30 June 2023

Artificial cave and cave rescue AGM

If we have an AGM with the cave rescue team, we tend to stick a training session to it. I suppose this is for making it more fun, and more worth the travel, for the people who would attend anyway, and to encourage people that might not bother to show up if there is only a meeting. And this time we would gather at Dol y Moch. I hadn't been before!

I thought I was quite organised; I had submitted my report beforehand, and I had arranged car sharing with people who live a bit north from me. But on the day I didn't see a car appear. By the time I figured I should really get into my own car if the car sharing would have fallen through, I checked my NWCRO email (which I currently can't get on my phone); it had indeed fallen through. But I did manage to make it just in time!

It started with our training officer going through the call-out process. We had some new faces, and it is good if they all know how this works. And a good reminder for the rest. Most of us are not involved in what happens behind the scenes; we just get a call-out, and get into our cars. But what you don't see is quite important!

Then the idea was to do some practical training sessions. One session with communication, one with rope work, and one stretcher session in the artificial cave this outdoor centre has. And I was put in charge of the stretcher sessions in the cave. I had won the jackpot!

With the first small group of people and the stretcher I went that way. We had to decide what to do. We decided it would be fun to try something difficult. There was a vertical bit that looked interesting! And if we would manage to get the casualty up there, we would be rewarded by being able to just let them slide down gently on the other side. We went for it!

The artificial cave system; Picture by Ed

We knew the curves in the system were tight, and that there was no chance we could get the actual stretcher through. So we picked the next lightest person in our little group, and strapped him into the spinal board. If you can, you would strap your casualty to that spinal board, and then put the casualty with spinal board and all in the stretcher, but if you can't do that then you will have to make do with the spinal board alone. 

Getting our casualty into the entrance chamber went okay. Getting him into the passage, and around the corner, also worked. And then we reached the vertical bit! It was not straight up vertical; it was a bit of a zigzag. But because our casualty could fold up his legs we just managed to do it. It was a sweaty business but we made it work!

We had attached a long sling to the spinal board, so we could have two people behind each other pulling on the casualty. It was me by the casualty’s head, and a chap called Gareth behind me. But when I was on top of the vertical bit, I suddenly heard the squeaking of rubber and plastic. He had accidentally come down the slide! And couldn't stop himself. And then there was more squeaking when he tried to scramble back up. He couldn't do it! He just couldn't get purchase on the smooth tunnel. I thought it was funny!

Our sessions were only an hour all together, so when we had our casualty out we had to go back for a swap-over. But first lunch! When I also had a chat with Kat, the secretary, about the application procudure. And yes, there were only two women there, and they both have a secretarial role. So not bad; again I wasn't the only woman. Which matters to me. And both women are in the committee. But typical what roles we go for. There is still a way to go. 

After lunch I got my second group. This group thought we should put the casualty in the stretcher, and not do a recce. Well, if they insist! I dropped enough hints. And surprise surprise, you can't get the casualty from the entrance chamber into the system in a stretcher. The bends are too tight! So inside the entrance chamber we had to get her out again. And then we went the other way. This was less challenging than the vertical bit, but we had lost some time faffing with the stretcher. And it was useful after all. And good fun.

“You can’t get this full length stretcher in there…” pic by Ed

The last group decided to go the same way as the previous group, but they did a recce, so they knew they had to steer clear of the stretcher. There was a bit extra attention on casualty care as we had a medical professional in this team. And this time there was some extra slapstick; at some point it was decided that we had too many people behind the casualty, and not enough in front. I am so small I am confident in manoeuvering past a casualty without that getting too awkward. But this team had a lot of big clunky blokes, and they didn't like that! So two of them tried to get to the other side through the tunnel system. That took a while!

When we finally had the casualty out after all, we packed up the stuff. The fun was over; it was now time for our AGM. But we have an efficient chairman so it didn't need to take long.

There wasn't an awful lot said that was worth writing in a blog post during the meeting. But one thing was big: we knew our training officer would step down, but nobody was willing to step in. So now we don't have one. That is quite inconvenient! I hope we get this sorted. But I am not going to volunteer (in spite of what I said before about women in committee functions); I am already membership secretary, and aspiring controller. That is more than enough for me!

After the AGM we had to get out of there at speed. The outdoor centre was booked by some group or other and we had to make sure we were gone! So there was no lingering. But we will see what this coming year brings for our team! And I noticed during the meeting I had been feeling more at home in the team than I had done in years...

29 June 2023

Twelfth Night

Quite a while ago, Susan asked me if I would be interested in seeing a Shakespearean play in Conwy Castle in summer. I don't think I even paid attention to what play it was; I said yes. If you do things with good friends it's not even crucial what it is you are doing, and I like theatre, and I like Conwy castle. There wasn't much that could go wrong with this!

The play, by the way, was Twelfth Night, by the Duke’s Theatre Company. I didn't know the play, or the theatre group. I suppose the Dutch are less obsessed with Shakespeare than the Brits. So I would see something new as well.

This event would take place shortly after Susan would come back from her scientific cruise. And I thought it would be nice to mark her return. It has been a long trip! I was thinking about baking a cake, and then we needed a good opportunity to eat it. And the play could be a good one. People were encouraged to bring a picnic! And Martin wouldn't be there, and things are not complete without him, but he wouldn't be in the office the next Monday either. And postponing it further would mean she would have got entirely used to being back, and the sense of occasion would be missed. We would have to make do! But he would be represented; I thought it would be nice if I would bake  rhubarb cake with rhubarb he had grown. I have rhubarb in the garden too, of the same stock, but mine isn't doing so well, and I had already eaten the entire harvest. And so it happened!

