09 December 2023

Just some fossils in a wall

I mentioned my second University Senate meeting in the previous post. This time it was in Pontio. When I walked towards the door I was distracted by some beautiful fossils. I had been aware from it having been built that the stone used is full of them, but it is a big building, and there is always something new to see. And they were so gorgeous I figured I share them here. 

Probably an ammonite 

Solitary coral


08 December 2023

Politics and the university

Anything to keep foreigners out. Rich, white, Christian or atheist foreigners are fine, of course. I suppose they also should be cisgender, straight, and able-bodied. Come to think of it; if they are rich enough, they don't have to be white, Christian, or anything like that. If you are some Saudi oil billionaire you can just come in. People who actually contribute to society should stay out. They have the duty of being the scapegoat for everything that's wrong with Britain.

The Tories are desperately trying to hang on to power by being unpleasant to foreigners. Now they have decided on a whole range of measures to keep legal immigrants out. The most striking measures are that you can't have a foreign family member join you unless you earn at least £38.700 (it used to be £26,200), and that care workers (who have absolutely no chance in hell to earn that amount of money) can't bring dependants with them at all. 

I'm sure this policy will work. Fewer perfidious foreigners will come in. But wtf do they think they will achieve with this? Will foreigner-bullying give them an election victory? Very unlikely. And even if it does; how much damage will they do before that? How much misery will they cause to people who, in this international age, have started a relationship with someone of a different nationality and residency? How many children will be separated from a parent because the parent cannot afford to be with them?

Additionally, the radio was full of people who run care homes, who said that they would have to close when this measure would come into force. The government says they should recruit within the country, but they said they had tried, and it doesn't work. They also admitted that if they just offer a higher salary, they would, but there is no state support for doing that. And I am sure there are a few rarefied care homes for rich people who do offer that kind of salary, and I am sure they would be able to recruit, but that would mean social care would be only available for the rich. Which would be exactly what a Tory government would want to happen, but it is also deeply awful. And if the state isn't supporting you, and your clients are not filthily rich, you just can't offer the sort of salary that would be needed. So you'll have to close. And where will the residence then go?

Another issue is that, largely again for reasons of government decisions, British universities heavily depend on income generated by overseas Master students. UK students already pay a fortune for their education, but international students pay almost twice as much. Universities are practically bludgeoning each other's heads in in order to secure the highest number of international students. And now the government has just decided to actively discourage anyone to show up. Great.

That was another meeting by the University Senate; my second. A lot of things were discussed, of course; student recruitment, the financial situation, student satisfaction, the whole lot. But also, of course, the new policies, and what it would mean for us. Given that they had only been announced two days before, the university hasn't had much time to contemplate things. The person who spoke about the situation did sound confident. But we'll see how this pans out! This could be really big. But I also think that the government will realise that toppling over universities might not be a very good election strategy. I really hope they reconsider. And I also really hope it backfires, and our next government will be Labour. Who, hopefully, would have the wisdom to bin these policies as fast as you can say "xenophobia"…

A random job ad for a lecturer from the University job vacancy page. Someone who gets this job on the lowest space scale might be full-time permanent academic staff, but still not earn enough to have a spouse come over!

07 December 2023

Icy roads and summer tyres

I mentioned it before! I don't like riding to work on spiked tyres. More than 99% of the road will be asphalt; you would only need the spikes for isolated patches. And it's worth it if you don't fall over and break your collarbone; that's a big win. But it does mean that almost 100% of the road you are riding around with an enormous extra amount of friction. And it really is hard work!

When it got cold I kept going on my normal tyres. I won't put the spiked ones on unless I am absolutely sure I need them. But one of these days, there was more black ice on the road than I expected. I had to be quite careful! But it worked out in the end. And I biked back the same way; I knew I had to be careful because I had seen on the way to work where the ice was. Not all of it was gone. But I managed to negotiate everything successfully.

It got warmer again. And then cold again. Again I set off my normal tyres. And again I had to be a bit careful. And all went well until I got to the stretch of the road that had been the worst the previous time around. And this time, it was worse than that! Quite some sheet ice, sometimes over the entire width of the road. Quite often you might be able to escape the ice if you move to the middle of the road. There's not that much traffic there; one would expect to get away with that. But that day it just wouldn’t do.

This time I chose on several occasions to just walk. It just looked so slippery! And at one point, I only _just_ managed to keep my bike (and myself) upright.

I only just managed to make it in time for my 9 AM meeting with a dissertation student. And luckily, this time I had to bike back from main campus, so I took a completely different route back. And it had got a lot warmer in the meantime as well. The coming days had predicted rain. To be honest, I hope I don't need the spiked tyres this winter. But it's only December and I already had two icy days! There probably will be a lot more to come…

06 December 2023

MSc student

Sometimes I don't quite get around to blogging about certain things. At the moment, I have a Master's student. She was allocated to me in September, but at the time I think I was quite distracted by things such as our fieldwork. So I don't think I mentioned it at all!

