04 June 2023

Marking done

The big marking deadline was looming! The first thing I did was finish my own marking. Then I sorted out the outstanding cases of suspected academic poor practice. And the odd one of malpractice! And in between that I kept on sending out reminders to my colleagues that they had to make sure they completed their dissertation grades. Dissertations have to be marked by two separate people, so they both have to do the work, then they need to communicate in order to agree on grades, and then the supervisor of the student needs to make sure the first and second marker’s grades, and the agreed grades, are available to the external examiners. And they have to make the agreed grades plus feedback available to the students. And sometimes the first and second marker don't agree, and then it is my task to make sure a third person looks at it. Inevitably, sometimes that third person is me!

We also had a member of staff who went off on sick leave before they could agree marks with everyone. Luckily they were very organised, and all the information I needed to make executive decisions was there. I think that worked out! Unfortunately I don't have the feedback for the students, so that will probably have to wait until they are back from sick leave. Quite a lot of the students will be a lot more interested in the grades than the feedback anyway. And the grades are there! I can imagine that if the students now go into a job, they focus on that now. Not much point in spending a lot of time finding out what you could do better with a dissertation, as they may never write something like that again.

I didn't manage to get all the staff to finish all the dissertation marking. By the end of the day, still a few marks were outstanding! That is not how it should be. But you can't force people.

I also had to have a lot of meetings with students I had had to call out for a lack of paraphrasing. It was the usual blend of upset people, defiant people and apologetic people. And people who were a bit of all three. I suppose the most important case was a student who is unlikely to graduate straight away. This might mean they may have to do supplementary assessment over the summer. I think it is really important they avoid being penalised in that piece (or pieces) of work, as that might really affect whether they can graduate after that or not. I have urged them to come and see me (or their academic tutor, or the Study Skills centre) so we can practice a bit with writing assignments in such a way it is really in their own words from start to finish. I hope they take this up!

Next week my job should look different. And Tuesday we already have the first exam board meeting! We'll see how this cohort has done…

03 June 2023

Relative drought

I don't think we're officially in a drought, but I personally find the weather astonishing! I just can't remember the last time it rained. And this is North Wales. 

It is kind of nice, though; it is glorious weather for biking to work, and for having dinner in the garden, and for going on lovely little adventures in the weekends.

Even for the garden I think it's OK. For one thing; with so little rain, nothing is growing particularly fast. And that means less maintenance! And additionally; climate is only going to get stranger, so you don't want to spend a lot of time pampering plants that struggle with a bit of drought if you know it is highly likely that is only going to get worse. If they can’t cope with this, they can't cope with the future. The cold spell in early spring also made a few casualties. So I will be left with the resilient plants. 

The hydraulic head of the water butt is rather pathetic at the moment; I expect it to run dry soon, after which I will give it a good clean. But if I really need water that doesn't have to be drinking water, I can still go to the river. I don't expect that to run dry any time soon!

As I write this, it is completely unclear when it will start raining again. I'm going to try to enjoy this as long as it lasts!

Struggling plant (not sure what species)

Struggling Rosemary

It takes awhile to fill a watering can like this

This grass hasn't been cut in a week; you wouldn't say!

My Pyracantha doesn't see what the problem is

02 June 2023

Pentecost camping trip

I thought it was time for another mini camping adventure. My last time camping had been rather overshadowed by social complications, and it would be good to have an uncomplicated trip. As well; the weather was gorgeous. And Pentecost was coming up.

On the Saturday I was busy with chores. And given that it was a long weekend, I decided I could just be away the night from Sunday to Monday. And so I did!

On Sunday I first finished cutting the grass, and trimmed the hedge; I had not got around to doing that last year, so it was really really necessary. And then I packed my stuff.

In the morning I had had the map out, and decided where I would go. It was a gorgeous bank holiday weekend, so it would be really busy! So I made a plan with four options. I was certain one of them would work. Especially given that I wanted to go in the late afternoon, after a lot of people would've already started making their way home.

My options were: Snowden Ranger Path to Llyn Ffynnon y gwas, or the valley above that; Rhydd Du path to Bwlch Cwm Llan, Bethania to Llyn Llagi, or Pen y Gwryd to Llyn Cwmffynnon. And I went counterclockwise. And the first option was immediately a go!