Initially, it would be just the three of us going, and then later Dean’s mother was added to the list, but when Susan picked me up there was no third person in the car. Dean’s mom had had to bail. So I got in the car, cake and all, and off we went. The venue was gorgeous! And we found good places near the front. And then I revealed the cake. I had managed to spell out "welcome back" on it in sugar, cinnamon and flour (I turned out not to have icing sugar), but the lettering had faded. I was glad I had taken a picture when it was still legible! And she was pleased with the gesture. Success!

Celebratory cake

Sue and Dean had brought wraps. A fine feast! And there was plenty of time before it actually started. There also was time to go to the loo. And while doing that, I realised that a fellow cave rescuer was in the audience! That was nice. He was there with his wife. And he even mentioned he had been hungry. So after doing what  needed doing, I brought them both a piece of cake. That was gratefully received!

Then it started. The company had taken a bit of a liberal approach to the setting of the play. Some of the costumes were quite renaissance, some of them were more 40s, and some of them were even modern. It didn't bother me! But in the first few scenes, they rattle quite quickly through who is related to whom in what way, who is in love with whom, and who thinks who is dead. I struggled to keep up!

Toby edging on Cesario in the duel with Andrew

Subtle it wasn’t, but amusing it was. Good singing too! And some Shakespearean switching of infatuations, and of course misidentifications. I suppose a bit of food for thought too; what now for Malvolio? He gets a very raw deal. And pondering that we went home. I’d do this again! 

28 June 2023

First Athena Swan meetings

After I had felt that I had acquired some grip on the situation of our upcoming application for an Athena Swan award, it was time to bring everybody else up to speed. We had the first meetings of the Self Assessment Team and one of the working groups. 

The working group was the Women in Science group. That was a group with good representation. We had students, researchers and academic staff on it. And I had dug out some data from staff and student surveys. Interestingly, there are really big differences between how satisfied the various genders were among the students and the staff. And we talked a bit about what to do with that. And about what further data that we wanted to have.

In the meeting of the central team, one of the main points of discussion was the enormous plan of action outlined in the previous application. It was 13 pages of promises to improve something, and the evidence needed to show we had done it. It is a lot of promises! And some of these will have had some dust on them. They all also had a contact person; many of these were the Head of School. However; this was written in 2018, under the previous Head of School, and it turned out that there had been no handover with his successor. So the current keeper of the position was a bit taken aback seeing his title associated with so many items. I think I will have to have a meeting with him at some point to go through them all. It will be quite a lot of work! And I trust he already has plenty of that. 

I feel like we have momentum now. And it is my job now to make sure we keep it until the deadline for submission. And I hope it will be successful!

27 June 2023

Last exam board meeting

After the marking is done, we have to go through the results. Is everything ok? Are there strange trends of grades rising or falling? Are there outliers caused by unusual circumstances? Should these be corrected? Is there nothing going wrong with big gender differences in grades, or differences between students on different degree programs? 

One of the sort of graphs we would be looking at

We tend to have the first exam board meeting internally, dealing with the students about to graduate. We go through all their modules. The second meeting then is with our external examiners. They have gone through everything as well, with a fresh view on things. They may ask us all sorts of things we haven't really thought about. Or a notice that we are inconsistent in some ways. Or anything, really.

After that is all done we done deal with the students who are not graduating. It's the same process, really; it's just that we get these students back the year after.

This year there was a bit of a spanner in the works; a very important server on main campus has gone down, so nobody had access to the data we were supposed to be discussing. We had the first exam board meeting of the week shortly after the server had come online again, and the second and last one on a morning in which it had broken down again. Not ideal! But somehow, we made it work.

With the last exam board meeting done, I suppose the year is really over! And then the next thing of note that happens is graduation…

26 June 2023


I hadn't seen much of Miles this year yet! We had gone to a public lecture in winter, and since then I had only seen him at rescue trainings. And I almost didn't see him now either.

We were supposed to go for a picnic (like we did last year!), but then a day or two before hand he send me a message saying he had got injured, and we might have to postpone. But I thought that if he was injured, he was probably quite restricted in what he could do, and he could do with company. So I suggested we go ahead anyway! And it was him who then said we might just keep the picnic. But I would have to come pick him up from home…

I made sure to have food and drink and then picked him up. He had a cast! And was indeed much less mobile than normal. And he suggested we head in the direction of Llanrwst, but turn off into the woods. And that's what we did! And ended up, pretty much by accident, at the burial chamber there. And we decided to stay there! I could park, and we could just sit a few meters away from the car with a view over the hills. It was lovely!

It was not how I had initially imagined it before I got that message about his injury. But I think it worked out fine! And I said that if he felt a bit cooped up with his limited mobility he could give a shout and we could do it all again. We'll see if that happens!

25 June 2023

Assessment away day

From time to time, the School has an away day. They tend to have a theme; this time it was assessment. There were some big questions we had with regards to assessment. And most of them had something to do with AI.

One question was: how would we do exams in the near future? The University has been trying to steer away from exams for a while, but we still have a fair few. And during the pandemic, these, of course, all had to be done online. And that means you don't have control over the situation. Students could work together, or Google the answers, or, these days, use AI to generate answers. So what are we trying to do with exams? Should we have exams? Should we have them online, and make sure that neither google nor AI can give you the answers? Should we go back to in-person exams, all old-fashioned in a hall with pen and paper?

The same, really, holds for coursework. Students have, of course, always been able to either work together or use Google, but with AI now on the scene things have changed. We will have to make sure our coursework is such that maybe AI can be a tool, but not the entity who actually does the assignment.

We also had to think about what to tell the students. Don't use AI? Only use AI if it is specified you can do so? But how can we prove it if they do it outside these conditions? Should we teach them how to use it smartly? Are we really the people to do that? So many questions!