The project she is doing sort of builds on from two earlier projects: one project that another student did quite a number of years ago now; I had to hand this student over to a colleague, as during a crucial part of the project, I was off on sick leave because of my RSI. This student basically tried to figure out if foraminifera are good indicators for pollution in estuaries. She compared estuaries Parys Mountain (biggest copper mine in the world in the late 18th century; the site also contains lead, zinc, and silver) drains into with the Cefni, which has no mining of note in its catchment area, and where we do our September fieldwork. 

The other project was nothing to do with me; that was something having to do with pollution only, again from Parys Mountain, but this time not related to foraminifera. That was Lydia's project. She went downcore. And she found clear fluctuations in the amount of mining pollution. Would you be able to see changes in the foraminifera assemblages as well? The other project had proven that at least at the surface, you'll find forams and very polluted sediments. 

For now, she is focusing on using Lydia's samples to get an idea of how many forams are in there in the first place. When we have a clear idea we can either go into the field and get her own samples, or we will have to sit down and redesign the project, because there just aren't enough foraminifera to go around. But luckily, this is a joint project; I am doing this together with my geochemical colleague David. If there aren't enough forams I am afraid there might be some more emphasis on his side of the project! But let's first see what these pilot samples yield. Many, I hope!

The first foram found! Pic by my student.

05 December 2023

Trying to renew my car sharing scheme membership

It was only last year that I joined the local car sharing scheme. It feels so much longer. But with it being more than a year ago now, I did come to the point where the scheme wanted to check my situation. (I wanted to drive to Chester in the shared car but couldn’t.) Once every year, British drivers are asked to log onto the DVLA website (the body that issues driving licenses) and get some code with which the car sharing company could check if they had committed any disconcerting number of traffic offences. People with foreign licenses can’t do this.

I phoned the company to ask what my options were. They said I should go to the post office to have my license verified, so I went to the local supermarket as it has a post office counter. But they said they didn't provide this service, so I would have to go to a real post office.

There is a post office in Menai Bridge, but I didn't go there for a while; I was busy marking. But as soon as the marking was done I popped in, and ask them if they could sort me out. They had no idea what I was talking about. I showed them the webpage where British drivers can go, and they said they did not provide a similar service. I had to go back and phone the car sharing company again.

They said it was not a case of checking for traffic offences; they said I just needed it verified. That the post office can do. So the next working day I went back. I got that sorted, scanned the resulting form in, attached the other sources of information they wanted as well, and hit "send". And then I just had to wait. But not very long. 

The next morning I already had a reply. It had come in the same day! But after my bedtime. These people have strange working hours. The message welcomed me back, and said a new card would be sent to me. Can’t they just reactivate the old one? But ok then. As soon as I have it I will be back in business! 

04 December 2023

Not a birthday on Parys Mountain

It's great to have some friends to celebrate the standard milestones of life with. But this year Susan and Dean were busy in december, so weren’t around for my birthday, or the adjacent weekends. They suggested we do something the weekend before that. And I'm okay with that! And we had made a plan; we would either go underground, as they had become curious about what that's like. Or go to Parys Mountain, as they also were a bit curious about that. They know I take students there. And we would let the weather decide. If it was going to be raining, we would go underground! And it wouldn't be raining.

Martin drove us there. We had packed for a picnic. But it was very cold! Not that that was unexpected. We did the normal trip and I told them what I normally tell the students. And I think that quite soon we were starting to wonder where we could shelter from the wind and have our picnic. The most obvious option is the windmill, but that is traditionally the last thing you see. We also checked out two ruins, but they weren’t very sheltered. So in the end the picnic happened in the windmill after all! It was indeed quite nice and quiet in there. I had made a quiche, and Sue and Dean had brought cake. It was lovely!

Pic by Martin

After the picnic we went back. The initial plan had been to go to an Indian restaurant in the village, but it turned out that it had been closed for a while. We are clearly not very observant. So instead we went home, by the fire, drank tea, and in the end ordered some Indian takeaway. We had that by the fire as well.

By the time the others left I must admit I was knackered! I wasn't quite sure how much of that was because of the rather tiring week I had had, and how much of that was still from getting very cold on Parys Mountain. (I didn't put on my down jacket until we sat down for the picnic, but that had probably been a mistake.) But it doesn't matter. I quickly retreated to bed, and could look back on a lovely day with marvellous people!

03 December 2023

Marking handover

I have marked the students’ field trip reports! It was such a relief to get that done. And it was _just_ within the deadline. The next pile is only coming in a week later. That is comfortable timing; the scary thing is if you are still battling with the previous pile, when the new pile has already been gathering dust for days if not weeks. With the deadline, of course, not shifting. 

The new pile will be big though; that other module has 79 students. The work to be marked is my relatively new assignment about shelf sea stratification over timescales of thousands of years

I must admit I was not optimally committed to my other tasks while I was trying to get that field report marked. Because I now have nothing for a week, and then the full four working weeks to finish the next batch, I can keep several different plates spinning now! And I need that…

02 December 2023

Lectures over for this term

That's it; I've done my last lecture of the year 2023! It doesn't mean I'm done teaching; after the last lecture, you tend to get some drop-in sessions, and loads of student presentations. And this year is no exception. But I still find it a bit of a landmark in the academic year.