You can't park overnight at Snowden Ranger, but there is a little layby just before that where you can do what you want, and there was space there. So that's where I parked up. And then I started my climb! 

The start

The start of Snowdon Ranger path is not very beautiful. But I suppose it is quite fast! And it is also very busy.

The view early on

Fellow path users

Sunny selfie with destination in the background 

After a while I could see the path zigzag up the slope, where I would veer to the right. I couldn't yet see the lake but I knew it was there. I was a bit disappointed by lots of signs of humans; on the slope before the lake (technically a reservoir) there was something unidentified, and on the slope behind it there seemed to be a tent. But all was not lost; I could just keep walking, and sleep one valley higher.

The reservoir; full screen view for spotting the tent(s)

When I got closer I saw that the unidentified things were piles of fencing material. And the tent was actually a cluster of tents. But it wasn't particularly late yet, so I was happy to keep going. And in a way it would be a bit of a waste to not check out that valley. I had never been before!

The piles of fencing material

When I got into the valley I realised it was very pretty. But by then I did want to have some food. So I basically put my bag down right where the stream came out of the first lake (Llyn Coch), and had my meal. I had bought a batch of vegan hike meals. This time I had Thai green curry and it was great!

I could also hear noises coming from above. The valley is right underneath the summit station of Snowdon, and there were clearly people there. I suppose they climbed the mountain in order to see the sunset from there!

After dinner I had a dip in the lake. It was too shallow to swim, but it still was nice and refreshing.

Llyn Coch, where I ate and bathed 

It was rather windy in the valley, so I needed to go and scout for a more sheltered spot. Preferably also even more beautiful than where I had had my dinner. So I had a walk! There was another lake further to the left; Llyn Glas, and I quickly found it. It was right at the edge of the scree slope, so there were big boulders, and it seemed more sheltered. It was also stunningly beautiful. I decided that that was where I was going to pitch my tent, so I went back to get my bag.

I pitched the tent, took a bunch of pictures, drank some tea, wrote this blog post, and brushed my teeth. And by then it was pretty much bedtime.

Llyn Glas, where I pitched my tent

Panorama of the valley; spot the tent! 


I didn’t sleep so well; my small tent flaps a lot in high wind. And I had been drinking tea until late, so I had to get out for a leak. And I hadn’t bothered avoiding that, as it makes you go outside and admire the nightly valley. It was stunning under a half moon! 

The next morning I got up at about seven. It will still quite windy! So I made my breakfast in the shelter of a very big rock. It was still quite cold! I was wearing my down jacket. 

Hot coffee on a cold morning

After breakfast I decided to walk back with a bit of a detour. I want to explore the I head of the valley, so I looped around, heading with a detour to the third lake; Llyn Nadroedd (the lake of snakes!). It was very beautiful! And it also had an old structure next to it. It looks like the foundations of an old launder. A bit like the ones in Bryn Hafod y Wern! 

Remnants of a launder?

I took my time walking back. First I stopped to brush my teeth and change into shorts, and later I stopped for coffee and cake. And then another time for refilling my water bottle. But the way back is downhill, so as soon as you are on the Snowden Ranger path it is rather quick. I was back at the car at noon.

Back in civilisation

I was quite chuffed with how this has gone. It was this Dunning Valley in a beautiful night! But if I ever want to do this again in the same location, I will instead take the gravel road past the quarry, a bit further east! That is much quieter and more beautiful than that Snowden Ranger past. But I'm not sure if I will be back soon; there are so many other options. After all, this had only been the first one on my list of four options!

01 June 2023

Sorting out the hedge

Another dull blog post about garden maintenance! But I got such a sense of achievement out of it I'm going to write it anyway.

The house comes with the hedge! And hedges need annual trimming. And originally, my neighbour offered to do my side as well, when he did his side anyway. I was grateful for that! He has quite a big hedge trimmer, and he is considerably taller than me. I think he can just do it standing on the ground, even though it's a sizeable hedge.

Then covid struck, and he withdrew the offer. From then on I had to do with myself! And the thing is, that I don't necessarily get round to doing it every year. And last year I didn't. And this year I was feeling really bad about it. 

