Tales from the Dales

The rules established to control the spread of the pandemic have been easing slowly in recent weeks and months, and the case rate has been dropping to nearly zero both in the area I live and in the area in Yorkshire where my friends live. Tomorrow they will ease once again, enabling people to once again form small groups inside restaurants, for example.

Even though these restrictions on us have been eased, seeing friends and family who aren't within my bubble right now, anywhere that isn't outside, has not been without its complications. Particularly this is because it's not yet known how those who have received the vaccination contribute to the transmission of the virus as they move around. It's now totally usual for those in software and research jobs to work from home, which means it's possible for me to work from pretty much anywhere. That's great, but between setting aside what amounts to weeks of self-isolation time, coming off swarm and emergency volunteering lists, and getting to and from Yorkshire in a way that wouldn't risk others, well, I remembered a simpler way of doing things in the run-up to my usual weeks away. I felt a sense of inertia, no doubt in part due to so much time in the same place.

Like many other people in the UK, I've now begun to measure the time since I've seen most of my close friends in years, and I haven't seen any of my family for six months now. And like many other people, I've adapted to this situation. Perhaps because of this adaptation things felt different this time. After a journey up during which Leeds looked like an exciting city full of interesting buildings, restaurants, and things to do, and after the countryside around Otley replaced this metropolitain utopia, I was soon with my friends. My goddaughter Ⓤ welcomed me with a hug and some fizzy fish, gave me a tour of the house to show me all that had changed (summary: the staircase had been painted) and we all set about catching up.

Godchild update

Ⓤ is so much easier to talk to these days, being that much older. Each morning she would get up around 6am and come and join me for some early morning chat. One morning she insisted on having breakfast in the guest room, which involved having the table and stools brought up. At the beginning of the week we'd go downstairs and make fruit salad for the rest of the family. Towards the end of the week after fatigue had begun to set in, she simply asked me to get her breakfast, explaining that she was feeling like a lazybones. Some days would start with a shadow puppetry workshop, and others were spent just watching Netflix. All were fun. Among the programs I endured and complained about this time were Gabby's Dollhouse, Rainbow Ruby and True and the Rainbow Kingdom. However, Ⓤ also introduced me to Waffles + Mochi, a gentle and educational series about food, in which a half-waffle, half-yeti puppet creature and her companion Mochi (International Phonetic Alphabet: /ˈmoʊt͡ʃi/ not /mo̞t͡ɕi/) explore a different base ingredient each episode. In doing so, they haphazardly jetting to far-flung places and meet chefs, food producers and other experts. We ended up watching the whole series.

Later in the week came the shocking news that Monsieur à la Pis, the owner and coiffeur of the salon that Ⓤ's bathroom becomes during imaginative play, has now retired and sold his business to Salon Ponitelle. But among imaginitive fun like this there were real signs of a developing mind. We discussed sensory learning styles, recipes for tomato soup, the music of Dolly Parton. And then there were the glimpses into her reasoning about mental health. At one point I had helped myself to the last diet cola from the fridge. It turned out that she wanted one, and after we'd negotiated that a milkshake was just as good, and the concentration of the milkshake mix in it, I fussed around looking for a straw. I couldn't find one for her and I said sorry. 'You're being too much', she said. 'Stop saying sorry. It's not like my dad has died or something'. Later, I had lost her favourite ultraviolet pen, and was saying sorry for that. 'Stop suffering', she told me, 'it doesn't matter'. This emotional literacy translated into tact. I was boring her talking about maths, and she pointed to a recipe book for children. 'Why don't you read this and get some inspiration?', she asked, essentially telling me to shut up.

Our project for the week (wholly suggested by Ⓤ) was to write, illustrate and bind a book about the honey bee, to make some hexagonal cookies, and to put them in pretty bags to distribute with the book to neighbours. The project was scaled back in scope, but Ⓤ produced the following first draft, safely saved on my laptop for when we pick up the project again.

The buk ov beez.

beez can mayc hnee.

beez can mayc sels.beez can mayk wax.the kween bee iz the ownlee bee they jivz all yir.

It's great that her enthusiasm for bees intensifies each time I see her. For her birthday I hope to get her a decent bee suit so she can join me on an inspection or two.

Given all the daft voices we love to make each other laugh with, it's not surprising that Ⓤ loves to imitate voices. Some time ago, I learned from a mathematical friend to answer questions worded as statements with 'correct!' or 'is a true statement!'. Like most people, this annoyed Ⓤ after a while, and she'd mock my tone of voice perfectly in an effort to get me to stop. She has several distinct and very funny voices that come out now and then. Her use of idioms is also increasing. A herd of elephants would go down the stairs, someone would have ants in their pants, and too much sugar would inevitably mean she'd be bouncing off the walls. Looking at a picture of a Venus figure, naked and with exaggerated hips and breasts, she concluded simply, 'I feel sorry for her'. When we met a stone dragon on a walk, she primly told it to put its boobs away.

There's alternative coverage of this visit in many installments, over at Project Felix: A Bear Comes to Stay; Catching Up; Ice Cream Floats; Salon Ponitelle; A Little Less Constipation; Ush & the Child; Fountains Abbey: the Guided Tour; Down on the Ice-cream Farm. I'd forgotten all about Ⓤ's ideas about crises in her lifetime and the facts surrounding Elvis Presley's death. I hadn't covered the swing protocol nor how Melonie Wasserstein came to be part of our group. As well as all these entries, an abridged version of this very post appears there too. For the avoidance of doubt, throughout I'm referred to as Uncle Bear.