Was lecturing really the biggest thing I was doing? No not really. When I wasn't lecturing or in meetings, I was generally frantically trying to finish a big pile of marking. It was the field trip report associated with the day in the mountains. This year had a rather large cohort! And I had only been able to start marking after I had finished the previous pile. And that previous pile had had a delay because of patient transport issues.

Not lecturing leaves more time for marking, though! I hope I can get this out of the way and have time for other things again… 

This lecture theatre has already packed up for the holidays 

01 December 2023

Winter has come

The cat had already been dropping some hints by manoeuvering herself between the two layers of my winter duvet. She figured it was cold! Winter had come. And she had a point.

The first way winter manifested itself was by making me really regret I was wearing my thin gloves on my commute to work. My hands were so cold they hurt! I made sure to wear thicker ones the next day. That helped. I also made sure to wear warmer shoes.

That next day I received a text from Susan in the morning; had I got to work OK? It might have been a bit slippery on the road. And I got to work without any incident, but when I parked my bike I had a little chat with a bloke who was doing the same, and he said he had wiped out on a bridge. I know that bridge well! But that day, my route hadn’t taken me there.

When I biked back that day I had an amazing view on the mountains. There was so much snow on them! Not just a dusting at the peaks, but a proper coating. It was beautiful. Unfortunately, my commute doesn't bring me close enough to them for a really good picture with an iPhone.

I must admit, I am a bit apprehensive about the road getting so slippery I have to ride in with spiked tyres again. I know I use my commute for fitness, and nothing creates fitness like biking a considerable distance to work on tyres with extra friction, but the only times I really dread getting on my bike and making my way to work is when I have these spiked tyres on. I am only human. 

I hope this winter will bring some snowy outdoor fun! Time will tell. For now I’ll just enjoy the views, and keep my fingers crossed for good commuting conditions…

Snowy hilltops in the distance

30 November 2023

Back to the radio

Today, COP28 starts. In Dubai, of all places. We are hurtling towards the climate apocalypse, and the only way of dealing with that is with combined forces. So these COP meetings are important! Even if they also have proven to sometimes be very ineffective.

The media recognises its duty to report on this event. And one radio station cluster, LBC/Heart/Capital FM/Smooth Radio (no, I had no idea they were in it together) wanted a climate scientist to comment on it, and contacted me. I'm not quite sure why they chose me, but I'll have it! They asked if they could briefly interview me before the start of the event, and I said yes. The communications were entirely in English, so I expected the interview would be too.

I saw the interviewer on Zoom. I appreciated that; I had done two radio interviews (this and this) before where I couldn't see my interviewer, and I don't like that at all. I was a lot happier when I  later was asked for comment by the media, but the person interviewing actually showed up in person. I could look at him talking to me! That made it a lot easier.

We had a little chat, and the said that he assumed I didn't speak Welsh. I said I did. Then he said we could do the interview bilingually! He himself did not speak Welsh, but he could just ask me questions in English, and I could answer in Welsh. I did say I hadn't prepared for doing this in Welsh. But it wasn't live, so if I stumbled over a word, I could just look it up and say the sentence again.

So then we were off! First in English. He asked me whether I was optimistic about the COP meeting. I wasn't. Did I think it was important to show up? I said yes, because these meetings are the best available platform for making changes, and if you're not there, then you have guaranteed that you are not making a positive change. Wasn't in the UK doing really well anyway? And I admitted that the UK is doing a lot better than quite some other countries, including the Netherlands (check the emissions per capita), but that only means it is pushing us in the direction of climate apocalypse a bit slower than other countries. That's not really a reason to be proud. 

When we had gone through that in English we just did it again in Welsh. I had to stop twice to look something up. But I think I got my point across. 

I might have a look online today if I can find their news bulletins. I should be in it with some soundbites! Will it make a difference? Probably not. But one tries!

The COP28 venue. Pic by Alan Santos

29 November 2023

Dutch elections

I approached the Dutch elections with hope. We had had a government fronted by the rather rightwing VVD since forever! Would this be the moment that would change? We already knew we were going to get a new prime minister, as Rutte he said he would step down. But who would be next?

I seem to remember that when I went to bed on election day, the VVD was still expected to win, although the Green/Labour combination was going strong as well. When I woke up the next morning it was clear things had worked out differently. And I'm not one to regret an election defeat by the VVD, but they had been beaten by a party that was considerably more rightwing than they are. It was Wilders’ PVV with by far the most votes. That was depressing.

I must say, I'm not sure what happens next. Quite a lot of parties have historically been not very keen on joining a coalition with the PVV. But maybe that's easy when they're not a very big party. Maybe everything changes when they are the ones to create a coalition. 

The VVD has said they don't want to join the PVV, but that might just be their opening shot. We are probably looking at many months of coalition negotiations; anything could still happen! The person who has been tasked with creating a coalition (a former Labour politician, of all people) seems to have got the job because he had written a column about a possible coalition of PVV, VVD, NSC (a brand new party, founded by a bloke who left the Christian Democrats) and BBB (colloquially known as the angry farmers party). They would have a comfortable majority! And even without the angry farmers they would have a majority. But do they want to work together?