I myself use my working platform, which I inherited from the previous owner of the house, and a small trimmer I inherited from my dad and stepmum. This works too! So now the hedge looks civilised again. From now on I should be more conscientious and not skip years! 

The next thing I should probably do now: paint my garden shed… that was another one of those tasks that I didn't end up doing last year. With great garden comes great responsibility!


…and tidied up

31 May 2023

More sleeper replacement

My raised beds are made of railway sleepers; given that you can tell they have really been used as such, and they are both narrow gauge a normal gauge, I assume they came from the environment here. There were both type of railroads going from the village in the direction of Bangor. But that also means that must be quite old. These railways were built in the 19 century! So no surprise that they are deteriorating a bit.

I had already been replacing rotten ones with stone. And during the barbecue, another one died. So I had to snap into action again! And this was right by the river, where all stonework is slate, so I decided to replace the sleeper with slate as well. And that worked out. It should be sorted for centuries now again!



30 May 2023

Marking (and academic integrity work) coming to an end

Normally, you get four weeks to mark anything. But at the end of the academic year, things are different! The graduation ceremony is in July, so the powers that be need to know well in advance who will actually get to graduate. And this year that meant that our exam period ran until May 26, and everything had to be marked by June 2. And before the exam period, there is a lot of coursework to do. Some of that coursework has extensions; these can also run until May 26. And then there is the master students, who don't stop until September.

Altogether that meant that I had to mark my dissertations (6 of my own, 8 of other staff), three module exams, the essays of my tutees, one MSc final project, and two MSc literal reviews with project plans. And some of that had to be done within one four-day week. It is a fair amount! And it becomes a lot worse as all of that marking inevitably also comes with issues of academic integrity. I only had to mark a modest number of MSc work, but there was a lot of additional work that involved lack of paraphrasing. Because scientifically, I only have something to do with a few of the students. But when it comes to academic integrity, suddenly every single one of them is my business!

I went into that last, four-day week with only 7 out of 10 essays to mark, and the literature reviews. Not bad going! And 13 cases of academic integrity still to deal with. But the good thing is that when all the grades have to be in, this all stops! With the students not handing anything in for months, there is no marking and no academic integrity work. I'm glad! Time to get on with my Athena Swan work…

28 May 2023

Goodbye from NHS

The NHS has really tried to help me with my RSI. They had checked out my nerves, checked if some of the infrastructure of my arm is not getting in the way, X-rayed my spine to see if there was anything wrong with where the big nerves come out of it; pretty much everything they could think of. (I had already announced the goodbye before, but that had been premature!) Except one thing. They wanted to know if there was perhaps something wrong with the blood flow through my arms. So the last bastion of hope would be: the vascular department. And one day I had an appointment.

I didn't have much hope. Surely if there was a vascular problem come out that would have other symptoms? But I had little to lose. So I went.

I didn't start well. A young man came in with a lanyard; I could see he was not the person I had the appointment with. He asked me some questions that made it clear he didn't know what my issue was. He also seemed to not have heard of RSI. He said he would start by taking my pulse. And he really struggled doing that! My pulse is really not difficult to get. And he must've been a doctor with vascular expertise.

He then did the simplest of tests. While still keeping an eye on my pulse, he raised my arm above my head and asked me to look away from that arm. And then on the other side. And he concluded all was well. Was that it?

When I raised the point that he seem to be making a final decision even though he wasn't a person I had the appointment with, he walked away to have a word with that doctor. He came back to say that he agreed, but that they might want to take some X-rays to be sure. I then told him that the hospital had already taken X-rays. Don't these people check the dossier of their patients before seeing them? He walked away to have a look at the X-rays, and came back and said all was well. They could do nothing for me. So that was it. A bit of an anticlimax! And as I said; I hadn't expected much of this, but this seemed to be a particularly half-hearted attempt at doing something for someone. Oh well. I'll have to sort this myself! With the help of a lot of time…

Battle of the bread machines

Years ago, I had decided that I would buy a bread machine as soon as I have a house of my own. And sometimes life is simple! When the dust had settled, I found a second-hand bread machine online and bought it. And it made excellent bread.