Outdoors

The week began with a visit to the gardens at Harlow Carr near Harrogate. We got there early which meant Ⓤ had the play areas pretty much to herself. And at the end of the week we took a trip to the ruins of a monastery at Fountains Abbey near Ripon. It too is equipped with a play area so it suits all our goals well. After exploring the ruins we sat in the rain and had coffee and soup. It sounds miserable but was actually a fun and even atmopsheric experience, with the right waterproofs. For several days I'd heard tell of Brymor Dairy, a farm to the north which served the best ice cream in the whole of Yorkshire. We set off there to investigate and I'm pleased to report it's true (based on current evidence). Liquorice really is a great ice cream flavour and much more interesting than boring old vanilla. Photos from the long journey back confirm I was sound asleep in the back of the car, my spudlike head wedged between the headrest and interior wall.

During the week Rick had some time away from work and so we naturally spent it in the outdoors hiking and running.

Wednesday was spent doing a walk from the tranquil market town of Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale.

We headed out of Pateley Bridge up towards a lead mining complex from the 18th and 19th centuries called Prosperous Lead Mine. It attempted to make a profit from lead mining but following a downturn in the price of lead in the 1830s it fell into disrepair. In 1889 it was finally abandoned and the site is now spoil heaps, the remains of walls, and old mining equipment. From here we walked back along beautiful country lanes with views of the valleys, and ended up in Talbot House tea room for a toastie and coffee with a quick trip to the butcher's for sausage rolls before going home via a farm shop selling Northern Bloc ice cream. Not a patch on Brymor's.

Later in the week I went for my first run since last year. I took a few breaks but I'm surprised that I managed to keep running for half an hour. A pace of 7:25/km isn't terrible for the first time back, I guess. We wanted to go on a run, and, having recently discovered Komoot, we planned a trail run to Little Alms Cliff. When we got to the starting point, however, the ground was very boggy and the woods between us and the cliff had become a fairly large logging operation. So we drove back down the hill to our old favourite Lindley Wood for our trail run, passing over bridges and with bluebells everywhere. I have to get back into running because it felt amazing afterwards.

Later we met up with Rick's mum at the Tent at the Sportsman's Arms in Wath-in-Nidderdale where, for these unprecedented times, they've set up a bar and charcoal grill. For lunch I had roasted vegetables. They were a combination of tomatoes, Turkish peppers and a really good aubergine grilled with olive oil, along with some potatoes. We kept ordering coffee and bread. It was a real pleasure to catch up.

Autodidacticism

I used the time away from work to do some technical reading that I've been meaning to do for months now. I've been interested in learning more about dependent types for a while. When we use such a powerful type system to describe a program, the description becomes as powerful as the language itself, more guarantees can be made about the program, and a closer bridge between programming and mathematics begins to form. To study this, I got a copy of The Little Typer by Daniel P. Friedman and David Thrane Christiansen. The blurb on the publisher's website claims it 'demonstrates the most beautiful aspects, one step at a time'. Its approach is to develop a small language called Pie, a lot like the Scheme language which itself is a kind of minimalist Lisp dialect. By progressively extending Pie, the book teaches the reader how to use dependent types for programming as well as mathematical reasoning.

The way that the material is presented isn't like many other textbooks. So crucially for maths, it emphasises the complete internalisation of a concept before moving onto the next. The style is a series of framed text, with each frame having two columns, almost like the two sides of a conversation between a teacher and their student. Things are kept light with the big concepts being summarised by a rule or statement in large friendly letters. There is even a recipe for rye bread in there. The style was first seen, I think, in The Little Schemer (formerly called The Little Lisper). There are others in the same series, and collectively they are called The Little Books. Some might find the step-by-step style a slog, but it helps me not skip ahead and to appreciate the concept being presented at the time. Over time, I find it easier to follow and think about, and as a result, more enjoyable.

I didn't open the other two books I'd brought up to Yorkshire to read.

Radio

I brought my handheld radio with me to the Yorkshire Dales, since no radio nerd should go for a hilltop hike without at least one transceiver. If nothing else, it gives Rick a chance to stop and complain, or, if he's not in a complaining mood, to sing '82 to 82.5 - Radio Rick!', referring of course to the 82.5Hz local CTCSS repeater access tone. During my stay, I had originally intended to 'activate' the SOTA point at Rombalds Moor (G/NP-028) but we chose to use the gaps in the rain for group activities this time. I did, however, take the radio on a short hike to a cup and ring stone and while I put out a call on the nearby Otley repeater GB3WF, I got no reply. I guess with VHF/UHF repeaters it's best to be monitoring them rather than putting out a call and expecting an immediate response. I think shortwave operation would be more fun up on the hills if I can get a portable HF configuation sorted out one day. However, I could hear loads and loads of APRS bursts coming through from across the valley. Leeds was visible from where we were sitting so I guess that line of sight really helps.

There is a local digital repeater GB7TP, not too far away at Shipley. I haven't really used the D-Star features of my radio, partly due to its icky proprietary codec blocking good hacking and development of the protocol, and its questionable status in the context of encryption/encoding rules for UK amateur radio. This questionable status led it to becoming illegal in France since 2010. Another objection I have is how needlessly opaque its configuration is. It wasn't intuitive to even set up a new repeater, but the repeater keeper Steve G8ZMG was really helpful in getting the right settings to me. I'm going to need to climb up on the moor again to test them but I'm sure it won't be long before I'm up in the Dales again.

Trail camera

While I was away, Dan kept up the trailcam editing. So, I can bring you Wednesday's video. It's warmer now and we're seeing more and more rabbits running around very quickly, as well as athletic squirrels and the odd mouse. There are wood pigeons as well as the other usual bird life. In this one you can see a badger up close, as well as more great video of the deer. Today's video features rabbits, hares and the doe, all among the lush new vegetation that's springing up. But the highlights are the fleeting but detailed video of the fox.