We also have a new tool: Power BI. It basically is just a way of quickly visually representing data. But it is quite flexible, and we can use it to help us learn more about assessment in general. It will help us see if there are clashing deadlines, for instance. But it is linked to all sorts of other data, so we can see what sort of assessments the students ask for extensions for the most. (It turns out: the ones that count heavy. It looks like the students will just get the small assessments out of the way, and then ask for an extension for the big piece of work.) It can show us if particular types of assessment score higher grades than others. Or whether maybe there is a trend through the semester. Any questions like that! Before power BI, this would be a lot of work to find out. Now it is a lot easier. So we can use that to our advantage!

And with all these questions and other issues, we filled a day in M-Sparc. I think it was a useful day! And it is not as if just one day was enough to answer all the questions, but at least we have now made a start of thinking about it all together. We'll see how different our assessment will be in the coming academic year!

The view from our space in M-Sparc

24 June 2023

Unexpected picnic bench building at work

The University has started a well-being initiative. And quite suddenly, we found out that there is actual money involved in that. Our wellbeing champion suddenly had £100 to spend. She made the quick decision that a good way of spending that was to buy a picnic bench for the terrace adjacent to the staff lunch room. It is entirely bare! Sometimes we will go there for lunch anyway, but then either sit on the bare floor, or have to drag our chairs outside. It needed assembly, and she asked for volunteers to help with that. I decided to put my name forward. It sounded like a fun job!

Next working day an email arrived. Our wellbeing champion didn't have time for our bench. But by coincidence, I was having lunch with Robin, the other volunteer, and we decided to just go and do it. We needed to borrow some tools but that wasn't a problem. So we went to get these, and then set to work! And  instructions were straightforward.

No time later (and one correction, and one lost screwdriver head) we had a bench. It was a fine specimen! It wasn't as robust as would have been ideal; it was already straining a bit under my weight, and I am hardly one of the heavier people within Ocean Sciences. The instructions say you could have a maximum of 150 kg on each side. Although there is space  for 4, at a push. With that 150 kg limit, you could only realistically have 2 people on each side. But it would do! It was a lot better than nothing!

Since we built it, it has been in use every single lunchtime. I am glad we have this thing now! And the Head of School was already thinking about buying an additional one from the School budget…

Work in progress


23 June 2023

Another dog rescued, but without me

After I came home from my latest mining trip, I wanted to put my helmet in the charger. I always charge it immediately afterwards. You never know when a call-out comes, and your light needs to have a full charge if it does. I noticed a crucial wire of the charger had become disconnected (again). I couldn't charge it! And I was very tired, but I decided to solder it back together straight away. And with my usual lack of skill, I did. And charged the helmet overnight. 

The next day I went for a run. And when I was on a lonely hilltop kilometres away from the nearest road, I saw a message come in on my smart watch. It was our alert system! There was mention of a possible imminent callout. Something was wrong in the east, but it wasn't quite clear what.

I was so glad I had charged my lamp! Not that it would've made a big difference; I was quite some distance away from my car, and my car was a reasonable distance away from my house. And my house is not in the east. So it would literally take me hours to get to the site. This situation might not end up being a call-out after all, but even if it would be, they would probably be looking for people who could get there a bit quicker. But it did illustrate it is good to keep your lamp charged. You never know when you might next need it!

The run was good; by the way! I had decided to go to Abergwyngregyn, and go all the way to the far parking lot by Foel Dduarth. And then do as much of the horseshoe (towards Drum) there as I either felt like, or would be comfortable doing knowing there was thunder forecast for the early afternoon.

I made my way to the ridge, and then followed it until it crosses the Roman Road. And then followed that for a bit further. On the way back I followed the Roman road all the way. It was a really lovely run! It was a bit sticky, but there was a good breeze. And the views were lovely.

In the end we weren't called out. The situation was sorted by a few individuals of our team who had been directly contacted by the incident coordinator (I think), and other emergency responders who had already been on site. It was another case of a dog down at mine, but this was a rather innocuous mine, and the dog was absolutely fine. And very cute! I suppose that counts as a happy ending. Useful reminder, lovely run, and healthy dog. I think this counts as a good day.

22 June 2023

Finally planting the vegetables out

It seems ages ago that I sowed vegetables in my conservatory. Ideally, I place them outside quite quickly. But with this drought I didn't. I would have had to water them daily, and that is logistically easier if they are just in the conservatory. But when the drought was finally about to break (a bit more thoroughly than the first time), I did plant them outside! And now nature will have to take care of them.

From indoor vegetables 

to outdoor vegetables 

I hope things will go okay in my vegetable patch! I have planted some of the vegetables in among oregano, as aromatic herbs seem to keep the slugs away. Let's see how well that works! And let's hope that after the initial damp period, the weather will not immediately go back to the next drought, which will kill them off after all. We'll see! 

21 June 2023

Mine cat

On the way to our mine trip, Lydia gave me a crocheted cat. His name is Pennant. And all of that makes total sense!

I'm not quite sure when I became aware of the crocheted cats. It might have been during the first field trip we did on Anglesey. She had brought one, and it quite actively participated in the field trip. She had also been crocheting in some of my lectures. And since we had been going underground, she had always, always, brought a crocheted cat.

She is about to graduate, and she might leave the area. But now I have my own crocheted cat to remind me of our adventures together! I thought it was a lovely gesture. Oh and he has been named after Cwm Pennant. I don't know if I will bring him on mine trips, but he will certainly get a place of honour in my house! 

Meet Pennant! 

20 June 2023

Another wet trip with the ladies

After the marking deadlines I gave a shout to my underground companions Lydia and Sharon that I was up for a trip again. And a good weekend for that turned out to be the one of the 17th. Now we needed to decide where to go! The first suggestion was Ogof Hesp Alyn (OHA), which none of us had done. But some light googling gave me the idea that it was a cave with a lot of pitches. Sharon had heard that it was extremely muddy. And they were reasons why we thought neither of these was a good idea. And we settled for a cold wet local mine. I had been there before with Lydia, and several times before that, but Sharon had never been. And Lydia still had a lot more of the mine to see.

