatively flat ground on the north coast. So off to Porthwen we went! 

Because we only decided two days in advance where we would go, and Dei was characteristically very busy, we didn't really get around to organising the trip before we were already on it. That tends to work to my disadvantage! On the parking lot where we pick up the students we quickly made a distribution of who would say something about what. And I wasn't assertive enough. The men ran away with not only most of the trip, but also everything but the very last bit. I shouldn't have let that happen!

We drove up and met at Porthwen. Jaco would do the first part of the trip. That is some of the best bit. The students haven't seen this kind of stuff before. They also are still fresh at the beginning of the trip. And when he was done we went back to the vehicles. We tried to first go to the public toilets in Cemaes, but they were closed. So we just drove to Llanbadrig. And because of the heavy wind, we had lunch inside our vehicles.

Jaco teaching by the first outcrop

The views

Then we went on. Dei did the next bit; he pointed out the mélange there. They have seen it before on Llanddwyn! And there is a Palaeozoic dyke running straight through it. 

Clambering over the melange, looking for the dyke

In the end we came to an old calciner. That was the only place where I had something to say. I pointed them to the beautiful stromatolites there. Unfortunately, there also is a stromatolite in the mélange, so Dei had already spoken of these. I struggled a bit to say an awful lot in addition. And the students struggled with me; I referred to things Jaco had only told them less than two hours before, and they showed no sign of having any idea of what I was referring to. It was like pulling teeth! And then I tried to show them a thrust fault you could see from there. More pulling teeth. The men were not even interested; they were staring at another stromatolite. That really didn't do anything to give the impression that what I say is worthwhile!

The view from the last stop

We were all getting rather tired of being so pummelled by the wind that we decided to just go home from there. There is more to see in this area, but in this weather it is not worth it. And Cemaes is quite far away from Bangor, so it is quite a drive back.

I drove back with an unpleasant feeling. This is exactly the sort of situation I try to avoid! The implicit message to the student is: what women have to say is not important. At least there was one point of light: I noticed Dei making an effort of taking pictures of me. This is another one of my bugbears; if we go on trips like these, the only person taking pictures tends to be me, and then all the pictures that appear on social media of our field trip show men teaching. That is not how it should be! But Dei seemed to have cottoned on to this, so and was clearly making an effort. That is appreciated.

The next trip is traditionally just Jaco’s trip, so then I have peace with not saying much. And the trip after that it’s me who does all the talking about geology, so there my territory is clearly marked. And I will defend it! But I must say that I also look forward to the next trip I will do with my colleague Lynda. Doing field trips with her is always a lot more relaxed, because you don't have to worry about representation, and can just teach! Every trip should be like that…

13 November 2022

Pop-up nuisance

I don't know what I did to deserve this, but since a while my laptop has been hurling nasty notifications at me whenever I have Chrome open. The notifications all tell me my firewall has been breached, my computer has been compromised, spyware has been detected, et cetera et cetera. It is especially bad when I open the program after a while! I have to get rid of a whole load before I can do anything useful. It is a right pain in the arse! When it started doing that, I went to the helpdesk to ask if there indeed was a problem. They said no. So I went home and tried to switch off the notifications.

I did seem to toggle the right thing, but the notifications didn’t go away. I tried whatever I could think of! It wasn’t enough. I had to go back.

I had already been to the new helpdesk once, to exchange my broken headset for a functioning one, and now I was back. I had only brought my actual laptop; I didn't think I needed any peripherals. And I figured that if the power would run low, they would have a cable for iy.

The lady who helped me I was a bit baffled. She confirmed that indeed, there was no sign of my computer actually being under threat. But how to stop the notifications? She searched around in all the settings, and just managed to toggle something off before the computer gave up, because the battery was empty. They didn't have a power cable for it. I had to just hope that she had solved it!

I got home and switched it on again. Unfortunately, the notifications were coming as normal! This shouldn't be so complicated. But somehow, it is! But at least I won’t have to be ashamed that I could sort this if not even the helpdesk could. I might have to go back again… I'm not a big fan of biking my laptop to work, but if that's what it takes I will do it. I really have better things to do than clicking away a whole bunch of useless notifications!

