Alan’s Guide to Winter Foot Care

My feet are quite wide and so I prefer to wear sandals.  I wore sandals for over 700 miles of my round Wales walk back in 2013, and wear them throughout the winter.

When the temperature drops below zero, or snow gathers on the ground, I am often asked, “don’t your feet get cold?“.

Having been asked so many times, I have decided to put down in writing my observations about healthy winter feet in the hope it will help others.

Basically, the thing to remember is that it is all about colours, and follows a roughly linear series of stages.  However, do note I am a sallow-skinned Caucasian, so all reference to skin colour should be read in that context.

Look at your toes.

What colour are they?

Stage1.  White

Press the side of your toe with your finger.  Does it change colour?

1.1   Yes, it goes a bit pink and then fades rapidly back to white.

That is normal and healthy, you clearly aren’t taking this whole extreme winter walking thing seriously.

1.2  Yes, it goes deep red and only very slowly back to white.

You have an infection, maybe due to stage 2.2a on a previous walk.  Visit the doctor to avoid stage 3.

1.3 No, it stays white.

Bad news, you are a zombie.

Stage 2. Red

Are your toes painful?

2.1 Yes.

Well at least they are still alive.

2.2. No.

Well at least they don’t hurt.  However numbness means does cause certain dangers.

2.2a – You might prick your toe on a thorns, or rusty wire and not notice, leading to infection.

2.2b – You might step on broken glass and bleed to death.

2.2c – You might step in a fire and burn yourself.

Stage 3.  Yellow

Blood poisoning, you missed warning 2.2a

Stage 4.  Blue.

Your circulation has stopped entirely.  This will lead ultimately to limb death, but at least you won’t bleed to death (warning 2.2b).

Stage 5. Black.

Is that charcoal black?

5.1.  Yes

You forgot warning 2.2c didn’t you?

5.2  no, more dull grey/black.

Frostbite, get to the hospital quick and they may save some of your toes.

Stage 6. Green

Gangrene, no time for the hospital, find a saw or large breadknife.

Stage 7.  What toes?

You missed stages 5 and 6.


Download and print the Quick Reference Card so that you can conveniently check your foot health at any time.

Quick Reference Card


Last word … on a serious note

My feet are still (despite misuse!) healthy.  However, for many this is a serious issue, not least for those with diabetes.  When I was child my dad, who was diabetic, dropped a table on his foot and had to be constantly monitored to make sure it didn’t develop into gangrene.  Diabetes UK have their own foot care page, and a list of diabetes charities you can support.

 

the year that was 2014

While 2013 was full of momentous events (Miriam getting married, online HCI course and walking 1000 years around Wales), 2014 seems to have relatively little to report.

A major reason for that is the REF panel and the time taken, inter alia, to read and assess 1000 papers.  I am not at all convinced by the entire research assessment process – however, if it is to happen it is needs to be done as well as possible, hence while still reeling from the walk (indeed asked whilst on the walk) I agreed to be on the panel at a relatively late stage late in 2013.

At the end of the year with the results out I guess the other members of the REF panels and I are either loved hated deepening on how different institutions fared … maybe it is good that I live on an island so far from anyone :-/

I guess I am no more convinced at the end of the process than I was at the beginning.  It was good to read so much over such a wide range of topics, I feel I have an overview of UK computing that I have never had before.  This was often depressing (so many niche areas that clearly will never affect anything else in computer science, let alone the world), but also lifted by the occasional piece of work that was theoretically deep, well reported and practically useful.

Beyond the many many hours of reading for REF, the world has moved on:

  • Fiona has begun to sell more textile art online and at events, including a stall at Fasanta where the Tiree Tapestry was also exhibited.
  • Miriam passed her driving test and has a car.
  • Esther has had a number of performances including a short film (although sadly I’ve not managed to attend any this year :-()

Personally and work-wise (the boundary is always hard to draw):

  • I eventually managed to fill in the remaining day blogs for Alan Walks Wales in time for 1st anniversary!
  • I’m gradually managing to spread the word about the unique data I collected at various talks including at events in Bangelore and Athens.
  • The OnSupply project about awareness of renewable energy production was wonderfully successful with several workshops in Tiree, a best paper nomination at ICT4S and an accepted CHI paper.
  • Work with Rachel on Musicology data, which has been slowly ticking along informally, has now been funded as the InConcert project and we ran an exciting symposium on concert-related data in November.
  • At Talis I am looking at the benefits of learning analytics and published my first journal paper in the area, as well as using it practically in teaching.
  • Tiree Tech Wave has gone from strength to strength with capacity attendance and digital fabrication workshops for the Tiree community in the autumn.
  • … and not least competed in the 35 mile round Tiree Ultra-marathon in September 🙂

… and in 2015

who knows, but I’ve already entered for next year’s ultra – why not join me 🙂

 

being British? always a second class citizen

The most important reason for a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum is the potential for a new nation that is a beacon of a fairer, greener and more inclusive society.  This would ultimately be to the good of the whole of the UK.