I think a coalition like that is more plausible than that coalition negotiations fail completely, and that all the left-leaning parties can then try to sort something out. You need about 10 parties, not all of them particularly likely, if you want to make a lefty government. I don't really see that happen.

Altogether it is quite possible will end up with a coalition that involves the party that has been in power since forever, and has seen its coalition collapse twice because its treatment of minorities was just too abominable; a party that is aggressively anti-immigration and anti-Muslim; a party that largely owes its existence to resistance to climate measures; and a party that didn't even exist until last August. Things are not looking well! One can but hope that the resulting mess will remain within reason…

The enormous ballot paper that was used for people voting in person; pic by Vera de Kok

28 November 2023

Visiting the patient

After I had brought Tim home I had to get back to work in a high gear. I was behind! But I got a lot done. And the first weekend was busy with a callout and a race. The second week was also quite productive, and I didn't feel like I had to work too much in that weekend. So I figured it might be a good time to go and visit. And he agreed.

When I got there, the door was opened by his relative who had temporarily moved in. They were very welcoming!

It was the first time I got to see Tim’s new ankle configuration. He had had surgery, and had metalwork put in place to keep him together. It was all bandaged up, and it was not easy to see what the current situation was. He would find out a few days later in follow-up appointment. 

The three of us had a lovely meal and a nice evening. And the next day I suggested I take the car for a spin. If you leave it stationary too long, the battery can go down. So we went on a little jolly. There wasn't an awful a lot we could've done in addition to that! I really hope that ankle heals fast. The sooner he can put weight on it, the better it is…

27 November 2023

New assignment launched

If you haven't heard of the Conversation, I suggest you go and have a look. It's basically an online popular science journal, but it is not written by science journalists; it is written by the scientist themselves. They do have editorial support, but the text is essentially theirs, which means there cannot be any misunderstandings in the content. Quite many of my colleagues have published in it.

In two of the modules I was on, we would ask the students to write an article in the style of the Conversation. It tests both understanding of the material, and the ability to communicate it to a lay audience. But then ChatGPT happened. And things had to change. 

For one of my modules, we now ask AI ourselves to write the articles. And then we ask the students what's wrong with them. This year is the first year we roll out that version of the assignment. I hope it will go well! And I think it does two things; the main thing still is that the students are expected to really delve into a relevant topic. This time they don't write about it, but just make sure they are knowledgeable enough to be able to evaluate the writing of somebody else. Or something else.

I suppose something that we didn't set out, but which it does, is that it also shows them the capabilities and limitations of AI. I'm sure that's the transferable skill! When they go into the workplace, I would suspect their employers want them to be able to use it to their advantage. But also to be aware of its limitations. They could even compare various AIs; I use Monica, which is some sort of version of ChatGPT that is integrated into your browser, while Jaco uses Bard.

I was a bit behind with everything, thanks to my hospital shenanigans recently. So I was also a bit behind with this assignment. In a way, I was saved by circumstances; the articles we produced were based on the guest lectures we have in this module. And two of the guest lecturers wanted to do their lecture quite late in November. We couldn't really go live with this assessment until they had presented. That saved me! But it was still a rush to get it already.

It will be a while before it is handed in, and then it also needs to be marked. It will be 2024 before it becomes clear if this worked out as intended. I really hope so! I will report back in the new year…

Windfarms (and how to know what they are standing on) featured in the guest lectures

26 November 2023

Project Strava

I Strava all my exercise. Most of my exercise is my commute. And I think Strava gave it something extra: now that I can see how fast I have done all sections, it’s tempting to do it a little bit faster the next time. I do think my recent medal success is largely thanks to that competition with myself. And that’s good! But it does mean that any Strava followers get to see roughly the same route, over and over again. 

My commute is very beautiful. So I try to make all my recorded sessions a bit less dull by having nice pictures. I want to have at least one every day! And I almost always manage. And I love how I haven’t run out of inspiration yet. 

I have been doing this for months, and am not sure how long I can keep this up. Maybe forever! There is no rule, after all, against photographing the same location more than once. After all, camera angle matters, and the changing of the seasons, and the changing of the weather. I quite enjoy trying to produce something beautiful every day, that is quite unlike what I have produced recently. Not many people have such a gorgeous commute!

A selection of recently used pictures: 

25 November 2023

PDR 2023

My previous Personal Development Review was in November. I don't like that at all; that's in the middle of term. I prefer to have them in summer, between the academic years. My line manager was promising in spring that would happen. But then it didn't. And I had my PDR this year even deeper into November than last year. 

When the paperwork was done, my main focus was my intention to apply for promotion. The topic has come up on other occasions, and he was aware that I intended to apply, and that I hadn't noticed any support from him in that area before; on the contrary, that in the past he had actively discouraged me. He had denied ever discouraging anyone in that area, so I figured that this year he would basically have to prove that, and voice support for my initiative.

When we actually sat down for the meeting we talked a fair while about teaching. We both agreed it was going generally OK. And he finally also showed appreciation for my Welsh endeavours.