As usual, I picked up Lydia, and went to the meeting place. It was an overcast day, quite unlike most recent days, but it was still quite warm. That was good! We would come out of that place pretty cold.

The entrance is so close to the parking lot I thought I could just wear my full suit walking up, but I reconsidered. It really was too hot for that! But a few meters from the entrance I was already standing in thigh-deep cold water. That was the end of me being uncomfortably hot.

Soon we came to the mysterious rope going up that Lydia and I had seen the previous time. We had climbed up to the first anchors. It went further up, but we weren't sure of the rigging, and by the time we were also getting a bit cold. But it was all new to Sharon, so she was up like a squirrel, and soon investigating the slightly dodgy rigging above the first anchors. She improved it a bit, and went further up. That meant: new terrain! Exciting!

Quite soon we came to a gap in the floor with a beautiful bridge. It looked too fragile to use, but you could traverse! Someone had rigged this, and not particularly long ago. But the level didn't go much beyond that. When we explored on the other side we found some artefacts, and the way back to the pitch from the other side. That was a little bit dodgy! It wasn't the best false floor I had ever seen. But we all came down safe.

The bridge. Pic by Sharon

Then we went beyond where Lydia and I had been. And there were more surprises! Just before the real wet bit, there is a mystery ladder going up, going nowhere. And this time, there was a rope next to it. Both ends coming down! But where to? Lydia investigated. She confirmed that the rope also went nowhere. I then decided to come up on the other rope. You don't get a pitch with two parallel ropes very often! Might as well enjoy some social climbing (pun intended). It was a strange pitch. It must have been an enormous work to put it in, but why? 

After this conundrum, it was time to face the real wet bit of the mine. It normally is chest-deep! Almost swimming deep. You might as well swim because you're not getting a lot wetter deep. It was less deep than normal; probably the influence of the drought. My guess is about 8 inches lower! And that makes a difference. It was still cold though.

I went up at another ladder next to an ore chute, but didn't feel comfortable coming off it. And then we went deeper into the mine. More deep water! And we found more shafts, more ore chutes, and more ladders. Quite nice! But we were getting a little bit cold.

Wet! Pic by Sharon

At some point we reached the end of another level. We knew there were more levels we hadn't explored, but by this time we were so cold we were keen to get back into the sunshine. So we turned around! And just got out.

I hadn't been able to feel my feet for a while. I think Sharon was the same! She went back to the car quite quickly, but I preferred to see if I could get a little bit of feeling back into my feet before I walked back. Lydia was feeling the same. It was also quite nice to sit outside in the hot weather and really appreciating it. There were some walkers coming by, in shorts and T-shirts, looking at us a bit puzzled. But I was really soaking in the warm air! And after a while, I clumsily clomped back to the car, still with not a lot of feeling in my feet. Maybe I shouldn't do this on steel-toed boots. It makes your feet a lot colder! But they do provide protection. At some point there was a rock falling dangerously close to Sharon's foot. Maybe she had cold feet now, but it probably still was good she had been wearing the steel-toed boots! And the same could've happened to me.

I got changed and warmed up again. Both Lydia and I had brought cake. And we had sandwiches and drinks. And it wasn't a very bad day for midges.

I thought it had been a good trip! I am always excited about new terrain, and I was also glad we had done this trip in a drought. We had been cold enough as it was! And Sharon had, as usual, taken amazing pictures. As you can see here!

19 June 2023

Getting my head around Athena Swan

Suddenly, I found myself responsible for the Athena Swan bronze award renewal of the School. I had had a brief handover with my predecessor. When you haven't done a task before, you don't know what questions you will have! That comes later. So when it was suddenly me after that handover, I felt a bit out of my depth. A meeting with a lady from HR helped, but still the task was daunting.

The only way of remediating that, of course, is just getting started. I was not quite sure where; read the demands for the current application? Read the previous application in which we set out what we would do better in the future? Try to look up the data to see what the situation was in the first place?

I did all that. In arbitrary order! But things are getting clearer to me. I do have a lot more questions, though; how recent do all our data have to be? Where is the data about the student population? I have the official University link to the relevant data as expressed in Power BI, but either I am very bad at Power BI, or we only have the data for last year. That strikes me is not very much. And can I just request the data about the staff from HR? Or will that then count as outdated by the time we actually apply for the award? I suppose I need to wait until we have at least hired the people to fill the two job vacancies for which the application deadline has just passed. (I really hope we’ll fill them, anyway!) And will the Head of School be able to answer all the questions I have regarding progress made with respect to the previous application? His function was listed as responsible for most action points, but back then, a different Head of School was in function, and this one seems to be a lot less involved in matters of this kind than his predecessor. 

The Power BI page

Soon we will have our first meeting. There is a lot I want to cover, but I should not exhaust my fellow team members. We'll see how this goes! But at least the ball is rolling now!

18 June 2023

Bolts, spits, plugs and feathers

It was time for another cave rescue training. And this time, our Training Officer wanted us to practice gently breaking a rock. You can have a situation when a rock falls on someone, and it is impossible to just lift it off; it might have to come down in bits. The quickest way of doing that is blowing it up, but that is dangerous if there is someone nearby. So that is why the gentle methods would come in. We would have a go with plug and feathers.

When we were gathered on the parking lot from which we would walk up to Wrysgan, he told us he had a few more tricks up his sleeve. We also do some placing of anchors. We had expansion bolts and spits. And he had a bolt testing rig with him. These are for checking the safety of an anchor; they have to withstand 5 kN for 15 seconds without showing any fluctuations.

