23 October 2021

Rainy day at Llyn Llydaw

 In normal years, I take my second year's students into the field in autumn, to look at glacial striations. I tend to have some 50 of them. Last year I didn't think that would be feasible, so I had done the whole thing online. That had been rather unsatisfactory, as it isn't the real thing, and to make things worse: by the time the students got their teeth into the assignment I had designed, I was off sick and couldn't help them with it. But this year I had faith we could go in person again! And that turned out to be true.

The Friday before we had been in the field as well; we had had an amazing day. It might have been in the middle of October, but I had at some point stripped down to a tank top. But for this trip we would not be so lucky; I had seen the forecast, and it was wall-to-wall rain. Not ideal! But these striations we are looking for are waterproof. And so should our clothes be.

It would be first time in a long while I would be in the field with my friend and colleague Lynda again. She had been quite careful during the pandemic! But she was comfortable with teaching on this trip. And I gave her a ride from campus. The students would travel by coach.

I had had a fair number of students email me to say that they didn't think they were medically up for it. Luckily we have a lot of online material so they can still participate in the assignment! A pity they had to miss it, but maybe they didn't think that way, with the weather in mind.

We got to Pen-y-Pass, where I handed out clipboards with datasheets, and compasses. Then we started to walk up. It was wet and windy but beautiful! And the students I was walking with kept their spirits high.

Not all students were equally fast; when I got to the top I found a sheltered space and waited for everyone to arrive. When we were all there I tried to keep it brief. We were all getting soaked! And I knew that they still had the online material as backup. But one thing I really wanted to do was go past a few outcrops, and decide with all the students whether what they saw there were striations or not. The bane of this field trip is students mistaking other features for striations, and then measuring these, resulting in usable data. I hoped this would be the first year where that could be avoided!

When I was satisfied all students got the brief I let them disperse and gather the data we needed. I didn't intend to stay any longer than necessary. My waterproofs were keeping up, but that didn't hold for everyone. We also had the first aider walk two students back down who had managed to make their way up, but now felt their health wasn't actually good enough to stay around. I also am first aid trained so the students were never without medical backup.

The students were being quite executive. And they managed to document the data in spite of the datasheets becoming useless in seconds. They were also not excessively spread out. I could see why! So earlier than normal we were all done and we could walk back down. I had made sure I had the contact details of the coach drivers, so if I would find a way of having signal I could phone them and ask them to pick us up earlier. And the good thing would be that we could wait in the café on the pass. There are worse things after half a day in the pouring rain than having a hot chocolate!

In the end we solved the problem of the signal (or lack thereof) by having the first aider drive down to town and phone the coach drivers from there. It worked!

I am confident this year we will have good data. I hope the assignment will be done well! And at least this day in the field will be memorable…

22 October 2021

Marjan 60!

Marjan turned 60! And I had been invited to the celebrations. Her plan was: first walk the little Orme, then have dinner in Llandudno, and then a ride in the local Ferris wheel. It sounded good! I put on an outfit that I thought was a nice balance between practical and festive, and drove to Landudno. There I met the others; apart from Marjan and Jaco there were three of their friends. And we set off. I had never been to the Little Orme! I had barely been to the Great one. It was a nice walk, and it was nice to have a chat. I had met the couple among Marjan's friends before, at Jaco's 50th, and the other lady was new to me. And we walked to the top, where we admired the view and took some birthday pictures. Then we walked down to the quarry on the east side of the Little Orme, and had tea with cake there. It was lovely! And then we walked back to town, where the couple said goodbye, and Marjan's son and his girlfriend joined us for dinner. I had never met the girlfriend so it was nice to be introduced. We went to Dylan's; I had been to the restaurant in Menai Bridge, but not very often. So going to its brother in Landudno was still novel enough for me! And dinner was lovely.

After dinner we walked to the Ferris wheel, and did a few loops in it. And then the celebrations were over! It had been lovely. I was privileged to have been part of this. Onwards to the next 60!

View from the summit of the little Orme

Summit pic: clockwise Marjan, me, Anna, Bettina, Jaco (pic by Hans)

The Ferris wheel

Promenade seen from the Ferris Wheel

21 October 2021

Rhoscolyn geology

This is the fourth year we are doing our fieldwork module. And strangely enough, there was one trip out of the six we do that I never attended: to Rhoscolyn. I mainly know the area for reasons of climbing. I also hadn't been able to attend the recce that Jaco and Dei had done. I therefore wasn't very confident teaching on that particular trip. So when it came up again, and I could attend, I decided to join it without having a particular part of the teaching assigned to me. If I would just watch the others (mainly Jaco, as this particular trip is pretty much start to finish within his area of expertise) teach, I could just imbibe the knowledge, and then teach on it the next time it would come around. I did read up on the area, but otherwise I didn't have to prepare much. And Dei had offered to pick me up from Bangor.