I don't know how long this bread machine had been in use. Probably quite a while! And over the years, it started to lose its mojo. The anti-stick of the pan started to fail, and it became increasingly difficult to get the bread out. I realised at some point I would have to give up on it. And I didn't want to be entirely without a bread machine! So my first try was buy another one online. But I was insufficiently critical, and the thing didn't work. I am one of those gullible people who thinks that if someone sells an electrical appliance, it works. Not so! And the local appliance repair service didn't do bread machines.

Then I thought I’d just bite the bullet and buy one new. And I did! I had a look at the reviews of bread machines you can buy in the region, and picked one that seemed to suit my needs. But then I found out that bread machines are not created equal.

This bread machine took a considerably shorter time to bake a loaf of bread. And as a result, the bread wasn't as crusty! I thought it was a bit disappointing. I didn't quite like the structure of the inside of the bread either. I did the job; it did create bread. But I get so much enjoyment out of my bread when it's good, I figured after a considerable amount of time that I should act yet again. I want a bread machine that makes bread the way I like it! It can clearly be done; my first machine did. But which one? 

I hit Google. I asked it ‘which bread machine makes the crustiest bread’? And nobody seems to really test for that, but you can get some idea. And then you can scrutinise the details in the user’s manual. And what I found was that top of the range seems to be a Heston Blumenthal bread machine. It's quite expensive, but then you can adjust everything you might want to adjust! Baking time, baking temperature, whatever. And I would think that that means you can just experiment until you get your bread exactly how you want it.

I mentioned this over lunch to my friends. Martin then said he had a bread machine gathering dust in a kitchen cabinet somewhere. Before I would spend crazy money on the fanciest bread machine around, would I want to try that? And I gratefully accepted that offer. And when he came over for the barbecue, he brought it along. I'm sure it is a fine machine, but I quickly noticed that the smallest bread you can make with it is 1 kg! I prefer to make half a kilo loaves. I don't have much in the way of a freezer, so I need to eat the bread before it gets stale. And that's just hard on your own with such big loaves.

When I had finished the bread I already had I tried the new machine out anyway. And the result was quite like what my new-bought bread machine produces as well! So it was a really kind gesture of him, but I'm not improving the situation by switching to this bread machine.

I'll have a quick look at what my bank account looks like at the moment. But I think I will be turning Blumenthal, and I just hope that he won't disappoint me!

Martin’s bread machine, with the one about to be retired in the background

The darkest-crusted wholemeal loaf it will let you bake

27 May 2023

Worries at work

The memories of the last financial restructuring, with its threat of redundancies, were still fresh. Nobody had been made redundant, but the scars were still raw. Fortunately, we as a School were recruiting well, so there was a feeling we wouldn’t be facing anything like that anytime soon again. On the contrary; we were recruiting so well we were allowed to hire more staff. Hurray! 

This announcement of jobs to be advertised came yonks ago. I can’t quite remember how long! But long. And then endless faffing followed. Every staff meeting we had, the Head of School wanted to discuss exactly what kind of expertise we needed. Get on with it! Get the people in! 

By last January we at least got two posts filled; the replacement of a lady who had taken voluntary redundancy, and a Welsh medium lecturer. But we had been promised 7 posts more. We had to move fast! If you don’t have someone in place by September, they are of limited use in reducing the workload for that academic year. By now it’s May. We are now finally advertising three jobs, plus one temporary job to replace someone who is going elsewhere for a year, and which is only advertised internally, but there is almost no way the permanent people will be in post by the start of term. An additional complication is that this is an awkward time to advertise a job, and as well, they will only advertise for a few weeks. We can only hope that qualified people will even apply! If they don't, we're back to square one. 

Then the recruitment team gave an update. They expected 320 freshers! We already struggled with 200. We have to run practicals several times over as we can’t fit the entire cohort in a lab. The labs struggle to clear up after the previous practical and get ready for the next, as this way they come thick and fast. There aren’t many lecture rooms that can hold that many students. Tutorial groups become big and unwieldy. 

The mood in the room got rather gloomy. One person was serious about wanting to leave. One other was joking about early retirement, but if we get these student numbers, how long will that stay a joke? The risk is a bit that these student numbers will push people over the edge, with consequences for everyone. To be honest, I hope this estimate will turn out to be too high! You never really know how many students you get until term starts. We will wait and see, and hope for the best… 

26 May 2023

In the mud with the camera crew

The day came I would be talking to a camera crew on an intertidal flat! For reasons of low tide, we would meet at 7AM on Anglesey, so I had to get up extra early. And I got there with a few minutes to spare. That was okay; I had actually never been to this location, and getting a few minutes to scout is quite useful. And after a few minutes, a van appeared. This turned out to be the cameraman. The others followed soon after. These were the presenter, the sound man, and two people that I think could be described as the producers. We introduced ourselves. I had met one of the producers online, but the others were new faces to me.