However, I’ve also noted a general lack of comprehension by many south of the border who struggle to understand the desire for Scottish Independence.

This was voiced a few days ago in a Facebook thread and this was my response as a Welshman living north of the border.:

As a Welshman I have always had a romantic nationalist edge, but also felt a strong British patriotism.

However events over the years, and not least the referendum campaign have hardened this.  Again and again Westminster politicians tell us that Scotland is better with England, as if Wales and Northern Ireland did not exist.

I have heard this language all my life: in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the second World War, in numerous debates in immigration, in company registration (registered in Cardiff, a company in England and Wales, but subject to *English* law), … and has been noted several times the Bank of England.

The difference in this campaign is that this is when politicians are supposed to be being careful of their language.  We even had the government lawyer explaining that the separated rUK and Scotland would not be equally parts of a previous single nation when looking towards external international bodies, not based on measures such as the population (reasonable), but because really and legally Scotland was never a partner country in a union, but was always amalgamated unto England.

There have been hundreds of years to sort out these things, but it has not happened yet, what chance for the next 100 years?

As a  child I was pedalled a lie.

There never was, and never will be a Britain.

As a Welshman, I am as British as Indians were in the ‘British Empire’.

Within the UK I always have been, and always will be, a second class citizen.

In contrast to this Scotland (despite sectarian tensions that erupt occasionally in Celtic-Rangers crowds) accepts incomers as was amply demonstrated in the difference between the spitting bigotry of the Westminster leaders’ debates at the last General Election compared with the far more civilised, cultured,and above all inclusive Scottish leaders’ debate, with all parties, including the Scottish Conservative leader, praising the richness through diversity and immigration.

Whether it is a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’, the shape of the UK will change fundamentally tomorrow.

If it is ‘No’, I hope the UK will eventually wake up to the fact that it is a nation of nations.

If it is ‘Yes’, then I know, that even as a Welshman far from my birthplace, I will be in a country where I can feel at home.

wonder women

As I started to prepare for the Wales walk I learnt about Anne-Marie “Arry” Beresford-Webb, who in her DragonRun1027 was first to traverse the new Wales Coast Path and existing Offa’s Dyke long distance path all around Wales.  Only Arry was not content to walk around Wales, as I will do in a few weeks, but she ran it, 39 days, a marathon distance every day, all in support of Velindre Cancer Centre.  I thought Arry was Wonder Woman – just absolutely amazed, in a year of amazing Olympic successes, still my hero of the year if not the decade.

I thought this must be the summit of achievement, what could equal that.

Then Rob Styles (@mmmmmrob) shared a link on Twitter to One MIllion Lovely Letters.

Since she was eleven, Jodi Ann Bickley (@jodiannbickley) has been leaving notes “between text books, on buses, in libraries and as I got older in pubs, restaurants … anywhere I thought that maybe someone might need a little bit of cheering up, reassurance or just a reminder that actually they are pretty lovely” because “everyone deserves to know that they are thought of and they are loved. Even if it is by a complete stranger.“.  And now she is offering to write to anyone, beautiful hand written letters, full of love, to anyone, any of the seven billion strangers we all have in this world.

This would all be marvellous enough on its own, yet when she describes her lifelong project of lovely note leaving she goes on to say “… and as I got a little older in doctors surgeries and hospital beds“.  It turns out that the new turn to letter writing is because she has been recently “blessed with a lot of time“, and this blessing, not a lottery win leaving her a lady of leisure, or retirement at the end of her years, but a debilitating illness at the age of 24.

I am sure Arry’s ultra-marathon running is based on years of physical practice starting with small runs and building up to her epic achievement, gradually exercising muscles and joints so that when called upon to work in extremes they are ready.  Not that the work was not hard and painful, not that feet did not bleed and muscles ache, but a body prepared through small things for the great things demanded of it.

It sounds to me that in spirit and personalty,  Jodi has had just such exercise, creating a habit of joy-giving in small things so that when the big challenge came, while no less painful in the body and soul, she is ready, not just to endure, but to make it a blessing for others.

I am amazed and awed.