I had been used to expansion bolts in the Southwest. I had never used a spit! They are quite old-fashioned. They only go in about an inch, and the actual plate you attach to them is fixed only with a thread that is not much more than a centimetre long, so they are not as robust as actual bolts. But you can hammer them in by hand. Before battery drills, that was what everybody used. Nowadays I don't think many people use them anymore, but it is thinkable that you sometimes might be in a situation where you can't use an electric drill. And then they are a lot better than nothing!

We walked up. Normally, you walk past a pond on your way up. But in this dry weather, that pond was just not there! You could see that mountain bikers or motorcyclists had already used the pond bottom as a playground. 

No pond! 

Beautiful views

At the entrance we put on a lot more clothes as inside, it would be quite cool. We went in, and I first had a go with the spit. Our training officer wanted that on a nice big flat rock, so once it would be in, he could use that testing rig, and people could stand around. The rock he pointed out looked very hard. It wouldn't be where I would put a spit for anything other than demonstration purposes! But if he wants it in there, he can get it in there. I started hammering away.

Minutes later I didn't have a hole for a spit, but I did have a spit without teeth. If he wanted it in there, he wasn't going to get it after all! That convinced him that indeed, that rock was not a good choice. I went to a nearby piece of slate and started again. With a new speed. Fortunately, they are not expensive. And it was cool to see how well it actually works! But by the time I had hammered it down about halfway I was keen to swap with someone else. And a big strong bloke named Gareth took over.

I had a bit of a look at what else was happening. Sharon (yes, there was another woman!) had placed an expansion bolt, and we were now going to test it. It did fine on the 5 kN test. But the testing rig can go a lot further! We cranked it up to 10. Still fine. You could carefully hang a small car from that! I think we managed to get it over 20 kN, but towards the end you could see small fluctuations. Yes, we are not likely to ever put a force like that on an anchor. Shock loading a rope is something that routinely happens in climbing, of course; in underground exploration, much less so. And although shock loading, in an unfortunate situation, can get you to 5 kN; it is not likely to get you anywhere near 20 kN. 

Bolt testing rig

Some people were also being quite successful with the plug and feathers we had. You have to hammer them in, and if a rock is lying on top of you I can't imagine it being a pleasant sensation if people started hammering it; but sometimes, the end justifies the means.

We then also tested the spit. This came with an aluminium plate. When we put some serious force on it, that plate just bent out of shape. The actual spit was not budging at all until it was really really loaded heavily! I was quite impressed. I would happily trust my life to something like that. It's just not very likely I ever will.

Video made by Ed

When we had done all that, we packed up again and went back down. And there the midges had taken over, so we didn't linger particularly long.

Quite soon we will already have our AGM. That is, in the greater scheme of things, a much more important gathering. But this had been quite enjoyable! 

17 June 2023

Picture a scientist

There is an initiative within the college of natural science and engineering to try to prevent sexual harassment during field trips, and mitigating the effects if it happens anyway. The school of natural sciences had already created a document with a sort of code of conduct, which they thought would help in this endeavour. I will attempt to adapt it for ocean sciences. 

We also, of course, have an attempt at making our school a bit more diverse and inclusive. And to sort out the gender imbalance.

When we as a school were thinking about this sort of things anyway, someone had the idea of organising a screening of the film "Picture a Scientist". From the title, I imagined it was all about public perception of science. If you search Google images for a scientist, you tend to get a white male doing chemistry. And that is not just Google’s fault; that is probably a fair proxy of how society sees these things. And I thought the film wanted to address this. But it was much more hard-hitting than that.

It started with a lady talking about that she had brought her three-year-old daughter to work. The daughter knew, of course, that her mother was a scientist, but it only fully sank in when she saw her in her place of work, with all the paraphernalia. She immediately wanted to be a scientist as well. And that made the woman ponder about what world she would face if she did. And that brought back very painful memories of fieldwork she had done in Antarctica. She had been endlessly harassed and denigrated by her male supervisor. And at the time, she hadn't done anything about this; what power do you have as an early stage PhD student? But by now she had tenure. And she decided to act. And that may have provided the inspiration for this film.

From sexual harassment (and other harassment; this man had had all registers open) the film that went to more day-to-day issues. Women in science just being generally considered less than men. And a lady who had been doing genetic research at MIT extensively spoke of how she had realised she was just not treated equal to the men. And she started gathering data. And then she reached out to other women, also in MIT, but of course at the time a stark minority. Them being so few and far between, many of these women didn't know each other. But when they started talking, they realised they all had the same experiences. They all realised now that this issue was institute-wide. And they compiled a report.

As it happens, the Director (or whatever this function is called) of MIT took this seriously. This is not to be taken for granted! And he endorsed the report. And that set a ball rolling. And we are now decades further, and a lot has changed for the better. But we’re not there yet.

There was also Black female chemistry professor in the documentary. She of course got it from both sides! Both female and black. Double minority. And she had the sort of stories that you expect; for instance, that people think she is the janitor. What else would she be? She doesn't look like a chemistry professor. I was quite struck with that most of the times you see her, she is wearing a top with a message; she had one T-shirt that said something like "support your local girl gang", another with "is Wakanda forever", another one with the Wonder Woman logo. It gave me the impression that this woman is basically campaigning full-time. She probably is!

Altogether this documentary didn't provide many surprises. I suppose all women in science know how bad things have been, how much has improved, but how much more there still is to do. I found it heavy on the heart. But I admired the ladies for their groundbreaking work.

And the abominable supervisor on the fieldwork in Antarctica? He got fired. But he had of course been free to engage in this sort of practice for decades. But I do hope in this day and age, people will think more than twice before they let their primitive urges run free when they think the world isn't watching.

And now I need to get on with that document for SOS…

Still from the film

16 June 2023

Justified faith in the power of plants

A hundred years ago, my officemate Paul left for Exeter University. I inherited his plants. And I looked after them as well as I could.