The crew had never been here before, and they didn't quite know what I had in the School vehicle, so we talked through the practicalities. They also changed into wellies. And then we were rolling!

I think it went okay! The hand coring was not much of a success; the sediment just fell out of the auger. But we had the core on the table. So that was okay! And I probably made all sorts of crazy mistakes in my Welsh, but they weren’t complaining about it. I was a bit embarrassed when the presenter at some point was using a very southern term, and I speak North Welsh, but I am in the habit of taking over other people’s vocabulary, so before I knew it I was using it too! My Welsh tutors will not be impressed (except the one South Welsh one).

After the main conversation over the core, the camera people want to do some distance shots, and some drone footage, and then some close-ups of us walking over the tidal flat. And then the presenter helped me get my stuff back to the car and it was a wrap! I said goodbye to them all and just went to the office. By then I really needed coffee and cake! But I think it has been a successful morning. 

They couldn't tell me yet when this will be broadcast, but they said they would let me know. And I have their contact details, so I can even ask if they forget. I hope that like the bloke from BBC Cymru, they will send me the fragment as an mp4! Then I can watch myself back, even when not in the possession of a TV licence…

25 May 2023


Barbecue season is open! I had wanted to invite the Gerlan Crew into my garden for a while anyway, and a suitable weekend presented itself. And even the weather was playing ball! So I dug my fire bowl out of the garage (with difficulty, because of the fences around to work at Neuadd Ogwen), the garden furniture out of the shed, and a lot of food out of the supermarket. The stairs had already been sorted for this occasion!

I really enjoy my garden! And I think the others do too. And it was really nice to have a relaxed evening with good friends. It's just what one sometimes needs!

24 May 2023

Sea level for Welsh television

A while ago I got an email from some television production company. They were looking at doing a programme about sea level for the Welsh language TV channel S4C. Was I interested in collaborating? And of course I was! I love talking about sea level. And I love an opportunity to use my Welsh. So if I can do both at the same time I'm happy! They were also suggesting filming on location, which is nicer than filming in a lab or something. I had enjoyed it the previous time I had done that.

Their idea was that we would go somewhere where we could get hands-on and talk about sea level records. I am used to getting my sealevel records from salt marshes, but I also knew that that Newborough Marsh isn't very suitable for sea level studies. I didn't really know any North Welsh saltmarshes that were.

Then I thought about the work one of my colleagues, Mike Roberts, has done in the Menai Strait. He had a drill rig, and managed to retrieve a load of cores. These are basically grey sands and silts with sometimes a black layer in between: peat! Not only does peat indicate that the location was above sea level at the time of deposition, but you can also radiocarbon date it, so you know when exactly it was deposited. Lots of peat layers in your sediment core means you can build up a picture of sea level change through time. And an additional advantage is, that these peat layers stand out like sore thumbs, so it is easily explained to someone who is not used to looking at sediment cores. 

I don't know what happened to Mike’s cores, but I do know something else; every year, when I am on the beach with Lynda, the students spend the half day they are not spending with us with several of my colleagues on the tidal flat by Gallows Point, just outside Beaumaris. And there they sometimes take a core, with our percussion drill. This is not far from where Mike had been busy, and they do get beautiful peat layers in their sediment cores as well. 

I asked Martin, who is one of the staff members running the activities at Gallows Point, if that core would be available for this purpose. And he said yes! So that was the location and the material sorted. I had to go into the cold store and check, because I need to know what it is I will be showing a camera crew, but it all looked good. It was a five meter core with a beautiful peat layer at about 4 1/2 m deep. And from Mike's work I could have a reasonable guess at how old the layer would be.