We signed the students into the coach, and then set off together. We would first go to South Stack. That is such beautiful place! And the weather was ideal. We were lucky. And we pressed the Jaco button and enjoyed the show. He talked about the general setting, and the stratigraphy in the area. And then we went to see it for ourselves. The promontory with the lighthouse shows clearly what the area is famous for: intercalations of mudstone and sandstone, which are indicative of a deep marine setting where mud slowly accumulates, and occasionally submarine gravity flow comes and brings in coarser material. And tens to hundreds of millions of years later, all of that got deformed by tectonic processes, creating the beautifully folded strata that attract so many geologists and other interested people.

He also explained the various types of gravity flows, and how you distinguish them. And he picked one particular sand bed and showed the students how you can tell it had been a turbidity current. And he said they would look at more of those at the next location.

Jaco providing the background

The lighthouse on the folded sandstones and mudstones

Jaco pointing at turbidites. Pic by SOS

Cliffs. Pic by SOS

Walking back up. Pic by SOS

The next location would be Porth Dafarch, where we first would have lunch. There were picnic tables there and it was lovely. I personally regretted the public toilets there were closed; I had hoped they would contain drinking water, as I had had another incident of my water bag emptying itself in an unsolicited way, so I had preciously little water. That is never a situation I like to be in! I also found out that Porth Dafarch is a difficult place to find a good spot to go to the loo. But I managed.

Porth Dafarch

Deformed turbidites on the beach

Jaco holds court. Pic by SOS

After lunch we did look at the turbidites on the beach, and we did manage to get some of the students enthusiastic about being able to distinguish the various constituent parts of a turbidite in the rocks half a billion years old. We also showed them a tertiary dike cutting through all that turbidite action.

Then it was time to move onto the last location: that was Rhoscolyn proper. We walked to the lifeboat outlook post, and from there to the cliffs where you can see even more deformed turbidites. They were spectacular, and even festooned with curious seals. And we ended the day with some massive quartzites. And then it was time to go back to the cars, and then home! Dei seemed to have forgot he didn't actually want to drive back to Bangor to get me back to my car, as he lives about midway between Rhoscolyn and Bangor, but I suggested I hitch a ride back with Jaco, for whom it would be much less of a detour. I think it had been a successful day! I know that the geology we saw is not very varied, but we spent an entire day on one particular lithology and got to see it at various spatial scales. I hope the students will now appreciate deep-seated sentiments with intercalated turbidites for the rest of their lives!

Rhoscolyn proper

20 October 2021

Re-learn MATLAB

 Five years ago I had done the biggest project in MATLAB I had ever done. I had really put some effort in! And I had substantial help from colleagues who are a lot better at coding than I am, but I had really given all of it a good try myself, and made the effort to try to understand what my friends had done. I had taken a somewhat outdated assignment, which was partially done in statistical software I don't otherwise use, and partly just by manual plotting, and reading values of a graph. I figured that needed updating! And with help it worked.

The year after I managed to put my new data through these scripts as well. And then I stopped gathering new data, as I was not given enough time on the fieldwork to produce anything meaningful. That meant I didn't have to bother with these scripts any more! I could just use the data I had already processed. But then everything changed when we went to a different location. The data suddenly had a different format. And I hadn't used MATLAB in years!

When the data came in during the fieldwork I knew I would have to process it. But I didn't have an awful lot of time to do it! It has to be done, though, so I did open the scripts and tried to change them to the new format. Of the four scripts, I managed to make one work. Then I knew I would not be able to spend the sort of time I would need to get the other 3 to run as well. So I asked for help! And my marvellous colleague Yueng was willing to lend me her skills. And in no time she had the scripts ready for the new data.

What I now need to do is play a bit with the data, and that means playing with the scripts. It is a bit of a steep learning curve! Coding doesn't come natural to me, but if I manage to make something work, it is wildly satisfying. I hope to get sufficiently comfortable with the software to be able to adjust scripts without help, to any of the requirements I might have. We'll have to see!

19 October 2021

Diversity in Ocean Sciences

 Maybe I should have called this post "diversity in Ocean Sciences or absence thereof" as our school doesn't really display much diversity. All our professors are white men, and straight, cisgender, able-bodied ones at that, as far as I know. When you come to the readers it gets slightly better; at least women are represented there, and one is even non-white! But with only one non-white person in the entire academic staff, and women only fairly represented in the lower ranks, and any representation of LGBTQ+ or disabled demographic, if any, having remained unnoticed by me so far, the situation is clearly not good. And just sitting there and concluding that is not going to make a change. So Yueng, our only Asian member of staff, decided to take action. She founded an organisation aimed at increasing diversity in the School. And we had our first meeting this week!

The biggest topic we discussed in the meeting was representation. You can't be you can't see! And we anecdotally know of minorities who leave because they don't think they have a future in a straight, white, male environment like Ocean Sciences. We can't suddenly have fair representation, but one thing we can do is show examples of possible role models in the wider scientific community. Yueng had made a document available with a whole list of diverse scientists. And I think we should use that list. If I emphasise all the people whose work I refer to in my lectures, I will inevitably be emphasising predominantly straight white males, as that is of course exactly the problem we are talking about here, but I think that after centuries of discrimination against everybody who is not a straight white male, it is fair to now discriminate in favour of them. 