Then we got to the promotion thing. And he indeed said he figured my CV was ripe for the senior lectureship application, and he would support it! He even suggested I write a draft, and that he would give feedback on it. I'll take him up on that. I have a draft version ready to go. The next promotion round turns out to be in January. Results are expected in spring. I will give it a go!

24 November 2023

Wall rebuilding

I am sure I set a trend! Last year, I had a dry stone retaining wall in my garden taken down and built back up, but this time, as a wall with cement. I hope it is now ready for the coming centuries again.

A while ago, I was on main campus, and there was work going on! An old retaining wall above Pontio was being rebuilt. I felt a connection.

Wall one: uphill from Pontio (left)

Then there were rumours that the little street my office building would be closed for several weeks. I didn't know why, but I suspected that would cause some serious traffic problems.

Closure announced. The culprit wall on the right.

I have now found out why it is closed. There is a wall there that bulged a bit! And the university decided to have it torn down and rebuilt. Everyone is at it now!

The good news is, though, I haven't spotted any traffic chaos. Nor have I heard anyone complain about it. So I think the new one-way system they have designed to get cars off our little campus back onto the through road has worked.

Rebuilding in action 

So what’s the message? There isn’t much of one. Everyone has a new wall, that should outlive me, and it was all done with little nuisance! If only everything was that simple. 

23 November 2023

Betws trail challenge 10k

I had been looking forward to the Betws Trail Challenge; I had not run it before, but I knew the route would be beautiful, and it also involves some considerable running uphill. Just my kind of thing! And I expected Marjan to be there as my supporter.

When there was a call-out the night before, I figured my chances of medal success had plummeted. I just hoped I would be home on time to run it at all. It really would depend on what time I would get back. The previous time there had been a call-out before a race I had been home before midnight, and I had managed to run a personal best on the 10k, although I had broken that a month or two later after a good night of sleep. 

I was home 1:30. Too late to run in comfort, early enough to run at all! If I would have been home at 7 or 8, for instance (which happens!), I would have dropped out. 

I got up a bit groggily and got ready. Marjan came to pick me up. We had a cup of tea and then set off. We found the perfect parking space, where I changed into my running shoes, and we headed for the start. Us and also loads of canicrossers! It was the first time I had witnessed that. So many dogs, so eager to start running! It was noisy but cute. 

The start was so far away we arrived a bit late. I ended up starting a bit at the back. I regretted that, but I didn't want to muscle my way to the front. That seemed impolite! So I just zigzagged my way forward after the start. I was a bit questionable in the head because of my late bedtime but otherwise all well. I got into the swing of things.

The start

As ready as I would be

The route was beautiful! And the weather wasn't too bad. It was supposed to be dry, but it wasn't really. But the rain was not so heavy it was annoying. And most of the wind was caught by the trees and not by us runners.

On the forestry road

We made our way up over forestry roads. And close to the 4 km sign, I started to be overtaken by canicrossers. All these dogs were so content given that they could just run! And by then, we also were close to the top. Soon the lake came into view. We were on a narrow path then, and it was getting muddy and potentially slippery. I was careful. But I knew that stretch wouldn't be long, and indeed; a marshall directed me onto the forestry road again. And then it was just downhill all the way!

A short section of the race was on a narrow path

Llyn Elsi comes into view

Mid-race selfie

Most of the way you could just leg it, but there were bits when I held back a bit because even these forestry roads can be a bit slippery. There was a woman quite close to me, but on the slippery bits she ran away from me.

I crossed the finish, refused the water bottle they offered there, but accepted the hiking towel they also offered, and went to find Marjan. 

Marjan said only a few women had finished! That's surprised me. This really wasn't my day! But I believe her. And she pointed out the lady who had been informed of me for awhile; she said she was probably second or third. We had a little chat. It turned out she had use me as a pacemaker on the way up! She was welcome.

But with me probably being 3rd or 4th, it was worth waiting for the prize ceremony. If I was just outside the top three, I would automatically be the fastest woman over 45 who was not in the top three. (They have two veteran age categories who get their own prizes, but if you already get a prize in the open category you're not also going to get one in your age category.)

We went back to the car so I could drink some water. And then we sat in the car for a bit, until we went out again. The weather wasn't very good, so we didn't stand by the finish, but in the tent behind it. And after a while someone from the organisation said that prices would be awarded in the hotel in a minute or five.

I personally thought that was organised badly. It was a hotel bar, and it was also in use as such, and the bloke who awarded the prizes didn't have a very strong voice, and he also didn't have any amplification. It was hard to hear a word of what he was saying! He also was just standing on the ground, and wasn't very tall, and neither am I. In addition to struggling to hear him I also struggled to see him. But I did recognise my name, and went to get my gift bag. It contained a T-shirt, some gels and a £10 voucher of next race by the same organiser. Not a bad loot!

When that was done Marjan and I decided it was time to go for lunch somewhere. On the way out we had discussed cafe Siabod, because it is rumoured to close. Marjan had never been. I figured this was our opportunity to change that, and she was okay with that.

I went for a full lunch, while she settled for a hot chocolate with a scone. Polished it off quite nicely! And then it was time to go home. I really wanted a shower.

