2019 retrospective

Posted by Patrick Lam on Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Table Of Contents

New year, new website! I hope to start breaking out of Associate Professor Purgatory in 2020 and what I’ve accomplished in 2019 will lay the groundwork for that.


I completed my 3 year 4 month term as SE Director. It’s been rewarding but work/work balance means that I’ve had less time to spend on research.

SE Director

I was thrilled that my students successfully nominated me for the Friend of EngSoc award. It was a great token of appreciation.

Some thoughts about the Program Director role.

The SE Director provides academic leadership for Software Engineering students. Operationally, this has two main components: curating the set of courses in the program (day-to-day as well as setting the curriculum) as well as leading the student advising enterprise. There are also some nuts and bolts with managing staff, renovations, and whatever else may come up. For SE, all of this requires dealing with two units that are quite different: Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Computer Science.

Both of the components of the role have long-term impact. Leading the curriculum committee gives one a chance to affect SE at a program level. I feel like this is an extension of the teaching role of a professor. The choices that the curriculum committee makes can affect thousands of students over a couple of decades. The advising role includes some personal advising and also setting parameters for the rest of the advising team.

The SE Director stipend is twice that of the Associate Director. The extra amount is appropriate for the additional burden of leadership. Associate Director is a critical role, primarily helping students one on one and providing feedback to the Curriculum Committee.

But the buck doesn’t stop at the Associate Director’s desk.

I’d also say that buck-stopping is the primary difference between the Associate Chair Undergrad role and the Program Director role. Associate Chairs report to the Department Chair. The SE Program Director reports to the SE Board. There are also budgets to manage in the Program Director role.


With Jon Eyolfson we published an ICSE paper. I now have a new group of students and am working on getting them up to speed, in particular working on three projects. One of them is getting Jon’s sophisticated static analysis working on more examples, and the other is extending Jun Zhao’s test refactoring work.


Let’s talk about non-judo travel here. Most of my travel this year was within North America, except for a trip to Athens for the SPLASH conference and an October vacation in the Czech Republic (country #33).


I always like to go to SPLASH/OOPSLA to stay up to date with research. In this case it was also a chance to scope out where to live in Athens as part of the 2020 sabbatical. We have a good idea of where we’d like to airbnb for May and June now.

For this trip, I booked an airbnb 10 minutes from the conference hotel. Unfortunately with the sprained ankle it took 20-30 minutes. Athens is not so friendly for people who have mobility issues: we (rightfully) complain about sidewalks not being cleared of snow in Kitchener-Waterloo but the sidewalks are always impassable for anyone who is not walking normally. They seem to be a function of the building they are in front of.

We also went to see an old temple: Sounion. That would be a good scooter ride from Athens. It got super busy at sunset.

Apart from scoping out places to live this was mostly a work trip: I worked from the airbnb and went to the conference. (Everything at the airbnb was matchy-matchy. This caused a problem when we broke a kettle and had to get a similar one.)


We have a pattern of going to Eastern Europe in the fall (usually a non-teaching term for me; I’d really like to have a Winter non-teaching term but that never happens). This year’s destination was Czechia, which was great. Prague is nice but, I hear, over-touristed in the summer. It’s very manageable in shoulder season. And leaving Prague is very feasible by train and noticeably cheaper.

  • Highlights: rock towers (Adrspach-Teplice, Bohemian Switzerland), Sedlec Ossuary at Kutna Hora, Karlstejn Castle (would be a good bike ride)
  • Lowlight: lead fall at towers on the Labe near Decin

Decin is definitely pushing the adventure tourism angle and it is possible to rent bikes for like $10/day. Awesome. We preferred the rock towers from Adrspach over the ones from Teplice, although it’s possible to go from one to the other. Getting around Adrspach-Teplice is a bit tricky, as transit doesn’t run very often (hourly or worse).


This was a good year for outdoors trips.

The most notable outdoors trip was for 2 weeks with Eric Gilbertson, Yeuhi Abe, Christina Chen, and Steven Song to Nunavik (Northern Quebec). Thanks to Eric for organizing this trip to Caubvick and down the Koroc river. Lots of new water-related experiences for me, including Class III rapids and swimming in the Arctic Ocean (Ungava Bay).

I had two purely climbing trips: one to Smith Rocks in April and one to Tuolumne in August. I got in some mileage at Smith Rocks and flew to a new airport, RDM. Despite being the birth of sport climbing, Smith is not a good place to push the grades. The runouts are long. But not as long as in the Czech republic!

Tuolumne was good climbing but it’s more alpine than sport in general. N Ridge of Conness was good, as was Crying Time Again / Big Boys Don’t Cry. We did make it to Owens River Gorge but it’s pretty far and it would be best to be quite early to avoid the heat in August. Also there was a concussion which seems to have had no lasting effects.

Incidental climbing happened on trips to Joshua Tree as well as the Czech Republic mentioned above. We got the most mileage in at New Jack City near Joshua Tree. It’s hard to get a lot of climbs in at JTree. It was great to travel with Rux and Kyle in LA.

I keep on not having fun climbing in the Eastern Townships. This time we tried trad climbing at Pinacle but got lost on something that was probably a 10c?

The other outdoors trip was to the Grand Canyon with Lucas and Ariel. That was south-to-north R2R2R, active rest at the North Rim (there’s hiking but not much else), and then north-to-south R2R2R. Flagstaff is a nice little town. The stats for the R2R2R aren’t that scary but the unrelenting climb makes it more difficult than I expected. Usually one goes up and down and that’s not as bad. But climbing out of the canyon on day 3 was painful for my feet. Lucas also made a new friend on this trip.

I did have one more trip planned to the Canadian Rockies in September but the weather was bad and I cancelled the ticket for a travel credit (minus $200), which I’d never done before. Good to know it works.

New airports

  • RDM: surprisingly large
  • PHX: Hey those are cacti like we would imagine
  • YVP: we spent a bunch of time there waiting for people to arrive, but people also spend a lot of time trying to leave from there
  • XGR, YKL: these are remote northern airports that don’t actually have airport security
  • PRG: standard European airport

I took 8 flights with crutches. Maybe I didn’t need them for Athens because I ended up not using them at all on the trip after leaving YYZ (though they were useful for YYZ). The flights were PRG-FRA, FRA-YYZ, YYZ-YQB, YQB-YYZ, YYZ-ZRH, ZRH-ATH, ATH-MUC, MUC-YYC.


Mostly a status quo year till the injury which led to negative progress.


I didn’t train that seriously in 2019 and competing in provincial championships was disappointing, in part due to a late night in Amqui (couldn’t get home to the airbnb which was surprisingly in the middle of nowhere). In 2020 I plan to grade for 5th dan while in Montreal.

I continued to referee judo. This year I went to referee at the Pacific International in Vancouver and travelled to Quebec 3 times to referee in the fall. One of those trips was with a freshly sprained ankle, which meant that I had to sit at the table. I started to do an analysis of the size and strength of the Quebec referee corps.


I felt like I was slowly getting stronger in the gym but did not push the grades outdoors (we didn’t go to any places amenable to pushing grades.) Respectable count of outdoor climbing days: 20. Took a lead fall on October 13 and badly sprained my ankle. The doctor in the Czech hospital assured me it wasn’t broken, 8 hours and $60 later. This caused negative progress with all hobbies and fitness through the end of the year. It is slowly recovering but needs more time.