I myself have been blessed to know many wonderful women, not least my wife and lovely daughters.  And I can only thank God that in days of cynicism and depression, hardship and crisis, there are those who in different ways rise as heroes to inspire us all.

Walking Wales

As some of you already know, next year I will be walking all around Wales: from May to July covering just over 1000 miles in total.

Earlier this year the Welsh Government announced the opening of the Wales Coastal Path a new long distance footpath around the whole coast of Wales. There were several existing long distance paths covering parts of the coastline, as well as numerous stretches of public footpaths at or near the coast. However, these have now been linked, mapped and waymarked creating for the first time, a continuous single route. In addition, the existing Offa’s Dyke long distance path cuts very closely along the Welsh–English border, so that it is possible to make a complete circuit of Wales on the two paths combined.

As soon as I heard the announcement, I knew it was something I had to do, and gradually, as I discussed it with more and more people, the idea has become solid.

This will not be the first complete periplus along these paths; this summer there have been at least two sponsored walkers taking on the route. However, I will be doing the walk with a technology focus, which will, I believe, be unique.

The walk has four main aspects:

personal — I am Welsh, was born and brought up in Cardiff, but have not lived in Wales for over 30 years. The walk will be a form of homecoming, reconnecting with the land and its people that I have been away from for so long. The act of encircling can symbolically ‘encompass’ a thing, as if knowing the periphery one knows the whole. Of course life is not like this, the edge is just that, not the core, not the heart. As a long term ex-pat, a foreigner in my own land, maybe all I can hope to do is scratch the surface, nibble at the edges. However, also I always feel most comfortable as an outsider, as one at the margins, so in some ways I am going to the places where I most feel at home. I will blog, audio blog, tweet and generally share this experience to the extent the tenuous mobile signal allows, but also looking forward to periods of solitude between sea and mountain.

practical — As I walk I will be looking at the IT experience of the walker and also discuss with local communities the IT needs and problems for those at the edges, at the margins. Not least will be issues due to the paucity of network access both patchy mobile signal whilst walking and low-capacity ‘broadband’ at the limits of wind-beaten copper telephone wires — none of the mega-capacity fibre optic of the cities. This will not simply be fact-finding, but actively building prototypes and solutions, both myself (in evenings and ‘days off’) and with others who are part of the project remotely or joining me for legs of the journey1. Geolocation and mobile based applications will be a core part of this, particularly for the walkers experience, but local community needs likely to be far more diverse.

philosophical — Mixed with personal reflections will be an exploration of the meanings of place, of path, of walking, of nomadicity and of locality. Aristotle’s school of philosophy was called the Peripatetic School because discussion took place while walking; over two thousand years later Wordsworth’s poetry was nearly all composed while walking; and for time immemorial routes of pilgrimage have been a focus of both spiritual service and personal enlightenment. This will build on some of my own previous writings in particular past keynotes2 on human understanding of space, and also wider literature such as Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful “Wanderlust“.  This reflection will inform the personal blogging, and after I finish I will edit this into a book or account of the journey.

research3 — the practical outcomes will intersect with various personal research interests including social empowerment, interaction design and algorithmics4.  For the walker’s experience, I will be effectively doing a form of action research!.  This will certainly include how to incorporate local maps (such as tourists town plans) effectively into more large-scale experiences, how ‘crowdsourced’ route knowledge can augment more formal digital and paper resources, data synchonisation to deal with disconnection, and data integration between diverse sources.  In addition I am offering myself as a living lab so that others can use my trip as a place to try out their own sensors and instrumentation5, information systems, content authoring, ethnographic practices, community workshops, etc.  This may involve simply asking me to use things, coming for a single meeting or day, or joining me for parts of the walk.

If any of this interests you, do get in touch.  As well as research collaborations (living lab or supporting direct IT goals) any help in managing logistics, PR, or finding sources of funding/sponsorship for basic costs, most welcome.

I’ll get a dedicated website, Facebook page, twitter account, and charity sponsorship set up soon … watch this space!

  1. Coding whilst walking is something I have thought about (but not done!) for many years, but definitely inspired more recently by Nick the amazing cycling programmer who came to the Spring Tiree Tech Wave.[back]
  2. Welsh Mathematician Walks in Cyberspace“, and “Paths and Patches: patterns of geognosy and gnosis“.[back]
  3. I tried to think of a word beginning with ‘p’ for research, but failed![back]
  4. As I tagged this post I found I was using nearly all my my most common tags — I hadn’t realised quite how much this project cuts across so many areas of interest.[back]
  5. But with the “no blood rule”: if I get sensor sores, the sensors go in the bin 😉 [back]

book: How Green Was My Valley

After too many years I eventually read Richard Llewellyn’s “How Green Was My Valley“, which tells the story of growing up in a South Wales valley at the end of the 19th century.  I vaguely recall seeing the film of the book on the TV one Sunday afternoon as a small child.