I was really knackered the rest of the day! But that wasn't very surprising. I was quite happy how the weekend had gone so far. And the next day I was fine again. And very proudly wearing my new T-shirt!

Prize T-shirt!

22 November 2023

Another call-out

With all the patient transport I had been involved in recently, I had got a little bit behind with work. So on a Friday I biked home, had a shower, had my dinner, and then got ready to do a bit more marking in my home office. But the evening didn't pan out that way. A WhatsApp message pinged on my phone; there seemed to be a mine explorer overdue. In CRTT, as usual. We could expect a call-out.

I shut down my computer and got my stuff ready. I make sure to include the waterproof jacket! The forecast was rain all night. And I wasn't going to set off until I knew where I was expected to go; the Croesor side or the Rhosydd side? That is always the question with call-outs there.

Then the official call-out came, with a rendezvous point on the Rhosydd side. But moments later I received a phone call from our controller. Was I okay going to the other side? We might want to check both entrances. And of course I was! So I got into the car and set off. It was going to be a fair drive.

When I got to the parking lot in Croesor I saw a van with my teammate Gethin in it. And there already was a 4WD of Aberglaslyn Mountain Rescue waiting. And quite soon, another van appeared, with Sharon in it. We were complete! And I got the update; it was actually two people that were overdue, and we had a strong suspicion we were parked next to their vehicle. It concerned a person with good mountain experience, who had been in this mine system several times before. And a second person of unknown experience. That sounded good. The person who had set the call-out sounded sensible. In the past, the team has had to get people out of this mine who had gone in in T-shirts and with hand torches. What a bad idea!

The idea was that we would get kitted up, put a selection of kit in the 4WD, get a ride to the entrance, unload, and say goodbye to the mountain rescue chap. He wasn't going to wait for us. That saved us a long walk uphill with a lot of kit in the rain!

When we got there we stashed quite a lot of the kit near the entrance. We brought one rope, the first aid kit, and some rigging kit with us. If it turned out we would need more we could just send a runner and get more. But our first priority now was finding the casualties. 

We went to the top of the first pitch. The previous time, the person we needed to get out had been right at the bottom of that. But we had known that in advance; this time, all bets were off. Hence that half the team had gone in on the other side! 

Gethin, with his long legs, reached the pitch head first. He shouted into the darkness. And he got a reply! And then we saw two little lights in the distance! Wow, this rescue was going very well. Sharon quickly scampered outside to phone the controller to let him know. The team on the other side could possibly just walk over the surface to our side. No need to search that side of the system! But it turned out they were already in and couldn't be contacted.

Pic from the people going in from the other side. Pic: NWCRO

I descended the rope to go and meet the party. Gethin was close behind. Then we introduced ourselves. The party was two people in a fine condition, be it a bit tired and somewhat fed up with being in there. There was nothing really wrong with them! That was great. It basically just had taken them a very long time to navigate the mine, and therefore they weren't out by the time they had asked a friend to phone the police if they hadn't been in touch by then.

The only thing they now needed to do was ascend the final pitch. Gethin decided to use an electron ladder. Neither quite enjoyed that, but they flew up it! The experienced person had done it before and knew what he got himself into, and the other person was warned it isn't very comfortable. But it is effective.

I went up the rope. Gethin asked me to de-rig it. That almost resulted in an additional casualty; Gethin is quite tall, and I had to actually climb the in situ rope in order to be able to reach the anchors he had used for our own rope. Gethin almost laughed himself an aneurysm. I did remind him of the fact that being tall underground isn't always a boon…

A pic of me Sharon took

After that we got back to the entrance, where a surprise awaited us. Another team member had driven his personal 4WD up the path! So he could take all the heavy kit down. And he even had space inside for the casualties. This really was the most comfortable rescue ever!

We didn't all fit inside the car so Gethin and I walked down in the rain. I was glad I had my extra jacket. On the way, Gethin phoned the controller to give him the update. 

Back at the parking lot we changed back into civilian gear, and said goodbye to the casualties who set off in their vehicle. Then we needed to make a decision. The other search party was still in, and had still not received the message that the casualties had already been located. What should we do? Hang around? Go to the other side? With them still being inside, there was the hypothetical possibility we would have to go and rescue them. But then Gethin volunteered to drive via the parking lot on the Rhosydd side, and check out the situation. Sharon and I would just head home. They could always send us a text if we were needed after all!

I accepted the long way home, and arrive there at about 1:30. Way beyond my bedtime! But at least there was still quite some night left. I had a quick shower and then headed to bed. Exactly like our previous call-out, I had a race the next day! I know I wasn't going to be in peak shape. But I was probably going to be good enough to at least run and enjoy it…

21 November 2023

Bringing Tim home

The Friday of the second week after Tim’s accident he would have a hospital appointment again. To the best of my knowledge, the idea was that they would cut some doors into this cast, pry them open, have a look at the state of his ankle, and then decide if they could operate on him yet. If they could it wasn't clear if that was going to be that very day, or the weekend, even the week after. But the surgeon who had seen him the day after the incident had suggested there is a.restricted time window in which you can sort an injury like that out. They would have to make sure they wouldn't stray outside that. 