We also discussed that it is important to keep an eye on hurtful prejudice. I remember Yueng asking me to swap some marking work with me; she had ended up with the dissertation of the student who had, in all ignorance (I was sure there was no malicious intent here) put lots of prejudice against the Chinese in his dissertation. If we educate our students better they might not do this, because they might see what it is they are doing.

I was also wondering if we should try to recruit from schools that are less lily-white than the ones we usually recruit from. I would really want to see a more diverse collection of professors in our school, but if your readers are not diverse you can't diversify your professors by promoting these. And if your senior lecturers are not diverse, you are not likely to get diverse readers any time soon. Et cetera. We should tackle this also from the bottom. And I am aware of the massive trap that might create; that is what the straight white males in management always say. Just recruit more female students, wait 25 years, and then you will have more female professors! It clearly doesn't work that way. And if a diverse cohort of students doesn't see itself represented in the higher ranks of university, will they pursue a career there? If all the staff mean well but are unable to deal with their own biases and prejudices and ignorances, will they get fed up and go elsewhere? That is what the women are doing now; why would it not happen to other underrepresented demographics? But I still think we should also walk that road.

There was a lot of talk about! And speaking was predominantly done by straight white people, of course. What else do we have? But it's the best we can do. For now… I really hope we can make a change!

18 October 2021

Sunset run

 I normally run in the afternoon, starting at about 3 or 4 PM. One Monday I had two online lectures in a row, at 4 and 5 PM. I didn't want to run before them because I figured I would be a bit restless with these two contact hours coming up. So I went afterwards! The sun was still up when I left the house. It was behind a hill, but I ran up another hill quicker than the sun could descend down beyond the horizon, so I did get to see it from bit higher up. While I climbed further, the sun then properly set. It was nice to see that from the hills! And as soon as the sun was gone, the moon took over, hanging majestically above the Glyderau range. 

Evening light over the Carneddau

The sun peeking over the hillfort

Ffos Rhufeinig heading for the sunset

The moon over the hills

It was getting a bit dark on the way back but I could see enough to keep running. And by then I was hungry and needed some food! Soon it won't be possible to run past 6 PM without a torch. I'll enjoy it while I can!

17 October 2021

Sold the roadbike

 I never had a bike as magnificent as my road bike. The thing was a beast of speed! And everywhere I went, I got comments on how good the bike was. That never happens to me otherwise. I tend to ride fairly arbitrary bikes of dubious provenance. But this thing was a bike competitive cyclists would happily ride. But it wasn't to last!

There were four issues with this bike: the first one was its emphasis on speed rather than comfort. I'm sure this is a lovely bike and smooth asphalt, but my commute was a bit more bumpy than that. And going over bumps on the super rigid road bike is not very comfortable. And I always felt like I was about to get a puncture if I would ride over a bump.

That brings me to the second issue: the narrow tyres meant it was a complete nightmare to fix a puncture. It is hard to get these tyres off, and almost impossible to put them back again. And that makes having to do a repair on the go unnecessarily stressful.

Then there were the handlebars. This bike is made for speed, and if you want to be speedy you want to be aerodynamic, so the handlebars were very narrow. But that meant it was difficult to stay stable in strong winds. Winds coming from the side would quickly become uncomfortable! And this is a windy country.

Then there were the disc brakes. They were extremely noisy! And it seems there was something wrong with them, and the bike repair shop seems to have fixed it the last time I brought it in for maintenance, but it did affect my riding comfort considerably before that time.

The last thing was the gears. It's a road bike, so it has pretty big gears. You want to be able to go very fast while going gently downhill. And you don't really have a small gear for going up the hill, as on a bike like this you want to go up that hill really fast as well. And I am more into comfort than into speed. There is quite a lot of downhill between where I live and where I work, and yes you can do that quicker if you have a big gear, but I tend to not go at full speed anyway. My commute is full of dog walkers, and if you go to fast risk running into a canine. And if I have a steep uphill bit to do, I'd rather get up there while not getting unacceptably sweaty than particularly fast. So all in all, I better off with smaller gears.

Altogether I suppose it is clear I shouldn't have had a road bike. When that became abundantly clear, I bought a gravel bike. I did notice the downhill bits were slower on this bike, but otherwise I was really happy with its performance. I happily bounce over bumps in the bicycle track, the wide dropped handlebars make the bike still comfortable when it is gusty, I can get up hills without issue, the brakes are silent, and if I have a puncture (as already happened) fixing that is not a problem. So altogether I am really happy with the switch!

But what to do now with the road bike? Keep it for in case? Sell it on? I decided on the second option; I figured there must be someone out there who can use it for what it is intended for, and have a blast with it. And it worked! I put it on Facebook marketplace, and after a while bloke got in touch who was interested. It turned out he wanted the buy it for his girlfriend who was about to have her birthday, and who intended to take up triathlons. I think she will appreciate it a lot more than I did! I really hope she will have lots of fun with it. And does well in the races.

So I am now back to normal; on bikes that won't impress a single bike connoisseur, but very content! Everybody wins.

Picture from my 'for sale' ad