Then lockdown happened, and all these plants had to be moved to my house. That is still where they live! But it was a change and plants don't like that. And in a period of adverse weather, one of them died. It was a Begonia rex.

I have had plants die on me and come back to life before. And the sturdy stem of this begonia looked like it still could contain hidden strengths. So I decided to not throw it away. I just kept watering it, even though I felt a bit silly at times doing that.

And then, just when I was considering again whether to give up and throw it out, it grew leaves again! That please me a lot. It is really great if something exceeds your expectations. So the begonia is back! And it is not as if I couldn't look my former officemate in the eye if I would meet him now, but now I can do it with even more confidence. The plant lives! Sometimes you have to just wait out the bad times for something good to start thriving again…

The leaves are much bigger already! Some days passed between taking the picture and publishing it

15 June 2023

Good and bad cat news from the neighbour

My neighbour sometimes plays with her grandchildren in the street. There is practically no traffic, so she can. And one day, when I was about to go for my run, I bumped into her there. And I suspect he was keen on having an adult conversation after a long day with a grandchild. We had a good chat! And quite a lot of it had to do with cats.

I suppose I should start with the bad news. In February I blogged about a big white tomcat who used to hang around my house a lot. He was quite friendly, and my cat didn't seem to be particularly afraid of him after the initial wariness, and he was very vocal. I enjoyed the serenades. But I hadn't seen them in weeks! And now my neighbour told me he had been run over on the main road through the village. So that's why I hadn't spotted him for so long! I was sad.

There was also good news. I mentioned a long time ago my cat was getting bald patches. She still does! The vet didn't know what to do with it either, but she doesn't seem to be too bothered by it. She is just her normal daft self, so I don't worry about it too much, even though I feel very bad about it. This is not the way it should be! And if she gives herself bald patches, she must be in some kind of distress, even though there are no other signs of it.

Anyway; I had noticed that my neighbour’s cat, known in my circles as Nemesis, but actually called Puss, had bald patches too. And my neighbour told me she had managed to almost solve that with skin cream. And there was more where that came from! And she said I should try some. Maybe it would work. That was very kind of her!

When I got back after my run I put some on her leg. I didn't want to do all of her bald bits; that is a bit much. I don't even know how you would do that on an opinionated cat. But when I did her leg she purred, so she clearly doesn't mind the sensation of being rubbed with this cream. I will have to see if it makes a difference! It did for the neighbour’s cat, so who knows whether it might work for her as well…

Bald cat with possible solution 

14 June 2023

Promotion intention

I blogged about the last promotion round. It was very successful. I hadn't applied for anything. I have been hesitant about this for a long time! Firstly; given the contract I am on, I will have to prove teaching innovations. And I don't see myself as a particularly innovative teacher. Some of that might just be an ego thing. Some of it is also that things have been getting in the way; firstly, my RSI made it difficult enough to do my job to an acceptable standard on the best of days, and I also knew that if I worked really hard and took the extra burden on off applying for a promotion, the school might very well turn around and try to make me redundant as a reward. That wouldn't be the first time. You can tell my motivation wasn't very high.

A few years ago I didn't feel particularly encouraged either. My line manager was actively trying to talk applying for a senior lectureship out of my head. I didn't enjoy that very much. And it was quite a difference with my previous line manager; he had basically told me to apply for the senior version of junior lecturer when I was an opportunity that I wasn't even aware of. The good thing is, though, that my current line manager has changed his ways, and even says things such as "you could use this or that in an application for a promotion". So that inspires more faith!

Yet another thing that I didn't like was that I thought it was a disgrace that there were so few women in high positions in the School. And the logical thing to do about that is, of course, apply for promotion. But I was moody about feeling feeling that pressure. I should just apply for promotion when I think that is a good idea. I don't want to have to represent my gender. The men don't have that! If they don't want to apply for a promotion it is not a big deal. There are plenty of men at the top! 

Some of my colleagues, especially Lynda, I had already been encouraging me for years to apply. But after the last around that choir got bigger. Dei and Martin joined it. And also; the whole school now felt different to me, with are much improved gender balance. So I promised that I would apply in the next round. Martin said that it might be in January. 

I have already downloaded the form, and the supporting information. I'll be seizing snippets of time to fill this form out to the best of my abilities! And who knows; maybe 2024 will be the year I'll become a senior lecturer. If it has an application round, then it surely will be the year in which I give it a go! Watch this space…

13 June 2023

Drought finally broken

After weeks of no rain, there was a weather warning for thunderstorms for the weekend. And I thought that would be good. My garden was very thirsty, and I imagined many gardens were.

Grass becoming increasingly yellow 

Plant getting increasingly crispy

The forecast kept changing. At some point it suggested a 40% chance of rain at 5PM, and that was all! But we felt nothing. The 60% chance of no rain had won. 

In the evening there was a tiny little bit of rain. I think my plants enjoyed it. But it was so little that there still was absolutely no water whatsoever in my water butt. 

On Monday night it finally rained properly. I was actually hanging out of the window as by then it was such a special occasion! And the next morning my water butt was about half full. 

We now have three more dry days forecast. But then things seem to get back to normal! So the worst is probably over for the garden. For now. I’m sure droughts will be back with a vengeance! 

As I write this, the forecast is another week with no rain. How long will this continue? And will the effects be significant by then?

12 June 2023

Pizza but no Susan

Once in a while the usual suspects like doing a walk followed by having pizza. This is generally either with the six of us or the four of us; the Llanberis delegation has variable availability. But currently, Susan is on a research cruise. She is literally on the other side of the world! So we did an unusual episode with just the three of us.

We had had over three weeks of drought, but that was predicted to end. First on the Sunday, so we decided to do the walk on the Saturday, but then the forecast changed and the thunderstorms were expected to hit us that day. But the forecast kept changing; in the end, all forecast rain vanished. But we were still a bit cautious and decided to not do anything too spectacular. I had suggested going up Cefn yr Orsedd. Depending on how we were feeling, we could just walk near or far, and turn around when we decided the pull of the pizzas was getting too strong!