We would meet on a Monday morning 7AM at Gallows Point. The Friday before I loaded up a hand corer, and the core, into one of the School vehicles I had borrowed for the occasion. At home I had a brilliant idea; I have a foldable table in the garage, that I had inherited from Rose; I should bring that! I wanted to show them the core in the field, but the field is a mud flat. You don't want to lay your beautiful cores down in the mud, and you don't want to have to crouch down to look at it with a TV presenter. If we would have it on the table, that would be way better for both the people and the core! So I stuck that in the School vehicle as well. And my rubber boots. I was ready to roll. Bring on the cameras! 

Ready to check the core!

22 May 2023

Marking, finally

When the marking season started, I didn't immediately find time to actually make any progress on that. Too many other things, mainly to do with academic integrity, were getting in the way. But that marking needs to happen anyway, so the week after I indeed managed to knuckle down a bit. I marked quite a number of dissertations, and managed both climate exams.

The part of marking I managed to make quite comfortable is second marking dissertation. If you are the first marker, do you have to provide detailed feedback for the student. If you are a second marker, the only thing you need to do is provide a few sentences to explain your mark to the external examiner. So you can just print them out and read them wherever you want! In my case; quite often, in the comfortable chair (for which I compete with the cat) in the conservatory, with a big pot of tea next to it. Or a mug of coffee.

I am aware of the environmental cost of printing out a dissertation that you will chuck away once you've read and marked it. But the marking has to be done by the deadline, so that means out of hours working, and I want that to not be more uncomfortable than it needs to be!

Progress at Neuadd Ogwen; now for real?

The work at Neuadd Ogwen has dragged on for about 1 1/2 years, and there was still no sign of a porch, even though that as far as I know, building a porch for reasons of increased insulation was one of the main objectives for the building work. 

Last months it looked like there finally was progress, but whatever was built up then was also taken down again. Since then a deeper trench has been dug, and that had later been filled up with concrete. This looked like foundations for a porch that might actually appear at some point. And then one day when I was working at home, there actually was activity! Two guys started building a wall that looked like it would be the outline of said porch.

I really hope they know keep going until it is done! It is not intensely disruptive, that work in front of my house, but it can be annoying when they block the passage between my front door and the road, or the garage and the road. And I don't think anyone benefits from this work not being finished, least of all Neuadd Ogwen itself. So I hope I can soon reports that it is all finished! 

When they block my access


Porch taking shape

Even more progress

21 May 2023

Stairs ready for new season

I had started work on my stairs pretty soon after coming back from the Lleyn, but it was a multi-day project. Firstly, I needed to make sure I had enough granules for the job, and that meant sieving out some badly sorted sand in the river. And then that material has to dry! And you also can’t do the work when the stairs are wet. Luckily, the weather got quite summery soon after. So one dry day I made a modest batch of epoxy and just filled in all the gaps that the wear and tear had caused. It wasn't much work after all the preparation had been done! And now I think my stairs will be pretty close to OK for years to come…

Sieving in action 


20 May 2023

No therapy recommendations

When I terminated my therapy, I asked my therapist to give me recommendations for other councillors I could contact who may be better suited to what I need. I expected to get an email at some point. But then one day an envelope arrived in the post! And it was a card from her.

She said she normally takes a bit more time to say goodbye to her clients. It has indeed been a bit abrupt! It was nice of her to send a card. Unfortunately, she mentioned that all the people she would like to recommend are not in a position to currently take up new clients. I have to go and look for someone myself! Not ideal, but what can you do. I will get on that. It's not as if I have already achieved what I hoped to achieve by going into therapy in the first place, so if I still want to I will have to…

19 May 2023

More medals

The Queen's platinum jubilee was a fair amount of time ago, but I'm not yet done handing out the medals that the long-serving members of the cave rescue team had been awarded for the occasion. We're not mountain rescue; we don't train every week and have callouts every millisecond. I quite quickly got rid of the medals for the people who actually show up for trainings and meetings, but we also have long-serving members that either only show up for our rare rescues, or never show up at all. And I had been under district instruction to only hand them out in person. Well; if that's what I need to do, that is what I do! But it does mean I still have a fair numbers of these silly medals in my cupboard.