You can read the book as a social commentary of a time past, or as a coming of age novel set around with stories of strikes and singing, madness and joy, requited and unrequited loves.   But above all it is a book of poetry, not in the sense of verse, but that form of prose that raises goosebumps down your back:

“… and I raised my arms and drew tight the muscles of my body, and as the blood within me thudded through my singing veins, a goldness opened wide before me and I knew I had become of Men, a Man.” (Chap. 24)

“My Valley, O my Valley, within me, I will live in you eternally … for part of me is the memory of you in your greens and browns, with everything of life happy in your deeps and shades, when you gave sweet scents to us, and sent for spices for the pot, and flowers, and birds sang out for pleasure to be with you.” (Chap. 18)

A recurrent theme through the novels is the gradual covering of that green, the burying of the valley sides and trees beneath the encroaching blackness of the slag, the coal tips, which as a child I recall still covering the valley sides north of Cardiff.  Indeed the novel is narrated by an old man thinking back over his childhood as he leaves his family home for the last time, a home itself now half buried as the slag spreads ever down the valley.

In the early days of coal mining the slag, the pieces of coal that were too small to burn, was left below the ground, rammed hard into the sides of the tunnels, strengthening and supporting them. But in the time of the book, and on throughout the 20th century, it proved cheaper and quicker to bring everything to the surface and separate there, the remains being spread upon the mountain sides in dark hills of their own, like welts upon a diseased landscape eaten underground by men.

“There is a patience in the Earth to allow us to go into her, and dig, and hurt with tunnels and shafts, and if we put back the flesh we have torn from her and so make good what we have weakened, she is content to let us bleed her. But when we take, and leave her weak where we have taken, she has a soreness, and an anger that we should be so cruel to her and thoughtless of her comfort. So she waits for us, and finding us, bears down, and bearing down, makes us a part of her, flesh of our flesh, with our clay in place of the clap we thoughtlessly have shovelled away.” (Chap. 42)

These are the thoughts of the elderly Huw looking back at the moment when he sat with his father part buried and dying after a roof fall.  Prescient today when we are at last beginning to realise how much we have taken from the earth and how little given back.

But, while the narrator is thinking of the toll taken on the miners underground by the thoughtless drive for profit and cheap coal, those brooding slag heaps remind me more of the dark repayment taken above.

One of the defining moments of my own childhood, was when, a few months after the Aberfan disaster, we drove up to Brecon along the valley road, and looked across the valley to a field of white crosses, like the images of Flanders on Armistice day, only no red poppies among the white graves, just white against green a ghastly mirror of the black upon green of the coal tip that rolled down the valley-side burying the school of Aberfan and taking the lives of  whole generation of children.



morning newspaper: MPs and Elgin Marbles

I usually only read the newspaper when travelling and either do the ‘free mineral water with newspaper’ deal (usually the Telegraph, maybe the only way they can sell newspapers), or whatever they have in the hotel or plane.

The front-page news today is the Israeli attack on the Gaza aid convoy, which needs no further comment.

of MPs

However, I also got yesterday’s Independent when I arrived at the Holiday Inn near midnight.  One of the main stories then was still the ‘outing’ and resignation of David Laws.  The key issue here (at least in principle) was not that nature of his personal relationships, but that he had not disclosed that the flat on which he was claiming rent belonged to his partner.

I was glad to see Mark Pack’s commentary in today’s Independent take a robust view of this, noting that while Laws may have broken rules (still to be determined), there had been no financial gain involved, and indeed the arrangement had saved the taxpayer money.  Pack’s contempt of the Telegraph was perhaps not unexpected in a column in a rival newspaper, but echoed my own feelings.

I was happily abroad during the height of the MPs expense ‘scandal’ last year, but was appalled at the coverage, not least because my travels take me to countries in Europe which would give anything to have the high standards of public office we take for granted in the UK.  In the end a handful of MPs may (still sub judice) have abused the system, but the vast majority were simply trying to do their job.