Example notification

12 November 2022

Pumpkin seeds

I don't think I had ever curved a pumpkin before! But this Halloween I did. And I made sure to bring home whatever I took out of the pumpkin. I fished out all the seeds. I've been using pumpkin seeds in my bread since I started baking it myself! I really like it. But for some stupid reason, if I have eaten pumpkin or something related, I have always just thrown away the seeds. Just a matter of habit, I suppose! But that would not happen to me this time.

I washed the rather slippery little things, and left them to dry. First mistake: I left them to dry on some tissue paper, but they ended up stuck to it. Next time I won't!

When they had been separated from the paper I roasted them. That was just a few minutes’ work. And they could immediately make their entrance into their first loaf of bread. And the result was lovely! I don't suppose they were any better than shop-bought pumpkin seeds, but just the knowledge that I saved them from being food waste makes them extra good.

I have since bought a butternut squash. I will definitely make sure to also use the seeds in that thing!

11 November 2022

Autumnal commutes

It's November now! And it shows. Since the clocks have gone back in late October it is quite likely that I bike back from work in the dark. And that wasn't the way before. I prefer daylight for my commute, but the dark can also be very beautiful.

Another thing associated with British Summer Time being over is that the weather gets decidedly autumnal! I had several commutes where the wind strength was somewhere towards the upper end of my tolerance. It tends to come from the left when I bike to work, and there are stretches on my route where I have to struggle to not be blown off course if the wind is strong. I don't find that very enjoyable! 

I also have got quite wet already! I am largely lucky, or calculating; given that I have a working set up at home as well, I can just go home fairly early if that saves me a drenching, and then just continue in my home office. But there are days when the rain is just an avoidable. And days when teaching decides when exactly I should be on my bike! So I have already spent a day in soggy shoes. Maybe I should be a bit more disciplined in wearing my shoe covers when I know it is going to be wet.

So sometimes the weather is not kind to me, but these autumn bike rides, be they in light or dark, can be quite beautiful! And I think I am lucky that I have a commute that sometimes inspires me to just stop and take a picture of the sheer beauty around me. That is more than worth the occasional uncomfortable ride!

This was in October; sunshine on the way home

Still October; evidence of heavy wind on the bicycle path

Commute under beautiful full moon (should be last picture but Blogspot is playing up)

November by now; almost managing to be home before dark

10 November 2022

One library (and IT helpdesk) to rule them all

In the olden days, the school of ocean sciences had its own library. When I arrived, it had already gone. And I am sure that there were quite some decentralised libraries back in the days. One thing we still had, until recently that is, is a separate science library. And the science library was also where the helpdesk was located.

That would change. The University decided that only one library was enough! So the whole science library had to move to the main building. And the helpdesk came along. And given that I only need to borrow science books, I had actually never been in the main library. But that was about to change!

I felt like I really needed to go to the library in order to make sure I know my way around there. I can't direct my students if the place is alien to me! And the opportunity soon game; my headset at work wouldn't work. When I phoned the helpdesk they asked some questions and concluded that probably, it was a hardware malfunction. So I had to go there and exchange it.

I finally took my first steps in the main library, but mainly because you have to actually walk through it to get to the helpdesk! I'm not quite sure how ideal that is. But it is decorative. And from the helpdesk you actually have a good view on the University courtyard, which is undergoing severe renovation. It looks like it will be beautiful!

I suspect the situation is stable now for a while. They can’t centralise things anymore, now there is only one library left! So next time I either need a book or IT support, this is where I will go…

Entrance of the library from the central corridor 

More glamorous than the science library ever was!

09 November 2022

Day 3 with my sister

It was our last day together! And it would be very wet in the morning. We had decided we wanted to do something cultural but we were not sure yet what. And with an extra coffee in our hand we had a look at the cultural offerings around. And what floated our boat was Oriel Môn; Anglesey’s art gallery/museum. I had never been! 