Then, suddenly, an email arrived from our secretary. The king had decided to hand out similar medals for his coronation! I had to provide a list of eligible members. Shit! That means I get another box of medals, and I have the administrative task of making sure I have a clear record of who received one and when, and I will probably end up with a bunch of leftovers that you can't really throw away, or give away, or sell, or anything. Oh well. I'm sure he has good intentions! But I must say I personally would have preferred him to keep that initiative to himself…

18 May 2023

Compost heap success

I had started the work the previous week! Now it was time to finish it. I really wanted to give my compost heap two compartments. One to throw fresh plant material in, and the other one to let older material mature. And when it's mature, you use it, and then the other compartment becomes the maturing one. And I had ready what I needed do achieve this.

The previous week I had emptied the space out. This time I wanted to screw half a pallet into position. I first drilled a hole in the slate wall and fixed a bracket; I then fixed another bracket into the stairs.

My thoughts then was to create a third contact point. There was another rock I could sink a bracket into! But some drilling action didn't make much progress. I then realised that particular rock was way too hard. Most rock in my garden is slate! But not all of it is… I left it at two points of contact. If that turns out to be too few I can add some woodwork and add another bracket at the top.

I also had to move all that mature compost I had dug out. I decided it was best to put it to use. Most of it was readily absorbed by my vegetable bed, which this year is already hosting potatoes and onions, with celeriac and beetroot still to come. And the rest was used for my tomato plants. Two of them had to move outside in bigger pots. These big pots took the rest! So now I have to start from scratch with creating new compost. But it is May, and everything and anything is growing like the clappers in the garden, and I will have a sizeable heap of organic material there in no time.

This is a project that all together has taken me five years. But better late than never! Bring on the home-produced compost!

Two compartments! One of them already filling up…

16 May 2023

Yr Elen Ridge

The weather forecast for the Saturday after a very busy week looked great! So I decided I should go for a hike. In the mountains. Just one of those things you can just do without overloading your tired brain with organising it. You just go! And I still had the ridge route of yr Elen on my to do list. Yr Elen is a bit of a weird peak as there isn't much of a path going from the valley to the top (going SE). I had only been there once! But it has a beautiful ridge pointing roughly NE, and I wanted to try that as well. It looked like a fine day hike.

I made my sandwiches and filled my flasks and set off. The logical start- and endpoint of that walk is on the other side of the village, pretty much where Martin lives. I like to avoid the dull bit through town as much as I can! So I biked the first bit, and parked my bike at the end of Martin’s street. Then I could set off.

The first bit of that walk I know quite well; I have walked it many times, and run it several times as well. But that's okay. It is still beautiful! And so was the weather.

Just some hundred metres from where my bike was parked

I had coffee near a bunch of Carneddau ponies. They were quite curious! Then I walked on. I also spotted two ladies going in the same direction.

When I came past a spot where I had camped a few Easters ago I admired the place again, and filled up my water bladder. I knew that once I hit the ridge, I wouldn't come across any more water until I would be in the village again. And when I was done, I caught up with the ladies. One of them turned out to be Stella, my distant colleague! It was nice to briefly catch up. But then we went our separate ways.

Hill selfie

Where the valley makes a turn

My old Easter campsite! 

The ridge isn't really a ridge at its base. It is quite rounded! But the higher you get, the more pronounced it becomes. And of course the views get better and better.

The not yet very well-defined ridge

Views on the sharp end of yr Elen

The ridge seen from the top

At the top I encountered a couple who were also impressed with the view. We had a nice chat, and they offered me a biscuit. They also spoke of the race that was going on a bit further east. I hadn't heard of it, but they spoke of a 100 km race that went over one mountain after the other. It sounded like hard work!

A bit later I did encounter that race, at the top of Carnedd Llewelyn. It really did look like hard work! And one poor sod had run off in the wrong direction, and had to turn back. That must be frustrating. My route took me where this guy had accidentally gone. The runners went into Cwm Eigiau.

The race seen from Carnedd Llewelyn 

Beyond the peak I found me a spot to have lunch. It was so quiet! It was a sunny Saturday, but there was hardly anyone there. I went on to Foel Grach and Carnedd Gwenllian. From the ridge you could see a beautiful haze in the valley.

Much flatter views in the other direction 

More swampiness on the ridge

Mist beautifully ascending the slope

The hazy view into the valley 

Only minutes from town I had the second half of my lunch. And spotted Stella and her friend again. And I had phone signal by now, so I asked Martin if he was home and if I could swing by for a drink. And I could! That was nice. I was a little bit self-conscious about my body odour; I had just walked 20 km in rather vertical terrain in the May warmth. But he didn't complain! It was really nice to catch up with a cold drink after a warm walk. And after the drink I could just do the last mile on asphalt really fast on my bike.