I had found out empirically that bringing him to hospital and coming to pick him back up again, all the way from Bethesda, is very time-consuming. So we had made a plan; I would bring him back to Chester before his appointment, and a relative would come to stay with him, as he still couldn't look after himself. And they would chaperone him to his appointment.

On a Wednesday, which was the 12th day since he had come over, I got home after work, and got ready to take him home right away. He had already packed all his stuff! So I parked my own car, and loaded all his stuff into his. By now I was on the insurance. We left at about 4 pm.

Driving there happened without incident! And at his place, we unloaded again. I made sure that things ended up where they should be. And then fetched a few more things from the attic that he figured he would need. We also had a quick dinner. But then it was pretty much time for me to head back. Having delivered his car, I was now reliant on public transport to get back home. And there was a bus I could catch, that would get me to Chester on time to catch a train that would allow me to be home at a civilised time. 

It felt a bit abrupt, but I also wanted to get that train. So I left. Then at the bus stop it turned out that the bus was due 10 minutes later than I had thought. I realised I wasn't at the bus stop for which I had looked up the bus times. Oh well; it might still work. But the bus didn't come. And it didn't come. And it didn't come.

I was already on the phone to Tim saying I might have to come back and phone a taxi, as this was going nowhere, when I saw a bus. It went the wrong way, but while I was still staring that one down, the bus in the correct direction appeared as well. Saved by the bell! The next bus would be over an hour later…

I was resigned to not catching the train I had intended, but I could still catch a later one that wasn't too bad. So I walked from the bus station to the train station (of course they're not in the same location), and walked onto the platform. There was a train there. I tried to figure out where mine would go from. And then I realised it was the one I was staring at. It was the train I had wanted to catch, but it was so late I had even caught it with a seriously delayed bus! I was chuffed.

Walking through nightly Chester

I sat down and checked the bus times in Bangor. And I should be able to catch the 9 o'clock bus. Great! But the train, which was clearly delayed, was getting delayed even more while it made its way to Bangor. My window for catching the bus was getting smaller and smaller and smaller! Google Maps said it took 12 minutes to walk the fastest route from the train station to the bus station (of course, also in Bangor, these are not in the same location), and when we arrived, there were only eight minutes left. I figured I had little to lose, and just ran all the way. And I got to the bus station with two minutes to spare! I was triumphant. The bus was on the light board, listed as the first one to depart. But nothing appeared. And then I looked again and the next bus was more than an hour later. What had happened?

Because I knew it was going to be a long trip I had brought my laptop. And the bus station isn't far from the main campus. And Pontio is both a cultural venue and a university building. Surely cultural venues are still open at this hour, and Pontio being a university building it has Eduroam. Perfect! So I walked there, and it was indeed open, and there was a table with a socket, and it was warm and light and quiet and all was good. I just sat down and did a bit of work.

In Pontio 

When the arrival time of the next bus came close I went back to the bus station. Luckily, this time it appeared! It was already dangerously close to my bedtime. But the bus made good progress. And then I finally came home.

I think it has taken me about one hour and 10 minutes door to door on the way out. It had taken me about four hours and 15 minutes on the way back. I suppose that anyone with a choice doesn't use public transport like that. It is so inefficient! Yet another sign that things are not well in this country. But there we are.

I don't mind doing the bit between the two train stations by train. But I am not of a mind to do the entire trip by public transport anytime soon again! I have stuff to do with my life. And I hope that at the next elections, this country will vote for a party that will actually invest in public transport. It badly needs it…

20 November 2023

Gig by This is the Kit

Some time in the past, it feels like hundreds of years ago, Susan asked who wanted to go to see This is the Kit in Neuadd Ogwen. I looked them up online and figured it sounded good, so I said yes. Susan got tickets.

Later it became clear there was a lot more going on that night. There was a lecture by a colleague, and a cave rescue training. But I could only be in one place. 

Doors opened 7:30, the support act would start at 8. At 9, This is the Kit would kick off. Susan and Dean would just come down the hill at 7:30 for a cup of tea, and then we could just sometimes step outside to hear through the doors if the music was any good yet. And as soon as the answer would be yes, we could actually go in!

It more or less happened like that, except that they were more interested in catching up with Tim, who they had so far only encountered in situations heavily dominated by his ankle. He could now update them on what had happened since. So we missed the support act. We didn't want to miss the main act, though, so by 9 we abandoned the tea (and Tim) and went in. It was very full. 

Soon she started to play. I recognised most songs! My sessions on Spotify had paid off. She also played what currently is my favourite song by her: inside outside. And I appreciate concerts better when I know the music better; at the John Grant gig I could sing along with quite a lot of the music, and here I couldn't. But I had made enough of an effort to make it really enjoyable.

This is the Kit in action

Given that we had skipped the support act, and she was probably under instructions to finish by 10:30; it wasn't a long concert. But I was glad I had gone. I hadn’t done a concert in quite a while! And if I were to hear her on Radio 6 Music, I will think back on this evening. 

