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. 

16 November 2023

Joining a meeting with the National College of Wales

I had joined the National College of Wales four years ago. And this college (Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, officially) has local branches. Only now have I been to a meeting of our local branch. Im glad I went! I was keen before, but there always was something even more important happening. But not this time. 

I was late. Directly before this meeting, there was another one about the National Student Survey, and how we could improve on the outcomes. So I sneaked in silently, and found myself a chair. It was a big room but there was a good crowd!

There were quite an agenda items, but the one that took the most time was that a survey had been done on Welsh people who had gone to university, either in Wales or in England. And they had been asked about why they had made the choice that they had made, and to what extent things such as Welsh language provision, or a Welsh social life, had been in that decision. I was a bit puzzled as to why they would ask students who had going to England that; clearly these things wouldn't have mattered to them! But how wrong I was. For instance, it seems like quite some Welsh students choose Liverpool, because it is something quite different from the area they grew up in, but so many Welsh students go there that you can still have a good social life in the Welsh language. Liverpool actually has a long history of attracting large numbers of Welsh people. 

Results of the survey are presented 

There won't be another meeting of the branch this year. But next year I fully intend to attend more of these meetings. It will be good to find my place in the greater Welsh-speaking community in the University!

15 November 2023

A new normal

Over lunch, Susan asked me what the last time was that I had lived together with other people. That must have been in my students days. My early student days, even. I'm not used to it! But now I suddenly had a crippled man in my house, and it wasn't clear when that was going to change. In order for that to happen, I first needed to be on his car insurance, and second, he needed to have someone else to look after him. He is absolutely not allowed to put weight on this leg for weeks to come! And that means he always has to use crutches, and if you use crutches, you can't carry anything. So just making bowl of spaghetti is difficult. How do you get the cooking pot onto the hob, especially with water in it? So he wasn't going anywhere for now. And that meant my life changed.

We soon found a new normal. In the morning I wake up and come downstairs. If I have to go to work quite early and/or he is awake, I say hello, and then go downstairs to make breakfast. If he isn't awake yet and I don’t have to go anywhere I'll let him sleep. I know he struggles to sleep with his sore leg! So if he is actually sleeping I will not disturb him.

Breakfast for two

Sooner or later he's awake, and then we have breakfast together. The cat loves it; she gets to lick out two breakfast bowls! And on a workday, I then go downstairs again, and make packed lunch for both of us. And then I leave. He is fine to look after himself otherwise. He even manages to shower independently! It takes him a while, but that's okay; there is no hurry there. So during the day we just each do our thing until I come home.

Sorting out food is just a question of checking what next needs eating from the stash we retrieved from his house. The recipes are getting increasingly imaginative! And for two days, we had crumble for dessert, as that crumble never got eaten after our run! And then at some point he goes to bed. He tends to be the first to turn in, again for reasons of not sleeping well with a sore leg, so being quite tired. And the cat still sleeps with me.

I'm not used to having someone in my house, but this is going quite frictionlessly! I'm glad it is. For now there wasn’t much of an alternative, so the situation would be a bit bleak if we would get fed up already. Watch this space to see how it all pans out!

14 November 2023

Countess of Chester Hospital

After having spent pretty much an entire day in the local hospital, it was time to visit another one. I was a bit disappointed that we couldn't just make an appointment. We knew exactly what was the issue, and Ysbyty Gwynedd would send through all the documentation; why couldn't the hospital decide when they had time to deal with this? But no; we would have to just go to accident and emergency again. So be it.

We got ready. The next step was to try to get Tim into my car. We had practised with different cars, but mine is a three-doors; it turns out that that is harder. And he had his own car here as well, of course, but I wasn't insured on it, so we couldn't take that.

When we came hobbling out of the house, one of the men working on Neuadd Ogwen appeared. He saw the situation and immediately offered to help. That was lovely of him! He said he had broken his leg himself somewhere in the past, and knew what it was like. And with his help we were soon on our way.

We got there ok, and made our way to A&E. After not too much time we were called through. We were put in a different waiting room. Not much happened. Tim decided to have a sandwich. By the time they would consider surgery, he would probably count as sober again. A fair while later we were called into a consultation room. The whole process started again! The information from Bangor, including X-rays, hadn’t come through. But the lady who dealt with us phoned some people, including X-Ray, and after a while a new image was produced. And an orthopaedic surgeon would come talk. 

After a while that came true. A lady walked over, introduced herself, and asked him one question: when head he last eaten something? He gave an honest answer, and she walked away again. I figured that was bad news.

A while later she came back in the company of an additional surgeon. They said that they could have operated on him right away if he had been sober. Bummer! But now they would see if they could do it tomorrow. And that was the best bet we had. 

Tim decided there was no point in both of us hanging around. I was a bit reluctant; we had spent the time in the waiting room with him in a wheelchair, with his leg resting on the armrest of a chair. And me in the chair, guarding the leg. Would he be okay without someone doing that? But he was probably right. They would hopefully put him in a bed soon. I could go home and do something else with my day. So I left.