Considering these pizzas; it is proper tourist season now, and we didn't fancy the crowds of our usual haunt Betws y Coed. We decided to choose to buy supermarket pizzas and heat them up in Martin’s oven.

I biked up to Martin’s place with a bottle of wine in my pannier bag. From there we walked down the road to meet Dean. And then we went into the woods of Braichmelyn, which is the jumping-off point for Cefn yr Orsedd. They both know these woods better than I do, living closer to them. And after a while we popped out of the woods into the open ground. You are still quite close to the village there, but I always feel quite far away from everything if I'm there!

We felt energetic enough to walk all the way to the point where the path descends into Nant Ffrancon. But by then some stomachs were starting to growl, so after admiring the view for a while we turned back. As expected, the going was good, because the landscape was so dry.

When we got back to Martin’s, he got some beer and snacks out of the fridge. And he had baked some Lebanese flatbread to go with that. It was amazing! It was one of those moments when you think that life is just how it should be. Lovely people, a lovely walk in a beautiful landscape, and amazing food and drinks. I just hope this doesn't sound like a diss to Susan because it isn't. It would've been even better with her! 

After a while we moved onto the pizzas. They were lovely too. But by the time we had almost eaten them, the midges came out, and we retreated indoors.

I got home too late and having drunk insufficient amounts of water. But it had been well worth it! And in not too much time we will have Susan back, so then we can be complete again!

11 June 2023

Online integrity conference

This calendar year I had been spending a lot of time on issues of academic integrity. Most of it is just students who copy sentences over from the sources they use, which is not what they are supposed to do. But there is an increasing percentage of it that has to do with artificial intelligence. And a lot of people within the academic world are pondering this.

One day my colleague Dei pointed me in the direction of an online conference about this topic. That sounded interesting! And I registered. It was funded by the Higher Education Funding Council Wales and organised by the Quality Assurance Agency. 

The day before, they sent information about how to join. I needed some technical support they're; somehow something seems to have gone wrong with my registration. But they sorted it. I was glad I had sorted this beforehand. The program was also available; there were two parallel session so you had to choose which talks to you wanted to attend.

And the day came! The technology worked. And soon I was in the first session. Basically it was about how you avoid cases of academic integrity arising. It was delivered by people from the Open University. They said they had seen a big increase in cases of academic integrity, and we have too. There were people from other universities in the chat who confirmed that they had seen it as well. I'm not sure if this is a global thing, but I think at least it is a UK-wide thing. And they weren’t merely thinking about how to deal with them; they wanted to get the numbers down. And they figured they just needed more education. And I am thinking about the same thing. I have already requested a lecture slot in our first year tutorial module. I figured I am the person best placed to tell the new students how to avoid coming into contact with me the hard way!

The second session I attended dealt with software with which you can detect an awful lot more than the software we use for detecting lack of paraphrasing. This software scrutinises all the edits that have been made to a text, and makes them visible. And the idea is that there are patterns in how humans write. And if you spot strange patterns, what you might be looking at is bits of text having been brought in from elsewhere (for instance an AI tool) and incorporated into the self-penned text. It was quite cool! Unfortunately, this software is not currently available to the wider community. 

The third and last session what about how to deal with use of AI in assessments. The people who delivered that session had polled their students; anonymously, I assume. A really big percentage had admitted to using AI in assessments. It is clearly happening! And I see quite a number of examples of that too. It does mean we need to deal with that. Some people fight back; they ban its use all together, and go back to in-person exams. I personally don't think that's the way. But if we adapt our assessments to this new phenomenon, we need to keep adapting them, because the technology progresses so fast!

The last part of the conference was a panel discussion, but I wasn't impressed by that. It was short, and it was mainly the panel talking. But altogether it had been a useful half day!

And then it will soon be the new academic year. I think I will have quite a lot of work on my hands regarding academic integrity!

10 June 2023

Female professors!

When I started my work at Bangor University, our School had one female professor. As far as I know, that was the only one we had ever had. And after a few years she retired (which resulted in me taking over in the dissertation module from her). That left the entire professorat male! That didn't sit well with me at all. These are the 2020; not the 1970s. And over the years, I saw female colleagues drop by the wayside. All these women had been on their way up, but would never reach a professorship. 

The pandemic in the associated financial struggles of the University didn't help; for quite a while, there was a promotion stop. But we are past that now. There was a promotion round open! I didn't go for it. But one day I spoke with my Belgian colleague Katrien. She said she had applied for a promotion. She was a senior lecturer; the logical next step is reader. But she said she had applied directly for Professor. That was bold! But I hoped she would succeed.

We did have two female readers; they were the most senior women in the School. I had really hoped they would go for a professorship at some point. But would they, in this round?

Then one day at the end of the day, an email came in from the Head of School. The subject line said something about success and promotions. That piqued my interest. I opened it, and it said two of my colleagues had been promoted from junior lecturer to senior lecturer. Excellent. Two as well had been promoted from senior lecturer to reader. Also excellent. And then there were three people having been promoted to professor. And they were my Belgian colleague and the two female readers! This was such amazing news! That really lifted my spirits.

We had, and still have, seven male professors, so from being just one blokey block, it has now turned into a company with 70:30 gender ratio. (As I write this, one of the former readers is still listed as a reader; I hope they sort that soon.) That is such an improvement! Immediately, the School feels more welcoming to me. Hooray for our marvellous three new professors!

09 June 2023

New bread machine: trying it out

I had decided it was worth splashing out on an expensive bread machine. I eat bread every day! And it had better be good. And one day I got the email saying I could come and collect it, which I duly did. 