19 November 2023

Spotify revived

There was a time when music was something you listened to by playing CDs. I was still in with the times back then. But the world moved on. I was ok; I got me an iPod. That went ok for a while until it became so old it turned obsolete. Later I even got me a Spotify account. I only listened on my computer, but that was ok. My phone wasn’t really up to these modern exploits (yes I tried). 

Then my Spotify suddenly stopped working. I don’t know why! On both my work computer and my private one I would only get an entirely black window. That’s no use. And with that I lost touch with the world of playing music as it sped away from me. 

Once every now and then I try to sort something out. At some point I just got me a cd player again. But that wasn’t quite it. 

I had ‘revive my Spotify account’ on my to do list for a while, but items can linger on my to do list for a fair while. But when I was fruitlessly trying to get to Manchester with Sue and Dean, I quite liked that when any music came up in conversation, Sue could just Spotify it and play it there and then. So that inspired me to give it another go. I also had a concert come up, and Spotify makes it easy to listen to the music of any artist you might be about to go see. So I got my bum in gear. 

I just tried again. It had been years; surely things (especially technology) change on such timescales! And they had. I could just log back in. And I made sure to download the app onto my phone, and to get a paid account, so you don't get all these annoying commercials.

It's a bit like the cupboard under my stairs; I wanted to do that for a long time, and it took many years, but in the end I got it done! So if I now either don't like what's on the radio, or the signal just isn't great, or I just want to listen to something very specific, I just can. Progress! I moved one tiny little step into this century again…

18 November 2023

Detailed look through assignment

I inherited an assignment from my predecessor James. Before I could ask the students to do it, I of course had to do it myself. And I thought it was brilliant! He had basically taken a sediment core, and given the students loads of information about it; the core log, some core scanning records, two radiocarbon dates, and two dated ash layers. With that you can build up a good chronology of the core. And he then would ask them to do a practical in which they would establish the abundance of a species of foraminifera that pretty much exclusively lives above the Polar Front. And then he asked them to interpret that record. Where was the Polar Front with respect to the core site over the time period is the foraminifera samples spanned? I liked it!

I have done a lot of tweaking that assignment; the biggest change was that I threw out the practical. I am the only foraminifera person in the School; it is too much work to supervise a practical on your own. I just use a record that an earlier cohort had produced. And I must admit I tried to make it a little bit easier. The students tend to struggle!

I tend to have drop-in sessions in my modules, and they tend to be used by students who have questions about an assignment. This year was no exception. I also had a drop-in session after the deadline, but of course there are always some students who have an extension and can submit a bit later. And several of these appeared to talk it through. These were pretty much all students who have things such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, or any of those characteristics. And when the drop-in session was over, there were two students who still needed some support.

The assignment is set up as a narrative. It is not just one question after another. And it turned out that these students struggle with that. They also struggled with the fact that in the questions, I send them to external sources to look things up. I direct them to several journal articles in which they can look up the things they need for doing the assignment, and I send them to a website where you can calibrate your radiocarbon dates.

Screenshot from the assignment 

These students were not so keen on the narrative form. They just want a very clear list of questions you can just tackle in one go. I had never really discussed this assignment in that much detail. For next year, I will make a structured equivalent. I am sure that there will still be some who appreciate a narrative form, but for the other ones I will make a version that is a bit more bullet-list-esque. A brief introduction with what the assignment encompasses, and then guidelines on what sources they should have ready at hand when they start. And then just a concise list of the questions. And maybe then footnotes associated with each question, guiding them to further information if they need it. Maybe then it will be a bit easier for them to keep the momentum going!

In the end, most students somehow get it and it isn't badly done. But I am glad I now have had a deep look into how a particular demographic of students deals with an assignment like that. There is no reason why I can't have two versions that do the same thing, but just presented in different ways. I'm glad we put time into it! And I won’t have time to sort this out right now, but before the next academic year shouldn’t be too difficult. Let’s hope that means fewer students will struggle…

17 November 2023

Annual Parys Mountain trip

I think I can keep these reports of our annually recurring trips within the Geology of Anglesey module quite short now! Most things worth saying about them have been said. It was time again for the Parys Mountain trip. And, as is starting to become a tradition, it would be only Dei and me leading it. I drove up in the School 4WD, while Dei drove a minibus. I got there first. As soon as I, and the few students I had in the back, got out of the car it started to rain quite heavily. We quickly retreated back inside! Luckily it was just a shower, and it was over by the time the minibus appeared.

We then did what we usually do. I talk about the geology, and when I have said everything there is to say, Dei takes over and talks about the actual mine relics. This year we made sure not to linger too much; there was a cold wind blowing. When we sat down for lunch I put on my big down jacket, and I didn't take it off again until I was back in the vehicle! Luckily we only had small amounts of rain, and spells of glorious sunshine. I was happy with how it all went! And this was the last trip in the series of the calendar year. In spring we hope to be back with the rather delayed trip to Llanddwyn

Weather going both ways in the pit

Sunny view on the Central Boss in the Big Pit

View to the headgear of Morris Shaft

Trying to get a pic of the crazy lithology through my hand lens. Does not quite work but you can just see the glimmering of pyrite.