The next day I got a text in the morning. He was second in the queue for surgery! And then I heard nothing for a while. I hoped that meant the surgery was happening, but then I got a text a few hours later. They had knocked him out, opened the cast, decided they couldn't do the surgery because his leg was in too bad a shape, and just put a new cast on. He was ready for collection!

This was not what I had hoped for, but I did mean that that sandwich the day before hadn’t made any difference. They wouldn't have deemed his leg good enough for surgery anyway!

I had some teaching to do that day, so when that was finished I got in the car and headed back east. As I would get there after regular opening hours I had to collect him from a separate wing. That went very smoothly! A kind lady buzzed the door open for me, and took me straight to him. In seconds we were out. And it was immediately clear he was a lot more mobile with this new cast than he had previously been. That at least was progress!

On the way back we went past his house to get him his laptop and an additional book, some additional clothes and toiletries, a whole bunch of cushions for his leg, and the contents of his fridge in as far as they needed eating before he expected to be back again. And then we were on our way back to Bethesda.

The next step would be that they would send a letter to his house that gave him an appointment. I thought that was rather silly! They hadn't been willing to discharge him unless into the hands of a responsible adult (yes that was me). They knew he wasn't going home. Why send snail mail to a building they know he won't be in? But at least he knew what number to phone to get the necessary information that way. And in the meantime he needed to try to put me on his car insurance, so I could bring him back in his own vehicle.

All of that could wait, though. By the time we got home it wasn't far off bedtime again! And he hadn't had a particularly good night of sleep in the hospital. So getting some rest had priority, and any snazzy organisation would have to wait until the next day. Or the next. He was clearly not going anywhere for a while!

Countess of Chester Hospital

13 November 2023

In Ysbyty Gwynedd

With the help of Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue team and Susan, my date Tim and I got to the local hospital to have his broken and/or dislocated ankle seen to. We just came in at A&E like everybody else. And the outlook was bleak; the sign above the reception said waiting time was 12 hours. People were looking resigned.

We were seen well within the 12 hours. That was the good news. The bad news was that the emergency doctor just whipped off the vacuum splint that kept Tim’s leg together. Just like that! Obviously, it immediately dislocated again. And there were no drugs at hand. This was torture. 

He got himself a plaster back slab and an X-ray, and an orthopaedic surgeon explained what would be next. He had a double fracture, in addition to the dislocation, and he would need surgery to have all the bits screwed back into position again. It would be better to have that surgery in Chester. He is local to that hospital, so he would be prioritised. In Wales he would be at the back of the queue! But they said they would give him a stronger cast before sending him home with me. 

Getting him in a new cast was another round of torture. And it even wasn’t successful. So after all that they decided they didn’t actually support torture, and would put on a last cast (hopefully) under strong anaesthetics. And they did. After every attempt they had to X-ray him  to check all bone fragments were actually aligned. After the first sedated attempt they weren’t, so they had to do it again. But then, the second time around with proper sedation, they got it right. 

It was almost 11 o'clock at night when we could finally leave. Susan came to get us. And even with his cast, Tim was very fragile. Getting him into the house was hard. And I plonked him straight into my bed. I would sleep upstairs! I had a shower but other things would have to wait. This day had been long enough...

12 November 2023

Date takes a turn

Day number two of the date had arrived! The plan was to go for a run after breakfast, then come home, eat crumble (that had been intended as dessert the previous day, but that hadn’t happened) and then go off to see Penrhyn Castle. So we set off! It was a bit wet so I decided we shouldn't go over the steep bit of Moel Faban. We would take the more gentle route around.

At 9:22 we were at the highest point of the run and we took a selfie. By 9:23 I was phoning the emergency services.

Just when we started the descent, my date (who by now should get a name; he is called Tim) slipped, and fell in a really unfortunate way. It was immediately clear he had seriously injured his ankle. So he fell to the ground, clearly in agony, and he also pretty much immediately got very cold. Our day had significantly changed in an instant!

Given that it was clear that Tim was seriously hurt I knew I had to phone the emergency services. So I did. At the same time I was spooning him as closely as I could. The more body heat I could transfer, the better! And our dates hadn't gone anywhere near that intimate so far, but this was the situation to take that step. 

I told the dispatcher I needed Mountain Rescue, and they said they would sort it out.

Just under 30 minutes later I received a call from Mountain Rescue. They were on their way! But it could still be up to one hour before they would get there. I was really glad they had been dispatched, but Tim was so cold! I really didn't think he should be that cold for that long. And not only because being very cold is unpleasant, but also because if you are shaking uncontrollably, you can't keep your leg still, and that is the first thing you want if you have just injured it. So I had a brainwave. I (obviously) have friends who live nearby, and who can probably just leave home pretty much immediately, and bring warm clothes. So I phoned Sue and Dean. And they said they were going to be on their way. I gave them the what three words reference so they knew exactly where we were.

After a while I heard something. I thought it was Dean! So I started shouting. And then a figure appeared. It wasn't Dean! It was one of the Mountain Rescuers. And I even recognised him; I had met him before in a Mountain Rescue context, and also at a birthday party. He had warm clothes and an emergency shelter and all that sort of stuff. So the situation immediately improved a lot! 