A short while ago I happened on the web on a page detailing the expenses of a Cardiff (now ex) MP Julie Morgan, when MPs expenses came under the spotlight, she rechecked her previous claims and indeed, with more careful checking, it turned out that the claims she had made on her mortgage did not match the actual expenditure.  Over the five years of the last parliament she had accidentally over-claimed in two years to the total of £800 … but in the other three years had under-claimed to the tune of £1900.  The rules meant she could not retrospectively be paid for the under-claimed years, but did pay back the £800 for the over-claims.  Despite being £1100 out of pocket, one of the lowest claiming MPs and indeed paying significant amount of her own salary to help maintain her constituency office, on the books she will part of the statistics of the large number of MPs who repaid expenses and so appear to have been doing wrong.  Crazy!

and of Marbles

Back to today’s newspaper and deeper into the Independent a very old story that is entering a new phase: the fight for the return of treasures from around the world displayed in British Museums.  The most well know is of course the Elgin Marbles (maybe Germany may claim them as security for Greece’s Euro-bailout), but others include African treasures taken during punitive raids by British soldiers in the 19th Century.

The issues seem clear-cut for a Liberal-minded Independent reader, but maybe things are more complicated; certainly some of the items, including the bronze ‘Birmingham Buddha’ would not have survived to the present day if they had not been removed – if only the Victorian adventurers had also removed some of the giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban in the 1990s.

I wonder how far repatriation should go, what is the statute of limitations for national treasure?  Maybe as the Birmingham Buddha travels back to India, several hundred shiploads of railtrack and steam trains will be repatriated to the UK, offloaded at Felixstowe docks and moved overland to form a mountainous sculpture of piled steel in the centre of Birmingham.

Having just been in Italy, I am sure there are many Italian artefacts in British museums, but then in Rome there are a number of Egyptian obelisk’s removed by the Romans 2000 years ago.  However, I would be surprised if, in turn, the Egyptians had not taken artefacts from other parts of the ancient world.  For that matter, what about the work done by the Israelites in Egypt before the Exodus?  If not for the fear it might be taken seriously I might suggest Israel could claim this.

In fact, these treasures are often more symbolic of the greater rape of natural resources and human labour that still continues today in many parts of the world today.  Indeed being brought up in the shadow of the South Wales coal valleys, I am well aware that the benefits of natural resources rarely go to the countries where they are found nor the labourers who mine them.

One of the key arguments against repatriation of ancient artefacts is that the curatorial standards are higher where they are presently.  Indeed the pillage of Iraqi sites after the fall of Saddam could be seen as overwhelming evidence that institutions such as the British Museum do the whole world a service.  Repatriation of artefacts to less secure countries would put at risk our shared global heritage; after all who knows what civilisation the UK and US will decide to decimate next.

Been to London to visit the Queen

… well Queen Mary, University of London anyway. Giving a talk on “The New Media of Digital Light”1. While there I was given interesting tours of various research groups in the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at QML including music that plays along with the drums, maps for the blind, and red dots on the heads of crowds at Covent Garden.

On the tube I noticed that if you are standing and look at the reflections in the curved tube train windows, all the seated passengers become Siamese twins joined at the head. Also looking down standing people tend to stand with their toes pointing outwards, whereas for seated people only the men do that. I feel there must be a social psychology paper in that, but it has probably already been written.

At the hotel neo-classical statues line the way down to an underground car park, and while seated at a WiFi sweet spot, was overhearing a dissident group planning a protest.

A typical day out in London.

A reminder of Wales, Aberavon Road, near QML

  1. work with Joe and Angie on Firefly technology[back]

Birthday

It was my birthday last week.  First thanks to everyone who sent greetings through Facebook etc.  Got some new books to read as well as two new mugs: one that says “exterminate” and one that is becoming my wee dram beaker.

This evening going for a belated birthday dinner at Cèabhar (booked up until tonight!), a lovely restaurant overlooking the Atlantic sunset.

The books …

The Kerracher Man, Eric MacLeod — Just reading this now.  A family who go off to live in a remote scottish croft.

Pilgrims in the Mist: The Stories of Scotland’s Travelling People, Sheila Stewart — Tales once told beneath a bender.

Nella Last’s Peace: The Post-War Diaries Of Housewife 49 — This is the follow-on to Nella Last’s War, which was one of the books on my Rome bookshelf

Calum’s Road, Roger Hutchinson — A couple of years ago we spent Easter on Skye and visited the little island of Raasay.  At the north end a precipitous little road leads round headlands to a small beach.  We had heard that the road had be created over many years by the labours of a single man … Calum.

Welsh Pictures. Drawn with Pen and Pencil, Richard Lovett (editor), London: The Religious Tract Society, 1892 — A beautiful aniqurian book of images and text.