It was dinnertime by the time I got home. I was happy with how things are turned out! I think I needed this after a bit of a trying period…

15 May 2023

Marking or academic integrity

It had been a busy week! It shouldn't have been; it was the first week after the end of term. Normally you start marking then. But this week that did not take place!

On Friday, one of my colleagues who had second marked the dissertation of one of my students let me know he was ready to agree a grade. I confessed I hadn't even started! I said that if only students would just stop copying phrases over from scientific literature, and from less reputable sources, use AI to write their assignments, copy exams over from each other or assignments from themselves, and all things like that, I would've had time to get some marking done. He replied that if only they would stop asking for extensions he would've made a lot more progress than he actually had as well! And I know how terribly many he gets. And he has to give all of them proper attention.

I suppose if I would be an efficiency machine maybe I could have made a bit of a start! But I had a lot of meetings, and a lot of my time was indeed stuff to do with academic integrity. I saw three students, emailed seven others that I intended to penalise them, referred one to the higher authorities, and decided to leave six off the hook. And I also had to properly document all of that. I don't think it should be this busy! But it is.

There were other things going on as well, of course! I am discussing a television programme about sea level rise with S4C, and possible shared MSc projects with NRW. I am communicating with my two master students, and am involved in the progress meetings of other people’s students. I needed to remind the staff that they need to make sure all the grades for the dissertation presentations are documented, and I need to check which grades are not in yet, and why. I also had to restore the spreadsheet where they are documented as someone had made a dog’s breakfast of it. And I had to dig out a model answer for an exam as it seemed to have gone missing. And I needed to get my exam for my Earth, Climate and Evolution module ready. I had been waiting for comments from the External Examiners, but if these would have comments, they would have delivered them by now. I could clearly make the changes we had suggested!

There were also meetings with the University Athena Swan team (and negotiations with the Head of School on how to create our own team) and with the new Vice Chancellor, and with a lady from Learning Technologies about changing the way the dissertation students log their progress, and with the Teaching and Scholarship team.

It was only a four day week! And it seemed to just fly by. I really hope that next week I can make a serious dent in the outstanding marking!

14 May 2023

ChatGPT at work

It was only in December when I became aware of chatGPT. I figured it would barge its way into my life fairly soon! And it sure did.

If a student submits a piece of work as their own when they haven't actually written it themselves, that is academic malpractice. And I am the person who gets alerted to it if someone suspects that has been going on. And if you, for instance, let a chatbot write your first year essay, that does count as academic malpractice. And we are only a few months down the line, but this has started to happen.

I suppose there are two questions here. The first thing is: is a chatbot not just a tool? In what way is it fundamentally different from using the spellchecker of Microsoft Word? What are we doing if we are not teaching our students to work with the tools available to them?

The second question is: how will we even be able to tell? As things stand, we are not able to conclusively prove use of artificial intelligence in student work. We can only suspect.

The thing about the work that has been flagged up as potentially written by AI is that it isn't very good. I suppose with every day that passes, the tools will get better, but as things stand, chatGPT doesn't do a particularly good job at this specific kind of work. One of my colleagues suspected that an essay draft had been written by AI. He then basically asked chatGPT to write an essay about the very same topic. And the result was eerily similar to that which to student had submitted. And it had nonsense in there (both versions) that someone in the field will immediately spot. 

Another colleague had a similar case. And a third colleague thought she'd put it to the test. She took some genuine student essays, and had a few generated by chatGPT, and then asked us all to have a look and see if we can tell the difference. I think that after 15 guesses by colleagues, only one of them was wrong! So it looks like old-fashioned intelligence can still spot artificial intelligence.

For now I think this gives us the answer to that first question. Yes we need to teach the students that you can use it as a tool in certain circumstances, but we also need to show them what its limitations are. We might not be able to prove use of AI, but we can tell when a language model has just been talking through its hat. So yes, submitting work written by AI will yield a lot more result than not submitting work at all, but if you want to do a decent job, it really pays off to do the thinking yourself!