Packed up warm now

Really soon afterwards, Sue and Dean appeared. They had more warm clothes. And they had hot drinks! They were lifesavers.

More team members appeared, and with them, more supplies arrived. This included stronger drugs, and a stretcher. That would be needed!

The mountain rescuer who had been first on the scene, Jamie, was actually a medical professional. So he wasn't intimidated at all by Tim’s ankle. He had a good look, which involved cutting the sock off, and once Tim was properly off his head on drugs, he reduced the leg. And packaged it up neatly in the vacuum splint. That made him a whole lot more comfortable!

After that he was put in the stretcher and taken to the team Land Rover, which was a bit lower on the hill. The Land Rover brought us to Bryn Hafod y Wern. There we were transferred to a different vehicle that brought us to Rachub, where Sue and Dean picked us up again. Or rather; just Sue, as Tim took up the entire backseat with his splinted leg. The Mountain Rescue team brought Dean home. And the three of us were off to hospital. 

What a date. But hurray for Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue, and Sue and Dean!

Getting Tim ready for transport. Pic by OVMRT

11 November 2023

Date #7

Given that the previous date had been very enjoyable, it was time to have one again. I had heard something about an interesting exhibition in Storiel, and had been reminded of that I hadn’t been to Penrhyn Castle yet. And I am a bit hesitant about the castle! It was the lair of the enemy of every Bethesda citizen. But sometimes you have to visit places with evil associations. 

My date came over and we went to Storiel. I omitted to take pictures! But it was interesting. And after that we went home and made a vegan quiche. The next day we would go for a run, eat crumble, and bike to Penrhyn. So just a museum and dinner would do for the Saturday. I enjoyed it! 

Pic taken during my previous visit to Storiel

Bonus walk with Kate and the dog

On a Saturday morning, I suddenly got a message from Kate. She had something to do in Bangor; was I  interested in walking the dog with her when she was in the area anyway? Sure I was!

She needed to be on Llandygai industrial estate, so I went there too. When I got out of the car, the dog saw me, and went ballistic. He was so glad to see me! It was very cute.

We just walked along the bicycle path to Bethesda. I know it like the back of my hand, of course! Kate had been a bit self-conscious about going there, as she knows I bike it all the time. But you do get a different perspective if you're not biking but walking. And we also checked a few little paths leading off from the bicycle path. I bike past them a lot, and always wonder a bit what they're like, but I never go! I'm always on my way to something.

Bryn in the river

Off the main path

The main attraction, of course, were Kate and the dog, but I must say I enjoyed the bicycle path as well. It was a nice bonus social meet-up where I hadn't expected one! 

10 November 2023


Mark Rutte is the longest setting prime minister in Dutch history. I never voted for him! I never expect to vote for his party in my life. If I ever do, I hope someone drags me to hospital for a brain scan. But there are elections coming up, and he is not leading his party through them. This automatically means he will not be our next prime minister. And I sincerely hope whoever will be, will be from a different party. Preferably a lot further to the left!

There was something unusual about this election; the leftist greens and labour had joined forces. You don't get several parties under one list very often! I hope their strategy works out. We really need a strong left-wing party as a counterweight to all the right-wing malarkey going on.

There also was a whole slew of parties that didn't exist yet when I still lived in the country. I had to do a bit of homework before I could send off my vote. That tends to be the case! In the Netherlands, there is a lot more choice than there is in Britain.

As part of the diaspora I get to vote before most. I have sent my ballot paper off. I really hope we end up with a government that aligns a bit more with my values than the previous one. But I have done what I can; from now on I will just have to wait and see!

The ballot paper

09 November 2023

Students allocated dissertation topics in record time

It is a job I slightly fear! Having to give all the students dissertation topic and a supervisor. It is a big job in the middle of terms when I have plenty of other things to do, and there is plenty of scope for frustration. It is a bit like a giant sudoku: if you make one mistake you can't just rectify it; you have to change a lot of other things as well. And some years, like last year, you have to deal with late surprises. Just when you think you are done, you might find out that people can't take on dissertation students for reasons of illness, scientific cruises, having quit, or any reason like that. 

You also always end up disappointing people. The students all want their first choice, and the staff all want as few students as possible. And definitely not more students than someone else. Neither of that is possible. And I am fairly shruggish about upsetting people; I warn the students extensively that I can't possibly give everyone their first choice, so that I need to be mentally ready for getting any of their choices. And the number of students is unlikely to divisible by the number of staff, and then you always get different staff members with different numbers of students. I don't have much of a problem batting away colleagues who are a bit grumpy. And those with many students don't have to do much second marking!

This year I tried to do it in a slightly different way from usual. And it worked! It was quicker, and didn’t show signs of leading to any more errors than usual. I have published the results to both staff and students, and I have only received one complaint from a student who said I had accidentally assigned him a topic he hadn’t chosen in the first place. And he was right. I am just a flawed person like everybody else; it is not unexpected that at least one allocation goes wrong. But with some shuffling I could give him his second choice, which wasn’t bad.

With this out of the way, it will now be a bit of a while before this module demands an awful lot of my attention again. For now it can just tick along, with the work distributed over the entire staff. Good! Other jobs await…