When I had eaten the bread I still had, I could start trying it out. I figured it would probably take me months to find out how to make bread the way I like it! But one has to start somewhere. And I decided I would just start with the wholewheat option. But maybe with a slightly longer baking time. This machine allows you to customise everything!

The machine ready to go 

For a bread machine this expensive, it was a bit of a disappointment I did not come with a recipe book. There is one; you can download it for free from the Internet. Why don't they just include it? But anyway; I started with wholewheat. The smallest bread size, and the setting on the darkest crust. I checked with the difference was between the various crust colours; from light to medium was five minutes, and for medium to dark was eight minutes. I decided to go four minutes longer than dark. So I had a stab at what a good baking time would be.

So how was my first attempt? The good news was: The crust was nice and dark. The less good news was that the bread was quite flat. Just like in the bread machine that didn't bake bread the way I like it. My old Breville would produce beautifully domed loaves (even after a few attempts)! And I think that’s the way it should be. It is an indication of the structure of the bread, and that is important. So the first attempt is only that: the first attempt.

First attempt: a bit flat

My next attempt involved the "Crusty loaf" option. Another avenue I considered was to try to just emulate the Breville as closely as I can. They do provide the exact timings of the various phases of bread making. The problem is that they don't give the temperature at which they are baking. So that would have to be done by trial and error! Hence the easier option of using the crusty menu.

And how did this go? Much better! I got a lovely domed loaf with good structure. But it could have been a bit darker, so next time I will add something to the baking time. And then I might be sorted! And when I have my default bread figured out, I can start experimenting with more exotic breads…

Second attempt: much better! 

08 June 2023

Another night in the hills: towards Conglog

Last weekend I had done an absolutely gorgeous mini hike. And the weather was still stunning. I wanted to do another one! And I figured I would be able to leave a bit earlier. So I didn’t do any of the options I had left over from last time; I went for a slightly longer walk.

I had walked up the old tram track from Cwmorthin to Rhosydd many times (including in the middle of the night), but I had never turned right after getting there. I had many times stood there and decided I should change that. And this might have been the day for it! Especially in the dry weather; the terrain there can get a bit swampy. And these days, the most unexpected terrains held your weight and kept you dry. 

I left about 15:30. I figured that that way I would get there with some time to spare, but late enough so that there would be space on the parking lot. And that worked out! I effortlessly parked up. And I immediately got a bonus; I bumped into old acquaintance Jason, who was at work with Go Below. It was good to see him! And then I was on my way up. It was 16:15, and still quite hot!

Starting on the track to Cwmorthin 

By the old chapel I bumped into a group of young men. That wasn't quite how I had imagined things. I just want to be on my own (or with company I brought myself) in nature. I'm not there to be anywhere near a whole bunch of blokes who are undoubtedly lovely, but also very noisy, and shrouding themselves in clouds of weed smoke. I passed them, and was certain I would lose them upon reaching Rhosydd. And I did! They headed for the ruins. 

The chapel from a distance 

Looking back on the Rhosydd ruins

When I walked on, heading for the first lake (Llyn Cwm Corsiog), I could still hear them behind me. Luckily there was a big landscape in front of me I could disappear into. And after a while I got to the first lake. It was beautiful!

Llyn Cwm Corsiog

View on Moelwyn Mawr with the spoil heaps of Croesor on its flank

It was still quite early. I decided to walk on to Llyn Conglog, which had been my preliminary goal. That meant going up the ridge from the first lake. I came past a small unnamed lake I recognised; I had been swimming in it with Kate a few years ago! Good memories.

When I came to Llyn Conglog I decided it might not be ideal. But there were more options! So I walked up the ridge to the left of it, and had a look. I decided that the other side of the ridge was prettier. I might want to sleep by Llyn Coch, so I kept walking. This choice was a bit repetitive; the lake I had had a dinner by, and a bath in, the week before had also been called Llyn Coch (Red Lake). The Welsh are not always original with names. And neither lake was unusually red! 

Early evening selfie by Llyn Coch

The first thing I wanted to do was eat dinner, but I needed water for that. And I tend to not to take it from lakes. And I know that is a bit weird; I totally do take water from streams coming out of lakes, so it's the same water. But I stuck with my habit. I went to the little stream that, according to the map, came out of the lake. However; not that day it didn't! But I figured if I would follow it downstream at some point it would become a stream, and it did. And I was quite struck by the view.

I decided to just have dinner there instead of right by the lake. And so I did! I tried my third Tent Meal: Moroccan couscous. It was really good! And I drank tea.

Dinner time

Then it was time to go and have a little swim in the lake. I grabbed my towel and went back. I think I only swam some 7 m out and back, but that was enough! I do it for freshness, not exercise. And after I dried myself off I put on my warmer clothes. I had walked up in shorts and T-shirt, but walked back in trousers and jumper. And back by my stove I quickly added a down jacket. I boiled some more water as I was thirsty.

Slightly later selfie with warmer clothes and the sun vanishing behind the ridge 

I again spent the evening reading some newspaper and writing some blog drafts on my phone. Things I probably would have done at home as well! But now I did it with an amazing view. It really does revive me, these nights away.

Tent under evening sky

I had intended to go to bed early, but it is light so late! It is a bit of a pity to leave that landscape when you can still see it. But sleep is important too. 

I slept well, as it wasn't very windy. And I got up to have breakfast while slowly the valley filled with sunshine again. I pondered how to get back; with a bit of a detour back to Rhosydd and then down the track, or over the ridge and down through the spoil heaps of Cwmorthin? I decided on the latter. This way I was covering some of the same terrain as I had done with Kate these years ago.

It was this dry! Normally you can’t stand on this

Cwmorthin and Wrysgan seen from above

Along the way I did my standard stops: one for brushing teeth, and one for coffee with cake and putting shorts on. The second one was already quite close to the track! So not much later I was back at the parking lot. Another successful mission!