I said I would need some sustenance if we would  go there before lunch, so we decided to first go for coffee and cake. Such a punishment! And I suggested the Green Olive in Menai Bridge. They delivered. And then we drove to Llangefni. The main attraction had been an exhibition about local boy Kyffin Williams; I knew him mainly because there are a lot of his paintings in the café in the Main Arts building of the University. I think he has also come up in Welsh class. He is quite a big name here! And I like his style. Lots of gloomy landscapes.

We saw the exhibition about him, and then we also checked everything else. It is not a huge museum; you can see everything. Another big room was dedicated to the collaboration between one artist working in glass and another one in slate. I thought the result was a little bit repetitive, but there were some excellent pieces there. 

Gloomy Kyffin Williams landscape 

The room

When we got out, it was time to get lunch. The only village between us and our next stop was Llannerch-y-Medd, so that would have to do. We found a café in the old station building that was willing to serve us some toasties with salad. That did the job!

Decoratively used old engine near the cafe

Our last stop would be Parys Mountain. My sister had heard me go on about it, and when I showed her a picture of it she agreed it was gorgeous. And the weather had become beautiful by the time we got there! The colours of this old copper mine are spectacular on the worst of days, but if you see them in late sunlight, they are even better. 

We did the loop we normally do with our students, and we got back to the car when it was already getting a little bit dark. Time to go home and cook our last dinner together! And then the next day I would have to bring her to the railway station rather early.

Parys Mountain in late afternoon light

Evening falls over the windmill

I think it has been a success! We had no problems filling our diaries, and we had amazing weather for November. And we had plenty of time to talk. That was, after all, the major goal of the visit! But there is no reason why you shouldn't combine that with gorgeous landscapes. And wine by a wood fire.

She got back without incident. And now it is up to me to book my next travels to the Netherlands!

08 November 2022

Day 2 with my sister

The second day of my sister’s visit, the weather would actually be quite good! So we took the opportunity to go for a sizable walk. Armed with lots of sandwiches and tea, we headed for Bwlch y Groes. I really like the remoteness of that parking lot! And from there you can walk onto Moel Eilio.

The skies were still dramatic, and the landscape wet. I thought it was very photogenic. Until we actually hit the ridge. That is just grass, and it even went into the clouds! But we knew we would not be in these clouds for very long. Coming down to Bwlch Gwyn, we saw the landscape appear again, including Llyn Dwythwch, which we would basically loop around all day.

View from the parking lot

Approaching the clouds

The valley comes in view again when we descend Moel Eilio

View over Llyn Cwellyn

The going was good! It wasn't soggy, and the weather was calm. By the time we felt like having apple pie we were already coming down from Foel Goch. While we were eating, three Welshman and a dog walked up in the opposite direction of how we had come. They were carrying an Owain Glyndwr flag for some reason!

Soon after that, we took the path back to where we had come from. We didn't even have lunch until we were back at the car! But that wasn't enough; Petra wasn't done walking yet. So after we had eaten, we also explored the path that goes down to Betws Garmon. It came past the quarry, and we spotted a sheep perilously teetering on a steep cliff! We took a picture of it. We could ask Facebook if this sheep was actually in danger or not. (Facebook would think not.)

Unexpected fellow user of the path

Pretty stream

We didn't make this extra loop particularly big. At some point, it is nice to go back to the bottle of wine and the snacks! So we did. Wine and dinner were enjoyed. Then we had another job; my sister hadn't quite booked her train to get back yet. We needed to do that! And we found out that the day she travelled back on was marred by replacement bus services. It was going to be a long journey home! And one that would start early. But so be it.

We left the final decision on what to do the next day for the next day. We knew it was going to be rainy in the morning, so we would have plenty of time to decide. Now it was bedtime!

When my sister picked this week for coming over, I had no idea if we would be lucky enough to have days like this, when you walk up to 726 m, and only spend a little bit of time in the clouds, and absolutely none in the rain! We were lucky. And we still had a third day…